Adrenaline PR Canadian hard rock stalwarts Danko Jones recently announced…
Danko Jones 'Too Much Trouble' Book Excerpt: Fucked Up, Broken Social Scene, Nashville Pussy, Sloan, More
- Posted on Oct 4th 2012 12:30PM by Stuart Berman
Hard-rocker Danko Jones' career path has hovered in and around those people (he was even BSSer Brendan Canning's roommate at one point), but ultimately he's always ended up traveling down different roads.
In this exclusive excerpt from Stuart Berman's new ECW Press book Too Much Trouble: A Very Oral History of Danko Jones, we find out about Danko's ugly flirtation Canadian success (or lack thereof) when you're a rocker and the trend is "indie," with guest commentary from the likes of Fucked Up's Damian Abraham, Sunset Rubdown, Jello Biafra, and others.
Here's the excerpt:
Danko Jones' aborted Universal mission is a tale as old as indie-rock itself. It's just that their failed-major-label stint happened to play out at a time when Canadian indie rock, for the first time ever, was becoming an internationally recognized exemplar of hipster cool. The media-hype machinations that had immortalized the music scenes in Seattle, Austin and Chapel Hill during the '80s and '90s were now anointing Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver the new thriving epicentres of indie rock. Bands like Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire and the New Pornographers were forging a new Canadian musical aesthetic defined by multiheaded collectives, anthemic group choruses, orchestral grandeur, textural density and heart-on-sleeve emotionalism. It's a community that Danko Jones once had ties to -- Danko was once a roommate of and occasional musical collaborator with Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning -- but, by the mid-2000s, the band's riff-rock raunch could not have been more of out of step with prevailing Canadian indie-scene fashion.
DANKO JONES: In 2005, we played a show somewhere in the northeast of America. And the club was structured so that the big room -- which is where we were playing -- was on the top level, and below that there was a smaller room, but both shows shared a dressing room. In the dressing room, there was a communal computer, and we needed to use it. And there was a guy sitting at the computer, who was obviously a part of the other show. I asked, "Are you finished?" And he goes, "Hold on a second." And then he leaves, and JC sat down at the computer -- and on the screen that guy had written "Danko Jones is corporate rock" or something like that. It was a guy from [Montreal indie-rock band] Sunset Rubdown. And we almost beat him up. A girl who was with him defended him, so we just scared the shit out of him -- we were like, "Who the fuck are you? Where are you from?" And he says, "Montreal." And we're like [sarcastically], "Oh, Montreal" -- because we knew that was the new indierock Mecca.
SUNSET RUBDOWN (via their publicist at Jagjaguwar Records): The band does not wish to comment on this incident, but we can confirm that the message was "Danko Jones Rocks the Corporate Machine."
DANKO JONES: That's when we started to realize, "This is how people see us" -- they see us as this corporate entity, because we were signed to Universal. But we're not the first band to do this -- everyone from Sonic Youth to the Flaming Lips to Mudhoney have all done it; I'm just following in the footsteps of people who I thought had indie cred and still do.
DAMIAN ABRAHAM (Fucked Up): In the early 2000s, it was almost like there was this old indie rock versus new indie rock thing happening in Canada. Especially internationally, people looked at [bands like Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire] as the birth of Canadian indie rock, as if nothing had come before it. Unfortunately, bands like Danko, who had predated it, got left by the wayside, even though their indie credentials are just as intact as anyone else's. But it's always been like that, when you look at the way scenes explode: bands that have a certain sound get lumped together and the bands that had either been doing it longer or doing something different fall through the cracks. You look at Seattle, and bands like the Fastbacks, or Gas Huffer, or the Supersuckers, or the Dwarves -- bands that didn't really fit the grunge thing -- kind of got forgotten about, or aren't really talked about in the same breath. It's the same thing in Toronto: there's a certain Toronto indie sound.
DAMON RICHARDSON: I remember when all that Broken Social Scene stuff was going on, and it was just such a weird thing that it started picking up so much steam. It was definitely far away from what we were doing at that point -- I had this feeling that we weren't going to be taking off in Canada anytime soon.
BRENDAN CANNING (Broken Social Scene, Cookie Duster): How were Danko going to compete when you've got our band, Arcade Fire, Feist, Stars, the Dears, Metric, the New Pornographers... there was definitely a [Canadian indie] sound there, and Danko was not, like, a hip sound. And [Universal was] trying to market them to this older, more middle-of-the-road audience. It wasn't a real underground-rock kind of thing. It was just not the right sound -- it doesn't speak to the indie kids.
GEORGE STROUMBOULOPOULOS (former CFNY/102.1 The Edge DJ, current host of CBC Television's George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight): The kind of Canadian indie rock that was being celebrated was different. While Danko were always the kings of indie, they were never considered the artistic band. Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire were spectacular bands that lived in a different genre. And I also think what happened was that alternative and indie music became very sensitive and soft -- people wanted emotional stuff. If you listen to all the indie stuff that gets played on all the radio stations and music blogs now, all that stuff is soft. Even when it's noisy, there's no dark streak to it. Indie kids don't like rock music. Indie fans grew up listening to the Cure. I love the Cure, but the Cure are not KISS, you know? And most indie/alternative kids are afraid of rock 'n' roll.
GRANT LAWRENCE (frontman for the Smugglers and CBC Radio 3 host): Here in Canada, Danko Jones have lost the It factor -- they've not been able to tap into the zeitgeist of indie-band culture in Canada. I don't know why that is. Maybe it is the style of music -- it's too tough. We've gone through an indie-rock revolution in this country, but I think the general audience is into a softer kind of indie pop right now.
The collectivist nature of much early '00s Canadian indie rock tended to downplay individual personalities in favour of presenting bands as united front, blurring the traditional divide between audience and performer. Humility displaced bravado; amateurish irreverence was valued more than skilled musicianship. In this climate, Danko's deeply cultivated persona and commitment to stylized performance comparatively seemed like outmoded ideals -- antiquated at best, schticky and contrived at worst.
DAMIAN ABRAHAM: It's not like all these Toronto indie bands sound exactly the same, but stylistically they're on the same page. Whereas Danko's in an entirely different book. Toronto indie bands have always been really earnest -- like saying "thank you" to everyone onstage and being polite. That's not what Danko Jones has been about ever -- it's been about bravado and it's been about putting on a show.
MIKE WATT (formerly of the Minutemen; currently with fIREHOSE and the Stooges): What Danko does onstage is almost antischtick for me -- you know, John Fogerty wasn't born on the bayou. I think art is for transcending things, and Danko seems to me like a guy who wrote these songs and really wants to sing them to people. I wonder why [people think what he does is a schtick] -- is it the earrings?
JELLO BIAFRA (formerly of Dead Kennedys, co-founder of Alternative Tentacles Records): I think persona is almost a lost art. From an underground standpoint, there's two different causes of that that are almost diametrically opposed. One is that the commercial acceptance of grunge -- and especially pop-punk -- cast a mold of how people were supposed to be onstage, and more and more people got into underground music in order to be popular and to be instantly liked, which meant trying to appear cute or non-threatening. Or if there's a woman in the band, it was about selling tits and ass.
So from the corporate side from up above there's that pressure, and down below, among the more political-than-thou -- and I especially noticed this in the early ['80s] days of [Bay Area punk Mecca] Gilman Street -- anyone who was too extroverted onstage was put down as having a rock-star attitude. And I couldn't help but think back to the days of Mabuhay Gardens when the Dead Kennedys came on the scene [in the late '70s] and all the bands that inspired me then. The whole way the scene worked was that onstage, you damn better well put out -- onstage, you're a star, you're a cult figure but, the minute you get off the stage, you better just be one of us again. And it worked that way, and there was this pressure for everyone to look different and sound different than everybody else.
But by the early '80s, when hardcore hit, the peer pressure was the opposite: everybody has to sound like this and look like this, et cetera. And then later when it got political, people were even more down on somebody who was, say, 18 to 22 and wanted to do something theatrical and put themselves across as "look at me, I belong here and I am somebody." Which, of course, is a very strong part of who Danko is. The belligerent side of his attitude is a big plus. Some women don't seem to be into him at all, although the next time I saw him [after the 2001 Hultsfred festival], at the Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, I took my girlfriend, and I was curious how she would react to that. She just looked at me with a smile on her face and said, "You know, sometimes I'm just a sucker for good ol'-fashioned sex rock." She really liked it.
HANK VON HELVETE (Turbonegro): Without the humour element in rock 'n' roll, rock 'n' roll is not very fun.
EDDIE SPAGHETTI (Supersuckers): I opened up as a solo act for Danko and Turbonegro, and when we met, we realized we were kindred spirits -- we both love our rock 'n' roll and we're very unapologetic about it. I think because we're not super-megastars, it's taken as being a schtick. When [Supersuckers] throw up the horned hand, we really mean it. Danko's persona is that of someone who "likes the ladies," and that's going come off as being sexist to uneducated rock-critic types.
BLAINE CARTWRIGHT (Nashville Pussy): [Danko Jones and Nashville Pussy] both came out of punk rock, but we were trying to make it better, trying to go beyond our punk rock pasts and bring in some more classic influences. I know they're obsessed with Thin Lizzy; we're obsessed with AC/DC and Skynyrd and Motörhead -- all the good shit. The punk-rock scene was really politically correct for a long time, and around the same time Danko Jones and Nashville Pussy started, we all got tired of that. We got tired of everything being politicized. It just makes you want to write songs about pussy.
JAY FERGUSON (Sloan): It's hard for some indie kids to take [hard-rock] music seriously, because maybe it's not as poignant, as something like, say, Pavement. With my band, I noticed a turn with [Sloan's 1998, AC/DC-styled single] "Money City Maniacs," which was definitely an homage to '70s rock 'n' roll, and I think a lot of people were like, "What the hell are they doing? Is this a joke? How could these guys possibly like this music?" And maybe people think the same way about Danko Jones -- people just can't take it seriously.
JONATHAN CUMMINS (the Doughboys, Bionic): I understood what Danko was trying to do [in becoming a more traditional hard-rock band], and I'm not going to say it's wrong, I just don't dig Spring Break Presents: Molson Dry Wrestle-Rock. I love rock, I play in a rock band, but usually the rock that I listen to is Motörhead. I don't understand why people do it now. But this is coming from a jaded 44-year-old guy who only buys outsider music on vinyl. I have total respect that Danko does what he does, even though it's not my thing, because it all comes out of his uber-fandom and his passon for music. You can hear the influences in his music, whether it's Thin Lizzy, or early metal. I think it's awesome that he could've gone the cooler-than-thou indie route, which I fucking hate, and instead he decided to stick it out and be like Thor/"gotta-keep-the-dogs-away" dude. Which in my books is kind of cool -- it's great that he didn't do, like, a Broken Social Scene record or something.
COREY SHIELDS (soundman): I remember when Danko were "cool" in Toronto and all the cool people liked them. Now, they're so passé in Toronto -- they're no longer the cool, darling band, because there's other cool darling bands. It's a different audience nowadays.
DALLAS GOOD (the Sadies): As Danko Jones gained momentum, professionalism and success, they certainly lost me.
IAN SVENONIUS (the Make-Up, Chain & the Gang): I didn't realize Danko Jones was still a band.
BRUCE LaBRUCE (filmmaker): In Toronto, it almost seems like there's a willful ignorance of what Danko Jones are doing. And that's the Tall Poppy syndrome, which Toronto has in spades: to punish and ignore people who go elsewhere.
MAX McCABE-LOKOS (formerly of the Deadly Snakes): I don't know if Danko Jones care if people like their band. They're not ingratiating themselves to people in Toronto. They're like jobbers now -- I don't think they care if people are into it. They're not going to run themselves ragged trying to sell records in Canada when they can just live in Italy for six months of the year and play festivals. I'd make the same choice.
DAMIAN ABRAHAM (Fucked Up): Danko Jones are one of those bands that's easy to take for granted. Toronto always has the tendency toward "what's next?" Some bands get a lot of attention when the shows are sold out, but then it's like, "OK, now what have you got for us?" With the exception of something like a Broken Social Scene or a Metric -- something that's graduated to that next level of becoming an institutional, established rock band -- everyone else in Toronto seems to go through this thing where you get your couple of sold-out shows, and then there's a gradual decline in attendance. I'm definitely not faulting the city of Toronto for it, I'm definitely not faulting the band for it, it just seems to be something that happens naturally here.
As if the band's exclusion from the Canadian indie-rock conversation wasn't insult enough, the lack of U.S. label support also meant that Danko Jones were effectively shut out of the Strokes-triggered "return to rock" movement that had made Stateside stars out of garage-reared peers like the White Stripes and the Hives in the early 2000s. At the time, Danko Jones' only appearance in a major American media outlet came in the form of a dismissive SPIN magazine review of the band's 2004 South by Southwest festival show, in which Danko was described as "like Chef from South Park crossed with James Hetfield."
By 2005, the duality of Danko Jones' existence had come into stark relief. While the band was lucky to fill small clubs in Canada and the U.S., over in Europe, Danko Jones' ascendancy up the musicfestival ladder had allowed them to start headlining increasingly bigger club shows and graduate to the tour-bus level.
ALAN CROSS (former CFNY/102.1 The Edge host and program director; current host of The Secret History of Rock): When "Bounce" came out in 1999, everyone had high hopes for Danko Jones in Canada, but maybe they just had the wrong sound at the wrong time in the wrong city. And if that's the case, you have two choices -- you can break up, or you can go find a place where you are accepted and loved. And I know that's exactly what Danko did, and he ended up finding a fanbase in Europe that was much more appreciative, simply because they came from a much different cultural background.
I've actually talked to him about this -- I asked, "What is it about Europe that's so much different than North America?" And he told me, they're just into music -- they're not into specific types of music, they just want good music. So one night they'll go to an electronica bar, and the next night they'll go to a blues bar, and the next time they'll go see a rock band, and they're just appreciative and very deeply into the concept of music. While here in North America, probably because of the way our radio stations have evolved over the past 40 years into specific formats, and the creation of the tribes that follow each of these formats or were created by each of these formats, it's not the same. You identify yourself by the kind of music you like and the sense of being an equanimical music fan was lost for a very long period of time, and it's only now we're seeing it return thanks to the à la carte selection of the internet.
DREGEN (Backyard Babies, formerly of the Hellacopters): In North America, it feels like the bigger labels have more control over the industry or the hitlist on the radio channels than they do in Europe. The albums that actually sell [in North America] get played on the radio, but over here [in Europe], if there's a radio DJ that discovers a new band like Danko Jones, he can still play them on the radio. It's more likely that you can break an underground band in Europe. And I think it's fairly easier for bands to get gigs at bigger festivals. In America, there are a lot of festivals that are touring around, but it's the same line-up on each festival. Over here, there's more of a festival culture -- of 100 bands, you have 30 well-known bands, and 30 who are known by the people who are into them, but one third of the whole lineup is completely new bands. That is a good thing, for new bands to play in front of a new crowd. There's a lot of festivals here with only bands who are hardly signed; if they had played a club, people wouldn't really be interested. But if it costs only $20 to see 80 bands, you can have a good time, because it's outdoors and you can have a few beers.
ALLAN REID (former president of A&R, Universal Music Canada): There's a far larger consumer base that exists in Europe than exists in Canada. The whole Danko Jones thing is a character, and maybe there's a greater number of people in Europe to buy into that, so therefore they've got bigger crowds to go to and work it more live. It's like anything: you put the effort in, and it'll come around. I think that, for them, Europe became such a stronghold that they just kept going back and it worked. It worked better than it did in Canada. At the same time, the Hives were coming up from Sweden and all that sort of stuff was breaking through -- Danko were sort of in that scene as well. Europe-wise, that music was huge -- it caught on a little bit in North America, but not as big as it did in Europe. And Danko had the ability to tour in Europe at festivals -- those things don't even exist here. They go out and play the Roskilde side stage, and then come back and play the main stage the following year, it's awesome.
TOBBE LORENTZ (booking agent): It's a different animal in Europe with festivals, because if you're a great band, you can get a good slot even if your record sales don't reflect that. That's what I love about the European festivals: [the promoters] listen to music, they watch shows and that's how they decide on a band. Fifty per cent of [the line-up] will be based on sales and hard facts, but also 50 per cent of it will be based on love. "We love this band, we think this works for our audience" -- you don't have to be the biggest band with the biggest sales. And that's why you can build a career as a touring band in Europe.
DANKO JONES: Festivals aren't really a part of musical culture in North America, especially Canada -- at a European festival you can hit, like, 30,000 people all at once. I'd say a good 70 per cent of those audiences didn't even know who we were before we hit the stage, but you finish the show converting a large group of people who never would've been exposed to you and were there just to get laid or drunk or enjoy the band that's after you. We couldn't have done that in Canada -- no matter how hard we tried, the infrastructure just isn't there for that in Canada. And we had good shows [in Europe]; I don't think anybody had done what we were doing.
That gets back to the whole performance aspect of the band -- connecting with an audience in a way they've never been connected with before, because North American bands can't speak their language. They just say "hello" and "thanks." I was very aware to say "hello" and "thanks," and maybe say something else, but whether or not they understood it, I wanted them to know that we were not talking down to them. And that's always been very important -- no matter how much I yell and scream, the audience always knows that I'm never talking down to them. Especially when there's a language barrier, I want people to walk away knowing that "they spoke directly at me -- the stage level had nothing to do with it." Whether they get my jokes or not, the delivery of it is what's important.
DAMIAN ABRAHAM: It's been so weird to watch Danko's career -- because [in the late '90s], they were the band in Toronto, and then, in typical Toronto fashion, they kind of fell by the wayside. But as it was falling by the wayside in Toronto, internationally, they were becoming 10 times as big. It wasn't until Fucked Up started touring Europe that I got the scope of how big they were over there. We played a festival in Holland and we were the first band on the third stage, and they were on close to the end on the main stage. I had heard all the stories about how they were huge overseas, but until you go over there and see 10,000 German people losing their minds watching Danko Jones, you don't really get how true that is.
I'm a hater -- like, I really hate to see people become successful, for some reason. But as soon as I find out someone has a past in punk or hardcore, I automatically feel an affinity with that person, and I've always rooted for Danko because of that show I saw [in the late '90s] where he jumped on with Countdown to Oblivion and did those Youth of Today, Minor Threat and Black Flag songs. Normally, if I read about some band becoming successful overseas, I'd be like, "That's what happens when you get all that [Canadian government] grant money -- you get to go overseas and tour endlessly." But with Danko, I was like, "Right on! That guy is alright in my book."
BRENDAN CANNING: There was one festival tent in Holland that they were really slaying, and I was just like, "Whoa -- there's 15,000 people here really loving Danko." I'm always happy for them. I like them all as people, even though my love of the band had kind of waned at that point. But they were really killing it.
BRUCE LaBRUCE (filmmaker): I spend a lot of time in Europe -- I was on the jury at the Stockholm International Film Festival a few years ago, and I spend sometimes half my year in Berlin. I see posters for Danko Jones everywhere. I run into people from Sweden and Norway all the time who are just crazy about them. I directed a couple of episodes of a TV show for a production company based in Germany, and my producer, when he found out I knew Danko Jones, was so fucking impressed. He was really excited that I knew him from the beginning.
EDDIE SPAGHETTI: I don't see any real [cultural] difference between Europe and the States, but obviously there is one, because rock music goes over way better over there -- especially if it's unapologetically rocking, like the Supersuckers are, and like Danko is and Turbonegro and the Hellacopters. All these bands have great success in Europe and it doesn't translate in America for some reason. It's kind of a mystery. I think America is so hung up on what everybody else is doing and listening to that it tends to gentrify everything and make everything just a little bit more bland -- you have bands like Nickelback and Creed that people think of as rock bands. I just think they're pretty generic, lame versions of what good rock bands are out there doing.
ERIC DAVIDSON (New Bomb Turks): If you get a certain level of fandom in Europe, European fans will hold on a lot longer. American fans are a lot quicker to be like, "Oh, that was yesterday's news," which ties in to the way you're brought up in America -- you're brought up to buy a new TV and then throw it out to buy the next one, because it's quote-unquote "better." In Europe, they appreciate stuff a little longer without it having to be a part of a trend. I think the tide has turned -- I don't think bands have to worry so much anymore about making such a big dent in America; you can survive elsewhere.