The Damn Truth: naked beginnings and arena-sized ambition

The Damn Truth
(Image credit: Martin Brisson)

Can rock music still change the world? Montreal-based four-piece The Damn Truth certainly believe so. The band – imagine a fledgling Led Zeppelin fronted by Janis Joplin – are, in their own words, “rock’n’roll hippies”, ardent adherents to those starry-eyed late-60s ideals, of music’s power to spread peace and good vibes. 

“Touring around the world for the four years up to 2020, you get to meet so many different people, and if there is one thing that unites us all it’s hope and love,” explains guitarist Tom Shemer. “I believe that love can solve a lot of these problems that we are having today.” 

“We’re bombarded with so much negativity,” adds Lee-la Baum, who supplies those Joplin-esque powerhouse vocals. “It’s on social media, the news, TV, everywhere. But I think it’s really important to remember that there is good out there.” 

The pair first met at a festival near the Sea Of Galilee in Israel a decade ago. Both were naked at the time. “It was a magical night. I was playing my acoustic guitar next to a bonfire,” Lee-la remembers. “Then this other long-haired nudist joined me with his acoustic and we played for about twelve hours straight. That’s where the musical romance started.” 

Love blossomed further when the pair added PY Letellier on bass and drummer Dave Traina. Since then they’ve released two albums independently and toured heavily, including stints supporting ZZ Top and Rival Sons. But it’s Now Or Nowhere, their third album, that could provide their breakthrough. It blows up their heartfelt idealism to arena-sized proportions – not surprising when you discover that it bears the touch of heavyweight producer Bob Rock (Metallica, Bon Jovi, The Cult and many more). Or rather, two thirds of it does.

“We drove four thousand kilometres in the van from Montreal to Vancouver cos he wanted to record in Bryan Adams’s studio there,” explains Traina. “It was an incredible experience. The man knows how to get the best performance out of you in such a smooth, amazing way. We did six tracks in four days and booked it again for March 2020 so we could complete the album.” 

Then COVID struck. 

“We had a month or two with our heads in our hands, mourning the loss of being able to finish the record with Bob,” Lee-la continues. “But after that we took stock and said let’s try and do it ourselves. Both Tom and Dave have studios in the city, so as soon as we were allowed back in we finished it off.” 

With the album finally out, all that’s left is to get back on the road again. The band played Canada’s first ever drive-in gig last summer, but found the vibe just wasn’t the same. 

“It wasn’t loud enough,” the singer claims. “I thrive on real live shows.”

Now Or Nowhere is out now via Spectra Musique/Sony.

Will Simpson was Music Editor of the Big Issue South West in Bristol before relocating to Thailand to become Deputy Editor of English language books magazine New Arrivals. Since returning to the UK he's freelanced, writing about music for Classic Rock, IDJ, Metro and Guitarist, and environmental issues for Resource and The Spark. He also writes for contract publishing titles such as Teach, Thomson Air, Musician and Korg.