Out of habit
How Damien Verrett lobbies for personal and musical change
On a recent night, local one-man-band Damien Verrett was hanging out with musicians after a show. He reached for a bowl of tortilla chips at the same time as an Oakland folk artist. She backed off and let him go first. Nothing out of the ordinary or worth remembering. And yet.
She noted how women are usually the ones to back down. And Verrett acknowledged that in his case, it’s habitualized dominance.
“It’s such a silly, tiny example, but it’s fun to notice those things,” he says. “It’s not you making those decisions. It’s just habit.”
In his electronic pop and R&B project So Much Light, Verrett calls this unconscious space “Little Lobby,” the name of a track on his 2015 EP Idiot Soul.
“You have to take a big step back to become aware of these things that have just become normalized,” he says.
With pulsing synths and a crystalline voice, Verrett finds clarity. On Idiot Soul, he sparsely layers electronic clicks, bells, boings and wind rushes. The confessional tracks sound like they echo off the walls of a church, but Verrett doesn’t treat any subject as sacred beyond ridicule. He makes fun of his own faux pas, like complimenting his girlfriend on her looks when she’s upset about something important. Wobbly jazz piano, circa 1980, or video game-esque sound effects hint that Verrett doesn’t take himself too seriously.
“I … try to express what I’ve been learning without judgment toward myself, and I try to do it through devices like self-deprecation or satirizing feelings that I have,” he says.
Other times, Verrett lays it out flat, as in the music video for “Simple How I Feel,” released this December. As he and his lady fail to connect, he sings, “Why’s it gotta be so fucking complicated?” It’s hilarious because it feels so true—we’ve all been there—and it proves that lyrics or music don’t always have to be so fucking complicated, either.
Verrett didn’t always know that. He taught himself guitar off the internet, covering Metallica and Sum 41. Then, he played in a local math rock band, The Speed of Sound in Seawater, when he idealized complexity.
“I was very much in a band that was, like, a musician’s band,” he says. “But now [technicality] seems a lot less important.”
Released by record label Anti-, So Much Light’s upcoming album—still untitled and set to drop sometime this year—Verrett combines his technical skills with visceral directness. His airy pop trills trace back to Justin Timberlake’s stylings, and his bold lyrics echo his biggest influence, Joanna Newsom.
“Writing a song that’s going to immediately connect with somebody who knows nothing about music, I think it’s honestly more useful … than to be able to impress somebody,” he says.
But in live shows, he’ll throw in a “noodling, masturbatory” guitar solo because audiences don’t expect it. Plus, it’s just fun.
“People do like to see that stuff,” he says.
Despite his rising star, Verrett wants to keep building a local following in Sacramento.
“I’m seeing all these cool things happening in town and I desperately want to be involved in, like, everything. I guess I want to be like what Drake is to Toronto, to Sacramento,” he says, unable to contain his laughter at the grandiose vision—and that it might just happen. “That would be really cool.”