Sequin-Wearing, Beyoncé-Obsessed GANG Play Nice With Everyone
Photo by Eric Sison
Picking up the phone at her South Philly home, GANG singer Amanda Damron says, sternly, that I've interrupted her while she was watching the Beyoncé documentary on HBO. There's a brief, awkward silence, then she bursts into laughter.
"It's OK, I probably know everything that's in it, I'm obsessed with her, but it's just so awesome to watch," she says. "I love her, she's my hero!"
If it's pretty much anything pop or mainstream hip-hop, the reliably upbeat Damron is all about it. It's also entirely possible that she doesn't own a stitch of clothing without a sequin on it; not that much else would go so well with her usual hot pink lipstick and the pink highlights that often clutch onto the ends of her blonde hair. Fellow GANG singer Jaclyn McGraw may sport raven locks, but she's far from Damron's polar opposite--partners in crime since high school, the pair spent their teen years singing and dancing along with N'Sync, and they probably still do.
It's McGraw's sister (and GANG's bass player) Nicole who's the contrary one -- she's deep into punk and hardcore, and as Damron explains, "she pushes GANG to be more of a heavier thing, so our songs have at least one part that's a big thrashy freakout." With Tim Sonnefeld -- a veteran of the Philly roots-rock band Townhall, in which he played guitar -- manning the drumkit and new guitarist Alex Crowley in the fold, GANG rocks a sassy, boisterous electro-punk-pop racket that's something like either late Bikini Kill or early Le Tigre and makes room for hip-hop-cheerleader chants, Damron's Freddie Mercury-flavored operatic shrieks, and the odd Rage Against the Machine cover.
Putting them on a bill with Brooklyn hardcore upstarts Violent Bullshit tonight might seem like a strange combo, but Damron says it works. "That's our favorite kind of show to play. We've played with bands from a bunch of different genres, but it seems like punk fans get it more." It might make a little more sense than the time a few years ago when GANG drove down to Baltimore to open for Lil' Kim. "Oh my God I love her, and we wanted to put ourselves out there and play with anyone and just play cool shows. I think with hip-hop shows like that, at first the crowd is confused why we're playing and then they get into it as it goes on," she says. But the people that really embrace us and want to watch are in the punk world."
When GANG first got together in the mid-2000's, she laughs, "none of us thought we'd be playing a hardcore show. Our first couple songs were kinda goofy, kinda hip-hop beats but either that operatic singing or rap screaming." In the beginning, Damron says, their only two goals as a band were to open for The B-52's and Peaches (they've since accomplished both goals), though an early single, "Rat Poison," blew up on MySpace. Says Damron: "It took off in a way that we didn't expect and people started asking us to play shows when we weren't really a band yet." Like Bonde do Role. The emerging Brazilian electro-pop group, which was affiliated with then-Philly-based Diplo and his label, Mad Decent, took a shine to GANG and brought them on board for a few East Coast mini-tours.
They've since recorded a couple of EPs and made some excellent videos, though Damron says they're perennially "too broke" to mount the kind of nonstop touring that could help them break through in a bigger way. But GANG's hoping that will change once they finish and release the debut full-length LP they're currently at work on at Milkboy Recording Studio in Philly. Formerly Larry Gold's world-famous The Studio --where Kanye West, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, R. Kelly, Tori Amos and The Roots came to lay down tracks -- it's by far the city's best recording facility. And it just so happens that GANG's Sonnefeld works there (a long-time Philly producer/engineer/mixer, he helped mix Usher's Grammy-winning Raymond v. Raymond, among other projects).
"Milkboy's kind of our little homebase, it's pretty awesome that we get to use that place," says Damron. Among the new tracks GANG's working on, which they'll unveil tonight, is a tribute to David Lynch that the band calls "D.L. I Love You" but will likely be titled "Love Sweet Love" when all's said and done.
"The song is about going on a journey with him spiritually," Damron explains. "We come to terms lyrically with the fact that we have to let something go, and he guides us into letting that thing go. There's more of an arc to this song because the verses are mellow and spoken and that's the journey--we speak the journey and then the chorus is a big GANG chorus with a whole bunch of harmonies, and then the bridge goes into an outer space crazy thrasher fantasy, it gets cray and then crazier and then you go down the rollercoaster and finish off on an even thing at the end." Damron stops to catch her breath. "I think it's gonna be pretty awesome."
There's a fittingly weird video planned, too, which GANG intends to shoot partially in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey and at a gay nightclub in Atlantic City that one of Damron's friends runs. "We have access to many drag queens and tranny impersonators, so it's gonna be rad."
And, she says, New York's going to be seeing a lot more of GANG in the very near future, mostly because the band feels like it may have hit a ceiling in Philadelphia. "I think as far as Philly goes, you can only go so far," she says. "There's not much of a music industry here. We can release all we want and play shows all we want and fill most of the rooms here, but I think now it's time to focus on getting it out there to other cities, especially New York. We slowed down for a minute because we're all 30 or older now and we all have day jobs, but now we're back and willing to grind it."
GANG perform tonight at Grand Victory with Violent Bullshit, Gazillion, and No TV. 7pm. $8.
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