Eric Von Damage | Believing in the Underground

Local musician, Eric Von Damage, discusses the importances of diversity, underground artists, and helps reinforce my confidence St. Louis music.

Eric Von Damage has been in my life, in one form or another, for a long time; going on about ten years now, I think. I’ve seen him perform countless times in countless numbers of bands and seen him at who knows how many shows. He even made a few guest appearances in my band many moons ago (Cuando Greg and the Chives. Do yourself a favor and don’t look it up. Seriously). For the first time, despite our musical history, I took the opportunity to sit down with him and pick his brain on his background, influences, and thoughts on the current state of St. Louis music.

EVD was born in south St. Louis and moved to Pennsylvania for a number of years in middle school, where he saw his first punk rock show. Everything thing changed after that point. When he returned to St. Louis as a freshman in high school, he started forming bands with like-minded friends.

Being influenced by a number of musicians, including Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, Blondie, Public Enemy, Body Count (Ice-T), and Nirvana, has always given Von Damage a mixed bag of inspirations from which to grab. Growing up, he had access to his dad’s record collection and was exposed to blues and early rock musicians. As a teenager, part nine of the PBS special, History of Rock’n’Roll, simply titled “Punk” and Alternative Press’ 100th issue featuring the 100 Underground Influences opened up the doors of punk rock for him: the Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Gang of Four, Bad Brains, Green Day, Dead Kennedys, The Birthday Party, and Fishbone. Keeping up with the mainstream as well, Turn it Upside Down by the Spin Doctors was his first CD (hey, we all had that one growing up, didn’t we?) and he names Radiohead and U2 as two “of the most important bands of all time.” As he’s grown as a musician, he has maintained an appreciation for diversity in music; continuously encouraging himself and others to “escape narrow-mindedness, disregard genres” and support bands’ freedom of speech and expression.

Von Damage has played in a lot of bands in St. Louis. For him, some of the personal highlights have included playing drums with The Adversary Workers, Corbeta Corbata, and most currently, long-time heroes, Bunnygrunt. However, he says one of his fondest memories was playing at The (now extinct, I think) Slaughterhouse with The Born Beat. He was in charge of creating a self-described Phil Spector style “Wall of Sound” with a saxophone and sampling machine, endearingly describing the band’s creative and non-traditional style as “the sound of my St. Louis.”

When I asked him about what he thought about the current state of music in general, he had this to say: “the underground is the most important” part of any music community and “will never die.” That’s why Gang of Four is such a strong influence — they “reinforced the importance of the underground.” He continues, “you have to dig if [your] interested in [finding new] music” and originality “exists mostly in the underground.” He laments the demise of the live show and criticizes the record industry for failing it’s chance to help artists and only seeking profit by saying, “the snake has eaten it’s own tail.” He firmly believes that music is now solely in the hands of the individual and holds a traditional view on the industry: music shouldn’t be just downloaded for free; the artist should always be compensated.

As far as the St. Louis music scene is concerned, Von Damage has faith in it. He justifies his position by arguing that we’ve always had a city of great musicians: Scott Joplin, Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina Turner, Wilco, and even Nelly. The problem is that we, as a city, “suffer [from an] inferiority complex” and we must continue to “remind ourselves that awesome stuff has come from St. Louis and instill confidence [in ourselves].” He has played in major cities all over the country, including New York and San Francisco, has experienced many other local scenes first-hand and simply states, “they don’t have it like we have it.” He continues by saying that we “may not know the coolest, up to date stuff” but will always have great things here, including access to music for cheap and often times free. For Von Damage, the “worst current band is better than the best band that ever was.” Finishing up, he gave props to some of his favorite local bands, including Popular Mechanics, The Conformists, and Bunnygrunt (whom he’d always admired prior to working with).

As I spoke to him and subsequently am writing this interview, I realized just what a fresh breath of motivating air it was talking to Von Damage. He has only positive things to say about St. Louis musicians and artists. And hearing the passion and honesty in his voice could get even the most cynical and jaded curmudgeon re-excited about our local scene. To sum it up in his words, “St. Louis fucking rules.” | Nicole Madden

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