Mullets, Chevelles, BMX bikes, muscle cars, cheesy mustaches. The science of guitar solos by White Lion and Extreme’s Nuno Bettencourt. These are ’80s things bands like Blink-182 like to poke fun at. Damone’s Dave Pino, however, isn’t laughing with them.
“That whole mullet thing, American Hi-Fi and Sum 41 can goof on that stuff – the Camaro-driving guy with the mustache. It’s funny and I get it, but it’s offensive to us,” said Pino, the musical mastermind behind Waltham, Massachusetts, rockers Damone.
“In this town, we’re stuck in some ’80s suburb,” Pino explained of the working- class Boston ‘burb of 60,000 where he and his bandmates grew up. “Everyone who lives here has muscle cars and motorcycles. Those guys’ act makes us feel like they think they’re better than us and we belong on ‘The Jerry Springer Show.’ But that’s our roots!”
Pino’s roots are definitely showing all over Damone’s debut, From the Attic, a fired-up, hook-heavy ’80s arena ode to teenage life and hopeless devotion that might just hold the record for songs that either take place in or mention car washes. With a few big, Eddie Van Halen-style solos, cascading, multi-tracked vocal harmonies from high school senior and singer Noelle, and bright, skintight rhythms from bassist Vazquez and drummer Dustin Hengst, From the Attic sounds like the lost soundtrack to a John Hughes high school flick from the ’80s. The band was, after all, named after the slimy ticket scalper from 1982’s “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which was released four years before Noelle was born.
The 11 songs are among the hundreds Pino has written since his early teens, more than 80 of which he wrote in 1996 while working the graveyard shift at the Waltham Carwash and dreaming about his soon-to-be-ex girlfriend. “I worked there 50 hours a week,” Pino said of the wash, which is mentioned in the album’s lead track, “Frustrated Unnoticed,” as well as in “Carwash Romance” and “Your Girlfriends.”
“I worked two jobs and then the night shift at the carwash, so the office was like my living room. I had a guitar there and I’d work on songs that I tried to make like ones I loved from the ’80s, when songs had mysterious lyrics,” Pino said, citing Rick Springfield as a prime influence in that department. The Donnas-meets-Cheap Trick song “Carwash Romance” came to Pino one night at the wash when he was lonely, eating junk food, gazing out the window and imagining the perfect girl coming over the hill on her BMX bike. “At the carwash I will be dreaming/ Would you like it if I sing to you/ I’m just hoping, I’m just hoping,” Noelle sings in her girlish lilt, before her voice is buried in a landslide of major riffage and bashing drums.
Pino didn’t get the girl, despite making her tape after tape of original love songs. But Pino – who compares himself to the character Wooderson from the stoner flick “Dazed and Confused” because of his tendency to hang out with the younger siblings of his friends – did eventually get introduced to then 12-year-old tomboy Noelle, whose shyness he said makes her the perfect frontperson.
“It makes her presence that much stronger on the record, which I think is cool,” said Pino of the hair-in-her face, black leather bracelet, tough-girl look which masks a reserved persona and a powerful voice reminiscent of ’90s rockers Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt.
“Dave was 21 when I met him and he wanted to be a rock star,” said Noelle, whose Huey Lewis-loving mom owns a yarn store. “I didn’t really want to be a rock star, ever.”
Onstage, Noelle has a strange way of showing it. When Pino dropped out of the band’s recent tour with the Ataris to concentrate on making music, novice guitarist Noelle was suddenly thrust into the spotlight as both singer and riff-master, a task she completed with a mix of swagger and self-deprecating humor. “Sorry we suck so bad tonight,” she said during a tour stop in Cincinnati, Ohio, before chopping out the chunka-chunka riffs of “Feel Bad Vibe,” hair in face, guitar slung low. (The group has since added a touring guitarist.)
Noelle said she has no problem singing Pino’s hopelessly devoted songs. “I didn’t know Dave that well when we started playing and singing together, so I just swapped the gender and anyone can relate to them,” she said. “I mean, in ‘Frustrated Unnoticed,’ that’s just about being pissed off because the person you’re into doesn’t notice you. You’re like, ‘Look at me, I’m riding a BMX bike, I’m rockin’ a musclehead car, but you’re not even noticing me.’ ”
Though they just played their first live gig a year ago, the whirlwind reality of having their major-label debut out hasn’t really sunk in for Damone. “It’s not as exciting as I thought it would be,” said Pino. “I thought I’d be all nervous and freaked out, but my real life is as prominent as ever. Earlier today, I was [working on some] of our trucks and before that I woke up early to change out windows on some of my dad’s buildings and picked up my mom.” Noelle, who has a tutor on tour, where her big brother keeps an eye on her, said she doesn’t know if rocking is her full-time dream.
“I’d like to go to art school or something,” she said. “That sounds really cool.”
Avril Lavigne and Lillix may have made it safe for young women to rock again, but Noelle doesn’t really care if people tap into her ‘girl power.’ “I’m wicked into Patti Smith, Debbie Harry and Letters to Cleo,” said Noelle. “But we pretty much are heshers. I have a mullet and people bash that sh-, but it’s just who we are. We need more girls rocking out.”
Oh, and that ex-girlfriend who didn’t respond to Pino’s CDs full of love songs? After dumping him, Pino wrote a few songs for her older sister (“Karen on My Mind,” “Karen’s Electric Love”) and eventually, they got back together.