This "5 and Dime" interview was conducted over the phone with Damon Johnson, a guitarist and vocalist for Slave To The System, on January 12, 2006. Damon is from Birmingham, Alabama, and he talked on his cell phone as he was walking along the big city streets of Manhattan. Geographically speaking, he was confused about his directions while he walked. Yet musically speaking, he was very enthusiastic about the band's direction and the musical statement Slave To The System is hoping to make.
Damon, introduce your band and your band mates, and tell me how this project got started.
Slave To The System started when I met our other guitarist Kelly Gray, who produced the "Wishpool" record for my band Brother Cane. Kelly joined Queensryche after that, and I went on tour with Brother Cane. He called me from the road when he was sitting around with Queensryche drummer Scott Rockenfield, who digged all my Brother Cane records. They asked me and my bassist Roman Glick to come out to Seattle so we could get together and do something for fun. Slave To The System literally started that way a few years back when both bands came off the road. We wrote and recorded for three weeks, and we were surprised how good the songs turned out. The fact that we're getting this record released around the world is a real cool kick in the ass.
As far as my band mates go, drummer Scott Rockenfield is a player's player. He's so flexible and open. He'll try anything, and he has no ego. Scott's as big a fan of the Slave To The System songs as anyone. His enthusiasm is contagious, and I love his attitude about making music.
Roman Glick has been my "partner in crime" since 1992. He reminded me of Cliff Burton when I saw him play in the bars around Birmingham back in the day. He's got an aggressive style, on stage and in the studio, and Brother Cane could not have happened without him. Even though I wrote most of the songs, I felt like having Roman in the band made me write better songs, you know what I mean? And it's the same now in Slave To The System. I know Kelly and Scott Rock feel the same way. Roman brings an old school metal philosophy to the band, but he's also down with some Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. He was one of my best men at my wedding three years ago and is a best friend to this day. I'd take a bullet for that guy in a heartbeat.
I can't say enough about Kelly Gray. He's the nucleus of the band, he named it, and he brought it all together. Creatively, we gel together, and I'm proud of our relationship. I sing better and I write better songs when I work with Kelly.
Slave To The System's self-titled CD is set for worldwide release on February 21. Talk about the record and its musical statement.
If I'm a rock fan in 2006, for my money this is the record that I want to have! I think the first three songs, "Stigmata," which was just picked as the first single, "Ruby Wednesday," and "Slave To The System" represent what the band is all about; musically, lyrically and sonically. "Disinfected" is my favorite rock lyric on the record. People might hear my vocals and compare it to Brother Cane, but the riffs are bigger, the grooves are fatter, and it's more aggressive. For me, it's important for any record I'm involved on to have dynamics and diversity. I love slower and mid-tempo things as much as I like to rock out. These guys gave me the latitude to bring those things in. This record covers so many bases and so many themes lyrically. It has it all. The band shares all of the songwriting credits, and all of the musical arrangements and riffs were worked on together. I love to write lyrics and songs that are full of metaphors and imagery, so that my songs mean different things to different people. There was no real musical statement in mind. Our goal was to write songs without over-thinking. We were all guilty of that on other projects.
This record was completed a ways back, and it's just now getting released. What's the band's attitude? Is it one of high expectations, or one of "let's wait and see what happens?"
That's a great question Dave. More than anything, our attitude is that of validation, because all along we felt this record was really good. It's as good as anything else on the radio or in the stores being sold. We just weren't aggressive trying to find a home for it. We were so proud of the record, and we felt that if we couldn't find a record label that felt the same way, then we wouldn't put it out at all. We got lucky with Spitfire, especially when you consider the time lapse between when it was recorded and its upcoming release. I'm having fun talking about it, rehearsing it, and getting ready to play shows. It's going to be interesting and we'll have to see how it unfolds over the year. Even if we don't sell 500 records, we'll still feel fortunate that we got to make the record, get it released, be out here talking about it, and have it in the system for the rest of the world to possibly get its hands on.
Damon, are any tour dates scheduled, and what should fans expect from Slave To The System's live show? Also, other than the CD's release and subsequent touring, what else does your band have in store for your fans in the next 12 months?
We've booked our first show in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, on February 25 to help kick off the Spring Break season. Another show in Huntsville, Alabama is scheduled for March 1st. We hope to piggyback more shows in the Southeast and wind our way up the East Coast. We want to play everywhere. Slave To The System is ready to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We'll open shows or headline, whatever makes the most sense. We're getting offers to headline a few 1,000-to-2,000 seat clubs and it's tough to beat that.
I think our live sound will be rawer, with faster tempos. Playing live, it's going to be off to the races. I get fired up and can't imagine playing the same tempos as the record. When we headline, we'll probably add a Brother Cane song or two to the set list. Maybe even a Queensryche tune, but it's hard for me to sing those Geoff Tate vocals. Between the four of us, we have a lot of material. It's going to be fun picking eight or nine songs off the album and a few classic rock covers.
As far as the next 12 months, we've already got a second record in the can. I'd love to get together when we're all free and write more songs, picking the best of those and the best of what we've already finished to create a kick-ass second record.
Feel free to promote anything else you'd like that applies to Slave To The System.
We'll have plenty of additional information, tour information, merchandise, and song samples at our new website, www.slavetothesystem.com. We have an e-card, and fans can also check out Spitfire Records' Slave To The System webpage. My website, www.damonjohnson.com and Scott Rockenfield's website, will also have up-to-date info. The band has a Myspace page and Roman Glick has a personal Myspace page.
It's been a little over a year since the senseless murder of Dimebag Darrell. My mission, with this interview section of my website being titled "5 and Dime," is to keep his memory alive. You knew him, so please share a personal story about Dime.
The first time I met Dime was in 1996 when I went to the NAMM show in Anaheim. I was a big fan of Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell" album, but I had never met the band. I went to some bar with my buddies Rachel Bolan and Snake Sabo from Skid Row. We walk in the door and out of nowhere somebody jumps on my back. It's Darrell! I said "I'm Damon and it's nice to meet you," and he says "I know exactly who you are, you're that bad-ass singer from Brother Cane." I told him that I was flattered that he knew who I was. He told me that our record was one of his favorites and that he plays it in the hot tub when he's in it with his wife. After telling him that he was bullshitting me, in the middle of a crowded bar he breaks out singing an album track called "Rise on Water" from our second record. Only somebody who had that album would know the lyrics. Years later, as fate would have it, while playing with Alice Cooper I met the people from Krank Amps. That was an amplifier that Dime was endorsing and helped design. Krank brought their heads to our rehearsals before we toured. I assumed they'd be some high gain, fuzzy sounding, heavy metal amps. I plugged in and they blew my face off, sounding like the second Van Halen album. To this day, I have a great relationship with those guys. They've been so supportive of me, and I play their amps exclusively. I have a big stack of them behind me every night. When I walk onstage with Alice Cooper, I rub the logo with my left hand and I point to the sky for Dime. I think of him every night as we start the show. I never met anybody like that guy. His spirit will live on forever.