Phillip Cope on DAMAD’s Return and Kylesa’s Hiatus
Formed in 1991, the Savannah band, featuring Phillip Cope (later of Kylesa), was at the forefront of the burgeoning metallic crust movement, building on the teachings of bands like Neurosis, Sacrilege and Axegrinder to form a strain of music that combined sludgy riffs with hardcore. The underground took note, and DAMAD produced several EPs and a couple of LPs (many of which featured art from the legendary Pushead) for Prank Records (His Hero Is Gone, Gauze, Crow) before quietly calling it quits in 2000. Fans of everything from HHIG and Dystopia to Neurosis and Eyehategod — this is the band for you.
Cope went on to grind away at his new project, Kylesa, taking them around the globe over their 15 years of existence before going on hiatus earlier this year. But despite the passing of bassist Brian Duke in 2001 due to an epileptic seizure and the success of Kylesa, DAMAD never officially called it quits. The band made an appearance in 2006, and have returned yet again to play a pair of rare shows in their native Savannah and Los Angeles. And now, New York.
UPDATE 1/4: Due to unforeseen circumstances DAMAD has been forced to cancel their Saint Vitus show.
With the announcement of the new show, we checked in with Cope to discuss both bands' hiatuses and future plans, as well as possible leftover material.
Let's start with the Kylesa break. The way the statement reads is that you're going on an indefinite hiatus. I want to make sure I'm interpreting that correctly.
To my knowledge, we're not saying that it's dead and we'll never do it again, but we're not putting a time frame on the break. I guess there's always a possibility once enough time has gone by. If the key members are not all wanting to do it again, then it's not going to happen. We're going to need everybody. So, I really don't have a straight answer on that. I really don't know myself.
Is it like this split was born out of you guys saying you need a break after going so hard all these years?
That's exactly what it was. We had gone really hard for 15 years. I mean, the main members — none of us got a break. I didn't have a break for 15 years, so when I got word that maybe it was time to take one, I was not going to argue it. I was like, "Well, I've got things that I want to do, so sure."
To be fair, your output was pretty astonishing overall. At least one record every other year, it looks like.
We were either on the road or in the studio. There were no long breaks at all, I think the most I ever took off was like five days in 15 years.
Well, good for you. Hopefully you're actually taking time off.
No, that's not how I roll. I just continue things. [That said], it's nice to be able to focus on some new things, and it's nice to not be on the road so much. This is the longest break I've had from the road in almost 20 years, so that — I've got to be honest — I'm kind of enjoying a little bit. I'm kind of crossed between cities, but it's nice to not be in so many cities at the same time.
When you say "crossed between cities," what do you mean? You're still in Savannah, correct?
Well, I work and really live in Columbia at this point — South Carolina. It's about two and a half hours out, and I've been crisscrossing between the cities because DAMAD is still located in Savannah. So, I come on the weekends and practice with DAMAD, and then work during the week in Columbia.
I work at the Jam Room Studio, so I'm still working with other bands, producing and that sort of thing.
Let's talk about how this whole DAMAD thing started back up. What was the impetus? How did you guys approach each other?
It really started with the last reunion show we did, about 2006. We got together to do a benefit for a friend, and it went really well. It was our intention to maybe do it again at some point, but everything about that show was great. We all left on good terms, and life happened, and then it was "maybe next year," and then years went by, and here we are 10 years later. Actually, for a few years, we were talking about it like, "When is everyone going to have time again?" It got brought up that maybe we could do it for a benefit for another friend — our friend Jake [Trout] — and so we started talking about it. And this was actually before Kylesa was deciding to split.
So, it just happened to be good timing for me because it gave me something to keep focusing on musically. We just decided to give it a shot, and I just happened to mention to my friend Ryan at Midnight Collective that we were doing that show in Savannah, and he asked if we would come do a show for him and we were like, "Yeah, sounds cool."
These sorts of things are usually more about benefits and doing stuff for friends. Obviously, a lot of what's going on with you is kind of known. What about some of the other members? Who exactly is DAMAD in 2016?
There's three original members — Victoria Scalisi, she is the numero uno member, the frontperson, and has been on everything. She's still involved. Myself, I was involved on every single record and show and whatnot. And then Scott Cooper — he was with the band probably the longest of all the drummers. He joined DAMAD for our first album and a handful of 7"s. He also did the last reunion with us. Our main bass player was Brian Duke, and he passed away. Yeah, it's about as original as it can be.
Obviously, playing those songs — you've done it before without Brian, but how does it feel playing those songs without him? Does it bring back any memories?
It totally brings back memories — good memories. We've actually had quite a few laughs trying to explain his bass lines to Chase [Rudeseal], and Chase was being very respectful about it, and he's trying to play it as much in the original spirit as possible. So, we've had to try and explain to him, you know, how to expect certain things to sound, what Brian's approach was and how he would play it. You can't help but when you're discussing things with someone to bring up old stories and old memories. It's nice — he's a great dude and an awesome person to be around, and it's nice to have a bit of his spirit around again.
Is there a story you want to share about what Brian was like during those days?
He was honestly — people always speak so nicely of others when they've passed on, but he really was one of the greatest dudes. He would never really talk to anyone that would have a bad word to say about him, and he was the first guy — if a band came into town, most likely, he would be the first one they would see. He would be there waiting with beer and a joint, first one ready to party and have a good time. He was that kind of dude, you know? Was always down to have a good time and for others to have a good time as well.
To me, he was my best friend. For years, we shared an apartment, worked the same job; we were around each other 24-7, all the time, and we went through all kinds of crazy things together. This is a good story: One time I angered him really to the point where he couldn't [put] into words how angry he was, and he ended up punching his windshield out of his car. And I was like, "Oh, I messed up, I made him really angry." He jumped into his car and took off and left me about 45 minutes out of Savannah. So, I'm making what I'm thinking is going to be a long [walk] home; maybe about 10 or 15 minutes later, I hear this car hauling ass, and he spins out and opens his door, and he's like, "Get in, asshole." He came back and picked me up. Even after he was so angry that he would smash his window out, he still wouldn't abandon me. He was that kind of friend.
So far, you have a pair of DAMAD shows on the schedule, but what is the plan? How does this work? What's going on in your head right now?
The practices and the camaraderie and the chemistry [are] there. The main thing has got to be the chemistry; we were all in agreement with that one. There's still going to be certain chemistry, and there definitely is. We recorded our practice the other day to listen back to it and it was like, "OK, is this sounding like DAMAD?" This sounds like we never stopped. It sounds just like us. The same vibe. So, that's going really well.
If these shows go well, I'm sure we would be open to doing more, but we haven't really gone out of our way to book anything. We're kind of taking it one show at a time; those could be it. We might do these two shows and that's it. We may do another one again or we may never do it again. We haven't really decided that yet, but we haven't booked anything else. For right now, these are it.
We have had some offers — we got a couple tour offers, we've gotten some shows here and there offered — but we're not going to tour. That's just off the table. Everyone has so much going on that touring isn't really a possibility.
Fair enough. Going back to the original lineup, what has Victoria been up to since the split?
She did a band called Karst, and then she's married and had a kid. She's been a librarian, and now her and Scott have a new band called Lies in Stone.
Do you guys have any material that you never finished or anything like that?
No, we pretty much released everything that we've had. If we wrote a song, we recorded it and released it somehow. We didn't really hold onto songs. What we probably will do eventually — we've been talking about this for years, just haven't gotten it together — [is] a release of a full-length of all the rare stuff that's been out of print for years. Comp tracks, 7" tracks — a lot of that hasn't been in print for 10 years-plus. It has been compiled and remastered; we just haven't gotten around to putting it out.
A lot of people have said that it's our best material. We always put our best songs on comps or 7"s — that wasn't really on purpose. I think it would be really cool to compile all of that. Hopefully that will come out sometime. After playing for a while, I wondered if I could write a new song and would it still sound like a DAMAD song. We tried that out; it sounded pretty cool. We're not going to play it at these shows, but we know that if it's something we decide to do, it could probably happen.
As far as Kylesa is concerned, are you and Laura [Pleasants] sitting on any unreleased stuff? Even anything half-baked?
There is some unreleased Kylesa material, and maybe one day I'll put that together. We also recorded all of our last tour. Our sound guy, Dave, brought his ProTools in and recorded every show, so I have every show recorded through the soundboard. Some are OK, some are horrible. I started going through that and then realized what would it take to go through hundreds and hundreds of songs. I can't really do that right now. But there is stuff that I could go through at some point. Right now, taking a break for me is taking a break completely.
Was this Kylesa hiatus planned? Or did it happen after everything kind of settled down and you just realized, "You know what, we're going to do this"?
It wasn't a well-thought-out plan; I'll put it that way. There were hints that maybe it was time, but we still had things booked that we had obligations to do, but it was more like, if we're going to do this, we should do this. There's always going to be obligations; there's always going to be things that we have to do. That was the thing — we never wanted to disappoint our fans. We didn't want to disappoint people we were in business with: promoters, etc. At some point, we just have to stop and go — there's always going to be something.
We weren't even going to announce it, and then we decided that we couldn't just let people continue asking us to do things. We didn't make a press release. We didn't want to make a big deal out of it. We just needed a break.
So, you said potentially we'd have some kind of release that would compile all the older DAMAD stuff, and you have these other two shows and you're just feeling this out. I guess my question to you is what are you hoping to get out of this? Are you hoping that maybe you guys can do something like play more shows? Are you excited about that prospect?
For me, it's got to be about fun. The biggest thing has been reconnecting with the band, and I've already gotten a lot out of it. It's been great being around Scott and Victoria again. It's been a lot of fun; the practices have been really cool; it's nice to play music where there's no stress, other than we want to play well at the show. But there's no stress. There's nothing going on other than we've got to get it together for the show. Which is a nice way for me to play music again. It's nice to hear from a lot of old friends that are excited about seeing DAMAD again — people who have gone on and moved to other cities and are doing other things. I think that's cool and rewarding.
It would be nice maybe for people that have never got to see it or hear it to check it out. I know, personally, I'm still really proud of it. We've been practicing for six months. It's not one of those things that we're just doing it because someone offered us money to go do a show. It's all about our own pride, and we've worked really, really hard on it. People that haven't gotten to see us before, I think they'll see something pretty legit that's not going to be half-assed.
A lot of bands have reunited, and very few have the potency of the old days or the ability to build on that original venom.
I've been doing this long enough and I've seen enough bands come back to know what bands do wrong and what bands do right. Victoria has been very adamant about things feeling, looking and being what DAMAD was. Another thing is that we all still play music. It's not like everybody has been retired; nobody has really left the music scene. Everybody still listens to heavy music and has been a part of it in some way. So, I don't think people are going to be disappointed. I'm certainly hoping they won't be.
There's probably a lot of people who aren't as familiar with DAMAD as they are with Kylesa. So, for the newbies and the unfamiliar, what do you think are the definitive DAMAD statements?
Yeah, "Wordless" would be a good song to check out. That song has all the different elements that represent DAMAD. I know that's the song that we've been playing that we're all like, "Dang."