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Danko Jones

Rocking 'Til Its Black And Blue

JAM Magazine Interviews Canadian Rock Vocalist / Guitarist

Photos Courtesy Danko Jones Facebook

Danko Jones has come a long way since they hit the Canadian rock scene in 1996. Twelve years ago, the band was trying to break out of the Toronto indie rock scene. They succeeded with help of the Rolling Stones, who tapped the rocking trio to open the first leg of their 40 Licks World Tour in 2002. Since then, the band has shared the stage with many or rock's more well-known groups while maintaining a relatively lower profile in North America than it has overseas, where they are a well-known commodity on mainland Europe.

With the release of their sixth studio album in ten years, Rock and Roll is Black and Blue, Danko Jones is intent to make a lasting impression on rock fans throughout the U.S. as they hit the road on one of the most anticipated tours of the year with Volbeat.

Danko Jones consists of its namesake Jones, who also dabbles as a journalist, both spoken and written. He has a syndicated radio program, performs spoken word tours, and is a guest columnist with an online political journal. The guitarist is joined by cohort John Callabrese on bass and drummer Atom Willard.

JAM: Your upcoming tour with Volbeat will give fans in America the opportunity to witness a real rock show by two import bands, one from Canada, the other from Denmark. What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to participate on this excursion through the U.S.?

Danko Jones: Well, it was actually supposed to happen two, maybe three years ago in Europe, Unfortunately, I think third parties got in the way so we couldn't get it together. This past summer we played the Wacken Festival in Germany. It's the biggest metal festival in the world. We were playing one day when I saw Michael Polson, the singer/guitarist from Volbeat. We hung out and talked about music, the festival and our attempts to tour together over the last few years. I said to him, "Let's just do it man! Let's make it happen without all the third parties getting in the way. We will make this a no-holds barred heavy rock tour!" Michael was totally into it! I think he was convinced this would be a great double bill. To his credit, he actually went back and honored the commitment we talked about in Germany. It was a simple discussion between two musicians sitting around a table trying to make something happen. Obviously, both of us were aware of the obstacles to overcome knowing the business side of things. What it boiled down to was this. Michael gave me his word he was going to do everything he could to take us on the road with them. To his credit, he did it, and we couldn't be more thrilled.

JAM: You've toured with a variety of bands over the years from the Rolling Stones to Nickleback to Guns N'Roses. What are you hoping happens with the North American swing you're doing with Volbeat?

We've been waiting for this to happen for a long time. Like I said, we were supposed to tour together back in 2009 or 2010. It may have been 2008. When it didn't happen the first time, I was extremely disappointed. Other parties had gotten involved and sidetracked everything. I knew it wasn't Volbeat's fault. We actually have played with them by chance at various times over the years. One of those instances was a show at the Troubadour. The band had an off day from the Metallica tour. We just happened to be in town on tour. Next thing you know, we're sharing the stage together.

JAM: You ended up performing at one of the most famous venues in Los Angeles?

It was great, but like I said, we haven't officially toured together. Other people got into the way and prevented it from happening.

JAM: There's obviously a degree of respect between the two camps developed over the years otherwise these conversations would have died a long time ago.

When it's just our two bands playing together, or hanging out, there's always been mutual respect between us. I have typically found that when it's just band members talking to one another casually, there's no drama involved. It's just funny that this tour we're doing with Volbeat is basically the end result of Michael and me just sitting down and chatting about it in Germany so many months ago.

JAM: Maybe you should call this the No Drama tour!

That's pretty much what happened here. Our bands had breakfast in the morning, played our sets at Wacken, then in the evening we all had dinner and talked. From that point on, Michael made it happen. So no drama indeed! That's how this tour happened. It was very organic,just two guys sitting down talking, which these days in the music business is probably pretty damn rare. I mean, there's always a middle man to overcome in this business. That's why it's to Michael's credit that actual artists can still get together and talk, then push hard to make great shows and tours like this happen.

JAM: Back in the '80s, musicians from all over the world flocked to Los Angeles to form bands and look for their big break by playing clubs on the Strip. The music scene here never quite recovered after the grunge movement in Seattle pretty much wiped it out in the early '90s. As a Canadian on the outside looking in, what do you think of the L.A. music scene?

I really like Los Angeles. There are a lot of talented people living there really connected to what's happening in the business today. People in Los Angeles are into music, appreciate it, and still support what's going on there. They are eager to hear new and exciting stuff, and support the bands.

JAM: The whole movers and shakers thing in L.A. has certainly been turned upside down because of the Internet.

From a business standpoint, there are a lot of people invested into the scene not only on a local level but also on a kind of a bigger international scale as well. Obviously New York has had it is fair share of ups and downs as well, but they're still in the mix. Besides, L.A. has the whole movie thing going for it with Hollywood, so it will always retain its importance in the entertainment industry. The networking in that town is incredible. You can get a lot of things done there if you know the right people. Most of them are really cool individuals who are well-versed in music.

JAM: I think you can play it both ways depending on who you are talking to about business.

Absolutely! I can also see the other side of the struggling band, or a struggling actor, and how Los Angeles can grind you down. The City of Angels is also the land of phony and fake people, false dreams and empty promises. And that's just not our experience either. We're in and out of town, and don't stay for extended periods of time. That may have something to do with our perception of the city. Every place you go to can be great when you're there for short periods. Typically, our band is in L.A. for a couple days, or a bit longer if we're filming a video, doing a photo shoot or both. We're fortunate not to experience Los Angeles for the actual grind it really is.

JAM: Some of the best tours going out right now involve all the acts on the bill kicking ass from the start of their set to the finish. Your tour is going to be one of them, and it's a great way to kick off 2013.

I think the fans will see that this tour was put together not by record labels doing one another a favor, but bands with mutual respect for one another. As a fan myself, I totally dig going to shows where every band on the bill is someone I really want to see. This is one of those situations and they honestly don't happen very often.

JAM: A lot of fans have gotten used to shows where they can leave to get a drink or a smoke, or even show up late because they don't believe you are missing out on anything if you skip the opening act, especially if you've never heard of them.

Yeah, I know what you're saying. That situation won't happen on this tour, at least I hope it does't!

JAM: Your last studio album was released this past fall. Today, music fans can determine your worth with the click of a mouse, which is about as impersonal as you can get. Does that new reality of how your music is delivered, and even perceived, put a greater emphasis on your live performances?

Yes it does. The bottom line is you can't download a live show. They have to be experienced firsthand to get the full effect of the music. Yes, you can watch a concert online these days, but it's in no way the same as if you were actually there. Touring is the one thing we have in our back pocket. If you shine as a live band, the audience is going to remember your performance. That in turn will cause them to check out your music when they get home and maybe even purchase some of your merchandise before they leave the venue. People are still into the experience of the live performance, just as much as they are into going to the movie theater to watch a film instead of watching it online or renting it to watch on your TV set.

JAM: Experiencing an event first hand will always supersede a computer screen or television set.

Yes, but it all begs the question of where is our industry heading. We've been asking that very same thing amongst ourselves. It's a big question that doesn't seem to have an answer. For the past ten years, as the Internet has grown in prominence, the musical community has been wondering how the changes are going to affect not only careers, but the bottom lines of all those involved in the business. After the Napster thing happened, everyone started to scramble, everyone wanted to know where this business was all going Ten years later, we're still wondering the same thing. Personally, I like how were able to get our music out to the fans via the web. However, I can't say I'm happy with the state of the music industry. The playing field has been leveled in some respects because of social media, but at the same time this business has become even more brutal with the tremendous influx of music that is now bombarding the Internet.

JAM: There are many avenues available to fans these days that allows them to check out new bands without ever leaving home. On the flip side, as you said, the playing field has now been leveled to the point where record companies can't make or break you anymore. Some acts have even turned to the Internet to fund album projects. How do you keep yourself ahead of that curve?

I don't know if there's a correct answer to that question. Believe me, I wish I had an answer, but I honestly don't know. I do believe in utilizing every digital medium you can to make your music available to the public. I believe in staying connected to your fans through social media sites. In fact, I'm on Twitter a lot not because I have to, I actually enjoy it!

JAM: Your admission is the state of reality all musicians across every genre of music is now dealing with. The key is keeping your fans engaged, and updated, with what you're doing. Social media has become a convenient way to do it, aside of the fact it's the most dependable way to go.

There are parts to social media I actually find amusing. It's so immediate, it's almost like after you play a song, people are applauding you. You have a thought or observation, put up a tweet and you get re-tweets or responses. That aspect of Twitter is fun because it's like you're always on stage performing.

JAM: And staying in direct touch, which is something bands didn't do with their fans before the revolution took place post Napster. It's a key to survival these days.

You're correct. It's important for your fans to feel like they are right there with the band. Twitter and Facebook has made that possible. You can put out news about your band directly into the hands of your fans without any fear it is going to be filtered. It's like the old school thing people used to do where they would write a letter to a band or singer and they would respond to the fan mail. A Twitter response is like the new autograph. That being said, I guess as an artist the electronic world is both good and bad for business. I mean, people think that they know you more than they really do. That said, from a music standpoint, from an artistic standpoint, you can put out whatever information you believe your fans need to know. That kind of direct access was unheard of in the past, which ultimately is why we are doing this in the first place.