Duane Denison of Tomahawk Talks "Oddfellows", Comic Books, and More
Wed, 30 Jan 2013 11:42:37
Tomahawk stomp through rock 'n' roll once again with a level of weird, wild revelry rarely scene and sorely missed.
The group's latest offering Oddfellows fuses invasive hooks from Mike Patton with the powerhouse rhythm section of Trevor Dunn and John Stanier and Duane Denison's innovative, inventive, and inimitable riff work. It's an "odd" alchemy of the highest order, and the results will have rock fans singing along as they ponder for years to come.
In this exclusive interview with ARTISTdirect.com editor in chief Rick Florino, Duane Denison of Tomahawk talks Oddfellows, comics, and so much more.
Oddfellows really flows very well from start to finish.
We're all really happy with it. It managed to somehow to do what we wanted it to. We wanted it to be very focused and have a certain intensity to it. At the same time, it's diverse enough that it doesn't fall into a rut at any point. The hard part is to have some diversity without it running off the rails and going in too many directions.
It makes the listener want to follow through from beginning to end.
A couple of people have alluded to that. It's sort of got a conceptual vibe. We didn't start off with that intent. However, a lot of times when you're working on an album and the collection starts to take shape, it takes on its own personality. When we started this thing, it was labeled a "super group" right from the get-go. I've never really liked that. To me, super groups are like these big corporate entities. I picture lawyers talking to each other. It doesn't seem real to me. People said, "It'll never be more than the sum of its parts". I'd like to think that maybe we can finally get some respect for the songwriting, arranging, and all that. Maybe this album will help turn that around.
This is a full band with its own identity.
In a way, we're re-launching it now that we've got our new bass player Trevor Dunn. That opens things up as far as possibilities, options, and new energy. It feels like the time is right.
Was the mindset any different in the studio?
Actually, the working mode didn't change much. It's the same as it always was. Typically, I will work on sketches—riffs, beats, progressions, whatever you want to call them. Then, I'll make some rough home demos. I ran them past Mike and John Stanier. When I get the thumbs up, I'll keep going. Typically, Mike will say, "I'll try some different vocal things. What about this? What about that?" He'll add some samples too. When we get together to rehearse and record, we work out the final details, arrangements, and sounds. That was the same as usual. I think this album may have gone a little faster. We rehearsed for a week before we went in the studio and tracked it live. We weren't just playing all at the same time, but most of the time, all in the same room. That was a nice option. That's what I liked about Easy Eye Sound where we recorded in Nashville. I saw we could do that, and it seemed like a good idea. On the first two Tomahawk records, we were all live continuously. On the third one, it was two at a time here, and two at a time there. You have to do a song like "The Quiet Few" live. It speeds up, speeds up, and then goes nuts at the end. How do you overdub that? How do you play along to something running off the rails? Music is a group activity, at least for me. I don't like things that are just a bunch of samples or guest artists recording from different parts of the world and dropping it in with samples, electronics, and bullshit. This is a rock band. Rock is organic and live. It's all about energy, momentum, and dynamics. When you're playing together live, the intensity level and momentum go up more.
Now, your favorite song from the album must be ever-changing, but what are you digging at the moment? Is there one you're excited to play the most?
You're right. The favorite song changes over time, and I find that's true when I listen to other albums I like. I really like the title track "Oddfellows". It creeps and crawls along and then chugs and churns. I like "Waratorium"—that weird, rocked-out thing. You know what? The overall favorite would probably be "South Paw". It's got such extremes. There are the big loud rock parts and the quieter, driving verses. Then, it all explodes. That one has a lot of textures and dynamics as well as the big driving tracks.
"Baby Let's Play ____" and "Typhoon" stand out.
For "Baby Let's Play ____", we've always had bits of jazz lounge on the albums. I think Patton owns that. He's the king of the lounge singers, when he wants to be.
There are moments of reprieve in between the heavy parts, which make the heavy moments even heavier.
Thanks! That's definitely how that's supposed to work. There will be two or three full-on rock things. Then, you catch your breath and have something sonically and texturally different. Most of the albums I like do that. It's not like a pizza where everything is pretty much the same, except the size of the slice is different. To me, that's like an AC/DC or Ramones album. If you like that kind of thing, they're all good. They're just different size slices. We're not quite like that.
Did you get to try anything different in terms of your guitar playing?
To me, this picks up where Mit Gas left off. To me, Anonymous in 2007 wasn't a full-on rock album. It was a bit of a detour into the native territory. Now, we're back on the rock tip. Guitar-wise, I used a lot of different gear and guitars. I used all aluminum guitars, except on one song where I borrowed a plastic guitar. I don't think I used any wood. It's got a really tooth-y aggressive tone. Then, there are effects I got to use and spray around a bit like on the outro of "Waratorium". On the title track, that guitar comes creeping in at the end. There are some different things here and there. Over time, you try out things that maybe weren't even available ten years ago and find ways to use them. I want to try and find things that sound like me. I don't want it to just sound like some guy at the guitar store trying out effects. There has to be a reason for it and a way to personalize it. I think I did that.
Where did the cover art come from?
That's Ivan Brunetti, who is an artist from Chicago. I first became aware of his work in the '90s. He had a crazy comic called Schizo. When I was living in Chicago during the '90s, that was the golden age of underground comics. You had Daniel Clowes' Eightball and others. I've always loved comics, and Patton does too. Patton knows Ivan. I'd never met him. He was very agreeable at the idea of doing artwork for it. I like the brightness of the artwork. I also like that there's a simple starkness but a weird unease about it. There are these mythical creatures and the idea of the Oddfellows—this secret society. Then you've got these animals who have a certain judgmental look about them. It's almost surreal.
What comic books do you come back to?
When I was a kid, it was Sgt. Rock, The Haunted Tank, and The Flying Ace. I love The Tales from the Crypt. Those still amuse me. My wife got me some for Christmas, and I still enjoy them. I also like the underground comics. For a while, there was a Touch 'n Go comic that was just ridiculous punk rock and underground. Then, there was one called Tex Hitler from Bill Barminski in Texas. Those are hard to find. These things come and go. In comics, you've got a story, the verbal side, the art, and all of that stuff. Then, it's in a linear narrative. It's just a bombardment of the senses. To me, when you make a rock album, it's a bit like that. You've got music, words, and visual art in one nice package.
What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Tomahawk's debut?
I don't sit around and listen to those albums, but I do pull them out because when we go on tour I have to learn those songs. We did a short tour in October and November of last year. I had to go back and familiarize myself with those songs. They still hold up. Those were good songs and performances. The production was solid. It doesn't sound terribly dated to me. The more you rely on production and electronics, the more quickly something dates. If it's fairly straightforward like a four-piece rock band playing their songs, it should hold up. There are always things I would go back and change here and there. Everything who makes music or films probably says the same thing. You have moments where you cringe like, "Why did I do that?" For the most part, I can live with it.
What's your favorite Tomahawk song?
Check out our Tomahawk "Oddfellows" Album Review HERE!