Danko Jones on New Album, Showmanship + Social Networking
Singer Danko Jones and his longtime musical cohort, bassist John Calabrese, spoke with Loudwire about the significance of the album title, the occasionally misunderstood showmanship that they bring to their shows, and how much stock they place in the immediate response of social networking.
‘Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue’ is a great album title. How did that come to be?
Danko Jones: It was a term we had that we were going to call the very first thing we ever put out, ‘Rock and Roll is Black and Blue,’ but our scene in Toronto, there was another band called the Deadly Snakes that put out a 7-inch called ‘Real Rock and Roll Tonight,’ and we just thought the titles were too similar so we didn’t use it. We just kept it and it’s always been around, and then J.C., we were trying to think of titles and J.C. came up with the title again and Atom [Willard] liked it and we still liked it obviously, so we went with it.
The title definitely lends itself to what you do live. If you can talk about the energy you unleash onstage and the commitment you have to rock ‘n’ roll.
DJ: For me personally, I think ‘Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue’ signifies that it’s not the most popular genre of music anymore. Not even like the fifth or sixth most popular genre of music. Pop music, rap, country music, metal and electronica music are more popular than rock and roll, even though it used to be the most popular form of music. It almost made popular music, but now it’s just seen more as jazz – an old form of music, but it still has an energy to it.
There’s a representative for each genre, like Lady Gaga and Jay-Z and Metallica and Green Day and arguably so, but there isn’t anyone of that stature for rock ‘n’ roll. There’s Wolfmother and Airbourne, but they’re nowhere in comparison to like a Lady Gaga or Kanye West in terms of popularity, so it really shows how much it’s not very popular. It’s underground almost. So that’s kind of what the title is saying and you can take from the title what you want, but for me personally that’s what it means.
Can you talk about the single ‘Just a Beautiful Day’ lyrically?
DJ: Lyrically, it’s actually how I don’t like beautiful days and how I don’t like the sun. [laughs] It was the first day of the year this year where everybody, at least in Canada, like L.A. you guys are lucky that it’s like this everyday, but in Canada, it’s winter for six months of the year, so the first day that it’s good and everybody busts out their shorts and their t-shirts and they just walk [everywhere], it was one of these days, a weird odd, freaky day where it was plus-20 or whatever that is in Fahrenheit, but I saw people walking around, and I couldn’t relate.
One of the first noticeable things about that track is the drums and what Atom Willard brings to the song …
DJ: Well that’s Atom. Atom’s been in the band for just over a year and it’s been great having him and he joined the band because he’s a fan of our band and we were fans of his band, so it was like a mutual meeting. In terms of drumming he wanted to take it back to how it was on our previous records. Obviously he’s going to do what he does, and especially on that record he really threw in a lot of the fills and stuff so it was good.
Did you know it was going to be the single?
John Calabrese: Hindsight’s always different when you put out the record because you don’t know what songs, cause you’re so attached to them that you don’t know what people are going to think is the single. I kind of have no idea, cause I know I like this one or that one, but I’m glad that that’s been taken as the song to represent this record in a way cause it has a lot of elements to it that are rocking and have a lot of melody. It can translate.
You shot the video for the track with the Diamond Brothers, who already shot your documentary and several of your videos. What made them right for this?
DJ: We had a good time making those videos for ‘Below the Belt’ and I think they knocked the documentary out of the park. It was really well done and put together considering the amount of footage they had to wade through that we gave them. And it was only natural to not fix what isn’t broken. If we went with them for a very simple black-and-white performance video, why change it up?
JC: And they’ve been looking at our faces constantly for the last three years. They’ve been going through this footage and whatnot.
Have to say, excellent work on the documentary and it really shows off what great showmen you are. Looking at some of the early footage through the present, you’ve really got command of that audience.
DJ: It gets misinterpreted a lot by people who come to music, I think, young and they don’t understand where it’s coming from. But I have no time to explain it to them. I really don’t. I care that they don’t like our band, but I just have no time and they’ll have to come back to us when they grow up a little bit.
That’s plagued us for a lot of time that we’ve been a band. Nobody understands that this is a tribute to the performance of a rock band more so than it is me shouting at people. The people who get it, get it, and it creates a strong bond between us and the audience when they do get it. I’ve seen audiences turn where they do understand mid-show what we’re doing and what this is about and there’s never ever been a show where I’ve come onstage and not been self-deprecating in a sly way. I’ve always made sure that I’ve telegraphed that to the audience. Now it’s up to them to be smart and understand it, and if they don’t understand it and don’t get it, well I’m telegraphing it to them. There’s nothing more I can do other than take out a billboard and tell them that I don’t really think of myself like this.
It reminds me of one of the last times we played in America, could have been the last time we played where we did this huge festival called Rock on the Range in Columbus, and we got pretty much 99% bad comments after from these people who didn’t know. It wasn’t spoonfed to them, so they didn’t know. All they saw was some guy going, ‘I’m the best! I’m the best!’ … I’ve come to the point where I just can’t explain it. If you’re too stupid to get it, it’s not rocket science, it’s really not. I’m obviously not as stupid as you, but I’m not that smart either. So if you don’t get it, you’re just stupider. [laughs] Now I’m starting to realize that you can’t care. There will be a majority of people who will not understand what you’re doing and you’ve just got to be fine with that.
Now that I’ve started writing for the Huffington Post, and you read the comments section, or you’re on Twitter or Facebook and you read these people’s comments, on social media, it’s so immediate and so accessible that people either don’t read or don’t think before they write or open their mouths and you really get an inside view as to how people really think, and wow, there’s a lot of really stupid people out there. [laugh] So you’ve got to march on. Before Twitter and Facebook, a comment meant so much more, and that was only three or four years ago, where it carried so much weight. You’re like, ‘Oh my God, if this person thinks that, then all these people thought that.’ Like, ‘We’ve really got to change the set times because this guy is really indicative of what everybody is thinking.’ Well, no, not really. Honestly, it’s really changed how I … it’s made me more confident to go, ‘No, I was right in the beginning.’ I second guessed myself for a long time, whether it’s the performance or comments that I say in interviews or anything like that, because that one comment carried so much weight. But even last week with the Huffington Post article, people were commenting and I’m like, ‘Did you not read the article? No? You did but you didn’t understand it.’ Okay, short of me asking for your email address and explaining it to you personally, there’s nothing much I can do.
JC: To follow up on that, the performance thing, sometimes people come up to me and are like, ‘What’s wrong with him?,’ and pointing at him like why does he have so much attitude? It’s just like, they don’t understand it. It’s the showmanship and he’s really excited to be there and he’s never talked down to an audience. And just like he said with the self-deprecating comments, that just makes you equal to everyone else in the same room. The only difference is that he’s got a microphone and he’s a bit louder. Well, he’s the loudest guy in the room. [laughs] That’s the only difference and that’s it … It’s all for the purpose of being entertained.
DJ: If Iggy Pop came out and was like coming out like he comes out onstage which is all guns blazing, but he came out going ‘Aw shucks guys,’ he wouldn’t be Iggy Pop. So there’s a certain amount of Iggy Pop and David Lee Roth and Paul Stanley and Freddie Mercury in the way that I approach the stage and attack the stage and talk to an audience.
‘You Wear Me Down’ is another great track on here, and it’s got that obvious Led Zeppelin feel and born out of a jam session…
JC: Yeah, you just played the riff and jammed on it. Yeah, and I would record all the sessions we were doing and that jam is basically the template to what the song is and basically a little bit of polishing here and there, but that was it. So we’re like that’s gonna be [on the record].
DJ: There was one jam where we tried to match that in the studio, at least for me in terms of soloing, I was trying to match the demo of it. But I really get a kick out of that song, and maybe some people would consider that to be super classic rock on our part for a band that professes to have more of a punk background, but that in itself is why I wanted it on the record. You look at the discography and we did start out as a garage rock band, which was very basic and very primitive songs – sometimes not even choruses or bridges. And here we are, like six studios album in, and we’re taking a stab at Led Zeppelin.
Zeppelin is and always has been the musician’s musician band. They were studio guys in there. So it does stand for something … and to take this primitive garage band and you can actually track it through our discography that we’re taking a stab at Zeppelin, I got a little kick out of that because you can see the growth of the band through the discography.
JC: We played it for the Diamonds when they were in Toronto. We had them in the studio and they listened to the song and they just turned to us and said, ‘You guys went there.’ That was the first thing they said. So fans who know the band like those guys do will get it.
DJ: It’s not a ground that a lot of bands tread because it’s holy ground and a lot of bands who have tried it have failed and been made fun of, but I think we did it in a more jovial way because of our background. There’s just nobody who’s going to think that we’re trying to rip off Zeppelin – especially with past albums where things sound like AC/DC or Kiss. This is just another stab at a rock sound and that’s why I also felt comfortable including it on the record and not throwing up a red flag like, ‘Aw, this is gonna paint us as this.’ We’re not going to be Kingdom Come or something.
After listening to ‘I Believed in God,’ I have to ask how cool was it to have a gospel choir on a song?
DJ: It was pretty cool, but it wasn’t originally intended when we brought the song into the session. It was a wish, but we hadn’t really nailed down gospel singers or anything and the organ was at the studio. We didn’t pick the studio for the organ, it just happened to be there, so things happened quite naturally. However, if we were so hellbent on having them before we started the session … I don’t think it would have come off as it did. It might have been better, it might have been worse, but it was cool that we found these girls and they did it. There was this one girl that’s on it, she was on it the most, and she really f—ing knocked it [out of the park]. When she started singing, I could really start seeing how the song would end up. It ended exactly as I thought when she started belting out the song thankfully.
On the song ‘Legs,’ many props on the bass playing.
DJ: Yeah, I agree man. The bass playing ‘Legs’ is one of the biggest reasons why I fought for that tune to be the first single. I thought it was really standout.
JC: Thanks man. ‘Legs’ was a tune that we had for ‘Below the Belt’ and we went and added a twist to the chorus. [Danko] loved the riff that we had for ‘Below the Belt,’ but we never took it anywhere further. And then we felt that if we changed it to the ‘Legs, long legs’ part that became the chorus that it is now and the ‘Ooh la la’ part…
DJ: We added the ‘Ooh la la’ and it sounded so much better.
JC: It was just little things that we made up, and then to kind of color it there were a few little things I did on my end that kind of worked with the song that way. It does make it sound really raw. It is the band, so it’s not like I’m trying to go for something different, but it is a really fun song for sure.
Off the new record, what are you most looking forward to playing live?
DJ: Looking forward for me, I’d say ‘Terrified.’ It’s one of my favorite songs on the record and I can’t wait to play that song. It’s just heavy and all the half-steps I love, so it just makes things heavier and I like that.
JC: We’re just about to start the journey that is the supporting of this record, so I’ll go with him on ‘Terrified.’ It’s gonna be fun. I really want to play ‘I Don’t Care’ cause that’s gonna be a real crowd pleaser and ‘Get Up,’ I can see those two ones there really working well in the set and bringing a lot of high energy.
Obviously you’re moving forward with this record, but with this year of reflection with your ‘Bring on the Mountain’ documentary and ‘Too Much Trouble’ book, can you think back to what you hoped for as a new band back in the early days and how you view that now?
DJ: It’s in the book and I did the interviews for the book before Atom was in the band, and what I say in the book was, for me, the only thing I wanted to do was tour with Rocket From the Crypt and record with Doug Easley, because Doug Easley recorded all those Blues Explosion jukebox 7-inches that I thought were like better than his records, so those were my goals. I remember saying that out loud, “I want to tour with Rocket, record with Doug Easley, and tour Japan.”
I don’t know why those were the goals, and also get signed to a cool indie label in America like a Touch & Go or Matador or something. Only one of those things happened, which was we were able to play Japan. But the guy in Rocket when we started is now in our band. So, you know, it’s a yin-yang thing. Things have a way of evening out in the end. But had no idea that we would be taken around the world by Axl Rose or get to sing with Lemmy or get to sing ‘Night Train’ with Guns N’ Roses … Never knew any of that would happen.
JC: And it’s still happening. We were in Toronto a few weeks ago and Jello [Biafra] was in town it was like, “We get to have lunch with Jello Biafra.” That’s just great. And we went to the show and [Danko's] singing with him. Man, who would have thought? All these years later, look what we’re doing.
DJ: I really think that that’s the way to do it. I think if we had a plan, it would have crumbled.