Talking to Damin McCabe of Jack Berry fame

05 May 2018 by Fraser Thompson

interview jack_berry_band

Damin McCabe, otherwise known as Jack Berry, assembled a band specifically for OUSA Battle of the Bands 2017 just to play his songs and see what would happen.

They ended up winning.

It wasn’t a surprise to me despite their band name sounding a lot like a working title… The grooves were tight and bouncy, the songs unbelievably catchy, and Damin’s autotune-enriched vocals added a unique edge. Although, as Damin explained to me, the autotune was primarily for confidence not style since it was his first time singing in front of an audience.

And now, after a summer of wowing crowds across the country, they’re releasing their first EP titled “Dutch”. I expect it’ll be huge, but unfortunately we’ll have to wait a few more weeks before we can hear it.

I took the opportunity to catch up with Damin before he gets too famous and won’t talk to me anymore.

I saw you first at battle of the bands about a year ago I was pretty blown away. To me it seemed like you’d come out of nowhere. So where’d you come from? How’d you start out?

I come from Dunedin. I was like in and out of the band scene with a highschool band and then I took like a year off to focus on producing and demo’s and stuff. And then decided to get the band together specifically for battle of the bands, just to play my songs and see what happened. Then we’ve just gone from there really.

Were you surprised to win Battle of the Bands?

Yes very surprised, didn’t see that coming because that was the first time I’ve sang in front of people so it was pretty scary.

Is that why you used the vocoder?

That’s exactly why I used it.

I noticed recently you seem to be using it less?

I’ve turned it down. I still use it but I have it on like 40% just because it’s more of a peace of mind thing. I’ve had a few T-Pain comments and people not quite getting it but it’s only to give myself a confidence boost.

How would you describe your music?

I guess it’s reflective of two guitar, bass, drums kind of band setting. I guess that’s the band side of it, and then on the Soundcloud it’s more just me sitting with my laptop and trying to write a song but I’d say… I don’t have any references to what it’s like but just pop rock maybe? Like guitar orientated pop music, because the songs are quite short and snappy.

To me it seemed like there was some hip hop influence

Yeah I guess that comes through in the production as well. Like the way I write the song is I would write for a beat and then interpret it with the band.

So what’s your songwriting process like? Could you elaborate on that?

Half of the songs we play right now I would have written three years ago with my acoustic guitar, and then for songs like Private Show and Sense I just like get a beat locked in on loop and write verses and choruses for it, and structure it: Take things away, take the bass away in a certain area, take the drums away and put them back in… And then I guess I just go for verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge, really straightforward kind of thing.

So writing for a beat, but I appreciate sitting down with a guitar and writing it that way as well.

Who would you say your influences are?

I’ve got a few influences from listening to what my parents listen to, so I’m really big on David Bowie and Prince, and The Cure and The Smiths for the guitar stuff. And present day artists? Probably this dude called Gus Dapperton, he’s pretty cool. And on the hip-hop/trap side of things really big into Travis Scott and Lil Peep, all those kind of soundcloud artists. The DIY mentality to it is really appealing.

You put a lot of your earlier stuff on Soundcloud didn’t you?

Yeah, that was just the platform for me to say, hey I’m doing this now, and then the live band is playing on how well Dunedin’s going at the moment with the bands here. So it was just nice to fit in quite perfectly, because it wasn’t intentional, we were like we’ll just play battle of the bands and see what happens, but we got a lot of opening slots and gigs with bands who’ve already established themselves throughout the city.

You won studio time for battle of the bands right? Did you use that recording time for this album?

Nah I didn’t use it for this upcoming EP. I don’t think we followed through with that, it was talked about but it didn’t happen because we’re quite DIY. The drummer in the band is quite keen on recording stuff so I’ve just been working through him. He tracked and he did a mix of the new EP, I did a mix of it too, but it’s been sent up to Auckland to one of the dudes from LEISURE and he’s giving it a try. So that’s why there’s a bit of a hold up, we’re just waiting to see what he can do with it. Because I guess me and Nicks’ knowledge is still quite new to recording.

One thing I’ve focused on for this EP definitely is capturing the live sound because the reception we got from that as opposed to my own production work is like… That’s definitely something I’d like to build for myself in the future to be self sufficient in that respect, but at the moment the songs have a nice wee bounce and live feel to them, so we just tracked two guitars, bass drums, and some light keys. It was quite stripped back but poppy I think.

Yeah, your bassist contributes heaps to that bounce in my opinion. Kevin Dollars is he?

He’s Kevin in Love now but yes, that’s what we were doing before. I would make his beats and we worked on that project then we kind of dissolved it because it’s not what we wanted to do, and then the band arose and I got him to play bass because he’s been in bands for years. But he’s got his project now which is kind of picking up traction.

His solo stuff is focusing on singing but at the core of Kevin he’s just a very good bass player, him and Nick they kind of just lock in. It’s really sick.

Are you touring to promote the EP? When’s it coming out?

We just did a tour and I was hoping the EP would be out but I guess it was just a good excuse to test the waters in Wellington, we haven’t played there before. And it was good to have Mild Orange on the tour with us because their EP just came out so it was good exposure for it. This tour, the Dutch Foreplay tour, was supposed to be for our EP but I can’t say when it will come out. It’s not going to be any longer than two weeks from now so it’ll come out on the backend of the tour.

There was an article in The Spinoff talking about “the new Dunedin sound” which briefly mentioned you as part of this new movement.

It’s definitely a thing that’s happening, I don’t know about the label for it but it’s a positive scene and cool to be a part of.

The gigs you organize, like Hoochie World, those sell out too which is pretty amazing…

Yeah, the third one is tomorrow and the online tickets sold out in like 24 hours, it’s crazy. It just caught on with the student mentality. I guess we’re just trying to bring together all the bands you can think of and showcase them, but the big idea is to make ReFuel interesting with the TV’s and the stage design.

Do you feel like people from other parts of NZ are sort of rediscovering Dunedin or Dunedin music is developing a new brand or something?

Yeah. Well the bands that are coming out all have their own two feet to stand on if you know what I mean. It is a scene but everyone has their own kind of vibe and kind of fanbase? Everyone’s quite well established and I guess the sound all works together quite well, but it’s definitely inspiring to be in.

That’s just a little portion of Dunedin creativity though, there’s a lot of stuff that goes on down here.

Would you say a lot of this new wave is heavily inspired by Mac Demarco? I’ve heard the term “post-demarco” thrown about…

Yeah I’ve heard that term too. That term I dunno, I’d narrow it down to the guitar sound, like the chorus pedal and the reverb, and jazz chords maybe. I think Mac kind of brought to life the two minute fifty kind of four chord song, or the template for that. I dunno, it’s just kind of like… That’s what we’re all doing. I’ve heard barbecue reggae too.

Yeah, it’s a different sound from what I expect from Dunedin, like it’s not dark and gloomy and gothic it’s like the total opposite…

Yeah definitely. Well when I was Year 13 I’d be going to Males gigs, Two Cartoons, that’s what I remember as being the big thing happening in Dunedin and then maybe in 2016 this new fresh thing came along that’s happening at the moment. But Dunedin’s got some good lineage.

What are your longer term bigger picture plans for your music?

For the music I want to build myself up so I’m confident with the self-sufficient multi-instrumentalist, kind of make and album and do it yourself kind of thing. Like if I can get to that point and be able to work out what I want to sound like musically… I feel like I’m building to the point where I can do an album, like if I can do that at the start of next year, recording for this year, do the demo’s, take it to re-recording and take it to mix and hopefully have a good album out that’d be awesome.

Adn then in terms of the events I guess that’s a wee budding business that would be cool to showcase music and bands and stuff, and get them a platform to play a good sold out gig. And I guess the design and photography and stuff that goes into the Jack Berry stuff I’d like to handle the posters and all that, so if I can get that to a good marketing and branding standpoint that would be awesome.

So I guess a long term goal is to be able to do everything confidently. And make good music, stuff I could stand up and hopefully play some more shows around different places.

So you want to do this full time?

Yeah that would be ideal. The music would be the dream but just the other things that could be done in the music industry, if I could get to anywhere in those positions that would be awesome because it’s just like a passion, something I’m really into, all things industry and music and creation.