Danko Jones, lead singer and guitarist of his namesake band Danko Jones, is a guy who can talk you under the table. An accomplished spoken word artist, podcaster and writer, he is so well versed it is easy to get lost in conversation with him and forget just how much ass his band kicks. It’s nothing new, the Toronto, Ontario band has been kicking ass and releasing great tunes for the last 16 years. Still, 2013 figures to be an especially memorable year as they are set to tour this March and April as direct support for Volbeat, one of the spring’s must-see pairings. Danko, longtime bassist John ‘JC’ Calabrese and new drummer Atom Willard’s latest album “Rock And Roll Is Black and Blue” is predictably awesome and this show is not to be missed. I am being 100% honest when I say DJ are one of the very few bands with a permanent spot in my car’s CD changer so it is especially cool they are touring with one of my other favorite bands. After recently releasing a career spanning DVD, a new album and a unique book it is nice to see Danko Jones still working harder than ever. I talked to Danko about a whole lot of things. Read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Thanks for talking to us Danko, I am admittedly a little late to the party but in the last few years your band has become one of my favorites among current acts, right up there with Volbeat. It’s as awesome to hear your voice as it was when Paul Stanley called me.
Danko Jones: Oh wow. Thanks man, that’s good to hear.
LRI: You are in the midst of a nice blitz of releases and touring which all started with your Double DVD/Documentary “Bring on The Mountain” which came out this past June. I love having all the videos together but REALLY enjoyed the documentary which cleared a few things up that I didn’t know about the band.
Danko: You get introduced to people as you go forward and we have been on an upward trajectory for the last few years and there are a lot of people who discovered us 5 years in, ten years in and we don’t expect them to know our whole history. It’s not documented that well really and who knows really what it is that we’ve been doing. Nobody knows except for us and maybe some of our closest friends. This was a new way for us to kind of bring everybody up to speed and kind of dispel a lot of misconceptions. To be honest, we do really well in Europe and I don’t know what those articles say about us. I just finish the interview and I don’t really know how the writer wrote the article and sometimes when I get it translated back to me I am like “Wow, that’s a really bad impression of our band”. So that can be real tough, or you get real nice stories or you get ones that kind of paint you too big for you to really fill and then there’s ones where they just make you out to be a total asshole. The DVD was a good way to really get a lot of the story straight. It was just time to do it, all these years had passed and nobody’s going to do a VH1 “Behind The Music” on our band, we’ve never sold ten million copies, we were never in the spotlight that way. We have been around long enough and have been successful enough to have a story to tell so we thought it would be cool if we just told it. I really love, everybody really loves movies like “Rattle and Hum” or “Some Kind of Monster” and all of those documentaries on these really big bands but what I really love are documentaries on some of the smaller, more B-level bands. They tell a more personal story that is kinda “yours” still cause they are not a big, big band and that’s kind of a real cool thing. A lot of those B-level bands have a really different story but still just as interesting a story as those huge bands like U2 or Metallica. The story of a big band is kind of easy to tell. They get super huge and they either get jaded or they fall to the lifestyle and then cycle back and return to past glory in some kind of way and keep going strong and on top. The B-level bands have really interesting, totally different stories where they basically just plod along and keep going. It’s like the “Tortoise and the Hare” and we’re the tortoise, we sell enough to keep going, we went on tours with bands that were ten times bigger than us but are now broken up. We just keep going. I was thinking about it recently. Especially in Canada, there’s this entirely different music industry but yet, there IS a music industry here and being a band that came out when we did, we just didn’t fit the idea of what they thought was a really potentially great, successful band and they signed all these other bands except for us. All of those bands they signed, with the exception of maybe one or two, are done and all of the people who were signing all of these bands don’t even work in the music industry anymore and the band they passed over is still plugging away and playing in front of all these different audiences. We played with the Stone Roses and we played with Hatebreed and Ozzy, that’s a lot of territory, we do have a story to tell.
LRI: The Documentary portion was directed by the Diamond Brothers who also did the video for “Just a Beautiful Day” your first single from the latest album right?
Danko: Right, they also directed all the videos for the last album, “Below the Belt” (2010) with all the celebrities in it. They did a trilogy of videos, the first one had Elijah Wood who we’re friends with and Selma Blair and Lemmy and Mike Watt, the second one had Ralph Macchio and Don Jamieson and then the third one brought Ralph and Elijah together with Jenna Malone. The Diamond Brothers directed all those videos and the documentary, we’ve known those guys for a few years now. We actually knew them from their band that they used to be in.
LRI: You guys have video footage going all the way back to your early touring, you played at the old converted bowling alley punk rock club “Fireside Bowl” in Chicago. I hadn’t seen the inside of that place in ten years so that was a trip, was it hard organizing all that footage?
Danko: We basically handed the Diamond Brothers a shitload of footage. In the past 5 years or so we really have a lot of great 3 camera festival show footage that is great but of course the stuff people always wanna see is the really old stuff you’re talking about. We had all that on VHS but it was a huge undertaking getting all that together for sure.
LRI: You were talking about labels who passed on your band, every great band from the Beatles to Cheap Trick has a great stack of rejection letters. Did these labels pass on you multiple times?
Danko: Multiple times! It got to the point where I was like, “Ok is it me? Am I the problem? This is getting embarrassing, you just keep signing all these other bands”. You know, I don’t listen to Beyonce or Justin Bieber or any of those things but I get it, really I do, I get it. I understand why people like Beyonce but these were acts that were getting signed that I just didn’t “get” where the potential sales or potential talent was. I really couldn’t understand some of their reasoning for signing some of these bands they were picking up around us. I mean again, we’re talking about Canada which is a small version of what the American record industry was but still, when you’re in it, you’re in it. We were sitting here in Canada and just watching it happen, watching people ignore our band, which is fine because it really made us just leave.
LRI: So there was a moment where you kind of thought the whole “Canada Thing” was working against you?
Danko: Oh yeah because originally it was. There was a time when our main objective was “Ok, we’re not gonna play in Canada, we’re not gonna play Toronto we’re just gonna play the States” because that’s where all of our favorite bands were and that’s where all the scenes that we kind of associated with were. There was nothing happening in Canada, there were a few bands always but it was never a situation like “Ok, we should focus on Canada” and I think over time that lack of spending time working in our own country has really worked against us in our own country (laughs). People up here in Canada are seemingly always going “Yeah, whatever happened to that band?” and we’re like “Motherfucker, we’ve been touring abroad for ten goddamn years which is really the main reason why you take your band outside of your mom’s garage!” (laughs). You want to leave Canada and tour the world you know?? You don’t want to be playing at the local bar down the street for the rest of the band’s career so everyone in your hometown knows where you’re at and what you’re doing and that you exist. You want them to think that you don’t exist and that you’re constantly gone on tour (laughs).
LRI: That same thing happens here in Rockford, Illinois with Cheap Trick. If they’re out on tour in Japan or Australia and gone for a year it’s like either “Oh, yeah they’re still a band? is Bun E still on drums?” or it’s “Oh, yeah they have time to play anywhere but here” and if they book a gig everyone wants on the guest list or they’re not goin.
Danko: (laughs) Yeah, and that’s Cheap Trick. To me that name, as a rock fan, is basically an institution in my head. Such a classic band.
LRI: You’ve told a great story of the old days of buying vinyl as a kid and trying to determine which album had the thickest package and most inserts…it was KISS right?
Danko: I remember it very vividly even though I was very young. I was deciding between Destroyer, Love Gun and Alive and Destroyer was so thin inside the shrink wrap compared to Alive. I could see the booklet inside of Alive (laughs) so that’s why I chose that.
LRI: Your bass player JC is not only phenomenal part of the sound of the band but also a big part of making things happen business wise.
Danko: I don’t think anyone is going to write a 2 page article in a magazine or on a website about all that he does. It’s not really juicy or anything to go on and on about how he manages the band for ten years and works so hard. I remember us driving back home from a gig in Ottowa or somewhere like that, driving all night and dropping JC off at 5 in the morning in front of the store he worked at. All that shit really happened and he really lived that way during so many years of our existence.
LRI: You’ve been accused of being brash or being a womanizer but most of your lyrics about girls or sex always strike me more Diamond Dave than El Duce. Did working at a porno store help you smooth out those edges of what is or isn’t sexy?
Danko: (laughs)..I understand, I understand what you mean. We’ve gotten tagged as sexist or just ignored but it blows my mind to find out even how many people have not bothered to listen to our band because of that misconception. Just because I worked at a porno store doesn’t mean that I have to write about girls in a dirty, degrading or misogynistic way. I guess sometimes people just don’t listen to the lyrics but that’s just how it is sometimes in life. I mean, you can come off as an asshole or a douchebag, which sometimes people may misinterpret my being onstage as being but all you have to do is wait it out and watch the show. I definitely am self deprecating and crack jokes at my own expense.
LRI: Is some of that as a result of seeing what works and doesn’t work onstage over the years? Have you had to dial back some of the bravado?
Danko: No, No I have never had to dial back in terms of any of the aggro or aggressive nature of the show or performing but what I have learned from experience is that you can’t shoot yourself in the foot during a show. You can’t come out all guns blazing and talk shit about everyone on the bill and tell everyone that you’re the best band. When we first started we just said we were the best fuckin band and all these other bands suck, whether we or anyone else believed it or not, we just said it (laughs). Some people we would rub the wrong way and it took years before we made amends with some people (laughs). I just had this fire in me and was so angry and “fuck everyone” and that fire is still in me but I’ve just gotten better at channeling it, back then it just came out wrong. Now that I’ve been doing this for 15 years I can harness that fire a little better and I don’t shoot it out at people haphazardly. I’ve done that before, I have and it’s just not cool and I’ve learned that the hard way. Now, I’m a little older and I understand that everyone, every band is just trying to get by a little each day and there’s no point in putting someone else down when they haven’t done anything to you. When I see a newer band doing that to us, I get that fire going and I really wanna shoot back at them but I really do understand where it’s coming from now. I understand that they have this fire in them too that they just haven’t been able to harness so it comes out wrong. What happens so many times is that you end up liking the target of your hatred or your abuse so much that you end up being a fan of their band and that just shuts you up. That is really what shut me up too. I’ll find myself going “You know what, these guys are really not that bad, and they’re really nice people” (laughs). I don’t care if people make enemies and are like “Fuck everybody, fuck other people” I really do, if you wanna do that, fuck yeah do that but if you’re gonna burn bridges, make sure they’re bridges that you’re not gonna need. I really feel like i have this defense mechanism now where I just don’t let people in too close because I’ve been burned so many times but I also know how it feels to be the one doing the burning. So, I haven’t stepped down my approach to the band or the music or being onstage, I haven’t dialed it back at all, I am ready to KILL but I also know that I can harness that rather than let it go off in all directions.
LRI: The swagger is still in effect but you’ve gained some insight.
Danko: I’m not saying “You see all those bands over there?…..they all suck, we’re gonna kick their ass”. I used to say shit like that and that’s fuckin horrible. It may work for the time that you’re onstage but you have to remember that you have to walk offstage now and see all those bands backstage and look em in the eye and they’re still there. I was just unable to see past the half hour or whatever that we had onstage.
LRI: You guys released a B-Sides album in Europe and a hits package in Canada in 2009. Do you think that the timing of a release like “This is Danko Jones” helped you worldwide in terms of exposure? I think a lot of people, particularly in America saw that album and said “Holy shit, this band is amazing, they have this many great songs and they’ve been under our nose the whole time, what the hell?”
Danko: I don’t know. I’m glad if it had that effect but I just don’t have the vantage point to know. it’s hard for me to see the effects of things like that. We just released that hits package to no real fanfare and went about our business. It was just another release and because of the digital age it was released digitally which made it even harder to watch as far as its effects. I understand what you’re saying about making a dent in America it’s such a huge thing to do. The U.S. is almost like 50 countries in one if you think about it, you can be really huge in one state and it’s like “Dude, there’s 49 more! We have to start all over!”. For a band that doesn’t have a huge budget it can be a daunting undertaking if you don’t have another bigger band to go out with. It’s interesting and I think it just takes time, it’s like one person at a time just has to find out about the band and go “Why haven’t we heard of them?” like you said. The answer is because we don’t have like a 3 million dollar marketing budget to let everyone know we’re here and for as long as I can remember there has been this thing where we are not a “record label” band. We do not appeal to record labels, we still don’t appeal to record labels, labels are still turning us down and nobody who works at a label really likes our band whether it’s musically or because of misconceptions that we talked about or whether they think we’re control freaks, I don’t know. I just know that those people do not like our band, even those people I mentioned who are not in the industry anymore, they STILL don’t like our band. I have noticed time and time and time again that the people who do tend to like our band are the real people who just have to find out about us and it can be really hard to get to those people. From Day 1 Danko Jones has held no appeal with the record companies, whether it’s an indie, a major label, a fake indie, whatever (laughs).
LRI: I find that so hard to believe. The music is so hooky and the fans are so passionate.
Danko: Man, I am telling you. I can count on one hand the amount of times a label has approached us and said said “I want you guys, we wanna sign you guys”. It’s happened on one hand, maybe not even one hand, maybe like four fuckin fingers. One of those times was when we signed to do “Sleep Is the Enemy” in 2006. There was a guy at Razor and Tie Records who really liked the band who is of course not in the industry any more but he approached us. We were like “Wow, someone in America actually approached us before we had a chance to go knockin on their door”. I mean we were knocking on doors, everyone from Dreamworks to Touch and Go, Matador, Sony and Roadrunner and all these labels.
LRI: You guys have made some amazing records including the latest “Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue” . Despite all that, at the end of the day you’re a live band. Has that always been in the back of your mind?
Danko: It’s just the truth. We are a live band. At this point that’s the most fun I have in the band is doing the live show. When the crowd is really, really with you it is just the greatest feeling. It’s an incredible time, an incredible feeling and when you finish a show and you know it was a great show that is really, really satisfying. Making records can be a longer, drawn out process that can sometimes feel like hitting your head against the wall over and over and over, especially compared to the live show. I can get really impatient. We’ve had to learn how to make a good record in the studio and I think this record shows that. It was produced by Matt DeMatteo again who did our last album “Below The Belt” so he was already pretty aware of what we want sound wise and it was mixed by Mike Fraser who’s worked with AC/DC and Metallica and on all these great albums.
LRI: Do you find yourselves thinking about the live show during the creative process in the studio?
Danko: Umm, yeah but I try not to worry about it too much and just concentrate on the songs themselves. Sometimes you can’t help but hear something and think “Oh man, this chorus is just going to make everybody in the crowd bounce or sing” but you can’t really work with that in mind or I think you really do yourself a disservice. If you just write the songs that are coming out of you it seems to work.
LRI: You have a huge tour coming up with Volbeat, a band that has really broken through here in the states. Are you past the point of thinking of “breaking”?
Danko: Oh yeah…we’re never gonna break (laughs). We’re never gonna be like some massively recognized name to compete with the likes of Lady Gaga or whatever or get 10 million views on Youtube. I would love it, that would be fine with us, I just don’t see that happening for this band. I mean, a lot of radio in North America and America has been great to us and that is amazing but what consoles me is that a lot of my favorite bands are never gonna “break” either and that’s fine. What I would like is if we could just be there and just keep on, Motorhead isn’t huge but they are always there, they have always just been there and that is success to me. With the industry the way it is and the lack of people actually buying records and all of that, just the fact that you exist and are able to be a band is success to me and it always has been. I have always loved bands like that, with the exception of KISS and Metallica, but I have always loved those bands that are just a little more underground. I love those bands, they never broke but what they have is a small, strong following of people who really love them and will always buy their next record until they’re dead. I love that and I love bands like that, I always just check in. I check in and see what they’re up to.
LRI: Good luck on the tour, I am so excited about this Volbeat/Danko Jones ticket, it is THE show to see in 2013. Before I let you go I wanna ask you about the book. Most artists who have a DVD and a new album would never be able to take on a book as well. How did this book come together?
Danko: We will be touring all 2013 and beyond. We can’t wait to get out and tour America and will absolutely play Illinois. As for the book, it’s called “Too Much Trouble, A Very Oral History of Danko Jones” by Stuart Berman and it’s a nice coffee table book, it’s really the story of the band told through all these different quotes and stories from other people as well as the band. Lemmy is in it, Dizzy Reed is in it, Jello Biafra, the guys from Morbid Angel, Sepultura, Obituary, Marty Friedman, over 70 people. I’m trying to think of who else, Anders from In Flames, Sean from White Zombie and on and on. The tour in North America starts March 6th with Volbeat but there is a tour in Australia this month including some shows with Duff McKagen.