Amigo The Devil on humour, murder and working with Brad Wilk
Amigo The Devil’s curious goth-folk is making waves in heavy and acoustic circles alike. Ahead of touring, Danny Kiranos sat down to discuss the themes and philosophy behind the new record:
Thanks for taking the time to chat Danny – how’s everything going?
Yeah it’s going great! We took a little trip out to a festival we were playing and spent a few extra days visiting friends in other cities we don’t see too often so it’s been nice, it’s been a nice little vacation.
Nice! So let’s start with a little chat about the album; you’re just about to release Everything Is Fine. How would you describe it in your words?
I think it’s a lot more introspective than the previous material has been. It’s also the first full length that we’ve done so I’m a little more nervous of the reception of an entire record as opposed to three songs that people are able to maintain their attention span through (laughs). It was a very interesting difference in the writing process when it was fifteen songs as opposed to three and I ended up digging a lot deeper than I had in the past. So I feel like it’s gonna be a brand new experience for the listener as well as myself and I’m really excited to see how it affects my songwriting and my playing in the future from here on out.
Let’s chat a little about the songwriting. How was the album written – did you have the lyrics first and then add the music?
So usually I write stories first – not lyrically, just in general – stories, concepts that I wanna write about. My usual intention is to get that story into a song but because my mind wonders way too much in general it always ends up being way too long of a story so I focus on one specific emotion and the song itself ends up being this sort of vortex of a specific emotion from that story as opposed to the story itself. Then I’ll start fumbling with music to see what kinda suits the mood and what’s working. From there they kind of guide each other. It’s not really one or the other. After the story portion is done I feel it’s not so much me imagining what I want to do, it’s more of allowing what makes sense to happen to come to terms with itself to exist within itself.
I get a really strong sense throughout the record of stories being told – I think that’s quite important for the record.
Ah well, thank you! I’m really glad to hear that because sometimes I wonder if it’s just myself knowing the stories or if it actually works so that’s good to hear! (laughs)
I hear a lot of influences from people like Nick Cave and King Dude and that kind of thing on here, and a string of the gothic – especially in things like “I Hope Your Husband Dies,” which you’d expect in a song like that really. Can you talk me through the main influences for this record?
I think sonically there’s a lot of Nick Cave on there just because it’s someone that I grew up listening to. Nick Cave shifted my perspective on songwriting a lot – as well as Tom Waits. One of my favourite storytellers of all time was John Bryne. He was much more lighthearted, much more traditional folk storytelling but it was something that taught me how silly you could be whilst maintaining the darkness, it didn’t have to be brooding or it didn’t have to be dark and sultry you could have humour within the darkness. I’d definitely say those three are very important to this record specifically. Besides that I’d say some of the heavier influences just from listening to heavy music my whole life started to come through more on old recordings and we were mindful of not going overboard and – I really wanted to go overboard a couple of times, I’d be in the studio and we’d record something just ridiculously off-putting and I wanted to keep it (laughs). It didn’t make sense for the record so we toned it back a little bit. 16 Horsepower is another huge influence of mine in general that has this sort of classic – traditional instrumentation with the accordions and the banjos and the acoustics – but somehow they were undeniably heavy, and that always stuck with me and I think that was our best chance to explore that option in the studio and I’m looking forward to furthering that process a bit more in the future.
You touched on a lot of dark themes here. Was there a sense of personal catharsis when writing the album?
Half of it yes, absolutely – there was a moment where I was writing the record from other people’s perspectives – I was telling myself that I’d be placing myself in someone else’s shoes to write this story and to experience what they experience and at some point everything started clicking and I realise that this is just a very subconscious decision to alleviate my own problems and dilemmas and that’s where the introspective nature of it finally came out and I had to sit there and admit to myself that “ok, this is a little more personal than you wanted it to be but hey” – it is what it is. I was either able to ignore it or just fully embrace it and dive into it headfirst and that’s what I did. It was a very, very strange process in terms of that just releasing the inner problems I didn’t know I had. I was joking around with Ross when we finished recording that I left the studio with more problems than I went into it with so (laughs) it was something else.
You talk about catharsis and heaviness in the same way that Neurosis talk about it – it’s certainly quite a heavy record but there are certainly moments of lightness and humour – almost like a little reward.
That’s great to hear! The live show tends to have a lot of humour that a lot of people don’t normally expect – a lot of people who come out think it’s gonna be this dark show, casting shadows and everything like that. I think it helps a lot to break it up with general lightheartedness so the live experience is usually a little bit different than people expect it to be. Whether it works or not is a different story. I’m just basing it on what I try to do naturally. I’m glad it comes across on the record every once in a while.
What are your immediate touring plans?
So we have a full US tour in October/ November. We skip into Canada for one date but it’s mostly US – then in December we’re in the UK for about seven dates and then Paris/ Amsterdam. Besides that – January we’re working on another run of dates. My goal for next year – I’m really interested in furthering Europe a bit more because we go there every year for about a month but we never play there we just go there to waste time essentially. It’d be nice to break into touring out there more extensively than we have. Here’s to hoping for the best!
Are you going out on tour with anyone?
Not necessarily – there isn’t a package plan at the moment. As far as I know we’re just playing with local acts for the UK portion. In the US we are touring with Harley Poe. He’s another amazing songwrititer – if you haven’t heard him he’s hilarious. He definitely dives into some very dark themes and some similar aspects a lot better than most people do. He’s someone I’ve been meaning to tour with for year and years and they didn’t really tour much in general so when I finally got to ask them if they were interested in going out on this big run and they said yes I was ecstatic! (laughs) Probably a little too excited.
Coming back to the metal aspect of your sound, I’ve read that you play with a lot of intense heavy bands. How do audiences change when you play at a metal show compared to an acoustic show?
It’s the most backwards scenario I’ve ever – when I play the acoustic shows where it’s just specifically our show or with other acoustic bands it’s this incredible chaotic drunken party, everyone has a blast yells, screams, all of this. And then we play with the metal bands and everyone is so respectful and pays attention and they’re so kind – it’s unbelievable how kind they are and I don’t know if it’s because it’s confusing – there are these heavy, heavy bands playing and then all of a sudden a kid with a banjo goes up and everyone says “what the fuck is this?” (laughs) and I don’t know if it’s out of curiosity or simply just “ah well, let the man do what he does” – everyone is very respectful, very kind. We’ve been very fortunate to have the reception we’ve had in that scene. I love, love, love playing with bands we’re not supposed to play with – in theory not supposed to play with. I think the dynamic of sonic differences helps every show. Most of my favourite shows I’ve ever been to have been completely different sounds on the spectrum. It’s exciting. I’m not saying I don’t love playing my own shows, I love the acoustic shows because kids get wild – they lose their minds and they make it more fun for me. I’m very grateful and a lot of the times I tell people that they are the show more than we are, all we do is play a little bit of music and then they are the true show, they’re the fun – so I’m grateful for that.
There seems to be – with things like Roadburn for example – a lot of places which are more of a melting pot of acoustic and very heavy elements but with a darkness that unites everything.
It’s exciting to see and it’s exciting that everyone is latching onto a little bit more, everyone is bringing a little bit more – acts of different natures – psycho Vegas this year was such an amazing mixture of genres and it made me so happy. Unfortunately, we didn’t go, I wanted to but we were busy – but that bill was incredible.
Yeah – I’m the UK and every year that gets announced and makes a lot of people very jealous.
Yeah (laughs) well there’s a lot of great – what was – two or three years ago there was Temples Festival – is that still happening? They skipped one year, didn’t they?
It ran for a couple of years and then went down, sadly. Whilst it lasted it was amazing.
Yeah. That was always the one that I was very jealous of from here (laughs)
On the theme of unconventional sounds, it seems like – especially on Liar’s Club – there are some unconventional sounds – I wasn’t able to place them – which is interesting on a record that seems to be mostly you and a couple of acoustic instruments. Were there any unusual instruments or sounds that you used on the record?
So – we were very, very destructive. Ross and I clicked to a degree that I think made most people uncomfortable because they know both of us and we both have our out-there ideas. So a lot of the sounds on Liar’s Club for example, we wanted it to be a destructive element as opposed to building so instead of building with the instruments we essentially destroyed instruments (laughs) and it sounded so much more natural than when we had recorded the instrumentation as it should have been or how it was initially imagined. It just gave it much more of a stripping process where I feel like the lyrics are held on a much more sturdy platform than with traditional instrumentation. There was also a lot of building on the instruments themselves for example on Ed Temper, one of the last tracks, the snare – we couldn’t get the snare to act how we wanted it to act. We didn’t use any samples, any digital aspects – everything was recorded straight to tape. Every sound on the record. And so we ended up stacking a bunch of different elements – so a snare drum, then a cymbal behind it and then we covered it with just other crap – and I would smash the chair with a mallet. Not the snare but the chair. And it gave it this beautiful – just beautiful resonance. It was exactly what we wanted but a violent resonance. And a lot of the record was built in that way where it was deconstructing as opposed to building which is my favourite thing in the world to do and hopefully on the next record we’ll get even deeper with that (laughs)
Do you struggle with bringing that to a live setting?
I don’t think so in my opinion – I know that a lot of people differ from this but I’ve always enjoyed when live shows are different from the record only because they’re a unique experience that you can only get at the show so I’ve never really had a problem with not being able to replicate the record itself. In my opinion, if you wanna hear the record the record is there, you can listen to it and the live show should always be something that is interactive that you can’t get at home and maybe I’m just using that as an excuse ‘cos I can’t replicate it but imma stick to it. It’s sort of a fun game to take the songs and figure out how we’re gonna make them interesting live as opposed to having all the elements in the studio.
One last studio question – you worked with Brad Wilk for the record. What was it like working with him?
Well – he’s unbelievably humble, very kind, very, very generous. But the funniest part of that whole story is that he’s the first musician I’ve ever played with on this project. It’s always been me alone, I’ve always done most of the instrumentation alone minus the studio percussion for example, we’ve had some players on but not actual drumming I’ve never had actual drums throughout a whole record. And it gave everything a very strong metered temperament so I think a lot of other drummers and a lot of other players in general may have made it a little too… it’s so hard to explain because it’s such a fantastic feeling, such an incredible, strange feeling. I feel like a lot of people would try to meter it too much but Brad played along with me so well because he has that instinct and he’s such a great musician that he kinda sat back and followed along to my tempo as opposed to a click and he allowed the song to guide him as opposed to guiding the song and through that process he ended up giving it an unbelievable depth, just an incredible spine and backbone that wouldn’t have existed without him or anyone else. So it was exciting! Really, really cool process to see and experience and an entire new world for me so… pretty crazy!
Moving away from the record – I’ve read that you’ve got a master’s degree in brewing.
I do! That was the industry I was in before music
Are you still involved in brewing?
Not anymore, within the last year and a half or so I kinda stepped away from it more than I had planned to. My initial idea with stepping away from brewing for a second was to try this music thing, to try to tour as much as I can while I can while my bones still work to a relative degree and if it doesn’t work out I can always go back to brewing, that’s the reality so (laughs) and uh things have been surprising me left and right and I’m just enjoying this quite a bit more than I thought I would. And what an incredible industry to be part of this music world – what a beast it is. So it took me a little further away than I anticipated so for now it’s on the backburner. I still have friends in the industry and we still brew beer at home so I’m always gonna have a passion for it I just don’t know when I’ll be back to the industry side of it.
As far as backup plans go that’s not so bad.
(Laughs) yeah I’m not mad!
And you’re into tattoo culture – do you do tattoos yourself?
I’m not, I can’t draw to save my Mom’s life – it’s pretty embarrassing actually. I’ve tried tattooing myself a few times and they are garbage (laughs) so I’m just a collector, a fan – I love the art, I love the history and I appreciate the culture of it quite a bit I just never had the talent for it.
So now you’ve got the record together and you’re looking at doing a tour, what sort of thing is on the horizon when you’re all wrapped up?
So I got very, very motivated through this process and I’ve just been really, really writing as much as I can and maintaining that progress that kinda builds in the studio so hopefully through all the touring and all that I’ll have a little more time to get some more ideas for the next record and pretty much simultaneously seeing how this beast unwraps itself when it does get released. Its so soon now – I can’t believe it’s coming out in what two-three weeks, that’s a strange thought for me so I’m really excited. But just touring as much as I can and I’m always gonna be looking to better the live show and the live aspect further and again I would really like to tour Europe more extensively, get to Australia and keep this train moving as efficiently as I can essentially.