Keeping Up with Jones: Guitarist Danko Jones Talks Kiss, Metallica, Volbeat and Gear
Danko Jones is a Toronto-based hard rock trio featuring vocalist/guitarist Danko Jones, bassist John Calabrese and drummer Atom Willard.
The band released their sixth studio album, Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue, late last year and are now hard at work on a North American tour with Danish rockers Volbeat.
A few weeks back, I spoke to Jones about pretty much everything under the sun — including music, gear, lectures, podcasts, Kiss, Metallica and more. Check out our conversation below and visit the band online right here.
GUITAR WORLD: Before you started this tour with Volbeat, you did a run of dates in Australia. What was that like? Had you played there often before that?
Actually, no. This was only our second time in Australia. The last time we were there was 2004. The tour last month was the first time we did the touring festival over there called Soundwave, and it was a great time. It was really well organized, well run and a great lineup for a festival.
Speaking of Volbeat, it reminds me of a show I saw in Hollywood in 2009 at the Troubadour when hardly anyone had heard of them. Look where they are now.
I remember that show at the Troubadour! There were a couple hundred people there that night, but definitely their star has risen since then, and it’s mainly due to the Metallica tour they did and the songs they got. I don’t know, they just got this buzz in America that’s kind of taken off for them, which is great.
Even though you’re still opening for them on this tour, it’s being played in much bigger venues this time around.
Yeah, but that has nothing to do with us. It has everything to do with Volbeat. They are the ones who are bringing in all the people. It’s their tour. They could have asked anybody to open for them, but they asked us and we’re very flattered by that. We haven’t really toured America too much, but hopefully with the success of this tour, we’ll be able to do so in the future.
Does being a three-piece band give you an edge? It’s almost like anything can come out of you when you start writing.
Definitely, being in a three-piece, we have fewer cooks in the kitchen, so to speak. So there are just three of us and we don’t have like two other people to go through to see if songs are good enough to make it on the record. So things get decided upon quicker. I don’t know any other way. We’ve been doing this band for 17 years now, so it’s the only way I know how to be in a band. If I were in a five-piece band, I’d probably be starting from scratch because I don’t know that experience.
You said you haven’t done much touring in the US. How do you gauge the response of the American crowds over the years? Are you better received now as compared to before?
Well, what ends up happening is, a band like us gets a good response depending on radio play, and we’re lucky enough to have a song in the top 30 in America for the last four months. So people know us from that song, and from three other songs in the top 40 in America. So over the years, I think that if people haven’t heard us, they’ve at least heard of us.
What do you use in terms of your setup?
I’ve been playing Gibson guitars for the past seven years on stage. Right now, I’m playing a Gibson SG, but for the past six years I’ve been playing a Gibson Explorer. And then, in my private sessions when I’m just like fooling around on the guitar, I play an SG as well. From just sitting down on a bed or couch and playing, I just play an unplugged SG and that’s how I come up with the riffs.
But live is a different animal totally. You have to perform, so I need guitars that look cool. The SGs are my favorite guitars, but I’ve just not been able to find one until now that stays in tune. I beat up my guitar on stage. I take my fist and I punch the guitar, and it’s a different punch when you have so much adrenaline running through your body when you’re on stage. You don’t know how hard you’re punching, really. So the guitar has to withstand a lot of damage, and I haven’t found an SG that can, whereas the Gibson Explorers can take a lot of damage and a lot of hits. Before, this is going back almost 10 years now, I used to play Telecasters, and even those guitars would take a lot of damage.
I don’t think it’s an aspect most musicians would need to look into, because they don’t really beat up their guitars.
Yeah! It’s just that the adrenaline is running through me, and that’s what happens.
Have your guitars ever gone out of tune midway through a show?
Oh yeah, sure! It happens every now and then, not all the time. When we were in Australia, because some days we were playing in such intense heat, the sun was beating down on us midday, and the guitars went out of tune. But that happens in extreme weather conditions, whether it’s extreme heat or extreme cold.
Aside from the band, you also do some spoken-word stuff. How did you start that and how do people react when you do it on stage?
I did spoken word in 2004 and then never really did it again until last year at the Wacken Open Air festival in Germany. It wasn’t a spoken-word show like you’d see Jello Biafra or Henry Rollins do it because I didn’t want to be known as Henry Rollins Jr. So I put a twist on it and started doing lectures. I’m doing lectures on Kiss. So if you want to call that spoken word, you can go ahead and call it that, but I differentiate myself from it to let people know ahead of time that it’s not going to be what you think it is. So I’ve just been calling it "lectures."
You also do podcasts where you interview other people in music. How much do you enjoy that?
It doesn’t even necessarily have to be about music. Actually, I was just going to check whether the podcast charted this week, because we just uploaded an episode with Chris Jericho, the world champion wrestler. It was Chris Jerico, Damian Abraham from that band Fucked Up, and myself. Chris Jericho is a pretty big deal, so that one should chart. But usually, I try as hard as I can to make the podcast to sound what I want it to sound like, which is a conversation rather than an interview. But sometimes it ends up being kind of like an interview. I do the podcast because I just like to do it, that’s all. That’s the reason I do podcasts, and that’s why I write in four different columns all over the world.
I write for the Huffington Post every week, and this week’s piece should be posted within a few hours. So I do it only because I like to, not because someone’s making me, and they don’t necessarily have to be about music either. But most of the time it is, because that’s what I’m known for. You wouldn’t be speaking to me if it doesn’t involve music. So there’s that, and sometimes when we do a podcast and the guest is a comedian, we don’t end up talking about music at all.
I checked out the interview you did with Marty Friedman. It was all about Kiss, wasn’t it?
Yeah! Marty and I are big Kiss fans, and we’re actually talking about doing a part 2 of that episode because of the new Kiss album and the new Peter Criss book, etc. I just haven’t gotten around to doing it. But Marty’s a great guy. Totally cool guy.
I’ll look forward to part 2. I guess you’ll talk about this in the podcast, but what did you think of the new Kiss album?
I think what they did with the previous album, Sonic Boom, was a step in the right direction, kind of listening to the fans and giving them what they want, which is the old-school Kiss. But obviously it’s going to be like an updated version so it’s like super-produced. I think it’s over-produced, but that’s just my humble opinion. And the same goes for this new album. I must admit though, I got more into Sonic Boom than I got into this one. I’ve only heard this album like maybe three times. It’s good, but it’s more mid-'80s Kiss, which is still good. So I think what they’re doing is the right thing.
In terms of memorabilia and merchandise, when you play in other countries, do you buy special editions of stuff that’s available only there, instead of ordering imported copies?
Those opportunities are few and far between these days since record stores are closing down more and more. I used to, but I don’t really do much of that anymore. Plus, whenever I get a day off now I’m mainly just working on my podcast and columns. I used to try finding the record stores in the city that we were in, but not anymore. Besides, I’m not really into the whole tourist thing. I’d much rather just work on my podcasts and columns.
A couple of years back, when Metallica’s LuLu album came out, I read something about you wanting to sell your entire Metallica collection. What was that all about? I’m sure it was a joke, right?
I’m actually very surprised everybody took that seriously. It disappoints me in humanity that people took it seriously. I was inundated by people who were hateful because I didn’t like LuLu, and I had to actually clear it and go, "I was just joking, guys." And then, another news story came out saying, "Oh yeah, now he’s apologizing!" I was just like, wow, nobody has a sense of humor.
That whole experience just made me realize that I don’t really have to explain myself. I telegraph everything I do and I’m not trying to hide it in metaphors, but if you really think I’m going to sell my Metallica collection, which is probably bigger than that of most Metallica fans, you’re out of your fucking mind [laughs]. My Metallica collection is worth more than that of what most people who call themselves the most rabid Metallica fans, any day. I have almost 200 bootleg Metallica DVDs of shows that span their entire career. I don’t know how many fans have that. And that’s just DVDs. Let’s not even get into the audio.
I think it’s like Metallica are a big enough target that you can make fun of. A band like Kiss, as much as they’re like this big institution, they’re not too big where you can’t make fun of them. Therein lies where they become endearing to people like me, the fact that they’re so big that they can be made fun of and worshiped at the same time. That’s what makes them endearing. If you can’t make fun of what you really like, it becomes scary. It becomes almost like a religion. I’m not really into that. I do not worship false idols! [laughs]
Andrew Bansal is a writer who has been running his own website, Metal Assault, since early 2010, and has been prolific in covering the hard rock and heavy metal scene by posting interviews, news, reviews and pictures on his website — with the help of a small group of people. Up till February 2012 he was based in Los Angeles. After that, he had to move to India, but is still carrying on his heavy metal endeavors with the same intensity.
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