Daniel Stacey discusses his new solo project Damned If I Don’t and his recently released debut album
By Staff Writer – Emily May
Damned if I Don’t is the new musical project by Daniel Stacey Herber, a South African born and Hong Kong based musician, whose sound blends hard rock and epic hooks in the vein of Guns N Roses, Foo Fighters, Soundgarden and Wolfmother, He began playing music in South Africa at the age of 16, performing in numerous local bands for over a decade. He has been a member of touring bands, received international radio play and has played numerous South African music festivals, with his previous band securing a distribution deal with Universal Music South Africa and providing support for Underoath’s South African tour. Aside from being a musician, Herber is also a teacher and moved to Hong Kong over 5 years ago to teach. It was there that he decided to try his hand at a solo musical project, and although he has faced challenges, he has also found the experience rewarding in that he’s been able to discover what kind of sound he could come up with when writing for himself. He recently released the project’s debut album, Self-Titled, an album for which he caught himself how to mix and produce as well, recording the album in a completely DIY fashion. With a goal of improving his songwriting this year, Herber is currently forming a band with the hopes of touring around Asia Pacific. Although his debut album was written and recorded entirely on his own, he plans to release a second album at the end of 2019/beginning of 2020 that will include the input and talents of his new band members. With a lot of passion for his music and plans for the year, Damned if I Don’t seems poised for a bright future! Staff writer Emily May spoke recently to Herber regarding the start of the project, living in Hong Kong, his new album and what’s next. You can follow Damned if I Don’t and stay up-to-date on all upcoming music, band news and tour news via the following links. Check out the video below for the recently released single “Constellation”.
iTunes/Apple Music- https://itunes.apple.
You recently released your debut album ‘Self-Titled’, which includes your influences of thrash metal, punk rock and pop. What can you tell me about the inspiration behind the album and were you going for a particular sound? This album was just a pure expression of creativity from me and I literally recorded the first 11 songs that came to mind. I wanted to pay tribute to my many influences subtly, without directly trying to imitate that and think, to some extent, I managed to achieve that. In terms of inspiration it just felt right. After not having a musical project for 5 years, I just decided that I have songs in me that I feel need to be heard. If not now, then when?
Your first single, “Constellation”, was released in December of last year, along with the lyric video. What can you tell me about the songs? Do you have plans to film music videos for future tracks?
The songs tackle various broad themes I’ve encountered in my life. I feel I still have a long way to go as both a lyricist and songwriter. I’ll expand more on these in new songs, as there are still a lot of topics I would like to address and attempt to tackle in terms of thought-provoking lyrical content. I’d also like the songs to be relatable to listeners in their own way. We will be recording a new single and professional music video in a few months’ time, as an introduction to the full live band and sound, which I believe is a natural progression of what the debut album hinted at potentially.
You have said that the album was an experiment of sorts to find out what kind of sound you could come up with when writing for yourself. What did you discover about your solo writing process and how do you feel it differed from your previous song writing experiences within a band?
It was a lot quicker with no arguments. It feels to me though that the songs lack the depth that other perspectives from good musicians can bring though, speaking from experience of writing with a ton of talented guys (and girls) in the past. I also studied a lot to be able to produce and record songs that were of a quality that I felt was alright, for a debut album at least.
You did all of the recording/producing/mixing for the album yourself. You’ve said that one of the downsides to recording the album was doing everything in your spare time and teaching yourself to record everything on your own and having it sound good. What was that process like for you and how did you go about teaching yourself how to do everything? Was there anything you weren’t happy with that you are hoping to improve on with your next album?
The drums are programmed and not performed, so while they are in time, I think they lacked human dynamics and feel. I feel my vocals could always be better, but then again, I always feel like that and expect that will never change. The process itself was exhausting, studying in the evening, grabbing free moments here and there. It taught me enough that I think I can competently co-produce the next album, but I think from this point we are going to leave the future recordings in the hands of professionals who have specialised in this area their whole lives and careers. I hope to learn from experienced engineers and producers along the way, as I definitely am interested in the recording of music too. It’s an art.
You were born in South Africa and are of Dutch, Lithuanian and Irish descent. Have you found that familial cultural influences have played a part in your music at all? I read that your grandmother played piano in a band when she was younger. How much of a musical influence was she for you growing up and was/is anyone else in your family a musician?
My maternal side of the family who live in the Netherlands are all musical, so it’s definitely in the genes! On my paternal side one of my uncles is a great guitarist, so it may stem from both sides of the family. I’m also left-handed, so creativity is hardwired into my thinking, which I think helps a lot too. I often don’t need to think very long to come up with a unique melody. My grandmother was a piano teacher and an excellent pianist, but I only saw her seldomly. As such, she didn’t have any perceivable musical influence on me.
You have had formal training on guitar, bass and vocals from Tyrone Mayer, the leader of South Africa’s Guitar Excellence Company, from the globally-renowned jazz bassist and music lecturer Carlo Mombelli and from Daniel Tompkins of Tesseract, respectively. What led you to seek out formal training in these areas and what was it like to learn from such experienced teachers?
Being a teacher myself and know the value of learning from someone more experienced. Humility is a trait I find a lot of great musicians share. It was an amazing experience having my abilities refined by such patient and talented teachers. I’m actually considering taking up guitar lessons again. I believe you should never stop learning.
You are also a teacher and Master’s Degree student and emigrated to Hong Kong a few years back as part of your teaching career. What was it like for you to adjust to the Asian culture in Hong Kong in the beginning? What do you enjoy about the culture? What is the music scene like, compared to the South African music scene?
Hong Kong is a relatively small place, with a population of only 7 million people. There’s a large appreciation for Cantonese pop here and more traditional forms of music – as such Hong Kong is similar to South Africa in that rock music is not mainstream and is still relatively underground. Just like in Johannesburg, word-of-mouth travels and there aren’t too many live music venues here. I’d say the venues there are though are world class and there are plenty of other opportunities to tour in other nearby Asian cities where rock music is more popular. I enjoy the Hong Kong people and their strong sense of identity and cultural pride. Everyone treats me well here and there’s no animosity towards foreign nationals. I’d say, having lived in Northern China three years prior to Hong Kong, I was fairly well-adjusted to living abroad by the time I moved to Hong Kong.
What would you say have been some of your biggest challenges in starting Damned If I Don’t? You are in the process of forming a band of extraordinary musicians as a live act. How has the process been in recruiting other musicians for the band? Was that your goal from the start, to eventually have a full band?
One of the main reasons for making an album myself was to show other like-minded musicians that I am willing to put effort into making music. I’d say the main challenge initially was staying motivated throughout the recording process, with no fellow musicians to encourage me or provide feedback. I’ve been lucky in finding a perfect guitarist through placing an ad and right now we are finalizing a rhythm section, so all will be revealed soon. Needless to say, exciting times ahead, that’s for damn sure.
You’ve said that one of your goals for 2019 is to improve your songwriting. In what ways are you hoping to improve? What have some of your biggest song writing challenges been?
To further push my boundaries in terms of an appealing sound that is unique, relatable and sincere. These are not the easiest of traits to have come across to audiences, but I am confident that if I work at it I will be able to provide listeners with something that only could be made as a culmination of my experiences. I’d say one of the main challenges that I still face is lyric writing – what could possibly be so important that I would feel the need to bare my soul and have a set of very particularly-chosen words be heard by anyone with a willingness to listen? I intend to make people’s curiosity in our music worthwhile, lyrically at the very least, should they choose to invest their valuable time taking a listen to Damned If I Don’t.
Your hope is that people try to discover at least 5 new, good artists they like this year, rather than listening only to the same (but amazing!) bands they usually listen to. Do you find it challenging in the current musical landscape to get people to check out new bands, or do you find that social media and current streaming services have made it easier?
Social media and current streaming services have made it easier for bands to release and put their music out there, to the extent that anyone can now. This in turn has created a saturated industry of thousands upon thousands of new bands, most of whom your average music listener isn’t willing to sift through, which is fair. So instead music fans revert to listening to their tried and tested favourites. Most new bands are discovered by being ‘endorsed’ by bands that people already know and love, which only happens through hard work and determination, which can’t be contrived or bought. I think the music industry has always been a tough nut to crack and get noticed and that bands today just face a different set of challenges from those of yesteryear. Personally, I love music platforms like Spotify recommending artists to me based on what I’ve been listening to. It’s incredible how far technology has come and how it is now intertwined with the music industry.
Do you feel that it has helped you with Damned If I Don’t to have so much experience in the industry already? Have you made past connections that you feel have helped you to get things going with the band?
Most definitely. It’s more about approaching each step of being in a band with the right attitude and motivation. I think I was privileged to play and be in a band with a lot of talented musicians in the past and learned a lot from them, in terms of having a certain mindset about the industry and music itself.
I read that you are currently working on album number 2! What can people expect from the album? What else is next for you? What are your plans and goals for 2019?
The main goal is to finalise the band line up (almost there!) and then practice a lot together to make a splash with our debut live performances later in 2019. In terms of the new material – the first album was written wholly by myself, which quite a lot of people still don’t know and assume it’s a full band when first hearing the songs. The second album will feature another three incredibly talented musicians contributing their prodigious skills to the songs, while in turn inspiring me to give the best of myself and up my game. It’s an extension of the rock and diverse sounds hinted at on Self-Titled. The second album will be likely released at the end of this year or beginning of next and we will take the necessary time to do things properly and professionally. Essentially though, if you like the first album you are really going to love the second album.