This Van Damme is a heavy rock band from Dallas that delivers loud music with plenty of juicy guitar solos, heavy bass riffs and pummeling drums topped with scorching vocals. Although the members' enthusiasm for playing in a band together is reminiscent of a first high-school relationship, filled with promise and youthful bliss, the members of Van Damme are all 20-year music veterans who have gathered plenty of accolades along the way.
One thing that separates members of Van Damme from the rest of the crowd is their ability to check the jaded rock musician badge at the door before crossing over into the sacred rehearsal space.
“Your situation is about you,” says frontman Van Damme. “You can buy into bullshit and bad stuff happening, but things can always get better too. I maintain a positive outlook in life because I surround myself with positive people.”
The group consists of four members: singer Van Damme and lead guitarist Michael Doty also play together in bands The House Harkonnen and Duell; Nick Russo, also of Duell, plays drums, and Rhys Johnson of Whep rounds out the all-star lineup on bass. The band members enjoy each other’s friendship just as much as they do making music together.
“There is no ego in this band”, says Doty. “We’ve all been around the block a few times in different bands and this is the band I’ve always wanted.”
Half of the band members work at The Tone Shop in Addison, giving them the pleasure of having the loudest gear in the business, and premium instruments too. The group's arsenal of Gibson guitars and Naylor and Marshall amp heads would be coveted by even the most diehard guitar collector.
“Another thing we talked about when we started this band was that we wanted to be loud,” says Doty. “Not just loud, but properly loud.”
Van Damme could be the much-needed rock refresher Dallas has been missing for the past half decade. They don’t wear 19th-century-fashioned jackets with too many buttons, bombard people with incessant Instagram or TikTok posts or think of themselves as a “brand,” which is rare in 2022.
“I try not to write music to particular trends,” says Van Damme, the band's principal songwriter. “Writing what we actually feel and what we actually want to hear is what we do instead.”
The band started in the middle of 2020 when the world was on lockdown. Russo, Doty and Van Damme started sending each other songs, and before they knew it, they decided to get a rehearsal space to play just for the fun of it.
“We were doing it for fun when the pandemic happened,” says Russo.
His entrance to the band was a decade in the making.
“Years ago, I bought a drum set before I was even a drummer because everybody else I knew had guitars,” he says. “James really refined the way I play drums, as he was drumming for Duell at the time. Then I took over drums for him in Duell, and now I’m playing drums for Van Damme.”
Although the band is always aiming for a good time, 2022 has not been an easy year for frontman Van Damme, who experienced several serious health setbacks that almost cost him his life. In May, he was rushed to the hospital by ambulance after his wife noticed he was pale, sweaty and short of breath.
“Yeah, before I knew it I was in the hospital ER,” Van Damme says. “I had diabetic ketoacidosis and they said I was really cutting it close. I was in the hospital for five days, which gave me time to really think of stuff and reflect on how I didn’t notice I was slowly being taken down.”
“Another thing we talked about when we started this band, was that we wanted to be loud,” says Doty. “ Not just loud, but properly loud.” – Michael Doty
The singer made it through the ordeal and was discharged later that week with a new lease on life and appreciation for the good things he had, including his wife and lifelong friendships with his band members.
“It’s made me much healthier and I feel like I’m 22 again," Van Damme says of the harrowing experience.
The time away recovering from the incident once again motivated him to write more music for the project.
“If you give James a day off, he’s going to write a complete song,” says Russo of Van Damme’s musical competency. “If he takes a week off, he gives us an entire album-worth of new material to work with. There’s no one else to work with that produces a new song every week that we don’t know he’s writing, plus recording a pro version of it too.”
The band plans to release music on its own terms and far from the hassle of dealing with a record label, although local labels are sure to notice Van Damme in the not-so-distant future.
“There’s no reason to involve anyone else in your music today,” says Doty.
He says he and Van Damme were once courted and ultimately let down by Atlantic Records in 2006 with their band The House Harkonnen.
“We’re not here to shove this record in anyone's face,” adds Russo. “We are doing it just to play music, period!”
On Oct. 22, Van Damme will perform at the 11th birthday bash for Goodfriend Beer Garden, where they will be delivering their signature style of loud, heavy music. Fans of Nirvana, Megadeth and Pantera will be delighted to hear the next chapter of Dallas music streaming from these seasoned players. Although a future career for Van Damme burns bright, friendship remains the fundamental motivator to continue their musical journey together.
“This is the first time I’ve been excited to play in a band like this in 20 years,” says Doty.
“We have no expectations,” adds Van Damme. “We are playing rock 'n’ roll because it’s fun.”