DANKO JONES - Socially Rockward
September 3, 2021, 2 weeks ago
Toronto rockers Danko Jones made what should have been a triumphant return to the stage in July at the 2021 edition of the Calgary Stampede in Calgary, Alberta after over a year of inactivity. Namesake and frontman Danko Jones was quite naturally looking forward to it given the band lives and breathes as a touring machine when the world isn't be plagued by a runaway virus, but he admits it was an anti-climactic occasion largely due to his concerns over how the event was organized - or not - to deal with COVID-19 related issues.
"It should have been good, and it was a good show - the people who were there to see us were really nice - but we were kind of like the wedding band on the side," Jones begins. "Nobody was wearing masks or social distancing, and me being very high anxiety.... I enjoyed playing with the guys again and it was fun, but it wasn't how I imagined it in my mind: 'Aw man, when the first show back is on it's gonna be glorious!' No, it wasn't like that at all. Then we played in Victoriaville, Quebec (Rock La Cauze 2021) and that felt more like a return because it was a festival atmosphere, it was outdoors, there was space, but again, it wasn't our show. I'm looking forward to doing one of our own shows where the diehard fans come out to see us."
Jones made his stance on COVID-19 preventive measures very clear in the early stages of lockdown via social media. It was and remains a grave concern in his world. During the press junket for the band's new album, Power Trio, Jones went on record saying that his anxiety got the better of him early on, to the point that he had no desire to play guitar let alone make a new album. Long time musical partner / bassist JC Calabrese finally convinced Jones to get back to work.
"It's true. It took a few months for me to even try to do anything from the time the pandemic started to the time I picked up a guitar. I was paralyzed by fear and anxiety because everything was looking downward. We're in this together as a band, so when one of us feels like we're bringing everyone else down it doesn't feel good, and I didn't want to be that person. I reluctantly picked up my guitar and started playing, and I liked it. It was a way of forgetting about the pandemic for half an hour or an hour at a time. The more I did it and the more we moved along, it got to be a fun thing to do. It was something that helped me not focus on the pandemic for a while."
Power Trio doesn't betray Jones' initial reluctance to get down to business. Nothing on the record sounds forced or phoned in; it's the trademark no bullshit rock n' roll fans expect from a Danko Jones record.
"There were four or five song ideas that we had before the pandemic that made the record - just riffs - so everything was written during the lockdown," Jones says of the lockdown songwriting process. "We also had a lot of time to really live with the songs longer than we usually do and over-analyze small parts. I really went deep on my guitar solos, not like I'm Marty Friedman or Yngwie Malmsteen (laughs), but instead of rushing through my solos like I've done in the past, I crafted solos that lived alongside the main riff of a song."
"Usually, I throw in a guitar riff and we jam on it, and the songs goes wherever it goes. In some respects it was the same process for Power Trio, where I would send riffs to JC and he would figure out which ones we could work with. Then there was 'Ship Of Lies', where the whole thing was written and arranged by JC. I wrote the vocal melodies and the lyrics for that song but the whole musical pass was all JC."
"And even though we had the time to write we made sure to keep the album relatively short. I think 11 songs is more than enough. The temptation to overindulge is high with rock bands but not with us. I'd rather enjoy 15 minutes of really good rock rather than 45 minutes and trying to find the 15 that are any good (laughs)."
On the vocal end of things Power Trio sees Jones at the top of his game, and the songs are built to be performed live. This hasn't always been the case, as some albums didn't transfer well from the studio to the stage. Case in point with Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue from 2012, which offered up singles like "It's A Beautiful Day" that pushed Jones' voice to uncomfortable heights when playing live.
"Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue was a difficult record to make," he admits. "I can say it now, but there was a lot of tension in the studio. It was probably the second worst studio experience JC and I have had. It got to the point where I was doing things to shut certain people up just to break the tension. In terms of our circle now, everyone knows my range and what I'm capable of. And we weren't touring before we recorded Power Trio, so my voice was 100%. When we do albums it's usually between tours or we just got off a tour. I was home at that point for seven months, so my vocals were at 110%. When it came time to record, I could have gone forever and I put all of that into the songs."
Danko Jones fans were introduced to Power Trio through the first single, "I Want Out", which, of course, is the name of the song that broke German metal icons Helloween in North America in 1988. This begs the question as to whether people thought the band had covered the Helloween hit before actually hearing the track.
"To this day people are still talking to me about that," Jones muses. "I have to be honest, I'm not that big of a Helloween fan. When it started I was like, 'What are you talking about?' because Helloween was never really on my radar. I don't not like them, but we all have those bands where everyone loves them and you're there going 'What's the big deal?' That song came out in '87 or '88, and for me back then, if it wasn't thrash it sucked (laughs)."
Power Trio also boasts a guest appearance by Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell on the AC/DC-flavoured "Start The Show", which ironically - yet somehow appropriately - closes the album. It's a collaboration that was born out of friendship rather than a grand plan.
"I just texted him, which is the best thing, being able to do that. Phil is awesome. People should know that behind-the-scenes in Motörhead, as alpha and as tough as that band was, they are the nicest guys. It's so cool that I could just text Phil and ask him about doing the song. I get texts from Phil occasionally just making fun of me (laughs). It's kinda like being back in high school and there's this one kid who keeps putting a 'Kick Me' sticker on your back; that's Phil (laughs). It's all done in fun, and when we really needed him, he came through. 'Start The Show' was the only song I didn't have a guitar solo for, so it gave us an opportunity to bring in a guitar player. We were throwing around some names and JC suggested we get Phil because he was in Motörhead and the name of the album was going to be Power Trio, so why not get the guitar player from the strongest power trio that ever existed?"
Power Trio is also a milestone for Danko Jones in that it marks the 25th Anniversary of Jones and Calabrese forming the band. In that time, they have gone from Toronto club obscurity to tour headliners and festival favourites the world over. That achievement is not lost on Jones.
"It seems like no time has passed at all," he admits. "The highlights are the obvious ones, like touring with bands, meeting my musical heroes, and being able to put out new music consistently. I think the best way to celebrate 25 years isn't to look back with a Greatest Hits album or a definitive box set, but to put out a new album of hot rock. Power Trio is a statement that says we’re here for another 25 years."