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Interviews   

Sex, Danko & Rock N’Roll



Honestly, nowadays, what’s more rock’n’roll than Danko Jones? Airbourne? Nice try, but too close to AC/DC, and therefore too conformist. The henhouse Buckethead demanded be built during the recording sessions for Chinese Democracy, and which was, or so the legend says, brought down by Axl Rose’s wolf? Too weird. French deputy Patrick Roy, who made a habit of speaking of hard rock in front of his peers? Too well-dressed. Giant turtles laying eggs in Guyana? Errrr… No, nothing’s more rock’n’roll than the madman Danko Jones when he treads the boards.

Speaking of which, the man releases a his new album this year, Below The Belt. Danko’s back in all his glory, after a Never Too Loud that was quite nice but showed far too much restraint for the fans, who wanted only one thing: to hear some rock! And with this new record, it’s very likely they found the best recipe: hard heavy music with perfect melodic choruses and vocal lines that have never been so rich before. Below The Belt is a mine for hard rock hits.

We wanted to know more about Danko Jones, the character (you could almost say the comedian), the band, but also about Below The Belt, an album with a nice future. To answer our questions, we interviewed John Calabrese, Danko’s bassist and friend, the man who puts some depth in all this craziness. Or maybe not…


(About Danko’s voice) «I think it’s a perfect balance between what he could do and what the songs needed.»

Radio Metal: Never Too Loud was more melodic and more laid back than any of your previous efforts. It was actually quite criticized for that. Obviously you tried to do something new; in that respect, was it disappointing to hear the negative reactions?

John Calabrese (bass) : Not at all. Actually, we were more surprised to realize that so many people didn’t know about classic rock. Never Too Loud was pretty much our classic rock record, in honour of a lot of bands we listen to. Not a lot of people saw it for what it was: a tribute to Thin Lizzy. We were happy with the record. At the end of the day, when we’ll look back at our discography, we’ll be happy with what we did, and still be happy with that record. But we’re also happy now to have a new record, Below The Belt.

Below The Belt is a return to the fast and heavy rock ‘n’ roll Danko Jones is known for. Did you yield to the fans’ desires or is it something you wanted also?

It’s something that we wanted. When we started the writing process, both Danko and I thought: “We should do a heavier, darker record”. What we learned from Never Too Loud is to work with a lot more melody in the songs, in the vocals, for example. That’s something we learned from Nick, the producer. On Below The Belt, you’re gonna get a mixture of melodic vocals and signature growls and screaming that Danko has. We consciously wanted to make a heavier record, and we’re really happy with what we did.

When you did Never Too Loud, was the band conscious that this melodic and softer approach would end up as just a one-off experiment?

We really wanted to make that record, we really wanted to make those songs. We wanted those songs to have a classic rock feel. At the end of the day, we’re a rock’n’roll band. You can look at Sleep With The Enemy as our punk record, and at Never Too Loud as our classic rock record, but it’s all under the same umbrella. We can do punk rock or classic rock, but we’re just a rock’n’roll band.

Will you ever risk yourself again at producing another more melodic album along the line of Never Too Loud or even something softer? Acoustic, maybe?

No, I don’t think we’re gonna do anything acoustic. We’re really happy with Never Too Loud, we’re not ashamed of it. Otherwise we wouldn’t have put it out!

When listening to Below The Belt, it sounds like you haven’t totally hung up with the melodies. Songs like “Full OF Regrets” or “I Think Bad Thoughts” are some of the catchiest tunes in DANKO JONES’ repertoire. Do you have the sensation that you’ve reached some kind of balance with this album?

Thank you, man! Like I said before, I think we’ve reached a point where we understand the simplicity of the music. We’ve reached a balance between singing and delivering heavier vocals. That’s a really good balance. And more than anything, we know what we’re gonna sound like. We’re a rock’n’roll band: we’re not gonna add electronic stuff, strings, or anything like that. We had already found our sound, but we hadn’t fine-tuned it yet. On this album, I think we really fine-tuned it, to a point where we’re really happy with the result, more so than with any other record.

Danko’s singing has clearly progressed and sounds more adventurous than ever before. Has this melodic side pushed him to improve his voice and singing?

I think what pushed Danko to improve his voice and get more melodic was Nick Raskulinecz, who produced Never Too Loud. We have to give him credit for this, because he really pushed Danko in exploring the melodies. What Danko learned from this experience, he applied to Below The Belt. He applied that knowledge, but at the same time he kept in mind the very simple things he was doing before, like screaming and growling. I think it’s a perfect balance between what he could do and what the songs needed. For example, on “Full Of Regret”, he’s doing a bit of the talking rap, but he’s also singing in the chorus. It’s a great balance, and it offers the listener the two options of the vocal delivery.

Do you think Never Too Loud was an inevitable step in order for the band to evolve and produce such a hit album as Below The Belt? It sounds like this new album couldn’t have existed without the previous one, am I right?

I think so, yes. It’s a definite evolution. When you’re gonna look back at our discography, Never Too Loud is going to make perfect sense. Without that, it would have been an incomplete puzzle. There are elements that we learned as a band with Never Too Loud that we applied to the new recording. It really stepped up the songwriting.

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The album title, “below the belt”, sounds completely tongue-in-cheek. It’s obviously humorous, with a soft sexual connotation, and it’s typical of Danko Jones. Do you think the best sex is the one we can laugh about?

Yeah, I think so! Like you said, it’s tongue-in-cheek. If there’s humour in life, there’s always joy in living. I don’t understand why people are always so angry. Of course there’s a serious edge to life, but there’s a light side as well. We have an album with a really good-looking woman, a lion and Danko sitting on a chair, and the title is Below The Belt. I think that really sums up our band, in a way! It’s tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a serious edge to it, which is the music.


« If you think about it, a lot of rock’n’roll songs are sexual. It’s always about getting together, breaking up, hating a girl, loving a girl, wanting to be with somebody… […] We’re not gonna be like Bono and talk about the ozone layer. I don’t think the music would be good with lyrics that would go in that direction! Lyrics like “I Wanna Break Up With You” are much more fun! »

DANKO JONES always had songs that talk lightly about love relationships. The first song that comes to mind is “First Date”, but on Below The Belt we also have “I Wanna Break Up With You”. What pushes you guys to write so often about this subject?

I think it’s one of the only subjects we write about! It’s one thing Danko is really clever at doing. We’ve been writing about the same subject since we started this band, almost fifteen years ago. It’s like reinventing the same thing over and over again. If you think about it, a lot of rock’n’roll songs are sexual. It’s always about getting together, breaking up, hating a girl, loving a girl, wanting to be with somebody… It’s the kind of theme that you also find in sould music and in R’n’B. It’s a theme that’s been central throughout our existence. We’re not gonna be like Bono and talk about the ozone layer. I don’t think the music would be good with lyrics that would go in that direction! Lyrics like “I Wanna Break Up With You” are much more fun! We had fun with that song, but it’s such a dark subject. The singing is at once very happy and dark. I thought it was a nice delivery.

Is there a possibility that these songs are inspired by the lives of the three of you?

Oh, definitely. There’s always inspiration taken from truth. If not, Danko wouldn’t be able to sing the songs every day! Everybody goes through that experience. I’ve been through it: I was with a girl and I wanted to break up with her because she was driving me nuts! No matter who you talk to, we’ve all gone through that. It’s a simple thing. I’ve had a friend of mine come up to me and tell me: “I can’t stand her, she’s driving me crazy!” In a way, it’s a tongue-in-cheek, funny thing, but it’s also a very simple subject that it’s easy to hit on.

We often say that when you have a rock’n’roll band, you get a lot of chicks. So, pure myth or reality?

Myth! You’ll get lots of chicks if you’re a confident, honest person. No matter what you do.

There’s a song called “Active Volcanoes” on the album. Was this somehow a prediction of what happened recently in Iceland?

It woud have been poor taste on our parts to have made a prediction like that! But it’s a good thing we didn’t use it at all when the volcano thing happened. That wouldn’t have been nice!

Danko Jones is such a high voltage character on stage: he makes some crazy faces, jumps around, jokes all the time with the audience… He’s a show by himself! Is he like that all the time, even off stage?

No, that would be terrible if he were like that all the time! I wouldn’t be able to sit next to the guy! I’m able to play with him in a band, because when he goes on stage, I know he’s going to give 100%. At the end of the show, people come to our dresser-room, and they’re like: “Why are you guys so quiet?” We just played out hearts out, what do you want? We play every show like it’s the last show we’re gonna play and we try to entertain the crowd to our best ability.

Isn’t it difficult to stand out or be noticed on stage while having Danko by your side?

That never even crossed my mind. I’m just there, playing bass in the songs we wrote. Obviously, people are going to look at the singer, and for me it’s not hard at all. I don’t care, it’s so much fun. I’m entertained by what he does, too! Sometimes I don’t even know what he’s going to say! I know my place, I’m the bass player in the band, and I’m happy with that. We’re not in the band to have a popularity contest. It’s great the way it is.

Danko Jones is a trio; as the bass player, do you adapt your playing style or sound in consequence? I know you’re using some kind of distortion on your sound…

Yeah, definitely. My bass sound is really distorted. It almost acts as a second guitar, to fill out a lot of the space there is sometimes. My playing style is definitely just for DANKO JONES.

I’m sure many bass players out there would be interested in knowing how you get that big fat sound you got, especially in a live setting. I know you’re endorsed by EBS…

Yeah, exactly, EBS makes the amplifiers I use. They’re from Sweden. I’ve been using either the PD 650 head, or the classic head. I use good, old-fashioned overdrives and play real hard. We have a great sound guy as well, who does a great job at mixing our songs.


At the end of the show, people come to our dresser-room, and they’re like: “Why are you guys so quiet?” We just played out hearts out, what do you want?»

Danko Jones is clearly a band that must be seen live. When will we get a live album or DVD?

I don’t know if you’re gonna get a live album, but we’ve been working on a DVD for a few years now. We have so many recordings, we’re gonna need to need somebody to help us with that. Maybe by next year we might do something like that, but don’t hold my words as truth for that! Not a live album, though. A live experience is something you must come and see for yourself. To capture that on tape may not be the best thing. A live DVD would be most likely.

Interview conducted by phone in April 2010

Translation by

Site Internet DANKO JONES :
www.myspace.com/dankojones



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