So Much Light, A Chat with Damien Verrett

Damien Verrett's ANTI-Records debut in all its glory.
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Written by Colin Kirkland

Damien Verrett no longer wants to be known as just a guitarist. Having just released his debut record entitled, “Oh, Yuck,” under the moniker, So Much Light, Verrett is utilizing computer programming to expand the realms of pop music with carefully layered compositions. This project is a culmination of over four years of work, an album that takes on regret, male-conditioning, misogyny, and failed relationships through a self-deprecating and somewhat fantastical lens. After talking with Verrett a few weeks ago, I was impressed by his ability to examine his own ego; in order to avoid preaching, he assembles himself as the butt of the joke. With a sound that stands out, this release is a very personal study of masculinity and its downfalls. Read on to see further into Verrett’s artistic vision, what he values in pop-music, and why so many of the songs we love aren’t what they seem.

How would you describe your sound?

I like to think of it as cinematic. I feel like if I had the means I would be making films, maybe because it feels more all-inclusive as an artistic medium. But it’s easy to make a song sound vast and expansive and a lot easier to overcome budgetary constraints in music as it is in film and video.

So how did ‘Oh Yuck’ come to fruition? Did you have a master plan in terms of a story you wanted to portray or did you just mess around with whatever was in your head at the time?

It came together over a number of years. I was in a math-rock band but pop music was sort of always what I would default to. The songs I ended up writing by myself were pop by definition. Through the years of working in visual and audio work stations and making computer music I guess I started to learn more and more about that and realized there are plug-ins that are good enough to compose a symphony on the computer all by yourself. I got really into being in the box on a computer just making everything fit together really nicely and over time I took my best songs and started putting together ‘Oh Yuck.’ Most of the songs I wrote in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house after graduating from school in California.

Do you have a favorite track right now on the album?

I think probably ‘Flagship’ or ‘Stomping Ground.’

What’s the story behind Flagship?

I was in a relationship and when I’m in long-term relationships I kind of trip out over the idea of putting all your effort into this one and it’s sort of a reflection on how that’s not healthy. It’s a model I see sometimes that I try and avoid now – when you become codependent. I don’t know why but I started writing about it through this lens of a person on the deck of a ship. It seemed like a ghost ship. In my old band I did a lot of storytelling and there’s not a lot of that on this record. So I went back to that and used a lot of nautical imagery and a submarine sonar sound in the production.

Are you into fantasy?

Yeah, I’m big into that. A lot of my favorite movies are like sci-fi or fantasy.

I saw your video for “Be Afraid” and it was definitely pretty out there. I think it’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, though. What went into the video? Did you have a say in the production?

Yeah, I definitely had veto power but two sisters, Niki and Julianna from Giraffe Studios out of LA, came up with the concept. I had seen another video they did and I really liked it. They pitched this idea: depict this scene from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” where a doll pops out of a box. But they wanted it to be an old monster movie kind of deal and I was like, “That sounds fucking amazing, let’s go for it.”

Can we talk about how you’ve developed as an artist? I’ve seen videos of you performing acoustic songs from several years ago and it is very different from what you’re doing now.

I definitely started out doing acoustic finger-style stuff. It was music for musicians I feel like. I didn’t intend for it to be that way but that’s kind of how it panned out. Deep down I always wanted to be not-mainstream but I’d like as many people as possible to have the potential to enjoy my music. I think I realized doing that virtuosic guitar playing stuff is more fun to watch than it is to listen to. It feels good to play stuff like that but it doesn’t feel any better than playing a pop song. I’m glad I can play guitar but I didn’t want it to be a crutch. It’d be weird for me if I went back in time five years ago and told myself, “You’re going to put an album out that has five songs that don’t have a single guitar.” I’m glad that this is the case. I’d like to have more range. I don’t want to be known as just a guitarist.

Then you got into a popular math-rock band called Speed of Sound in Seawater?

Yeah, we did a lot of touring between 2009 and 2013. It’s not exactly done; it’s just sort of on hiatus. But it’s been so long since I’ve played that style of music, I don’t know how I’d write it anymore.

What are the big differences between writing in a band and writing solo?

I do miss that collaborative aspect especially with those guys from Speed of Sound just because they’re my best friends and they’re great songwriters and musicians. I think the only difference is that I try to be really critical. I try to cut as much of the fat as possible, which can actually can be harder with other people because peoples’ feelings are attached. For me, writing something by myself, there’s nothing personal if I cut a part. But it’s hard to say that to a friend.

So you moved to pop – are there musical influences that you’ve taken from your early life that you’ve utilized in your new album at all?

Pop wise, the main one would be Michael Jackson; I’ve been listening to him through my entire life. Otherwise, the longest running influence that is probably the least obvious is Joanna Newsom. She’s my favorite artist and is coincidentally from the Sacramento area. She writes very cinematic music; it feels like the only thing going on when you’re listening to it. It’s very profound in a classical, literary kind of way. Like, people are going to be listening to this 40 years from now, or studying it. That kind of depth is really fascinating to me.

So you must have some qualms about current pop music then. I feel like a lot of it is easily digestible.

I like a lot of current pop, even Top 40 stuff. I mean I really like a lot of the Justin Bieber stuff and I love the recent Rhianna stuff. But we’re living in an age where Frank Ocean can be a HUGE popstar and that stuff is so esoteric and weird. The melodies are so unconventional and the subject matter is super deep. So I think there is room for a lot of depth that there maybe wasn’t in the early 2000s.

Do you think you have certain responsibilities as an artist at all?

Yeah, especially with the election, I feel like it’s important for everybody to be more vocal about what they believe in. I get kind of annoyed when I see someone like Taylor Swift take no position politically, like “You must believe in something.” Or like Jimmy Fallon claiming to be apolitical: “No, you just want the largest possible audience.” There’s something to be said about pure entertainment, I guess. But with a voice that broad and far-reaching I think it’s pretty irresponsible to not take any kind of position on any important issues.

Do you take any political positions on your new album?

“Be Afraid” is directly about Trump support and blind faith in a leader who is just kind of proving himself to be problematic at every turn.

What do you value most about being a musician and artist right now?

I mean just having any kind of platform especially with social media, it’s cool that you can have a core group of followers that you’re able to engage with pretty often. I have fans that have been following me since my old band so it’s really cool to tour and see the same people every time – that line between friend and fan. I really like that because I’ve done a lot of sleep-on-a-stranger’s-floor type tours and I relied heavily on that. Now, as a result, I have friends all over the country, which is like something that…Well, I did a tour grind that I don’t think most popstars ever have to deal with.

How was your most recent tour?

It was really awesome being on the road with Nnamdi. He’s in this hip-hop world now which is so different – he grew up playing bands like me, math rock bands. I think it’s like we’re so much less jaded because we’ve done such uncomfortable tours and played so many shows to empty rooms, so I’m pretty easy to please in that regard now.

Does this discomfort make a way into your album?

I think in the album art, for sure. Falling to the bottom of a well feels like a really funny trope to me that’s kind of symbolic of ways I’ve felt but you just kind of deal with it – ‘That’s a bummer, and onto the next thing.”

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I feel like that’s how my twenties are going. Is there a major theme that you are writing about right now on the record?

I think the main thread through the record is quarreling through self-esteem conditioning. A lot of the songs like “Full Body Mirror,” “Stomping Ground,” “Summoner,” “Love That Never Fades,” and “Flagship” are pretty much all relationship-driven songs. I’d say the overarching theme is feeling a conditioned male persona implanted on me. I’m trying to point out that this doesn’t have to be how I’m behaving. I don’t think it is anymore, it was more in my early 20s – in college. It’s me regretting the ways that I felt we had to communicate with women. I think nowadays people are getting better at treating others like people, but you see it all the time in different friend groups when like a guy friend will say something that makes the women uncomfortable – are you just conditioned to say that?

Did working on this album over the years help you flush out some of those ideas for your personal life?

Yeah, totally. I dated three different people over the course of writing this record – some of these songs are quite old – and each of the relationships seem like such huge learning experiences and thankfully I’m still close with all of them. Part of it was wanting to write pop music and R&B and then working at the examples I had of what these artists were singing about, realizing that these artists were horrible misogynists, like what the fuck is happening? This call-out-culture that we live in somehow emits these super glaringly obvious examples of misogyny on the radio. We still love these songs – I’m guilty of it too – and I started to think of what could the angle be that isn’t preachy, and doesn’t objectify women. Well, I began to think that it has to be super self-deprecating to not sound preachy. A song like “Stomping Ground,” could have been like, “Don’t approach people multiple times or with this pick-up-culture attitude.” No one’s gonna listen to that unless it’s talking about me or me taking on that role – I’ll just shoulder all of the blame, it’s fine. I’ve done these things and I don’t want to anymore. It’s easier to talk to someone if you’re being open and honest.

Definitely. Being vulnerable and honest are keys to communication. But it’s not easy to always be throwing yourself under the bus.

Yeah, I mean I think if I wrote it all at once in like one year, it’d feel like “Dang, I’m like really dragging myself through the dirt.” But my ideas over the same subject developed a little bit over time.

Is it hard seeing something released that wasn’t made all at the same moment? Or was it helpful for you to develop your ideas?

I think in the long run, it probably created a better product but it was definitely frustrating; it made me really restless having to wait for these songs I’ve heard literally hundreds of times. And I always forget that almost everyone’s gonna hear this for the first time next week. The oldest demo for one of these songs is probably from 2012. But it will breathe new life into it, which I’m excited for.

Have you started writing new music at all?

Yes, definitely. I hope by this time next year I’ll be talking about a new record.

Do you think you’ll be hitting the same themes, further examining them?

This next time I want to make an explicit concept album that revolves around one story or one idea.

Is this an album to listen to straight through or does it matter?

Yeah, absolutely with the interludes and the intro. I was very conscious about the track order and the sequencing, which is rough in this day and age with Spotify playlists. But I don’t know, I feel like I keep hearing people say the age of the album is over, but I think it ended and is now coming back.

Is it helpful now having a big label behind you?

With the release of the album it’s definitely a huge help. I’m coming from doing everything independently. And part of me kind of misses having a hand in everything but I’m still so used to that that I’m really on peoples’ backs over email. I want to make sure everything’s working out. It is nice to give the logistical issues to someone else. Ideally I’d just like to do music, but I don’t really mind doing boring administrative stuff.

What’s your onstage aesthetic? Cinematic or straight forward?

I run projections – it’s just me and a drummer so I try and occupy most of the stage with the visuals. They’re pretty psychedelic and I make the visuals and it’s fun to have that medium because I come from a film background – that’s what I did at school. I’d like to expand and make it a little more theatrical.

If your music could be set to any type of film, what kind of movie would it be?

Probably like an adventure, fantasy.

Do you ever see yourself making a soundtrack to something?

I’d do that in a heartbeat. A huge influence of mine is like a videogame soundtrack, which is evident in the track listing with ‘New Game’ to ‘Game Over.’ It’s like a start menu – “New Game” – and then, “Game Over”, is like when you die.

So, what’s your next move?

In the fall, I’m gonna do a big show in Sacramento but after that I’ll be doing a lot of writing. Writing’s my favorite part, so it’s exciting that I get to do that again pretty soon.

Check out So Much Light’s full album!

New video for ‘Full Body Mirror’

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