For musicians, a profound experience often resonates in the music that they make. A marriage or a divorce, the birth of a child or the loss of a loved one are themes often written and sung about. Sometimes an intense event informs music in ways that are not so tangible, and that’s the case with Dammien Alexander and his new album Love + Infinity.
Alexander nearly died while having fun in the ocean in Central America. We had a chance to chat with Alexander by email and we asked him what happened and how the experience has had an effect on his music. We also asked the native Philadelphian about his earliest musical influences. Alexander’s commentary below is given exclusively to AXS.com.
AXS: You had a near death experience while surfing in Costa Rica. What happened?
Dammien Alexander: Well let me clarify. I boogie board, something quite different than surfing mechanically. It's a different rush for me. That day I was catching some amazing breaks, having recently found different ways to carve into the face. Set after set I was just killing it. Happily exhausted I decided to catch just one more wave. I paddled out waiting for the next break, nothing. Wasn't paying attention to the tide as it pushed me out.
Now I am out a good two hundred meters and floating unreasonably close to a cluster of rocks that broke off of a larger formation. The current was going kind of diagonal and fast. I tried to paddle in full force, literally going nowhere. Then I realized I was spent. The hot coastal sun drained me. That's when I knew I was in trouble. I thought, after swallowing a healthy swath of salt water, “I am gonna die.” My heart sunk.
All in one moment a rush of something went through my body and a voice said “NO YOU ARE NOT! You are an athlete and you are gonna have to save yourself.” Rapidly getting pushed over to rocks with current swirls thrashing around, these conditions could easily finish me. I decided to try swimming parallel to patterns and catch the sweeping breaks. I was hoping I'd catch a few waves and the momentum would carry me to shore. It worked. I laid on the shore for at least an hour looking skyward.
AXS: The accident gave you a new perspective on making music and you put that to use in the creation of your new album Love + Infinity. Can you explain how your approach is different now?
DA: The difference in my approach has mostly to do with how I’m hearing music now. It made me strip down elements. Getting to the rhythm of things. The rawness. Technology really provides a lot of options. I get caught up in that as a songwriter/producer. The bleakness of the possibility of death clears your head of the white noise. Now I make music with a guttural quality. Lyrically I don't accept B.S. from myself for the sake of making a song.
AXS: When you were a kid in Philadelphia your mom turned you on to music via the church and her knowledge of the Philly soul scene. Do you remember the specific moment that you decided you’d like to pursue a career as a musician?
DA: My mother is an exceptional singer. But in those days you had some of the greatest of all time coming out of Philadelphia. For her, it wasn't plausible to pursue a career. My grandma turned me on to the classics; she had crates of 45s and 78s. Her favorites included Billy Holiday, Big Momma Thornton and Mahalia Jackson. I never made that decision to pursue music. I just kept putting myself around music, and I bought and learned instruments. I spent hundreds of hours in studios. It’s an addiction really. Who makes music for money anyways? I am compelled.
AXS: You’ve been living in Canada for a couple of decades now. Besides the natural beauty of the city, what was it that made you choose to settle in Halifax?
DA: I went to school, made lifelong friends and settled there because I knew on a lot of levels that it would save my life. Halifax is the most unique place on earth. It has similarities to Ireland, the British Isles, etc.; there is a beautiful madness to it. I have serious roots there. Roots that Philadelphia never gave me. I left at 13-years-old. I grew as a person and vastly as an artist when I migrated.
AXS: Many of the songs on Love + Infinity have a strong positive message written in response to the violence and intolerance that jumps out from the daily news. How difficult is it for you to craft positive and hopeful lyrics when there’s such a daily barrage of negativity?
DA: Not difficult at all. I wrote 30 songs for the album, then edited down to 10. It was a decision to omit the heavier content in favor of a higher vibrational sound. We need to feel good right now. People can see the problems; I think we see too much. My album is made for the purpose of lightening the mind and making the body want to move. Get closer to each other and dance! Then we are able to embrace more difficult subject matter. Objectivity comes from happiness.
AXS: What’s your live show schedule looking like now that summer is near? What else are you working on right now?
DA: I’m planning a tour in the US and Europe for the late summer/fall season. I’m also working with my label to launch my fashion brand EROS XOXO this fall. I just completed a house dance track with DJ Ali Black from Toronto, and I’m submitting my play “White Noise Intermission” to a few fringe festivals. The record essentially took three years to come to life. I'm itching to write and record new material.
Follow Dammien Alexander here.