English punk vets The Damned perform at Alex's Bar for two nights this week alongside former Dead Kennedy Jello Biafra and his Incredibly Strange Dance Party, so we sat down with loopy guitarist Captain Sensible. Always a pleasure.
L.A. WEEKLY: It's been a year since Evil Spirits dropped — any sign of a new album?
CAPTAIN SENSIBLE: When you make albums so infrequently, starting the ball rolling feels like it’s the very first time all over again. Studios have moved on vastly since we started out .. not all has been for the better either. This immensely powerful software needs to be used sparingly — people go on about the classic sound of the '70s for a reason. There’s a lot to be said for an honest, uncluttered sound, where you can pick out individual instruments, rather than having your ears assaulted by compressed sludge. Yes, we’ve just recorded 3 new songs and the quality is pretty high for a bunch of old farts. We’ve still got it … whatever IT is.
What are your favorite memories of coming to L.A.?
On our first visit we were penniless. The Weirdos were kind enough to offer us a floor to sleep on (the manager took the sofa of course). In an attempt to scrape enough money together to buy plane tickets home we ripped up the guest list … what Rod Stewart’s name was doing on there I’ve no idea. I wonder if he showed up, and if so what he thought of the latest thing from London — we were pretty uncompromising back then. Actually… we were pretty HORRIBLE, let’s be honest about it.
It’s always fun when we have guests onstage … Slim Jim’s been a great mate for years, Wayne Kramer at the HOB was a lot of fun too … and jamming with Sky Saxon was unforgettable too, what a guy. He breezed into the dressing room with a dolly bird on each arm, bombarding anyone who would listen with non stop '60s psychobabble. It was as though the summer of love was still in full swing… if only!
Jello Biafra is on the bill with you in Long Beach — do you like the Dead Kennedys and his later work?
You don’t have to be mad to be in a punk band — but it helps. What else would an unemployable buffoon like myself have done if punk hadn’t come along and saved my skin. Same for Jello… the word eccentric goes nowhere near describing this motormouthed egomaniac.. but he’s always a real sweetheart when we run into each other.
And “Let’s Lynch The Landlord” is close to being my fave punk song. They don’t write 'em like that any more.
What can we expect from your set this time?
It’s 40 years since we released Machine Gun Etiquette, so we are playing that as a complete piece. Sadly Syd Barrett hadn’t showed up to produce our previous album, which meant we’d had to shelve the plan for making a psychedelic punk record until the next one. Bored with two-minute thrashes we would pick up anything we found lying around the studio and see if we could get a tune out of it — 10CC leaving their mellotron was the inspiration for “I Just Can’t Be Happy Today,” and then we discovered the joys of playing the tape backwards much to the engineer's dismay. No wonder labels weren’t queuing up to sign us, but at least none of the records are boring … even if they weren’t quite the albums the labels thought they were paying for. We’re playing the whole of Etiquette in its freaked out glory, and then a bunch of Damned faves.
After these shows, what's next for the band this year? Also you — anything happening solo?
These are the first of a flurry of round the world shows — the booze fueled days are gone though with the Damned resembling more an old fashioned gentlemen’s club these days. I think band members like to surprise each other with their chosen garb for these trips… I’ve no idea what outlandish attire Mr. Vanian will be wearing — he never disappoints — but he’s equally in the dark regarding my wardrobe. And they don’t call me Captain Sensible for nothing!
In the UK — the big thing before punk was glam rock… and while twanging away on that cheapo electric in my bedroom I always assumed that would be the kinda band I’d join one day when I could string a few chords together. Fashions may have changed in 1977 but mine didn’t quite go all the way with it — in fact there’s been a strong glam element in the old Sensible shtick over the years. And I’m STILL just about getting away with it.
The Damned plays with Jello Biafra's Incredibly Strange Dance Party at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 22 and Thursday, May 23 at Alex's Bar.