Them Damn Dogs on Writing Music, Huntsville, and Their New Album
Them Damn Dogs has a new album out and if you haven’t listened to it yet, you’re wasting your (damn) time.
HuntsvilleMusic.com sat down with Jerome Villarreal Jr., vocalist and frontman, and guitarist Russ Savage to crack open their new album, Unpoetic Flavor, and learn more about the Huntsville-based band that’s rapidly becoming one of the most prominent and beloved acts on the local music scene.
But, just as a trio, Them Damn Dogs weren’t complete.
“We used to play Voodoo Lounge a lot and that’s where Chris Salib, our bassist, heard us one day. He basically said ‘I’m your bassist now,’” Jerome remembers with a laugh. “We just wanted to make really fun rock music and that’s what happened.” He adds that, once they were a full band, he saw an opportunity to play his own music and seized upon it. “We were playing together all the time and I was writing all this music and I just thought hey, why don’t we play my songs?”
Jerome has always been the Them Damn Dogs’ primary songwriter, serving as the main songwriter on all 11 tracks of Unpoetic Flavor as well as their previous album, Let Loose, and a smattering of singles.
Their sound is the product of growing up in the 2000’s, reflective of influences including Weezer, the Strokes, the Ramones, and Pink Floyd. It’s a new-wave evolution of these artists, calling to mind contemporary acts like Young the Giant, Jack Antonoff’s Bleachers, and Bad Suns in their alt-pop approach to lyrics and musical syntax.
I ask how they’d describe the genre of Unpoetic Flavor and Jerome hesitates. “I don’t know,” he muses, looking to Russ, who doesn’t miss a beat. “More alternative with a little West Coast influence, some new wave with the synth. It’s a bit less edgy than our first album – a little more melodic.”
Jerome, nodding, adds, “Yeah, a little more mature, too, in a sense.”
This maturity is reflected in the darker themes that wind through Unpoetic Flavor, most obviously in the album’s breakout single, “I Wish I Was Dead.” The song’s chorus flirts with the bleak reality of post-breakup depression:
You came into my life before / Now you’re leaving out the door
Was I wrong? / You messed up my bed and played with my head
Now I wish I was dead.
But the music itself doesn’t slide into morose, staying upbeat throughout the album, songs you can roll your windows down and sing along to. “I’ve always loved how really poppy songs can have really dark lyrics, it takes you into a certain mood,” Jerome explains.
“[This album] a little more regretful and aware. A little more introspective,” says Jerome. Russ nods, agreeing, “I think it shows a different side of what we have to offer. The first album is definitely more party-punk, fast-paced, more roots-punk, whereas this one is more alternative and a little bit more of like, ‘this is what we can actually do. It stays true to us, though. You can recognize the sound, that it’s us, but it’s a little bit different.”
For a more melancholy album released in 2021, it’s a safe assumption that the events of tumultuous 2020 influenced the mood. But that isn’t the case for Unpoetic Flavor. This album was written and recorded in 2019, with an initial release date of May 2020 – a release that was derailed by the chaos of 2020.
“If we were to record this today, it would be completely different,” Jerome says. “It’s weird to listen to it now; it’s like a weird little relic from a lost time.”
I ask if they listen to their own music. “I do,” Russ shrugs, but Jerome cringes at the thought, saying no, he can’t – that he generally listens to it to be critical, and that he can’t quite get past that inner critic to just enjoy the music.
As for their fans’ listening style, I ask them both – what’s one thing they would want listeners to know about Unpoetic Flavor?
“Lyrically, there are dark times but it gets brighter. It’s an album of hope wrapped in the visceral melancholy of the moment,” says Jerome, ever the songwriter. Russ is focused on the sound: “Pay attention to the subtleties. Listen to this album with headphones on; listen to those little background parts. It’s very us and our stories and the sounds of the time.”
The album release party for Unpoetic Flavor was June 11th at The Camp, where fellow local musician Aaron Bradley opened and a good portion of the Huntsville music scene turned out to hear them play. And it’s easy to see why – Jerome is enthusiastic when it comes to supporting his fellow Huntsville musicians.
“There are so many artists now that are coming out with some really cool stuff. Everything’s different. So many different vibes all around. It’s exciting and intimidating.”
I prompt Russ for his thoughts about the Huntsville music scene – specifically, if he feels it’s open to hungry artists with original music.
“It kind of depends where you are in Huntsville. If you’re at a bar downtown, you’re gonna get some cover requests. But if it’s a newer place like Goldsprint or even Voodoo Lounge, the crowd is gonna be into it. You might get an encore or even people comin’ up after the show to tell you how awesome it was. It’s kind of a nice give and take. If you do capture a crowd, it’s like you’ve done something right, it feels good.”
Jerome agrees, saying, “It’s very rewarding for artists to feel that.”
What about their local following? I notice that both of them tend to say ‘friends’ instead of ‘fans,’ and both enthuse about the caliber of people who support them.
“We have a great fan base,” says Jerome, and Russ elaborates, “They’re the type of people who, if you lost your wallet in the crowd, you could probably go ask for it at the bar and it would probably have been turned in. With all the cash still in it.”
It’s easy to see how guys like this would attract fans like that – like recognizes like, after all. Speaking of which, before I let them go, I ask them one last question – what are their favorite songs by other local Huntsville musicians?
“Simulation by Wanda, and maybe… maybe a song called East Tennessee by Aaron Bradley. It’s not out yet, but it’s so good,” says Jerome, teasing Bradley’s future releases. Russ has his ready, and it’s even more Wanda love: “Lazy Susan by Wanda. That’s a great song.”
And Unpoetic Flavor is a great album. Stream it and the rest of Them Damn Dogs’ discography now and support your local artists by checking our live music calendar and coming out to a show!
Grace is the Content Director of HuntsvilleMusic.com and lives in Madison, AL, which really isn’t that far, guys.
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