INTERVJU: Danko Jones

Danko Jones är powertrion som nu släpper ett album med titeln “Power trio” Vi gjorde som sig bör, kopplade upp oss och zoomade med den pratglade kanadicken. Ett samtal om bland annt Eddie Van Halens frustration, musikvänner, BLM, Rush och pandemins påverkan:

I started to look into… not too much, but I started to look into alternative careers. “What can I do?” As a guy in a band for the last 25 years, I have no skills anymore. My skills are like highly tuned to a handful of people who do this. “Hey, you want me to sit in a room all day and then get up on stage? I can do that! If you can get paid doing that, I know how to do that. Or if you want me to sit on a bus for five hours, I can do that.” I can come up with a three chord song, but that´s not gonna pay the bills, so your skills kinda fall by the wayside if you do this full time and you do it for 25 years. It was a harsh reality I had to deal with.

Last time we met you totally dissed my “Crimson idol” (WASP) shirt.

(laughs) Oh, now I know who I´m talking to! As I should´ve and I´m glad that I did because I would do it today. I´m very consistent.

What is it about that album that is so bad?

Oh my gosh! The egomaniacal dirge into someone who is a terrible person.

But you are a WASP fan, right?

First album. It´s a classic, a stonecold classic.

You don´t like “The last command”?

It´s ok, but there´s a huge drop off from the first to the second album.

Another thing from last time we met, and you´ve mentioned this before, you talked about the instrumental track “Strung out” from Van Halen´s “Balance” (1995) album and you think that´s what Eddie Van Halen (1955-2020) really wanted to dive into. Do you still stand by that?

Oh, 100%. It´s not that he wanted to abandon schmaltzy love ballads, because I think he liked that part of music too, but he just never got to indulge himself in that world. I think he would´ve excelled and I think he would´ve loved it. The very fact that someone as schooled as Eddie Van Halen, someone who is seen as a musical genius, is making music and sounds like that, tells me that there´s an underlined frustration that needed to get out.

I think he was doing the score for the “The wild life” soundtrack as well around that time, in 1983. That music is more in the style of the stuff he did with Van Halen.

Yeah, and that´s the thing. He was a very frustrated artist and you can tell because he never got paid for his Michael Jackson solo (Beat it) because he wanted to do it secretively and the only reason why was because the other guys in the band didn´t want him to do stuff like that. He wasn´t free to do everything he wanted and I think eventually those kinds of chains worked against the band and he eventually took control and did what he wanted to do, but I think even then, he was handcuffed to a rock audience that would´ve judged his experimental projects harshly and I don´t think he wanted that kind of rejection.

If he had released something like that back then, that would´ve been his “Lulu” (Metallica) in a way.

Yeah, and you know, if he had done that, a kid like me, who wants to listen to rock music, would´ve told him to f… off and I would´ve told him “This is garbage!” and then it would´ve taken me another 15 years to come around and go “Wow, this is pretty cool!” He had to answer to people like me, kids like me, who were so close minded and just wanted rock and roll, so I get it but at the same time it would´ve been wild to hear what an unchained Eddie Van Halen would´ve sounded like.

Absolutely. When you listen to a track like “Strung out”, do you listen to it as music? To me it becomes some kind of art instead and not necessarily music.

Oh yeah, I listen to it almost objectively. I don´t get into it like when I listen to “Highway to hell” or something. I´m not banging my head and dancing around the room. (laughs) I understand what you mean, but it´s the idea that´s bigger than the actual music and that´s what´s attractive to me about that side of Eddie Van Halen, because I have that side too. I´m stuck in a world where we make three and a half minute rock songs and yet in my personal life I listen to so many wider sounds and often I wanna try my hand at it. The only thing I´ve done is noise and I put out a noise album last year called “Throat funeral” and it was a vocal noise album that I had done five years ago. It was just sitting in my laptop and I had nothing to do during the pandemic and I said “Well, now´s the best time ever, because the band´s not doing anything, you´re not doing anything and it´s just sitting there. It should come out.” I put it out and took it down on Christmas Eve, so it was up for about two and a half months and whoever bought it bought it and they can´t buy it anymore, until… I´m actually halfway through the second “Throat funeral” album, so this is gonna be a regular thing for me. It´s only gonna be on Bandcamp and if there´s a label out there who wants to press it that´ll be cool, but I´m just putting it out for me and whoever wants to listen to it.

Which is the best Van Halen record?

Holy cow! I like some for different reasons, but if I have to say objectively it´s “1984”

That´s mine too if push comes to shove, so to say.

Exactly. I would say “Women and children first” might be second, but “1984”… I mean, hell man! When I heard “Jump” on the radio last week I was like “You know what, I love this song!” I´ve heard it a million times, but I actually like this song. You know that “1984” (instrumental track) is actually 20+ minutes?

Yes and I think I heard you talk about it. Where did you pick up that?

I read it somewhere. You know how it fades out, right? There´s 20 minutes more of music.

I would love if Wolfgang would go through that “5150” vault.

I would love it too! (laughs) Aside from the singles like “Hot for teacher” and “Panama”, “Drop dead legs” is one of my favorite songs of all time. And the solo to that one is the best.

You´ve been around for 25 years now. That´s crazy.

Yeah, I guess it is. 25 years, you don´t really think about it until you look back. When you´re touring so much, life goes by quite quickly so 25 years went by real fast.

Has it lived up to your expectations?

Well, I mean… you know, every band wants to be the biggest band in the world when they start out and I think we´ve done fairly well. I would only say yes if we were as big as U2 or The Rolling Stones, so it´s worked out ok.

You´re out on the road all the time. What has it been like for you, staying at home, during this pandemic?

Well, here´s the thing! When we´re on tour, the day of the show, once I´m in the venue I stay in the venue. I don´t leave the venue, so I´m used to being indoors. On a day off, I´m not one of those guys who wants to tour the city. I stay in my hotel room unless I have to go out for food. The idea of lockdown and staying indoors didn´t really affect me. What affected me was the idea that our band was over and live music was done and that means I have to figure out a new way to make a living. And also, I was too busy worrying about vulnerable family members who were in the high-risk categories of this pandemic, so there´s other things I had to worry about.

Was there a moment when you felt this was the end of the band?

Yep and many times early on. I´d say the first six months. I started to look into… not too much, but I started to look into alternative careers. “What can I do?” As a guy in a band for the last 25 years, I have no skills anymore. My skills are like highly tuned to a handful of people who do this. “Hey, you want me to sit in a room all day and then get up on stage? I can do that! If you can get paid doing that, I know how to do that. Or if you want me to sit on a bus for five hours, I can do that.” I can come up with a three chord song, but that´s not gonna pay the bills, so your skills kinda fall by the wayside if you do this full time and you do it for 25 years. It was a harsh reality I had to deal with, but as things are opening up and there are vaccines that exist and numbers are going down… like here in Ontario and there are 15 million people here in my province and there are under 200 cases a day and the vaccination rates are at 200.000 a day, so it´s actually pretty good. We have our first show in a week and a half. We´re flying to Calgary to do a show and we´re doing a show in Edmonton at the end of August. We have a couple of other shows that have been confirmed, one in Nova Scotia and another in Quebec, so we have four live shows this summer that we´re gonna do and we already have announced our April-May European tour in 2022, so that gives me hope that if we´re on the right trajectory we can go back to touring. When there was the flu pandemic a hundred years ago, what followed were the roaring 20´s, right. Everybody went out and had a blast and I´m just hoping that people do that for this.

The new album is called “Power trio” Which power trio throughout time is the greatest one? Is it Rush, since you´re Canadian?

Right, so I personally think it´s Motörhead. They´re the most powerful power trio, like in terms of power they brought the most. My favorite is ZZ Top, but I can see that Motörhead is the most powerful power trio. Being from Toronto, I default to Rush, because you can´t grow up as a rocker in Toronto and not be affected by Rush. They´re everywhere. There´s a Rush story at every corner. Listen, I´m from a suburb in Toronto called Willowdale and that´s the same suburb Geddy (Lee) and Alex (Lifeson) are from. My house I grew up in… when I moved from Willodale, I moved to another suburb called Scarborough and that house is in their “Subdivisions” (1982) video. In the song there´s a line that says “In the high school halls” and in the video there´s a shot of the character walking through a high school hall. That high school is L´Amoreaux Collegiate which is a ten-minute walk from the house I grew up in. And it´s still a ten-minute walk from where my parents live. There´s all kinds of other stories about Rush everywhere, so I am absolutely a fan of Rush.

You must´ve met the guys?

I met Geddy years and years ago very quickly. I met Alex when I was in high school and I got an autograph from him when I was 15 and Neil (Peart 1952-2020) wrote me a letter about 15-16 years ago. And a long, long time ago we were in talks with their management and that´s about it. I´ve met them but I haven´t met them. I can´t say I go to Geddy´s house every day to play tennis. Nothing like that. (laughs)

Neil writing you a letter? Had you written to him?

Yeah, I wrote Neil a letter after I read one of his books and I gave it to someone in their management and I think it took about a year or a year and a half later and he sent a letter back. It was nice, very nice.

Speaking of Motörhead. You´ve got Phil Campbell on the album. You go back a couple of years or…? Would you call him a friend?

We call Phil a friend, absolutely. We toured with them in 2008 and ever since then we´ve always kept in touch. We already had the title for the album, “Power trio” prior to when we went into the studio. Going into the studio, “Start the show”, the song that he put a guitar solo on, was the only song that I didn´t have a guitar solo for. I´d laid down a solo, but we had already talked about getting a guest on and a few names were thrown around and JC threw in Phil´s name and he made the argument that “We should get the guitarist from the greatest power trio to be on the album Power trio!” That was enough for everyone to go “Yeah, that makes total sense.” Luckily Phil agreed and he laid down an amazing solo, but I still think mine´s good, but his is better. We´re so grateful and happy that Phil´s on our album.

It´s a great track. How would you describe Phil as a guitar player?

Underrated. I think he doesn´t get his just due a lot of the time considering the band he´s from, the time he put in there and the albums that he´s played on. They´re classics. It´s all heard on the solo he put on our album. The greatness of his guitar playing is all there. He played on “Orgasmatron” (1986), he played on “1916” (1991)… come on! These are classic records. When it comes to Motörhead everybody immediately goes to Fast Eddie and that´s great, founding member, but Phil was in Motörhead longer and Motörhead is an iconic band and the fact that he´s now in Phil Campbell and the Bastard sons just shows you that he´s a real rocker, a lifer. When I think of Phil I think of someone who´s so underrated.

You wrote a song a bout the George Floyd incident, right?

Well, not really. I was inspired by the BLM protests and the protests came about by the death of George Floyd, but it wasn´t George Floyd, it was more the protests after that inspired me to write the lyrics for “Raise some hell”, but when you listen to it there´s no direct reference to the protests of George Floyd. Anyone can interpret it anyway they want and I always leave it like that, but for me personally, that´s where the inspiration came from.

The whole of last year was just crazy. And a lot of crazy stuff happened in the US.

Yeah, and we obviously live next door and we always feel the affects of it, whether directly or indirectly. We´re the first country to get the most shrapnel. We had our own BLM protests here in Toronto that were happening along side America. They weren´t getting as much coverage as say Atlanta or New York, but they had it in droves here in Toronto as well. I was gonna go down. I´m caring for people who are in vulnerable high risk groups for the virus and I didn´t wanna chance it and at the time there wasn´t enough data on masking and outdoor transmission.

You were a contributor to Close-Up magazine. It was a sad day when they closed down.

Yeah, I think everyone was blindsided, myself included. I got an e-mail saying “We´re closing shop.” almost as sudden as everyone found out about it. It´s too bad that it ended the way it did, with a whimper rather than a bang. I just hope that Close-Up transforms into something else and continues in some other form.

A final thing. Besides Phil Campbell, are there other musicians throughout your career that you´ve struck up a friendship with?

I´m good friends with Phil Rind from Sacred Reich. We text and e-mail each other and phone each other. I wouldn´t say every week, I´d say once every two or three weeks we´re in contact. Sometimes more often than that and sometimes less. I count Phil as someone I grew up listening to and being a fan of and now we´re fans. He´s the first that comes to mind. The guys in Death Angel, the guys in Sepultura, the guys in Voivod. Not all the guys, but certain guys like… I don´t know. I´m just like namedropping here now, but absolutely. You can´t go through this for 25 years of touring and putting out records and being in the company of other bands and likeminded people and not come out of it with friends. There are some people I´ve made good friendships with and I´m happy and it gives me fuel when I´m down. When I´m feeling down I always think about that and it helps a little bit.

Text: Niclas Müller-Hansen

Foto: Björn Olsson, Michaela Barkensjö