Life affects us in many different ways. We handle the many different challenges we face in unique ways special to us. In 2010, Danny Kiranos decided he was going to take the demons he was mentally facing and put them to paper. The result has been a decade of destruction in the form of the most haunting yet touching music you’ve ever heard.
Kiranos found himself in a lonely apartment in San Francisco with just a guitar and a banjo. As he picked up the banjo and randomly strummed to find the right chord, a brand-new entity was born. This entity was Amigo the Devil.
Amigo the Devil’s music has been described as “murder folk”; a type of folk/country music that puts an emphasis on the macabre. While in the wrong hands this may come off as a gimmick, Kiranos’s knack for song writing allows the listener to experience the most twisted of tales and come out a new person on the other end. Whether he be singing about his own personal struggles with depression or putting us in the shoes of a serial killer, Amigo the Devil will move you to tears. I was lucky enough to catch up with the amazing artist right at the release of his second full length album, “Born Against”. Please enjoy.
I’m sitting here chatting with not only one of the greatest song writers of the past few years, but possibly of all time. In 2013 I heard one of the most beautiful yet spine-chilling songs I’ve ever heard in my life: “The Dreamer”. I honestly can’t think of a better way to describe this artist, beautiful but spine-chilling. He just released his second album, ‘Born Against’ on April 16th. I give to you, Danny Kiranos also known as Amigo the Devil. How are you feeling today?
You absolutely spoil the hell out of us. Thank you so much. I’m feeling much better now. Glad to be chatting though. Thank you for having me on!
So, I came across your second EP ‘Diggers’ almost a decade ago and was blown away. For our section of the audience that may not be familiar with your art, could you give us a little background? Were you brought up surrounded by music or was it something you developed an interest in as you grew older?
I was definitely brought up around music. Not in terms of playing it, but music was around me at all times. My parents always had it on. However, it was very very different from the music that influences me now. And, I’ve always been very obsessed with noises and sounds and making noises. I was a very, VERY annoying kid. Probably not much different as an adult, but that’s okay.
Of course, that’s perfectly okay. [laughs] Your style of music is definitely unique. I feel like folk, americana, country, whatever you want to call it has always had roots in darkness, but you do take it to the next level. What was the inspiration behind this? Was this always the plan of where you wanted to take your music?
No, not at all. So that EP you mentioned was 2013. I think the first songs I ever recorded for that project were demos at home, before I even had the name. This was 2010, I wanna say. That was purely out of boredom. I was not playing music at the time. I was focused on my career in the brewing industry. I had played in bands when I was younger, but completely different styles. So, out of boredom the first few demos came out and they kind of started growing with absolutely no plan whatsoever. Just natural progression of, “okay, what’s next? Let’s figure this out.”
So, almost like a happy accident?
Absolutely! And it continues to be that because if it seems like I have any idea of what’s going on, I don’t.
I caught your live show with Harley Poe in Baltimore a few years back, 2018 I believe. One of the first things that caught my eye was your Jane Doe “Converge” tattoo on your hand. What role has heavy music played in your life?
One of the more important roles I would say. Not only sonically but in terms of friendships and essentially where I prefer to hang out. It’s how I discover new cities. It really has been a core figure in my development as a person. So, even though I don’t necessarily play heavy music it is always there in one way or another. Especially that ‘Converge’ album. ‘Jane Doe’ is still one of my favorite albums of all time.
It’s an absolutely incredible album and I’m sure it’s had a large influence on you as a songwriter in general.
Yeah, it definitely has.
When you put out ‘Everything is Fine’ it was a mixture of re-recorded classics from your early EPs with a lot of introspective tracks. What was your mindset going into that first full length record? I still get tears in my eyes every time I hear “Cocaine and Abel”.
I think there was a huge anxiousness. I was very nervous. We were working with the legendary Ross Robinson, who I love to death now. He’s such an incredible human. He has the myth behind him as well and, before you know him, that myth is terrifying. Right? And I don’t mean to call it a myth as if it isn’t true, it is a reality. It’s just…I wasn’t sure what to expect. One, because I’ve never been in a studio for longer than 3-4 days at a time. I couldn’t afford more than that. Two, I had never actually been in a studio with a producer. Essentially. So, all those factors kind of led to a very nervous beginning. Ross knew exactly how to break me out of that anxiety and into this comfort zone that became a bubble to express anything we wanted to in the truest form. So, I think that that album was a very honest album.
I agree. I’ve heard the new record, ‘Born Against’ and it’s absolutely fantastic. I feel like where ‘Everything is Fine’ is a look inside your heart, this time around we’re getting a look inside your mind. I feel like you took a step into story teller mode once again, which you always had, but I feel like there was a focus on that aspect. Pandemic aside, which we’ll touch on in a bit because we have to, what’s different about your approach to this record as opposed to the first one?
Every record I want to focus and progress…it’s a weird one. Part of it was simply that the ‘Everything is Fine’ songs were so personal that it almost affected me negatively. I’m grateful for them, but I think if I would’ve done another version of that album, introspective and so personal, it just would’ve been redundant. Because I’m not really facing new struggles. I’m not really facing anything different as a human. I’m still dealing with the same depression, ya know? The same situation. So, content wise I think it would’ve been too redundant. I wanted to focus on the emotional aspect as opposed to the internal aspect which was easier to do by placing my emotions into a third party. The songs are still personal on ‘Born Against.’ They’re just written from someone else’s perspective with my reactions to those situations. If that makes any sense.
It makes perfect sense, and I’m sorry to keep bouncing back and forth between then and now, but I really want you to think about the first time you sat down to write a song. You’ve grown as both an artist and a songwriter. Can you walk me through that evolution between that first song you ever wrote and the last one?
I can absolutely walk you through it because I remember where I was, I remember it all. I was living in San Francisco, on Bush Street. I was working at a brewery called ThirstyBear Brewing. I would normally work from 6am to 3 or 4pm and then just get real drunk and go home to be alone. I was very lonely at that time. I didn’t know anyone yet. In my apartment, I barely had any money so it was my bed and this big, green oversized Lazy-Boy that I had been hauling around with me forever. Then I had my acoustic and my banjo which is pretty much all I owned at the time. I didn’t play banjo at all, I just had that. So, I was watching ‘Sleepaway Camp.’
That is a top 5 movie for me!
Oh, it changed my life. I picked up the banjo because I had seen ‘Sleepaway Camp’ a million times so I was like, “well let’s just decompress. Pick up this banjo and see what this is.” I started playing around with it and trying to figure out what the hell these chords are. Since I already played guitar, I was trying to figure out what the banjo was. That night I ended up writing the first half of “Perfect Wife”. Which was…specifically the first round of that song I was using this really weird trying to be like an old witch, creepy voice. Which is really silly. That was a time when I wasn’t singing yet. I didn’t know how to sing. I had never sung. I was terrified of singing. So, I was using these silly little voices to try and compensate for that fear. It was verbal vomit. The first half of “Perfect Wife” was just me watching a cheesy campy horror movie and deciding to write a cheesy campy horror song, essentially. Then I actually finished the song a few weeks later and I remember thinking that it was too gratuitously violent for no reason. So, let’s add a twist at the end where she gets her revenge on this abuser, on this terrible person. And so that song was written and I thought it was cool enough. Now I look back on it and think, “what a silly song.” What a silly, campy song. That’s okay, I didn’t…not that I know what I’m doing now, but I definitely didn’t know what I was doing then. It is the root of Amigo. I’m still grateful to have had that experience of writing it. Now, the last song I had written, besides the ones I haven’t recorded yet, the last song that has been recorded was “Small Stone”. The first track on the record was the last song I recorded. That song is surprisingly introspective, but not in a very obvious way. I remember wanting it to be an entire story sonically. Like an entire album within three minutes. The amount of thought that went into that song was so much more hectic than the thought I used to put into songs. Which was very minimal. I think you can tell that with the movements, and you can tell with how much emotion there is and the sound and the different layers and depth of the actual song’s landscape.
Definitely. There is a certain complexity to the new record and “Small Stone” as well individually that you don’t see in something like “Perfect Wife”, which is still an amazing song. But you can see the growth as an artist and a songwriter.
I think at some point I realized that “Perfect Wife” exists. “Dahmer Does Hollywood” exists. All of these songs already exist. It would almost be unfair to those songs to try and just do new versions of them.
It’s like, and we’ll touch on this further in a moment, but it is like the different sub-genres of horror/dark cinema as well. You’ve got your Sleepaway Camps but you also have your Midsommars.
Yeah, and hopefully not the remake of ‘Martyrs.’
Definitely not the remake of ‘Martyrs’! But before we start delving deep into horror, which we will, a lot of artists have been kind of sitting on albums the past year because of the situation that the world is in. It prevents people from touring the record and what have you. I know it’s very cliché to ask at this point, but how has the pandemic affected you? Whether it be personally or your work in general?
I’ll go with the selfish part first. We had been touring so much. I’m one of those people who don’t say no to opportunities. So, if it hadn’t been for the pandemic I would’ve never given myself a break and probably burn out to be honest. We were touring nonstop. Initially there was the panic of “oh my god, what are we going to do?” but at the same time I was like “holy shit, I get to go home and be home for a little bit.” I get to do everything that I wanted to do. That’s not necessarily what happened because I realized I’m just not good at being home. I’m just not built for it. All the aspirations I had, all the grand ambition of learning new hobbies and all that…none of it happened. It was just moping around, freaking out about everything. We live right by a lake pretty far outside of town so most of my days were spent on the beautiful lake or river, in a kayak just sitting around smoking cigars, drinking beers, and crying. It was like this duality of this beautiful setting: very free opportunities to just enjoy myself while being so sad! [laughs] A very confusing time. Artistically, I don’t think that a lot of the record is written about the pandemic or quarantine. I figured there’s going to be enough of those to go around. I had some songs that I had written about solitude and all that stuff, but I scrapped those. So, kayaking and crying…that’s how the pandemic affected me.
Hey man, it definitely affected us all differently. I think there was a little bit of crying throughout the entire world. Still is, honestly. So, let’s take a step away from the work and talk about some fun stuff. Horror, we’ve already determined, plays a huge role in your life. Mine as well. What was your earliest experience with the genre?
My cousin showing me ‘They Live.’ I was YOUNG young. That was very exciting for me. Not the best movie, but my first. After that I had this friend in my class who was like the “bad boy” of our class. His parents were really cool and all that. His dad collected a lot of horror movies on laser disc. So, we became close friends and he kinda had the in with all of that. We would watch these gnarly movies like ‘Cannibal Holocaust.’ The first time I saw ‘Sleepaway Camp’ was there. All these movies on laser disc because his parents didn’t mind that we watched that kind of stuff. So, I blame his parents for all of my problems. [laughs]
They’re definitely to blame. [laughs] Do you have a favorite horror film of all time?
I don’t think I have ONE favorite because I’ve gone through so many instances of genre shifts. For a little while I was obsessed with all the Toetag [Pictures] stuff like ‘August Underground’ and all that pseudo-snuff shit. Then I got super into the psychological thriller thing. Each of those I think I could say I have a favorite within the genres, but not just one. Now tattoo wise I have a ‘Sleepaway Camp’ tattoo, ‘Dead-Alive,’ ‘Cannibal Holocaust,’ ‘Cheerleader Camp,’ ‘Black Christmas’…so these have to be some of my favorites at least.
I do love ‘Black Christmas,’ but I say JUSTICE FOR BLACK XMAS (2006).
Yeah! It was not that bad!
Right, it’s so much fun!
It was not that bad and I think it was a worthy watch, personally.
I do too, and it reminds me of Christmas more than the original does.
Absolutely it does.
Is there a horror flick that you absolutely was that either gets hate or isn’t as well known as you wished it was?
I feel like a lot of the French-wave scene like ‘Frontier(s)’ kind of got shoved aside a little bit. Like ‘Martyrs,’ ‘Inside’…that whole batch of movies is fantastic. So intense.
You definitely need to be in a certain mindset. You’re not getting together on a Friday night saying, “Hey, let’s sit down and watch Martyrs!”
Hahahaha. Yeah, “PARTY MOVIE!” I also personally love ‘Wolf Creek.’ I feel like it gets a little bit of a dismissal. I feel like John Jarratt’s character in it is so flawless. So phenomenal as a villain. What was yours?
I think mine is ‘Trick or Treat.’ The 80’s classic. Ozzy and Gene Simmons in it for about 5 minutes, but got the most marketing.
It’s so good! You know what other movie is a fun one? I really loved ‘The Craft.’ ‘The Craft’ was just so much fun. I know that was one of the majors of that year. It’s not really an underbelly film but holy shit that movie still holds up. I watched it the other day and it’s so much fun.
So we cover a lot here at Icon Versus Icon: horror, music, movies and beyond. I happen to know that you’re a wrestling fan. What’s your take on the current state of wrestling? What are you watching?
Honestly, I have kind of bowed out recently. It has been interesting to see how they’re still continuing the events through the pandemic. The whole crowdless thing I can’t imagine is comfortable for any of the wrestlers at all. But, I think it’s really cool to see the whole Young Bucks thing coming up and starting the whole other promotion. I’m really excited to see where it goes from here with the branching out and the actual competition to the other majors. There’s just so many people making killer spots and I don’t think it’s their peak yet. I’m just excited to see how all that builds up.
I have one more off the wall question for you. Along with Icon Vs Icon I have a yearlong Christmas podcast called Christmas 365 to celebrate what is my favorite time of year. Each week we talk random Christmas related things. Do you have an all-time favorite Christmas song?
It’s gonna be very obvious once I say it, but The Pogues “Fairy Tale of New York”. By the way, Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year. It is my favorite season of the year holiday wise because it just smells good, the lights are awesome and I just love the vibe and the feeling. That’s probably very unexpected for some people because of the “death” and all that stuff.
Back on track, the new record, ‘Born Against’ just dropped. It’s such a haunting record that tells the tales of many monsters in this world through your eyes. My personal favorite track is “Different Anymore”. I know it’s like asking you to name your favorite child, but do you have a song on this record that is just extremely special to you? Your favorite track?
That specific song, “Different Anymore” is my personal favorite. I had been writing it for a while and I couldn’t really wrap my head around what the song was or needed to be. It ended up being one of the more personal songs I’ve ever written on many levels. There’s something about the atmosphere we had while recording it. It felt different, it really did feel like something else. I’ve never had that mood, that environment while recording a song. It felt right. It felt like it was the correct situation for that track.
Not only recording it originally, but the live recorded video that just dropped alongside the album, what was that like?
The whole cave thing was very interesting because leading up to it I had nightmares forever about playing live. Since I hadn’t played live in so long. There was this weird fear that crept into me and it just held its place. I was so scared of everything. I was scared of playing. I was scared of forgetting words. The cave recording was the first time I really played in a very long time. It was interesting to kind of rattle myself back into the routine without a crowd. Without all of the standards of a show. I think that song in particular was one of the moments where things started to click back into place. So, I’m very grateful when I watch that video. It felt, in my mind, like a shift back to reality.
Can we expect to hear anymore…was anything else recorded in that cave?
We did thirteen songs. We haven’t announced it yet, but there’s the secret info right there. The small leak!
So excited! I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I have two more questions for you. You’ve been killing it for the past decade or so with multiple EPs, two albums, tours, big festivals and so on. What has been your milestone? The thing that you are most proud of?
The last tour that we did with King Dude and Twin Temple, there was a show at The Regent in LA. That whole tour was exceptional, it really was. Something about that show specifically was crushing, in a good way. It felt so singular. It felt so unified. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that correctly in place in my life. There was one specific moment where during “Hell and You” everybody was singing along. We do the sing-a-longs and are very grateful for them but there was something so specific about the purity and the joy and the kindness in that room. Everything felt good. Like the world felt good. I think that’s the moment I’m most grateful for, amongst many because there are many. Off the top of my head I always go back to that moment. Very close behind, we had a moment like that in London at Hoxton Hall. It had a very similar feel and ambiance to it. There’s something surreal about being in that experience that makes you realize…holy shit this moment is special. To me being unified with everyone in that room is the greatest milestone I can think of.
Hopefully coming out on the other side of the pandemic we can have many more moments just like that. Last question, what advice would you give to anyone trying to make it as a recording artist in 2021?
Shit…Jesus…it’s a whole new world.
It is, because asking this question before last year the answer is always “write and tour.” With that not being possible, now what?
Yeah, well the funny thing is my sister just recorded her first EP. She has never done anything musically before. She’s kind of been asking me for advice on how I did things. How she should release it. How she should do this. It’s been kind of hard to help because my go to answer is just like you said, “write and tour”, same thing as everybody else. Release your music, get on the road, and suck it up. That’s it. But now since that literally isn’t a possibility, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to…okay, you clearly have to build an online presence so that people can hear your music. How do you do that? You can’t just tell someone to go make a viral video. A it doesn’t work that way and B that’s a flash, that’s a blip. You don’t want that. Like, I don’t recommend that style of here and gone in 60 seconds vibe. However, we live in a society and a culture like that. Where it’s the most intense fame of all time for some people for five days and then they’re gone forever. Ya know? I guess it depends on what someone’s trying to achieve. Do you want longevity or do you want grandeur? If you want longevity, put out your music and be honest with yourself. Be honest with everybody else. Just find ways to represent your truest form online as opposed to touring. Get creative with the content you put out. Make videos of you playing and stuff like that. Just reach out to the community. Just because we can’t see each other doesn’t mean the community doesn’t exist behind music. So, my final advice is don’t be scared to make connections with people. Don’t be scared to reach out.
Thank you so much for your time Danny, you have absolutely no idea how much I appreciate it.
Hey man, thank you for having me!
Amigo the Devil’s brand new album, “Born Against” dropped on April 16th. You can check it out on your preferred streaming sites as well as order physical copies at amigothedevil.indiemerch.com. Follow the continuing journey of Amigo The Devil on social media via Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Visit his official website at www.amigothedevil.com.
Obsessed with all things horror, video games, comics and vinyl, Dylan has been surrounded by all things geek culture since birth. Along with writing for Icon Versus Icon he’s also the co-host for the year long Christmas podcast, “Christmas 365”.
“No wimps. No False Metal.”