Psychedelic Folk Duo Damon and Naomi Are Still Transcending Transcendence

Damon and Naomi (20-20-20)
Damon and Naomi (20-20-20)

Damon and Naomi — the duo of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang — recently released their latest album Fortune. From the archives, here is an interview from 2005 around the time of their previous record The Earth Is Blue.

Originally published in Long Island Press

FROM GALAXIE 500 TO EARTH
Psychedelic Folk Duo Damon and Naomi Are Still Transcending Transcendence

by David Chiu

As F. Scott Fitzgerald once famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” But it would be difficult to apply that truism to the musical career of Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang. After the acrimonious break-up of their former band, Galaxie 500, in the early ’90s, the two almost left music entirely before deciding to venture out as a psychedelic folk duo. Brave, yes, but the influential legacy of Galaxie 500, a critically acclaimed and highly influential group known for its dreamy drone pop, was going to be a hard act to follow.

Six albums and more than a decade later, the Cambridge, Mass.- based duo—under the moniker of Damon and Naomi—are still making thoughtful and impressionistic sounds that are indifferent to commercial trends. Times have changed, but the original mission from their Galaxie 500 days, to affect people emotionally through quiet means, has not.

“We wanted to make music that we loved,” says guitarist and drummer Krukowski. “If we could make one minute of one song that could move people, it would be all worth it.”

The duo’s first new album in five years, The Earth Is Blue (released on their own label, 20/20/20), is a continuation of their minimalist sound: an austere yet shimmering musical backdrop gently supporting Yang’s and Krukowski’s lush vocal harmonies. However, in contrast to the somber and pensive reputation they have acquired over the years, the husband-and-wife duo are quite gregarious, with a fetching sense of humor (word of advice: Don’t get them started on who decided to sing lead on which songs). The album’s title suggests a sense of serenity and optimism reflected on the CD insert, photographed and conceived by Yang.

“The title The Earth is Blue seemed like a wonderful phrase in the unifying principle,” she says. “My grand concept for the art was that this was like the outside world, and as you open up the booklet you come into the inside world where we made the recording.”

Damon and Naomi are currently headlining a U.S. tour in support of the album, and their shows usually evoke the warm intimacy of a Greenwich Village coffeehouse or smoky dive. Earlier this year, though, the duo experienced a familiar blast from the past when they were heckled as the opening act for seminal post-punk group Mission of Burma.

“The Mission of Burma crowd was not quite ready for the gentle stylings of Damon and Naomi,” Krukowski self-deprecatingly remembers. “The heckler was saying the same things that were shouted at as Galaxie 500 [opened for Mission of Burma] in 1988 in Boston. It was like, ‘Oh wow, it’s truly a reunion show for Mission of Burma because they brought the same crowd that was heckling us.’”

Yet from the beginning of their career, Krukowski and Yang have also had fervent fans who used to yell out, “Slower! Quieter!” at Galaxie 500 shows. It was a gesture of respect and adulation for a group that came out of Boston with a modest goal, says Byron
Colley in his liner notes on the Uncollected Galaxie 500 compilation, of getting a single in the local bargain bins.

Longtime friends Krukowski, Yang and lead singer/guitarist Dean Wareham formed the group when they attended Harvard in the early ’80s. Over the course of three albums (Today, On Fire and This Is Our Music), they created some arrestingly slow and dreamy alternative pop; UK music magazine Melody Maker once said, “Galaxie 500 transcend transcendence.”

Despite the critical acclaim of their albums and live shows, Galaxie 500’s promising career ended very abruptly when Wareham departed in 1991; he went on to form Luna, while Krukowski and Yang rebuilt their musical lives as a duo. Last year, the trio reunited in the making of a Galaxie 500 documentary DVD called Don’t Let Our Youth Go to Waste, which traces the group’s lifespan; it also features rare live footage and new interviews. The three had not been in the same room together since 1991; Krukowski and Yang communicated with Wareham about the project through e-mail.

“The band had a terrible falling out and our friendship was destroyed forever,” says Krukowski. “That won’t change. [The documentary] was also all of us looking back at the time when all of that didn’t exist, so it was by definition pre-break-up of the band.” “We tried to make it amusing,” says Yang. “It was so innocent. ‘Can we believe that we were on stage doing this?’ It was sort of an astonishment for all of us.”

“I think it was actually a very sweet project,” says Krukowski. “I suspect it made all three of us look back at the time in a slightly more nostalgic way. But it was shocking when you put those tapes in. ‘Oh my God, I remember all that!’ We really have come a long way.”

Nearly 15 years after Galaxie 500’s demise, Damon and Naomi have indeed come a long way as they continue recording and performing live on their own. Rather than forging a sound that conforms to trends, the duo is perfectly content seeking inspiration from eclectic music figures such as the Velvet Underground, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Sandy Denny and Caetano Veloso.

“That’s just the way it has been from the start,” says Krukowski. “We were eagerly absorbing new discoveries but they tend to be in the past. We chart our own course off of our heroes and off of the music that moves us.”

 

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