Danko Jones Enjoys an Underground Rock & Roll Life

The band weighs in on touring and the outlook of rock & roll.

After 24 years, Canadian trio Danko Jones, led by charismatic frontman Danko Jones, have barely changed at all. Drummers have come and gone, they’ve toured the world numerous times and seen their modest cult fanbase blossom. But musically, they still play straight-up, no frills rock & roll with a hootin’ and hollerin’ frontman standing center, with the crowd in the palm of his hand.

A Danko Jones live show is an experience. Part Paul Stanley/Dave Lee Roth and part James Brown/Solomon Burke, Jones (the man) is the ultimate performer, capable of generating near-evangelical fervor, whether it be on a dive bar or festival stage. That’s the way it’s been from the beginning.

“A lot of the development has been with recording and songwriting,” Jones says. “But in terms of the live aspect, I don’t think much has changed really. That’s pretty much where this band lives live. It’s because of a party rollicking, hot rocking show.”

The band has been through more drummers than Spinal Tap, with seven in those 24 years. That said, current tub-thumper Rich Knox has been in the ranks since 2013. Jones puts that down to a combination of technical prowess, and just the fact that they all get along.

“He’s the best in terms of technical prowess on the drums that we’ve had, and we’ve had some really good drummers in the past,” he says. “I’ve really not spoken about past drummers publicly because I don’t think it’s fair — they don’t have a voice to defend themselves. So I usually just keep it at, the three of us really get along very well. That has taken us to our seventh drummer.”

Danko Jones (the band), completed by original bassist John Calabrese, put out their ninth studio album last year, the appropriately titled A Rock Supreme. It’s a typically wild slab of hard rock — all big riffs and memorable tunes. The frontman is pleased with the reception it received, even if he wishes more people heard it.

“I thought that the album would do a little better than it did,” he says. “The reviews were all great but I didn’t see the album get a wider response.”

As the music industry continues to shift further and further in a digital direction, it’s getting harder for mid-level bands to get heard. That said, Jones doesn’t feel that they were hit as hard as some, because his band’s albums weren’t going gold or platinum beforehand anyway.

“We were going porcelain,” he says with a laugh. “Ceramic. So nothing really affected us and we kept going. As the industry changed, yeah there’s less people buying CDs at the merch table but in terms of a heavy hit, I don’t think we really felt it as much as other bands who relied on record sales and major label promotions. Their world came crashing down a little bit harder than ours. It’s always been a meat and potatoes, get up onstage and get in the van, approach to being in a band for us.”

That approach will likely serve them well for some time to come, not least because the rock & roll genre in general has plummeted in popularity in recent years.

“It’s not even in the top 10 most popular genres of music anymore,” Jones says. “It’s going the way of jazz, so it’s got a very particular group of people who like it. As someone who’s always liked outsider music, I like the fact that rock & roll is going underground and becoming the outsider music it was to begin with at the very beginning. Then it became the most popular form of music through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Now, in its silver years it’s receding back and becoming an underground form of music. Monetarily it sucks but at the same time it’s kinda cool that it’s got this distinction.”

Jones is a lifer; a rock & roller with a love of punk and metal who is perfectly comfortable on a standard, comfort-less van with his bandmates. He gets bored though — he’s only human — which is where his popular The Official Danko Jones Podcast comes in.

“It’s a fun way to keep me busy on the road,” he says. “Touring is really boring. They don’t say that in the fine print when you sign up for this garbage. It was fun the first five to 15 times around the sun. After a while, if I see another cathedral I’m gonna puke. That’s how touring goes. It might sound glamorous but trust me, there’s nothing glamorous about it.”

This week, Danko Jones hits San Francisco as part of a short run of California co-headline dates with L.A. rockers Junkyard. Jones is a fan.

“Back in the day when they first came out, because I couldn’t believe it was Brian Baker from Minor Threat,” he says. “I was one of those guys that had one foot in punk rock, and one foot in hard rock and heavy metal. Never the two should meet back in the day. Junkyard was one of those bands where it was meeting like a motherfucker and it was fucking up my world. I credit bands like Junkyard and the Bad Brains that crossed genre and it helped me get into any kind of music that my ears liked.”

The frontman is looking forward to the San Francisco set — it’s been a while since he last played at Bottom of the Hill, and he feels that Cali audiences “get” his band’s music a little easier than those elsewhere.

“Last time, we played Slim’s and that was memorable for me because I think it was the only time we played a new single and I played it perfectly,” Jones says. “And Jello Biafra came by, and Ted [Aguilar] from Death Angel. We have friends in San Francisco.”

After that, the band will be off to Scandinavia and the U.K. as well as across North America for a year of hard touring and festival dates. Business as usual then.

Danko Jones with Junkyard and Zed, at 8:30 p.m. on Friday,
Feb. 7 at Bottom of the Hill.

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