DANKO JONES – Sweating Blood, Firing Bullets

By Carl Begai

If a band’s success can be measured by the number of paying customers coming through the club door on any given night, Toronto rockers Danko Jones have hit something that looks a lot like the big time in Europe. Their five week tour for new album Below The Belt boasted high attendance and six sold out shows, including the remarkable feat of packing a club in Nuremberg, Germany to the rafters (800+) after playing to 1,200 people in neighbouring Munich – less than two hours away – the previous night. Europe has been a solid market for the band for almost a decade, but frontman and namesake Danko Jones admits even he is a little surprised by how well they’re being received on their current run. He chalks the buzz up to a variety of factors, not the least of which is having an album heralded by many as the strongest of the band’s career.

“We’ve had sold out shows in the past, but we haven’t done a club tour for an official full release in two years. We did a tour a year-and-a-half ago, but that was for the B-Sides album. This has been good, though. Getting the cover of Visions Magazine helped, the video and airplay have helped, and we did a lot of festivals in the summer so I think the combination of all that helps put people in the clubs. And no one’s overbooking us, as in we’re not being booked into 2,000 seaters. It’s about 1,000 capacity a night, give or take.”

Below The Belt has yielded two singles – ‘Full Of Regret’ and ‘Had Enough’ – with a video for a third reportedly in the works to feed a growing fanbase.

“The reaction has been better than any album we’ve put out,” Danko says. “I think that’s a culmination of years of touring and word getting around, and we’ve done these high profile tours with Motörhead and Guns N’ Roses. We did the Motörhead tour at the tail end of the album cycle for Never Too Loud, the videos we’ve done with the movie stars in them, and the radio play we’re getting in America, Canada and Europe now really pushed it. There’s a commercial element to our band that lends itself well to attracting that group of people that listen to the radio.”

Resulting in Danko hitting the Top 40 in the US for the first time in his career. How that translates into actual album sales, however, he could care less.

“Even before downloading people would ask ‘How many albums have you sold?’ and I honestly didn’t know. I don’t really care. I just care about what’s in front of me, which is the people showing up every night that we play. There are more people one night, less the next, that’s how I gauge where the band is going. Radio has been doing really well for us, which means we’ll have to do an American tour before the year is up. We’ve probably going to finish this tour, be home for a few days, and then just go out to America and work it.”

It’s fair to say that some of the current buzz surrounding Danko Jones is owed to Guns N’ Roses. What was supposed to be a short Canadian leg of the Chinese Democracy tour at the beginning of the year became repeated invites from the G’N’R camp to do on-and-off support shows over the course of 2010.

“The beginning of the whole machine moving was the Guns N’ Roses tour across Canada in January 2010. Ever since then we’ve been out. We had four or five weeks off around February, but since then it’s been pretty much non-stop. They’ve taken us to 10 countries, places we never would have gotten to otherwise. They actually offered us a spot on their current tour but we had this one booked already. It’s a really great gig because we get treated really well by the crew and the band.”

“Those Eastern European shows Guns N’ Roses did, we were supposed to do the whole tour, so it’s really too bad we couldn’t do that tour and this one,” Danko continues. “It’s a little disappointing for me. We’ve proven ourselves when there were certain situations that arose where we had to deliver. Sometimes we had to extend our set or whatever. Sometimes as an opening band you get sidelined, and some bands complain, but we’re pretty grounded and we’re well aware of how it goes. We’re just glad to be out on the road, and I think the Guns people really appreciated that. We gained their respect, and when you do that with an entity like Guns N’ Roses you get treated really well. That makes life really easy and it was cool. We have absolutely no complaints.”

“The only complaint I have is that we’re not playing with them tonight (laughs). Touring with them has definitely helped us in terms of raising the profile of our band.”

The aforementioned videos have also raised the Danko Jones profile thanks to the involvement of actors Elijah Wood, Selma Blair, Ralph Macchio, The Stooges bassist Mike Watt, and Motörhead frontman Lemmy. Given the budget needed (presumably) to pull off videos of that caliber suggests there’s enough of a budget for an official live DVD / documentary package some time in the near future.

“Those videos look very expensive, especially ‘Full Of Regret’, but that one’s actually quite inexpensive whether people believe it or not. A lot of favours were pulled, some of the people did it because they wanted to work with everyone involved. The Diamond Brothers were the directors and we get along so well with them; they’re the ones that’ll probably end up putting the DVD together for us.”

“We’ve been working on our own DVD for a couple years and the project is kind of getting out of hand,” Danko admits, “because with each year that goes by more live footage is being culled. The pile gets bigger and bigger, but we found a couple guys who are really going to go through the material, organize it, and put it together for an official production through the band. There was a company that put out Live In Stockholm in 2006 but that had nothing to do with us.”

While the band’s music sits firmly in the realms of gritty no-nonsense rock Danko is a diehard metal fan and a well of high-distortion knowledge, thus making their regular bookings on the European festival circuit akin to free entry to a theme park. It stands to reason that, with connections made over the years, a Danko-fronted metal project will surface at some point.

“I’ve written enough metal riffs that there are some songs in demo form,” he reveals. “I had an idea a few years back to do a reverse Probot kind of thing and get people to solo. Three people said yes, and there was a fourth person I hadn’t asked but he would have said yes, and those three people are in very well respected big metal bands. I couldn’t believe they all said yes. Unfortunately the project is in purgatory, so I don’t know if it’ll ever see the light of day. There’s just not enough time.”

“Plus, I love metal so much and I’m in awe of it. Doing it sometimes takes the veil off it, so I’m more than happy to just be a fan of it.”