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#12 DAMIEN WHO?

Damien Binder
Damien Binder

THE SHORT SHIZ

  • The business from NZ.
  • Loves wine, has no idea what pot smells like.
  • Don’t ever tell him he writes pop songs.
  • Knows how to say, ‘Yes’.
  • Is looking for gigs, hit him up.
  • Will he make the big time? YES/NO/WTF KNOWS.

THE LONG SHIZ

Back in the 90s I had people constantly telling me how great Nick Cave is. Of course, by then I was already late to the party, but I would listen to the CDs they loaned me and I just couldn’t hear his magnificence. Sometime during that decade, at a Big Day Out, I saw Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. My friends and I had rushed to the front, them eagerly, me reluctantly, to get a better view. He only had to walk on stage, hadn’t even played a single note, and I instantly got it. Cave was one of those.

I almost backpedalled but I though, no, fuck it, you’re wrong and I told him all the reasons why. In the end, Binder agreed with me. Score one for the journalist, but it still left the result at a dismal 5-1.

Locally, Abbe May is in the same category. Internationally, Paul McCartney also is one of those few artists who can engage, enthral, their audience just by turning up. What comes after, the music, is a bonus. Don’t get me wrong, it’s usually exceedingly good, but it’s made so much better by the makers’ charisma. I think that’s the right word. Another one might be magic. If we were French, we might say, je ne sais quoi. You get the drift.

I’m going to go out on a limb now — because it’s where I like to spend most of my time, hanging on for dear life, swaying violently in a gale of approbation — to say that complete unknown New Zealand musician, now based in Perth via Sydney, Damien Binder, also is one of those.

‘Damien who?’ you’re asking. Yes, me too. But when I said I was going to write some pieces for Around The Sound again up popped an email from the man himself wondering if I’d be interested. ‘What makes you think I’d be in any way interested in you?’ was pretty much the substance of my reply. Days passed and, if I had a heart of any kind, I might have worried that I’d offended the poor man, but I just kind of forgot about him.

Then he came back to me with this long, carefully considered reply that said something along the lines of: ‘I know I’m no one, really, but I did flirt with success a little bit in my first band in New Zealand, and, while I question my existence in this world as a musician on a minute-by-minute basis and wonder how, as a newly-arrived resident of Perth, I will ever find an audience again, I keep going because I love creating music.’

After that, I had to meet him, because of what he said and the weight his words carried, but also because he even replied. A lot of musos wouldn’t have, for a whole range of most likely good reasons, but mostly because they have difficulty coping when anyone challenges their artistry in any way. In my experience, when you ask a hard question of a muso they either disappear for good, blank you and then badmouth you behind your back forgetting that Perth is so very tiny and the scene so fabulously snarky, and that news travels fast, bad news even faster; or they will have a little go back, whittering on about their integrity and how hard they’ve worked to be the musical equivalent of sorbet, and how dare I do anything but pretend to be nice. Or both. Fuck those people. They will forever be nonentities.

Damien Binder, however, he’s someone. But who?

I was sitting in a dark corner of the Leederville’s Garden Bar. Not because I desired to be out of view. I love the stares, the knowing smiles and everything else that goes with being trans. I do, honestly. No, I was sitting there because it was the quietest corner. I wanted to be able to hear what this man had to say for himself.

I felt the air move before I saw him. The noise in the bar dropped a few decibels. Something was going on. When I first adjusted my gaze I saw people looking and when I turned my head a few degrees, there he was. He wasn’t so much walking as sauntering. He clocked me and smiled. His eyes crinkled and things began to flutter in my chest. I had only a few moments to get a hold of my breath before he came and sat down. Not across the table from me like a normal person would. He sat right next to me.

Damien Binder was in the room.

Then, audacious soul that he is, Binder started interviewing me, asking me all sorts of questions about the transit of Around The Sound, suggesting I may have had a little breakdown earlier this year while nodding knowingly, and wondering what it is I’m trying to achieve with the return. Talk about a blitz of cheek and insight! Somehow, I had to get a hold of the conversation, wrestle back the upper hand.

“I know why you’ve never made it,” I interjected, taking a risk that might just bring the whole conversation crashing down.

“What? Why?” was Binder’s response, immediately switching from solicitous to back on his heels, right where I wanted him.

“It’s that guitar lesson you admitted to having in the early days of Second Child (Binder’s first band, darlings of the Auckland music scene in the 90s). No rock star has ever admitted to having taken lessons.”

He looked at me, at first as if I was quite mad and then he smiled, broke into a laugh and I knew things were going to be OK.

“What happened with me earlier this year, that wasn’t quite a breakdown,” I clarified, “I just needed to go away and work on myself, regain my purpose and strength. I call it mental health hygiene,” I finished all knowingly.

“I suppose you’ve read all the self-help books,” Binder said.

I was so enthralled by him that I wanted to say, ‘Yes’. If he’d read them, I wanted to have read them, too. I stumbled around for a ‘No’ that would sound like a ‘Yes’ because I wanted him to keep liking me. In the end I said, “Um, yeah, nah, not really. I’ve spent years doing my work.”

“Maybe you should write one,” Binder said, putting his hand on my wrist.

It was a beautifully friendly gesture in an age where people are afraid to even look each other in the eye most of the time lest their interest be misunderstood and become subject to a lawsuit or, worse still, a social media pile-on, one of those that musos in these parts are particularly adept at.

My heart raced and I felt dizzy for a while. When he took his hand back, we talked about a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t remember. It’s on the tape, but I can’t bear to go back and listen to my vacuous gushing. After a good while, I drew breath and tried to say something.

“So, what you’re searching for by continuing to write music is the perfect pop song?”

Binder bristled. “I don’t write pop music. I’m a rock musician.”

I almost backpedalled but I though, no, fuck it, you’re wrong and I told him all the reasons why. In the end, Binder agreed with me. Score one for the journalist, but it still left the result at a dismal 5-1.

From The Beatles to The Buzzcocks, rock musicians have always journeyed in search of the perfect pop song. Be it ‘Love Me Do’ or ‘Ever Fallen In Love’ what they’re after is a sub three minute gem that has hooks to burn and all the head turning qualities of a shark breaking the surface at Trigg beach in the height of summer. That’s the vein Binder is mining, has been ever since he took that one guitar lesson and elbowed his way from school-mate tag along to chief songwriter in Second Child. As well as the Second Child recordings, Binder is onto recording his fifth solo album. From the perseverative glory of 1995 hit, ‘Crumble’ to the glistening pop of current single, ‘Back To Me’, Binder’s canon is a glory box of hidden gems that deserve to see the light of day.

Now he’s in Perth, Damien Binder is starting again. With his undeniable good looks, his punch-the-air charisma and his eternal optimism, he should be fronting one of Perth’s best bands. Instead, he’s sticking to his guns and working on new solo material with one of Perth’s greatest producers, Matt Gio. That fact alone should make you sit up and listen to Binder’s music, but the man is far more than just who he can attract to work with him. Binder is a rock star who writes pop songs.

When we’d run out of things to say we wandered over the road to watch Angie Colman play a solo set. I keep telling myself I didn’t look at all stupid when I couldn’t even manage to walk on even ground, almost breaking my ankle and damaging a car in the process. Binder was very kind. Maybe I could learn a thing or two from him? Yeah, nah.

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GET MORE DAMIEN BINDER

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