Published May 06, 2010For almost 15 years, hard-rockin', no-nonsense outfit Danko Jones ― bassist John Calabrese, drummer Dan Cornelius and the band's namesake guitarist/singer ― have become one of Canada's most respected exports. Strangely though, that respect comes more from outside of the Great White North than internally. Initially garnering success in Scandinavia when our own industry was too insular to recognize the power trio's abilities, Danko Jones have become a household name in Europe and the U.S. In fact, based on multiple releases, sold-out gigs, his own column in various magazines and more, Jones himself is a rock hero everywhere but in his home and native land.
Unfazed, Danko Jones celebrates the release of fifth full-length Below The Belt (Aquarius) with severe gusto: a tour opening for rock legends Guns 'N' Roses, more of those globe-travelling gigs and a new video for lead track "Full Of Regret" featuring guest appearances by rockers Lemmy Kilmister (Motörhead) and the Minutemen's Mike Watt alongside actors Selma Blair and Elijah Wood. Currently wrapping up a tour with groove metallers Clutch as a warm-up for Below The Belt's official release, Jones discusses life in the trio's camp, the inspiration behind his new favourite album and how the band is finally surpassing a bittersweet battle with Canadian journalists.
So you just finished the GNR Tour but you're already out again with Clutch. Never in one place for too long, huh?
Jones: When we finished the Guns tour, we had about a month off so that was good. We could gear up for the new album. This tour is great too because we can start playing stuff from the record. It's all preparation for when the album comes out. The Guns tour was one that I wished we'd have toured with 'em for a full year. I was bummed when we were on the third show and there were only 12 more left. We had so much fun and got to hang out with Sebastian Bach every night; saw Guns 'N' Roses play every night. It was pretty cool. There were crazy moments but all in all everything pretty much went on time. Axl goes on an hour late and everyone knows it. It was like clockwork when you figured out the schedule. People coming to the show didn't know it but it was on a schedule.
In regards to the same ― Clutch and GNR ― Danko Jones seems to be able to play with so many diverse bands. What gives you that breadth?
I think it's basic, no-frills rock that can go from one camp to another. A lot of metal guys are rock guys and vice versa. It makes sense with the crowds but on the other hand, it's been a sticking point with us as well. In the music business, some people aren't real music fans but are in the business. [They] want to categorize everything [but] we can't be categorized so we lose out on things as well. But it balances out in the end because we can play with a heavier band then turn around and play with a rock'n'roll band. No one really raises an eyebrow.
Was it a hard to get to that point or does diversity come easily?
It was more obvious in Europe. They gravitated to it quicker than in North America. I don't know if it was hard or not. We just did it. We didn't know anything better. Some doors get slammed in your face but other ones open that you'd never conceive of. Getting to play the Wacken Open Air festival? I'd never have thought we'd be a part of that. For me, loving metal I appreciated that.
Metal fans are so diehard, they really know their shit. You're a metal fan so do you feel other metal heads might respect you guys based on that?
Sometimes but metal fans can also be pretty hard-lined about things too. Nothing serious has happened to us but a lot of younger metal heads are harder: "Fuck this soft shit." But then you grow up and get tired of just listening to metal and try other kinds of music. I find that our crowd has been listening to records for more than six months. I know how it is though. I fast-forwarded through the ballads on some albums.
You've had a love/hate relationship with Canadian press in the past because we haven't always been supportive. Where does that stand now?
You're kind of opening a Pandora's Box in a way. Over a period of years, I've gotten tagged as someone who hates the press but it's not like that at all. It was a bit of growing up on my part because in the beginning, I got insulted when people didn't know our band in interviews. I thought they should have done their research. At the same time, I realized that it's a chance to inform someone who doesn't know about the band. That was a maturing/learning period. Since then, [the negative impression] stuck in a way and I haven't been able to shake it. I don't mind because I write for magazines myself. I know how it is writing about music. I'm not doing interviews with bands because I think I'd put my head through a wall trying to talk to some of these people but I understand deadlines and the whole process. If you're writing about music, it's cool. The only thing that bugs me is when people who don't know about music write about it. It's like people who don't know about music running labels. They could be selling cars or chairs for all they care. It bugs me because I want the music industry to be filled with people who love music but that's the idealist in me. It is a business and shit happens. I don't know if that answers your question but that's my polite way of skirting around the issue.
I think it does. You've moved on and kind of hope the press will too...maybe even finally get behind you.
We've been around enough now that in the past we may have gotten angry but now you just roll your eyes and go, "This is bullshit." That's it. We're still here and I'd love the landscape of Canadian music to reflect a harder feel: more rock'n'roll and metal than it does these days but it doesn't. That's too bad. It's a harder kind of music to play than what gets the spotlight but that doesn't really reflect on popularity. There are other places to play in the world where they love rock and they put it in the forefront of the musical landscapes. That's fine with us because we get to go there and thankfully they support us.
The way I see it having played out, Canadians missed the boat on you guys and are begrudging about it now that other countries are more actively supporting you.
We may have been angry about it five years ago but it worked in our favour. Even the GNR tour ― it was Axl and his camp that fought to get us on that tour because they loved our last album. I read in The Globe And Mail that Axl insisted on us. That album didn't make any sparks in Canada but in a roundabout way we were able to come back and tour it with a pretty legendary, iconic band.
Sometimes you have to take the long way.
Yeah. This is a cheesy reference but I read once that Gene Simmons said how in the '80s when Kiss were tanking in America, they'd just go to Australia. When that didn't work, they'd go somewhere else. That made me feel better too, when shit wasn't happening for us in our home country and we had to go somewhere else. Thank God there was a crowd for us there. If you look hard enough, there'll always be a door opening.
Think of Below The Belt as a new door with Canadian press. How do you feel it holds up to the band's catalogue since you're generally rather candid/don't hold punches even in regards to your own music.
I've been wondering how I'm gonna talk about this album because you hear every band say how their new album is their best. I've had a lot of hours to compare it to our older stuff and personally it's my favourite album we've done. I didn't say that about past albums. I've always said that my favourite album is (2003's) We Sweat Blood. This is my favourite though.
What made you change your allegiance?
We made a concerted effort to make everything harder and heavier; harken back to We Sweat Blood and Sleep Is The Enemy (2006). That was our mindset coming into it. I gravitate towards heavier music but I like all sorts of stuff. Getting behind these songs is easy because they're all faster and heavier. I like that so when I hear these songs back-to-back, I'm really proud of 'em. It's hard to put in words when they're songs. They're like your kids: you love 'em all but I like this batch of songs more than others we've ever done.