Last year, the Don Caballero fan page started off like any other. Nostalgic pics, rare footage, behind the scenes looks into the band… you know the stuff. And we were all about it – not only did it feature our favorite band, the quality was top notch. The takes were nuanced, almost as if the page were ran by a seasoned musician themselves. Turns out, it was.
Enter Ash Pearson. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Ash beats the skins for Revocation, one of modern metal’s most celebrated acts. You’ve also heard him play with B.C. metal titans 3 Inches of Blood. While neither of them sound remotely like Don Cab, certain key personality traits line up, like sense of humor and wide ranging sense of instrumental prowess. But Pearson’s metallic pedigree was not the only surprise in store.
After a few private messages, we were informed that Ash had been in contact with Damon Che for some time. Che’s elusive reputation preceded him; at this point, we were pretty damn interested in whatever was going on. Was this the beginning of a new era for the band? Was it going to be vinyl? Streaming? Playing? New stuff? Old stuff? Once we were done hooting and hollering, we knew we had to figure something out.
In August of this year, Ash started posting clips of an interview he did with Damon. There were some absolutely fascinating details scattered throughout, like how the band adapted to various lineups, song title explanations, and how the Akai Headrush pedal “saved Don Cab for another stay of execution.”
Then in September, the page announced that Damon Che had been storing the tapes for every Don Cab session ever recorded. Soon, a fundraiser was initiated in order help digitize them. The process itself is a painstaking one, as the tapes physically degrade over time. But beyond that, the fundraiser (which you can visit here) serves as an important piece of musical history. We say musical history for two reasons: one, Damon’s contributions to the avant-garde warrant a higher title than ‘math rock,’ and two, Damon is on record as hating the term ‘math rock.’
But by the grace of Pythagorus, we were finally presented with what we thought was the perfect opportunity to ask some questions. We hope you enjoy the results.
FB: First of all, welcome back to the fold, Damon. Was there any particular event or conversation that led you to believe that now was the right time to revitalize the discography?
Damon: Well, people got around to all sorts of projects because of corona circumstances. That possibly played a role along with ongoing realization it was only to be more difficult the longer preservation of the original tapes was put off.
FB: Ash, how did you and Damon first become acquainted?
Ash: I almost forgot how we got acquainted exactly, so I went back to the beginning of our email correspondance. I initially reached out to Henry from Chunklet and got this response from him: “hey ash. Man, thanks so much for getting in touch. I’ve texted Damon and have yet to hear back from him. I think he’s very content in his seclusion. However, and you can give it your best, please feel free to email him. Tell him I gave you his address and state your case.I’d absolutely love to hear what you’re able to get done.
Keep me posted. And thanks.” Damon did hit me back and it all started from there, but it makes me laugh to read “I’d absolutely love to hear what you’re able to get done,” not imagining at the time we would have come this far. Life’s funny that way.
FB: Damon, have you been playing with any other bands or musicians in the meantime?
FB: Well, your playing is intuitive to say the least. When you go back through the records do you ever have trouble remembering how you played a particular part?
Damon: There’s an instance or two, usually just means a certain passage is beckoning for an adjustment.
FB: You’ve been the main writer for Don Cab since it’s inception. How would you describe the role of the various lineups over the years? Do you dictate the melodic parts as much as the rhythmic ones?
Damon: I’ve inferred leadership positioning both in melodic and rhythmic construction. I’ve never been a main writer of DC guitar parts. Just drum parts, and in many of those cases, the rhythm wasn’t up to me necessarily. Line ups never altered the overall creation process much.
FB: Ash, do you find that people are often surprised to see how involved you’ve been with Don Cab considering you’re probably best known for pounding skins in Revocation and 3 Inches of Blood?
Ash: I’ve definitely been met with surprise from some fans and contemporaries who were taken aback when they found out it was me behind a lot of the online stuff coming out (made possible with Damons cooperation). In turn, I would also be surprised when someone I knew turned out to be a massive fan. So it’s been cool all around.
FB: Is the community support from math rockers and old 90’s indie heads what you expected it to be?
Ash: In general, everyone has been very supportive and enthusiastic. I had a sneaking suspicion that there was an old guard of fans who would be excited to see new stuff, and old stuff, in one place curated by Damon himself.
FB: Damon, as a multi-instrumentalist, what was it about playing the drums at an early age that made you realize “I’m going to play the shit out of these” as opposed to guitar, bass, or vocals?
Damon: There’s a lot being assumed in that question, to the extent I’m not really able to answer it, but a lot of my formative influences were very beginner friendly. The first Devo album, the first Numan album, first DAF album, etc.
FB: Do you prefer listening to instrumental music or music with vocals? Is it different when performing?
Damon: I am doubting I make very significant distinctions along that divide. Usually music has me at not “stinking on ice”. A real treasure, actually.
FB: With drum lessons being one of the perks for the GoFundMe, are there any particular moments you are hoping people will ask about? Or not ask about?
Damon: I would only hope to be of the upmost assistance and value. I’ll just have to draw the line if criteria were to get too tricky.
FB: Ash, are there any particular concepts of theory or technique of Damon’s that have influenced your own playing?
Ash: What I like about Damon’s playing is how wholly unique it is. His drumming is in some respects, the antithesis of technique. Low angled snare, giant mallet sticks, loosey goosey grip etc. These aren’t things I would normally teach drum students as “proper”. But what I love about what he is, is his embodiment of no rules in music or performance. Concept wise, I think that’s the important lesson I’ve learned from his uniqueness. That, and his flow. His flow is tight. Like he pulls these drum parts out of a dream. As if he’s asleep and his mind is free to wander. It’s like the rhythmic representation being in a fantasy novel. I love it.
FB: Have you reconnected with Steve Albini at all during the whole restoration process? How would you describe his relationship to Don Cab in general?
Damon: No, but he’s a genuine cornerstone to our body of work, easily.
FB: What’s been the most challenging part of the restoration process?
Ash:Probably the biggest challenge was finding a studio that was the right fit for the digitizing process itself. I called around to a handful of places on the east coast who either had a rudimentary knowledge of the process or who wanted to charge me exorbitant amount of money for something they had no personal connection with. I messaged my friend Elliot Hoffman from the band Car Bomb who put me in touch with Richard and Alexi from Studio G in Brooklyn, NY. Those guys had a very extensive knowledge of the tape medium, the experience of using it and arguably most importantly, loved Don Cab. It was a perfect fit. They went above and beyond to help me get this done and wanted to see it succeed as much as I did. An honourable mention to Don Cabs producer Al Sutton, as well as Catherine from Infrasonic Transfers in Nashville, for their consultations as well.
But I also have to mention the second hardest part. The logistics. In June of 2021, I came to Richmond Virginia from Vancouver, Canada to rehearse for the new Revocation album which we were set to record in Cape Cod, Massachussetes a week later. So I rehearsed in RVA, drove to Harrisburg, PA to meet Damon to pick up the tapes, drove to Brooklyn, dropped them off (In case I wasn’t done the recording in time). Then drove to Cape Cod, recorded the album for 6 days, then back to Brooklyn, do the digitizing, then drive the tapes back to Damons place near Pittsburg. It was a lot of planning, a lot of miles and a lot of co-operation with a handful of people to help me pull it all off. But a worthwhile adventure.
FB: Which of the potential GoFundMe perks do you find particularly exciting or most motivating?
Ash: Money equal choices. We thought $9,500 was a good target to give us options to help our cause. The main goal I had in mind (which we are currently still working towards) was to get Damon up to speed on some of the modern tools so he can produce his own content. Currently it’s mics, cameras, computer and proper WIFI. The WIFI is the one thing that concerns me at the moment, as he lives “in the middle of nowhere” relatively speaking. There’s no internet/cable lines where he lives. There are options with satellite internet/wireless hubs but we’ll want to make sure they’re fast enough so he can do online lessons.
FB: Labels and marketing in genres can get in the way of things, especially for for new projects. Damon, do you have any advice for up and coming bands that might not be completely comfortably getting labeled ‘math rock’ or ‘post-rock’ or terms like that?
Damon: Well, there was never really any good advice available to myself, ever, in decades of endeavor. How I could then transform that experience into good advice to others would be a real accomplishment. Sometimes the para-peonic or sub-worthy get to brand you, and it can’t be undone.
FB: Countless bands cite Don Cab as an influence at this point, some of which you might never guess. Has there ever been an artist that name-checked you that took you by surprise?
Damon: it’s hard for me to understand how it all works. I always assumed music was just as real in it’s creation for other artists as it was for me. I’m finding out now I’ve just been dense all of my life. That most things are artificial as an opening move. I was told just recently that a comic artist most likely would trace the image of a automobile from a photograph because cars are just too hard to draw. That doesn’t make me feel naive – it makes me still feel astounded for the musical equivalent of “tracing”. I always thought the only time anyone would revert to engagement with disingenuous falsity would be when there was no other platform to build from. Like when a refrigerator box “is” a spaceship and an eggbeater “is” a raygun. Like when you were a kid.
FB: At Fecking, we’re pretty huge fans of all of the records for different reasons, and our favorite songs seem to change and cycle over time. Are there any particular Don Cab songs you’re still fond of over the years?
Damon: I’m the most fond of the ones I can still play.
FB: Ash, what’s your favorite story that Damon’s told you, or experience that you’ve had with Damon so far? That you can tell us, of course.
Ash: Some of the song titles are funny stories, which are included in some of the interviews we’ve posted on the youtube page. A Damon related story I can mention is when I first stayed at his house. I drove for 6-7+ hours from New York to get to his place, in the rain, through Amish country in Pennsylvania. I was in a daze from driving and it just become dark. I parked in his drive way, got out, and started walking towards his house when I heard faint guitar music. I walked towards the sound and there he was in the darkness, on his patio playing guitar, with fire flies occasionally lighting up the scene. It felt like I was in a dream and I wondered how the hell I ended up there. Then we listened to Rush and watched a version of Star Wars from 1977 lifted from the original 35mm prints. Good times.
FB: Damon, you’ve mentioned the vague possibility of new music at some point, but with a healthy dose of skepticism and ambiguity. Considering the Don Cab writing process is essentially driven by you, do you ever find yourself daydreaming about a hypothetical lineup and what it would look like?
Damon: ‘No one likes a whistling hash brown,’ I told my hash brown. I mainly wonder how much headroom is left. If I’ve still to hear better then that’s good. Oh… if Kieth Carlock has heard of DC I’d be surprised.