Danko Jones delivers a kick in the pants
The fifth full-length by Danko Jones is something like an audio version of an expensive lap dance. Below the Belt, more sex and rock than drugs (but it’s in there too!), boasts a frenetic pace throughout and marks the return of producer Matt DeMatteo to the boards. Martyr’s Remi L. Roy caught up with the band’s eponymous frontman to discuss the album and its first single, “Full of Regret,” a video that stars Selma Blair, Lemmy Kilmister, Mike Watt and Elijah Wood.
RLR-“I Think Bad Thoughts” seems a fitting intro to an album named Below the Belt. Was that the idea?
DJ-I wish it was (but) it just sounded like a great opener, with that half-step right at the top. It sounded heavy.
RLR-There seem to be no “slow songs” on the album.
DJ-The last record had what some people call a ballad. With this one we just wanted to punch people in the face, or rather, the balls.
RLR-Is your tendency to “fast-forward through the ballads on some albums” to credit for the frenetic pace of Below the Belt?
DJ-We never really do ballads. We’ve done one once before, a long time ago when we first started out. But ever since then – from Born a Lion (2002), We Sweat Blood (‘03), Sleep is the Enemy (’06), and arguably, even Never Too Loud (’08) – ballads haven’t been our style.
RLR-What inspired “(I Can’t Handle) Moderation?”
DJ-I think everybody has certain things in their life, which they do to excess…so that’s what the song is about.
RLR-You’ve said this was your favourite album. Is that because of its seemingly inherent hedonism?
DJ-(laughs) I always think that there’s an ample amount on each album. But this one won because we really, really set out to punch people in the face, and I think we accomplished that. Every fuckin’ band says that the latest album is the best and yada yada yada, but I never said that for the last couple albums. I always said my favourite album was We Sweat Blood. This album’s got the heaviest moments we’ve ever done to the fastest moments we’ve ever done, (while) still keeping the melody of the last record.
RLR-Montreal Express summed up the album like this: “Below the Belt offre un son rock, authentique et puissant. L’intensité des 11 pièces nous rappelle autant les premières sonorities d’origine du groupe que les harmonies étonnantes des plus récents albums.” Is the return of producer Matt DeMatteo to thank for that?
DJ-When we did those albums with Matt (We Sweat Blood, Sleep is the Enemy) they ended up being just these raw, hungry albums ‘cause that’s where we were as a band. And it wasn’t a conscious decision to do that again with Matt, but we definitely wanted to make it heavier than the last record and bring it back, somewhat.
RLR-Daryl Sterdam of the Toronto Sun wrote the album was a “full-fledged assault of power-chord guitar-rock spiked with sex, rebellion and general badassery.” Does that more or less sum up Below the Belt?
DJ-Yeah! I think so. I would agree with that, ‘cause if I disagree, what the fuck am I talking about?
RLR-Is it true the album art was inspired by pictures of George Clinton and (Black Panther) Huey Newton?
DJ-The (album cover for the) Funkadelic album Uncle JamWants You is basically a spoof of a Huey Newton photo. So we spoofed the spoof, and we spoofed the original as well. I thought it would be funny. We were originally gonna do a photo shoot with each of us and a wild animal but it wasn’t in the budget so we had to stick with the lion.
RLR-You guys used a real lion?
DJ-That’s a real lion on the cover. His name’s Major, Major the lion. He came in with some handlers and electric fencing. It was a big deal.
RLR-What’s more surreal, that Elijah Wood is a Danko Jones fan, or that his mom is?
DJ-Both are surreal, but Elijah being a fan is surreal because we know what he looks like. Just him showing up on set and us trading off on scenes with him…the whole two-day shoot was pretty surreal. Lemmy (Kilmister of Motorhead) showed up and Mike Watt (Stooges), and it just added to this super video.
RLR-Where did the hitman theme for the video come from?
DJ-That’s the Diamond brothers (who directed the video). We didn’t give them a lot of time to come up with a concept but they came up with this movie trailer idea, which allowed them to shoot a lot in a short amount of time. The idea they had was Lemmy was the villain, his hitmen were Elijah and Selma (Blair of Hellboy ll fame) and Mike was the narrator like in The Big Lebowski. So we’re just running around being chased and that’s pretty much the video trailer, slash whatever.
RLR-How did you manage to wrangle up that kind of star power for a music video?
DJ-It was crazy, ‘cause first they said ‘ok, we got Elijah. He’s a lock.’ Then Selma Blair was a friend of the producer’s, so that came out of left field. We were like, ‘What? This is getting out hand.’ One cameo is usually enough to get attention; two cameos is crazy. And so we decided to call Lemmy, he agreed, and before you know we don’t only have one, we have four cameos in one video. Now we’re joking like, how are we gonna top this for the next video? The thing is, it looks like a million-dollar video, but it’s really just like fifty bucks.