Damon and Naomi
Damon and Naomi
Psychedelic rock duo
Damon and Naomi, described by Ptolemaic Terras cope as “an eerily incandescent pairing of melancholy souls who carved a niche for themselves,” is the latest musical incarnation of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang. What began as the rhythm section of Galaxie 500 has evolved into this band, named for it’s members and seeking musical self expression rather than fitting neatly into any one musical genre. Although their career is still young, Damon and Naomi have carved out a serious following among fans of dreamy ambient psychedelic folk, a genre which has few members but owes much of it’s roots to these musicians.
Both Krukowski and Yang were born in New York City and grew up in musical homes. Damon’s mother was a jazz singer whose taste leaned heavily on classical jazz artists such as Billie Holiday and Jimmy Rushing. Krukowski counts his mother’s friends among the first to teach him to play the piano and guitar. He never practiced either instrument much until he “picked up the drums and finally found an instrument free from written music (he has since) returned to the guitar, but (thinks of himself) as playing the ‘composers’ guitar (using it primarily to accompany his voice)”.
Yang, also found practicing tiresome as a child. Her father played “heavy Bach chorales” on the cello, and both parents listened only to classical music “but the did have a Beatles record or two lurking in their collection which (she) found right away.” When asked about her musical past she commented “maybe my musical taste can be traced to an early exposure to Bach and The Beatles [the White Album]”.
Musical influences for the duo are wide ranging and always changing. Damon lists folk singers such as Bob Dylan, Robin Williamson [of The Incredible String Band], Tom Rapp [of Pearls Before Swine], Sandy Denny and Bridget St. John. Both of them express great admiration for Robert Wyatt, as a drummer and as a vocalist. “At any given time”, Naomi explains, “Damon and I are listening to music that relates to what we are thinking about music and our instruments. I used to listen mostly to what the bass player was doing and it was the rhythm section that was important to me…. But these days, singing has become so important to us… we are listening to vocal music much more carefully and focusing on the fact that the voice is really a powerful instrument.”
Yang, Krukowski and Dean Wareham met in high school. While at Harvard, Wareham and Krukowski formed a punk cover band. After college the two decided to form a “real” band and recruited Yang as their guitarist after finding no suitable candidates from a Village Voice ad. The band was called Galaxie 500 after a sixties Ford muscle car model. Their debut album, Today, was described by Melody Makeras “an astonishing debut by anybody’s standards.” The album launched what would become a brief but legendary career, gaining acclaim for their unique music, unlike much of the “alternative” music of the late eighties. The liner notes to the reissue of Today describes Galaxie’s music as having “incredible, supple beauty … spun like straw … so sweetly melancholic that it smothered you. Damon’s drums drift with the simmering presence of jazz classicism, Naomi’s bass is rich with dreamy emotional content, Dean’s guitar completes the landscape painting begun by ‘60-era Sterling Morrison… there is not one false note struck on Today”. Galaxie 500, forged new roads in alternative “ambient rock”. After cutting three albums the band suddenly parted ways in 1991 after Wareham called it quits. Wareham went on to form Luna, and Damon and Naomi continued to make music on their own.
Upon the initial breakup of Galaxie 500, Damon and Naomi were rejected by most members of the music industry because they had been viewed as just a rhythm section. The notable exception to that rule was Kramer, founder of Shimmy Disc. It was his insistence that they returned to making music with More Sad Hits.
Shortly after the release of More Sad Hits, they briefly joined Magic Hour with Wayne Rogers and Kate Biggar.
For the Record…
Members include Damon Krukowski (born Sep tember 6, 1963, in New York City); Education: Harvard College, graduated with a Master of Arts degree in English and American Literature, 1988, vocals, drums, guitars; Naomi Yang (born September 15, 1964 in New York City); Education: Harvard College graduated with Bachelor’s Degree, 1986, vocals, bass, keyboards.
Duo formed in 1992; released EP as Pierre Etoile, 1990s; released first album More Sad Hits, Shimmy Disc Records, 1992; founded Exact Change Publishing House, 1990s; joined Magic Hour, 1993; left Magic Hour, 1995; signed with Sub Pop Records, 1995; released The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi, played Terrastock Festival, Providence, R.I., 1997; released Playback Singers, Sub Pop, Records, 1998; played Terrastock West Festival, San Francisco, CA, 1998.
Addresses: Record company —Sub Pop Records, P. O. Box 20645, Seattle, WA 98102.
Musically very different from either Galaxie 500 or Damon and Naomi, the band played mostly long drawn out structured improvisations. Reception for the band was uneven at best, with many audiences and reviewers responding negatively to it. The group toured extensively and attracted a small loyal following. During this time, Damon and Naomi expanded their music to more heavily reflect the influences of classic psychedelic artists like Can, The Soft Machine, and Robert Wyatt. Practicing as Magic Hour became increasingly difficult and the group parted on amicable terms.
According to Damon in an interview with Ptolemaic Terrascope, “More Sad Hits was intended as a swansong…. We figured we’d wait a little and see how we felt. As it happened, it took a couple of years before we wanted to do another… but during that time we were playing with Kate and Wayne.” Although they had recorded their first album as Damon and Naomi, the duo had never performed live. When Kramer asked them to join him in a tour of Japan, he insisted they perform not only with him but as Damon and Naomi as well. Uncomfortable at first, they slowly adapted to being front and center stage. After recording The Wondrous World of Damon and Naomi, they toured by themselves to promote the album. The duo recorded Playback Singers in their own living room.
Taking the name of Playback Singers from Indian musicals where the playback singers are the musicians who record the soundtrack off stage and unseen by the audience, Damon and Naomi recorded this album alone without a producer or audience. “Compromising quality of recording for the sake of nostalgia” is a slogan which is only half true, this is an album of high musical quality. Step by step, the former “rhythm section” for Galaxie 500 have rewritten themselves with their own brand of warm, sincere “psychedelic folk.”
(as Pierre Etoile), “This Car Climbed Mt. Washington”, Rough Trade, 1990, reissued Elefant, 1997.
More Sad Hits, Shimmy Disc, 1992, reissued, Sub Pop, 1997.
The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi, Sub Pop, 1995.
(Damon & Naomi with Tom Rapp), “I Shall Be Released”, CD accompanying Ptolemaic Terrascope Terrastock Special Issue, 1997.
(on Terrastock Benefit EP), “14 Auspicious Dreams,” Enraptured, 1997.
“The Navigator,” Earworm, 1997.
“Spirit of Love,” EP, 1997.
Playback Singers, Sub Pop, 1998.
with Galaxie 500
Today, Aurora, 1988, reissued Rykodisc, 1997.
“Tugboat”, Aurora, 1988.
On Fire, Rough Trade, 1989, reissued, Rykodisc, 1997.
This Is Our Music, Rough Trade, 1990, reissued, Rykodisc, 1997.
Copenhagen (rec.1990), Rykodisc, 1997.
Box Set, Rykodisc, 1997.
The Portable Galaxie 500 (rec. 1988-90), Rykodisc, 1997.
with Magic Hour
No Excess Is Absurd, Twisted Village, 1993.
Will They Turn You On or Will They Turn On You, Twisted Village, 1994.
Secession ‘96, Twisted Village, 1995.
“Sunrise Variations,” Flydaddy, 1996.
Boston Phoenix, May, 1997.
Musician, September, 1997
Ptolemaic Terrascope, June, 1997.
Riverfront Times, June, 1997.
Additional information was obtained through interviews with Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang and the liner notes to Galaxie 500 Today.
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