Danny Kiranos, the musician who performs as Amigo the Devil, says he is an avid reader. He loves books but he’s interested in more than dust-covered tomes. He reads people, too and he’s interested in those whose chapters are filled with challenging and frightening moments. Reading them has made Kiranos a songwriting success. A new collection of Amigo the Devil’s songs titled Everything is Fine releases tomorrow and may be his most ambitious project to date. Tonight, he’ll perform songs from that album and old favorites at White Oak Music Hall.
Amigo the Devil’s brand of music has been dubbed “murderfolk,” which sounds ominous and does shine an unwavering light at the darkness in the human heart. His catalog includes songs about serial killers, like Ed Gein, the inspiration for the film Psycho. A classic from his repertoire is “Perfect Wife,” which chronicles an abusive relationship and its final, bloody comeuppance.
“There’s so many genres and subgenres now and cross-contamination between everything that it’s always a fun game to try to explain your little sector, right? I think the murderfolk umbrella does kind of cover it,” he says. “I feel like a lot of people, when they hear that term, they think straight up it’s violence and murder and that’s all the songs are about. I think that it covers a broad umbrella of like a newer tradition of the murder ballads, where they also cover misanthrope and the kind of negativity towards the circumstances that are, the situations that be. I think more than anything it’s just dark storytelling; it’s just not the pretty part of life.”
As we discuss the themes in these songs, we mutually note there are popular podcasts, blogs and TV shows dedicated to the sorts of crimes Amigo is fashioning into song forms.
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“Even just ten years ago if you told somebody, ‘Yeah, I’m really into true crime’ or ‘I read about serial killers all the time,’ they thought you were a nut job, they thought you were out of your mind and you were just some grim piece of garbage that just likes people dying. That’s not the case at all, it’s kind of the opposite,” he suggests. “If you consider someone who’s trying to cure cancer, they gotta study cancer. Cancer sucks. They’ve got to dive into the worst thing and understand every aspect of it before being able to understand how to solve it.
“Now, I’m not saying I’m trying to solve it or cure anything. I just know that in my head I’ve always had in interest in trying to figure out why people feel down, why I feel down, why people cross that line and lose it – why these terrible things happen, essentially,” he continued. “So, it’s not so much the glorification of the violence and the loss of life but it’s always been an interest in how is this preventable. Beyond preventable, it’s like, ‘All right, maybe this person felt something that I've felt before, just on a much larger scale.’”
He hopes those who think the same way will find the new album, which was pieced together in a manner that is a wholesale change from his past approaches to recording. For one, it’s a full-length and his past efforts have been EP and single releases. It was recorded at the historic Valentine Recording Studios, where artists like the Beach Boys and Frankie Avalon once churned out much sunnier tunes. It was produced by Ross Robinson, someone who’s entirely comfortable working in these dark recesses, having previously worked with Korn and Slipknot. Brad Wilk, of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave and Prophets of Rage fame, drums on the album.
“This was the first time that I had someone kind of prodding at me going ‘Hey, why is this here? Like, why does this matter? What is the story? What’s this lyric?’ Usually, the past releases I’d book three, four days in the studio because that’s all I could afford, pop in there, bang everything out as quickly as I could and then just hope it came out well."
Having more time in studio allowed him to dissect everything. He said all the songs were written but then got completely deconstructed in studio under Robinson’s helm. That meant the songs made better sense in the end, he says. Wilk came on at Robinson’s suggestion.
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“The way I’m hoping it went in my head is that he called him and said, ‘Hey, you wanna play on this record? Here’s some of the demos,’ and Brad said, ‘Hell yeah, this is amazing,’” he laughs. “Whether that’s how the initial conversation went or not, that’s what I’m gonna believe.”
He finds it humorous that the first person who’s ever played in Amigo the Devil besides him is a future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. He said Wilk was kind and dedicated a lot of time to the project. All of them working together as a unit allowed him to learn something about his own songs.
“It kind of felt like all the other songs before were a little selfish because they were all so strictly my pulse and my elements that I wasn’t listening to any outside forces – and I don’t even mean people, I mean just what the song itself wanted. I wasn’t letting it breathe, I wasn’t letting it exist in the universe,” he says. “And that’s why I think these songs are so special to me on the new record, because they kind of built themselves. It wasn’t really people that built them. We allowed them to be what they wanted to be.”
Amigo the Devil performs tonight at White Oak Music Hall, 2915 N. Main. With Indiana horror rockers Harley Poe and Houston's own D. Kosmo. Doors at 7 p.m., all ages, $15.