Artist Spotlight: Dama Scout

    Dama Scout is the art-rock trio of vocalist/guitarist Eva Liu, bassist Luciano Rossi, and drummer Daniel Grant, who came together around the time that Grant left Scotland to join Rossi, his childhood friend, in London. They started making waves with a series of loud and gauzy singles beginning in 2016, and continued honing their brand of surreal yet melodic indie pop with their 2018 self-titled EP. Now, they’re about to release their debut album, gen wo lai (come with me), tomorrow via Hand in Hive. Recorded, mixed and produced entirely by the band, it’s an ambitious outing that sees them building their dreamlike vision with a greater sense of space and dynamics, drifting between steadily ominous soundscapes, ethereal ambience, and incendiary moments of catharsis. As impressive and chaotic as their music can be, it never feels overly abstract – it’s open-ended enough to be experienced in more than one way, but the album’s journey is rooted in Liu’s personal experience growing up in the UK to parents who emigrated from Hong Kong. And even as it’s caught between a world of excitement and alienation, gen wo lai is clearly framed as an invitation – not knowing where it’ll take you is part of the thrill.

    We caught up with Dama Scout for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the origins of the band, the process behind their debut album, and more.

    Danny and Lucci, your friendship dates back to childhood, but you each had different musical interests as teenagers. How do you look back on that time? 

    Luciano Rossi: We liked different stuff, but it was all in the same kind of scene of angsty, aggressive music, even though I was more metal and he was more into punk.

    Daniel Grant: I was the kind of teenage punk that thought anything overly technical was a little bit lame. And I guess Lucci was more into nerdy stuff, is that fair?

    LR: Yeah, totally.

    DG: And then we kind of bonded when I found out I was into that nerdy stuff as well.

    LR: It’s still nice to lean into musicianship and craft a bit to help express ideas – using them as part of storytelling, not some kind of sportsmanship thing. Even though we started with slightly different stuff growing up, there’s so much crossover. And Danny is such a good drummer, so he just put the shifts in, practising like crazy, and I was doing the same with piano and bass. We were nerds, basically.

    Eva, can you talk about the role that music played in your life early on?

    Eva Liu: I listened to a lot of music through my parents. They listened to like ’70s disco and Cantonese pop, particularly ’90s Cantonese pop. I feel like with Cantonese pop, I loved it, but I didn’t really bond with anyone about it apart from my mum, and we’d like sing in the car. But I didn’t embrace my Cantonese heritage fully until I started making my own music.

    How did you meet the rest of the group? Do you mind sharing your first impressions of each other?

    EL: I met Lucci through some friends twelve years ago, and we always discussed making music. [To Lucci] I thought you were very funny – funny, Scottish guy. [Lucci laughs] And then a few years later, Danny came down to London. And we all thought, “Let’s just get into a room and make noise.”

    LR: Me and Danny are from Glasgow, so I had moved to London and when Danny was thinking about moving down, we thought maybe we’ll try and do a band thing. London is so expensive, any more than three people seemed almost economically impossible. We thought with just the three of us we could try and do something that maybe would be fun. And at that time, we weren’t even thinking about ever doing an album or anything like that. It was just a really nice thing to do, play some shows and make some music, and we’ll record it a little bit ourselves and continue to teach ourselves, getting better at production. And it felt like we all brought something different to the table.

    EL: We all had different musical tastes from one another, and I always find what you listened to and what Danny listen to really cool and interesting. I think that’s part of why as a band we make something…

    LR: It’s like the sum of three personalities.

    DG: Yeah. I remember the first time we got in a room as well, I don’t think we had any goal in mind apart from – you had some sketches of songs at that point, and we just thought we’d get into a room and see if we think this could be a thing. I think that the first time, something was happening – the sum of those parts that we’re talking about seemed immediately like it could be something that could be good.

    When did it start to really feel like something special rather than a fun experiment?

    LR: For me, probably one of the first times we were playing live. That felt really good. Having played in lots of different bands, it just felt more free in this one. It still feels like fun and an experiment to me, but in a good way. Obviously we’ve got an album finished, but I don’t necessarily feel that there was a change of “Let’s turn it into a business” or something like that, which we’ve never done. Whatever we record next, I think we’d still try to keep it fun and experiment in ways we like. What about you, guys?

    EL: I feel like in the early days, I was very sort of like, “Wow, these guys are really good.” [all laugh] I hadn’t been in bands before and making music as a group was a fairly new thing to me. I kind of felt like we all we all fitted in together quite well. I don’t know, I just thought you guys were super cool to be making music with.

    DG: I think the live thing is where it felt more special though, because we were leaning into an energy and not quite knowing where things will go next. And every night would be different because there’s moments in songs that, they’re not improvised, but the dynamics and the space between sections we leave open so it’s different every time. And you just don’t get bored of that if every night feels new, in a way. Everything else I’d done before that – I guess I was playing professionally before that – was so well-rehearsed and polished and the life was a bit stripped out, I suppose. So this felt good, and yeah, still does.

    Eva, you said that making your own music allowed you to embrace some of the influences that you were exposed to growing up. And lyrically, part of gen wo lai revolves around your upbringing, reflecting on themes of alienation and cultural displacement that you also explored on your 2021 solo EP, a wonderful thing vomits. Did the process of working on this album together change your perspective on your younger self?

    EL: Yeah, I definitely think the approach that we had making this music pulled a lot of things out that I probably wouldn’t have been able to do myself. It definitely made me feel like I delved in deeper into certain situations and scenarios growing up, emotions and feelings that I didn’t know were there. And then dealing with it in a cathartic process – just sort of moving on from it.

    I wanted to ask you about the statement you shared about the video for ’emails from suzanne’, where you refer to “the millennial condition of perpetual adolescence.” I know I’m taking it out of context here, but what does the idea of “perpetual adolescence” mean to you, and how does it relate to the themes of the album as a whole?

    DG: That’s a really good question. That song was a sort of cathartic, get in a room after a bad day of work and blow off some steam, really, wasn’t it? And then when we made the video, we wanted to get a little bit of the same energy. We each designed a little monster avatar and then put them in this office setting just trash the office, but then had this demon manager who was trying to appease them by getting them to play table tennis. We’d been thinking a little bit about how workplaces can infantilize their staff by providing them with games in an office setting, but really it’s to try and get them to spend more time and work. So that’s kind of where that came from. But I suppose, being in a band is dragging out your adolescence, isn’t it? [laughs] I haven’t really thought that much about it in relation to this band, but I guess when you’re on the road, you’re leaving some of your adult responsibilities behind. And when you get in a room and play music and feel free together, you’re tapping into a kind of playfulness that you can’t really have at other times in your life.

    I think that playfulness is where a lot of the dynamics on the record come from. On songs like ‘lonely udon’ and ‘pineapple eyes’, you juxtapose lyrics about isolation and silence with loud noise. Was it a conscious decision to have that contrast?

    DG: We’ve always loved contrasts, I think, actually in a sort of “perpetual adolescent” way. [laughs] A lot of music we all liked growing up would have big dynamics in it, and it’s just really fun to play music that does that. In some cases, some of the lyrics were coming maybe a smidge after some of the musical things.

    LR: It was maybe less the dynamic shifts, but certainly the way that we produced was reacting from the lyrics in terms of the space we tried to convey, like using the small reverbs to try to have a sense of claustrophobia.

    DG: Even in some cases when the actual final words may not be finished, the concept of the song existed. And so as we were producing as we would go, just trying not to just do things because it sounded cool, necessarily, and more, how does a certain synth sound tie into the song? And like Danny says, how does that reverb – is it just a big lush reverb, or why are you using it? It was actually nice to self-impose limitations and have intention behind all those things, because otherwise it actually can get very hard to finish things. Just endless, like, “Oh, this is cool too, this is cool too.” And it’s like, “I don’t even know what this is anymore.”

    For you, Eva, does it feel like there’s an intentional relationship between the lyrics and the way the music responds to them?

    EL: Yeah, definitely. Some of the songs go through a particular emotional journey and we wanted to create that environment and take the listener through those feelings and emotions in that way as well. It wasn’t a super conscious decision on every shift and change, we just kind of gravitated towards that. And I guess that’s what we go for a lot of times, it’s just what excites us when listening to music. When we play live as well, like with the last live shows, we experimented with a lot with shifts and changes, particularly tempos and big moments that suddenly come in. And when we then went to work on the album, we wanted to take an element of that, play with the listener and take it through this sort of unexpected path.

    Can you share one thing that makes you feel proud of each other or the band as a whole?

    LR: Making art in some capacity can be challenging, especially when there’s pressure all around trying to force you to make it a certain way. The thing I feel proud of with everyone here is that even though we’re three kind of nervous, anxious people, between us all we felt confident to just do this the way we wanted to do it, despite people that we met along the way who told us this is not the way to do it. I feel proud that we stuck to trying to just make something that we really wanted to and support each other enough to make decisions that maybe felt, I don’t know, a little bit bold or something. Certainly for me, on my own I would never have had the confidence to do some of those things.

    EL: Yeah, I feel the same in that. It sounds really cheesy, but I couldn’t be in a better band. Lucci and Danny are such good musicians, and I feel like they’ve pulled things out of me that I wouldn’t necessarily have been able to do by myself. Another thing that I’m proud of is finally doing music and working with such great musicians, but also, growing up, I was always told I can’t do music. As a Chinese person being raised in the UK, I was always told that I couldn’t do it by everyone around me. So I guess I’m proud of myself in that sense?

    DG: Lucci and I literally had years of experience of playing live before this, and Eva, I don’t think you had any before our first gigs, did you?

    EL: No, never.

    LR: There’s a lot to think about as well, because a lot of the tonal colour live is from hundreds of guitar pedals, so you have to do all that crap, playing, singing, running the whole thing. It was awesome – is awesome.

    DG: Those first gigs were scary anyway even for us, but we’ve done it hundreds of times. It’s pretty amazing that we could it pull off. We were quite ambitious, I suppose, with those first ones.

    LR: And because we’ve had to do everything ourselves, Danny has basically become a director now, because he’s being doing video stuff for us, photo stuff for us, artwork stuff for us. It’s kind of amazing – born out of the necessity of just trying to survive, you’ve made a career.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Dama Scout’s gen wo lai (come with me) is out April 22 via Hand in Hive.

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