Danny Kiranos’s path from beer brewer to musician is one that has never existed, nor will ever be replicated. The cerebral Kiranos revels in the thought of being a walking oxymoron. One look at the large, scruffy, fully tattooed musician paints the opposite picture of what you would visualize a folky, banjo player to look like. From lyrics like “I hope your husband dies” to a song told from the point of view of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, nothing about Kiranos follows your standard playbook.
“Born Against,” the latest release form Amigo the Devil – Kiranos’s musical alter ego – is a clear declaration that it’s full steam ahead for his original slant into storytelling and music making. The follow-up to “Everything is Fine” and “Volume One” sonically shouts out immediately, as Kiranos expands into a noticeably bigger sound, easier said than done for Kiranos whose list of instruments doesn’t include much more than a banjo and acoustic guitar.
Kiranos starts by discussing how he tried not to tinker with all the “toys” at his disposal in a recording studio.
“It’s hard not to want to incorporate aspects of music that has inspired you over the years,” Kiranos begins. “You want to push boundaries on a sonic level when you have access to it.”
“Ross, the producer on the last record was amazing, amazing, amazing. I love him to death. He was able to pull emotions out of me more easily than they would have come out on their own. He really found a depth to that record.” Kiranos continues.
“Beau (Bedford) on this record was partner-like in terms of motivating…not so much the emotion, but the truth to come out. I think that’s the difference between the two records. “Everything is Fine” is focused on emotion and the raw interpretation of those emotions. “Born Against” is focused on the truth and the necessity of getting that truth out by any means necessary.”
You won’t get far into a conversation with Kiranos before you sense the term “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” couldn’t be more apropos. There is a lore and mysticism about Amigo the Devil that has endeared him to a group of uber-dedicated fans. While a tattooed, heavy metal-looking musician singing folk songs might come across as contrived, that does not apply to Kiranos or Amigo the Devil.
In fact, Kiranos couldn’t be more of an open book. He didn’t pick heavy metal rock festivals to start his music career because it fit with the Amigo the Devil persona; Kiranos was at these festivals because that’s where he found enough internal comfort to walk on stage and showcase a style of music the audience had never heard before.
He explains, “The heavy metal aspect started as a situational comfort. Most of the friends I had and people I knew were in that world. When I was trying to figure out music and how to navigate it, those were the only people I knew to go to. That established this quirky heavy world sort of thing.”
It didn’t take long for Kiranos’s gamble to pay off, as his unique style resonated with the metal-oriented fans he was performing for.
“Very early on, it was anxiety-inducing until I realized everybody was being kind at all times. One of the benefits we had that was almost unfair to some degree is our music was so… confusing,” Kiranos states. “We have a hard-core act on stage and then you see this random guy up there with a banjo and everyone had no choice but to be like, what is happening?”
While a musician singing murder ballads with a banjo wasn’t for everyone at these festivals and early concerts, everyone gave him a chance.
“The people who didn’t like it either walked out or did their own thing. Nobody was rude about it. Those who did like it realized it was a type of music they were familiar with…or it was something the didn’t know they were into. You could see the excitement of a whole new world opening up to them. That’s my favorite feeling in the world.”
After finding comfort and a fan base at heavy metal festivals, Kiranos took his act on the road, constantly adding enthusiasts to one of the most unique acts going. That ultimately opened his eyes to what was unfolding in front of him.
Kiranos adds, “It wasn’t as much of a decision as it was a realization. I was touring so much. It was constantly hundreds of shows a year. We had maintained that schedule for years until it hit me.”
He continues, “It hit me at one point when I was laying in the back of our touring Prius. It had a sloped window that let me see out into the void. I was depressed and tired and then it hit me. This is what I do now, it isn’t a joke anymore. That’s when I decided to treat it seriously instead of a full-time hobby.”
With two albums, several LPs, and loads of covers at his disposal, Amigo the Devil wanted to shake things up for “Born Against.”
“‘Volume One’ is very much stories. I was telling stories I could think of. ‘Everything is Fine’ was very personal. The songs were directly about things in my life. ‘Born Against’ is the storytelling of ‘Volume One,’ told through my experiences in life as opposed to the songs being my experiences in life,” Kiranos muses.
The album begins with “Small Stone,” an immediate kick to the butt that it’s time to wake up and pay attention. With a string section in the middle and modulated vocals to start and an operatic ending, its clear things are going to be different this time around, something you would come to expect from the forward-thinking Kiranos.
“The last record started quietly and ended with a sing-along-esque thing. This time I said, ‘let’s do it backwards.’ “Small Stone” was supposed to be the last song because of the grand finale that would leave the album open-ended.
“Unfortunately, songs at the end get lost these days and I didn’t want that,” Kiranos says. “ I also thought it would be really funny to confuse people. It’s not what a lot of people would expect. The rest of the album is different. I love to create an aggressively different sound on each record.”
“Quiet as A Rat” kicks off with a Tex-Mex feel for the next section of the album. With lyrics covering everything from a boy beaten up until blood comes out of his ears to a girl who overdoses in a photo booth, Amigo the Devil is in full swing telling tales as only he can.
“Murder at the Bingo Hall” is a perfect example of the planned out cerebral thinking Amigo the Devil puts into his music, as he intentionally tries to throw off his listeners with the song’s meaning.
According to Kiranos, “The entire purpose of writing that song was because I thought it would be really, really funny to have that title and people’s expectations of me writing a song about someone dying, and then the song is not about murder at all.”
He adds “That’s the first time I blatantly wrote a song that doesn’t have a double meaning. I wanted people to see the title and go oh a murder song. Then it’s just about a guy doing very well at bingo.”
The intentionally-paired “Drop for Every Hour” and “Better Ways to Fry a Fish” resets things with Amigo the Devil going to back to songs about murder and revenge.
“Those two songs are the same story,” Kiranos states. “The specific murder I won’t name and is nothing I wanted to write about in any manner other than unfavorable. I’ve tried to write from the perspective of general human emotions like jealousy or some sort of extreme disconnect from society.
“The songs are straight forward about murdering someone. It’s the fantasy situation of what if one of the fathers of the victims got a hold of the murderer. “Better Ways to Fry a Fish” is the afterthought of what he actually did to them. We were going for a 50s Ed Sullivan show vibe, where the protagonist from the first song was daydreaming about being on a talk show to explain the atrocities he has done.”
“Different Anymore” and “Another Man’s Grave” showcase some of the best vocals on the album, and lyrics like “Lately it seems the matches are the only book I’m reaching for,” or “so I’m shaking around like I’m hanging from something I know is about to break” connect the listener with the urgency of needing to find answers that aren’t easy to come by. “Another Man’s Grave” climaxes to a Pink Floyd-feeling vocal arrangement, perfectly ending one of the best parts of the album.
Amigo the Devil quickly pivots from the most heart-wrenching part of the album into a one-off country tune, “24K Casket,” easily the loosest song on the album. Kiranos explains “I had the riff for the banjo melody. It was stuck in my head forever. I didn’t want to give the song much thought. It really ended up being a great experience to write.”
The album wraps up with a couple of dark songs, appropriately titled “Shadow” and “Letter from Death Row,” both chosen for the end of the album because they are the opposite sound of opener “Small Stone.”
“Letter from Death Row” is what the title says – a letter from someone set to be execute who reaches out to a past love. For the last song on the album, it has some of the best lyrics, such as “You’re the closest thing to heaven I’ll ever see” and “We used to count the time by how long we’d been apart. Now my clock is dust on the floor.”
For the hordes of fans eagerly awaiting a look at what Amigo the Devil has been up to, “Born Against” is exactly what you would want to hear. The lyrics are stronger than ever, and the vocals and music are continually expanding.
While the recording process of “Born Against” has been put to bed, the live versions of these songs are a work in progress. For Kiranos, that means breaking them down so they can be performed on the road with a banjo, guitar and not much else.
“I find joy in figuring out how to play the recorded track live after the fact. The first few times I play a song, I start to gauge and check reactions and that helps me,” Kiranos states. “The audience is my focus group because they’re smarter than me. The core will always be there.
“I wouldn’t consider it a finished version live unless it has the same core as the intention of the record. There are lots of songs I prefer on the record, that lots of people prefer to hear live.”
Getting back on the road is the goal for Amigo the Devil. For Kiranos, it has created a reoccurring nightmare. He ends with what’s been keeping him up at night.
“With live shows I have a fear. I used to have crazy stage fright. It took a long time to overcome it and come into my own. I keep having nightmares about playing shows and it’s 10 minutes before I go on stage. I haven’t practiced or changed my strings. None of my gear is ready and I forget all the lyrics.”
‘Born Against’ – Liars Club / Regime Music Group April 2021