The Damn Choir:
The TVD Interview

Gordon Robertson’s suffered for his art. He suffered a terrible breakup, which we have to thank for the creation of his band, The Damn Choir. Hell, he suffered through eating two (albeit tiny) onions for this interview. My point is, Robertson knows how to take a painful experience and cultivate something beautiful. (Jury’s still out on if the interview was beautiful, but it was a lot of fun.)

A Cleveland native turned Chicago transplant, Robertson is one of the founding members of The Damn Choir, alongside friend Katy Myers, whom he met at 4am at a bar and claims to have tricked into the band with pizza. Myers contests, “He said ‘come over to my house, I’ll make you dinner and we’ll have wine.’ I got there, and he had a thirty pack and pizza.” Regardless of how it went down (Robertson says Myers showed up in a gown), we should be thankful for what was born of that friendship.

“I didn’t want to be in his band because I don’t usually like singer-songwriters, especially sad ones. Then he called me a week later and was like, let’s just play a little. And then since you learned the songs, why don’t you just play the show, since you know the songs why don’t you just play on the album. I remember the turning point, when he called and was like, the photoshoot for the album is next week,” said Myers.

Back then, their band was called Gordon and Katy (unless you ask the eleven-year-old to whom Myers was a nanny, then it was called I’m with Crazy). A lot has changed since those formative times. The Damn Choir has now grown from a duo to a six- or seven-piece band.

On the evening I saw them at the Beachland Tavern, it was a six-piece featuring Gordon Robertson on lead vocals/acoustic guitar, Katy Myers on cello/vocals, Stevie Verlie on backup vocals, Brandon Stein on bass (he doubles as tour manager), Otis, whom the band admittedly lucked out finding on Craigslist, on guitar, and Ryan Farnham on drums.

How’d they end up with this lineup? Myers and Robertson are former bandmates; Robertson met Farnham when he was in Catfish Haven, ran into him at Empty Bottle in Chicago and asked him to join the band. Otis, whom the band affectionately calls the Bearded Angel, is from Craigslist. Verlie is Robertson’s ex-girlfriend’s sister.

They draw influences from all over the place—from Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon, to Murder by Death, to jazz from the 1930-50s, the Wiggles, the Pixies, Square Pushers, and Afrobeat. The band’s got a sound that reminds me of Frightened Rabbit or Mumford & Sons.

The Damn Choir | Spit

Maybe it’s Robertson’s Scotch heritage coming through. There’s a raw quality to his voice that truly embraces the pain of his lyrics. His approach is delicate, floating on the music built around him. The Damn Choir is a therapeutic experience for every heart still etched with the pain of a love lost.

Their songwriting approach has grown and changed a lot, but the band agrees that drummer, Ryan Farnham, is the ears of the outfit. “Ryan has the balls to say ‘this isn’t a song we’d want to use,” says Robertson.

“He’s got good ears,” Myers said, as Robertson chimed in, “and he’s easy on the eyes!” Farnham tries to remind the band to keep it simple when they’re getting overcomplicated, which is hard considering the number of players on the stage. For their second album, the band even included a twenty person choir, to create a bigger album. Myers shouted out to Robertson for being overly ambitious enough to dream up having a choir, and she wrote the parts, and the rest is history.

The band may have talked over each other a lot, thrown jokes around, and had side conversations, but they all agreed on one thing: manager Ryan Sweeney from Wine from the Moon does a phenomenal job, and they couldn’t do it without him.

If you’re lucky enough to be in NYC for CMJ, you can check out The Damn Choir at the Let’s Get Messy Day Party at Arlene’s Grocery on October 22nd! 

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