We had the good fortune of connecting with Alec Damiano and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Alec, why did you decide to pursue a creative path?
I pursued a creative career, because I honestly don’t know what else I would do with my life. I grew up in a family of musicians and learned how to play the violin at a very young age, so music has always been a major part of my life and everything I do. It has always been my passion.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I am the lead singer, songwriter, and one of the guitarists in a Phoenix-based metal band called Varkan. It sounds cheesy, but starting my own band and being the lead singer has been a dream of mine since I was in 2nd or 3rd grade. I had musical experience from a very early age, playing violin and singing in my family’s mariachi band, Mariachi Sombra de Nogales. But as I started developing my taste in music and learned how to play different instruments, I increasingly wanted to form a rock band. Nogales, Arizona is a small city, and with no dedicated music venues or rehearsal spaces, it was difficult to form viable music groups outside of school band and orchestra classes. I would occasionally collaborate with a few friends, but none of the groups I formed ever lasted. So, I mostly wrote songs on my own, teaching myself the guitar and piano. I moved to Tempe, Arizona in 2011 to pursue my bachelor’s degree at Arizona State University. I figured the Phoenix area would have more musical opportunities than what was available in Nogales. I spent my first three years in the Valley connecting with other musicians and making friends in the local metal scene. I played bass in a few bands for a few weeks and auditioned on vocals for others, but it just wasn’t right for me. I knew I had to start my own band. In 2013, I recorded a few demo songs in GarageBand and uploaded them to ReverbNation under the name “Black Monarch”. I sent the tracks to some of my friends from the local metal scene, and we eventually formed what would become Varkan in 2014. At that time, I was singing and playing bass. Like any other new band, we made our rookie mistakes. We booked our first show without having a recording, or even a full setlist of original songs to our name. We booked shows that didn’t appeal to the right audience. We went through the inevitable lineup changes that happen when members want to pursue different types of music. You live and you learn. In 2016, our current lineup got together. I switched to guitar, and we wrote what would become our songs, “The Revenge of the Black Queen” and “Shadow Self,” during our first two practice sessions. We spent the bulk of that year writing new material, and debuted the new lineup in October of that year, opening for Grammy nominees and thrash legends Death Angel. We played more shows and hit the studio to record our debut album in summer 2017. We spent the next year-and-a-half recording the album whenever our schedules were free–on random weekends, after work, etc. Our debut album, “Varkan,” was released in March 2019. We released and distributed it ourselves, without a label, and were able to garner a global audience. Our first music video, “Filthy Human Race,” premiered on the NWOTHM Full Albums YouTube channel, which has something like 60,000 subscribers. A record store in Japan also worked out a direct distribution deal with us, and the CDs we sent them sold out in 2 days. For this small-town, working-class Mexican kid to accomplish this feat with her bandmates, and without a label, was pretty awesome. Earlier this year, we competed in Wacken Open Air’s Phoenix Metal Battle. For those who don’t know, Wacken Open Air is one of the largest heavy metal festivals in the world and takes place in Wacken, Germany. Wacken hosts a worldwide battle of the bands, and the winning band from each country gets to perform at the festival. We entered the Phoenix competition and won first place. We were looking forward to competing in the following rounds, but with COVID-19, the subsequent rounds and the festival were unfortunately canceled. So, with quarantine, we really hammered down on writing some new songs. We’re in the process of recording them and plan to release a new single later this year. We’re expecting to release our second full-length album next year. Varkan is still a “new” band in global metal circles, and I think we’ve progressed a great deal since the first album was released–not only musically, but also mentally. We’ve used our experiences to inform our future plans, and I’m looking forward to finishing album #2. I’m happy that we’ve developed our own musical identity and have become really confident as musicians and performers. I think something that sets us apart from a lot of other bands at our level is that we have a really theatrical, almost campy, element to our shows. A lot other metal bands go onstage and are just mean-muggin’ the whole time. There’s nothing wrong with that, and we like those bands too. We just like to do something different, whether it’s wearing extravagant clothes, doing choreography, or a having murderous mascot sneak onstage… If you like theatrics and good ol’ 80’s-style heavy metal, we encourage you to come out to our shows (once it’s safe to do so) and to check us out on all major streaming platforms! 🙂
Any great local spots you’d like to shoutout?
The beauty of Phoenix lies in its diversity. Here are some of my favorite spots in the Valley. Stores: Zia Records Shirts N’ Things Rocket A Go-Go Restaurants: Thai Basil RigaTony’s Authentic Italian Restaurant SomeBurros Neveria Chayo’s Venues & Bars: Club Red Yucca Tap Room Tempe Tavern Four Peaks The Grid: Games & Growlers
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I’d like to thank my family and bandmates for encouraging me to follow my goals and being there for me during the hard times. I’d like to give special shout-outs to Dr. Deanna Swoboda, Mark Wood, Laura Kaye, Elijah Wood, and my teachers for being incredible mentors and keeping me motivated. Lastly, I’d like to give a shout out to my friends in the Arizona rock/metal community. There are so many hardworking and passionate people who make sure the wheels on the music machine turn–venue crews and promoters, producers, technicians, photographers, videographers, media people, publicists, and the music fans themselves. Without all these people, the “scene” would would not exist. We thank all of those we have worked with and who have supported us over the years… Joe Asselin from Switchblade Sound, the guys in Yeiitsoh/Stoneclaw, Gavin Donnelly from Soundphoria, Jen from Rock N’ Roll Arizona, the Band Oasis crew, and plenty more. It’s a very stressful time for the music industry, because the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped all touring. As a result, over 90 percent of independent venues in the U.S. run the risk of shutting down. I highly encourage people to research and spread the word about the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA), and to support their local venues, musicians, content creators, and other small businesses if they can.
Other: https://varkan.bandcamp.com/ https://open.spotify.com/artist/69nVYFUW26DbL2emJmrAn0
Arianna Grainey Jason Digos Fred Kuhlman Fred Kuhlman Paris Smith Arianna Grainey Alec Damiano