Jef Rhodes is the mastermind behind Them Damn Kings, whose debut album Rise Up is set for an early 2021 release. Though it may be a debut album, this is far from Jef’s debut in the music industry, with plenty of road years and experiences under his belt, including long runs as a Front of House Engineer and Backline Tech for bands such as Lacuna Coil, Cradle of Filth, Opeth, Mayhem, and more. Metal Contraband’s Chelsea had the chance to talk with Jef about the new album from Them Damn Kings, how Jef got his start in the industry, memorable road antics with Motörhead and Megadeth, and a great rock and roll message to close things out. Check it out below:

Them Damn Kings, you’re headed to releasing your debut album, Rise Up – start with some ideas that went into the making of the record?

Well, there’s not much of an idea that goes in behind it – you get in there, you just want to make a rock and roll record, and whatever comes out is what comes out. We don’t really do too much planning, whatever happens is what happens and that’s the time it’s meant to happen.

Now, even though this is the debut full-length for Them Damn Kings, you did actually have an EP a few years back, talk about the time and the differences between the two, and what led to your going for the full-length now?

There was a lot of drinkin’ involved, I’ll tell you! *laughs* I’ve been playing since I was fourteen years old, and been in and out of bands for most of my life. I’ve been out there doing the sound guy routine, the crew thing, and I just felt it was time to put out something. I just kind of sat in the house, and if a song came out, all right, that’s cool, we’ve got something going on. And one thing kind of leads to another, a good friend of mine, Adam, it was time to start moving forward and he came on board and started managing us. Now here we are making the full-length. 

There you go, that’s awesome. So I’ve heard that this album was actually made as a one-man band, but when the time to actually go out live comes around, it looks like you already have some plans for the live lineup as well?

I do, it definitely was kind of a one-man situation. I played everything on the EP, I was going to do the same thing on this, but I just wanted to get involved with more people. Ryan had just left Lacuna Coil, and so I said “Hey man, why don’t you fly out and do the drums to this?” and we ended up having a great time doing it and a lot of things just ended up happening, the songs took on a whole new shape when he sat down and started playing. So yeah, when I go out and do the live thing, we’ve got Ryan on drums, floating around with Tony from the band Kyng, and we’ve got Gogi on rhythm guitar, and so we’re just waiting for this pandemic to be over so we can get out there and start blowing the roof off these joints again. 

Hell yeah, everybody’s waiting to get back out there again! 

I know, it’s crazy times. 

So when you did do the EP, and the more one-man setup, you obviously have audio engineering experience from your time on the road, so were you just doing all the recording and everything yourself?

Yeah, I do, I got out of Jersey a couple of years ago and got a nice place down here in Savannah, Georgia, and lo and behold, the house that I found was absolutely perfect, the whole thing is basically a recording studio now. I’ve got a bedroom that I sleep in, and the rest of the house is just music stuff everywhere. So I just started building this up over the last couple of years, I’ve always had some way to record and bought a rather large console a long time ago, and this is kind of the center of my recording, everything’s still basically analog here, and trying to limit myself to what I have, you know? I really don’t like overproduced, the over polished stuff. Nowadays you can get away with a million tracks in Pro Tools, but what I got is what I use, and we just limit ourselves to that, and I feel that you get a little bit more creative in how to do things that way. 

Absolutely! I love the analog sound on recordings, but that also means you had to take all that equipment down from Jersey to Georgia, transporting that carefully, huh? *laughs*

I did, and actually I’ve got a basement down here, and one thing you don’t do is buy a house with a basement in the South. That was a bad idea. So originally, I planned to build the studio in the basement, when I bought the place, the seller was like, “yeah, the basement doesn’t leak”, so six months into it – I go downstairs, “what’s that smell, what’s all that noise?” and water’s up to my knees, and basically all of my gear was almost destroyed. I spent probably a good four months ripping this console apart, and this console was literally underwater, and I tore the whole thing apart. That was such a heartbreak right there. So, 90% of the gear is restored, and there’s clicks and pops now, it kind of took on its own new life. I kind of like that, it gives it a newer, dirtier sound that’s not really meant to be there, you know? 

I mean, I guess it gave it character, but what a rough way to get it though.

That’s definitely a rough way to get it. I’m glad it survived, and it was a pretty major undertaking putting all this gear back together again. You know, you’re like, wow, there’s so much money invested into this stuff and to see it underwater, that was almost it for me, you know?

Man, so you had to do a total rebuild?

Literally, and finding parts for this old console from the mid-80’s was near impossible. I just started having to salvage things off of it, and ended up finding another one online for a couple of hundred dollars that was just a parts console, picked that thing up and ripped it apart and just tried to get all these components back together as best as I could – and I’m not exactly an electrical engineer, you know? So now I’m waiting for it to catch fire next *laughs*. 

*laughs* But still, you’ve got the audio engineering experience, I know you did some front of house, you did backline, you do have that experience working with audio equipment, so I’m curious what got you into audio and engineering in general, and how did you get your start in that direction?

I didn’t mean for it to happen! I was playing the circuit back in Jersey, and there was this old club called Obsessions, and we used to play there quite often, about 20 bands ago. And the kid who was the audio guy there happened to own the equipment and he wanted to get out of everything, and it wasn’t great equipment, but it was a club and it came with clients, and I was like, “Sure, I’ll chuck ya a couple of bucks and try my hand at this”. Ruined a lot of shows in the beginning blowing gear up *laughs* but that’s just kind of how I fell into it. And then I got this crazy idea, I couldn’t afford anything back then, cool lights and all that kind of stuff, so I had started making lights out of coffee cans. I found this hospital bed motor and I wired all these lights up on this little truss they had at the club, and with the hospital bed motor you could get the lights to move back and forth. So it was my version of moving lights, and then a band would come through and be like, “This is really cool, come out with us!” So I started touring, doing audio and lights on the side there, and next thing led to another and I’m out with another, and next thing led to another and somehow I got to Cradle of Filth, and I was out with those guys for a few years. Then one thing leads to another, and I’ve been out with Lacuna Coil for 12 years now.

I love it, you fell into it, strung up some lights, and now you’re touring the world. 

*laughs* That’s how it happens. 

It was probably meant to be then, even if you didn’t feel like it at the time. But that’s cool, you were kind of winging it and learning on the job, that was very creative. 

That’s just kind of how you have to do it, I mean, lights are BS anyway, right? You got to BS your way through it – good lesson for you kids out there! Just do it!

That’s great. So you mentioned just a couple of bands that you’ve been out with, and you’ve gone on some great tours, I’m sure you have great stories. But overall, what do you feel have been some of the most memorable tours that you’ve been a part of?

I mean, being out with Lacuna’s really opened up a lot of different things. Growing up, Megadeth was one of my favorite bands, so we got to do the Gigantour, that was just great. Dave Mustaine is such a trip, I think that’s probably one of the most memorable, considering Motörhead was on that too. Between Motörhead and Megadeth and the antics that were going on, it was probably the best and craziest tour I’ve ever been on. Got a real good taste of rock and roll on that one!

I bet, man! 

Oh, man, I could go on for days and days about that tour. Every hour was something different, you know? *laughs* 

I can imagine, it must have been crazy to have those two bands on the same bill. Just trying to make audio and lights work and survive the antics? Must have been insane. 

I mean, Lemmy got me so…I almost got fired off that tour, Lemmy got me so hammered before I was supposed to go and do my job. I remember waking up on the mixing desk, I had passed out and pushed all the faders all the way up *laughs*. People are just hitting me like, “What the hell are you doing, man?” and my tour manager wanted me GONE, man. I was like, “it’s not my fault, man, I was walking around backstage and Lemmy grabbed me and basically shoved a bottle of Jack down my throat”. Then it was, “Well…well, as long as it was Lemmy that did it to you, you’re fine”. 

Oh! It can be forgiven because it was Lemmy. *laughs*

That’s the ONLY reason! So, God rest his soul, thank you, Lemmy. 

Exactly. It’s funny, any kind of story I’ve ever heard from anyone about Lemmy, it’s always been good stuff. Even if he got you in a little bit of trouble, just his name alone saved you there. A lot of people love him as a person, and say he did a lot for people, so that’s pretty cool.

He was a great guy. 

Aside from that being so super memorable for you, if you could tour with any artist at all that you haven’t met, haven’t been on tour with, or maybe have met and just haven’t gotten to tour with – just if you could tour with anyone you wanted at all, who would it be?

That’s easy for me, it would be Zakk Wylde all the way. He’s the one guy, and I’ve met a ton of people, I’ve done probably a hundred shows with him. We’ve been out doing festivals with Black Label Society, and Ozzy and all that. Literally probably been five inches away from Zakk at times, and the moment has just never presented itself to be like, “Hey!”. Every time I’d turn around like, “What’s going on, man?”, he vanished. That would be the one guy that I think would just…one of us would probably leave dead off of that run, you know? 

Even crazier than the Megadeth/Motörhead thing, right?

I mean, it’s good because Zakk doesn’t drink anymore, so I’d probably keep myself in check. But, I couldn’t even imagine if it was the Motörhead and Megadeth, and Black Label or Ozzy doing that run. We’d all be dead, I can’t believe we all survived that tour. 

*laughs* But you all did, and good thing. So, for your new music, Rise Up, there’s plans for it to be released in 2021, I’m sure that was a bit of pandemic delay there, but that’s okay, everybody’s in the same boat. So just your thoughts looking toward the album being released next year?

I’m excited, I’m glad it’s not being released this year. The mastering came back about ten days before everything just shut down and went into lockdown. So, we kind of regrouped, and I’ve been speaking with management and all those guys about what to do here, and I’m glad it’s happening toward the end of the year. I’m even more so glad that 2020 is not going to be stamped on that album, because I just don’t want that stigma whatsoever, who knows what would happen? We’re really excited about it happening, it’s supposed to be coming out next spring, tentatively now. But I know we’re going to put out a couple more singles before then and try to get everybody rounded up and listening to it, and hopefully we’ll push and tour it. I think we just need to get back out there and play again, you know? That’s what it really comes down to, I think that’s where we shine the most. Because there’s no BS with us, the antics speak for themselves. 

So obviously, the focus is really on Rise Up right now, since that’s projected for next year, so I assume you don’t have any plans for future records right now, just kind of focusing on this one for now?

You know, I always want to make music. I sit up here just about every day jamming, but it’s kind of a difficult thing, because I don’t go into a, “Let’s make a record” type of situation, you know?  If I could, I’d put out a record every single month, that’s insane to even say, but that’s just the way — next month, my taste might change, you know? I listen to so much different stuff and I feel like every day, especially now, you’re just influenced by so many outside factors that they change on a daily basis. And so when the songs are coming out, it’s just different, it’s a different time, moment, and memory for me. But, that being said, I think we are planning, next spring or summer, if we’re all still camped out in lockdown, to at least get us all in the studio and just kind of Led Zeppelin it and see what happens in a week or two, you know? 

Yeah, absolutely. So you were talking about being influenced by a lot of different things, but what are some bands, some styles of music that are influencing you lately?

Every day changes, one minute it’s Pop Evil, next minute it’s Stanley Jordan or Leo Kottke, or back to Megadeth. I’ve got about 5000 CDs downstairs and that’s not even included records or my terrabyte hard drives. There’s new music coming out every day, it’s really hard not to be influenced by it all. This was kind of the problem though, my mind works in such a ADHD way, I’m just kind of like everybody else listening to music, it’s like, “Wow, this is great!” and then 5 minutes later YouTube or Spotify puts you on something else, and you’re going, “Wow, this is great!”, it’s just constant all over the place. Like you ended up having 15 pots of coffee before 10 in the morning, you know? Which is the way that the industry is right now, but you can never go wrong with Ozzy, so I’ve always got Ozzy jamming at least once a day. I think for me, it’s just seeing the way the world is right now, between the political campaigns and all the BS that’s happening, the way people are reacting to the whole pandemic and the whole being told what you can and can’t do. It’s chaos out there right now, and it always keeps me bringing back to, we’ve got to get shows rocking and rolling again, because people are falling apart, you know?

Good point. But that’s good that you’re well rounded and listen to a little bit of everything, that just means you appreciate music, and you’re able to channel that into your own writing, so that’s cool. 

Absolutely, where would we be without music? I’ve never been shut off like that. I’m a rock and roller til the day I die, but I can appreciate and respect a lot of stuff out there. 

That’s great. Is there anything about Them Damn Kings that you want new fans just discovering you to know?

We like booze, bring them to us! *laughs* Nah, it’s just straight up rock and roll, you know? I grew up with rock and roll, I feel like that whole rock and roll way of life is just dying, it’s a dying breed, there’s not too many of us left. I think the older generation can really appreciate that, but I really want the younger generation to understand what rock and roll is really about. It’s not computers, not being perfect. It’s about being yourself, mistakes happen, and you just dust yourself off and move on with it. It’s a party out there, be happy!

There you go, that’s an awesome message, I love it! 

Right on.

Well, thank you so much for your time today, Jef, I’ll let you get back to your day, but it was a lot of fun talking with you. 

Thank you, same, I appreciate it, thank you very much.