An incendiary sounding band, with clear ideas and a lot of grit, these are the Damned Pilots. The current line-up consists of Sgt. Ote on vocals and guitar, Willer Hz on guitar, Enrico ‘Kusabi’ Apostoli on bass and Don Nutz on drums. We interviewed Don, founder of the band, on the eve of the tour which will bring the Damned Pilots on stage as opening act for the Mentors, the legendary American shock rock band active since 1976.
The Rock Für Die Menschen Tour kicks off on April 3 in Helsinki and will continue through Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom -with a gig on April 6 at the Black Heart in London, in the middle of Camden Town- and will end on April 12 in Antwerp, Belgium. There will also be two shows in Italy, on April 9 at the Twitty Sister in Parma and on April 10 at the Freak Out in Bologna.
Here’s the first usual question: how did you guys meet and how did the Damned Pilots’ adventure begin? DN: The Damned Pilots started in Trieste back in 2012, I’d just came back from Holland, where I lived for about 10 years, playing and working with different bands and musicians from the Amsterdam local scene. After so much time, the will to live and rediscover once more the music scene in Trieste, the city where I grew up, led me to start hanging out in a couple of underground clubs where it’s still possible to listen to some good live music. It was during this period that I met the first members of the band and that’s how the original line-up was born. The idea was to play some Black Sabbath and Electric Wizard like metal, but also characterized by a glam attitude and influenced by the whole steam-punk comic imagery. After a couple of changes in the line-up and a few shows, we decided to go and record our Spaced Out at the Track Terminal Studio in Trieste. The EP sold out in a few months, and that, in the heat of the moment, led us to begin organizing our first European tour.
Can you tell us something more about Spaced Out, for the ones who still haven’t listened to it? DN: Spaced Out includes six songs, with two covers: Believe Me Now by the Electric Light Orchestra, and an early 80’s classic glam metal as Sleeping In The Fire by W.A.S.P. Believin’in is a psychedelic acoustic song, influenced by some of the songs written by Beck on his record Sea Change. The song My Word is slightly more focused on bass, drums and rhythm lines, influenced by 70s hard rock funk bands such as Grand Funk Railroad, but with a more modern sound to it. Make My Day is the single of the EP, characterized by its catchy and easy sound; a song for which we produced our first video-clip, together with director Fabio Bressan.
What is the story you wanted to tell through this video? When I watched it, I really liked it and it really surprised me. DN: We shot Make My Day at the Etnoblog in Trieste, we had in mind something inspired by 90’s music videos, in a retro sort of way. In that sense, we wanted it to be influenced by some videos by the Rockets, a band known for their space like look through the Eighties. In our video, the Damned Pilots are actual Pilots playing in outer space. To make this, we built a spinning platform and we all played on it, one at a time. When we were shooting the video, while the director was filming each member of the band, the others were constantly spinning the platform, so that we could give that sense of movement. At the end of the shoot, which took about two days, we were pretty exhausted, then the video clip was first aired on Blank.TV, a well known web-channel.
Tell us about your influences, what are the bands you look up to and listen? DN: Our music is a mixture of classic rock, old school metal, black metal, stoner doom and even pop music! (laughs) So far, we have been mostly influenced in our songwriting by a huge number of bands, starting from Devil’s Blood to the Beatles, the Electric Light Orchestra, and of course, Kiss and Black Sabbath. Personally, I am listening to a lot of classic metal right now, stuff I used to listen to when I was a kid, but that still manages to move me. Newer bands of this same kind of metal that I really like are Dawnbringer, Bullet, Wytch Hazel, Portrait, Ghost B.C. and Volture. As for other genres, I love Ultraviolence of Lana Del Rey and Blackberry Smoke. At the moment they are my favorite band, I listen to them at least once a day. I also like Ancient VVisdom, and many other things that go from grind-core to the Melvins, soundtracks of films such as Drive or The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty, but also the soul of Etta James and The Bellrays.
One of your essential elements seems to be the choice of your costumes and the use of a very strong makeup… What’s the importance of your image in a context like the one you’re in? DN: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always been a comic books fan, I collect comics and I’ve always had this idea of a band as a group of superheroes. I like bands that, besides playing, also put up a show, with very detailed looks, absurd and incredible characters: for example, I love Kiss, but also GG Allin, Mentors, Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P., Turbonegro, Buzzoven, Pantera, and all those who are connected, in some way, to comic characters. For me, music is something that should also be ‘crazy’ and that has nothing to do with the everyday life of the resident of a quiet suburban town, hence I tried to put forward a band that, stylistically speaking, has something to share with comic books, with sci-fi, a lot of humor and sarcasm, the whole thing spiced up with a good amount of self-irony.
As a band, you’re playing more frequently abroad than in Italy, and you already collected several tours. What did those experiences leave in you? DN: To date, we did three European tours: the Spaced Out Tour 2013, the Beating The Odds Tour 2013 and the Ride The Sky Tour 2014. In particular, the last one has been a fantastic experience, we made it to Lithuania, going through Poland and Czechoslovakia. The way these places welcomed us was amazing, the audience of the East is a real audience. In Lithuania we played two unforgettable shows in Kaunas, for two nights in a row, we had made sold out in the same venue, we met some awesome people. We were guests of this Lithuanian kid and we spent a couple of days with him and his friends, they made us understand their spirit, such good and hospitable people, and their attitude for having good times and party hard. Another great place was Bielsk Podlaski in Poland: our show there was in a music hall, the organization was great and we met some unforgettable people, real metal heads: we played our very best show in the whole tour and we can’t wait to be back there! I remember that as we arrived, the organizer of the gig asked me how many of us were there, then he gave us four bottles of vodka… and what can I say about the incredible sisters from Lithuania, Rita and Ruta, who kept offering us shots of pure vodka, I never in my life saw two girls drink like that and not turning lame or anything like that! Not to mention the gig we played in Belgium and the manager of the mighty Carpe Diem… Belgian beers? Eh eh, and of course, the shows in Holland… Well, yes, come on, we are stoners and we enjoy having something to drink too while we’re on the road.
Tell us how the collaboration with Mentors came to be? DN: I met the Mentors thanks to my great friend Paul van Rijswijk, sound engineer at the Voodosound Studio and a very well known guitarist in the Dutch metal scene. Paul introduced me to Steve Broy, the Mentors bass player, better known as Dr. Heathen Scum, from the first day me met we started recording together, and we started a studio band, The Milfhunters. The Mentors started in Seattle but they worked in Los Angeles, and they are known for their crazy lyrics, with strongly sexist themes, to the point they even call their music ‘rape rock’. Their leader, drummer Eldon Hoke aka El Duce was one of the most outrageous characters of the rock scene, politically incorrect and out of any scheme of rule, always against but with a great sense of self-irony… The Mentors were the very first band that was censored by the PMRC (Parents Music Resource Center), the association founded by Tipper Gore, wife of the future vice-president of the U.S. According to legend, El Duce is the murdered of Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, and there is a well known interview appearing in the docufilm Kurt & Courtney (1998), in which he states that Love offered him 50 thousand dollars to kill her husband. My friendship with Steve has been going on for a lot of years now, he’s always traveling around because of his job, and every time he would be coming through Amsterdam we met and we’d meet and record something. Then I moved back to Italy, but we kept in touch and the Mentors even came to Trieste and did a show a few years back. A couple of months ago, Steve asked me if I wanted to help the Mentors and be on drums for their tour, so on April, the 2nd, we will start our tour from Helsinki to London and the Damned Pilots will come along and play as opening act for the whole tour.
What is the festival you’d like to play at the most? DN: Well, talking about dreams in the closet, we’d love to play at the Wacken Open Air in Germany, it’s a super famous festival, perhaps the most famous in Europe, I’ve been there countless times, the organization and the bands that play there are always amazing one hundred thousand people coming from the whole Europe and from the rest of the world too, and every time it’s sold out!
How would you like your sound to evolve? DN: I’d like it to become more and more heavy and more and more pop.
I’ll finish with a silly question: where do you think the Damned Pilots will be in 2025? DN: (laughs)…playing on Mars!