Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang are somewhere in the UK, en route to a gig in Cornwall. The cell-phone service sucks, and the potential to get lost is great, despite the fact that the voice of the British-accented GPS, which sounds suspiciously like Helen Mirren, is guiding the way. "We're driving through the English countryside, and it's beautiful, listening to English folk songs — what could be better?" asks Yang, bassist, keyboardist, and co-singer, mentally a million miles away from a home-town record-release gig for False Beats and True Hearts (20/20/20) Monday night at Great Scott.
WITHOUT GHOSTS “The idea of just playing the songs we wrote 25 years ago, in the exact same way 25 years later, I feel like that sort of denies any kind of emotional or artistic growth,” says Naomi Yang. “I can’t think of anything more depressing than doing that.”
Rising out of the scorched-to-the-earth ashes of exalted late-'80s Harvard shoegazers Galaxie 500 — a project that ended when frontman and guitarist Dean Wareham split and then formed Luna — the displaced rhythm section of Krukowski and Yang stepped away from music at first, only to find themselves drawn back a few short years later by slowcore producer extraordinaire Kramer.
"It's hard to believe," Yang laughs at the prospect of two decades having gone by. "Don't you generally feel that way with the passage of time — like, has it really been that long? We never have had plans in our music career like, 'Twenty years from now we're going to do this or that.' It's always been 'Okay, we'll do a new record, do a tour,' and it turns out it's 20 years later. It was funny, because it was something we sort of fell into."
False Beats and True Hearts strikes with greater immediacy than previous Damon & Naomi releases, sounding at times more like contemporaries A Northern Chorus than like the Velvet Underground. That's not to say Yang doesn't do her very best Nico — look no further than the æthereal "How Do I Say Goodbye," which aches along with a '60s romanticism vibe. "We always tried to make music that's emotional and expressive and beautiful to us," she says. "When we started playing as Damon & Naomi, we didn't have any grand scheme or grand plan. We want to explore songwriting, and what we could do, and what we can do with the knowledge we have."
That awareness has matured as Yang and Krukowski have grown, as songwriters and musicians, from the Galaxie 500 days, when Yang admits that "we could barely play our instruments. That sound sort of came out of our limitations in a way, and what sounded like good music from what we could do. I think we've always done what comes naturally, and what we feel in the moment we can do."
Damon & Naomi have become both confident and competent enough to produce themselves, something Yang considers crucial to the advancement of their sound. "It was a big deal to be producing ourselves. And over time, it's become really interesting and important to us. Each time we do a new record, the technology has changed, the instruments have changed, and in some ways, that's made us more portable, and less portable in others ways with the technology."