Damon Che (born Damon Che Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) is a rock drummer and guitarist. He has made significant contributions to indie rock and progressive rock through his work with math rock pioneers Don Caballero since 1991. His style is heavily influenced by metal, hard rock, punk, jazz, and fusion.
Che utilizes a hard-hitting yet flowing extrovert style of drumming that combines the syncopation of Stewart Copeland, the backbeat of John Bonham, and the bombast of Keith Moon. In Don Caballero, his drumming takes more of a lead instrument role than just keeping time. There are many instances where the guitars would act as rhythmic foundation, while Che soloed freely on top.
Che received his first drum kit at the age of fourteen. While in high school, he drummed for the New Wave band Syndicate, and then co-founded the synthpop trio Pynknoys (1985-1986), where he sang, played drums, and programmed the drum machine. He then joined Pittsburgh hardcore punk stalwarts Half Life. Che played on the group's seven inch EP Under The Knife (released in 1986) and participated in a Half Life reunion in 2003. Che rounded out the 1980s playing the drums with garage rock band The Heretics and noise rock band Punching Contest.
With The Speaking Canaries
Che formed The Speaking Canaries in 1991, some months before he formed Don Caballero. Unlike all his previous bands in which he was the drummer, Damon Che sings and plays guitar with the Canaries. On Get Out Alive: The Last Type Story, the most recent of The Speaking Canaries' four albums, Che plays all of the instruments on all but three songs.
With Don Caballero
Che formed Don Caballero in late 1991 with guitarist Mike Banfield and bassist Pat Morris. Between 1993 and 2000, Don Caballero released five immensely influential albums on Touch and Go Records and played hundreds of shows, earning a reputation as the definitive math rock band.
Che became notorious in the underground music community for his erratic and unpredictable behavior, from stripping down to his boxer shorts to play the drums, to capping off a particularly brilliant performance by breathing fire. Don Caballero's dissolution in 2000 was largely due to Che's on-stage outbursts and tensions between Che and guitarist Ian Williams. In recent years Che has been rather hostile to Williams in the press, further putting to rest the hopes of a reunion of the "classic" Don Cab lineup.
Several months before the November 2000 breakup of Don Caballero, Damon Che began collaborating with Sicilian guitarist Agostino Tilotta under the moniker "Bellini". This collaboration grew to include singer Giovanna Cacciola and bassist Matthew Taylor, and produced a startling debut album called Snowing Sun.
In a much publicized incident, Che got into an argument with his bandmates during a show in Athens, Georgia while touring in support of Snowing Sun in October 2002 and proceeded to pack up his gear and drive the band's van to Chicago alone, leaving the others stranded. The remaining members of Bellini promptly replaced Che with Girls Against Boys drummer Alexis Fleisig, borrowed a van from the band OXES and managed to complete the tour. Damon Che has not worked with Bellini since.
With Don Caballero (again)
Che reformed Don Caballero in 2003, with himself as the only original member (though Che is fond of pointing out that he has been the only remaining original member of the group since Mike Banfield left in March 1999). This revamped lineup completed several tours and in 2006, released an album entitled World Class Listening Problem. Punkgasm followed in 2008, featuring Che's guitar skills on the title track and his lead vocals on several songs.
As a solo artist
In recent years Damon Che has occasionally performed and recorded as a solo artist. On Don Caballero's November 2000 tour, Che opened for the band with a solo set of live drums, looped guitar, samples and vocals. Che also played solo shows sporadically around Pittsburgh in 2001 and 2002. None of this material has been released; Damon's only official solo recording to see the light of day thus far is the "Moby Dick"-esque drum solo "Oh Suzanna" on the 2001 Monitor Records compilation Membranophonics.
Over the years, Che has consistently played a black Pearl Export drum kit with a Ludwig Power Piccolo snare and a selection of oversized, inexpensive cymbals, often augmented by Rototoms, an auxiliary snare drum and a cowbell. His main snare is memorable for its distinctive "toonk" sound, reminiscent of Alex Van Halen's snare sound. Che would nail his bass drum and pedals to the stage á la Elvin Jones until 2000, when he began using a custom-made plywood board to hold his drum kit in place during live performances. He is also known to set his snare very low to the ground, possibly to accommodate his long arms.
The setup listed below reflects the equipment Che played on World Class Listening Problem and subsequent American tours. Che appears to rent most of his equipment when touring overseas.
- Pearl Export drums in black wrap:
- Pearl and Ludwig stands
- Tama Iron Cobra double bass drum pedal with Rhythm Tech vinyl beaters
- Remo coated Emperor on snare batter (tuned medium-high to very high)
- Emperor Snare Side on snare bottom (tuned very high)
- Coated Emperors on tops of toms (tuned medium low)
- Clear Ambassadors on bottoms of toms (tuned high)
- Coated Emperor on bass drum batter (tuned medium low)
- Evans black on bass drum front (tuned high)
- Pinstripes on Rototoms
- Pro-Mark TXDC10W marching sticks (played with butt ends)
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