Danko Jones is feeling confident. His band’s latest record, Wild Cat, finds Jones, bassist John Calabrese, and newest drummer Rich Knox re-teaming with JUNO-winning producer Eric Ratz (Big Wreck, Arkells) with bone crushing results. Jones is on record saying that the pair of records, which includes 2015’s Fire Music, are the best the band has ever released.
“I know bands say that all the time about their latest output, but for me, I really stand behind it,” he says over the phone from his home in Toronto. “With other past records I was thinking, ‘I hope people like it. I mean, I like, but I hope people like it.’ But these last two I’ve been very confident about the reception. If you like rock ‘n roll and you don’t like these records, you have something personally against us.”
Jones says he owes some of this confidence to the addition of Prince Edward Island native Knox, who brings not only an educated background in music from McGill University, but a strong sense of songwriting. He’s been with the band since 2013.
“We’re getting along very well as a band, on and off the stage,” Jones says. “As a band, and just as friends, that’s a dynamic, to be honest with you, we’ve never really felt with previous line-ups. We’re just better, more confident songwriters now.”
Jones has been working with bassist John “JC” Calabrese since 1996. He notes that relationship took time to develop, and is now better than ever.
“The only way a relationship like that, especially in the music business, something that is a business but it’s also an art form with creativity…” Jones says, pausing, “…sometimes people clash when having to deal with both sides together. We’ve come to the point where we know each other’s strengths.”
Another relationship he’s had to work on over the years is with his audience. Jones, a genuine nice guy on the phone, becomes an aggressive frontman on stage, commanding the attention of everyone in the room.
“You and I are talking one-on-one here, but it’s an aggressive act to stare at someone,” Jones says. “If you have a hundred pairs of eyes or a thousand pairs of eyes staring at you it’s a pretty aggressive thing. Your body chemistry changes. Some people get pretty nervous but I get pretty aggressive back, that’s what comes out. When I get angry in my personal life, like some guy cuts me off in traffic, that’s what comes out.”
When we bring up the possibility of getting into the character of Danko Jones for the stage, he’s quick to shoot it down, asserting that it’s just the way he channels his anger.
“It’s not a character that I slip on and suddenly I’m ‘the Star Child from outer space,’ then I get back and the show’s over I’m just checking my email,” he says with a laugh. “When people are staring at me it just freaks me out, and that is the natural environment that I work in, people staring at me. I will admit that it’s warranted in the field of rock ‘n roll. If I was playing in a jazz quartet, maybe I wouldn’t be like, ‘HEY, YOU WANNA…?!’ even though the same pairs of eyes are looking. Playing rock ‘n roll allows me to indulge in that side of me, I get to get it out of my system. Over the years I’ve been able to hone it where I just do it on stage. I don’t know if I still have it, but yeah, I’ve had anger issues in the past, obviously. You can see it on stage, but I’ve been able to keep it all for the stage.”
While Jones isn’t joining a jazz quartet anytime soon, he does like to lend his voice to like-minded collaborations, from Volbeat’s “Black Rose” to Guano Apes’ re-recording of “Open Your Eyes”. He appears on ‘Last Waltz’, a track from this month’s Coach Fresh, the latest LP from legendary rapper Maestro Fresh Wes.
“Maestro reached out to me because he had this track that he heard my voice on, I’m not expanding anything in my field, he’s the one who’s expanding his sound, I’m just being dropped in and helping with the expansion,” Jones explains, noting he will not be spitting any rhymes on the track, opting to instead sing the hook. “Maestro Fresh Wes is a legend to me. His third album that he made (1994’s Naaah, Dis Kid Can’t Be From Canada), that’s such an unheralded classic. Everybody knows his video hits, like ‘Let Your Backbone Slide’ and ‘Drop the Needle’ and even ‘Stick To Your Vision’ but honestly, that album is amazing to me. When he reached out to me for this track, I’m like, where and when?”
Jones wears his influences on his sleeve, from musical collaborations to his Instagram feed and podcast (both of which celebrate rock ‘n roll past, present and future). He still likes to sneak references into songs, like Wild Cat single “My Little RnR”, which features a few nods to the Rolling Stones’ “Little T&A” from 1981’s Tattoo You.
“There’s certain (Stones) albums I listen to more than others, and Tattoo You is a great album,” says Jones, who opened for the Stones in 2002. “I thought, ‘Little T&A’ has always been a great song for me. There was a moment where I thought, wow, it really sounds like that Stones song. Why don’t I just play it all the way to the hilt and work it into the song title and even reference the lyrics, and whoever gets it gets it. That’s not the first time I’ve done that, I’ve done that on every album, multiple times, it’s just that people don’t catch it.”
Jones also has a message for any critics of his lyrics, which walk the perfect line between taking rock seriously and having some fun.
“I’m not positioning myself as some sort of lyricist, I never have,” he says. “What I don’t like, and I have now just learned to laugh at, is when people say how puerile my lyrics are. Yes and no. Yes because it’s the genre of rock ‘n roll, it’s not a very heady genre. But at the same time there’s an art to it as well, you can have fun with it. Every time I hear someone say that, I think, this is a person who either failed to bother to read the lyrics or just doesn’t know any of the references.”
Visit dankojones.com for more information.