DANKO JONES: Canada's Supreme Rocker
By David DeRocco
There’s Tragically Hip syndrome. And then there’s DANKO JONES syndrome. In the former, you release an expansive and diverse collection of musical art that’s wildly embraced by Canadian radio programmers, but mostly ignored in all but a few pockets of the rest of the world. In the latter, you release an expansive and diverse collection of musical art that’s wildly embraced on six of the world’s seven continents, but for the most part ignored by all but a few Canadian radio programmers who still understand what great homegrown garage rock should sound like.
Surprisingly, DANKO JONES isn’t suffering from Danko Jones syndrome at all. Sure, he’d love more Canadian stations to support his latest blast of riff-roaring sexual fury, A ROCK SUPREME. But when he’s playing sold out shows to audiences from North London to South Africa, it’s kind of hard to worry about the reasons why a corporate-bitch of a rock station in some pissant Canadian town doesn’t have the balls any more to play a three-and-a-half minute blast of bravado like “My Little R&R” in heavy rotation. Besides, he doesn’t have time to worry – what with 2018 book “I’ve Got Something To Say,” his regular podcasts, his monthly columns in European rock mags and that other thing he does, which is blow fans away with the kind of high energy performance he'll be delivering May 17th at the Warehouse in St. Cathairnes.
In anticipation of that gig, here's an interview GoBeWeekly did with Danko the last time he rolled into the Warehouse. .
GO/BE: The last time I saw you perform was with Billy Talent at Ivor Wynn with my 15 year old daughter. She had no knowledge of the band but after your set said, ‘OMG dad, that rocked.’ She said it with a surprised look, like it was something she’d never seen before – a band that rocked like that. It made me realize how seldom young kids get exposed to music like Danko Jones makes anymore. Is that a mission for you – to keep that spirit alive – or is that just the music in your DNA.
DANKO: That’s our music. We’ve been at it a long long time. I’m glad she felt the impact of that. Happy to hear that it kind of crosses age groups. But there’s no further effort put into it other than we’re excited to play for people and we stand by our music, our songs that we’ve released. We wouldn’t have released them if we didn’t like them and we wouldn’t have chosen those ones to play live if we weren’t sure that they would have a good live impact.
GO/BE: The other thing she liked was the sexual bravado in the songs, the banter you delivered between and during songs. It make me think of how that sexuality was lacking in the 90s grunge music scene. There was nothing sexy about the grunge era. Do you believe that to be a critical element for making great rock music – a thread of sexual desire?
DANKO: Oh I agree with that sentiment. In terms of the counter balance with grunge music though, we are actually from that scene. We are from the garage punk scene. And the garage punk scene in the 90s, I would say mid to late 90s, was a reaction to all that Nirvana watershed grunge and all the melancholic grungy ‘woe is me’ kind of music that was prevalent and popular. And out came this kind off shoot of punk rock that revelled in the Stooges and Stones and mixed all that together with Motown and Stax and punk rock. That was the scene we came out of. Eventually that scene went over ground with The White Stripes and The Hives, but that scene has really died down. In the 90s it was really gaining ground, and so we were from that. We followed those bands. We wanted to be like those bands, the Gories, the Blues Explosion, The Oblivians, The Dirt Bombs, the New Bomb Turks. Those kinds of bands are what shaped this band. When you outlast your own scene, people don’t know what to make of you. We’re very misunderstood a lot of times.
GO/BE: I interviewed Angus Young once and asked him why AC/DC never had a ballad. He said “because Metallica did them all already.” Given the way 80s metal bands cranked out the ballads to land chicks, I’m surprised there’s not more attempts at ballads on a Danko Jones album.
DANKO: We’ve done a ballad once. It didn’t really work out, it fell flat on its face. It was on our second EP, around 1999. We just decided never to do that again.
GO/BE: That’s it, one and done?
DANKO: Yes, pretty much. It really brings down the live shows anyways. There’s really no point. The other thing you learn being in a band is to know what kind of band you are (laughing).
GO/BE: You play to audiences around the world. With the risk of sounding naïve, when you really look at the scope of nations in which you have fans, what feeling do you get from that?
DANKO: It’s nice that our music was able to reach people from different cultures and languages and across oceans. The funny thing is we do better abroad than we do at home. It’s comforting to know that your music translates often times better than some homegrown music that gets propped up and exalted. Sometimes you can get caught up in that and go, maybe we just don’t have anything on these guys. Then you travel the world and perform. I’ll take success abroad over regional popularity any day. And that’s kind of what satisfies me and calms me. But it is frustrating being a band in Canada for 22 years and I don’t think people even get to hear the albums over here.
GO/BE: I remember when “Play the Blues” came out, which I think is my favourite Danko tune, and the radio station I was at wasn’t going to play it. I sat in the meetings and said ‘what are you not hearing that I hear in this song.” What kind of comments do you get from labels or agents or music directors at radio stations who try to justify the reasons for sporadic airplay?
DANKO: It’s a path I hesitate to walk down with you because it just makes me look like I’m bitter. And I’m not bitter. I’m actually quite happy at our success abroad. But I’m Canadian. And like I said at the start of this talk, I don’t always get to play Canada often. So when we do I really want people to hear about it and I want to do interviews and I want to do shows and I want them to go great, like gangbusters. So Canada does mean a lot to me. I think a lot of people might think ‘oh they don’t care about Canada.’ No. We’ve been trying to break this country for 21 years now. So of course we care how well we do in Canada. But for some reason, rock or hard rock or the kind of rock and roll we play just doesn’t connect on a bigger scale in Canada like it does in Benelux or Scandinavia or Germanic countries. It’s a shame. I’d love to do three tours in Canada a year. What can you do. We’ve put out eight studio albums. This WILD CAT album is our 8th studio album. But we also have three compilations albums, three albums of singles and B-sides and unreleased material. All in all we have 11 albums of original material to play.
GO/BE: Regardless of where it happens, does the level of success you enjoy match the dream or the original vision of what you hoped to accomplish as a musician?
DANKO: Originally we were from the garage punk scene so our biggest goals, my personal goal, was to be be recorded by Doug Easley (Pavement) and to play with Rocket From the Crypt. That was it. If we could tour with Rocket From the Crypt that was it. We eventually got the drummer from Rocket to join our band We did okay. And we didn’t just limit ourselves to touring North America. We toured every continent except Antarctica on planet earth and that includes Africa. I’ve exceeded what I wanted for me personally. I must admit my original goals were simple. I was very idealistic when we started this band to the point where I would often shoot myself in the foot. You don’t hear about this kind of talk these days but in the 80s and 90s it was all about being true and keeping your integrity and never selling out. Those are the ideas and catch phrases I don’t hear being bandied about in music much anymore.
GO/BE: I know you enjoy doing your podcast and interviewing people. Is there a question you’ve asked that you thought was a particularly great question that I should ask you?
DANKO: (laughing). No, not really. There’s really two types of people I want on the podcast. Friends who are usually in the music industry or bands. We have that rapport and we just shoot the shit and record it. And then the other kind of person is someone I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid and I just kind of fan boy out on them.
GO/BE: Since you mention fan boy I’ll ask you this since I’ve never got to meet Keith Richards. You got invited to open on the Rolling Stones tour. Do you have any fond, unique or salacious memories from that experience?
DANKO: Well, afterward I was told that Mick Jagger was given our album Born A Lion as a birthday gift. And I was told that Keith Richards two favourite bands for the whole 40 Licks tour was us and the White Stripes. And I was told by someone who did security during their Toronto stay that Ron Wood kept playing Born A Lion during rehearsal. I never got to meet them, so those three stories were enough for me.
GO/BE: You’re eight albums deep into this career, 22 years on. You’re still touring, writing great songs, releasing new music. What would the scenario be that might result in your retiring from the stage to take on the life of a scribe and a podcaster?
DANKO: (laughing) I don’t really know. I don’t really think that far into it because it’s probably too scary to imagine. I’ll just see what happens. In terms of being a scribe full time, I’ve heard that writers don’t make too much money. I think I’ll continue what I’m doing!
DANKO JONES plays The Warehouse in Downtown St. Catharines May 17th.
(Interview previously published)