INTERVIEW: Danko Jones

Even with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is quite the year for Danko Jones the band, marking 25 years in action and seeing the release of its 10th studio album, the superbly rocking and appropriately titled “Power Trio” (Aug. 27, 2021, Sonic Unyon; read Live Metal’s review). Live Metal’s Greg Maki recently caught up with Danko Jones the man, the Canadian threesome’s vocalist and guitarist, to discuss the new record, pandemic-era live shows, podcasting and more.

LIVE METAL: The new album just came out. It’s called “Power Trio,” which is a term we hear a lot, and I’ve always wondered why we only use the word “power” when it comes to a trio. Why are there no power quartets, power quintets, things like that?

DANKO JONES

DANKO JONES: Because I think the more musicians you add, it just gets that much more powerful, and I think the reason for describing a trio as powerful is you don’t really often think of it as such. Three people can’t make as much noise as an eight-piece, like Rammstein—that’s a given. I don’t even know how many people are in that band, but there are more than three. So I think it is actually quite a feat if three people can make that much noise.

There are bands that will experiment and change their style from album to album or song to song, but then I need those bands that we can count on. I know what I’m gonna get—bands like AC/DC, Motorhead. And I think you fall into that same category. Has that been your intention all along with this band?

It’s deliberate. The Ramones and Slayer are also two other bands I often cite as sticking to the script, so to speak. It’s actually quite a feat, I think, if a band can carve out a signature sound, considering how many bands are there. For people to instantly recognize the sound of a band is quite the achievement. I think that’s what everybody originally wants, and then I think if they have any sort of modicum of success, they suddenly pivot into taking themselves way too seriously, thinking that their newfound audience love them so much that they’re going to follow them everywhere they go. And I think that’s arrogant for a band to think like that. But it’s the music biz, so there’s a lot of people who are egomaniacs and broken people who think that they’re God’s gift to sliced bread. So that’s why we stick to the script.

So this new album, was it written and recorded entirely during the pandemic?

Before the pandemic, we were starting to write songs. We never wrote a song, but we just had all these riffs. Five or six of those riffs made it onto the album—not songs, just riffs. So they were all put together in the pandemic. There must have been two dozen songs written, maybe, during the pandemic, and we chose 11 of those. They were all written in the pandemic, and apart from one another, sending files back and forth.

Did you record in isolation, too?

No, we just demoed in isolation, and then when we had to record in a studio, we went into a studio. There were five of us when guidelines were six in a room. There’s five of us—the three of us, (producer) Eric Ratz and Chris Snow, the assistant engineer. And then as the recording goes along, you do your part and then you’re done, and then there’s less people.

When I listen to this, I feel such energy and almost urgency behind it. It feels like, to me, that it was an album you really needed to make. Was it that way for you? Was it therapeutic?

It was therapeutic. I didn’t realize until I was in the process and I realized, “Oh, you know what, I get to not think about the pandemic for about an hour or two while I work on the guitar part.” So that I recognized fairly soon into the writing process. But there was no urgency. I think what made this album stand out a little more was simply time. We didn’t have anything to do. We were at home with nothing to do. It was either this or Netflix or watch the news. So I was able to kind of overanalyze, sometimes, lyrics. Every album we put out, there’s always a patch on almost every song where I go, “Ah, if I’d only had like two more weeks to work on the lyrics to the song. That line is terrible.” Or “I could have made the guitar solo in that song better.” Well, now I have the time, and I used it. And now, there’s solos on “Ship of Lies,” for example. It’s a very simple guitar part, but I’m very proud of it because it works alongside the riff so well. And it’s because I had nothing to do tomorrow or the day after, so I worked on it more. Or not just working on it, just living with it. Not even working on it, just living with it for longer. Usually, when we’re writing an album, we just got off tour, we’re about to go on tour or we’ve got to do this thing or this thing is looming over our heads. And this, it was just a flat line for the whole time we were working on it.

Did you find that the pandemic influenced what you were writing?

Oh yeah. I’m completely pro-mask and pro-vaccine, but at the same time, I definitely want to take the mask off and hang out with people again and play shows and do everything that we all love to do. So yeah, songs like “I Want Out, “Start the Show” need no explanation—direct reactions from living through and reacting to the pandemic. There’s another one, too—”Let’s Rock Together,” which on a two tier level, it also kind of subtly addresses just how divisive we are these days overall and stuff like that. So, yeah, definitely, some songs—four maybe—off the record were direct pandemic reactions.

I find it interesting that the last song on the album is “Start the Show.” What was the thinking behind that?

Yeah. I think it would be too on the nose to make it the first song. But then I got to thinking it did make sense to put it last, not to be clever or anything, but more like, “OK, you’ve listened to the album. Now let’s go.” It was more like that, rather than like, “Oh, let’s put the song that has the word ‘start’ at the end.” (laughs) That’s just too silly. But it was more of a feeling like that, like, “OK, now let’s do it.”

You have Phil Campbell from Motorhead on that song. How did that come about? Is he a friend of the band?

PHIL CAMPBELL

We’ve toured with Motorhead. Over the years, we played with them and toured with them, and Phil’s a friend. I was on his solo album. It was kind of like a tete-a-tete kind of thing, but at the same time, he wanted to be on the record. He’d asked before like, “Hey, if you ever need a guitarist”—because he always makes fun of my guitar solos. That’s his running joke with me. It’s been like that for years, so it made sense. But at the same time, (bassist) JC had come up with the title of the album before we recorded it, which is something that we don’t usually do. We come up with it after, which is, in hindsight, stupid. This time, we didn’t want what we had to go through in past records where it’s the 12th hour and we still don’t have a title.

So “Power Trio” was agreed upon, and “Start the Show” was the only song that didn’t have a guitar solo going into the studio. I was prepared with everything else. I actually came up with a solo that I’m proud of, but at the time, no solo. So we threw around names, and JC just said, “Well, why don’t we get the guitar player from the greatest power trio that ever was?” Then after he said that, we were all like, “OK, no more arguing. That’s it. That makes the most sense.” I think he did a great solo.

You’ve played a few live shows this summer, right?

We just played one on Sunday.

How have they gone? I’m sure it’s been a little different from normal.

The first one we played in July was in Calgary for the Calgary Stampede. Calgary Stampede is citywide. It’s, I think, worldwide in that whole scene. People know to go to Calgary, and everyone dresses up like a cowboy all over the city in their cowboy boots and cowboy hats. So keeping with the theme of being a cowboy (laughs), there wasn’t that much masks or social distancing, and that didn’t make for a return show—it just filled me up with a lot of anxiety. There was people there to see us, but we were more, also, kind of like the wedding band, kind of like on the side where everybody else was just there to socialize. But still, it was fun to finally get on stage with the guys and to play with them. Despite the fact that there was no social distancing or mask wearing, and now the uptake in Alberta is like holy cow, the spikes in cases.

And then we played in Victoriaville in Quebec. That was better. It was an outdoor festival. Even though the crowd was all like there’s no pandemic, it was outdoors, so that was bearable. I kept my distance, and people kept their distance from us. And then on Sunday was, actually, I thought the most organized, most responsive to the pandemic. Everybody had tables in this big outdoor field, and it had so many tables and it just went all the way back, and people could maintain distance. That was pretty cool to see. It felt like a real festival backstage. So I just hope that we can eventually get back to normal in the next year or two or three.

You’ve got some tour dates scheduled for December and then a European tour for next year. Are you looking forward to actually not just playing a few shows here and there but being on tour?

Yeah. December, in our province of Ontario, we’re going to do some regional shows, and hopefully by then, vaccine passports would have been initiated so everyone in the club would have been fully vaxxed. I think that’s the only way those shows can happen at this point, at this time. And then the European dates are eight months in advance. This whole pandemic, I think we’ve all learned that things change on a dime. So who knows? Think about where we were this time last year: There’s no such thing as vaccines. In eight months, who knows what, for better or for worse. It could get markedly better or, obviously, it could get worse. It can always get worse, but hopefully we’re betting on the side of things getting better.

Over the years, you’ve shared stages with a lot of legendary acts. You mentioned Motorhead. There’s Guns N’ Roses, Rolling Stones. What has been the biggest for you personally?

Obviously, Motorhead. I mean, come on, singing “Killed by Death” with Motorhead? And I’ve done it almost 20 times. That was a pretty big highlight—huge. And then singing “Patience” and “Nightrain” with Axl was pretty cool. And singing “Thrashers” with Death Angel was pretty amazing, and I sang “Bored” with them, as well, on another show. Once in Toronto and then once at Hellfest in France. Yeah, there’s been a few like that. It’s always a lot of fun getting on stage with people.

A lot of people know you through your association with Volbeat—on the song “Black Rose,” and then you’ve done a bunch of tours. I saw you with them in 2013.

Yeah, 2013 was when we toured them. I did “Angelfuck” with them by the Misfits. That was pretty fun. And now I do “Black Rose” because I’m actually on that song. So whenever I’m in the city, I’ve gotta go to the Volbeat show because we’re going to do “Black Rose,” which is so much fun. I’m so happy that (Volbeat vocalist/guitarist) Michael (Poulsen) asked us. There’s such a great band—so nice. The crew and the band are really stand-up guys, so it makes it easy.

You’re also a very prolific podcaster. You have a couple podcasts.

Uh prolific? I don’t think. I’ve actually put both on hold for the whole year of 2021, and every month, I’m like, “OK, this is the month I’m going to start it.’ There’s just no time right now. Things are kind of a little crazy right now.

The one that I’m sure surprises a lot of people is the “Three’s Company” podcast (“The Regal Beagle Podcast”).

Yeah, I have a “Three’s Company” podcast. It’s my favorite show, and so I’ve been doing that now for five years, maybe.

How did you get into that show? Was it when you were younger?

Yeah, it’s not like I got into two years ago. (laughs) No one can get into that show unless they were brought up with it at this point. So yeah, I do a podcast with my cousin Cameron, who is getting into the show only now. He’s a millennial or whatever. He doesn’t like the show and I like the show, so that’s the basis of us talking about each episode. I force him to watch each episode. I give him a break, though, and get guests, because he just can’t handle it. So he doesn’t watch every show. I go, “OK, I’ll just find someone else for these next few shows and give you a break.” But we haven’t done one in about a year, so I’ve gotta get back to it.

Is there anything else you’d like to say right now?

Uh no. (laughs) Not unless prompted. No, I got nothing on my own. (laughs)

LINKS:
Buy “Power Trio”
www.dankojones.com
www.facebook.com/dankojones
www.twitter.com/dankojones
www.instagram.com/danko_jones
www.youtube.com/dankotv

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