INTERVJU: Danko Jones

Danko Jones släppte nyligen sitt elfte album, “Electric sounds”, och givetvis tog vi oss ett snack med den pratglade kanadicken i samband med det. Det blev ett samtal om bl a hans mörka tid i den katolska skolan, Sverige, Bad Brains betydelse, hur bandet Danko Jones kom att bli så mycket mer än han hade trott och den där gången några ungar stal hans Slayerkassett:

I went to an all-boys Catholic school for high school and one day my “Reign in blood” cassette was stolen. Two guys went into my bag and took it and then they gave it back to me, because they were scared. I was like “Where did it go?” I didn´t know who took it and I was just quietly going “Fuck, I lost it!” and one of them just gave it back saying “What is this?” I was just glad to have it back, but I was also just “You stole this from me and you have the balls to give it back?” If you steal something and you don´t like it, you just throw it away, but he actually revealed he was the one who stole it and he was scared shitless. I thought that was kind of funny and I just took it and I was like “Good. I´m glad you were scared.”

When you were a teenager and you discovered music, could you pinpoint one or two albums which had a significant impact on your life?

I have tons of albums. I think “Rock for light” (1983) by Bad Brains hit me really hard and “My war” (1984) by Black Flag hit me pretty hard and also “Reign in blood” (1986) hit me pretty hard. Those are the first three that come to mind, but there are tons more and for different reasons. Bad Brains showed me that you can play different styles and it all kind of makes sense. There´s no judgment. Being a kid I just had everything compartmentalized and “you couldn´t do this if you did that”, so they really taught me that. “My war” was just so angry and I´ve lived with that album all throughout my life. It´s one of the angriest albums I´ve ever heard in my life and especially the title track. I still listen to Slayer´s “Reign in blood” It took me an hour to get to school so there were days when I would listen to it four times a day. I went to an all-boys Catholic school for high school and one day my “Reign in blood” cassette was stolen. Two guys went into my bag and took it and then they gave it back to me, because they were scared. I was like “Where did it go?” I didn´t know who took it and I was just quietly going “Fuck, I lost it!” and one of them just gave it back saying “What is this?” I was just glad to have it back, but I was also just “You stole this from me and you have the balls to give it back?” If you steal something and you don´t like it, you just throw it away, but he actually revealed he was the one who stole it and he was scared shitless. I thought that was kind of funny and I just took it and I was like “Good. I´m glad you were scared.” The lyrics on there and that it was a Catholic boy school… it was quite funny.

I´m an Atheist…

So am I, I´m an Agnostic.

I remember I was in a record store in Minneapolis in ´94 and I found a vinyl album by Anton LaVey…

Was it a 10”?


I´ve got that.

I remember standing in the record store thinking “This is some cool shit! I really want this.”, but then I got freaked out thinking I couldn´t bring it on the plane back home and thinking something would happen, even though I don´t believe in anything of that crap.

I bought it. It´s him playing organ and I think it was his wife at the time who´s singing. I think it´s a great album. It´s really spooky and it should be. I guess we all have PTSD from organized religion, whether you were in it of not. Going to Catholic school for as long as I did, made me realize that I´m not a Catholic, nor do I subscribe to a lot of… I saw so much hypocritical behavior. There were the brothers, the Franciscan brothers, our teachers, and they were the meanest people I´d met up to that point in my life and it was not an example of someone who you would think would be someone there for care and comfort. They were the opposite. They were mean old men. I recently went there… I went back there because there was some sort of event happening and I couldn´t not go. It was raining and my school has this huge football field, so they put the event indoors. I was like “I´ll go there, but it´s outdoors so I´ll just go in and out.” Then it was raining and they put it indoors in the gymnasium where I used to have gym class. I was inside and I started walking in the halls and looking at all these things and I saw a few of the… they´ve since passed of course because they were like 70 or 80 years old when I saw them, but I wanted to urinate on it. I can´t help but get emotional because it´s like… you try to pinpoint where the anger comes from and there´s all kinds of trauma there. There´s nothing more than finding metal and going “Holy shit!” A lot of people go “Why don´t you play metal, you love it so much?” I love it from afar. I can´t play it. I don´t think I have the chops and I just like to listen to it and enjoy it from that standpoint. I don´t need to get near it, but the reason why I was drawn to it, was for a lot of reasons and it´s only recently that I´ve started to recognize, without playing victim, my childhood wasn´t great and I buried that and repressed it. It´s part of it. When you see a photo of someone framed upon a wall and you just want to take your fist and smash the glass… I was looking at him and… there´s two people that I would just basically… I wish I was notified the day they died. I wish someone had sent me a text… People wonder “How are you so into metal?” Well, how can you not be? I got into “Reign in blood” when I was in high school and I´d finished grade school, but I did grade school in that school and that was where I witnessed and went through a lot of the violence and the hypocritical behavior. It was violent and it was nasty.

Isn´t it different in Canada? I mean, compared to the US and the southern states?

We have sectors of it and in every big city there are sectors of it. There´s a huge Catholic population there, thus the schools and the school system. There´s a lot of people who are into it and that´s fine. Whatever gets you through the night. I don´t faulter anyone´s religion. For me growing up as a little kid, I saw how hypocritical it was. I was like “This is bullshit! This isn´t who you´re supposed to be.” I never told my parents abut it until years later and they said “We didn´t know. You never told us.” and I was like “Yeah, I didn´t tell you. Obviously I wouldn´t tell you.” And they said “Obviously, if we´d known, we would´ve taken you ot of the school.” It´s a long story, but that´s not the sole reason why I got into heavy metal. There were other things going on in my life that I know see as triggers of trauma and that´s not to say that everybody who´s into metal are victims or have been through trauma. I´m not saying that, but I am saying that because of what I went through, when I heard music that was angrier than I was, it was so soothing. I just could not articulate, and it was intangible for me, like “Why do I like it so much?” A few years ago I stumbled on that. Like “Everyone´s angrier than me ad that´s comforting.”

I agree. If I´ve had a shitty day, I come home and I play Slayer, but my wife does not get that at all. She´s like “Don´t you want it nice and quiet?”

It doesn´t ignite you, or at least that´s my experience. It doesn´t fire you up to even more. It can do that in the right mood, but when you´re in that mood, for me and I think you´re very similar… “My war” is the same thing. When I heard Henry Rollins sing like you´re one of them, it was like “Yeah man, I get it.” Even beyond my teenage years, I just go to “My war” and that´s another set of trauma things that conjures up another set of things. When I realize that there´s multiple sets from times in my life that are still triggers for me till this day, but also what has drawn me to the music… it´s really heavy. Then I went through this thing during the pandemic when I realized this stuff and I got really embarrassed, to the point where I didn´t want to play anymore, because I was like “Whoa, this is embarrassing, because it´s so obvious.” and “If I´m just realizing this now, how many people have been watching me and known about this the whole time?” and that´s embarrassing, but now I´m at the point where I´m just like “Fuck it! I don´t care anymore. I don´t give a shit.” I think a lot of people´s childhoods or background or history, there´s unaddressed traumatic shit. I didn´t realize some of the things I went through were trauma and I don´t want to go into them, but when someone was telling a third party about what I went through, that third person started crying and I was like “Really, she´s crying?” Then I was like “But I´m not crying.” But that´s just because it´s been repressed. I love the aggression and I love the anger and you have to wheel that so it doesn´t overtake you.

Did you later get into other types of music? When I grew up in the 80´s you were either a metal fan or you were into Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk or Front 242 and so on.

I think that´s how it was across the board. You either liked all the heavy metal stuff, which was like pop metal by today´s standards, or you were into New Order, Depeche Mode and The Smiths…

I remember liking Depeche Mode in secrecy and Prince and stuff like that.

Yeah, it was that divided. I got onto Mötley Crüe and KISS and Ratt and that was only because it was the hardest shit you could find that was presented to me. I didn´t have any older brothers or sisters to show me anything and to tell me what to listen to. Then every time I would stumble on something that was harder or heavier, I would gravitate towards it, until I hit the Bad Brains. The Bad Brains showed me that I could be into anything. These dividers that you´d put in your head, they´re nothing. “Rock for light” had songs like “Coptic times” and “Attitude” and then things like “Rally ´round jah throne”, which is like a full out reggae song and I was like “What is this?” and I kind of started to like it after repeated listens. At first I was like “What the fuck did I buy?” It was produced by Ric Ocasek from The Cars and I was like “What is going on here?” It was the most fucked up thing I´ve ever seen. These reggae Rastafarian guys on the back cover and one of them´s smoking a spliff and they´re playing the heaviest, craziest music I´d heard up until that point. That really fucked with me and I said “Ok, I´m into everything!” and then I got into rap music and that stayed with me, so “Rock for light” is really definitely and album that is foundational in the way I approach music. If you want to go way back, it was KISS and Ratt and Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Van Halen and I still love those albums. They still stay with me.

In the song “Good time” you sing “I have no regrets” Do you feel like that? I mean, I have regrets. Do you have regrets?

I think you have regrets when you´re not happy with your life at the moment and when you´re happy it´s like “Hey, I´m here!” Everything lead to here. I think it just changes depending on where you are. But yeah, there are total regrets. I wish I´d finished school better, but I just basically ran away and joined the circus. I literally did that in a weird way.

But that´s a fascinating education in itself. The stuff you´ve done, the stuff you´ve seen.

It is. I don´t really count it like that because I don´t have something to hold… or I do! I goy my Bachelor´s during the pandemic. We went on tour with Volbeat in 2019 and it was bugging me for the whole tour that I still needed courses to get my Bachelor´s, so I finished the tour, went to the school and talked to somebody and said “Ok, what do I have to do?” When I was enrolling in classes and everything, I realized “Wait a minute! They changed the course requirements in 2010, so technically I don´t have to enroll and spend thousands of dollars to get this thing.” She told me there was no way I could do it, but I called her back and said “Listen, this is what it´s saying!” and she goes “Actually, you can.” and I said “I can? I just did a whole fucking meeting with you and it took me an hour to get there!” Sure enough they granted it for me and I was gunning for Bachelor in Fine arts and there´s a special addendum to that, but then I just got a regular Bachelor in Fine arts and I just took that. There´s a part of me that feels like “Well, you didn´t finish all the courses.”, but I was just so happy to have that closure. They mailed me the diploma during the pandemic and the graduation was cancelled because of Covid, so I have the hat and they put some confetti in a box and I took a photo on Instagram and I posted “I got my Bachelor´s!” and everyone´s going “Congratulations! Going back to school is so important.” and I was like “I feel like a fake, man! I didn´t. The course requirements changed in 2010.” The reason why it bugged me was that I was a course and a half from getting it and I just said “Fuck it!” and that´s what´s been bugging me. There´s a part of me that wants to go back and get my Master´s. I want to see if I´m intellectually capable (hahaha) or if 27 years of the rock and roll game has dumbed me down to the point where I can´t do anything. It´s almost like a game, but it´s going to cost a lot and take up so much time. It´s funny you ask me that, because it´s only this week that I´ve started going “Wouldn´t that be the ultimate fuck you to…”, just an affirmation to myself and it would just make me feel so good if I could do it. I´m so intimidated and scared, but that´s what draws me to it even more. I´m struggling right now, but I´ve never entertained the idea of getting a Master´s until this week and I didn´t even know in what field because I was in film and that was my, what do you call it, specialty? Who knows.

How do you look at this journey that you´ve been on? You´ve accomplished a lot of things. You´ve seen the world, you´ve written books…

I wrote a book…

Yeah, but still…

I didn´t see the world the way most people think I saw the world. I saw the world through hotels and backstages with dick picks on the walls. It´s really not the way you want to see the world. I know I´m doing a “the glass is half empty” kind of thing about everything you throw at me. I´m aware of that, but at the same time it´s like a Monet. It looks good from afar, but it´s far from good up close. (hahaha) I don´t know.

But how do you look at all this time with the band? Did it turn out the way you wanted it to?

It exceeded my expectations. When we started… the previous band I was in, I was in for a year, the Violent Brothers. It was a two-piece band with my best friend from high school and we played in Toronto and people took notice and things were going great and then he just pulled the plug on it and now he wants to get it back together. We did in 2020 and we did three songs. They exist and they´re really good and it´s just him on guitar and me singing and I think those songs are actually really fucking good. Because the Violent Brothers was a year, this thing (Danko Jones) was the next project and I didn´t think I was going to do this for very long and I´d move on to another project. I didn´t know where I was going and hooking up with JC (bass) when we did and starting this band, I didn´t realize at the time, but his drive outmatched mine. He was even more driven than I was and when I saw him being so driven it made me match him. That´s how it´s been since. The key is to find someone who matches your drive and up till that point I didn´t know people could be as driven as I was or even be more driven. JC´s just the most driven person I know. That´s the secret to this band´s longevity. JC and me trying to keep up and that´s the truth. I´m the talking head of the band, but he´s the one behind the scenes who´s like setting everything up and that doesn´t happen if you don´t have the drive.

Your relationship with Sweden started early on.

It did. It´s weird. There´s been this Canada – Swedish connection in my life for the last 20 plus years. It started with a band from Toronto who was on Bad Taste, which is from Sweden and they brought our cd´s to Bad taste and they wanted to sign us and then we found our booking agent in Sweden, we toured with bands in Sweden. There was a rock scene here that had gained international renown, so there was that, but also regionally it was vibrant and fertile. People could see The Hellacopters from the country they were in, like with binoculars and go “Hey, there´s a rock band!”, but when you go to Sweden The Hellacopters are on the top and then there´s a hundred other bands that want to be just like that. Wheres in Canada, there´s a rock band, but there´s nobody who´s looking up to them and who wants to be like them, so there´s like no real scene. We saw a scene in Sweden , we saw a scene in Norway… When I got here and when I saw the rock scene and when I saw the angle on it, I was like “Wow, this is how I think.” In Canada the singer songwriters ruled the roost or indie rock bands ruled the roost or pop indie bands ruled the roost. Coming here and seeing the rock scene and the rock bands, I was like “Wow, this is what I thought it always would be like back in Canada!” Especially when we have exported Rush and Triumph and Bryan Adams… all these bands, but no. It´s like crickets, you can´t hear anything. That´s the connection and there are more connections, like Hagströmgitarrer, which I found when we were recording “A rock supreme” (2019) and our producer Garth (Richardson) took us to a little music store in a small town outside of Vancouver. I picked up a Hagström and I just started playing it, didn´t even plug it in, and I don´t even know why, but I ended up playing almost every solo on that album with that guitar. During production of that album JC said “You should reach out to Hagström!” and I said “Yeah, but I´m with Gibson. It´s like cheating on your girlfriend.” I did and lo and behold, the person who responded back to me in Sweden, was a guy from Mississauga, which is a suburb of Toronto and he was like “Hey, how´s it going?” and it just goes back and forth. That´s what´s crazy. Now I´m with Hagström and I´ve been with them for almost five years now.

Back in the 90´s, did you get into the Gothenburg sound?

No, I got into it back in like 2001. We were touring with Backyard Babies. During the 90´s I got into noise music like Amphetamine Reptile and Touch and Go  and bands that sounded heavy, but weren´t classically labeled as metal. If you listen to the whole roster of Amphetamine Reptile, all those bands are not classically heavy metal, but they´re all noisy and loud and they´re obnoxious and they´re heavy and they use power chords, but it´s all from a different angle. That´s what I was into for that whole decade. That was my heavy diet, so I missed all that (Gothenburg sound). Then we went on tour with Backyard Babies in 2001 and we shared a bus and Dregen would play Entombed and I was like “This is incredible!” and then I played catch up for the next two, three years… Oh no! Sorry! There was that, but even before we started our first European tour, my roommate started working with this guy named Sam (Dunn) and he went “This guy Sam is doing a documentary on heavy metal.” and I go “A documentary on heavy metal? That sounds like a money losing adventure. What the fuck!” Then “Metal: A headbanger´s journey” (2005) came out, so while my roommate was working with Sam, he put on this band and it was The Haunted´s “Made me do it” (2000) and I was like “Holy fuck! This is a new band?” That was the moment when I went “What´s going on?” This was the sound that I thought “Load” and all those weak albums by metal classic rock bands were putting out because of the whole grunge thing… that had balls and then we went on tour with Backyard Babies six months later. All that shit was coalescing and then I just got back into metal and I started listening to all the records and I started buying all the records I had on cassette and I had a period of five years that was a mixture of nostalgia and catch up where I was reconnecting with all the albums I listened to when I was a kid. That´s what set me on the path.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Björn Olsson