Keep it simple, stupid isn’t just a principle of engineering and graphic design. It’s also all-around great advice for working in a band.
Toronto rocker, music-magazine columnist and internationally syndicated radio host Danko Jones is all about the electric six-strings. Indeed, his previous albums offer big guitars. But his band’s latest and sixth disc, Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue, sounds like Jones finally figured out how to generate riffs on superhero Thor’s mountain-leveling, lightning-summoning hammer Mjölnir. Was this intentional or something the album’s producer, Matt DeMatteo, cooked up in the studio?
“Actually, we told Matt we wanted to turn down the guitars,” Jones says. “But by trimming them, they ended up sounding bigger. In doubling guitar tracks in a studio, they sometimes sound thin. Our idea wasn’t to sound massive. We wanted the guitars to be earthier, more real.”
It doesn’t get more real than Jones’ ultra-tight, Juno (Canadian Grammy)-nominated power trio—bassist John Calabrese and drummer Atom Willard. With the right musicians, a three-piece format proves successful. Consider bands such as Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Nirvana and ZZ Top. Jones pays homage to the latter by writing another song in honor of lovely female extremities titled, yep, “Legs.”
“There’s room for two songs called ‘Legs,’” Jones says, laughing. “Once you hear the riff and the verse of my song, you already know the chorus. What else can you call it? Besides, I believe in the power of women’s legs more than anything.”
It’s not like Jones wrote a song called “Hey Jude” or “Stairway to Heaven.” Still, with his new record, an impulse to acknowledge older artists is palpable. “Terrified” boasts Dave Grohl-grade riffs. The punked-up heavy-metal rhythm and middle-range bass in “Conceited” bear a whiff of Motörhead. “Always Away” kicks off with an AC/DC intro. Then there’s the Led Zep swagger of “You Wear Me Down.” “I’m guilty of revering classic bands,” says Jones, who started his band in ’96. “At least I’m honest. If you have a killer riff, you’re lying if you say you came up with it yourself. [There are] enough long-winded descriptions where people make something that’s been done before sound unique and original. This is a rock band; there are touchstones.”
Oddly, for all his reliance on the riff, Jones feels he’s a better singer.
“I have my moments on guitar,” he says. “I have exemplary power-chord skills. For the music we do, that’s all I need. But my voice is where I’m strongest. I’m no Mariah Carey. I have enough power to sing in a band and stand out.”
That power is evident on a gospel-influenced track on Black and Blue: “I Believed in God,” which Jones delivers live as if leading a revival. In it, unrequited lust is described as spiritual pain: Praise God when you see her face/When she walks by you will speak His name/But when you’re brokenhearted/you’ll know where evil started.
“People told me for years: ‘You’re like a preacher onstage.’ We’d never ventured in that direction before. What began as a simple Misfits punk song led to us bringing gospel singers into the studio. It became a bigger song than we’d intended.”
Again, in the case of Danko Jones, small aims led to large gains. But don’t expect the singer-guitarist to chuck his electric in favor of a now-trendy acoustic.
“I love loud music,” he says. “It deserves more respect, but it just isn’t that way. Yeah, hard rock is vulgar at times, but the music is primal. That’s why we play it.”
Danko Jones with Volbeat at House of Blues, 6:30 p.m. March 14, $27.50-$31, 632–7600, HouseOfBlues.com.