DANKO JONES – Claws And Effect
March 3, 2017, a year ago
When the artwork for the new Danko Jones album, Wild Cat, began circulating at the beginning of the year, I was immediately reminded of vinyl LP covers, black light T-shirt and poster designs from the '70s. Call it a show of my age, but it also raised a few questions regarding what kind of music the band was serving up this time out, until that first listen. The band has somehow managed not to put out the same record over and over since they first surfaced in 2002 in spite of being a songwriting team of two (more on that later), but it was a safe bet that by accident or design - no pun intended - the look of the merchandise for the next Danko Jones touring cycle had been settled early on in the production.
"I guess it worked that way but it wasn't intended," laughs frontman and namesake Danko Jones. "It was done by a studio that makes a lot of stoner / sludge / doom stuff, so we approached them and they were interested. They usually do T-shirts and show posters. I think this was new territory for them. The design that made the album cover was originally intended for a T-shirt and we went with it. We just thought it looked so cool and we didn't have a confirmed title for the record at that time, so the design decided it for us. And 'Wild Cat' is one of my favourite songs on the record; it felt like a title track anyway."
Wild Cat is the follow-up to one of Danko Jones' strongest (arguable) and heaviest (definitely) albums, Fire Music, released in 2014. How it fares in the wake of such a strong showing is anybody's guess, but according to the Danko Jones tradition it should go down as being a hiccup in the band's career. Fortunately, Danko doesn't believe in history repeating itself yet again.
"We had put out a couple of records that didn't fare so well - people didn't really take to them - and in retrospect I kind of agree with that," he admits. "Never Too Loud (2008) and Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue (2012), for various and different reasons, weren't what was intended going into them at the pre-production stage. The songs sounded good in our rehearsal space but in execution they didn't work. I think that's how we lost ground. We were really on our path with Born A Lion (2002), We Sweat Blood (2003) and Sleep Is The Enemy (2006), faltered a bit with Never Too Loud, got back on the horse with Below The Belt (2010), and faltered again with Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue. I definitely sensed a pattern and we wanted to break it. So, I think following up Fire Music with Wild Cat breaks that pattern of 'Oh, they put out a good album so now they're going to make one that's questionable (laughs)."
At this point Danko and bassist John "JC" Calabrese have heard every conceivable comparison between Spinal Tap and their own inability to keep a drummer on board for any length of time. Rich Knox is drummer #7 since the band's inception, having joined Danko Jones in 2014, and from what the frontman says they finally have someone he and JC can work with.
"This is the first time in quite some time that we have a stable line-up, and the first time in forever - if not ever - that everyone in the line-up is on the same page. There are no egos that need to be batted down, and no one is trying to get more attention for some reason. This was a case of servicing the good of the record. Because of that I think we have a proper follow-up to the Fire Music as opposed to getting ahead three steps and then falling back three steps. Fire Music did very well for us; reviews were good pretty much across the board, which is not what we're used to. I think Wild Cat is a proper follow-up to Fire Music, and I feel the exact same way I did when we released Fire Music. That was the first album where I wasn't worried at all as to the reviews or the reactions. For every previous record I was always nervous. For Wild Cat, I didn't know what song to pick as the first single, which is a great problem to have. And when you do have that problem it's a good sign."
Fire Music and Below The Belt are personal favourites in the Danko Jones catalogue, with Wild Cat placing second or third depending on the day. It shares some of Fire Music's traits but it doesn't come off as a sequel. Danko disagrees...
"We genuinely loved Fire Music so we wanted to make another album that we like (laughs). I'm too much of a rock music whore to sit still, so influences will crop up in our music and we're like 'That sounds like this band or that band...' and we'll start to go off in that direction. Fire Music was in the rear view mirror; maybe not consciously but I think it was there."
Songwriting has always been a shared duty between Danko and JC, largely because nobody behind the drum kit stuck around long enough to become part of the creative process. The tradition continues for Wild Cat, but Danko insists "it's the three of us now with Rich on drums. I will say that in the past it felt more like the two of us and a third party that we either had to coerce, convince, walk on eggshells, or absolutely teach them how to do the songs. That's definitely been our experience."
"We're a fine tuned machine now," he adds, "and a lot of that has to do with the dynamic between me and JC. We're two very different people with two very different approaches to songwriting. JC is very methodical and I'm more like 'Blaaaaaahhh!' (laughs). I usually come up with the riffs and I'll shoot them at JC like we're at a batting cage, and whatever catches his ear, we'll go with it. There's the odd time where I'm married to an idea and we stay the course because I'm sure it'll yield something, but for the most part JC will immedately give me his honest opinion. If he doesn't like something we'll move on to the next riff, the next idea. If the two of us had the same method and style I think there would be a lot more clashing."
Danko credits JC for the seamless flow of energy on Wild Cat, which is also an echo of Fire Music.
"JC sequenced Fire Music and Wild Cat, and he sequenced them as if they were records. There's a Side A and a Side B."
An ongoing tradition in the Danko Jones universe is being unable to break big at home in Canada, or break at all in the United States. Make no mistake, they have loyal fans across North America, but Europe remains Danko Jones' playground to the perpetual Canada / US construction site.
"The interest is still on the low side at home," Danko confirms. "We've tried like a lot of Canadian bands to go to the States, and it's like trying to take on 50 countries. It comes down to this: if you don't have the mega-budget behind you, you're not going to crack the US market unless Lady Gaga wears your band's T-shirt while she gives her Grammy speech or your song is the new Star Wars theme. It's not going to happen. Devin Townsend is in the same boat, and it's a crime he's not bigger in Canada. We're always open to anything south of the border. Now that we have a new label (eOne), hopefully Wild Cat will do better than Fire Music."
BraveWords last spoke to Danko in 2014 for Fire Music, and this interview gave us the chance to ask in closing - somehow appropriate - about the effect of Motörhead legend Lemmy's passing in December 2015 had on him. Danko considered Lemmy a friend, and that respect was reciprocated judging by how he had been invited to perform (and drink) with Motörhead over the years.
"It's been over a year and it's tough to talk about only because I want to make sure I say the right thing. At the same time it definitely affected me when I first heard the news. We, the band, were so close to the Motörhead juggernaut; the crew, the guys in the band, we were all on great terms. Some of Motörhead's crew have even gone out with us, so there was definitely more of a connection than us merely being fans of the band playing on the same stage at a festival."
"Lemmy's death was a shock for a lot of people. We've all seen those YouTube clips where Lemmy had to stop the shows because he wasn't in the best of health, but he had this persona of living forever, he had this persona of invincibility. I think that's why it really shocked a lot of people; regardless of his state of health Lemmy was invincible and he was going to live through it. It's a tough go, man, it's a rough thing to deal with."
"Now, a year later, does rock have its next leader? Does rock have Lemmy's successor? Because really, he was the king of rock n' roll. I don't think that question has been answered and it's left people wondering. At the same time I don't think that rock 'n' roll needs a leader at this point. I've said this before... we were able to meet, perform with and hang out with a guy who is going to go down in history as being almost mythological. It's almost like Lemmy is a character in a story, and Danko Jones got to hang with the guy. That's what I tend to think about when I think about Lemmy."
(Top photo - Dustin Rabin)