Montreal rockers The Damn Truth are ready to take things to the next damn level.
The quartet joined forces with iconic Canadian producer Bob Rock for their third album Now or Nowhere, a nine-track assault of loud rock recently released across the world.
The Damn Truth was born after Lee-la and lead guitarist Tom Shemer first met, they were both naked at a hippie festival not far from the Sea of Galilee (where the Bible says Jesus walked on water).
We sat down with the duo, who were clothed for the interview, to chat about what brought them to the next level.
Your new album is out this month. Can you guys tell me about it?
Lee-la – The album’s called “Now or Nowhere”. It was recorded in November 2019. We were in Vancouver and we were invited to The Warehouse Studios by the incredible legendary Bob Rock to record with him. We recorded six songs in four days. We were booked to come back in March 2020 to finish the album and then COVID hit our world. So we had to figure out what we were going to do to finish the album. We ended up finishing it here in Montreal, part in Dave, our drummer’s, studio and part here at Tom’s studio called Grandma’s House. We’ve finished the last three songs ourselves.
I want to touch on your first single “This is Who We Are Now”. It feels like an escapist song, but escaping with pride and dignity. How did that come about?
Tom – It happened quickly. While on tour in the States somewhere in Texas, I was driving somewhere really late at night, to or from a gig and it just hit me. I heard it in my head, but complete with the lyrics and the guitar riff (sings “If this is who we are now”). Our bass player PY was sitting next to me and told me to take out my phone and record it on voicemail because it was gonna’ be something. I can’t really tell you what it’s about, but it just kind of popped into my head and we took it from there.
When we got back to Montreal, we were on the road for about four months. We started working on the song and I got the chords, the groove from the drums and the bass, while Lee-la just stepped up to the mic and belted out those verses. She didn’t write anything on paper, it just happened naturally. It’s almost like a hip hop moment where you just spit out the lyrics into the microphone. And those are the lyrics that you hear on the record.
Is there going to be a music video for the song?
Lee-la – Absolutely. Yeah, we filmed it. I think it was at the beginning of April. It’s actually a very, very wicked concept that came about. We’ve teamed up with these videographers here in town – a production company called IO. We’ve been working with them quite regularly in the last couple of years because they’re very like minded, insane people, and they’ve been filming us doing a lot of live stuff. They came with us to The Warehouse in Vancouver to document that, but they’ve always wanted to do a proper music video They’re like “we have this crazy concept, but first, do you guys feel comfortable playing upside down?” It was very terrifying and a really an insane concept.
Tom – They built this box that moves and basically attached to a motor and the whole box rotates in 360 degrees. We were strapped to the walls and completely defying gravity, while Dave, our drummer, was bolted into his drum kit, which was bolted into the floor, and he had to play the drums upside down. But we survived. It took about two days to shoot.
Lee-la – It was really scary by the first moment. They didn’t tell us to go step in and go slowly. Instead let’s go down there, let’s strap you all down and start rotating and see how you feel. I felt like I was on an amusement park ride – like I was 14 again, screaming my head off. But eventually we got used to the rotation. But it was really insane.
I want to go back and talk about Bob Rock. I know you mentioned him a little bit earlier. How did you get involved with Bob? And did you film the recording process?
Tom – We have this guy named Ralph from our management team. He used to manage the Payola$ back in the 80’s – that was Bob Rock’s band. He always said when you guys want me to reach out to Bob and send him some songs, we can do that, but you only get one shot. When you send stuff, he’s going to listen to it. He’s going to like it or maybe he’s not gonna’ like it, but you never get a second chance. It’s a first impression thing.
Lee-la – It’s got to be good.
Tom – It’s got to be really good. So when we were writing this album, “Now Nowhere”, I felt we had something really good here. I was really pestering Ralph, let’s go. Now’s the time and it took a few weeks for me to convince him, but he did it. We heard back from Bob within 12 to 24 hours. It was like, come down to Vancouver and let’s make this happen.
Lee-la – About filming, it was a bit more about this production team that we met. When we came back from our European tour, we had a really big homecoming outdoor festival show and they were there documenting the before, the after and during. The minute we got booked to go into The Warehouse, my second call was to IO to see if they’ll come on board, because you don’t want to miss out on an opportunity of having these guys as flies on the wall. It was really an experience and such an honor to be able to record with such a man.
Tom – It was really cool. They jumped in the van with us and went for the drive from Montreal to Vancouver in two days. It was packed. Everything we have, along with the camera crew – they weren’t scared of any of it. Some people think, oh, we’ll fly and we’ll meet you there or whatever, but they wanted to be in the van seeing what it’s like to cross this great country of ours and they made a really nice little movie out of it, which is cool.
Were there any lessons that you learned from working with Bob?
Lee-la – Oh, yeah, plenty. Bob’s a real character. First of all, you have the legend that goes with it, and all the stories and all the people they work with. So for us, we were all extremely excited and honored and terrified to meet the man behind the name. I think we were all like giddy teenagers, you know. We had one phone call with him to iron the little musical details out before getting there, and within seconds, he put us all at ease. We spoke the same language and we love the same records. He’s just a really cool laid back, awesome dude.
Tom – He’s just a great Canadian boy who loves to play with toys. The most amazing part about the guy, obviously, is that he has a vast, vast, enormous knowledge of music, which is really inspiring. He knows his technical side, to a tee. He knows how to set up the microphones and knows the buttons. But what’s really impressive, is the fact that he knows how to get the best performance out of you, which is something that I never felt from another producer before. He just knows how to get in there and get the most out of you.
Lee-la – He’s got little techniques, little tricks that he used on us that were really, really cool. You don’t even think about it as it’s happening. For him, it’s second nature and for us, we’re just along for the ride. We came there to learn from him and to try everything out; we didn’t come with a closed mind, we were definitely there to learn and to gain everything we could from the experience. I think it just went really, really smoothly. I remember there was a moment in the studio where Ralph, our manager, came with us. Bob stepped out for a minute and Ralph huddled us over and he goes, “you know, Bob just told me, you guys could be a little bit more difficult kind of thing? And it was just really funny (laughter) because we really weren’t difficult at all. We were there to have a great time and to record a great record. That was really our purpose. We weren’t there to be stuck up snobs. (laughter)
What did Bob bring out of you guys that you may have not realized that you had?
Tom – There’s a song on the record called “Only Love”. It was written as a ballad while on the road. You get to see the world and you get to see all kinds of different people from all walks of life. One thing that’s apparent is that the thing that binds us together is love and hope. Anyway, that’s what the song is about, and it came together as a ballad, but when Bob heard it, he changed the tempo of the song. He almost made it a double time song. So it’s a formula being nice and slow and ballady kind of song and it went to a really fast rock song. We get to click it in our ears and we’re trying to play along to it. It just felt so awkward, like, how can we do that, but he never gave us a second to think about it. It is just do it, do it, do it.
One thing about the recording studio is that the speakers never lie and when you hear something that’s amazing, you know right away that’s good. So when we came back into the control room, listened back to it, it just sounded right. This is what the song needed.
You guys have been around for almost a decade. This new album will be out and will be the first time for many to hear you guys. What are the important things that you think fans need to check out to be up to speed?
Lee-La – We have a fun little weekly webisode happening right now. Once a week we’re putting out A Week in The Damn Life, which is basically chronicling what we’re doing that week – if it’s recording, a video, putting out the album, or talking about getting signed or not getting signed. So every week, we basically choose a topic, chat about it. It’s Anyone can check it out on YouTube or on our Facebook page. That could bring them up to speed.
Tom – Also maybe some Canadian audiences should check out some of our past work and some of the stuff that we’re doing right now. We have a huge wave of publicity and radio love in the UK right now and we’re getting played on the biggest radio station in England, so the song is climbing up the charts and we just got a full page and a half story in Classic Rock mag to go with it. All that stuff is really cool and big for people in the UK. For a lot of people, maybe in Ontario and out west that have never heard of us before, just know that we’re out there representing you as well.
You released a Stone’s cover last year. Why did you choose “Gimme Shelter”?
Lee-La – Well, at the time we were in lockdown number two or three here in the city. There were riots going on, people were really going a little crazy. There was also Black Lives Matter happening at the same time. I remember watching some live clips of people looting Steve’s Guitar Store – that’s one of our favorite stores in downtown Montreal, and I was just sitting there thinking “What is going on?” What we need right now is love and it feels like we’re going towards war. Gimme Shelter just popped into Tom’s head like this was it, this is the song we should do tomorrow. We basically did that when we woke up the next morning, and we recorded it at home.
Tom – The idea really came from just staying sane and to not go crazy. We want to play music together somehow, because at the end of the day, with all the press and everything that we do, we play music, because it’s therapeutic and we love it – it’s what we wanted to do. So we started doing these videos, and they started getting more and more popular, and actually, “Gimme Shelter” charted for a few months on the Canadian radio charts. That was unexpected for something that was recorded at home. The only reason we stopped doing them was because we were booked to play the first Canadian Drive -In show. We were the first band in Canada to do two shows in one night.
Keep up-to-date with news, concerts, videos and new music at thedamntruth.com