Band Booking: Damon and Naomi

Posted by Tobias Carroll

Few bands have made music as consistently good as the Cambridge-based duo of Damon & Naomi. From their debut, More Sad Hits to this year’s False Beats and True Hearts, they’ve made a series of sonically adventurous, deeply personal albums that are worth revisiting again and again.Though the concerns of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang extend beyond music: they also run the independent press Exact Change, which has released work from John Cage, Chris Marker, Gertrude Stein, and more. Following their recent Spring tour, Krukowski answered some questions covering the duo’s music, their experiences releasing books and music, and the role of collaboration in their work.

In the last few years, you’ve started your own record label, 20/20/20. How has your experience running an independent press shaped the creation and operation of said label?
I think the biggest lesson we carried over might have been knowing the aspects of business that we are not particularly good at — for 20/20/20, we handed those tasks over to our manager Ben Goldberg. At Exact Change, we started out by doing everything, and made a lot of mistakes along the way as a result. But there really isn’t as much similarity between these two businesses as you might think — a record label has become much less about records, per se, than it once was — while books like ours remain objects, plain and simple, that need storage and shipping and stores.

Both of you have worked in other disciplines as well — do you see that as having a direct effect on the songs that you write, or do you consider different disciplines to be alternative ways to explore some of the same themes?
All our work is connected in that it’s from us — our personalities and interests and experience don’t change with the medium. What’s different is the medium, precisely — you can’t write a poem the way you write a song. There’s nothing to hum along to, for one!

Damon and Naomi With Ghost has always loomed large for me within your body of work and, more recently, you’ve collaborated with Chris Marker on the video for “And You Are There.” How much of a role does collaboration with others play in your music?
Collaboration is a part of music, for us — neither of us has ever been the solo singer-songwriter type of musician. Music is something you do with other people — that’s why there are bands! To return to your previous question, that’s one distinction between music and our other work as artists — poetry and photographs are rarely collaborative, and for us those are things we each do on our own. That said, we’re working on a book of poetry and photographs together. But still that’s a different kind of collaboration, than playing music together — music has so much give and take, moment to moment.

What have you been reading recently?
I am interested in the French writer Marcel Cohen, he writes poetry and essays, or rather texts that might be considered either or both. I also just read Laurence Sterne’s Sentimental Journey, which is like an 18th century tour diary. Very funny and very poetic in its structure, I find.

What are some of the books that prompted your interest in literature?
I was an avid reader even as a child, there’s no way to trace where my interest in literature began — I grew up in a house of books, and I live in one now.

(Photo: Norman von Holtzendorff)