I spent some time talking with JC, bass player for Danko Jones, about their latest release Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue along with the videos supporting it, the history of the band, the longevity of the band and future bands, some of his favorite music and his love for fishing.
You can listen to the entire JC Calabrese interview below:
Today, I’m joined by JC from Danko Jones. Thank you for taking the time to talk with Unsung Melody.
Your new album came out last Fall. Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue. What’s the meaning behind that title?
It’s an old title that was kind of kicking around that we just thought we’d rehash. The meaning is really kind of like rock ‘n roll is kind of like a beat up art form that has been around for a while now. A genre that has just kind of taken a beating. It has almost taken a back seat in popular culture these days. It’s not too deep of a meaning.
What was the approach to writing and recording the album? Do you guys tend to write what you know about or do you just come up with ideas and then when it’s time to sit down…
Well basically, they’re just riffs and if the riffs stay, they’re good and a lot of the times it could be a Danko vocal melody, that melody will stay. We’re not doing anything different than we’ve done in the past. It’s still a rock ‘n roll record. I think it would be unfair to take people through a roller coaster ride with us where we want to do a string phase or bring in an accordion. It’s just a rock ‘n roll band. That’s what we know how to do and that’s what we stick to, we stick to the formula.
Now do you guys track separately or do you do it all together?
All together. It depends. This one here was all together and then we did overdubs afterwards. It still has that live feel but then you can get some more time to do it.
Now some bands have recorded to tape. Have you ever thought of…
Oh we have in the past.
But doing it again?
It’s expensive and it takes forever. (Laughter) I think now, there’s not too many tape places left. I know there’s a few and reels are pretty expensive. You can get like two songs on a reel depending on how quick you record. But we have done it where we record in digital and then throw it onto tape so we get the warmness of the tape and stuff. But I mean, I love all the old recordings and stuff, but when it comes down to it, when you’re in a studio, time and money are the utmost importance. If we had our, our choice is to spend as much time, as little time as we can with the quicker results and usually the digital sort of, is the way to do it.
So you released a video for Just A Beautiful Day and I love the B&W concept.
Nice one. Thank you.
Did you guys come up with that or did somebody else?
Well, it’s The Diamond’s. Basically The Diamond’s did our last three videos for “Below the Belt” and for this one here, they just wanted to go with a live performance of the band, so we just said, they opted with doing the black and white feel and all the light bubs and stuff.
It’s a really cool video.
Well, cool, cool, cool.
I really enjoyed that. Do you have plans for any more?
There was another video that was just shot by the same directors for “I Believed In God” and we’re not in it, which is great, because we don’t have to sit through 12 hours of listening to the same song.
So what’s the concept?
The concept is basically, it’s a boy and a girl who fall in love and the girl ends up not being who she really is and she’s some sort of witch demoness that be hoods the love interest. Funny enough, Zelda Williams, she is the lead, she’s the main actor and then we have Jason Trost who was in our other videos, so there are two actors in it.
Well, that’s cool. When is it slated to be released?
I think in a few weeks or something. It’s just a video release that we’re going to put online. It’s not a single or anything.
Do you have another single that you’re looking at?
I just get told what the single is. I just make the songs. (Laughter) If they like them good enough, then go for it.
Atom Willard is playing drums with you guys now. How did that come about?
He was just a fan of the band and when things kind of ran their course with Dan, our last drummer, we just asked Atom to join and Atom’s pretty busy with other stuff. He was doing Angels & Airwaves, he has a ton of projects on the go, but he started working with us. Yeah, it worked out good for this record and we’ll see what happens in the future.
Last year you guys released two formats on the history of the band. One was the DVD, “Bring On the Mountain – The Complete Visual History” and then the book, “Too Much Trouble – A Very Oral History.” Did somebody approach you guys or were you looking to…
We thought about that all on our own. (Laughter)
Were you like, I want to do a history of the band or…
Well basically how it came about, we had four to six terabytes of footage over these years. The directors again, The Diamond Brothers, who have done all the videos I’ve been talking about so far, they said, “Well you know what? You guys have got so much footage, let’s put together this documentary.” It’s basically me and Danko sort of telling the whole story of the band and there isn’t anybody else who kind of interjects in the story of the band, but you just get clips throughout the years. So that was that. Then we put all the videos. Then we put a short film that was made with the “Below the Belt” three videos and some live footage. So for fans and non-fans, you kind of get a complete visual package and whatnot and a double DVD. It’s a good “get me up to speed” on Danko type of visual history.
Whereas for the oral history with the book, our friend Stuart who wrote it, he’s a writer in Toronto who writes for Pitchfork and different outlets, and he wrote a Broken Social Scene book called, “This Book Is Broken.” We approached him and just said, “Hey, you should write a book on us.” Then he ended up coming to Europe and stared working on it and then he came up with an angle on how to write the book and I think he interviewed 85+ people or 80 people. It was pretty cool.
What kind of time span?
I think it took about two years. I think both projects took about two years. Almost started at the same time and so happened to kind of come out at the same time.
That’s pretty cool.
Yeah, it was really, really cool. It’s great to have the book because it’s a nice…
It’s something you can look at and touch.
Yeah, and I thought they did a great layout and everybody is in the book from Philomena Lynott to Lemmy, so it’s great.
That’s awesome. In doing some research, I had come across the book because I’ve known about the band for a while, but I was like, “Wow, this seems really cool.” Because I love when there’s a history and there’s the old photos and the old stories and I just think that’s really fascinating when you can see where a band was to where they’re at now.
Playing Fireside Bowl to the Aragon. (Laughter)
That’s not bad, right?
Yeah, we love Chicago. We’ve always been coming here so many years. We played Fireside for the longest time, so it was great.
Alright, you and Danko have both stated you were huge KISS fans when you were younger.
Yes, yes. Danko is probably a bigger KISS fan. I’ll give it to him.
Okay. But, do you guys see yourself still making music after a 40 year period?
I don’t know, I just always look at it in a shorter time span. I still love doing this. I think once you just lose the passion, then you just don’t do it. When you’re doing it and it has to become a chore and tedious then go for it. Who knows what will come about. It’s so hard to think like that further ahead. I don’t know…
Well, I mean, you guys have been around…
17 years now, 18 years.
Almost 20 years, so you’re half way there.
Yeah, seriously, right? (Laughter) But in a way, we’re such a new band for some people. That’s why it’s great having the tools like a DVD and a book that you can pass on to folks and they can get up to speed on what’s going on and whatnot.
I mean, you guys have got, what, like eight releases?
I don’t know, something like that.
I think it helps to keep releasing music and keeping yourself out there.
Oh definitely. We kind of came at a good time when the band started and how the state of affairs is in music now. Because I think being a young band nowadays might be really, really tough.
That actually leads into my next question.
Oh, there we go. (Laughter)
Do you think bands that are starting out now will have that opportunity to be a band 20 years down the road?
I don’t know. I just think it’s a bit tougher now. I say that because the internet is so immediate and everything has become almost disposable. There is just so much of everything. On the flipside, it’s made a level playing field for everybody. So in order to, for the longevity to keep going, you’ve got to be really good and you’ve got to be really dedicated. In this business, there’s a lot of peaks and valleys and sometimes the peaks are just little hills. So, it’s a matter of perseverance and being comfortable with what you’re doing and not being broken by anything that comes in your way. Not being callous, but just kind of keeping at if for a long time. It’s not that I’m unphased by things, I’ve just been doing it for so long that I kind of seem…I feel so old talking like this. (Laughter)
I’m sorry. (Laughter)
(Laughter) These young kids!
I think it’s awesome, though, that you are still around and you are still doing this and you still have a passion for it.
As long as you don’t lose the passion for doing stuff, then that’s it. I look at people like Lemmy and he still loves doing what he does and he wants to tour. We toured with Lem and he was joking around and he was like, “When I pass away, I want to be brought up on stage in my coffin that has to be see through,” and that’s great. For me, this is the only thing I know. It’s not a hobby, it’s not a pastime, it’s my life and I treat it accordingly.
Well, that’s good. Are there any new bands that you’ve discovered or maybe a band that you listen to that people would be surprised by?
Oh, I listen to so much stuff. I don’t know.
Who are you into right now?
There’s so much different stuff, I just got the new, I’ve got to pull out my iPhone, because you know when you draw a blank? I got the new Biffy Clyro record. I really love Biffy Clyro.
Is that a Canadian band?
No, it’s a UK band, a Scot band, a Scottish band and they’re a 3-piece and they’re really, really great. I’m looking forward to the Shining, the Norwegian Shining record that’s coming out, that’s really, really good. I heard some songs from them. What else did I recently, (Looking though his phone.) I mean, look at I’ve got everything from Godspeed You! Black Emperor to Graveyard, Guided by Voices. (Still looking through his phone.) What else was the latest record that I just had that…
So, do you find you like bands outside of the U.S. and Canada more?
No, I like a lot of…I like a band from Chicago, Nachtmystium. They’re a really good band. (Laughter)
I’ve not heard of them.
Yeah, they’re a really good band that I’ve been into. A band that I really love that we actually played with. Two bands, was Red Fang, they’re from Portland and we just played with them in Australia and another band from the UK is called Sylosis. They’re more like heavier bands and stuff, so it was real fun.
Is there a band you’d love to tour with?
AC/DC. We’ve been lucky enough, we’ve toured with Motörhead, so that was my other favorite band to tour with. Yeah, AC/DC would be great, of course KISS. KISS would be funny as hell. But we’ve been really lucky with tours and touring and being on festivals and whatnot. So it’s great. We were just in Australia and we got to play with all kinds of bands from Tomahawk to…
How were they?
Tomahawk are great. I love Tomahawk. I love everything Mike Patton’s done. It was great. I got to chat with, I got to talk with Mike Patton this time. He speaks fluent Italian, as do I, so we got to speak in Italian.
That’s got to be something you don’t come across.
That’s my up on Rob Caggiano. [Note: Prior to the interview with JC, I mentioned I had interviewed Rob earlier in the day.] Rob still has to learn Italian. Guappo. (Laughter)
Oh my God, that’s so funny. So you kind of touched a little bit on my next question. Are you psychic?
What? Oh no… (Laughter)
It’s funny you keep talking about my next question…
I keep leading into it…
No, that’s good. But I’m like, here goes another one. Okay so, you’re currently on tour with Volbeat. How’s that been?
It’s been great. It’s been really, really great. I mean, Michael, Anders, Jon and Rob have been nothing but great with us. We couldn’t ask for a better tour to be on in the U.S. right now with the record being out and their new record coming out. Michael and Danko have been in touch for years. We’ve played with Volbeat a few years back and there’s always talk of us touring together. I’m really happy that it finally happened. That we get to know each other, you know, when you tour with bands you get to know them, and it’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun.
So here’s my lead in, do you prefer playing the smaller clubs or the big festivals? Because I’m sure the dynamic is probably fairly different.
Well the big festivals are fun because there’s always lots more bands there, so you get to meet more bands. But the intimacy of a smaller club, there’s pluses and minus for everything. It sounds cliché, but I’m just happy that I get to play. There’s not a show that I’m like, “Oh, I don’t want to do this” or that I’m embarrassed. I’m comfortable being who I am. I think people who are embarrassed if they’re playing on a smaller stage or a smaller thing are just insecure and they aren’t secure with themselves. I’m very comfortable. And I will always have a smile on my face, because that’s what gets you through. That’s what my Grandma said.
Awww. So, what’s one word you would use to describe a live Danko Jones show?
(Pauses) Umm, rocking. (Laughter) Rocking. Yes.
Okay. I actually saw you guys, I don’t know if it was last year, or the year before, when you played Rock On the Range.
Oh, okay, great, great, great.
So that was my first time actually, I had known songs from the radio…
That was in Columbus, right?
Yes. I was trying to think of what my own word would be, because Danko was quite talkative that night. But no, hearing those songs live were, like you said, they were rocking. Each instrument I feel was very prominent.
Yeah, because it’s really stripped down, so it’s just a 3-piece.
Right. So it was entertaining. So what are your touring plans?
No frills rock ‘n roll. (Laughter) The touring plans. In May, we go to Europe for three weeks, then the summertime, it’s festivals and then I believe in August, September we’ll be back in the U.S., but it’s still unconfirmed.
Headlining or on another tour with somebody else?
On another tour with somebody else. We still, I cant, I can divulge that info but we don’t know the details yet, so stayed tuned to dankojones.com for more.
There’s my plug. Yeah, then in the Fall, we’ll probably be back in Europe and more Canadian dates and stuff.
So I want to end on a random question. If you could be any other person for a day, past or present, who would you be and why?
I never got asked that. That’s a good one. Past or present. Ernest Hemingway in Cuba, because he loved fishing and he was always drunk.
(Laughter) Your two favorite past times, right?
Yeah, I’d love to be in Cuba, in Cayo Coco where Hemingway stayed and I’d be him and I’d go fishing for marlin.
Is that your preferred…
I haven’t gone fishing for marlin yet. I was supposed to last year. I fish a lot, but I haven’t been able to do the big game fishing yet. That’s the next level.
I’m a fly fishing guy.
Oh, gotcha. Okay.
I’ve gone flying fishing and I’ve gone jigging and reeling and all kinds of different fishing all over the world. Was it last year, we were supposed to go for marlin in New Zealand, but then the weather was really bad so we stuck with river fishing.
Where’s your favorite place to fish?
Well, New Zealand and Norway.
Because of the scenery or the fish? (Laughter)
Well you know…
…and the scenery, and the scenery. Norway was great. Norway, I mean you’re fishing in untouched land and I was fishing up in the North, in the Arctic, way above the Arctic Circle, so it’s really, really beautiful in July in the midsummer, so at 10 o’clock at night it’s still light.
Wow, I bet that was amazing.
It was really good. A lot of cod, Arctic say and stuff.
Well awesome. Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with me and best of luck with everything.
Purchase or preview Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue below:
Check out the video for Just A Beautiful Day below: