Latest release: Below the Belt (Bad Taste/Riot!)
Despite being a high-profile entity in their homeland (as well as the USA and several parts of Europe), Canadian rock trio Danko Jones are yet to establish such a strong reputation in Australia, despite being one of the more exciting bands in rock music. The band recently released new album Below The Belt (Bad Taste Records/Riot!) and Brendan Crabb spoke to larger-than-life yet very friendly frontman Danko Jones in an insightful interview.
Q: Without trying to sound sycophantic here (laughs), the new album is excellent from start to finish. How pleased are you with the end result?
A: Yeah, yeah, very pleased. We wouldn’t have put it out if we weren’t happy with it so we’re pretty happy. I think we’re a little bit surprised that everybody really likes it as well. We’re not used to almost across the board good reviews, so it’s been good.
Q: A song like “I Think Bad Thoughts”, which opens the album is one of the catchiest tracks on it, but also contains some highly memorable lyrics about the dark side of your personality. How much of that is autobiographical and how much is artistic license playing on the public perception and image of Danko Jones?
A: I think it’s pretty much what everybody thinks, all the time (laughs). It’s not, ‘I put bad thoughts into action’, so there isn’t any boasting. It’s just bad thoughts that everybody has I think, you know?
Q: People perhaps have a certain perception of Danko Jones the outlandish rock star. Do you ever deliberately play on that with your lyrics?
A: Well, I think the lyrics come from a very honest place. Every song is culled from life experience. But I also touch on subjects that everybody goes through, so it’s not really that much of a stretch. I think people can identify with a lot of the lyrics in the songs. I’m not talking about, “oh, this night I had a four-way with three girls”. So it’s pretty much guy-girl relationship stuff.
Q: A band like Kiss have said in older interviews that they would ave producers and songwriters questioning why they were always writing songs about sex and suggest they write about something else. The band’s response was along the lines of, “well, that’s pretty much all we did back then”. Is it a similar sentiment for you?
A: No actually. Whenever I’m asked that I always ask the person asking me what other subject matter do you think goes with the riffs that we’ve written?
Q: (Laughs) I would say good times.
A: Yeah, pretty much all of the songs are really just about good times. I mean, I don’t know how… good times playing Dungeons and Dragons on Friday night, that’s a good time as well. But it doesn’t go with the music we play. It’s pretty much girls and having fun and just a really loose, light time. I don’t really feel the need to solve the world’s problems with our music and I think bands who are arrogant enough to think so can pretty much eat a dick. People who assume that music should be that serious or that… To really get intellectual (stimulation) from other sources; perhaps a newspaper or a book. I really think that bands who think that their music should be more than just good times or intellectually stimulating, I really feel that’s a little bit arrogant and pretentious on their part. People who listen to the music who feel that they should be intellectually stimulated by music, I think should really just basically read a book or read a newspaper instead. I don’t need to be intellectually stimulated by a guy in a band (laughs). I think I’d prefer reading a book. I don’t understand why the music can’t just be fun and light and why sometimes we get penalized for not being a little more heady and highbrow. I don’t understand. I follow the route that Mick Jagger took, and that’s it’s only rock n’ roll, but I like it. If more people took that way of thinking, adopted that way of thinking I think people would just lighten up and be able to enjoy music more.
Q: You mentioned Mick Jagger. Who were some of the other major influences on Below The Belt?
A: (Pauses) Everything from Kiss and Lizzy to the Misfits. There’s a couple of songs where I took a little bit of a Glenn Danzig vibe and Rocket from the Crypt; basically, all the same bands that influenced all of our other albums really.
Q: The band is currently touring in support of the new album. Is it appearing likely we’ll see the band Down Under for some shows?
A: That’s up to Australia. Every single time we have a meeting regarding shows and tours, I always ask about Australia and Japan. Those are the two places we’ve only been to once and we haven’t returned. I really feel that this band is a band that even if you’ve heard of us, even if you’ve heard us, like heard our albums, you really, really need to see us live. It’s the only way you can fully get this band. Until then you’re just kind of gliding on maybe 60 per cent of what the band, maybe even 50 per cent. Which is why we really need to go back to Australia. We find Australia’s a place, more so than Japan even, where people get rock immediately. They understand it intrinsically, without having to be spoon-fed. So I really think that if we just go back there once or twice more we can really, really connect with Australian rock audiences.
Q: Great stuff. The band hasn’t probably attained as much of a profile here as you would have liked, whereas my impression of the band is that in North America especially you’ve been quite successful. Is touring the ideal way for Danko Jones to “break” in Australia?
A: Pretty much. We’re a band that doesn’t have like a million-dollar marketing campaign to help us through the tough times, you know? We don’t have a legion of about 50 workers at a label working for us. So it’s pretty much hand in mouth, doing it ourselves. We have a manager now, but it took about (pauses), 13-and-a-half years to get one that’s a proper manager. So yeah, it’s been a long, arduous process, but it’s a one by one thing. We were lucky in Europe that we would play these huge festivals and we got on a couple of tours that enough people saw us to tell their friends. So that was good, but it€s never been like, a billboard on the side of a highway or a commercial. It’s never been like that for us. So it’s always just been one by one, and that’s fine. It’s a longer road, but I think it’s a stronger road, it’s a stronger road that’s built.
Q: What are your memories of the previous Australian tour?
A: We had a great time. Aside from the long plane ride, once we touched down it was pretty cool. The audiences were pretty cool, considering they’d never seen us before. So it was a really fun time.
Q: Interesting. Changing topics, are there any new rock bands that you’ve been enjoying lately?
A: Well, I must admit I just listen to old rock when it comes to rock. But I listen to metal more than rock. Some of the new rock bands out there that I really like are Drunk Horse, Broken Teeth, The Doomriders, Biblical, this band from Toronto. And then some of the newer records that I’m listening to that are kinda more metal, I’m listening to a band from Norway called Shining, they have an album Black Jazz. The new Triptykon record’s great, High on Fire, the new Early Man record is great. There’s also another band from Chapel Hill, North Carolina called Valient Thorr, which is a great rock band too.
Q: Definitely agree with you regarding High on Fire – their new album has been by far one of my favourite albums of the year thus far.
A: Yeah, it’s a great record. It’s a great follow-up to, what is it, Death Communion or whatever it was called?
Q: Death Is This Communion.
A: Yeah, that was it. That was a good album, but I really like Blessed Black Wings the best.
A: Oh, well the best thing is playing the shows obviously. You live for, the 22-and-a-half hours that you have off-stage is just actually work. It’s the 75-90 minutes you have on stage that’s pretty much the reason why you’re out there. Then pretty much the one thing I don’t like is just the time away from home and not seeing friends and family.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Yeah, we got a new record out, Below The Belt. We got a video for it (for the track “Full of Regret”) with Elijah Wood, Lemmy from Motorhead, Selma Blair and Mike Watts in it. We got a Facebook page and a MySpace page. We’re doing our own fall tour in October/November, we’re playing with Ozzy in Paris in September. We were supposed to play with Motley Crue but they cancelled just last week. That was supposed to be in Norway, which is where I’m talking to you from right now. But we’re doing a festival tour all the way until the end of August. We’re shooting a video next week for the second single “Had Enough”. I write for #5 magazine and I don’t know what else to say. We hope to come to Australia; it’s just a matter of someone bringing us.