Interview: Amen Dunes

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Amen Dunes is the musical project of Damon McMahon, which started in the fall of 2006 in upstate New York. The project continues today as Amen Dunes tours across different corners of the world. His third and most recent record, Love, released May 2014, is the product of close to a year and a half of continuous work. Before he gets into Canada, Tiffany gave Damon a call a few days ago to chat about this record along with a few other things. Check it out below!

Amen Dunes was a project you started a couple years ago and has evolved a bit over the years. How would you describe Amen Dunes in a couple words?
DM: Something along the lines of elemental song; it has some sort of simple and elemental qualities.

Each of your records have somewhat of a unique character to them, but your most recent record, LOVE, is exceptionally different – in terms of the sound and work put into it (collaborators). Can you tell us a bit about this?
DM: I like to make every record different, and this one I had a vision for a particular sound I wanted to pursue. We recorded half the record up in Montreal with two of the members from Godspeed! black emperor. They recorded the record and played on it as well, and then we had some friends that joined in too – Elias who sings in the band Iceage  and happened to be in New York while we were recording, my brother Xander Duell… there’s a bunch of people. It’s good. I think there’s something different that gets achieved when you bring other people in.

What was your strongest inspiration for this record?
DM: I wanted to make a record that was more open and more people, not just all myself. I wanted it to be more generous and less selfish. So that was the intention of this record, which is different than the Amen Dunes records in the past. And then sonically, I was inspired by a lot of classic singers… I had always listened to this music but I was really inspired by them when we started doing production for the record. Martin Gayes, Elvis, Van Morrison… Those are some people that I was emulating and had in mind when I started writing songs and working on the record.

Which song has the greatest meaning or connection to you on this record. Can you tell us a bit about the writing process for that one?
DM: The last song, “Love”, which is also the title of the record. I’m most proud of that song, out of anything I’ve ever done I think. I think that song sums up everything I do. If you pay close attention to the lyrics, it’s about many things. Specifically, it starts off with this relationship that I was in that ended now and reflecting on that, but it’s also about much more. It’s about purpose and meaning, my life as a musician, abstractly about other characters who find purpose through difficulty… I’d say this record is about cowboy worship. Literally and figuratively. So anyway, that song is about a million things – my relationship, failure, being a musician, cowboys.

Do you feel like you’ve finally found your sound, you know, the Amen Dunes sound you’ve been searching for? Or do you think you’re still evolving and things are changing?
DM: I’ve definitely gotten better as a singer over the years, but I’ve always had my sound. I’m never going to do a record that’s exactly like this ever again though, haha. That’s sort of how I operate. I’ve already kind of planned out the next record, and it’s very, very different. So, that’s what I like to do.

Now if you weren’t making music today, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
DM: If I wasn’t making music today… I’d be dead. And you can quote me on that, haha.

What is something on your bucket list that you hope to scratch off soon, musically or personally?
DM: I’ve been working on this book for years, I used to live in china for a couple years and I started writing a book about my time there. I’ve written maybe about half a book’s worth of content, but yeah that’s what I really want and need to do.

Moving to China is a pretty big and interesting decision. What made you do that?
DM: Just to get out of dodge, in a way, haha. I mean, I’ve always loved China. I was first exposed to China reading about Taoism and kind of fell in love with that when I was really young. Then I had an opportunity to go back in 2007, and I was kind of burned out and sick and tired of New York, so it was a perfect place to escape to. I went there and felt very at home, so I stayed there for a couple years.

Did you do any music stuff when you were there?
DM: No, I was actually trying to avoid music at all costs. I needed a break. Well, I recorded the second Amen Dunes record when I was actually in China ­– it’s called Murder Dull Mind. So I played a little music in my apartment, but I tried to divorce myself from any kind of performance or public music stuff.

Last question, so what are Amen Dunes’ plans for the next couple months ahead?
DM: We’re touring a shitload. This is a full US-Canada tour and then we’re only back for 10 days, and then go to Europe again to play festivals and more shows. Then, a 5-week tour in September and a month long tour in November in Europe, so we’ll be touring for the rest of the year. We’ll probably start recording the new record in January/February. I have a title already for it, I have the sound. I’ve kind of conceive the direction ahead of time. I can say that it’s going to have more electric guitar, and be way more pure, and muscular.

Amen Dunes plays Montreal June 21st (tonight), Ottawa June 22nd, and Toronto on June 23rd at the Silver Dollar Room. You can get advance tickets to these shows here

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