Them Damn Kings are a hard rock/metal act based in Jersey City, New Jersey. Founded in 2015 as a one-man entity by veteran singer-guitarist Jef Rhodes, the project has steadily morphed into a collaborative effort, incorporating the talents of former Lacuna Coil drummer Ryan Blake Folden. In addition to featuring second guitarist Gogi Randhawa as part of their live formation, the band dropped a new single representing their current stature, “Throw It Away.” The single follows the release of their 2016 self-titled EP, and will be included as part of their upcoming debut album, Rise Up, which is slated for early May 2021.
I caught up with Jef to discuss his experience as a touring musician, the progression of Them Damn Kings and their new single, his hopes for the end of Covid-19, and what he can assess about his longstanding career.
How’s everything going with the band?
So far so good, man! Aside from the pandemic, we’re all just chilling at home trying to weather the storm.
You’ve had over 20 years of touring experience playing in big bands like Opeth, Cradle of Fillth, and Lacuna Coil. What do you take away from those experiences?
Man, it’s been an adventure, you know? Most of it is a big blur, but the good part is that I’d gotten to work with such awesome guys over these last couple decades; it’s just been great. I’ve been doing Lacuna Coil’s audio for 12 years now. It’s a big family unit out there. Those guys are just amazing people, and even through this, we’d talk quite often.
Going back a bit, what bands did you grow up with that shaped your musicianship?
Ahh, man. It’s Ozzy Osbourne all the way. He’s what got me into music, and turned me into this long haired, bearded, beer guzzling rock n’ roller. I was into all sorts of different bands back then, but when I heard the first Ozzy record, I knew that music was what I wanted to do.
Since you’ve been with Ryan in Them Damn Kings, do you find yourselves revisiting those influences?
Yeah! This project started out as a one-man thing, and at first, I thought of just hiring other musicians for when I go out and play live. But I knew Ryan from Lacuna Coil, and when I’d asked him to come aboard and do our first record, his added flavor really changed everything, which is awesome. The one cool thing about music is that you’ll have this idea in your head, and then when someone else adds their own texture, it sets you in this whole new direction. I always have Ozzy, Randy Rhodes, or Zakk Wylde in my head when I come up with ideas, even though they never end up sounding exactly like them (laughs). But with Ryan’s influences, his flavor really benefitted the music, and I’m really proud of what we did.
Do you consider Them Damn Kings to be a clean slate creativity-wise, compared to the other bands you’ve been in?
I think it has allowed a different side of my creativity. In the other bands that I’ve worked with, I was always a fill-in type of guy, but Ryan and I work together very well. We talk every day, we’re pretty in tune, and there’s no bars held back. We just sit back and create, and we both like what comes out. It’s just straight-up rock n’ roll, man.
Back in 2016, you released your self-titled EP. How did that come about?
At the time, I was out on the road with Lacuna Coil, and wasn’t really thinking much about making records; just focusing mainly on what was happening in life. We were out with this band Kyng, and it’s very rare that a new band sets me off, but I remember going out from backstage to the side stage just to watch these guys. I watched them every single night and was just so excited about them. One night, we were sitting in the dressing room, and Eddy Veliz and Tony Castaneda let me sit in and play with them. I had such an amazing time playing with those guys; they just completely inspired me again. Right when I got off the tour, I sat down and started writing and recording the EP. I found a good manager, Adam Sewell, and he’s a really amazing guy, just helping me beyond belief.
Now, we’re leading up to the new record, Rise Up, and the pandemic has put a damper on that a little bit, but it’s probably going to come out at the end of April or the beginning of May 2021. We don’t have a final release date right this second, but we will be announcing it soon.
Before we get into that. I have to say, it’s amazing how you can get inspired by up-and-coming bands, regardless of the fact that you’ve done this so long. Usually, by that point, you’d be kind of set in your ways, and wouldn’t otherwise care about newer bands, but it’s awesome how you feel you can learn a lot from them.
You know, it’s interesting you mention that. In a lot of bands that I’m out with, I notice that many of the guys don’t really care about the other bands, and are just kind of stuck in what they’re doing. But I remember reading an interview with Neil Peart a few years ago where he talks about going back to take drum lessons. I thought that was so great because even at his level, he still wanted to learn more and be inspired by different things. I love everything about music, and sure, there are days where I kind of feel bitter and jaded, but when I hear a band that I like, old or new, I’ll support them 100 percent. That’s where I find inspiration.
Off the new album, Rise Up, your first single is “Throw It Away,” and I can easily tell it’s a much more refined presentation. What do you look for in a good, modern rock song, especially these days?
It’s all about authenticity. For a long time, everything has been overproduced and super polished. I’ve even been on tours where a band’s computer rig shuts down and they can’t play anymore. But when I see a band like Kyng, I know that’s never going to happen. There’s a solid component of vocals, guitars, bass, and drums, but there’s also the beauty of mistakes in rock n’ roll. When these things happen, you just roll with them. Being able to write something, and play it without overcomplicating the process, is what makes a good rock n’ roll song.
Yeah, the new song has updated production standards, obviously, but the classic influences still shine through considerably.
It’s great to hear that, and I appreciate you saying that. Ryan and I are straight-up rock n’ roll kids, and I feel like when we channel the roots of our influences, that’s where our sound comes from. Ryan’s favorite band is Protest the Hero, so that’s a bit of a different influence than I have. They’re not completely my thing, but when he adds to my riffs, it’s like, “Boom, what just happened?” It just takes on a whole other light. So, I think when it comes to our writing, it still gets to stay genuine to the roots of rock n’ roll, but there’s also different flavors added to it. All I could hope for is that people like it and we could continue to play.
Having worked as an engineer, you produce the music yourself, is that right?
Yeah! Actually, everything is done in-house. My whole house has basically become a recording studio now, and as far as production goes, I don’t really use too much. I’ve intentionally limited myself. With Pro Tools, I know that I can sit back and record 120 tracks just because I’m bored. But I also have an older, 1980s AMR console here. It’s only 32 channels, but I feel like if we needed any more than that, we really shouldn’t be doing this (laughs).
As a musician myself, having grown up in the modern era, I can relate to working with different audio workstations, including Pro Tools. The last thing you’d expect to happen is for your project files to become messed up, or your programs to crash.
I definitely learned that the hard way. Luckily, I’ve made backups of the EP, as well as our new album. Prior to that, I had about 300 song ideas saved to my hard drive, but my computer decided to take a dump and that’s it – they’re history; they’re gone; they’re memories (laughs).
It’s cool, though, how you’ve learned your lesson, and that you’ve grown. Speaking of growth, do you feel that your abilities have improved in the same way?
Yeah, I think they have! I’m also a live sound engineer, so I have a ton of experience in the live aspect. That’s actually how I approach making a record, where you’ve got to make it work based on your limitations. When you use too many toys, it can dull the experience. Back in the early days of studio recording and live sound, if you had only a couple of outboard pieces of gear, you had to make that work somehow unless you had a multimillion-dollar studio. Now, with Pro Tools, everything’s right there in the box. You have unlimited LA-2As and Distressors; you could put a Distressor on every single channel if you wanted to. So, I think that really takes away from letting the music happen. Engineers tend to spend so much more time nowadays playing with plugins rather than focusing on what a song should naturally be. My production abilities have grown a little, but I still believe in the idea of ‘less is more.’
You’re also working on assembling a live band, and you have your backing guitarist Gogi, while the bassist role still has yet to be filled. For the type of music you play, what would be the ideal bassist for your band?
It’s a difficult process. Our music is pretty simple, and it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to add bass to it, but it really comes down to who you’re going to groove with, man. We are looking for permanent guys. Me, Ryan, and Gogi all get along really well, and I want that for everyone else. If you can drink beer all night and still be able to find your way back to the bus, you‘ve definitely got a foot in the door (laughs)!
Although there has been some progress in the Covid situation with vaccine trials, live performance is still uncertain. What are your hopes for that setting to get back to the way it was?
My hope is that it will happen tomorrow. We want to go back to playing shows ASAP. I’ve had shows booked up for summer next year, and those were already canceled, and I have another booked for September, which may or may not happen either. But I heard on the news the other day that we’ve had a pretty successful run with vaccine trials, and I hope that the new political powers that be will think quicker toward the future here, even though it seems like, whether we’re on the left or the right, the up or the down, we all suck.
It doesn’t just affect us musicians, man. Bus companies, crews, and everything else behind the scenes has shut down completely. It’s a scary time going on there. The most important part of a show is being able to forget about the chaos in the world for a while, or whether or not you need to get up for work the next day, and just enjoy the music. Without that environment, there’s no release. We all need to get back out there real soon.
In the two decades you’ve worked in music, what have you learned about yourself, not only as a musician, but as a person?
I think the more I keep up with this, the more I have a deep love and respect for music. It’s really all I’ve done for most of my life. Every day, it’s like finding that woman who’s your soulmate. For me, music is my soulmate. I fall more in love with this business than I ever have – every aspect of it all. When I think about everything, this is what I want to do, and what I’m meant to do for the rest of my life.
Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
I just want to thank everyone out there for supporting us. Come find us on social media. We enjoy interacting with everybody. I just can’t wait to see everyone down the road again. Hopefully sooner than later!
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