Portland's Van Dammesel Set to Release New Album
By: Sean Moore
I recently met up with Angie MacDonald and Justin Shea who record music under the moniker “Van Dammesel,” formerly known as The Living Daylights, to discuss all things music. Including their first EP, the process of recording their new record, playing live shows, the history of the band, and more. You may have seen them live over the past few years at places like Bayside Bowl, Elements (in Biddeford), and/or Portland House of Music, which they will be playing on March 7th- their first gig under the new band name.
I quickly discovered how excited Angie and Justin were to talk about their music and their new songs. Angie, the singer, talked about how she got her start playing music in front of people when she moved to Portland around 2013 at open mic nights, playing covers as she gained confidence as a singer. She met Justin in February 2014 and they quickly discovered they had a great musical chemistry. They wrote and recorded their EP “Heartbeat” in 2014. They played shows with a variety of musicians, and upon my questioning of why the long break between the first EP and their new album, both Angie and Justin explained that the break was completely “accidental” and were holding out hope to find the “right group of people” to record with as a band, as well as how there is a certain enjoyment and ease in recording songs without the pressure of a release date. Even though they write all the songs, they really wanted to record with a full band, where each member brings their own creative input. They’ve found that with this lineup, including Justin’s brother, Brendan Shea (on drums), Jason Elvin (on bass), and Matt Roberge (on guitar). Justin and Angie also told me that each member brings something else to the band. Matt is the audio/visual expert and shoots their videos. Jason is the social media extrovert and makes sure the band has a presence online. Brendan is the jokester, keeping things fun. Angie, the voice of the band, prides herself on being approachable and loves chatting with fans, this became clear to me immediately upon striking up a conversation at the brewery. We broke into a dialogue without needing an opening question, or even following a question-answer format to the “interview.”
Their love for music, and each other, was clear. I noted a few instances where Justin replaced Angie’s raincoat as it had fallen from the back of her chair, and Angie lightly touching Justin on the shoulder, arm or leg as he discussed writing music together.
Their musical chemistry blossomed into a relationship (the couple are actually slated to get married this August, in between playing shows and finished up their new album), which both have said makes writing and playing together easier, they can finish each other’s thoughts and their ideas for songs blend into one another’s. If Justin sends a snippet of a song he’s worked on, Angie will message him back within 30 minutes (sometimes), “the lyrics are done.” That communication between them, as well as with Brendan, plays a vital role in the writing process. “It’s like a song is a tiny ember and that could be turned into a flame or be blown out depending on the communication.” Given their relationship, Justin can push Angie to record the songs that perhaps may feel too personal, but his encouragement makes her feel comfortable. “It’s often the uncomfortable songs that make people feel and relate to,” Angie explained, speaking about the time she met the synth-pop band CHVRCHES and was able to tell the singer how their songs affected her.
When I asked what some of their musical influences were, especially while writing the new album, Angie very quickly replied, “I love Paramore. You’ll probably hear a cover during our set when you see us live,” as well as from bands like Mew, Chairlift, and Eisley, because they “don’t necessarily write verse, chorus, verse.”
Justin explained that they’ve written some many songs for this new record that they could possibly release another EP soon after the album, especially now that they have a home recording studio that guitarist Matt has built on top of his garage.
When asked about the future of the band, aside from all the material they have recorded (and are set to record), they have a couple of gigs that are potentially booked, one of which is the outdoor patio at Slab (an Italian restaurant located right in Portland, off of Congress St.) in the early summer. Justin talked about how they wouldn’t mind playing those types of gigs that have built in audiences like restaurants, as well as outdoor venues. Angie said she would really love to play festivals, specifically mentioned the Old Port festival as a dream gig. We talked about the potential of playing spots such as the local breweries, especially in the summertime, where the foot traffic is constant.
Ultimately, both Justin and Angie are very excited for what the future has in store for the band and want to play gig after gig because they feel confident with this new material. Angie spoke to me about the growth of her confidence as a singer and frontwoman of the band, which she says is written all over the the new songs, not just in her performances on stage, although she does not hide behind the microphone and keyboard, anymore. She walks across the stage, interacts and talks to the crowd with this new confidence.
We talked about the band’s name change and the origin of it. Angie talked about the whiteboard in the practice space that had a plethora of names, one of which was “Van Dammesel,” and she recalled not liking it, at first. At which point, Justin chimed in saying they had just watched the film Bloodsport starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, and Angie decided that she liked the connotation of the “strong female” because she “will never be that damsel in distress.” I loved this anecdotal story.
Our conversation left me excited to finally hear some new material from Van Dammesel. I am certainly looking forward to their show at Portland House of Music on March 7th and would love to see a great crowd come out and support them and the local music scene. Look for a new Van Dammesel single to drop soon, as well as the new record soon after.