Joe Darone burst into the Jersey music scene as the ginger-haired
teenaged drummer of The Fiendz back in the Eighties, but
these days he's better known as the singer, songwriter,
and keyboardist of the genre-defying Suit Of Lights, which
blends elements of art-rock, 60’s pop, punk, metal,
and baroque pop. With a new album Hide And Seek on
the way, Jersey Beat's James Damion spoke to Joe about his
approach to music, his long career in local bands, and his
path away from the drums and toward the experimentalism
of Suit of Lights.
Interview by James Damion
Q: Throughout Suit of Lights existence, you’ve
put time between releases. With the new album, you’re
continuing on this path. Is there a conscious intention
in this or is it strictly coincidence?
Yeah, the cycle seems to take three-to-four years. After
I finish a project, there’s usually a long period
where I don’t do any music at all. Then, I’m
like a blank slate and eventually ideas start to slowly
trickle in. So I start to record little pieces, jot down
lyrics, and even sketch cover art ideas. At some point,
I’ll be sitting on a bunch of raw materials and have
to sit down and organize. Certain ideas will gravitate towards
one another and become songs.
Q: With this being a self-release, do you have
any preconceived expectations as far as numbers and sales?
How do you plan on distributing it and getting the word
The industry as it existed 15 years ago is gone. Streaming
now makes up 80 percent of music sales. So the model of
making a record and selling it changed into luring listeners
to advertisers, using barely-paid artists as bait. And so,
a whole ecosystem of distributors, record stores, magazines,
and studios has disappeared.
That said, I’ve been working with Planetary Group
for PR and college radio for the last 15 years and I think
they do an incredible job. I also have worldwide digital
distribution through The Orchard.
Physically It’s going to be released on black vinyl
LP, limited-edition of 100 clear vinyl LP, and Digipak CD
with 12-page booklet. The best way to support is to buy
directly at suitoflights.com.
Q: In the past, Suit of Lights recordings have
been augmented by some notable musicians who contributed
to your sound and vision. Did you enlist anyone to perhaps,
add another layer to the recording of “Hide and Seek”?
Yeah, I’ve been lucky to work with musicians who
are much, much better than I am! Many of my connections
came from working out of Big Blue Meenie Recording Studio
in Jersey City. It all started when I met Arun (Venkatesh),
who was a musician, producer, and engineer. Our musical
tastes and sense of humor immediately clicked and he offered
to produce my little collection of songs that didn’t
even have a name yet. I never studied music, so Arun’s
knowledge and abilities brought the project to a different
We were working on Goodbye Silk City and Streetlight
Manifesto happened to be mixing in the next room, so I popped
in and asked Jamie Egan if he would be interested in playing
the horns on the intro. He’s a music teacher, so he
gave us a lot of variations, and then added the harmonies.
All done in one take. He then came back to record the second
album, Bacteria, and added a lot of depth and color
and mood. The guy is also super-nice.
I also knew the Thursday guys pretty well from the studio.
I had played drums on Geoff’s high school band’s
demo called ‘Useless’, and had done backing
vocals on Thursday’s Full Collapse. Thursday
were in the studio for months recording War All The
Time and Steve heard what we were working on and offered
to play some guitars, so that was a no-brainer. He brought
a great heavy edge to the tracks he played on.
I had been listening to Trevor Dunn since I was a teenager.
Mr Bungle really blew my mind and changed the way I looked
at music, so having any kind of interaction, much less collaborating
with him, was really something. He brought in hand-written
scores for each song, which I kept.
The last two albums feature another amazing musician named
Chris Connors on guitars. Chris is also a producer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist
who I met through Tim Gilles and works out of his Brooklyn
Studio called Concrete Sound. He’s worked with tons
of artists including John Legend.
The young Joe Darone pre-Fiendz
Q: In regards to Chris Connors. You mentioned
he contributed to the last two albums. Does that mean he’s
present on “Hide and Seek”?
Yes, Chris played more than half of the guitars and we
recorded those, plus Myles Crowner’s bass and Dave
Levy’s trumpet at his studio in Brooklyn called Concrete
Sound. Chris has worked with a ton of artists including
Norah Jones and Deep Purple. Arun also returned on this
album to play guitars on about half of the album. This is
also the second album for Corey Colmey on drums. Evan Hooker
from Ruby Roses sang backups on a few songs. Arun’s
kids Ruby and Hugo made a special appearance singing on
the last song.
Q: I remember us crossing paths at the time you
were playing drums with the Rosenbergs. I was always curious
as to what led you to join the band and what your contributions
were. Can you fill me in?
When Big Blue Meenie moved to Jersey City, I had already
quit drumming and thought I’d focus on trying to make
some money doing graphic design. Tim let me use an office
above the studio in exchange for answering the phones, and
I wound up doing a lot of album covers for the bands that
One day, a guy named Dan Iannuzzelli showed up at the studio,
and pretty soon started working there. He had produced the
first Rosenbergs album, and one day asked me if I’d
be interested in playing on their next record. We started
rehearsing together, it was sounding good and they asked
me to join full-time. What’s The Godfather quote?
“Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back
One day this camera crew shows up to film the band, ‘cuz
we were selected to be on the Farm Club TV show which gave
the band a huge industry buzz and that led to the band being
signed. Coming from playing in an underground band for 12
years, it was surreal to be in these situations where we’re
meeting with Jimmy Iovine and Green Day’s manager
Elliot Cahn. Eventually, we turned down two major label
offers and signed with Robert Fripp’s label, which
was amazing for me because I’m a huge King Crimson
My musical contributions to the Rosenbergs were mostly
in backing vocals and arrangements.
Q: I recall a theory of yours regarding drummers
and how banging and hitting things all the time contributed
to many drummers losing their minds and/or going insane.
I was curious as to the reasons you stopped. Were you starting
to feel the effects of years as a percussionist? Was there
considerable hearing loss involved? Or were you hearing
voices in your head? Did you sell your drum set? Any regrets
or thoughts about getting back to the kit?
I gave my drum set to Joe Pedulla from We’re All
Broken around 2003-ish. They lost all of their gear when
their rehearsal space flooded. I do miss the physical workout
of playing drums, but that’s about it. I was never
that ‘drummer-guy’ type of drummer. A producer
used to call me the ‘Anti-drummer’ because I
didn’t care about gear and all that stuff that real
drummers like to talk about. Regarding hearing loss, this
past year I got a case of tinnitus from going to a concert
without earplugs, at the same time I was mixing the new
album for like 10 hours a day but it went away eventually.
Q: Getting back to the album. Considering these
are all your songs. I’d assume that they are all personal.
That said, is there one or are there others that are particularly
Since ‘games’ is the theme of the album, I
decided to treat it like a game. A puzzle to put together.
Just for the fun of it. All of the previous albums had a
lot of personal stuff in them, and I thought it’d
be good to lighten up a little. Still, I used each song
as a vehicle to give my thoughts on everything from spirituality
to socio-political topics.
Q: You had been an active musician for decades
before you decided to take the singer / songwriter path.
Was there anything specific that made you decide to focus
I took guitar lessons at around age 10, took the few chords
I knew and started a band in middle school called ‘Bullet’
where I was the lead singer and guitarist. Around this time,
I started hanging out with Jerry Jones and we wanted to
start a band. It was clear that he was a much better singer
and guitarist than I was, so I decided to switch to drums.
In high school, we started a band called Static that eventually
became The Fiendz, which Jerry wrote most of the songs for
- but I did contribute a few songs like “Runaway with
Me”, “What We Believe”, and “Weight
of the World” before we started to collaborate regularly
on the later albums.
I didn’t write anything in the Rosenbergs, but I
contributed to arrangements and it was a learning experience
in many ways. On the side, I was recording my own little
demos for the future.
After years of touring, I decided it was time to make a
home for the orphaned songs that I had socked away. I thought
it would be a one-off release and I could put it to rest.
But, the opposite happened. And here we are 15 years later!
Joe in The Fiendz
Q: “Hide and Seek” is both the album
title and name of the lead track. Can you tell me about
the meaning behind the title and how the idea behind it
came to you?
It was the first song I wrote for this project, and it
sparked the idea to write a whole game-themed record. I
think of the music as kind of action-music or a theme song
to introduce the album. The inspiration came from something
Alan Watts had written in his book On the Taboo Against
Knowing Who You Are, and it just completely rang true for
me: your self is cleverly hidden because it is God hiding.
Q: How does the approach to songwriting change
over time? I ask this because we all go through changes
that influence us to think and approach things differently.
I treat every Suit of Lights record as though I might
be making my last. So, I really try to say something meaningful.
It’s also important to keep pushing the musical ideas
and not stagnate. I think the complexity of the music has
grown over time, which is leading me to think that it might
be refreshing to make a very simple record next time.
It’s interesting to look back at an older record,
it’s like a snapshot of who you were at the time.
Some of your ideas hold up well, and others might make you
cringe a little, but you can go right back to where you
were, and notice how far you’ve come.
Q: Do you have any plans to perform the album
There aren’t any current plans, but now that there’s
five records worth of material to draw from, I think it
could be really fun to put together a live show. I don’t
know how soon people are gonna want to stand shoulder-to-shoulder
in a sweaty club, though.
Definitely something to think about!
Q: For as long as we’ve known one another
(going back thirty plus years,) you’ve always been
involved with art and music. Does one fuel the other? How
do you balance the two?
On the one hand, I’m lucky enough to earn a living
in a creative field, and that it pays enough to fund my
own creative endeavors. On the other, sometimes I feel like
I’m going crazy because I have creative ideas that
I want to pursue, and no time to do them. One of the reasons
why it takes me four years to get a new record out. But
hey, I can’t complain.
Q: Just out of my own curiosity, where does the
name “Zeckle” come from? What does it mean to
The singer of our pre-Fiendz high school band Static was
this kid Andy Sama, aka “Zomby”. One day, he
said that I had one big Zeckle, which equals a zillion freckles.
When I told Tim Gilles that story, he just started calling
me Zeckle all the time and then everybody did - so when
I started my graphic company, it was Zeckle Graphics.
This logo is one of many pieces of art that Joe has contributed
to Jersey Beat.
Q: I’m reminded that you created the Jersey Beat.com
logo. How far back do you go as a reader of Jersey Beat
and were there any contributions you made to the fanzine
over the years?
Around 1988, The Fiendz met up with Jim at Maxwell’s
in Hoboken to do an interview. We stayed in touch and I
began drawing some cartoons to fill up the margins of the
‘zine. I remember doing one where it’s a skinhead
kid whose wearing suspenders and Mickey Mouse shorts. I
also drew that caricature of Jim that he still uses.At one
point, we were featured on a Jersey Beat compilation cassette
with Ween and other bands who were contributors to the magazine.
Q: On each of the occasions where we got to sit
down and talk, the topic of aliens and extraterrestrials
came up. A belief I’ve become more open minded through
the years but have been convinced since moving to Seattle.
How have your beliefs or lack thereof changed over the years?
What do you make of the recent exodus of believers to Area
It’s an endless rabbit-hole. I had read Project Blue
Book as a kid and was immediately hooked on the subject.
Then I read Whitley Strieber and he scared the hell outta
Then I found out about Harvard professor John E. Mack, who
interviewed something like 60 abductees and found them to
be credible. Did you ever hear the recording of Betty &
Barney Hill under hypnosis? It’s terrifying.
The Disclosure Project and the testimonies of high-level
military, NASA, and government personnel really cemented
my opinion on the issue, and now we have the Pentagon officially
releasing UFO videos. The question is: why now? What’s
the game plan?
Q: I remember when we first met at Tim’s.
We were each heavily into The Descendents, The Doughboys
and ALL. What do you listen to these days?
Name a time period, and I’ll tell you some artists
that I like.
Classical composers like Bach, Chopin and Shostakovich.
I’ve been listening to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg
Variations records a lot.
30’s jazz artists like Raymond Scott, Duke Ellington
and Billie Holiday,
50’s jazz like Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Charles
Mingus, Chet Baker and Miles Davis, and rock-n-rollers like
Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and singing groups like The
Four Freshmen. I recently discovered a really talented singer/songwriter
from this period named Connie Converse.
60’s artists like Scott Walker, Beach Boys, Velvet
Underground, Four Seasons, Bee Gees, The Zombies, Hendrix,
Chicago, Sly & The Family Stone, Joni Mitchell, Dusty
Springfield. All the Motown and Stax stuff and Italian singers
like Mina and Adriano Celentano. And The Beatles, of course.
Tons of great music in the 70’s. Everything ranging
from LA bands like Sparks and TheQuick to songwriters like
Todd Rundgren and Randy Newman, English punk groups like
the Jam and Clash. Hard rock like Thin Lizzy & Van Halen.
Proggy stuff like King Crimson, Zappa, Gentle Giant and
Van Der Graaf Generator. Pink Floyd. Metal like Judas Priest
and Black Sabbath. Can’t forget Bowie. His 70’s
records are my favorite.
80’s “New Wave” acts like Elvis Costello,
Squeeze, Pretenders, Madness and pretty much everything
on Stiff or Two/Tone Records, Blondie, Devo and Oingo Boingo
and “Punk” like Misfits, Bad Brains, Bad Religion,
Descendents, ALL, Dickies, Toy Dolls, and Buzzcocks. Beastie
Boys. Metal like Anthrax, Iron Maiden, Metallica, Danzig
and Mercyful Fate.
90’s bands like Cardiacs, Faith No More, Mr. Bungle,
Fishbone, Stump, Flaming Lips, Primus, Futureheads, Of Montreal,
That Dog, Radiohead, and next-wave punk like NOFX, Lagwagon,
Smoking Popes, and singer/songwriters like Elliot Smith,
Ron Sexsmith, RufusWainwright and Joan as Police Woman.
Noughties acts like Muse, Amy Winehouse, The Shins, Deerhoof,
Secret Chiefs. I like newer groups like The Lemon Twigs,
Weyes Blood, and Fleet Foxes.
SUIT OF LIGHTS 15TH ANNIVERSARY SALE!
To celebrate Suit of Lights' 15th Anniversary, the band
is offering every album in its discography for download
at $1.50 each at suitoflights.com.
The website will also be the best place to purchase the
new album Hide And Seek.