British rock band Slam Cartel released their debut album ‘Handful of Dreams’ in 2011. Since then, the band have gone through a few changes and played a seemingly endless stream of gigs. REAL GONE caught up with guitarist Damo Fawsett to discuss his influences, as well as the band’s past, present and future. Bringing a few insights into the world of a hard-working band – as well as Zeppelin-y tangent – a lengthy chat ensued…
RG: You joined Slam Cartel in Feb 2014. How did that come about?
DF: “Perfect timing! I was considering my next move on the local music scene. I’d been a member of the reformed Sacrilege and played guitar on the Reagan Browne tour and was wondering what to do next. It was then that I got the call from my mate Gary Moffat, who’d recently become the new vocalist in Slam and I was just told to ‘Call Terry’…” [Terry Warville – founding member of Slam Cartel].
RG: By the time you joined the band, they were already established with an album [2011’s ‘Handful of Dreams’] behind them. Was it tough being the new man?
DF: “When I joined, they were just coming to terms with settling in with Gary who’d joined just three months earlier…and then I jumped into the lead guitar position. It’s a tough job stepping into someone else’s shoes and when the diehard fans come out to see you at shows you know that you’ve got to be extra special to win them over. I’m a bit of a shredder so I’ve had to adapt and embrace the Slam Cartel sound – the audience expect to hear that.”
RG: The band have played a lot of gigs since you got on board and have really grown since the debut.
DF: “Terry drives the whole machine, but he is a great guy to work with. It’s not a dictatorship though, everyone has their say and important part to play. Terry has been there and done it all, so knows the business inside out and upside down…he’s got great contacts. He was in a band called Stimulator with Billy Morrison, they were signed to Geffen but the album never got released. Such a shame as the songs from that band have stood the test of time. We play ‘Strike No 1’ in the Slam Cartel live set and Billy is a fan of our work. I got to have lunch with him in LA recently at The Rainbow on Sunset and he had nothing but good things to say about Slam Cartel and Terry in particular.
“The band has really progressed since 2011. We have a great live sound and put on an energetic and entertaining show. We’re no shoegazers! The gigs are going great…the stage shows are energetic, our songs sound powerful and we’re gaining new fans on a daily basis. It must be a great feeling for Terry to look out and see fans wearing Slam t-shirts and singing the songs of the band that he created. Now the long-term fans know the future of the band is safe, we have a very bright future. The diehard fans have embraced us new boys with a passion. It’s a tough climate out there right now to get people out to watch live music – they’ll pay £50 to see Slash, yet parting with £6 to see a band like us and many others is a mission for some. It’s all about the promo & the live show.”
RG: You’d been in about a hundred grass roots bands before joining Slam. Do any of them stick out as being vital in your development as a musician?
DF: “A hundred?!!” [laughs]…”They’ve all had their share of input, but there’s a few I’d like to forget. I was in a covers band called Contra-band with Gary [Moffat] and obviously that was important for my joining Slam. While in Contra-band, I suffered a stroke in 2011…those guys waited for me to recover and I went back out to play again.”
RG: Suffering a stroke must have come as a huge surprise…especially in your thirties…
DF: “Yeah it did, but I’d had a few early warning signals. Things weren’t right a few days before and I’d had a doctor’s warning too…which I ignored. The human body is a fragile thing and I’ve learnt that we don’t all have the constitution of Keith Richards! It’s been a long road to recovery. I still need to shed a little weight do more exercise, but every morning I wake up and check everything works. I know I’m okay.
“Returning to live performance, I noticed that my playing style had changed completely – and for the better. I played with more passion and fluidity…and people started to take notice. I joined the re-formed Sacrilege, a band who’d gained a cult following in the 80s. I’d strived for years to be noticed as a guitar player and now things were starting to happen. Sacrilege returning to the stage after 25 years in 2012 was a big step for me, since I got noticed by others in their YouTube videos. Although Sacrilege’s songs sound a little dated, they are challenging for a guitar player…that got me noticed by Robert Tepper and Reagan Browne which resulted in my playing dates with Reagan last year.”
RG: Being noticed by Robert Tepper is definitely a huge step forward. The man is an AOR legend. If he’d only recorded ‘No Easy Way Out’ and ‘Angel of the City’ he’d still be a legend. Having included his work in two high profile films, Stallone must have been a fan… We already know how much he loved Survivor back then.
DF: “I’ve been a huge Stallone fan since the early. 80’s, so with the onset of Twitter and finding Robert Tepper was still out there making records, that was great. He’s really good with his fans too – a lot of artists could learn a lot from this guy.”
RG: You were noticed by Tepper, but didn’t get to work with him. What happened?
DF: “He’d contacted me to put a band together and he really liked the covers band I was in at the time [Contra-band, with Gary Moffat]. Those guys worked their arses off for six months and we learnt his set note for note. Three UK dates were booked and on the day I went to meet him at Heathrow, he was denied entry into the UK due to visa issues. It was a very emotional time. He was sent back to LA & Contra-band played the set without him as a tribute evening, Gary handled the vocal duties beautifully. Robert phoned in from LA during the set and broadcast a message over the PA. I tell you what…there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!
“On a lighter note, I did get to meet him on a recent trip to California…and what a lovely, lovely man! He still writes killer songs and is busy working on a new album as we speak, as well as playing a few shows with the also legendary Benny Mardones. He’s also given me two songs that he’s written and they are still to see the light of day. They’re far too good to be hidden away.”
RG: Like so many musicians, you started learning to play guitar as a kid. Who were your earliest influences?
DF: “I started at 11 years old and I loved Clapton and Jimmy Page. I had loads of videos and used to watch intently where they put their fingers on the fretboard and then copy it on my guitar. I then got into Eddie Van Halen and used to get books from the local library on rock music to research other guitarists – no internet back then of course, it was all books and then having to buy a vinyl record or cassette tape!”
RG: …Are all of those still important to you?
DF: “Yeah…I still love Jimmy Page and Rory Gallagher. Clapton lost it over the years, but I do still have a soft spot for him as he started it all for me. Mustn’t forget Ritchie Blackmore; he was also a true inspiration…and still is.”
RG: Zeppelin are a touchstone for so many musicians, despite the increasing distance between their classic works and the present day. What is it, do you think, makes them so enduring?
DF: “They are absolutely timeless. For instance…there’s a computer game out called Destiny and the TV advert uses ‘Immigrant Song’. It still sounds amazing blasting out of the speakers and no band live these days matches the power of Zeppelin in their prime. I mean, Robert Plant is now at pension age, still making great music and moving with the times.”
RG: There’s no denying that Plant’s post-Zep work goes from strength to strength. Very little has been heard from Page by comparison…
DF: “I was 14 when [Page’s solo album] ‘Outrider’ came out and at the height of my Page worship. I played that album to death and still play it now. Some of it sounds a little dated but I still love it. It’s sad that we’ve heard nothing solo from the guy since then, especially when you know that he’s potentially sitting on hundreds of riffs. He’s one of those guys who really needs a foil to bounce off though, and unless Percy Plant sits down with him again I feel we won’t see anything new, which is a real shame.
RG: There’s some terrific material on ‘Outrider’ – those three instrumentals in particular. It’s a real mixed bag of a record; far more interesting than his collaboration with David Coverdale a few years later. Coverdale seems too set on being a second-rate Plant on those songs…
DF: “Now, I love Coverdale/Page and ‘Take Me For a Little While’ is one of my all time favourite songs. I hear what you’re saying about Coverdale, but that’s what Pagey wanted on that album.
RG: He’s a master at creating riffs, but some of Page’s solos are sloppy – the lead breaks on ‘Hot Dog’ and ‘Southbound Saurez’ in particular are pretty cringeworthy!
DF: “Yeah… I’ve had many a good laugh at some of the eye watering lead lines he’s played. You can’t get away from the fact that he’s a genius though, and when you listen to his recordings, there’s sometimes eleven or twelve tracks of guitar. …And he replicated that live!”
RG: For many years, Zep fans only had ‘The Song Remains The Same’ to help them relive the Zeppelin live experience… It’s a vision of a band full of self-belief, especially those fantasy sequences! The footage of John Paul Jones as The Phantom of The Opera is particularly vivid.
DF: “Those fantasy sequences have stayed etched in my memory, Page as the wizard on the mountain and the band’s bad acting… I played the video of that film to death and used to laugh my head off…and still do. But then you cut to the backstage footage and the live sequences and get the full power of the band. When I watched that as a kid, that’s the kind of band I wanted to be in. I tell you what, Slam Cartel comes very close, with very similar experiences – we just need to be filmed climbing off a jet plane and driving off in a limo!”
RG: In some ways, the rawer early performance from Scandinavia is just as interesting – a leaner, meaner Zeppelin…
DF: “I never really liked the early live Zeppelin…too 60’s for me. The definitive has to be the mid 70’s version.”
RG: Moving on…of the newer breed of guitarists, which ones do you rate?
DF: “Zakk Wylde. He’s one of few that can make the hairs on your arm stand up with his playing…a truly awesome player. John Mayer is cool. I also like Jim Root from Slipknot and Stone Sour, he really stands out to me as a player. When Slipknot first came on the scene, I heard these great lead solos…really fluid and unexpected in such aggressive songs. He uses a Telecaster too which made me realise you can use such a guitar in this kind of music, he’s the reason I use a Tele style guitar now. His playing in Stone Sour is awesome.
RG: You’ve talked about guitarists who were an influence and true inspiration. Which albums have stayed with you over the years?
DF: “Anything with Glenn Hughes – I love the guy and his voice; he is the voice of rock. Whitesnake, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Dio, Rory Gallagher, Van Halen, ZZ Top… To be honest I listen to anything & everything. Zakk Wilde Black Label Society are the top trump for me lately; I feel he’s setting the bar right now. … And I still listen to a lot of Zep, obviously!”
RG: Now you’re firmly established in Slam Cartel, do you have plans to contribute to the writing of the next record?
DF: “I’ve already had an input into the new songs that are being recorded. I’m also playing around with new riffs which I’m starting to sell to the guys. There’s no place in our songs for drawn out epic solos, but there’s loads of interesting melodic guitar pieces woven throughout each song. I’ve given the band extra depth to the sound. My guitar tone is very fat and bassy, whereas my lead tones are clean and clear. It’s been a great challenge for me, especially on the new recordings. I’m playing parts I would never have dreamt up in a million years. I’m out of my comfort zone, but in a good way!”
RG: …Any idea when we can expect to hear new material?
DF: “We’ve got a double a-sided single due for release in November. We’re working with well known producer George de Angelis who has a proven track record and is an absolute genius to work with. He gets the best out of us in the studio.”
RG: After years of hard graft, Phil Campbell is finally getting big recognition as a member of The Temperance Movement. BlackWolf have also been getting massive kudos from Classic Rock Magazine. There’s been a huge resurgence of British rock bands since Slam Cartel released ‘Handful of Dreams’. Where do you see your place within that?
DF: “Unfortunately, Slam Cartel have been delayed with lineup changes, but the original band were there right back with The Temperance Movement and a few others. We should be bigger than we are – ‘Handful of Dreams’ is timeless and the songs are strong. I wanted to join the band from the moment I first saw them. We don’t sound like anyone else…but we fit right in alongside the current new breed of British Rock.”
In addition to the new single, Slam Cartel have more gigs upcoming before the end of 2014.
Visit their official website for more information.