One thing you can guarantee when you stick on a Danko Jones album or head down to one of their gigs and thats a pure blast of energy-drenched rock ‘n’ roll. The riff machine recently released their eleventh album, Electric Sounds and, unsurprisingly after 27 years, the riff remains the same.
In our latest Cover Story, V13 sat down to chat to the man himself to find out why you’ll never find him trying to reinvent the wheel.
Some of your comments around the album I thought were quite interesting. One of them was how you said Electric Sounds falls in line with your other albums. Is it a case of why fix what’s not broken or is it was that your intention?
“It’s always been… I mean, it’s our 11th album and we pretty much stayed on track from the first album to this one, given the fact that this spans 21 years of studio albums. There’s gonna be some change there, but it’s pretty much the same thing. I mean, we come from the school of the Ramones, AC/DC, Slayer and Motorhead so…”
A great selection of bands, you’ve also said the album offers zero surprises? Is that a case of giving the fans what they want or what they expect? Does that come into consideration when you’re writing a record?
“Well, I just try and write the best songs when we’re writing a record. You know, we know what we sound like. We’re not going to change it up album to album drastically. I think it’s folly to do that and arrogant to be honest with you to think that the people that liked the first, the previous record will follow you through your experiment. I think it’s quite arrogant to think that if you zoom out and you look at our discography objectively, it’s pretty much hard rock albums one after the other.
If you want to see the change in there, well, you have to zoom in a lot and there is changes. But, if you’re not well versed in hard rock music, or you don’t know our band, I should say, you wouldn’t be able to discern from song to song if there’s any changes, but there are, that’s just for us. I don’t care if people don’t hear it or not. If they see it from far away, and they go, “Oh, they just put out the same album to album”, that might sound like an insult to them but it’s a compliment to me.”
27 years, it’s an incredible career…
“Every band that I had done previously only lasted for a year. It was only when I hooked up with JC Wright, who had the same vision and the same drive and the same commitment as I did, that we were able to do this.”
What was that vision and what did it feel like to connect with somebody like that?
“Just that, you know, we’re not gonna give up. Any hurdle or obstacle that’s thrown in our path, we will continue on. First of all, we got a great response when we first came out of the gate, you know? We were a buzz band locally, than we were a buzz band in our country. Then, over the years, we’ve grown up together.
We’ve learned about what it takes to maintain a relationship, a business relationship, a working relationship with mutual respect, and trust in each other. That’s basically why I think other bands break up or fall apart is because there’s one person or maybe more people that don’t acknowledge that. I mean, it’s pretty much basic relationships 101 stuff.”
How did you guys meet?
“Just how we meet in any scene in any city. He was in one band. I was in another. We played shows together, we got along and when our respective bands broke up. I asked him to do this.”
You talked earlier about the Ramones, Slayer, Motorhead? When you just want to rock out what albums do you turn to?
“I mean, it could be those but just like hard rock bands are good, I listen to all kinds of music. I listen to rap music and punk rock and metal and classic rock and hard rock. Whatever. I mean I don’t have like 20 bands that I only go to. It’s just whatever hits my face, or whatever I see. Like, I can be walking down the street and see a picture of James Brown and then suddenly think, “oh, shit, when was the last time I heard James Brown then dive into a James Brown rabbit hole for the next two weeks.”
What was the band that wanted to make you pick up a guitar?
“That comes in stages over the years. The first band was KISS obviously. I was a kid six years old and you’re looking at these like, huge superhero monsters, and that’s enticing because it’s like a comic book. Then, when I got older, Van Halen, I wanted to be Eddie Van Halen, or David Lee Roth.
Then I got into Black Flag and Metallica and the Bad Brains. Once I got into the Bad Brains, I think all bets were off. I was just like “you know, what? If it sounds good to me, I’m gonna give it a chance.” Earlier, when I was younger, it was like, if it’s not metal, fuck it. Or if it’s not punk rock, screw it.”
“I just try and write the best songs when we’re writing a record. You know, we know what we sound like. We’re not going to change it up album to album drastically. I think it’s folly to do that and arrogant to be honest with you…”
One of my big regrets was something along those lines. We have Reading Festival near me and back in the 90s I was the same I liked Motorhead and Slayer and metal and that was it. I walked away from an Oasis gig, saying, “Oh, don’t want to watch this shit at my festival” and I’ve regretted that ever since…
“Yeah, you only lose out like in that. I was like that when I was growing up. I think we all are, you know, you’re trying to find your identity. You’re so idealistic that you ended up shooting yourself in the foot.”
Absolutely, so, eleven albums in and you’ve talked about not reinventing yourself and not trying something radically different. Has the reason been to not sound, how you put it earlier, as arrogant?
“Well, I think you reinvent yourself when you don’t know what you’re doing or who you are in the first place so you use that forum to try new things. We started this band when we knew what we wanted already and I think maybe we had all that worked out when we were younger. My first band was a noise rock band like 90s Touch And Go bands or Amphetamine Reptile Records bands.
Like when in the 90s heavy metal took a dive because of Nirvana and all that then all the metal bands started making lukewarm records and then there was like a nu-metal resurgence. People like me who still wanted heavy music, we dove underground and we got into AmRep bands and Touch And Go bands. Helmet, Today’s The Day, The Jesus Lizard, bands like that satisfied our hunger for heavy music.
I think in the early 2000s my roommate brought home an album by a band called The Haunted called Haunted Made Me Do It. What the fuck is this in 2001? They’re making music like this still? I didn’t know. I thought everybody had watered down their sound. I slowly got back on the boat and went back and I realised bands like Entombed had been making records that I would have loved throughout that whole period. I had to jog back for, I don’t know, five to ten years, catching up on all the heavy music that I had missed out on because, while I wasn’t not listening to heavy music. I just was over there listening to it in a different underground.”
Over the years, I’ve seen you guys at festivals, in arenas and club shows and you never lose that energy. It’s always 150% or that’s how it feels in the crowd. Being on stage, how do you keep that going? Given that you’ve been doing this for 27 years, how difficult is that at times?
“It’s really easy, because we’ve never gone Gold or Platinum. We’ve never won a Grammy or a music award. We’ve hardly ever even been nominated for any kind of music magazine award. I guess it’s kind of weird now that I’m talking it out, but like, it’s weird that being overlooked, has given us a constant hunger. So we bring that hunger onto stage. It’s like this elusive thing that’s being dangled in front of us that we’re trying to get at, and that keeps us lean, I suppose in terms of our output.
Talk to me when we get like a platinum record or talk to me when we can fill stadiums and see if we continue that edge, or if we water it down, and I will gladly answer your question, because that means that I’d be playing a stadium that night and I wouldn’t matter what you think of it. But until then, that’s what keeps us hungry and keeps the live shows edgy, I think, or at least like spontaneous and fun.
Even if we do end up selling out stadiums and millions of copies or whatever tomorrow. I think that spontaneity in our live shows is what keeps bringing people back and that’s really the only thing that keeps me interested in playing the same songs over and over again. Also, the idea of the whole walking on a tightrope every time you go out there on stage, things can go wrong and, especially now with social media and smartphones, if you fuck up, it’s captured for the whole world to see not just a few people who are at the club. So that’s an even thinner tightrope you walk and I’m all for it, man. I’m all for that hit of adrenaline it’s amazing.
It lasts for 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes, whatever length of time it does. I’m not addicted to that feeling, though. I think a lot of people are and I think that’s misplaced, but I do like it, but I’m not addicted to it. If I don’t ever tour again. I won’t miss it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing it for so long that I’ve got more of my share of that feeling.”
“I think that spontaneity in our live shows is what keeps bringing people back and that’s really the only thing that keeps me interested in playing the same songs over and over again…”
That’s an interesting comment to make because like I said, every time I’ve seen you going back from then to now the excitement always looks exciting. It doesn’t look like some bands who you see live and they’re going through the motions or they’re just dialling it in…
“Because I like the spontaneity. I invite the spontaneity. A lot of bands who go through the motions don’t, they just play their songs. There’s no engagement with the audience. You just play this song after song after song, and then you’re done. How could you ever eventually not tire of that? What keeps me interested is the spontaneity, being able to engage with an audience.”
Where do you see it going from there? Obviously, the records just come out. What are your plans?
“The reason why we put out albums is so we can tour, so we can promote the album. You put out an album, so you have a reason to tour. If we don’t have an album, we don’t tour because promoters don’t want it. It’s like there’s a new album, new songs so people get reminded you exist. If you’re lucky, you’re on the tips of everybody’s ears and tongues, you’re the talking point for that second, or minute or hour or day or week. Take advantage of that and you use that to tour. When that spark is finished, you can’t tour anymore. So you got to make another record.”
Whether it’s fans, media, journalist whatever, it always seems like there is a rush to get to see Danko Jones whether you’re opening a bill or headlining because people know they’re going to get that rush of energy. As an artist that must be quite rewarding?
“That is rewarding to hear. However, our shows in the UK are not filled so it would be great if all the people that you just described, were multiplied by like 10,000.”
Just to wrap up then, the last four or five years with the pandemic and everything, has been kind of quite shitty for everybody. Why do you think Electric Sounds is the right album for them to stick on again?
“I don’t think anything of it, it’s just another album of ours, you know, like, whether they use it to get over their hibernation during the pandemic or return to regular life is up to them. There’s 1000s of other bands making albums and putting them out every day. I don’t know if we’re gonna even be able to break through in the midst of everyone else’s albums so I just hope for the best. So far, the reaction to this album has been 100% positive, which it’s been like that for the last few albums and I’m very surprised but happy about it.
I can usually tell when a record is going to do well, I can usually tell when an album is going to flop. I don’t know if it’ll ever go well but I can usually tell when it’s going to flop because I’m nervous before the release. Like I’m actually nervous about what people will think. That’s happened twice and both times I was right to trust my nerves because it wasn’t received well. The last five records the only feeling I have is just let’s just release it now. I’m very excited for everyone to hear it like not nervous about what people will think because I know it’s good.”
What does Electric Sounds mean to you then?
“It’s our 11th studio album and it represents us leaner and edgier and angrier and more rockin’ than ever before.”
Danko Jones new album, Electric Sounds, is out now and you can pick up your copy here