Amigo The Devil Makes Country Music That’s Heavier Than Death Metal
Words: Cat Jones
“This is the first time I’m going to say this. I have skirted this question so far.”
I’ve just asked Danny Kiranos, better known as “murderfolk” artist Amigo The Devil, why there is a suicide note on his new album. Danny originally made a name for himself by stomping about with a banjo and belting out love songs from the perspective of famous serial killers. But on Amigo’s first full-length record, Everything Is Fine, his focus seems to be pointed inward. And though it ends with the lyric, “Sincerely, Caroline,” the album’s wistful ninth track First Day Of The End of My Life feels too personal to be fiction.
“So, I collect a lot of weird stuff,” he says, then pauses for a moment to gather his words. “I got into this period of time where I started collecting suicide notes from people’s families. I wanted to find a commonality between them. I thought I could. And, well, I couldn’t. Nothing else that I collect has bothered me at all, ever, until I started collecting those notes.”
Danny sits across from me in a booth at Black Rabbit bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, blocks from heavy metal club Saint Vitus, where Amigo will be playing a sold-out show in a few hours. He very much looks the part of an outlaw country singer: long hair pulled back, worn-out cowboy boots tucked under his jeans (he laughs that a fan once told him he looks like “fat Dave Grohl”). But the Converge Jane Doe tattoo on his hand, gauged ears, and face tattoos barely poking out the edges of his beard suggest a past in hardcore, and the pink elephants on his can of Delirium Tremens look cartoonish against it all.
The road that led Danny here to Brooklyn is as twisted as the singer himself. Everything Is Fine was produced by Ross Robinson (who rose to fame in late ’90s producing modern metal acts like Slipknot, Korn, Glassjaw, and At The Drive In), and features Brad Wilk of Rage Against The Machine on drums. Two thirds of the way through his six-week tour with the folk-punk group Harley Poe, Danny has to keep picking up new shipments of records because people are buying so many that they can’t keep up. By all accounts, it would seem like life is treating him pretty well… which doesn’t do much to explain the sonic suicide note.
“If I’m getting into something, I dive very, very deep,” says Danny. “And I started noticing that I was going so much further down the rabbit hole than I normally do. I had a few months where all of the years of problems and troubles that I’d ever gone through felt so much more real, and so much worse…and all of those years consolidated and multiplied, and I was sitting at home, writing this record, and I was just fed up with everything, so I wrote a suicide note. It… it wasn’t gonna be a song.”
He looks at me in a pointed way as if to say, ‘You know what I’m saying here’.
“I had this weird blackout moment where I wrote a ton of them. And as I was sitting there, I was like, what’s the point? What’s the point of any of it? I’m just tired of the shit. People are cruel to each other. Nothing makes sense. Nothing works.” He sighs. “So I wrote it, and I wanted to not be here anymore. Then I just said, okay, well let’s try this.” He taps his beer can against the tabletop, eyes lost in memory. “Let’s put it into a song to see if it feels better. And when I was playing the song, it made me realize that I can guarantee I’m not the only one who feels this way. Which means there’s other people I can reach out to that understand what I’m feeling, which means that there’s an entire community of people that need to bring each other up. And then things started getting better.”
Somehow, the topic of self-slaughter seems darker than Amigo The Devil’s previous work. Prior to Everything Is Fine, Amigo released three EPs: Manimals, Diggers, and Decompositions, which were mostly comprised of love songs written from the point of view of actual killers: Dahmer Does Hollywood is a fictional imagining of what a night on the town would look like if Jeffrey Dahmer had relocated to Los Angeles, while Infamous Butcher, The Recluse, The Weight, and The Dreamer (which was later redone for the full-length) all refer to Ed Gein, the ghoul and murderer who was the inspiration for Norman Bates, Leatherface, Silence Of The Lambs’ Buffalo Bill, and Slayer’s Dead Skin Mask (though Danny is quick to remind that Gein wasn’t a technically serial killer, as his “body count was technically only two”).
“I think there’s always been a fascination since I was a kid with just dark themes in general, and dark stories,” says Danny. “Even within fairytales and kids’ stories… there were parts that seemed like everybody was so quick to demonize that made sense to me. With the villain, I was like, ‘Oh, he’s just jealous.’ I’ve felt jealousy before. He just feels it on a different scale than I do. And I think the initial intent was to explore that, just kind of thread together a sense of normalcy in these extreme situations. It’s not an excuse [for serial killers]. It’s a terrible, terrible thing that they’ve done, and I don’t think they should ever be glorified, or pitied. But there’s something behind there to learn. The majority of the population acknowledges, ‘Okay, I’m sad. Why am I sad?’, or they just dwell and live with it. But there’s a small percentage of people that just react. They don’t have that gate that says, ‘Oh, hold on, hold on, what are we doing here? What the hell is going on?’
“What a strange thing to not want to be kind to other people,” he muses. “To not want to take time out of your day to solve somebody else’s misery. There is a huge lack of empathy in the world.”
This realization seems to be a major reason Amigo’s new record is less serial-killer focused, and more introspective. If I’m Crazy is an ode to the delicious, self-destructive rollercoaster of being in a toxic relationship. You’re Perfect Too is the sequel to an old song of his called Perfect Wife, in which a woman gets revenge on an abusive husband. Hell And You and I Hope Your Husband Dies are remakes of old, show-stopping singalongs about the dark places your mind goes when you’re in love.
The first track on Everything Is Fine, however, was inspired by the death of a friend two years ago with whom Danny had lost touch. The song is called Cocaine and Abel — a metaphorical nod to the first time brother betrayed brother — and is probably his most directly personal song to date. And it has certainly resonated with people: at his sold-out Boston show the night before, Danny heard people audibly weeping in the audience.
“Maybe I took his friendship for granted, or I thought it was easy because it felt easy,” he says. “And when something becomes so easy you just put it on autopilot. I think of all the times where I could’ve gone to see him, and I said, ‘You know what? I’ll see him next time.’ And all the times that I didn’t ask him how he was. I think of all the reasons why I did that, and they were all so fleeting — because I wanted to get high or go drink with people instead.” He stops to think of a metaphor. “If you have something physical in life, people that love cars for example, they take care of their car every day. They care for that object as best as they can because it’s invaluable than them. So often we don’t do that with people because it becomes a standard, neutral situation that we get to forget about because, you know what? He could call me instead. Nah. I should’ve called him.”
Ironically enough, considering the subject matter of Amigo The Devil’s music, he has amassed a cult-like following of kindhearted, enthusiastic fans—to the point where Danny has taken to saying “We are Amigo The Devil” rather than “I”, despite being a solo act. Earlier this year, someone even started a Facebook group for fans all over the world to connect with one another called the Amigo The Devil Fellowship. When I ask Danny about it, he gets a little misty-eyed.
“I love it so much,” he says, and beams. “I want those people from different walks of life to come together and realize that we’re all the same. If the songs can bring anyone together, I’m happy.”
Later that night, while ending his set at Saint Vitus Bar with his signature closer, the sentimental, tongue-in-cheek track I Hope Your Husband Dies, he seems to effortlessly prove that the darkness in his music can be a source for positivity and light.
“So what we’re gonna do,” bellows Danny, “is we’re gonna focus all of our energy on whatever it is that keeps us up at night, and we’re gonna take every bit of hate, and every cell in our bodies, and we’re gonna build a big ol’ ball of fuckin’ hate in the center of our chests. And we’re gonna spit it out into the universe. Are you ready?”
The sold-out crowd cheers mightily, grins on every face. Danny beams back at the people who saved his life.
“Oh I, oh I — I hope your husband dies!” Danny wails. “I hope your husband…dies!”
Amigo The Devil’s Everything Is Fine is out now on Regime Music Group, with physical CD copies arriving January 11. Purchase it here.
Make sure to get your dark heart broken by Amigo The Devil at one of the dates below:
1/16 – Minneapolis, MN @ Studio B at Skyway Theatre
1/17 – Iowa City, IA @ Gabe’s Oasis
1/18 – University City, MO @ Blueberry Hill
1/19 – Lawrence, KS @ The Bottleneck
1/21 – Colorado Springs, CO @ The Black Sheet
1/22 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Urban Lounge
1/23 – Boise, ID @ The Olympic
1/24 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
1/25 – Spokane, WA @ The Pin
1/26 – Seattle, WA @ The Sunset
1/29 – Reno, NV @ Jubs Jubs Thirst Parlour
1/30 – Santa Cruz, CA @ The Atrium
1/31 – Pioneertown, CA @ Pappy & Harriet’s
2/1 – Long Beach, CA @ Alex’s Bar
2/2 – Tuscon, AZ @ Club Congress
2/4 – Lubbock, TX @ Jake’s Sports Cafe and Backroom
2/5 – San Antonio, TX @ Jack’s
For those who’ve always wondered what it’s like to lose a tooth, Clutch, Dropkick Murphys, and Hatebreed are heading out on a U.S. tour.
Zao will be on the road in August with Hollow Earth and Wolf King.