The truth and nothing but The Damn Truth
MONTREAL, QC | MARCH 2022
The psychedelic rock band from Montreal, The Damn Truth, is no stranger to the many challenges of being a band. The last two years are a good example. With restrictions about touring and performing, releasing their new album was also put on hold. However, their resilience gave them the extra push to complete a new album and start touring again. In the middle of their current 13-city UK tour, singer Lee-la Baum, guitarist Tom Shemer, bass player PY Letellier, and drummer Dave Traina took some time off to candidly and collectively answer questions about their career and the new album.
You worked with renowned Canadian producer Bob Rock in Vancouver. He was supposed to produce the whole album but ended up working on six tracks from Now or Nowhere before the pandemic hit. How did you get to work with him ?
During our European tour in 2019, we made a list of producers we’d wanna work with. Since George Martin is dead, Bob Rock was at the top of that list. Our manager, Ralph Alfonso, used to work with The Payolas, Bob’s band back in the day, so we had the connection. Ralph always said : “ When you have the right songs, I’ll send them.” After making approx 20 some-odd demos, we knew we had the songs and got Ralph to contact Bob. Within 24 hours, he responded, “ Come to The Warehouse, let’s make a record.”
What were the biggest challenges in getting the album completed, knowing that you would have to produce the rest of the tracks yourself ?
We guess the biggest challenge was the waiting. We didn’t know what was going on for the first few months. Didn’t know if we should wait for Bob, didn’t know when this whole virus would blow over, and couldn’t have imagined how long it would actually be.
As the months went by, we decided to jump back into the studio by ourselves with no end in sight.
We were fortunate that Dave owns one of the coolest recording studios in Montreal, Freq Shop, and we felt confident that we might be able to do this by ourselves with the tools that we learned from Bob. We had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve and a strong drive to finish this album.
Other big names are associated with the new album, especially with the mixing front. Grammy Award winners Vance Powell and Nick Didia were on board and Mike Plotnikoff. How did they come up with a cohesive mix for the album ? Were you present during the process ?
It actually was a really cool process : With Vance, we had a live stream of his studio while he was mixing the songs. And we were giving notes via zoom in real-time, which made it feel like we were in the room with him. But honestly, there wasn’t much to say during any of the mixes; we chose them specifically for their sound and the unique spices they could bring to our music.
We remember the first time we connected over the live stream to Vance and heard the first bit of This Is Who We Are Now, and we choked up a bit thinking; we can’t believe how good this sounds. Is this a dream ?!
As for the cohesiveness of the sound, it was never an issue for us; we believe that our band has a very strong sound character, and regardless of who’s producing, mastering, or mixing, it will always sound like The Damn Truth.
This year marks the 10th anniversary of your first album, Dear in the Headlights, which you self-released in 2012. How has this experience helped you with your career ? What made you decide to sign with a label ?
Back in 2012, we were kind of an oddball band in Montreal; we couldn’t find any other bands that played the type of rock ‘n’ roll that we wanted to play. We also didn’t really fit into any “scene” that was happening at the time, so we decided that rather than going out and trying to find a label or management or anything like that; we’d do everything ourselves and not for anybody else but ourselves. We wanted to record an album that had the kind of music that we would be happy to listen to. We went into the studio and recorded, not thinking : is it going to work ? Is anyone gonna like it ? We just wanted to create music that was true to us. Then when it came time to release this thing that we did, there were no real big plans of getting signed or anything like that; it was more about putting out a piece of ourselves into the World, and we decided to do it ourselves.
We’re happy we did because we learned a lot along the way, like how to make a music video. Our first video, Too Late, we filmed it entirely ourselves, and it was lots of fun, but in the process, we also learned what it takes to create content and how to produce our own records, which has been very helpful throughout our career.
There has been a five-year gap between the release of Devilish Folks and Now or Nowhere. Why did it take so long to get to the Finish Line ?
There are quite a few reasons for that gap, but the main one was hard work. We were on the road all the time, basically making fans and building up towards what we wanted to be. It also took a while to find a producer or think about a producer and then a whole heap of time to nail down the dates with Bob Rock, who’s schedule is pretty insane. Covid happened, and everything got delayed. There are probably a million reasons why it took so long, reasons that were unfortunately out of our hands. The songs were written well in advance and were pretty much ready to go, but sometimes life throws curveballs at you, and you just have to make the best out of it. We’re not sorry that it took so long, though, We try not to dwell on the past and live as much as we can in the moment, and this moment is awesome and amazing because when that album came out, things started changing for us and for the better.
You have had great press coverage from the best rock magazines in Europe: Fireworks, Classic Rock, and many more. You are now in the middle of a 13-city tour in the UK. It looks like they seem to get what the band is all about. Why do you think your music resonates more on the other side of the Atlantic ?
We don’t think that our music resonates more on the other side of the Atlantic. We think that our music will resonate everywhere that will have us. Planet Rock, the biggest rock radio station in the UK, has embraced the band just like CHOM 97.7 did, here in Montreal. When a larger audience gets exposed to The Damn Truth, we make new fans, and people get excited over it. We think that North America has always been a little bit behind the UK, but I have a good feeling that they are now catching up.
You have opened for some great artists since the beginning of your career : The Cult, ZZ Top, and even Canada’s own Sheepdogs, to name a few. There is also a strong influence of 70s rock in your music. Your sound seems like a cross between Led Zeppelin, Jefferson Airplane, and obviously a bit of Janis Joplin, but your music comes out as very natural. Why do you think this specific era seems to be part of the band’s DNA ?
We all come from unique musical backgrounds yet share some similar roots. Dave grew up on a heavier rock n roll & metal (Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Zeppelin), whereas Tom, Lee and PY were more rooted in the folk music of the 60s onwards. Tom and Lee were steeped in CSNY, Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan. Lee is diving deep into Joplin and Joni Mitchell, Tom loving King Crimson, and the old blues such as Albert King and Robert Johnson. PY grew up on folk such as Gordon Lightfoot and Tom Petty, country rock such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, and 70s-80s hard rock: AC/DC, KISS & Mötley Crüe, to name a few. We’ve got many intersections in our musical influences in this band, but each member has had their own musical path. Almost by destiny, all paths ended in The Damn Truth. Our sound comes from “ the TDT machine,” as we call it. Basically, someone brings in an idea, and by the time we’re done with it as a unit, it has taken on a whole new form, which is what you hear on the records.
You are now part of Spectra music which is distributed by Sony Music. What does being distributed by a major label add to the group’s visibility ?
Being part of the Spectra family has really helped us organizationally, which in turn helps to book better tours. For example, getting on the King King tour of the UK was a blessing for us. Playing every night to approx 1000 people in a country we’ve never been to was exceptional for the band’s visibility. We cherished this past UK tour and are very excited for the upcoming EURO tour in April. All in all, the band has always been very DIY, and we still are DIY on most fronts. Having a major label just adds that extra support when you need it. Whether it is administrative or financial support, a label is there to help a band grow beyond what the group members can handle on their own (while also being on the road and performing).
Your reputation as a full-on energy band is well-documented, and your videos, especially in Heart is Cold and This is Who We Are Now showcase the band’s energy. However, you decided to go retro on Tomorrow. Who came up with this idea ? The visual aspect of the band seems to be more and more important. What do videos add to the creative process ?
The music video for the song Tomorrow was a fun collaboration with the brilliant make-up artist Vanessa Ashley and film producers IO Studio. They wanted to produce a video for the song Tomorrow that sort of messed with people’s perception of the band and showcased something fun and light-hearted. We’re often doing more serious themes in our videos, so we welcomed the idea of stepping outside the box. Their idea was to portray us singing our song as rock stars pulled from the 50s, 60s, and 80s.
The shoot was just a blast, playing dress-up; jumping from costume to costume. Tom and PY even choreographed a few dance steps. It looks like we’re having fun because it was fun! We’re so pleased with the result and just so thrilled that we got to collaborate with IO Studio once more. They were the masterminds behind the epic ‘This Is Who We Are Now’ music video. They basically built us a circus ride to bounce around in ! Luckily, this time around, no one was hurt badly.
Your powerful cover of U2’s Love is Blindness is simply amazing. The video has been viewed more than a million times on YouTube. When did this unexpected collaboration with Yves St-Laurent first came in ?
The YSL ad came about in one of those truly organic ways…. we were playing a show in a small club in town, and, after the show, a guy comes up and says he’s the head of an advertising firm, and he thinks he’s got the perfect song for my voice. We recorded Love is Blindness as a bid for the YSL commercial, and they loved it. The exposure was amazing; getting to be heard all over the globe and gaining fans from places we’d never been to was really awesome.
The European leg of the tour continues, with upcoming shows in Denmark and Belgium in April and Germany and the Netherlands in May. North American dates should be added later in 2022. For more info on where they are headed next, visit their Facebook or official website at www.thedamntruth.com