For over twenty years Danko Jones has been a bit of a Toronto-area enigma, in the sense that the trio is probably more popular everywhere else in the world APART from their home town. This doesn’t change the fact that Danko, the lead singer and guitarist, has a reputation for delivering a blistering live rock n’ roll show that always leaves his band members and the audiences he plays to utterly spent by the time they finish.
Danko Jones’ ninth studio album A Rock Supreme was released last week on Indica Records in Canada. Boasting eleven new songs recorded with esteemed studio guru Garth Richardson (Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Biffy Clyro, Rise Against) at his own Farm Studios near Vancouver, the album is truly a force to be reckoned with.
Led by Danko himself, supported by bassist John Calabrese and drummer Rich Knox, the material on A Rock Supreme sounds very much like business-as-usual for the hard rocking trio, each song elevated with the fine-tuning of Garth’s studio wizardry. With a rare string of Ontario live dates coming up in a few weeks, the time is NOW for Danko Jones fans to get their game on and come out to see a bonafide rock n’ roll machine play some home local shows before they disappear into the foreign markets for another two years of hard touring.
Danko chatted with PureGrainAudio last week for almost a half an hour. That audio is embedded here for anyone who would like to stream the interview. Read it in its entirety below.
I’ve been playing the new album. It’s great as always. You make great albums.
Danko Jones: Cool, thank you.
Do you feel any pressure to make an album entity still, given that the musical climate right now… musicians can put a song or two out and then go out on the road?
Jones: Pressure? From what angle?
“Dance, Dance, Dance” is the latest single and music video from the band’s latest album A Rock Supreme.
From your own angle I guess given that you know you’re a veteran musician and you have been putting albums out for a couple of decades it just sort of feels like you don’t really need an album right now. Do you know what I mean? You could just put a few tunes out and take that out on the road.
Jones: I suppose we can. Given that we also have all of those albums to rely on, all the previous albums. But I mean I suppose if the industry goes that way more in the genre of hard rock, I guess we’ll go that way. But in our genre of hard rock, bands put out full albums still. I mean the only places I see that are in EDM and indie rock and pop indie rock music. But when it comes to hard rock and even heavy metal, I see most bands or most entities in those genres are putting out full-lengths.
That’s true actually. That tends to be where my tastes lie. I like harder music although I do listen to a pretty broad spectrum of material.
Do you, John and Rich talk much in advance about how you’re going to approach your albums? Be that styles of music, influences or themes.
Jones: No. We just want to make some hard rock music. We kind of know what we sound like. We just know what it should sound like. And so we work towards that. There’s no meeting or talking about it. I mean this is our ninth studio album, so we’re way past that. And even when we were at that point, we never talked about it. We just do whatever sounds good, you know? Hard rock music is what we do.
I like to do something (I just call it a hard rock litmus test) where you take an album from 20 years back, and you play the new album and kind of listen to where the band has maybe changed or advanced musically, and I played We Sweat Blood and A Rock Supreme and, that’s Danko Jones. You pretty much deliver the same sound and feel every album, and I dig that.
Jones: Yeah… We Sweat Blood. I mean our first studio album was Born a Lion. That was our first full length in ’02. And it got well received, and it continues to this day to get accolades more so in Europe than anywhere else. But you know we see it on you know at least once a year someone will contact us and let us know that (our) Born a Lion made some sort of best list. You know, some made up list.
Journalists like to do these things. Like the ‘Top 50 Albums of the Early 2000s.’ Or top hard rock records of all-time. It will make those lists, and that’s nice. But because it got so well received we definitely found a template. Before that… I would say if you go back even further because Born a Lion came out in ’02 so we were a band for five years before we put out a full length, right. If you go back all the way to the first couple of years, the first maybe even three years of the band, we were a lot different than A Rock Supreme because we were initially a garage punk band.
A Rock Supreme, Danko Jones’ ninth studio album was released on April 24th.
We started our band in ’96. In the mid to late ’90s, there was a very very big thriving garage punk scene all over the world really. And it kind of died out when The Hives and The White Stripes went overground. But they come from the same scene that we do. So The Hives were from Sweden, the White Stripes were from America. You had Teengenerate and Guitar Wolf from Japan. You had Reverend Beat-Man in Switzerland. You had us. You had The Spaceships in Canada. You had The Smugglers out on the West Coast. You have Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in New York and all the bands that kind of sounded like the Blues Explosion, yeah. The Super Suckers round on the West Coast and The Dwarves and Nashville Pussy down south.
I mean there’s so much happening back from the mid to late ’90s and it just kind of died out. It just caved in on itself. A lot of those bands are still around, but there was a huge scene. And so that’s where we come from. And you know out of that scene was a lo-fi aesthetic, very simple production, very simple instrumentation and a lot of flamboyance at times. And we kept the flamboyance, but we transitioned into a hard rock band. You know we upped the production. We added a bridge in our songs (chuckles) and a lot of it back then was just verse-chorus-verse-chorus-done. And so we changed… we definitely changed. But yeah, once we hit with Born a Lion it was pretty much locked-in. There are varying styles here and there, but it’s all under the same umbrella.
It was nice to see GGGarth’s name on A Rock Supreme. I understand you’ve wanted to work with him (Garth Richardson) for a while?
Jones: Well we’d heard a few years back that he wanted to work with us. When we found that out, we were like “wow that that could be pretty cool.” We didn’t know him personally. So we didn’t know how that would go. Some producers, they lead with their ego because they’ve got a couple of successful albums under their belt. But I’d not heard a bad thing about Garth. I had always heard good things about him, and of course, his resume speaks for itself. I mean I mean I’ve always said he made the best sounding Jesus Lizard record, Shot. Jesus Lizard is one of our top five favourite bands of all-time. Garth was definitely a name on my radar. And J.C. loved the Biffy Clyro records he made. And of course we both loved The Melvins records he made, and he’s made like a ton of other things. If I give you pretty much any band you name, he’s got a connection to it. And so it was great to work with him. Of course, Rage Against The Machine’s first album. I mean that goes without saying, actually.
But yeah, It was amazing working with him. Even though we did it in Vancouver and it kind of took us out of our comfort zone because we were so used to making records in Toronto. It was very comfortable working with Garth. He made it very comfortable for us. An easy working environment. We just joked around a whole bunch and then just worked on the music. It was really easy. It was easy also because we did bring up about a bunch of songs. Songs that are on the record. We brought those songs, and we were very confident with those songs. We all knew they were good. So there wasn’t really much nervousness going into it. So we could joke around in the studio because we knew what we were working with.
“My Little RnR” is one of the videos and singles from the band’s previous, 2017 album Wild Cat.
So you had demos for all eleven songs that are on A Rock Supreme already?
Jones: We demo every album. Every album is demoed. It’s all part of pre-production. It’s all part of making a record. You can’t just walk into the studio without ever like listening back to it and not have a sense of what you’re going to make.
Some bands go in, and if they have the budget for it, they just get the studio time, and they’ll tinker, you know?
Jones: Well those are children. Yes, those are idiots. I mean I’m not going to sit here and say the music industry doesn’t have a bunch of nitwits in it. It’s practically overwhelmingly filled with them. It’s overflowing with nitwits. The only reason we’ve been able to survive for 23 years is because we don’t do those stupid things.
I don’t think the money’s there anymore for that kind of production. Of course, if you were to tell me a story that happened recently, I wouldn’t be surprised. But there’s not that much money left where bands can go in and just start writing once they’re in the studio like you’ve heard bands did in the ’70s, you know the excesses when it came to the music industry. But I’ve heard enough stories from people behind the scenes of bands that are critically acclaimed and everybody like falls over themselves, and then you go “Oh, this is not true. That guy’s an idiot. Oh! Wow, what a facade.” (laughs) You stick around the industry long enough, you find out about it. But you know, it’s all part of being a part of the industry.
Is there a particular thing that you can put your finger on that you feel that Garth bought to these recordings?
Jones: Oh well I mean it’s his experience. I mean you know the guy you walk in; he listens to the song whether it’s in pre-production mode. He knows that there’s this song (that) would sound better if you added this part to it. Or while you’re recording you can listen to a song and just know what’s not right; “Oh you know guitars need to be redone, or this needs to be pushed up.” Most producers that get to that level are like that. But it’s just he has such a confidence with him. It’s very trusting, and A Rock Supreme is evidence of that. And most of the suggestions that he made in terms of song structure and arrangement we took in, and it made the song even better. Two times, in fact, I remember like we brought in the song and he had a couple of suggestions for those two songs and once we played it and we listened back I was like “wow this is even better. This is amazing.”
Some shots of Danko Jones (w/ Royalfuzz) @ Maxwell’s in Waterloo, ON on April 8, 2017.
Tell me something. Is there an early lesson that you learned as a young musician that still rings true for you today?
Jones: Yeah, don’t be a dick. That was something I had to learn the hard way. I mean you come in all swagger if you get a little bit of attention and you know there’s cockiness and confidence, and you have to know the difference between the two. I like to think I learned it pretty fast. I mean I’m very defensive and protective about this band. So if you come at this band, then I don’t give a shit. I don’t care what lessons I’ve learned. My first thing is to defend this band. You know so sometimes that’s led me down you know traps where I just end up looking foolish, but I’m not going to sit here and say that I won’t fall into those traps again if you come at his band.
That’s a fair stance. Let me ask you this if you were to do another spoken word album, and you were only allowed to focus on very modern rock bands and their contributions to the musical tapestry who would you talk about?
Jones: (chuckles) It would be a blank CD. No, I’m just joking. Jesus, I mean there are tons of people, but I just finished an interview with Finland. So he’s on my radar right now. But I would probably talk about the musical genius of Jussi Lehtisalo from Circle. Jussi, he’s amazing and not enough people know about him. He’s known in the underground… hailed as a genius. I’m in a band with him. He rules. And so I think more people should know about Jussi and all the music that he makes out in the small town of Pori, Finland. He’s the leader, a kind of de facto leader of Circle. Circle is a kind of a psychedelic indie rock heavy metal mishmash experimental crazy wild band. And I’m a huge fan and I think seven or eight years ago I was in Helsinki doing press and I started asking everybody “OK, who’s Circle? Like, what is Circle, who’s behind Circle. What is it all about?” Because Circle is just so amazing. They just put out album after album, and there are all these offshoots. Every album sounds different, and they’re all just nuts, but they’re as good as the next.
And so I got a contact from someone, and it was Jussi’s email. And the guy said, “That’s Jussi Lehtisalo. It took Finland 20 years to realize he’s a genius. You can email him.” And I’m just looking at all these albums, and I’m thinking this guy’s an insane maniac. I cautiously emailed him, and we struck up an email exchange that continues to this day, like this week; he and I have exchanged emails like ten times. A few years back he just said you wanted do you want to do a band. And so we put out an album two years ago, J.C. and myself. J.C. on bass, I’m on vocals Jussi plays guitar and Tomi from Circle plays drums. So it’s like a four-man band called Iron Magazine. We put out an EP out on Ektro Records, Jussi’s label from Pori, Finland. And we’re starting to work on new material now too. But I’d say that would be someone I would want to talk about.
I mean they’ve made ground in North America… Circle’s last record came out on Southern Lord. And they were on the cover of Wire Magazine actually two years ago. So you know they’re known in underground circles. Wire Magazine is a magazine you can find on big newsstands even here in Canada. So it’s got wide distribution, and they were on the cover of it. So it’s not like some person out of the mist.
Are you still doing your podcasts with Nick?
Jones: (chuckles) Yeah I do it every two weeks sometimes with Nick most times without Nick because Nick was living in L.A. for a long time. So he does his own podcast now too, but he’s actually going to be on the next episode. We just uploaded a new episode of #192 with Devin Townsend, and the next one is with Nick Flanagan and Damian Abraham from Fucked Up. Actually no. The next one is Ensign Broderick and THEN Nick Flanagan and Damian Abraham. Actually, Ensign Broderick is a great one. That’s a great story. And so that’s going to be up next week.
What sort of preplanning do you put into your podcasts? Do you have to do a lot?
Jones: Yeah. Whoever I like. Everyone. So sometimes they get hit up by publicists. And I always refuse if I don’t know them or I don’t like ’em. It’s not a podcast that I care if people listen to it or not. I do it for myself to entertain myself and to kill time on the road. You know on a day off there’s nothing to do. Well, now there is, I can edit this podcast for two hours. I can write an intro for two hours. So it gives me a chance to you know exercise writing skills and editing and I get to do something. And so it’s really for me. I don’t really promote it too much. I’ll post about an episode on Twitter twice, and I’ll do one Instagram post about it. But that’s it. And every episode is up for two weeks, and then I move on to the next episode.
“”We’re Crazy” is also from A Rock Supreme. This is one badass rocker of a tune!
Do you keep a whole database of them up there so that people can go and listen to the back catalog?
Jones: Yeah it’s up there on iTunes and Spotify.
Coolio. I’d love your two cents on crowdfunding. Especially now that PledgeMusic has thrown their fans and bands to the wolves.
Jones: I mean that’s cool. I don’t really feel comfortable doing it myself. We might do it in the future I guess. I don’t know how the industry will move forward. But I don’t fault people for doing it. Sometimes some really cool projects really need to be crowdfunded because no one entity is going to get behind it. For example that Nash the Slash film project that’s being worked on is crowdfunded and that’s something that I’m definitely supporting. So that’s a cool project that I don’t think would happen. I haven’t contributed anything as I’m talking to you, but I’m actually going to do it. I think 24 dollars you’ll get a copy of the movie. I’ve done that before for movie projects. I’ve never done it for music projects but I did it once for a Bruce LaBruce movie a few years back for a digitized copy, and I did what I did for another project that I don’t think ever happened. They didn’t reach their goals. So oh well. But I’m for it if the project is really really unique you know? I don’t think if a band is making an album… I’m not quite sure about that. I’m on the fence about that stuff, but like very particular projects, very interesting projects that I like, I’m not against it. You know, because nobody is going to make it unless we all kind of get together and we say let’s help this happen.
You plan on doing a bunch of shows around Toronto in May. You do not get to play locally all that often. That’s kind of a treat.
Jones: We don’t. No, we don’t. (chuckles) It’s funny. It’s a weird situation where a band’s goal (I would assume it was ours) is to tour the world when you start, right? That’s the goal. You want to tour the world. Let’s see the world. Let’s tour the world. So if that actually happens, the fallout of that is you get forgotten in your hometown or your home base. And that has been our situation for the past eighteen years. We’ve been touring abroad for eighteen years, and we’ve been able to play six continents on over forty countries on six continents, and nobody here knows because we’re always away. We never play around here. But the bands that everybody DOES know that are Canadian and are love and always talked about when I listen to the radio or I talk to people about… they only play here. So it’s a weird thing when you come home after a tour, and you’re like “Wow, this is insane, what we just did.” And nobody knows even if you’re even a band. I get that every now and then “Like are you guys still around? What are you guys doing these days?” And you just finished a 30-day tour of fourteen countries. Certainly, it’s quite interesting. It’s humbling. Definitely keeps you grounded. Once I get home grinded down to the ground no matter what happened two nights before where it was like you know a couple of thousand people just yelling your name, and then two days later you’re met with; “Are you guys still around?” That’s happened. It’s good. It keeps you grounded.
I think the last local show I saw you do was Uproar Festival and that’s got to be five or six years ago now.
Jones: Oh the Toronto date? Yeah, that was actually quite surprising. People were cheering for us when I thought we would be unknown. I think I even mentioned it on stage. I swear I thought people were just going to boo us.
I don’t know. I’ve been surprised at so many shows. I’m like, why is the crowd reacting this way to this music with this particular band? But you come out with a kind of a balls-out rock n’ roll attitude every time that I’ve seen you play, so why would that audience not gravitate to you, you know?
Jones: Oh well because they did that when we played earlier that year when we were on tour with Volbeat during the Toronto stop.
Jones: Yeah. And they also did it on Twitter too like “get this asshole out of here.” I’m only paraphrasing the tweets, but they were like you know, “why the fuck is this guy on the show” and all this shit. And then I ended up on their album, Volbeat’s last record singing a song called “Black Rose” with Michael and nobody in Canada knows but it was #1 in America. Nobody knows. Again I come home, and it’s like CRICKETS. But you know it’s kind of a nice way to just go, “That was a nice roundabout fuck you to all those people who were literally in my hometown telling me to fuck off.” And maybe it was just the wrong group of people from my hometown who were at the show, but it was like “Volbeat and our band are in the same genre.” In 2006 we played Copenhagen, and someone knocked on the door and with a couple of CDs in their hand, and he wanted to give it to us. And that was Michael Poulsen from Volbeat. And a year or two later he was headlining in bigger arenas than Motorhead.
Jones: And so, you know, things have a way of working. Michael is so nice and so great, and he’s always loved our band. So you know they took us out on tour and then he asked me to sing the song. I said, “Of course.” It was great to do it but not before you play your hometown and get booed. It’s a weird feeling. But hey, whatever. That’s how it is. Again it’s a nice way to to be grounded.
The video quality may be awful, but the song is certainly not. Take a trip down memory lane for “Cadillac” from I’m Alive and On Fire.
I understand you’re gonna do something with Alan Cross on May 11th. Are you able to talk about that? What that’s going to be?
Jones: Oh I didn’t know there was some sort of press release yet? But I guess you have to promote it.
Something is coming up.
Jones: Yeah. I hope people come. I mean, I don’t know how successful it will be. We will do it. I mean they (CMW) organized it. “They” meaning I think our publicist and a couple of other people. But I mean I’m game. I just hope people come. I mean I put a book out last year. And I spoke at the Toronto Reference Library. And that’s kind of an esteemed place to do it. I grew up going there. I’ve seen other people speak there. It was packed for them. Very esteemed names have spoken at the Toronto Reference Library. They kind of turned it around over the last few years and made it into more than just a bland library, they’ve got a really cool thing with it. But when I spoke it was like less than half of the seats were filled and so I was of course naturally disappointed. But I also knew all that while no one really is going to show up to see me speak or hear me talk, so maybe Alan Cross will have more pull than him talking to me. It’s more him. So hopefully that’ll bring more people out. But yeah I mean, what did you want to ask me about it?
Well, you’re both big talkers, and I’m curious what you were going to talk about. Are you just going to spitball or is there a theme?
Jones: Oh yeah. Actually, you know to be honest with you at this stage at this point I actually got an email with that very question. What what did you want to talk to Alan about or if Alan has any ideas. So I think I think it’s being figured out right now. If there’s some sort of talking points or something, I think they’re being figured out now. I don’t know how these things go. I’ve done them, like I did one with Stuart Berman in Hamilton for the book’s release as well. And again it was very soft attendance. So I just expect these things to be like softly attended. I didn’t even expect you to bring it up, but I’ve done it with Stewart. Stewart’s really good at keeping the ball bouncing and picking up the thread. Plus we’ve known each other for many many many years. He wrote a book on our band. So he knew the history of our band way more than any writer does. So he was able to easily talk back and forth with me about the book and about the band. Whereas you know Alan Cross hasn’t written a book on our band. But yeah I mean he’s always been cool about our band online and talked us up. When he had a show on some channel, he had some sort of a talking panel show, and I was a guest on there once. So Alan’s always been cool with us.
I’ve got one last thing, and it’s totally disposable. Does anybody ever call you Fabio because my iPhone every time I type your name in it defaults to Fabio.
Jones: That could be your algorithm though.
Maybe it’s my algorithm.
Jones: So that’s more a question to you. I’ll say, “Are you a fan of After Dark, Fabio’s album?”
I am not actually
Jones: Oh, you should track it down. It’s incredible.
Yeah. I’m sure. I’ll put that up there with the Guy Lafleur album
Jones: I’ve got that one too.
I figured you might. Alright, sir, I appreciate your time and your candour. I, unfortunately, have to choose between you and Volbeat in London on May 9th because you’re both playing the same night in different venues.
Jones: Yeah. That was a big faux pas but I’m gonna reach out to Michael, and I think we’re playing after their show is over.
Oh that’ll be cool.
Jones: So it’s a late show. I think it’s going to be, we’ve pushed our set time to 11:30 that night. So it’s going to be like kind of the after-show show type thing.
So I could maybe do both.
Jones: So I’m sure I’m going to hook up with those guys that night.
“Do You Wanna Rock?” Of course you do! This was one of the singles from 2015’s Fire Music.
I could maybe do both and if you get to play late because I thought I would go over and catch Volbeat. I love them.
Jones: Yeah, I think the only overlap is going to be unfortunately maybe the opening bands, but we’re going to try and get our set time to start after Godsmack are finished. It’s an odd pairing. I don’t know if you’re a Godsmack fan if you’d necessarily be a Volbeat fan. I’m not sure. I don’t know. But hopefully not so we can kind of cash in some of the spillage from the show if people are going to bail on Godsmack.
I like when they do shows like that. I saw Against Me with Mastodon, and that was a strange pairing, but it worked.
Jones: That’s a strange one.
Really strange. And Against Me were handpicked by Mastodon for the tour. This is going back to Crack The Skye. It’s gotta be ten, eleven years ago, but the crowd was very very polarized. You know people were Against Me fans or Mastodon fans. There wasn’t a lot of cross-pollination.
And I was at one last week; Deafheaven and Baroness. And you know, Baroness played and a bunch of people left. Had no interest in Deafheaven.
Jones: Well that’s closer together though in terms of sound. I mean I’m a fan of both those bands. I would have stuck around for both. But Against Me and Mastodon, that’s a little too wide a pairing. And Godsmack and Volbeat, I could see how the audience would stick around for Godsmack. It’s closer. Even though sound-wise I think they’re two different sounding bands.
They (Godsmack) haven’t really done anything in a while either. I mean I don’t think they put a studio album out.
Jones: Well it was an unfortunate booking. But I think they’re trying to push to 11:30 as their way of kind of trying to fix it, but it’s been recognized as a problem now.
Interesting. Right. Well, I do intend on going to London that night. So if I can squeeze in both venues I will because I’d like to hear some of this new material live.
Jones: Yeah we’re gonna play at least four songs off it.
Ontario Tour Dates:
05/07 – Hamilton, ON @ Absinthe
05/09 – London, ON @ London Music Hall
05/10 – Kingston, ON @ The Alehouse
05/11 – Toronto, ON @ CMW Rock Showcase (APA Night at The Horseshoe)
05/16 – Oshawa, ON @ Oshawa Music Hall
05/17 – St Catharines, ON @ Warehouse