Hold your horses, I know what you’re thinking. You clicked on that link thinking ‘how in the bejeesus did those clown shoes at Demon Pigeon manage to get an interview with Mike God Damn Patton?’ Well, we didn’t. But if you did think that, then shame on you. Honestly. You’re all ‘Mike Patton is my lord and overseer’ and ‘I love Faith No More‘ and all that, but Tomahawk is made up of some of the greatest talent the world of that there Rock and Roll has ever produced. John Stanier drummed for Helmet for gosh sake. Trevor Dunn is good enough to be bassist to John Freaking Zorn as well as Mr Bungle. And Duane Denison was the guitarist for one of the greatest alternative bands of all time, The Jesus Lizard. I believe their singer has done some stuff as well.
Anyway, you know all this already. I’m just teasing. You also probably know that Tomahawk have recently released their fourth album, the splendid Oddfellows, which is exactly as good as you’d expect from that kind of line up. We duly asked ‘Mr Denison, sir, may we humbly ask you some questions?’ He said yes, and at the end of the interview he calls me Hoss. I have no idea what that means but that fact that Duane Fudging Denison called me Hoss makes me happier than you can imagine.
Demon Pigeon: Oddfellows is a delight, so well done on that. The album’s been out a while now, and you’ve been touring it pretty heavily. How has the reaction been to the new material on the road?
Duane Denison: Mostly good. People seem to be so happy just to see us that they really want the old songs, I think. They’ll come around. Glad you like it, thanks!
DP: Anonymous was a bit of a curveball, how do you feel about that period now that you are an album down the road?
DD: Well, it was intentionally different. Maybe not a curveball–more like a changeup. I think Anonymous holds up well, and we’ve been playing Totem live lately and people have been responding well, so there ya go…
DP: The production on Oddfellows is one of the best examples I’ve heard of keeping a ‘live’ sound without sacrificing the overall balance of the sound. How did the recording process for this differ from the other albums?
DD: It wasn’t much different. We set up and play the songs, basically. Maybe it sounds slightly more ‘present’ because we were all in the same room, no baffles, etc and let things “bleed”. Old skool mixed with pro tools = new rules! Haha.
DP: I was (and am) a big Jesus Lizard fan, but I missed the reunion tour. I was lucky enough to see you first time around, but are there any plans to do that again? Do you miss playing with David?
DD: I miss those guys every day. We might actually do some shows later this year in some faraway places we didn’t get to back in ’09, so I hear…we’ll see how it pans out.
DP: You’ve got a habit of working with brilliant and yet slightly unhinged frontmen, how would you say working with Mike Patton differs from working with David Yow?
DD: Well, they’re totally different regarding approach and abilities. David’s voice is a bit more limited, sonically, so I don’t really use much effects on the guitar with Lizard tunes. Doesn’t sound right. Patton has a broader range, more like ‘anything goes’ as per my sound. They’re both great, and underrated as far as lyrics, I think.
DP: I understand that you tend to come up with the original ideas and riffs, how does the songwriting process work with Tomahawk?
DD: I make sketches, demos, whatever at home and send them out to the fellas. They send feedback, ideas, etc and then we work things out when we get together and rehearse. It’s not rocket science, it’s rock-it magic! Oh dear…
DP: Oddfellows has a really dangerous, sexy feel to it, and despite the songs pulling together all sorts of styles there’s a great overall ‘tone’ to the album. Was that something you consciously worked on?
DD: No, it just happened. It’s always tough to get diversity without sacrificing continuity, and vice versa. We threw two songs out because they pulled things back too much, in my opinion. Keeping the ‘tone’ a little more consistent, not letting things drag, but not relying only on energy to keep interest and focus…
DD: Absolutely. I think of albums in the same way as I think of movies or short story collections–it’s gotta have a beginning, a middle, and an end, as well as some sort of flow. Not to mention varying textures, dynamics, rythmic feel, etc
DP: One thing that you’ve always done in all your bands is combine discordant tones with big melodies. Do you think new bands in the ‘alternative’ scene are too afraid of big melodies these days? I listen to songs like Stone Letter and I struggle to think of many young rock/metal/alternative bands who can write something as punk and yet unashamedly pop as that.
DD: No, I actually think there’s lots of bands that do the pop/punk thing. The festivals are full of them! I just think that maybe people weren’t expecting it from us, or that we could or would actually do a song as blatantly accessible as Stone Letter. We live in a different era now than when this band started, so making a catchy single (or two, or three) that stands up on its own is something I don’t have a problem with.
DP: The four of you have a lot of history at different ends of the music industry, and at all levels. How do you personally view the current state of the music industry? I noticed the album went onto Spotify straight after release.
DD: Like I said, it’s a different world now. Everything about rock music is different now, in most ways. How it’s made, how it’s bought and sold, how it’s listened to, etc. The technology is better–but the sound quality isn’t, in my opinion! People are so impatient these days, everyone wants everything as quickly as possible. But at least the live thing is still rewarded–though a lot of what some bands consider to be ‘live’ is more like karaoke! I’m sorry, but playing to tracks or totally relying on samples to get through a performance is pretty weak, in my humble opinion. But its just part of the overall cyclical nature of things–we went through a period in the 90s when things like rock bands were overvalued. Now it’s going the other way.
DP: Looking at your tour itinerary Tomahawk is going to be the main focus for the four of you for a while yet, but do you have any sense of what your next plans will be? Straight into more Tomahawk, or something completely different?
DD: Oh, there’s other things already happening for me–Sam Fogarino’s Empty Mansions project, for instance. The other guys have their things–Zorn, Battles, etc. I will probably start working on some new T-Hawk, though, just between us….
DP: What floats your boat musically these days? I always envision you being a big jazz fan for some reason. Any albums featuring on heavy rotation at Casa Denison?
DD: I like some jazz–mostly the classic bebop stuff on Blue Note, that kinda thing. I go through listening phases. Lately, let’s see–High on Fire, Stravinsky, Bow Wow Wow, Television, John Cage, Johnny Cash, and T Rex….
DP: Cheers for taking the time to answer these questions, much appreciated!
DD: You got it, hoss.
See! He called me Hoss! That means I get free backstage access to all Tomahawk shows now, right?