Last updated: 08/03/2007 11:00:00 AM
Noelle (vocals/guitar) Dave Pino (guitar/vocals)
Vazquez (bass/vocals) Dustin Hengst (drums)
In the year 2001, a rock and roll band was formed in Waltham, Massachusetts--a working-class suburb of Boston--with a curious mandate.
Their purpose was to perform the music of a guitarist and songwriter by the name of Dave Pino. Although Dave had become something of a Waltham legend in recent years, he was wholly unknown outside of the metro-Boston area, and his songs had never been commercially released. It is not inaccurate to say the band--now called Damone, after a character in the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High--formed on a lark. Dave and bassist Vazquez were part of a small, tightly-knit community of small-town rockers who were just insulated enough from the rest of the world to invent their own musical language.
"The reason I got into music," Vazquez once said, "is because in fourth grade Dave Pino brought an acoustic guitar to school and played 'La Bamba,' and all the girls suddenly wanted to hang out with him. So I went out and bought a guitar the next day."
Dustin Hengst had spent a few years recording and playing drums in other bands with Dave. The latter and Vasquez already knew Noelle because she was the younger sister of a good friend. Noelle was playing in basement hardcore bands with her brother, and her presence was conspicuous at Waltham's prime teenage party hangout. In short, Noelle was the classic tag-along, tomboyish little sister.
The original Damone demos were recorded in Watham, with the songs having been written much earlier. Culled from a batch of about 80 songs Dave wrote in 1996 and 1997 when he was 18 years old and working at the Waltham Carwash--a location that figures prominently in his writing--they were written specifically for an ex-girlfriend after a break up.
"She was really friggin' hot, dude," says Dave. "Anybody woulda written 80 songs for her." Dave Pino has dark long hair with bangs, and he doesn’t discourage anyone from referring to it as a mullet; his automotive pride and joy is a '67 Camaro with a stereo that plays only 8-tracks; he has his own basement studio in his parents' house which he paid for by recording rich-kid punk bands; and he speaks with a heavy, yah-dood townie accent, and every other word out of his mouth is "friggin’."
One Christmas, Dave delivered these 80 songs to his ex-girlfriend on multiple formats: CD, cassette, and 8-track. The girl liked the songs but declined to resume their romance. Dave, who takes a strict utlilitarian approach to songwriting, took this as a sign that the songs
were simply not good enough, and consigned them to the dustbin.
Noelle is short in stature and painfully shy; she is legally blind in one eye; and her face is perpetually hidden behind a tress of gangly, nut-brown hair. Noelle came alive in the basement, which after all is her natural habitat. With only minimal changes to Dave's songs--the flipping of gender pronouns, mostly--Noelle found the material suited her perfectly. As Phil Spector found his Crystals, Shadow Morton his Shangri-Las, Kim Fowley his Runaways, Dave Pino's songs found their ideal singer in Noelle.
"Dave was basically a 16-year-old girl when he was 18
years old," she likes to say, at least in part because it makes Dave mad. "I
can relate to these songs a lot. It's about, high school. It just
gives off that vibe, y'know… hanging out and smoking weed. They're really girlie songs. Sappy and romantic " They're also really teenage songs, fit to break your heart and spirit you up the half-pipe of your soul: doleful and invigorating blasts of new-wave abandon, skate-punk frivolity and '70s arena-metal heaven.
On the furious opening track, "Frustrated, Unnoticed (BMX)," we're introduced to a new all-ages all-star—one raised on a steady diet of Weezer and ESPN2. Noelle runs as fast as anyone she knows, she freestyles wherever she goes and she doesn't cry when she falls. Elsewhere, she cleans up after snotty girls who leave garbage strewn around the coin-op vacuum pods and she dreams in stereo about a life that doesn't involve toweling off I-ROCs. Her fantasy date? "In the day he can meet me in the park/BMX all day until dark," she daydreams breezily on "Carwash Romance.” For a nightcap, they get high, ride their bikes to the car wash, and OD on junk food. On "Up To You,” she attempts to ask out a boy without asking him out exactly and then hedges at the last second. And when she finally gets around to an actual date, in "On My Mind," she can't get through it without her dad paging her "50 times for every hour."
As if on cue, a bunch of people began proclaiming their love for the Damone recordings. The underground disc was immediately embraced by critics and garnered the group an almost instantaneous buzz. The Boston Globe described the bands sound as “rooted in melodic, metallic crunch of the Muffs and the early Go-Go's, and its indescribably refreshing to hear a teeeange girl who actually sounds like a teenage girl and singing rock music about the real business of being a teenager." In short order, they picked up regional radio airplay and tour dates with the likes of Andrew W.K., Goldfinger, Injected, and Mooney Suzuki.
And then something funny happened, something that is too perfect to be made up, something too strange to be anything but true. Five years after Dave Pino wrote 80 songs for a girl, the girl called back. Scientists are still divided on whether or not the songs played any part, but at long last they reunited. The songs, Dave decided, were pretty good after all…they worked.
With their major-label debut release on RCA--containing many of the original recordings recorded in a Waltham basement--Damone are poised to take the country by storm, one curb at a time.