Interview with Danko Jones
In between flying from Canada to Europe to play festival dates and releasing new music, Danko Jones took time out to speak in great detail about his “latest” release NEVER TOO LOUD as well as talk about life on the road, meeting his idols, and cover all o
Your new album has been out for a while around the world but it’s just hitting the stores over here now. Tell us about the recording of NEVER TOO LOUD and working at Studio 606. We went into 606 with this record two years ago now, the summer of 2007 with Nick Raskulinecz whose credits include Rush and Foo Fighters and more recently, Death Angel, Trivium, and Shadows Fall, for about a month of the summer of ’07 and we came up with Never Too Loud and we went on tour the following February to April in Europe. And last summer, we just spent June, July and August in Europe. We rented a house in Amsterdam and would fly out to these festival gigs on the weekend…that’s how we spent our summer. This year, we released another CD – that’s kind of getting ahead of myself – but we put out another CD in Europe, it’s called B-SIDES and that’s pretty much what it was. And we did a seven week tour of that earlier this year– and that’s pretty much it. We’re just doing a few festivals this year in August and then taking the summer off just writing the next records. We’re kind of one record ahead of America. But now that NEVER TOO LOUD’S coming out, we’ve kind of got to switch gears a bit which we’ve been doing with America for every release. It seems like right when we’re ready to start the next record and we’re all gunned up, American tours crop up and we’ve got to kind of go “Oh yeah, right. Okay.” And we’ve got to go back and play the old set and do the whole thing again. Which is fine – I don’t mind. It’s great – it keeps you on your toes. I should say more comments about NEVER TOO LOUD and having musically – our last couple of albums before NEVER TOO LOUD – were like a bit on the heavy side, more of a punk rock feel. With NEVER TOO LOUD, and especially with Nick, we went in and we wanted to bang out a record that had more to do with classic rock. It was kind of a thing that we hadn’t touched on in a previous album and you know, with Nick, he’s totally into the classic rock stuff. He’s done a lot of that on a personal level, on a musical personal level, and then that kind of bled over into the album with us.
You can definitely tell it’s way more refined, you know what I mean? They kind of criticized it in Europe in a sense, but I also know where they’re coming from. I don’t know if Europe has – even through rock and metal grew in Europe. I mean, that’s where rock and metal live today. Not in North America and they definitely don’t live in Canada. It’s a desert up here (Canada). All of this after Rush put out PICTURES in 1980 here – I think it was ’80 or ’81, Canada kind of just signed off and kind of said, “Okay, we got our record, that’s it.” That’s how I feel sometimes when we’re living in Canada. There’s a lot of rock fans up here, but you know – I didn’t know how much of a difference North America was from Europe until we started going over there. And that’s the first tour we ever did out of Europe. I was in some place in Germany – you know – and I’d never been to Germany before. And I’m walking around the city that we’re in and all I could see were Manowar posters. This is back in 2001. I was like, “What? What? What kind of fucking, like, Twilight Zone have I just walked into?” I couldn’t believe that there was a Manowar poster, let alone like, two dozen of them. And then I would see people walking around in metal shirts, all kind of shirts and you never get that here up in Toronto, you know? You never get that. You’ll get like a seventeen year old wearing an Iron Maiden shirt which is great but you kind of want to go up to them and bust their balls and go – so how was that tour…you got that shirt. It’s great that younger kids are getting into it. So there is a marked difference and, you know, but at the same time, I feel that classic rock lives in America. And Canada, too, so I think a lot of people I think in America get this album a little quicker than in Europe. That’s not a critique on European audiences, but I’ve just noticed that. And I’ve also noticed that people who are really into the rock, like old rock – they get it. Whereas younger people who liked our previous albums because of how fast it was or how harder it was – like a harder take on rock – they kind of didn’t get it. And it took them like, six months of us having to read fucking internet comments for six months until it started to turn. And people said, “Well, you know, I kind of like it now.” But for those first six months, I was like “fuck you guys, fucking listen to the record”. I really love the album – I actually listened to it a couple of days ago for the first time in like, I don’t know, ten months because we’re gearing up for the next record, I just wanted to kind of get a feel as to where we were on this record. And yeah, it is pretty dense. I must say after three years of listening to it, it is pretty dense. I think this next record, we’re going to make it way rawer, way heavier. Not because of a reaction from people, just because – well, we did that. Now we’re going to do this. I can understand your reaction from it and maybe we should have kind of slowly built that up. But I don’t know, we just got carried away, man. I told Nick before we started working together. He goes, “Well, what kind of album do you want to make?” I said I want a record that sounds like Thin Lizzy, KISS and UFO…partly to see – cause we didn’t know each other, we were just talking on the phone…if he understood where I was coming from – if he even knew what I meant. And he did – and he totally – he goes “Great, man. Those are some of my favorite bands listening to their records.” I was like – all right, well this sounds cool. You know? And what ended up happening was we just ended up talking about those bands – you know – those kinds of bands for two months. And it just bled into the recording. And if you were there for the whole session, you really get it. You really understand it. But if you’re sitting at home listening to THE ENEMY and you’re waiting for the next record and this comes out – and you know, you don’t have a background in all those olds bands, you’re eighteen years old or something – I can understand how you would go “What the fuck is this?” Which was the initial reaction from some people and it kind of caught me off guard because here I am living in my bubble. This new album, we’re taking it back to classic rock and then everybody’s like “What the fuck is this?” And I was like, “What? What do you mean? It’s a fucking classic rock album.” So that kind of jarred me. But it’s interesting. You just say fuck it; you play them live. People will come to the shows regardless…they get it. I’ve done that with bands too, man. I’ve gone “What the fuck? This is shit.” Go to the show, come back home and you listen to it again and you’re like, “Oh wow. Yeah. I can get into it.” That’s what’s happened and I’m noticing that as well. At least in Europe, it’s going great.
Would you say this is more of like a growing album than like, an immediate impact album? Yeah. Oh, totally. I knew it before we left the studio. I knew that before – it’s more of a grower. But yeah, you’ve just got to stick with it I think and it’s great.
This album contains a discernible tone of weariness from being on the road a long time, almost a sort of resentment. Yeah…definitely. I mean, when we finished back in 2006 – we finished our last tour in December of 2006, I wanted a break. I was begging everybody for a break. You know, and these tours kept calling which is great. I mean, that’s what I’ve wanted to do for my whole life is to get tours and just fucking tour, you know. I started asking for time off back in 2004. I was like, “I need a break. I can’t do this, it’s getting to me.” And it got to the point where I was so irritable and I was just so kind of closed off. I just didn’t want to do anything. So we took six months off – if you can call it that – and wrote the Never Too Loud record. And we did it at a pace that was just chill, you know? Like, we’d meet three or four times a week, hang out and write songs. It was a different thing from our two previous albums, which was go, go, go, go. We’ve got to do this tour so let’s fucking write this song. And I’d get up at four in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m stressed out and just trying to write a bunch of lyrics and none of them work…but it worked. I mean, fuck. I mean, we were just up against the wall and we had to deliver an album by such and such time and we had no songs. We had about five. And it was just – and you know – but we had probably more, like seven or eight. Three of them were shit and then we just wrote and wrote… we did “Baby Hates Me” in the studio. We wrote “Don’t Fall In Love” in the studio. “First Date” was finished in the studio. “Sticky Situation” was finished in the studio. “Sleep Is The Enemy” was finished in the studio…all that was just pretty much studio stuff, so – but then we took six months, wrote it. I thought maybe it was too much time off; maybe it was not enough. Maybe we need a little pressure. I’m getting ahead of myself, but for this new record that we’re going to be working on soon, we did a little bit of both. Put in a little bit of pressure and did it at kind of a lean pace but within a smaller time frame. But it still wasn’t that kind of pressure where you’re like “Oh, fuck, man. The deadline’s coming up.”
It kind of keeps you on your toes and keeps it fresh Yeah. That’s what we did and I think – I know we’re talking about NEVER TOO LOUD and shit, but fuck that new record fucking kicks balls. I’m just so – I’ve never been this excited about a record before, really. Like, not even NEVER TOO LOUD. I know I’m supposed to be fucking plugging NEVER TOO LOUD.
Why do you feel like America is so far behind for you guys? America’s like fifty countries in one, man. It’s hard trying to tour with the kind of budget we’re on. We’ve never signed a mega deal where the record company has to work you and you’re on every billboard and every magazine cause they can afford it. We’re not in that position, so America is like, this huge monster that you have to try and topple fifty parts at a time and it’s fucking hard, man. It’s really hard. That’s just it. It’s this fucking mountain whereas in Europe – the way we get Europe is we got lucky, I mean. It also means you’ve got to get a few lucky breaks for you to do well. We got a couple of those breaks looking back in hindsight. But also, there’s like a festival culture that’s only started to take flight in America. And it’s really in the society. It’s almost like a rite of passage at sixteen or eighteen – you go to these festivals for a weekend, get laid or something and you make out with some chick and you watch a bunch of bands and you know, that’s what you do in the summer. You can do it two or three times. That happens everywhere. That allows us to play in front of thousands of people in one shot and sometimes – you know – you look in the crowd and you’re like “Wow, we just played in front of three weeks worth of shows.”…there are that many people sometimes. And it’s not like that in America, you know? There’s Coachella and there’s Lollapalooza, but it’s not – those are for – I don’t know – this hits a mainstream audience as much as it does to the outer limits and you know, you get like, normal, regular Joes who don’t even really listen to music, they just want to go camping. They’re checking you out, going “Wow, this is cool.” And maybe they go to the club show – your own show – when you come back three months later. And you do that five years and eventually, you pick up an audience. And that’s what we were lucky to do. We were lucky to get on that circuit and – I mean, we played in Germany. We played Rock am Ring and Rock Im Park four times in 2003 and that’s like, that’s the festival that Metallica played at the end of SOME KIND OF MONSTER. So we’ve done that. Not that stage, but we’ve done it four times in a row and there are seventy thousand people at that festival each year. Yeah, they get – I mean, that’s the mainstage – they probably have thirty to forty thousand people, but there’s twenty to thirty thousand other people at other stages – at the two other stages. So like, we played it last year and there’s ten thousand people under a tent to watch us play. It was fucked. And we headlined the third stage. It’s like you’re playing Madison Square Garden.
How do you describe Danko Jones to somebody who’s never heard you before? Or heard of you before? Yeah, I just say hard rock. That’s pretty much it. You know, we’re not a metal band but we get – we get lumped in on metal bills. We played Wacken in Germany three years ago. I thought we were going to be killed but it was pretty cool cause – you know – all day it was death metal and we come on and it was actually relief for a lot of people I think. So you know, it actually worked out and every year they kind of have, like, a couple of rock bands. I know Nashville Pussy and Moby both have played it. A lot of people think we’re like a radio rock band and that’s fine, that’s cool. But I kind of see us as more of a hard rock band with a punk background and a metal background. But it’s funneled through a hard rock sound. There’s just no doubt about it. It’s a hard rock band, but you kind of know in the back of your head that the guys listen to punk rock and roll in their personal lives. I think a lot of guys in bands pick up on it. You know I’ve always – there’s been a few times where I’ve been like, pleasantly surprised when someone – a full on metal band that I like says that they listen to our band. I’m totally surprised but I’m kind of glad in that at least they’re getting that connection. You know, cause I listen to metal. Personally, I listen to probably more metal and classic rock than any other kind of music. But I listen to metal because I can’t play that fucking shit. So it’s fascinating to me. I can’t do lead. I mean, I could probably do like, rhythm guitar. We were kicking around the idea of doing a death metal band and I did write – like – a bunch of metal riffs. But I took pride in myself, actually. I was like, wow. I guess I can write this piece. It took away a little bit of the mystery for me, too. I like to listen to like, Mastodon or something and go “Wow. Fuck.” How did they fucking do that shit?
Who have you not toured with that you would like to tour with? Metallica. Can you write that in bold? For many different reasons…The most obvious is we’ll get to play in front of a lot of people. But then again, we might get booed, it doesn’t matter who you are. But I’m a huge Metallica fan…Social Distortion too. It would be cool to tour with them. We toured with Motorhead and we’d love to tour with them again. We had probably the best time as an opening band on that tour ever for any tour we’ve been on. The crew treated us awesome. The band treated us awesome. The crowds were into it, you know? And we had a fucking blast. And there’s a ton of bands – Rocket From The Crypt are broken up, so I can’t say them.
From the last couple albums, you worked with John Garcia from Kyuss…how did you establish that relationship? Well, it’s a crazy connection with John who is a fucking amazing dude. It’s really nice to know that a person you’ve been listening to forever turns out to be a fucking great guy to hang with as well. That was just such a great experience with John. But it came through Holland of all places. His manager is Dutch. And it came through the grape vine, it was told to me that his manager was looking for me to maybe write a song for John on a possible solo album. And so I said – look, we’re in the middle of writing what became SLEEP IS THE ENEMY – I’m writing this record, I can’t do it. But after we’re done, I’ll do it. But hey, can John be on our album? I’ll write a song when we’re done. I promise, I will. And so that’s how it happened and we actually wrote the song for John and we never recorded it. I wrote it for him three years ago. It still hasn’t been recorded. I know it’s kind of being talked around, but we did play it live with him a bunch of times when we brought him over to – we did a tour of Norway and we brought him over and we did it. It’s called “Five Thousand Miles” and yeah, the whole thing about John’s solo album, I don’t know. It was put on hold and then I don’t know what’s going on so hopefully that song will see the light of day. Then the second time he came on the NEVER TOO LOUD sessions, we were recording obviously in LA. John lives a little outside of LA and he just drove in and laid some vocals down. We also have Pete Stahl on that track.
Two seminal desert rock staples on one track. You’re telling me, man. I was peaking. This was being talked about cause we were writing – we finished – we had “Forest For The Trees” pretty much done, but working with Nick, he was like “it’s still sounds undone”. So we came up with a break part that Pete ended up singing. And so we’re just throwing around names and I just said, man, it would be great to have a guest on because it we always have at least one guest on the last couple of records, there’s always been one guest. And then – I don’t know who said it, but someone had said “We should have two.” I go “Fuck you, that would be awesome – Who do you think we could get?” I go, well, the first thing that came out of my mouth was like, “Well, we could probably get John.” That would make sense because the song sounds up his alley, et cetera et cetera. And Nick produced Goatsnake’s FLOWER OF DISEASE record. He produced that and he goes, “Dude, I can make a call to Pete.” I go Pete Stahl…from fucking Scream and Wool and Goatsnake of course. I love that band. And FLOWER DISEASE is actually another reason why I was like…yeah, we should work with this guy Nick. You know, not really the Foo Fighters stuff, but more like Goatsnake shit and the Mondo Generator stuff. And so Pete did it. He just called him up and Pete was cool with it and he came down, we hung out for maybe an hour or two or something. And he just laid it down. It’s so hilarious when Pete was – you know, he was doing his vocals and every time he hit something, Nick and I would just look at each other and go “Fuck yeah.” ‘cause it’s the voice that I’m so familiar with. It was awesome. It was cool. I didn’t really get to hang out with Pete as much as I – get to know him as much as I know John. But he was great to us, man. He was really cool for that evening that he came down. It was wild. Yeah, it was cool. And in continuing with the whole desert rock thing or whatever you want to call it, we actually took out Brant Bjork in 2006 across Europe. So Brant Bjork and the Bros opened for us for the SLEEP WITH THE ENEMY tour for like six weeks. It was awesome and that’s another guy I love everything he does. Everything from JALAMANTA to the last record he did. Fuck, man. You listen to the guy, you look at his photos and you’re just kind of going “I know this guy would be cool to hang out with.” He was exactly how I pictured him in my head. This laid back guy, really cool and you know, that tour was so awesome because his crew and our crew and his band and our band, we just got along like crazy and by the end of the tour, it was like a big family. And there would be nights where – you know – everyone’s gone from the venue. It’s just the staff cleaning up. And us in the dressing room and Brant’s telling stories about Kyuss. And they were just so awesome. He told this great story the first time he went to CBGB…And he goes – wow, CBGB, they’re from California. He goes downstairs and he walks in downstairs – Joey Ramone is playing pinball. Stories like that, man. I mean, on the first Kyuss tour or something in a band or whatever. Just like, shit like that after the gig. He just played this fucking great gig. Did it with Brant – now you’re in the dressing room somewhere in Germany and he’s in the back room – or Holland or something telling stories. It was fucking great, man. That was a great tour we did with them. And sort of I just bring that up because of the whole Kyuss.
What haven’t you done that you still want to do? Would you like to go behind the board? start your own label? You know, I don’t want to produce and I don’t want to start a label. I just want to keep doing this band and playing shows.
Have you ever met any of your heroes who totally blew you away? Yeah. There are two. When I met Kirk Hammett. And when I had breakfast with Ian MacKaye. I had breakfast with Ian MacKaye for forty minutes in Holland once. It was fun, man. It was fucking unbelievable and Kirk –I met him through Death Angel. And I saw Death Angel when I was in high school. Fucking back in the day and I’ve worshipped those guys since ULTRA-VIOLENCE and to like, to be friends with them now, it kind of blows my mind. Mark actually played Kirk our record and Kirk really liked it. We were at Rock am Ring back in ’06 and we hooked it up. I got to go and meet Kirk and Kirk comes in with – they’re about to go onstage. He already has his guitar, he’s warming up and he comes in to the meeting area that we’re supposed to see him. And he comes in and this is when my jaw drops. He goes, “What’s that riff you got?” And he starts playing this riff and it was this song that we have called “Soul On Ice.” I was in such a shock…I didn’t even know what song that was. But JC, our bass player, was with me and he goes, “Yeah, that’s “Soul on Ice” And I was just staring at Kirk, watching him play a riff that I wrote. Metallica and Kiss are my two favorite bands of all time. And to have the guy in my all time favorite band play a riff that I wrote – it was – I can’t even describe it. I was in shock and we took photos and I took a photo of JC and Dan our drummer, and it’s blurry because my hand couldn’t stop shaking. And I knew I was going to meet Kirk, so I brought these old guitar magazines I had when I was fourteen with him on the cover. Like, guitar magazines where he was on the cover and he signed them and stuff.
And what was it like meeting Ian…a guy who really sparked the anti-rock star movement, you know what I mean? Yeah, he’s how I conduct myself – you know – in this shitty thing we called “the music industry. He’s played a part in how I keep fucking do shit. How this band operates, you know? Even beyond the music, just how we conduct ourselves offstage, how we do business. It’s not like we pattern ourselves after Minor Threat or we pattern ourselves after Dischord Records, but we use it as a touchstone to be like – okay, what are we doing? Almost like a compass. And to sit down with the man and talk – you know – and have him give me shit about signing to Universal Records. It was awesome…I mean, it was awesome. It was in 2004, I met him in the fall of 2004 and that year, we’d gotten kicked off of Universal because of some shit and I was telling him about. And then he was like, “Well, what the fuck were you doing signing with Universal?” It was pretty cool. I mean – you know – it was awesome.
Getting admonished by one of your heroes is kind of an awkward situation. He wasn’t like, leaning in on me, but he was just like, “Well, dude. You signed to – you know? You signed with the fucking man. I mean, what do you expect? You’re complaining?” Which was cool. I mean, he was cool. He was so cool, man. And it’s so great when you meet guys that you really love their stuff and they just turn out – and it’s, you know, like Kirk, Ian MacKaye, John Garcia, Brant – you know, they’re all guys that I’ve met where I was like, “Wow.” You know, you shouldn’t really meet your heroes and then you know, you meet them and it’s fucking – I know other bands have great road stories where they fucking fucked a bunch of strippers and threw salami on their asses, but those are my stories, man. Those are the stories I take and I really like those kinds of stories are way more interesting. And that’s the reason why it keeps me going. When you take a story like that, it just makes all the shitty nights of whatever happened worth it.
Have you considered writing a book? Well, I mean, all the writings I kind of want to put together, but I hope so. But I can’t write a book.
Maybe more like a journal? I’ve done tour diaries and stuff and maybe that can pan out. We’ll see, I don’t know.
This short swing through the US you’re out with The Damned, which is very cool. Anymore touring plans for the United States down the pipe or you’re going to be basically going back and working on a new record? If there are any more opportunities in America, we’ll definitely take them. We’re up for it but it’s all about being able to afford it. Like I said before, it’s an awful lot of money, man. You know. I mean, some of my friends are in some bands – I’m like, “when are you coming up to Toronto?” They’re like, “Well, we can’t afford it. Gas is too much for our van and we’ve got paying jobs.” Fuck. Rock and roll, man.
Everybody’s feeling the crunch. It’s crazy – and we’re all a little spoiled at this point, too. I can’t sleep on couches – people I don’t know’s couches when their cats that I’m allergic to crawls on your face. What am I fucking doing, man? What the fuck am I doing? This is when I – you know – where you can’t take a shit at their place. There’s one time I was staying at someone’s place. I knew the person’s roommate, but the roommate was out of town. I was with someone else and I’m like – I go in the wash room. I’m taking a shit. The moment I sit on the toilet, they knock on the door going “I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get ready for work.” There’s got to be a better way.
It seems like you’re always in the way, almost, or inconveniencing somebody. Oh yeah, man. You want to be nice, it’s not your place, it’s like – there’s got to be a better way, man.
Europe seems to have a better climate for that with places to stay…some that know how to treat bands. Others though, you’re sleeping and in some bunk bed, you turn and like, you see the band that stayed there ten bands ago that drew a big cock and some hairy pussy on the wall. “fuck this – you know, ’99”. And you’re like, I’m staying in a fucking bunk where a dick head wrote on the wall like this. What else did he do? Jerk off all over the mattress? You know, shit like that.
Rock and roll. Gotta love it. Rock and roll, man.
Danko, thank you so much, man. I had such a blast talking to you. Any parting words you want to leave us with? I must mention the video for “Code of the Road” features Jim Florentine, one of the hosts of THAT METAL SHOW with Eddie Trunk and Don Jameson.
Danko, it’s been a blast. Best of luck with everything and hopefully I get a chance to see you guys when you swing through the area at some point. Thank you. All right, man. Thanks a lot, dude.