A life-story that changed my world

Dammien has played shows all over the world, from Canada to South America, and from the US to Europe. He’s shared the stage with established and up-and-coming artists such as Kardinal Offishall, Jen Grant, Johnny Goood, K-OS, Zaki Ibrahim, DJ Goldfinger, DJ Scratch Bastid, GRITS, Matt Mays, Ladies of the Canyon, and Alert The Medic. And he’s rocked many festivals including SING festival (Toronto), Pink Festival (Cambridge UK), NXNE (Toronto), Basel Art Fest (Basel, Switzerland), Edinburgh International Fringe (Scotland), Blackstreet Festival (Halifax), CMW Music Conference, Irie Festival (Toronto), Atlantic Jazz Festival (Halifax), and Atlantic Fringe Festival (Halifax).

For a man who typically speaks with precision and measured clarity, Dammien Alexander is not one to traffic in hyperbole. To that end, it’s startling to hear the musician and ever-churning creative mind so casually recall what he calls “a near-death experience.” “I heard this voice say, “Dude, we’re gonna die,” he remembers of a panicked 2012 surfing incident that occurred during a vacation in Costa Rica. The road-tested Canadian musician however is nothing if not the determined type. He’d been through the ringer before and emerged safely on the other side. And so, even as the wicked riptide worked against his body that day, even as he desperately tried to swim to safety not knowing the outcome, Alexander found an inner strength he didn’t know he possessed. “I don’t know how or why but a quickening happened in my mind,” he recalls, adrenaline still exuding from within. “I heard a voice say, “You’re not going anywhere. You just gotta figure this out!””

Alexander made it back to shore. “And after that something changed,” the multi-instrumentalist and singer says with a sense of pride and astonishment. “Everything changed.”

What might have caused others to recede into themselves was precisely the spark Alexander had been searching for. Only a few years prior he’d walked away from the music industry, feeling burnt out, fed up and lacking an overall sense of gratification. Suddenly however, following Costa Rica, the passion he’d long felt for his craft, for his guitar, for his desire to create a new style of music returned. A subsequent burst of inspiration found him blending his equal love of R&B, funk and soul with the raucous rock energy of his youth into thrilling new music. “It sounds really hippie-like,” the musician, who over the following years would perform around the globe and write and record Love + Infinity, his most impassioned, free-flowing and inspired album to date, says with a laugh. “But it opened me up quite significantly. And then I started playing again.”

“I just felt lighter as a person so the music started to resonate that way,” Alexander says by way of explanation for what prompted him to concoct a fiery 11-track album, due on March 24 via Underground Sun. The album swings in equal measure with funky, Prince-indebted horn licks (“Love With Our Souls”), minimalist vocal-and-guitar acrobatics (“Elevate”), and swampy blues (“Be Your Man”). “I started to make music that was more rhythmic and upbeat.”

"It’s about pushing yourself farther than you ever thought that you could go."

Armed with a wide-ranging musical background including stints in a prog-rock band and membership in acoustic and power trios, Love + Infinity is a diverse offering informed both by Alexander’s forward-looking mindset and the tumultuous climate of the outside world “I wanted it to be bright,” he says of an LP written in locations ranging from Guatemala to L.A., and from his adopted home in Halifax to Basel, Switzerland, where he’d been a summer resident. “I wanted people to enjoy themselves when they listen to this record. That’s really a big part of it. I do know right now that people need a little bit of relief.”

Only in the last year or two, notably after signing with Venice-based Underground Sun in 2015, has Alexander truly come into his own as a fully realized, confident and poised musician and performer. This self-assurance is poignantly articulated not only in his LP’s sticky melodies and hard-hitting rhythms, but also via its lyrical and emotional depth. On the thumping and theatrical “Tidal Wave,” Alexander tackles the tumult of a rocky relationship (“You don’t have to front baby/You know what you want and it’s not me/Your emotions are illogical/It’s like swimming in a tidal wave”). Similarly, on “Elevate,”  he uses his surfing-fueled epiphany as a metaphor – this time, however, it’s related to “God and nature and how they can both kill you or encourage you to save yourself.”

“It’s about pushing yourself farther than you ever thought that you could go,” he adds of the serene stunner of a lead single. “I think many of us are kind of asleep in a way. We just do our routines. We do our thing. We marry the person everybody approves of. Until something happens. Then you go “Wait a minute! What am I doing?””

Despite his previous tumult and onetime doubt about his future in music, Alexander now says he’s never been more passionate and excited about what the future holds. “As far as music I couldn’t be happier,” he says of completing undoubtedly the most accomplished and refined work of his career. The singer smiles and laughs before adding, “I don’t have access to every record in the world but I would put mine up against anybody’s.”