Spotlight: Damage Inc. (Metallica tribute band)

It’s not easy being in a tribute band. Sure, you play other people’s songs, but you’re also faced with a lot of criticism, fanboy snobs and being constantly compared to the band you’re honoring.

But Damage Inc. is not just a random Metallica tribute band. They cover the songs quite faithfully and lead singer Chris Knight looks a lot like James, too.

I think these guys do their job well and I got to talk to three of the four guys in this band.

So if you want to read their opinion on Metallica, beachballs and read what Scott Ian thought of their solos, make the jump.

Dose of Metal: Hi guys, thanks for doing this interview! My first question may be the most obvious one… You obviously like Metallica, but are they your favorite band?

Chris Knight: I got into Metallica when I started playing guitar. They really gave me an appreciation of intricate and melodic guitar parts, and inspired me to play. They quickly grew into my favorite band, and still are one of my favorites. Nowadays I tend to be a little burned on the music, but if we work on bringing a song into our library — especially one I haven’t heard for a while — I forget how fucking cool the music is and turn into that doe-eyed fan again.

Chris Brightwell:
I have to say I was always a Metallica fan, but I’ve become an even bigger fan since I joined the band. I’ve learned a lot about them, and I’ve seen firsthand how they treat their fans and their fanclub… They’re VERY involved and always make time for their fans, signing autographs, meet and greets, special parties and intimate concerts for their fanclub members, putting all of their concerts online for anyone to download, even bringing back a kid at nearly every show to the warmup room before to jam with the band. Very cool.

Kevin Knight:
Metallica is my favorite band. They are the reason I fell in love with metal and I listen to them almost daily still.

DoM: When did you decide to start this band and how did it come about?

CK: This band derived from a few variations of our original cover band. We used to play these tiny dive bars and small clubs as a cover band. We did all hard rock stuff- Megadeth, Godsmack, Alice-in-Chains, and of course Metallica. I remember our singer at the time was vehemently against being a “Metallica cover band” and that sort of stuck with us even after his departure. One time we played a local bar and they asked us to come back, but they wanted to know if we could do all Metallica songs. So we learned a few extra songs and played as a Metallica band that night. Afterwards, I think we realized that this sounded the best and seemed to get the best response – so it was a no-brainer.

DoM: When thinking of a Metallica tribute band, I’d say the hardest thing to do would be to replicate James’ guitar playing while singing. Chris, you do both effortlessly. Was it always easy for you to play complicated riffs while singing or did it take a lot of practice?

CK: I taught myself how to play guitar and James was my inspiration, so I didn’t know any other way to play. When we were doing some of the cover songs, our guitar player would tell me to loosen up and not “crunch” all of the notes all the time. The singing came naturally. I grew up to a Beatles soundtrack in our household. Now the singing and playing was a little bit of work, and still is depending on the song. Sometimes it’s pretty easy. I just have to know one or the other without thinking about it.

Master! Of! Puppets!

DoM: You kinda look like James, too. Did you one day wake up thinking “Hey, I can look, sound and play guitar like James, might as well front a Metallica tribute band” or is this all a carefully crafted look/style that you’ve been working on?

CK: When we first started playing the covers, I think I had a shaved head and no facial hair. so I basically looked like a cue ball. I think I was fortunate that James developed a look that works for me. Though I have more of a snapshot of his look with the spiked hair and chin strap beard. I don’t scour the internet for photos of James to make sure I have this years’ model on. While I don’t think it was a matter of waking up one day and deciding to do that, the fact that I did play and sound like James was a factor in turning our cover band into the Metallica Tribute.

DoM: Would you ever consider writing your own songs as Damage Inc.?

CB: Not really. I’ve done the original band thing off and on since the late 80s… it’s a lot of work with little reward unless you’re one of the 1% that can make it anywhere in the music industry. And now that there’s not much of a music industry, you have to do an awful lot of work to get your music out there and heard. I love the tribute scene, because there’s a built-in audience. People that are fans of the band you’re paying tribute to more often than not will come and see you. There’s no more playing for your girlfriends and the bartenders. And people treat you like rockstars! Don’t worry… we have NO delusions of grandeur… It’s just a lot of fun.

I really enjoy the freedom that being in a tribute band affords me, it’s a very fun hobby that we take seriously, but I’m still able to work a full-time day job as a computer programmer. Original music takes a lot of time and effort. Would it be fun? Sure. But I just don’t have that kind of time. Plus, I suck at writing music.

DoM: Chris, are you considering kicking a beach ball into someone’s face, just like Kirk?

CB: LMAO! We actually had beach balls made… Black ones with our logo, just like theirs. We threw them out at a few shows, but most of them disappeared and were deflated right away. A few came back to the stage and I kicked them out… I’m pretty sure someone got conked in the head, but it wasn’t a little girl, hehe.

DoM: My favorite Metallica song is Blackened, and on every performance I’ve seen of it live, Kirk never really plays the solo exactly like on the album. Sometimes he doesn’t even play all of it. You, on the other hand, play it quite faithfully. I take it you also love that solo?

CB: I do… It’s always important to me to make sure that the solo in every song is as close to the original as possible. Metallica fans are like no other in that they know every note in every song… If you stray far from what they’re used to hearing, they’ll notice it and call you out. It’s happened to me several times. Also, I’ve always felt that if you’re going to pay tribute to someone, you should play their music the way they intended it to be heard. If you’re going to make up your own version, then you should just write your own songs. Kirk actually played the solo to Blackened directly to me in Vegas… We were on the rail with the Metclub during the show, and he walked right up to me, grinned, sort of pointed at me and went into the solo. When he finished, he nodded to me and walked off. It was the night after Scott Ian had told him that I played his solos better than he did, which I thought was really funny. Apparently, so did he, haha.

Chris kills it on the 'Blackened' solo (4:30)

DoM: So what’s the dream here, guys? Opening for Metallica on tour?

CK: That’s a really good question. Opening for Metallica would be awesome. I know that when they released Garage Inc. and toured on that album, they brought Battery (a tribute from the Midwest) out to open the show with Metallica songs, and they came out and played all the cover songs from the Garage Inc album. We weren’t even a cover band when that tour kicked off, so I’m not bitter that they didn’t pick us (sniff). In all seriousness though, I think that I’m already living the dream here. When I was learning to play guitar, it was always a dream of mine to jam Metallica tunes to a club full of fans. It still seems a little surreal that I’m doing that now.

Opening for Metallica would be the ultimate dream. Although it’s highly unlikely. I would love just jamming with them in their studio.

DoM: As acute observers of Metallica’s music and career, what do you have to say about 90s Metallica practically abandoning thrash metal?

CK: I think that most of music was heading in a different direction in the 90’s. I feel that it’s a natural progression of a band and their need to experiment. I think if you write the same kind of music over a long career, you may find yourself bored. I also think that we as fans get used to a particular sound or formula and that works for us. That’s our comfort zone. It’s what we’re used to. All of the sudden, you’re picking up an album and the hair is gone, and the music is different. Change can be awkward and scary for some. I think the fans that aren’t really into change probably don’t like those albums, and the ones that embrace change see those albums for what they are — part of Metallica’s growth as a band and musicians.

I hear people talking about them ‘selling out’ occasionally… Not as much as I did around the time the Black Album came out. I can’t blame anyone for putting out the effort to bring someone like Bob Rock in to force yourself to change and evolve into something that hopefully would be commercially successful and sell records. If making music and selling it is your career, why on earth would you not try to make that career as successful as it could be? A band that’s been playing music as long as they have has to grow and evolve. I’m sure playing nothing but Master of Puppets would get boring. You have to grow up sometime… and they have.

DoM: Fans call their latest album, Death Magnetic, a return to form. Do you agree with that or not?

CK: I do! I really like the album’s aggressiveness. I missed the solos. One thing that I don’t think people realize, is that Cliff was an integral part of the writing process. Everyone is always trying to pit the ‘new stuff’ vs. the ‘old stuff’ but forget that a lot of the ‘old stuff’ included Cliff in the writing. There is a different sound between the ‘Justice’ and ‘Master’ albums. To me, Death Magnetic sounds close to ‘Justice’ with those aggressive, intricate riffs and blistering double bass.

I like Death Magnetic more than St Anger. I don’t think it’s as much a ‘return to form’ as it is another step in the evolution of Metallica. They’ve come through St. Anger and are now a cohesive unit again and it shows in the intensity, confidence, and complexity of Death Magnetic.

Damage Inc. playing a Death Magnetic song

DoM: Do you guys play ‘Guitar Hero: Metallica’ together?

CK: HAHA! Um, no. I think the better you are at playing guitar, the worse you are at guitar hero. I remember playing at a military base last year, and they had the arcade version of Guitar Hero with two guitars. So Chris and I decided to go head-to-head. I wound up beating him soundly- which is the only universe that would occur in…thus proving my theory that the better you are at REAL guitar, the worse you are at Guitar Hero.

Never played it. If you can actually play guitar, Guitar Hero’s pretty hard to do, cause your natural instinct is to play the notes the way you normally would. But it’s not remotely like playing a real guitar. Still fun, but I suck at it.

DoM: Is Metallica aware of you guys?

CK: I’d like to hope. Hehe. I think they may know that we’re around. There are so many Metallica tributes out there!

I met Metallica back in December 2009, I won a Meet and Greet at their show in San Diego. It was really amazing. I gave them a CD and DVD of our performance plus a picture of us that we autographed to them. I was most worried about meeting Lars, but he turned out to be the nicest one of them. James looked at our photo and laughed that [drummer] Boyd wears glasses. I had James sign my brother’s pick guard and draw a “scary guy” on it.

DoM: Kevin, the bio on your site states you’ve been raised by a pack of ‘wild’ monkeys. No offense, but I find that very hard to believe. They had to be friendly if they raised you.

KK: I am deeply offended that you are perpetuating this stereotype about my ape-parents. Yes, they were wild, but they also had a deep capacity for love. I owe them everything for what they did for me. I can find ants under rocks and climb trees like no other. I can also delouse a housecat in 3-minutes flat. Did your parents teach you these necessary survival skills? I think not.

DoM: What were your thoughts when Newsted left the band?

KK: Crap, I hope the next guy looks like him or else I’ll have to change my look. No, I was sad at first but then I heard the whole story and I felt that what he did was the right thing for him, and I was happy for him.

DoM: How many Metallica shows have each of you attended?

CK: I don’t think I’ve missed a Southern California show since 1992.

I’ve seen them 3 times myself… once on the Black Album tour and twice on this last tour.

I’ve been to 5 Metallica shows since 1998.

DoM: Do you ever find yourself bullied by Megadeth fans, or do you bully them?

CK: HAHA! Nah, I think we get along with all metal fans! We had some “friendly competition” with a local Megadeth band when we were starting out, but no drama!

Never. We love Megadeth, and so do most of the people that come to see us. Whatever happened between them happened a long time ago… they’ve all publicly made up and anyone who holds hostility towards either of them for something that happened twenty years ago needs to grow up.

DoM: What if you found three decent Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth tribute bands? Would you consider your own ‘Tribute Big Four’?

CK: It’s funny you should say that- our guitar player, Chris has a side project with his girlfriend that is a tribute to all four bands. I guess it’s sort of what we used to do as a “hard rock” cover band, but they’re just playing Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer, and Megadeth songs. If we found the other bands out there and they were up for doing it, I’m sure we could put something together.

That would be awesome… Funny enough, I’m actually in a side project with my girlfriend Liza called Clash of the Titans that’s a tribute to the Big 4. We’re all members of other prominent tributes in town, except for our other guitarist, who plays with Heathen. Should be fun. I already knew all of the Metallica songs. What surprised me the most was how difficult it is to play Slayer properly. Didn’t expect that.

We would love to do something like that.

Check out Damage Inc. on their official site, MySpace page and Facebook page.

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