Some records are intentionally angry, fuelled deliberately by political ire from the outset. Others… well, they just come out that way. Given the tensions of recent times, such inadvertent anger in new rock releases is especially understandable.
“It is a very strange, confusing time,” Don Broco vocalist Rob Damiani says of the world that fed into Amazing Things, the band’s heavy, fearlessly eclectic fourth album. “It led me to the most aggressive vocal styles we’ve done on a record. It just felt right with the music. When you’re hearing a riff, you’re: ‘I just want to shout over this. Shout something angry.’”
It’s difficult to know what to expect from Damiani. Recent music videos have shown the commanding 34-year-old frontman in a boxing ring (for hard-hitting album opener Gumshield), in a Star Trek uniform creating David Beckham clones in a lab (bizarro social media commentary Manchester Super Reds No.1 Fan), and full astronaut gear (stirring, balladic ode to human fragility One True Prince).
Since forming in 2008, Don Broco have made it their business to subvert expectations. Completed by singer/drummer Matt Donnelly, bassist Tom Doyle and guitarist Simon Delaney, they create an impact that’s part bro-rock lads gang, part slick, oddball experimentalists. If Shinedown were funnier, and more in love with movies, Deftones and Linkin Park, they could’ve turned out like this.
What started out as a bit of fun (early band names included Club Sex and Don Loco) has evolved into one of the UK’s sharpest, weirdest alt.rock exports. Not to mention one of the most successful; their previous two albums – 2015’s pop-heavy Automatic and 2018’s heavier, edgier Technology – were UK Top 10 hits, and shortly before covid hit they headlined a packed Wembley Arena.
Now, with Amazing Things, a marriage of rock, metal, industrial and electronic tones, with biting lyrics that incite laughter, anger and even emotional catharsis, they seem set to continue this winning streak, where originality pays dividends.
“Whenever we come up with anything that we think we haven’t seen done before,” Damiani says, “or another band would be potentially too scared to do, we’re like: ‘We should do that, even if it’s scary.’”
When we meet in a North London pub, a cheery Damiani looks practically box-fresh. Tall and toned, in another life he could have been a lifeguard or sports coach. Unlike many artists, Don Broco were due to spend much of 2020 at home anyway, working on their album. Eighteen months on they’re ready to get back out there.
“This is the first time we’ve released music where we haven’t had any shows whatsoever to break up the promotion that you do for an album,” he says, talking fast and enthusiastically. “You’re putting out music, and getting people on social media saying they like it, but it doesn’t equate, in any way, to playing a show, seeing the reaction and hearing people sing along – seeing how it affects people in real life.”
Real life, both online and in the flesh, is at the heart of Amazing Things. The aforementioned Gumshield slams the pitfalls of social media. Uber touches on present-day racism. The expansive, arena-ready Anaheim is about “the depression that comes with not being able to do/be what you think you are”. Then there’s Manchester Super Reds No. 1 Fan, an unorthodox but brilliant commentary on cyber bullying.
“I’d written about social media before, on Technology,” Damiani says. “It was like: ‘Okay, this is the new world where social media isn’t a thing people talk about as an aspect of life, it almost has become life [laughs]. Now, you spend less time in real life than online. And the pandemic heightened that. It was getting me down how horrible people were online.
“I’d like to think I’m relatively thick-skinned most of the time,” he continues. “But you don’t know what people are going through. It can be one thing, you decide to voice your opinion, however innocent you think it is… And the anger that involves, and the stress, it can be one thing that sends someone over the edge. And people do hurt themselves over these things.”
Damiani had his own brush with the darker side of social media in 2017, when allegations were made and spread via Twitter, accusing him of inappropriate behaviour with a fan after a show. The allegations were swiftly refuted and retracted and an apology was issued, but has the anxiety of that experience fuelled the social media-geared side of Don Broco’s music?
“Yes and no,” he says thoughtfully. “It was more an observation for everyone. Manchester Super Reds was the hate people can put out online; Gumshield was more, from my perspective, the anxiety of putting almost anything out online. Whatever you say [online], good or bad, people want to get into a debate about it.
"It became a thing where I would second-guess every Tweet I would write, or every caption with an Instagram. You’d think: ‘Can someone find something in this they’re going to be offended by?’ ‘Should I not do that?’ It’s very different going to the pub with a mate, where they might have a different opinion and you talk it out in a casual way."
Don Broco’s worlds have changed a lot since the band took their first steps. Growing up in Bedford, Damiani sang in children’s choirs and played cello. Music in their house was largely confined to his dad’s opera CDs and Michael Jackson.
“They pretty much liked, exclusively, Michael Jackson,” Damiani says, grinning. “He was the only thing we listened to.”
It was meeting his bandmates in school that changed everything. They went on to Nottingham university together, studying, partying and laying down Don Broco’s roots, discovering that their strength was as a unit, coupled with a willingness to work hard and try things (a mind-set reflected in the literally hundreds of songs they wrote for Amazing Things).
For the band’s first five years they juggled gigs with shifts at an Autoglass call centre to pay the bills. It set the tone for a strong work ethic, and a camaraderie that’s served them well.
“We are four guys who are not the most confident musicians in the world,” he says, “but there’s a magic that happens between the four of us. We all contribute equally to the writing process. What makes Don Broco so special is the four of us together.”
Amazing Things is out now via streaming platforms. Physical editions arrive in January.