By STEVE MASCORD
WHY is it that when most people meet an admired musician for the first time, they want to say “I saw you at…” and ramble on and on about a gig that the person in question has long since forgotten?
It always sounds lame … but when I finally gEt to talk to Danko Jones, whose Australian tour kicks off tonight (Thursday September 5) in Melbourne, I found myself doing the same thing. It was the circa 2001 in Manchester, they were opening for the Backyard Babies and I found Danko – the man and the band – completely mesmerising.
Here was the lascivious bluesman incarnate. All the songs were about sex, it seemed. He licked his lips regularly.
It’s hard to reconcile the mouthy cocksman I’ve seen many times since with the quiet, touring-exhaustion-hit fellow on the other end of the phone in Toronto. Then again, in 2010 he had seemed a little less sure of himself on a big stage supporting Guns N’Roses and Sebastian Bach across Canada. Yes, I followed that tour the length and breadth of the Great White North … more money than sense back then…
So while Danko must encounter the same journalists with every tour and album (the latest is this year’s A Rock Supreme), unfortunately for the next little while he is stuck with someone who has been watching from afar for almost two decades….
… someone who wants to say ‘I saw you at….”
And the most significant question I have out of all that time is: is ‘Danko’, the garage rock Robert Johnson, a character that he plays each night?
“When I get on stage and I’m in front of a crowd, you get a chemical change,” he answers, hiding any weariness at the question well.
“Some people get really shy and nervous and their throat tightens up and they can’t speak. Well, I just have the opposite effect. It’s like a fight or flight response and I need to get on with it and do it.
“When people see me or meet me off stage and I’m not saying anything and I’m not screaming at them, they wonder if it’s a character. It’s not. .
“It’s simply me in a situation where there’s 100, 1000, 5000 pairs of eyes staring at me and that’s the kind of response, you know, my body gets.”
Nonetheless this is not a a randy troubadour on the end of the phone, which is how Danko – now aged in his early 40s – appears on stage and in videos. He does spoken word tours, blogs, hosts radio shows … and anyone is reading at one of those news aggregation sites, he’s got plenty of news angles for you here.
Danko’s answer when i ask if his band (rounded out by bassist John ‘JC’ Calabrese and drummer Rich Knox) has realized its potential is brutally honest.
“No because I’ve seen other bands exceed us and go past us – bands like Volbeat and Airbourne. They’ve done way better than we have so they’ve set the ceiling that we still have to go and try and reach.
“The music industry is not something that’s set – there are a lot of variables. All it takes is someone to ignore you and no-one will hear you. There are bands out there that no-one knows who could probably fill stadiums.
“But no-one will ever know them because they never got a proper release. We can only put out music that we stand behind.”
Likewise, when I again throw out the old “I saw you at” regarding the 2010 tour with GN’R, there’’s a comment about America crowds which will tickle the fancy of the news aggregators.
“When we go out in front of a crowd that isn’t ours, when a band takes us out and their crowd isn’t necessarily our crowd, it doesn’t get intimidating. It just kind of gets annoying.
“And a big stage like a Guns N’Roses Stage, I thought ‘if we can’t own this stage, we have no right being up here’.
“The only time it does get a little bit, not intimidating but rather annoying, is .. we’ve been on tour with bands and this happens mainly in America … where the crowd doesn’t give the support band a chance to play. They’re ready to just boo them.
“It’s weird and I’ve had this same conversation with a lot of other bands who’ve been in the same situation and it’s only in America. In other places they at least listen and try to decide for themselves but in America it’s more like ‘if you’re not the headlining band, we don’t want to see you’.
“It’s weird, it’s a real close-minded way of listening and taking in music.
“I’ve bitten back. It always bites you back though. You can’t go up against 2000 people. I’ve said things but 2000 people will then start booing or chanting or anything.
“But its only in America.
“We’ve actually confronted some of the people who were booing us in the crowd after the show and they’re suddenly so timid. Not scared but timid and shy and almost sorry for doing it.
“It’s this weird mob mentality there that I don’t see anywhere else in the world.”
Danko is a KISS fan, but like many of us doesn’t swallow everything the band tries to feed him. “I didn’t go to the End Of The Road Toronto date. I didn’t even know it was happening. Someone texted me saying ‘are you here’?”
Is he sad that soon there will be no KISS to go see? “No. I don’t feel any sadness at all. It’s half, Gene and Paul anyway. Tommy and Eric do a great job but its half the original guys and the original four is the band I fell in love with when I was a kid so ,.. it’s been like that for decades on and off.
“So I don’t know. It’s a band that’s gone through so many eras, they era of them not being around might be an interesting era to live through as well.”
Finally, then, I ask Danko for some advice. To those of us who work in close proximity to one or two other people – he’s in a power trio, after all – what are the secrets to not breaking up, falling out, going down in an unholy fireball before you last the 23 years these guys have
“Me and JC have been together in this band since day one. I think it’s easy to see that we’re different people, different kinds of people, different personalities but we make this happen in close quarters because there’s a mutual respect and one doesn’t try to go in on the other’s boundaries.
“For example, he does a lot of the managerial and administrative side of things and I don’t try to become the cook in the kitchen trying to screw up what we’ve got going. I do a lot of the interviews and he doesn’t try to jump in there and take over doing the interviews if he doesn’t have to.
“A mutual respect in terms of working together, that’s a great way to keep things going.
“And plus, don’t be a dick! That’s really a big rule to follow, don’t be a dick. There’s a lot of times when you work in close quarters that you forget some of these lines get blurred, just due to being around someone for so long. You end up being a dick. You end acting like a dick and it just builds up and up and up.
“It’s such a simple rule: don’t be a dick and know your place.”
And there I was back at the Manchester Academy in 2001 thinking Danko was all about the thing thing he just advised us all not to be….