Punk music welcomes many to worship at its altar, although it may come as a surprise that there is any punk rock history involving Berkshire County. For almost twenty years, The Damaged have been instigating mosh-pits and serving anthems to working-class strife right here in our own corner of the punk rock world.
One cannot explore the history of The Damaged without mentioning The Detriments.
Between 1996 and 1999, The Detriments were a staple of the northern Berkshire County music scene. The young six- piece ska-punk band challenged institutions with pride, earning a reputation that preceded them. They were blacklisted from Mass MoCA when they swore in concert, started “F*** You!” chants, and spit on the crowd, all in hopes of sticking out among the mediocre performances by other bands they played with.
They recorded and released one album, titled “Sin”, in 1999 before calling it quits. The album features ten ska-punk songs, all involving immature jokes and themes, and the sense of humor you’d expect from teenage punks. Titles like “I F***ed Your Girlfriend,”, “Maxipad Mustache,” and “I Hate Cops,” all involve the teenage angst, up-yours anti-authoritarian attitude that embodied punk rock spirit and reckless self-expression.
The consequences of their music is fondly recalled in a Facebook post by Detriments’ singer Colin Moran: “This album got me interrogated by the police… it was sold behind the counter at some stores, parents would send their kids’ copy back to us with angry notes….The list goes on. We got banned from Mass MoCA and La Festa, were considered a gang by local law enforcement for one whole glorious summer, and generally pissed off and offended a ton of people. We were that band you wanted to listen to when you wanted to say “F***you, mom and dad!’”
One month after The Detriments had played their final show, brothers Kevin and Colin Moran, along with remaining members Mark Jagiello and Al Taylor, got together to form The Damaged. Kevin and Colin had already begun writing some songs together. Colin explained the transition as being fairly quick: “We formed very quickly after the demise of the Detriments. Mark, Kevin and Al and I all met at Red Carpet with a calendar, and we just started mapping out practice availability.”
The Damaged chose their name for a of couple reasons, one being that a few members were fans of legendary punk band Black Flag. Colin has a tattoo of the infamous Black Flag “bars” logo accompanied by the title of their first full-length album, “Damaged”. “The joke has always been that I had the Detriments tattoo and the Black Flag ‘Damaged’ tattoo, so I wouldn’t have to get another one.” Black Flag played two shows during the height of their popularity in northern Berkshire County in 1984, and left an indelible impression on many young punks.
Colin recalled a story about his brother hearing about their arrival: “He was fourteen, playing bass in a friend’s garage, and his friend said Black Flag is coming to town’, and Kevin wondered ‘Who is this Black Flag?’ like it was a slow storm that moved in over the air.” The name has always held some significance to Colin, views it in a poignant light. “Damaged has always meant ‘abused but not broken’, or to continue to go forth despite any abuse that is taken”.
They didn’t dawdle when it came to waiting for their new project to bear fruit and immediately began the undertaking of recording a 7 song EP, titled “Small Town Hell”. “I think it was actually very smart on our part to have something recorded before we started playing live,” insists Kevin, “It was out of necessity.” Small Town Hell is a fast record, loaded with teen angst and street punk influence that heavily inspired The Damaged and other punk bands of the day. There are lamentations over living in a place where everyone knows your name in the title track, and anti-social, introverted pride expressed in “Leave Me Alone”. “Walk Again” is a great tune in the punk-rock theme of heaving a middle finger at those around you who kick you when you’re down.
Shortly thereafter, The Damaged began work on new material for an EP titled “Victim of Circumstance”. The cover bears an altered print, an image of a man tearing up chains in front of a factory and smokestacks in the background. This image is featured on several books about Robert S. Kenny, a prominent member of the Canadian Communist Party. Kevin Moran discovered it and showed it to his younger brother Colin, who immediately took a fascination with it and made sure it made its way onto the cover of “Victim of Circumstance”. Colin would even tattoo that image on his right forearm, permanently and proudly wearing the iconic image in reference to his band’s legacy on that recording. “Victim of Circumstance” is a short but sweet adrenaline rush of six hyper-energetic songs. Nearly every track is anthemic and proud, and contains many memorable sing-along choruses. “See Me Now” starts everything off loud and aggressive, announcing that this record is no joke, and a stride forward from the music in their past. The whole band is on point throughout the entire album, ripping into each song like it’s a quarter-mile sprint. Kevin Moran’s guitar is all over “Out of Today” like a hardcore punk Eddie Van Halen, and “What Could You Want” is a catchy sing-along song that beats most efforts by bands devoted to melding pop and punk.
Victim of Circumstance stands out among the rest of The Damaged discography partly due to their choice in recording studio, The Outpost. Located in Stoughton, Massachusetts, The Outpost is famously known as the studio where the Dropkick Murphys have recorded virtually every album of theirs (not to mention other punk rock celebrities like Pere Ubu, Blood for Blood, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Morphine… the list goes on).
“Welcome to the Spliff Bunker,” says bassist Jay Williams as I descend stairs to a basement furnished with concrete walls, emblazoned with band logos and punk-rock imagery, facing an arrangement of amps and instruments. I was invited to speak with the band before their rehearsal for a St. Patrick’s Day show in Pittsfield. Sitting in on a band practice isn’t something I’ve had the opportunity to do that often, so I decided to stick around.
A sparkling pink drum set belonging to singer Colin Moran’s three and a half year old daughter, Brixton, sat purposefully at one end of the circle of equipment. Before moving it out of the way, Colin sat down and bashed away a punk beat, chuckling at the toy-like quality and tone of the kit. “I can totally see a band playing with this, like Youth of Today or something” he quipped. This is the first time they’ve rehearsed in six months, but to them it’s like they picked up where they left off. I felt welcomed as a fly on the wall, and couldn’t help but enjoy it as I would watching a show of theirs.
A jovial mood exudes from the stage when The Damaged settle in to play, reinforced by the often copious amounts of alcohol imbibed by the band before and during their set. As they’ve aged, the alcohol consumption has become diligent and scheduled, and priorities and rituals surrounding performing have shifted to embody the pragmatic. “We still get loaded, but we’re very sensible. We must buy food, and find lodging!” remarks Colin, adding, “Finding good parking outside of the club, makes us very happy.” Even their newest member, Jay, notices the changes that time has brought on, joking that, “No one will tell you when you’ve punched your AARP punk-rock card, but the three of these guys already have.”
Many people recently exposed to the music of The Damaged because of one person: Andy Poncherello. Andy is a punk-rock impresario who was the major player in the Berkshire County DIY music scene between 2008 and 2015. His record store on North Street in Pittsfield, Rebel Sound Records, saw countless shows and bands pass through its doors, and for a brief time gave Berkshire County a place on the map for touring DIY musicians.
Afterwards, Andy booked shows at the Pittsfield VFW and ITAM, followed by Chameleons Night Club before it closed in 2014. In that time, Andy befriended the members of the Damaged and sought them out as a go-to band to open for legendary punk bands such as Agent Orange, Agnostic Front, and Youth Brigade, “It wasn’t [because] he knew we were gonna draw or we were gonna make money. He knew that we could appreciate being on those bills [rather] than for himself”, says Colin. Playing these shows opened a new chapter for The Damaged in their life as a band, allowing them to expose their music to a newer generation while playing alongside the heroes of their generation.
Punk rock music is known worldwide for its intensity, speed, volume, and urgency. There’s things you can’t say through more conventional means of expression that are fair game for punk rock bands. This often means that musicianship and proficiency at one’s instrument can take a back seat to speaking your mind and unfortunately, this philosophy is what gives punk rock a bad name in the realm of practiced musicians. It’s worth noting the irony that punk rock emphasizes the importance of rehearsing, because what good is making noise if you can’t even play together? This is a concept that is fully embraced by The Damaged, and it explains why, as a unit, they have gotten tighter and tighter over the years.
“We have no trepidation- that’s why we’re able to look so good on stage, we all know we’re going for the same part.” Colin explains. This isn’t to say that they aren’t accomplished on their unique instruments, though.
The Damaged came to be at a time when punk rock still meant carrying a torch of genuine expression, but it also meant keeping up with the rest of rock n roll of the time, which includes heavy metal and other hardcore punk bands.
“We had to play hard because we didn’t want to be laughed off the stage, we wanted to be taken seriously,” notes Kevin, “Our first fifty shows, probably, were with metal and hardcore bands.”
As a result, they began to approach this challenge by incorporating new styles of music into their recordings, allowing their music to become pock-marked with hints of other genres. Drummer Mark Jagiello pointed out exactly when he noticed that starting to happen: “If you listen to Small Town Hell and the first five seconds of the next album, which occurred a year and a half later, in that span of when we played all those metal bands, you go, ‘Oh wow, something’s changed here’”.
It’s no small feat that The Damaged has been active for almost twenty years, an accomplishment that is often overlooked in the great scheme of achievements in the music industry. Cooperating with other people long enough to compose a piece of music can be difficult, let alone getting along with them in order to record or play a show. This challenge can be too much to bear on one’s schedule or maturity, or any other number of factors involving behavior and personality. A lot of people leave and are replaced and the band ends up dissolving in the aftermath.
The Damaged are unique in this respect as they have maintained three-fourths of their lineup for the entire time they’ve been a band. The only position where their personnel has changed at all, is that of the bass player. Back in The Detriments and the first albums of The Damaged, the final link in the chain was Al Taylor. Al’s playing is found all over albums “Small Town Hell”, “Victim of Circumstance”, and “Alone in NYC, The Damaged Live ‘09”, and their full-length release in 2011, “Cracks in the Sidewalk”.
Later that year, Al quit the band just before a string of gigs, leaving Colin, Kevin, and Mark high and dry. “Our bass player was very unceremoniously out of the band. He told us ‘Guess what? I’m not going to play these shows you have booked, so f*** you!’. Well, we’re a band that hadn’t had many other members. Jay came on and learned so many song in a very quick amount of time.” Jay Williams came on in a clutch moment when The Damaged was scheduled to play one of the first “loud” shows at what was then the Elf Parlor in North Adams, with a new local hardcore punk band called Stomping Grounds. “When we played that show on March 25th, 2011, Elf Parlor, it was like he already played with us for a while,” Colin recalled. They note it as one of their most memorable shows in the band’s history, and one that cemented Jay’s position in the band as not just another musician, but a part of The Damaged family.
Colin Moran, 37, has a passion for music that defines his life. While the other members of The Damaged have played in other groups and call playing with The Damaged like “coming home,” Colin is the most prolific when it comes to engaging in his passion for music. He helped start another local hardcore punk band called Dead Radio Rebels, and has a couple “YouTube-only” projects named Conduct Disorder and Fist Magnet. The latter are studio projects, where Colin writes and records everything part by part, drums, guitars and all. Projects like these help to scratch that creative itch that’s not always possible when writing collaboratively with The Damaged, and helps to ease some otherwise built up stress. In the past few years, Colin’s ventured into unknown territory and committed to striking out on his own as a singer-songwriter. He is influenced by a long list of folk and bluegrass artists, such as David Van Ronk, The Kingston Trio, and Devil Makes Three.
Other punk-rock frontman solo acoustic acts like Lenny Lashley’s Gang of One, and even The Damaged bass player Jay Williams, inspire him whenever he has ventured on a stage with just his acoustic guitar.
Colin’s first release was a self-titled eight song album in 2014. Most of the songs on the album are short but sweet, and all written by Colin (with the exception of one cover called “Working” by Cocksparrer). More than just a few songs are refreshing reflections on personal issues and working class life, like “The Serve Us! Industry,” which is a tribute to every service industry and retail worker besieged by arrogant and selfish attitudes that their customers and clientele can often project. “Brothers” is a heartfelt tribute he pays to his older brothers and everything they’ve taught him and how they make him the person he is today.
“Five-Fifty” stands out as a song about the hundreds of employees who lost their jobs at North Adams Regional Hospital back in 2014. As resident of Adams, the subject hit very close to home for Colin, prompting him to write and record the song in support of the families affected by the layoffs. He even recorded a video and shared it on social media during the crisis. Since then he has released another album and two EPs, respectively titled “Rock Bottom Choir”, and “I Got Problems/American Dreams”, and a covers EP.
Colin is a proud family man, and much of the music he loves endorses unity. Hardcore has been kind to him in this manner, and has left an indelible mark on him.
“I’m always impressed for how real it is for them. Certain scenes can talk about a certain ideology, but those guys are really about family. The hardcore that came out of New York City… [are] some of the realest people I’ve been able to meet.” As a kid, Colin found kinship in the skinhead musical subculture popularized in the United Kingdom. The movement’s looks were co-opted by Neo-Nazis and because of this association, Colin found himself to be the focus of negative attention. “At 15, I shaved my head, wore boots and braces, went to high school every day, I got spit on by a girl at lunch time and she told me Hitler was a Jew. Yeah, I ran into those problems.”
Nowadays, he has fewer misunderstandings, something he attributes to proliferation of correct information, “Maybe because I was younger people thought they could say something to me.”
Music and family have fatefully intertwined in Colin’s life enough that his daughter, Brixton, was named after the Clash song, Guns of Brixton. One day when he and his wife were discussing names, she noticed the CD, “London Calling”, laying on the table and blurted out “Brixton,” to which Colin agreed, “If you want to name our daughter Brixton, I’m absolutely okay with that.”
The Damaged are grateful to be where they are and to have been able to do what they have set out to do. They have no regrets, and immense gratitude for the opportunities they have been afforded in their long existence here in Berkshire County. Their underdog anthems stick out as necessary wisdom that other bands fail to acknowledge, and anyone can understand their message of perseverance. In the words of The Damaged, “Every day is a battle, life is a war.”