DANKO JONES - Still Alive And On Fire

February 27, 2009, 11 years ago

Special report by Carl Begai

feature danko jones

Forget the rock club headline tours and those summer festival circuit dates; you know you’ve arrived when you’re tapped to support two of the UK’s best loved internationally successful veteran rock acts. Toronto’s DANKO JONES – the man and the band – capped off a very busy 2008 with this particular rock ‘n’ roll dream, hitting the road with MOTÖRHEAD and SAXON in the UK and Europe through November and into December, playing to full houses every night. One hell of a way, Jones will tell you, to go into your thirteenth year as a professional musician, and a gift he most certainly does not take for granted. As he settles in for another year of touring, this time under his own banner, Jones reflects on what was an undeniably amazing experience.

“It ranks up there in my top two tours,” he says immediately. “It was great, and one of the reasons why was that we’d do a 30 minute set and then get to hang with Motorhead (laughs). It was almost like a vacation because we’re used to going 75 minutes a night. There’s a lot of pressure being the headliner, but when you open up for two bands you actually like and you get to hang with them and their crews for the whole day leading up to the show, it’s a luxury. It was awesome, I’ve gotta say. If there was any other band than Saxon it would have been a cool tour, but having Saxon next door to you backstage for five weeks is great.”

With regards to opening for two of the UK’s finest on their home turf, Jones admits it wasn’t exactly a cakewalk.

“We’re known in England, but not enough to fill the venues we were playing with Motörhead. There were a lot of people in the crowds that had heard of us, but there were also a lot of people who hadn’t. Doing three weeks with them I noticed that the audience gives support acts three songs. During those three songs they’re looking at you like you can go fuck yourself, and if you don’t win them over they’ll tell you to fuck off. We got ‘em every night; by the end of the set everyone kinda had a smile of their faces and were loosened up. Right up to the last show, though, it was scary going out to face that kind of crowd (laughs).”
“I love that as long as it’s fair,” Jones continues. “We’ve been in front of audiences where they start booing even before we started playing. It’s like, if we suck that’s one thing, but you don’t even know who sucks (laughs). The Motorhead crowds were tough but always fair, and if you won them over you won them big. By the end of the set it was always great and the crowd was very respectful. There were a couple moments when we were tested, though. There was a guy at one show, he brought his Saxon flag and he was in the front row. In between the songs of our set he’d yell out ‘SAXON!’, so I looked at him and addressed him straight up, and he was cool. By the end of the set he was trying to show me that we’d won him over by yelling ‘DANKO!’ Message received, thank you (laughs).”

The band was out pushing Never Too Loud, an album that received mixed reactions out of the box because it didn’t follow the same line as its heavier predecessor, Sleep Is The Enemy.

“It did pretty good; it had some legs to it,” Jones clarifies. “It sold pretty much the same as the last couple albums, which is pretty good considering downloading and all that stuff is affecting sales. I was quite surprised by that, actually. Initial reactions to the record had us a little worried because people were saying ‘Aw, they’ve slowed down; they’ve gone soft,’ which I couldn’t understand because we were just doing our classic rock album. But, as with a lot of records, you give it enough time and people start to come around. I think we threw some people off at the beginning but a couple months in people really started to accept it.”

Rather than wait for the resulting buzz to die down, Jones and longtime record label Bad Taste Records opted to release a b-sides compilation, aptly titled B-Sides - 27 tracks swept out of the closet and slapped onto CD, a surprising number of them of quality rather than the expected subpar half-finished odds-and-bits that often make up collections of this kind.

“The label really went into it over the summer of 2008, so it was about a year in the making. Once the dust from Never Too Loud had settled they started focusing on this one, and we had a lot to choose from in terms of tracks. There are some songs that didn’t make it onto this record that I wish had made it, but I’m glad the tracks that were chosen are on the album. I mean, you can’t have a 75 track b-sides thing (laughs).”

He continues with a warning of sorts: “We compiled all the songs that were on the CD singles we’ve put out, so if you bought all those single you probably don’t want to buy this (laughs). But, there are a bunch of tunes that have never been released or were released on a compilation somewhere. We did something similar to this in 2001 and called it I’m Alive And On Fire, and that was our ticket into Europe. So this is kind of like the second chapter of that. And as I said, there’s even enough for a third one.”

As mentioned, the bulk of the material on B-Sides is remarkably strong with regards to the trademark Danko Jones sound, making the claim the songs were deemed unworthy of album release rather perplexing. Jones understands the confusion.

“Yeah, I know. There’s really only one song on B-Sides that I wish was on an official album, and that’s ‘Woogie Boogie’. That’s my favourite song from the We Sweat Blood sessions. I sequenced that record and I went to the guys and the producer with it, and all three of them said ‘Perfect, except ‘Woogie Boogie’ out and this song in.’ I was like, ‘Are you FUCKING kidding me?!’ But I was out-voted so out the song went, but we ended up playing ‘Woogie Boogie’ live more than the song that made the record. That’s really the only song where I can say ‘Goddamn, I wish that was on an album.’ The rest of them, it’s a really different perspective when you write a song. By the time you’ve heard it, I’ve heard it 500 times, so that’s why I never have any says in our singles.”
“I deliberately take myself out of that game because if I’m so close to something I’ll end up choosing the song that’s the most non-radio, non-mass-friendly song,” Jones adds. “Those ones are usually my favourites. If you want to choose radio songs play them for a bunch of girls, because whatever the girls like usually do well. That’s why the songs on B-Sides, we have a different take on them. We were burned out on a lot of them from playing them night after night before we were even able to record an album.”

B-Sides is more of a “You are here” signpost for Jones rather than the end of a era. Looking back on his 13 year career of recording and touring the world, he’s still that wide-eyed kid with the rock ‘n’ roll dream.

“It’s crazy, man. It’s 13 years in April, when we played Lee’s Palace (in Toronto) opening up for The New Bomb Turks. I was actually over at my parents’ house six months ago watching one of the old videotapes they had of that show, and holy fuck, I look like I’m 12 years old (laughs). It was a mindfuck, I couldn’t believe it.”
“Actually, I recently bumped into an old high school buddy of mine that I haven’t seen since then, and he was out with a date. We started talking about old times, and then I looked at his date and she seemed familiar, so I asked if we knew each other. She said we knew each other from the early days, and then asked me what I was up to and if the band was still around. That’s when it hit me; it’s been so long that you’d think we wouldn’t be around anymore. I kinda got my back up, told her ‘Yeah, uh, we just got off tour with Motorhead.’ She did one of those ‘Ohmygawd, rilly?’ routines (laughs). It was pretty cool, especially since I did it in front of an old high school buddy. It’s true, though. Bands aren’t supposed to be around for 13 years or even ten years. I really do look back and go, ‘Fuck, this is wild.’”

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