In Search Of Tone: Amigo The Devil

My wife and I have similar taste in music and often share bands we’ve discovered with each other. Amigo The Devil holds a special place in our hearts, and we have enjoyed listening to his albums on repeat, watched the live streams, and recently caught him with a full band at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. There is something special about his songs and I find the two of us singing them together, such as Cocaine And Abel, Murder At Bingo Hall and I Hope Your Husband Dies. Hmmm, maybe I should rethink singing that last one.

Amigo The Devil
Amigo The Devil

I have enjoyed every interview in this series but this one is truly special because my wife Missy joined in! We spoke at length with Danny Kiranos, aka Amigo The Devil, about, well just about everything. The interview covers his incredible music but we dove into bones and X-rays, Egyptian history, living in various parts of the country, and even his neighbors who love flying their helicopters together. It was a great evening.

Josh: This is very exciting. Missy and I have watched the last two live streams and caught you at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville with a full band which was really cool.

It was so much fun.

Josh: It sounded amazing. I usually start these interviews with a rig rundown, so what guitars are you using both acoustic and electric?

Pretty much, the only acoustic I use for shows is the Taylor 717 Builder’s Edition Grand Pacific, I mainly use that because it’s so hefty and I play very heavy handed. I would break almost every guitar I played [laughs]. Two to three shows in there would be a large indentation or crack in the body. The Taylor is the first guitar that I played that when I wail on it, nothing happens to it, and it has a really brutal low end. It’s the first acoustic I’ve had to tone down with an EQ pedal because it’s so low end heavy.

the only acoustic I use for shows is the Taylor 717 Builder’s Edition Grand Pacific, I mainly use that because it’s so hefty and I play very heavy handed…

I run that through two channels. I have the clean channel that runs through an LR Baggs Venue DI just to shape it. I then run the guitar through a second channel using an A/B switch that has a sub octave pedal and two fuzz pedals. There are only 2-3 songs I use it on and only for solo shows because with a band it’s excessive, but I stomp on the blend, and it keeps the clean but it brings in that absolutely wild low end fuzz that rattles the room. I EQ the fuzz chain so it doesn’t interfere with the clean channel but that’s all I do with the acoustic.

Banjos, I use a Deering Sierra running through another LR Baggs EQ, and then I run that through a Pitch Fork for some songs, and every once in a while I’ll throw a little delay on there and a B9 for some songs as well. Lately, I’ve been throwing in the electric, which is new for me [laughs]. I’ve been teetering between a Telecaster and a Jazzmaster. I love Telecaster’s, it’s what I learned on and always had one, it feels comfortable. But then I got my hands on a Jazzmaster and I think I finally figured it out [laughs]. There are so many options and tonal possibilities, but I run that through a few different overdrives, running really low for minimal breakup.

Amigo The Devil
Amigo The Devil

Josh: Interesting. You mentioned your pedalboard as well, do you have a lot of pedals or just a select few?

I buy so many pedals; I’m a pedal hoarder and people say you don’t even use pedals, well… I try to [laughs]. Every tour I’ll go through 3 to 4 pedal configurations because I’ll find something interesting, and I’ll throw it on the board for a few shows. I’ll think that sounded like dog shit, but it was fun [laughs], so my pedalboard is scattered. I run the electric through a Twin Reverb but now I’m using a Fender Tone Master… because it’s lighter, and easier to carry [laughs].

Josh: [laughs] That makes a big difference!

Yeah, but it also sounds fine. I love it. I’ve never been really strict on gear, I’ve never been insanely specific, I just like having fun with it. A lot of inconsistency, be as inconsistent as possible [laughs].

Josh: Fantastic advice [laughs]. I noticed on the live stream that the Jazzmaster has tape on the bottom pickup, I’ve seen that before occasionally and was curious why that is?

Umm [laughs].

I’m a pedal hoarder and people say you don’t even use pedals, well… I try to…

Josh: [laughs] I figured there would be a good story to go along with that.

I mentioned I play a little aggressively and a little inconsistent [laughs]. I don’t know how I knocked it loose, but I basically cracked the pick-up right before I played. It was floating halfway up, not the whole pick-up but that cracked part was floating and it was creating this weird humming. I wanted to quickly replace the pickup but that couldn’t happen right before the show, so I tapped it down and it actually sounded much cooler. It’s a lot lower than I would be able to get normally and I took the screws out entirely. It sounds a lot deeper and richer than before so that’s how it will stay. For now…

Josh: That’s cool. An accidental break turns into a positive.

I had an acoustic guitar maybe two tours ago. I hit the acoustic by the tail to create a drum sound and I split the body completely in half. I played it like that for a few more shows and on my day off I got some wood glue and fixed it to the best of my ability. It sounded terrible [laughs], I scraped the glue off and re-cracked it and played it that way for two more tours until it was destroyed entirely. I’ve never been able to recreate that sound since. It was almost like a tonal feedback that was perfectly in tune with what I wanted it to be and had a strange underlying hum that I miss…a lot [laughs]. Now when the acoustic sounds clean and how it should, I think it’s terrible [laughs].

*** Tangent #1 where of course we talk about some of my gear as well ***

Amigo The Devil - Photo by Josh Esan
Amigo The Devil – Photo by Josh Esan

Josh: What is your writing process like when crafting these incredible songs?

Lately, it’s been much different than it used to be. When I started writing songs for this project, it used to be easier to clear my mind and I would be very focused on writing. I enjoyed it and I would look forward to writing and finishing a song. I still love writing, but over the last few years, things have become more stressful in general. I haven’t really been able to sit down and have that focus to write out an entire song.

I used to create a story and figure out how I wanted it to sound and it was almost like a movie, but now I take the voice note approach and record a small riff, or idea into the voice notes on my phone where they sit there for months. Every once in a while, I will listen to them and keep the ones that stick with me, and start building on those. The next time I sit down with it I’ll have more of a song and continue piecing ideas together.

At that point, I’ll have most of the song and my attention span will just be long enough to fill in those gaps needed to fill [laughs]. It’s a very slow rough draft and when I really begin the work, I already have the bones and muscles, I just need to throw a little skin on it and it’ll start walking and talking.

Josh: That makes a lot of sense and cool how the process has changed over the years. When writing do you write on acoustic or electric?

For the most part, I do all the writing on an acoustic, and hmm… let me not lie to you [laughs], I do hear other elements when writing. I don’t plan on them being in the song, but I hear them. I record the demo without all the frills. I then record it with everything I want and add in all the layers to make it as big, or as small as I want. After that, I go back and see if the song still works on acoustic, and if it doesn’t, I’ll rework it, it’s a lot of give and take.

I used to create a story and figure out how I wanted it to sound and it was almost like a movie, but now I take the voice note approach and record a small riff…

Josh: Missy introduced me to your music with Cocaine And Abel and told me to focus on the lyrics, which I rarely do as I listen to the music and never know the lyrics. That being said, I’m glad she told me to do that because your lyrics are incredible. When writing songs do you start with words or music?

There has never really been an order. Cocaine And Abel specifically, I remember having a hard time with where I wanted my writing and songs to go. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I couldn’t figure it out. It was the first time where I sat in my comfy chair, started playing the acoustic part and it was a stream of consciousness. It was very much just blast through it and see what happens. I got up to ‘I was born impatient, I was born unkind, but I refuse to believe I have to be the same person I was born when I die, change is alright’, that was the song and I was going to leave it like that as in intro, or interlude to something.

I sat down with it again and the progression felt great to play so I stuck with it, and I ended top writing the rest of the song on the guitar. When I played it back, I was able to speak my mind over the top and that’s why the song doesn’t have a verse or chorus, I just extended what was there because it felt right. But on a song like Drop For Every Hour from the last album, I wrote the melody first because I knew what I wanted it to be and then I wrote the guitar after. I went through five different styles on that one, so my writing is all over the place.

Lately, I’ve been writing minute-long songs. I have about twenty to thirty. I try and add to them, but it seems excessive. They don’t need it, the story is done, but it’s so unsatisfying listening to twenty, one-minute songs, in a row. I thought it was going to be a good idea, individually they are fun, and between longer songs they work. Also, at shows, they are good because they are jokey in nature, but all together, back to back, it’s the most unsatisfying thing I have ever heard in my life [laughs].

Josh: Are they similar to Astronaut Song you sang on Caving In?

Yes! It’s a bunch of songs like that. I just didn’t realize twenty punch songs in a row didn’t work [laughs]. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with them if anything. I throw away a lot of songs, for every record created I’ve probably thrown out thirty to forty songs.

Amigo The Devil 'Born Against'
Amigo The Devil ‘Born Against’ Artwork

Missy: Why? What do you do with them?

Sometimes I’ll take a lyric from one song and use it in another, then in my mind, the entire purpose of the original song was that one lyric, so I toss it. It’s basically research [laughs], I’ve always been in the mindset that if something doesn’t feel right, or appropriate in terms of what it should be, then it shouldn’t exist in the world.

Missy: That’s probably what I love most about your music, you feel it. I’ve felt it and you can tell how much you put into your music.

That makes me happy to hear because that’s what I’m trying to translate.

*** Tangent #2 where we talked about all kinds of things because Danny was super cool to talk to! ***

Josh: I’ve been obsessed with Small Stone lately. I love the big crescendo and feeds my love for post-rock and post-metal. Is there a specific song you are proud of or are you proud of them all?

No, there are some songs I can’t stand, I’m not going to lie. There are songs that I can’t believe I let them exist [laughs]. Small Stone particularly was a very rewarding song for me to finish because I do prefer having those big moments in songs. One of my favorite bands growing up was Godspeed You! Black Emperor and there’s those seventeen-minute build ups that you’re talking about. In high school my friends and I would skip school and sneak to my friend’s house, he had a crazy sound system, we would put on Godspeed You! Black Emperor, listen to the build, and BOOM! [laughs]. It was the best feeling and it stuck with me.

Small Stone particularly was a very rewarding song for me to finish because I do prefer having those big moments in songs…

Small Stone was rewarding to come to life. Lyrically though, one of my favorite songs, which didn’t cause a fuss and I think a lot of people didn’t like, is Shadow off Born Against. There are so many layers to it, and I think when a song has many layers, it becomes personal and goes, understandably, over everyone’s head, because no one can be in my mind. That was another one that was supposed to have a really big build-up. To be honest they’re all supposed to. Every time I go into the studio, I write every song to be like Small Stone and everyone says ‘You can’t do that’ [laughs], so I took a different approach for Shadow.

It’s weird to know that you have a different vision for a song, than what the song needs itself. Sometimes there is that contradiction and that’s where you realize songs have their own individual life. I don’t necessarily believe that songs are creations of my mind, but I believe when I’m writing a song, I’m putting together pieces of something that is there to exist on its own. I’m just figuring out how to bring it into the world. They don’t feel like they are mine, so I have to separate myself a lot from what I want and what the song needs.

Amigo The Devil - Photo by KL Photography
Amigo The Devil – Photo by KL Photography

Josh: That is a very unique thought and really cool way of approaching music. I knew this would be a very interesting interview, but this is better than I thought. I also thought you would have a wide range of music you listen to so what is currently on your playlist?

I definitely do! Marlon Williams has been huge on my playlist recently. I also listen to a lot of noise and drone but people don’t really want to talk about that. Let’s look at my playlist to see what’s currently on there. The last five on there is Marlin Williams, Jessica Pratt, The Felice Brothers, Peggy Seegar and Masonna. There is a lot of great stuff coming out these days and it’s easy to miss things.

I also listen to a lot of noise and drone but people don’t really want to talk about that…

Josh: Yes, it’s amazing how much great music is overlooked. You mentioned noise and drone, I started listening to a lot more of that recently and came across this band Qstaw. You may like them.

Let me write that down, I love all that stuff. You know what’s funny about that whole genre, I get nervous talking about it because a lot of the band names I don’t know how to say [laughs]. I’ll want to mention an album, but I have no idea how to say it. I’ve never mentioned it out loud before because nobody wants to talk about it [laughs].

To me, it’s pleasing though. Ambient tonal music can put you in a trance if you let it. Not everyone gets to sit somewhere for twenty minutes in silence. I feel with that genre, if you don’t have time to allow it to do its thing then there won’t be a reward to benefit from it. It’s often overlooked because of that. John Cage has some of the best interviews talking about the power of silence and noise. I love listening to that guy talk.

Josh: I will check out those interviews. I try and get people to listen to underground music, but no one really takes the time, it’s sad.

Everyone wants that immediate reward and satisfaction.

*** My wife and I continued to talk for 20 minutes, and I felt like we could have talked for hours. Danny is very down to earth and the nicest guy. We look forward to meeting in person at a show soon ***

Josh: Thank you for this incredible chat this has been one of the most fun interviews I’ve done.

Missy: Thank you!

Thank you guys, nice meeting you both and we’ll see you soon.

Label: Liars Club Records
Band Links: Official | Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Interviewed by: Josh Schneider