Formed in 2001 as a full-fledged band, the Damnwells gradually came to represent the songwriting efforts of songwriter Alex Dezen, whose melodic mix of alt-country and alternative pop/rock remained consistent in spite of multiple lineup shifts.
The group took root in Brooklyn, where Dezen (a former photo assistant) was joined by ex-Whiskeytown drummer Steven Terry, bassist Ted Hudson, and guitarist Dave Chernis. A series of EPs helped cement the band's sound, and the Damnwells soon found themselves touring in support of Cheap Trick. A brief run with the Portland-based label In Music We Trust followed, allowing the band to reissue one of its early EPs (with the addition of one new track) under the revised title PMR + 1. The Damnwells then decamped to their Manhattan Mini Storage space, which doubled as a rehearsal space and makeshift studio, to fashion a full-length album. Pairing Dezen's slow, codeine-laced ballads with uptempo rock numbers, they completed Bastards of the Beat before inking a contract with Epic Records.
In a rare display of confidence, Epic released Bastards of the Beat in 2003 without any major revisions, allowing both the band's artwork and track list to remain intact. When the Damnwells returned to the studio two years later, however, they found themselves dropped from Epic's roster, an incident that was captured on the documentary film Golden Days. After months of uncertainty, the band found a new home at Zoë/Rounder Records and issued Air Stereo in late 2006. The record widened the Damnwells' sound with lap steel, piano, and sublime harmonies, and a tour alongside the Fray furnished the band with a larger audience. Sales for Air Stereo were slow, though, leading several members to leave the band's lineup.
In 2008, Alex Dezen announced that the Damnwells' original roster had disbanded for good. He subsequently enrolled as an M.F.A. candidate at the University of Iowa, where he participated in the acclaimed Iowa Writers' Workshop. Meanwhile, he continued recording music with a revised version of the Damnwells, who now included drummer Andrew Ratcliffe, bassist Adrian Dickey, and producer/guitarist Freddy Wall. When it came time to release One Last Century, the band's third album, Dezen chose to bypass record labels altogether by partnering with Paste magazine, which offered the album as a free digital download.
Dezen wrapped up his studies at the Iowa Writers' Workshop in 2010. That same year, the Damnwells -- now featuring Dezen, original bassist Ted Hudson, and a rotating cast of musicians -- announced a pledge drive to cover the recording costs of their new album. Using Pledgemusic.com, the group raised nearly $35,000, most of which was funneled into the band's fourth studio record, featuring some of Dezen's strongest songwriting to date. No One Listens to the Band Anymore was released in March 2011. In late 2013, the Damnwells returned to Pledgemusic.com to fund their fifth album, this time with the announcement that the original lineup of Alex Dezen, David Chernis, Ted Hudson, and Steven Terry would reunite for the sessions. The album, simply titled The Damnwells, was released in 2015. ~ Andrew Leahey, Rovi