An Interview with Amen Dunes’ Damon McMahon and Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering by Julianne Wilson
Amen Dunes and Weyes Blood both played at Metro Gallery last Thursday, and the night before the show, I discovered that I have a mutual friend with both bands’ lead singers. Unbeknownst to me, my friend Gleb was in fact the drummer for Amen Dunes at one point in time.
Gleb’s dad has been best friends with my father since college, and their family has been a staple at our dinner table every Thanksgiving since before I can remember. He was the cool older kid at family parties, the one who would tell ghost stories to scare the pants off of us younger kids, the one who we worshipped and were all a little bit in love with. Since those days, he’s moved to Canada, learned to play a few different instruments, started a band, Steve Jr., and made friends with one of my favorite new musicians, Mac Demarco. Needless to say, he is still, and will always be the cool older kid.
Through Demarco, he has befriended a number of upcoming musicians, including Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood and Damon McMahon of Amen Dunes. When I told him that I would be speaking with both of them, Gleb grinned ear to ear. “Ask Damon what a squid is,” he suggested.
I expect this connection to excite McMahon as much as it excited me, but he shuts up like a clam as soon as I bring “squid” up. “It’s kind of a complicated question,” he says, averting his gaze. “It’s a way of life. But too personal to divulge.”
Conversely, Natalie greets me with open arms after Weyes Blood’s set. She is dreamily beautiful, reminiscent of a mermaid in the fluidity of her movements. Mering’s sound, which she describes as psychedelic folk ballad, is characterized by its haunting hymnal influence. “I like church,” she tells me, playing with the cuff of her American flag jacket. “I’m a big fan of the music that was made for God in the 1600’s.” While her looped electronic songs are rich and textured, like Enya with a somber edge, Weyes Blood’s acoustic numbers were by far the strongest. While her lyrics were drowned during the former, her devastatingly beautiful lyrics were able to shine through when it was just she and the guitar, piercing the audience with the sincerity of her words. Mering’s melancholy infected the entire audience, bringing the room to a hush as we empathized with her heartbreak during a performance of “Bad Magic.”
Although she identifies as a loner, Mering is all about opening herself up despite her solitary tendencies. “Right now my favorite of my songs is ‘Love Lost and Found,’ a track that’s going to be on my next record,” she says. “It’s all about thinking you can never fall in love again, and then you fall in love. If you can just look at it that simply, that’s how it all works, always.”
Although she has yet to decide on a name for this new record, right now she’s thinking that it might be called Big Girl Problems, or maybe Big Girl Pants. “I’m a big girl now,” she says, with a soft smile. “Maybe.”
Mering indeed proved herself to be a big girl tonight—commanding the stage during a brave solo performance, and responding to technical flubs with a cool and calm professional attitude. When a vocal loop started playing unexpectedly she went with it, diving into the sea of harmonics like a mermaid.
Conversely, when McMahon found issue with the audio levels—which should have been dealt with during sound check—he interrupted his own numbers, asking the audio technician to “cut the lows” during a performance of the band’s song “Love.”
At first I respected McMahon for trying to fix a problem which also affected Weyes Blood and noise rock duo Holy Ghost Party’s sets. The lyrics of Holy Ghost Party, a side project of two Dope Body band members, were completely inaudible—overpowered by their instruments. While I appreciated McMahon’s efforts to rescue Amen Dunes from the same fate, by the third time that he called out to the sound booth in the middle of a song, his requests came off as bizarrely unprofessional and untimely. These issues should have been addressed prior to the performance, not refrain-like throughout. However, Amen Dunes’ big sound nostalgia rock did not disappoint—their performances have a grunge edge that their studio recordings tend to smooth out. McMahon’s adoration of wild west culture shines through in the band’s subtle country undertones, further demonstrated by the title of their new EP “Cowboy Worship.”
While I still do not know what a “squid” is, I know one thing for sure—both Weyes Blood and Amen Dunes’ anachronistic influences are sure to make their tour feel like a cathartic time machine. Despite their classic influences, these two bands are undeniably at home in a millennial world, making modern music with edges yellowed by vintage tradition. They make music appealing to an audience fighting tension between youthful freedom and exploration, and the inevitable buttoning up of their big girl pants—a tune that’s all to familiar to my generation.
Amen Dunes, Weyes Blood, and Holy Ghost Party
1700 N Charles St
Baltimore, MD 21201
Julianne Wilson is a writer, filmmaker, and beach bum from Rowayton, CT.