Damon And Naomi's Damon Krukowski
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Though seminal late-'80s/early-'90s dream-pop band Galaxie 500 was short-lived, its legacy endures—as does the beef between singer-guitarist Dean Wareham and the band's two other members, drummer Damon Krukowski and bassist Naomi Yang (Krukowski's wife). After Galaxie 500 dissolved in 1991 due to internal strife—chronicled in the booklet included with the band's 1996 box set and, more recently, Wareham's 2008 memoir, Black Postcards—Wareham would go on to form Luna; Krukowski and Yang, meanwhile, formed Damon And Naomi, a prolific psych-folk duo that Stephin Merritt once dubbed "probably the quietest rock group in the United States." A good example of the duo's musical evolution can be found on the new compilation, The Sub Pop Years. Prior to Damon And Naomi's performance tonight at The Rock And Roll Hotel, The A.V. Club spoke with Krukowski about the band's departure from Sub Pop, forming his and Naomi's own 20/20/20 label, and teaching grad students how to make music out of garbage.
The A.V. Club: Were you happy with how you were represented in Dean Wareham's memoir, Black Postcards?
Damon Krukowski: I don't think I want to discuss that, actually. Anyway, Naomi hasn't even looked at it. I looked at it enough to know that I'm not even gonna comment on it. Sorry!
AVC: How was your relationship with Sub Pop?
DK: They were enormously supportive of us artistically. I don't think they ever invested in us commercially—they always viewed us as an art project because they just liked the music. They were very generous with us in that they never interfered and let us do whatever we wanted. They were always supportive and always greeted each record with great enthusiasm. We weren't selling records for them in any commercial quantity. The label has turned everything around and has been really successful again since we've left. We were there for all the years when they weren't selling any records. We fit kind of neatly right between their two huge successes.
AVC: So, why did you leave?
DK: It was sort of a mutual decision. We had been on the label for a long time....We reached a point in our career where we felt we needed a different kind of idea on how to sell records and a new way to approach our career. We just wanted to re-address where we were and who we were making music for, so we parted ways. Our contract had run out as well, so it was logical. They actually pointed us to where we are now. They were the ones who told us to contact Ben Goldberg who runs Ba Da Bing Records.
AVC: How is Goldberg involved?
DK: Ben had a whole lot of ideas about what a band like us should do at this point in our careers, which was to form our own label. We were like, "This is all really great, but we don't want to do it." So we asked him to do it and he was like, "Well I don't want to do that, I've got my own label." So, we asked him to be our manager and run the label. He took a day and thought about it and said yeah. So, we formed the 20/20/20 label with Ben as our manager and he got really into managing. Now he's managing bands left and right. So, we both kind of launched these new points in our careers together.
AVC: Is it difficult juggling responsibilities between your label and your independent book publishing company, Exact Change?
DK: Yeah, that's why we didn't want to do a label. But, we don't really run the label, that's the thing. Ben runs it. We kind of don't touch the label business-wise. We hand the records to Revolver and to Ben and then step back and see what happens. It's not that different than the relationship we had with Sub Pop in some ways. Sub Pop always let us do what we wanted to do artistically, so we just handed them a finished product, then we were very hands off about how they went about their business. It's been very rewarding and it's been great not to have that thing with a label where they're investing in you and there's always this question on if you are meeting someone else's expectations. We probably have very weird goals compared to young bands.
AVC: What makes your goals weird?
DK: Well, for one thing, it is really important to us to have our records available internationally. We tour overseas more than we do in the U.S. and we sell more records overseas than we do in the U.S. That's always been the case, even going back to Galaxie 500. When you go to a U.S. label and say that you're really excited about the possibility of how it can do in Japan, it's not cool at all. They don't make money from what you're selling overseas the same way that you do here. And if you say, here's our new label and the first shows we're doing are in Europe, it's the same thing. When you run a label, the goals of a band and the goals of a label are identical, so it's totally fine to be more focused on what's happening in London rather than what's happening in New York and L.A.
AVC: Do you still teach at Harvard?
AVC: Do you ever have students who are Galaxie 500 fans or Damon And Naomi fans that have taken the class specifically to meet you?
DK: I'm not totally sure when they figure it out. I suspect they just Google me at some point in the semester. They are a bit too young for that and we don't seem to have a big reach into that age group at the moment. Hopefully, that will change. Right now, I don't think my band is speaking to 18 year olds, for whatever reason. Teaching has been really fun, especially the classes I do in the art department, because I have been using music in my teaching, but it's not to musicians. It's very punk rock cached in high-art terms. There's one class I do called "Noisy Art" that I'm actually teaching this year, not at Harvard but as a workshop for grad students who are at M.I.T. Nobody's really a musician and I take them all to the Goodwill store and they pick out anything that makes noise and then they form an orchestra together. We do scores that are not written out on staff, so you don't have to know how to read music to interpret them...It's really funny. They make an orchestra out of junk, essentially.
AVC: What are the most interesting things your students have made instruments out of?
DK: They tend to go for household items that make a lot of noise. Some of them gravitate towards things that are glass. Some go for toys. You find a lot of broken toys at those shops. The ones with the most musical backgrounds will actually go for recording devices or cassette decks or TVs or electronics music devices. They tend to be broken in the Goodwill, so they fool with those. They don't quite know what they are getting into at the beginning of the semester and then they realize they have to stick with it. It's very punk rock. It's not that different from how we formed our band, we originally all just went to the store and picked an instrument. None of us had any background. So, we picked our instrument for whatever reason, whether it was cool, or glittery or whether we were going to look good wearing it. Then 15 years later, we're still stuck with it.