Danny Kiranos is the singer, songwriter and banjo player behind his astonishing persona, Amigo the Devil. According to Danny, Amigo is a collaborative project between himself and his fiancée/manager, Hayley Miller. Between the two of them, Amigo the Devil is a labor of love and a genuine art. From humble beginnings and a multitude of influences, Amigo the Devil is the breath of fresh air that many listeners out there can benefit from. It’s only once in a great while that I discover music as refreshing and unique as Amigo the Devil. The triple threat of compelling lyrics, a chilling voice and the usage of a banjo proves to be a deadly combination and the recipe for success.
I spoke with Danny about topics such as how he first discovered the banjo, Deliverance, his love for WWE NXT, meeting Macaulay Culkin at a Pizza Underground show, performing with Street Dogs and much more.
Alex Obert: How and when did you discover your singing voice?
Danny Kiranos: Throughout my childhood, I had a huge fear relating to vocals. I always loved playing instruments and anything like that, but always felt like a dumbass singing. I think that anyone can sing, personally, everyone just has their own style. People may need different types of learning for their vocal range. Right around when I was starting to learn to play banjo, I’d sit in my apartment and play little ditties in bed. I would make of these voices for different characters, kind of like Tom Waits does, I’ve always been influenced by him. Through those different personas of just messing around, I realized that I might actually be able to make something worth listening to. (laughs) And that’s a journey I’m still on, I’m definitely trying to get better. It was about five, six years ago where I actually became comfortable singing.
Alex Obert: How would you describe your musical style, Murderfolk?
Danny Kiranos: People usually stumble on trying to describe themselves and I’m not really any different. The way I explain it to people is that it has the roots of folk, country and Americana, but it definitely isn’t part of it. The song structures are so much more basic and everything falls more into an alternative version to all that. The themes are darker. Country has some pretty dark themes though, the history of alcohol abuse and drug abuse and violence. Since a lot of the songs are based on actual true crime, I feel like it doesn’t really fit in to genres such as classic country or classic folk, but it is rooted in both of those. Murderfolk just came along while trying to put words together to make sense of it, but I still don’t think it represents what the songs are.
Alex Obert: With Perfect Wife, what’s the musical influence behind it?
Danny Kiranos: A little history on Perfect Wife, it was one of the first songs I wrote for Amigo the Devil. When I was learning to play banjo, it was the first set of chords that I played that sounded decent to me. That’s the honest truth. From there, I was trying to figure out how to play all these things that I had heard from other bands and nothing was really coming together on the banjo until I played those chords. That’s when it glued itself together.
Alex Obert: As a banjo player, what are your thoughts on Dueling Banjos from Deliverance?
Danny Kiranos: I think at this point, it’s social humor for the mass population. It’s what the majority of people outside of banjo country associate the instrument with. And then people will think “Squeal like a pig! ah-ha-ha” But I don’t think that many people understand how incredible that song really is.
Alex Obert: Who are some of your favorite banjo players?
Danny Kiranos: To be honest, I don’t have that many influences on the banjo. I listen to a lot of country now compared to when I was growing up, I just fell into it over the years. I still have really, really basic idols on the banjo like Earl Scruggs, Ralph Stanley and pretty much the standard guys you hear about. I use a banjo more as a method to make sounds than bluegrass songs or actually play standard progressions. I think that’s why a lot of traditionalists don’t like the project or don’t connect with the project because it is little off centered from what people should be playing.
Alex Obert: What was the story behind you purchasing your first banjo?
Danny Kiranos: It was a joke. (laughs) I grew up in Miami and we didn’t really have anything beyond electronic music or anything Latin-based. I had absolutely no frame of reference for the banjo, mandolin, fiddle, all these amazing instruments that I got a late starton appreciating. They just weren’t around me. I was living in LA, beautiful people, not for me. There’s a place for everybody, but I couldn’t do it. Maybe I’m just not strong enough. (laughs) I saw a banjo in a store in LA and it was cheap. I thought it would be really funny and confusing to have a banjo, so I bought it in a drunken stupor. After that, it sat in the corner for a long time. It wasn’t until I was extremely bored and lonely in San Francisco after moving up north that I picked it up and started fiddling around. And that’s where everything started. I realized how versatile the instrument is and how many different emotions you can get out of it. That goes back to the Deliverance thing, you hear that as a banjo player and you know it’s unbelievably written, it’s so well-rounded as a piece. But then someone else outside of it can hear it and they think it’s funny or someone else thinks it’s creepy because they associate it with the backwoods and all this shit. The history of the banjo really plays a lot in its appeal to me now.
Alex Obert: So I understand you have a connection with Corey Graves. How did that come about?
Danny Kiranos: I love Corey. I think he’s a great person. Him and Baron Corbin, they’re both amazing people that fell into a circle of friendship completely by mutual appreciation. I wanna say it was on Twitter where we started talking and we all had an immediate connection. I appreciate what they do and I think they like some of the songs. That’s pretty much how it unraveled and now they’re great people in our lives.
Alex Obert: And I understand Corey wore your shirt on NXT.
Danny Kiranos: I think that’s the most text messages I’ve ever gotten in one day. My phone was just blowing up. (laughs) Everybody was sending me pictures of it and they were like, “How did you do that?! How’d you get that done?!” (laughs)
Alex Obert: So you watch NXT often?
Danny Kiranos: Oh yeah, we spend a lot of time in Orlando and they film a lot of the NXT there, so we go pretty often. It wasn’t until a few episodes of the actual show that I realized how stupid I look at a taping because I caught myself in the crowd once. I have this grin, just the dumbest grin ever. I looked like a five year old kid. But the events are a lot of fun, man. Both Hayley and I keep up with NXT and I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Alex Obert: Aside from Corey and Baron, who are some of your favorites on the NXT roster?
Danny Kiranos: I’ll be shamefully honest. At first, I really, really didn’t like Enzo and Big Cass. But come on, man. They’re just too good! I especially enjoyed watching them at Full Sail. But it took a little while, it’s like an acquired taste. And I’m a big Bayley fan. Big Bayley fan. She’s my favorite! She deserves the NXT Women’s Championship. She’s so sweet.
Alex Obert: On an unfortunate note, I read that had you an interaction with The Pizza Underground and it didn’t go so well.
Danny Kiranos: (laughs) So I don’t sound like a whiny asshole, I wanna preface this by saying that I’ve heard this situation has happened to multiple people. But outside of that, it’s just me being a whiny asshole. I’m a huge Home Alone fan. Huge. We had a show canceled in Oakland and we got lined up by our buddy. There’s this band Death March and one of the awesome dudes from it lined us up with a promoter and we ended up opening up for Pizza Underground that night instead. So as soon as I found out, I fangirled a little bit. I just wanted to meet the guy. I’ll be honest, I just wanted to meet the guy and take a picture with the guy. I kept trying to just say hi, that’s all I was trying to do. He didn’t wanna have a conversation and he just kept telling people to tell me to fuck off. (laughs) And then after a while, it just became more of a joke than anything. He didn’t want to interact with anybody. In hindsight, once you’ve lived your whole life at that level of fame, you’re probably pretty fed up. I would understand people being pretty fed up with that. It was definitely an interesting experience.
Alex Obert: I am certain that you had a better time when you recently played with Street Dogs.
Danny Kiranos: That was a really, really great experience. I love Street Dogs, really great guys. They were all so nice. Besides being really influential, it’s amazing to see how humble and gracious they are and how appreciative they are to their fans. It’s one of those bands where after seeing them, you leave so happy. That’s the best way I can put it. Being able to share the stage with ’em was awesome. A lot of people were kind of confused about a kid being up alone on stage with a banjo, but everyone was really respectful and they were paying attention. A lot of them really, really tried to make me feel welcomed to a punk rock show environment. Luckily, because of this project, we’ve been able to play with a wide genre of bands. We just played a festival in Tucson with a bunch of metal bands, doom and sludge bands. Neurosis played, Goatsnake played, just a ton of heavy hitters. And once again, people get confused by the kid with the banjo and how that got in there. But they were kind and receptive.
Alex Obert: What would you say are your favorite songs from composers?
Danny Kiranos: I’m a big fan of the whole Godspeed You! Black Emperor genre. That band is really worth checking out. They were done for like eight years and they just came back with a new record. They do records based on movements, classical pieces, and it is fifteen to twenty five minute long pieces with movements in it. I think all four of their records are pretty solid in my book, you should check them out. And a little further off the genre is a band called Swans. Michael Gira, he’s the guy in charge, he’s the frontman of Swans. He does a lot of composition, a lot of interesting ambience and a lot of really, really nontraditional elements to traditional composition. And then a third, for good measure, is John Cage. He’s essentially the godfather of what a lot of kids are trying to do now, though it isn’t really working for them. He’s definitely a classical artist, but he used to use a lot of household items and he used to make really abstract, spacey pieces. He’s one of the people that influenced me at a young age to understand that silence and quiet and space is just as loud as physical noise and tones, it just depends on the use of it. If you watch a show and it’s really, really, really loud and it shuts off and nobody is talking, that deafening silence is deafening for a reason. It’s all you’re noticing. And if you think about it, volume is just perception. It is a physical thing, obviously, but people have a higher tolerance than others. The perception of volume completely correlates with how aware you are of it. That’s why John Cage used this mentality where you notice complete silence, you notice it so much that it’s just as loud as any noise you can hear.
Alex Obert: As a musician of your age, where do you see yourself with your music in five to ten years?
Danny Kiranos: Hopefully I can still be working on this project with all the ideas that I would like to get done. Amigo is essentially Hayley and I. She just does all the stuff that no one really sees. She does the planning and the booking and the managing and all that, I couldn’t do it without her. What we wanna do with Amigo is turn it into more of a well-rounded project than just a band. I want to include a lot more work with the amazing artists we get to work with. With social media, artists and musicians and visual artists and poets are all merging these ideas, so I would love for Amigo to become a lot more immersive in the creative world as a whole, not just music. Outside of that, I’d really love to start a traditional 1920s country band. But I think I need some more life experience to make that legit.
Alex Obert: I’m very curious about your recent bloody photoshoot.
Danny Kiranos: Based off the ice bucket challenge, we wanted to do a blood bucket challenge. I did it, it was a whole bucket of chilled blood. And I was gonna put the video up, but there were a couple factors. I’m not the biggest fan of internet trends and also, everybody gets really sensitive about everything nowadays. I’m a big supporter of getting your message out there and raising awareness for anything you want by any means you want. I don’t have any ill will towards anybody who does their best in their own ways to get a message across. It’s fine, do your thing. Everyone deserves to be happy in their own way, believe what they want and have fun doing it. But the amount of shit you get for anything that you do is so unnecessary that we just decided to not post it. And what’s really funny is somebody actually did the blood bucket challenge right after and then they got shit for it. Everyone thought they were making fun of ALS. I’m a believer in doing what you want and sticking to your guns. So we ended up just taking pictures and the pictures look pretty cool.
Alex Obert: Before we wrap up, can you fill readers in on your recent release from Black Friday?
Danny Kiranos: It’s a 7-inch. There is a band from Tucson called Godhunter, great band. They pretty much wrote the music for it and we did the vocals and the lyrics, so it really was a collaborative effort. It’s the first time that I’ve ever done that. I’m usually pretty hands-on with writing and it’s a very internal process for me. So getting the music prewritten and having to write the lyrics for it, it was really interesting to work with somebody else’s mindset. I was really happy with how it came out. They wrote great songs. Hopefully we get to do a lot more of that collaborative work with other people because it merges genres and creates something that isn’t standard for either party. Godhunter fans are not gonna expect what the songs will be and then vice versa. I don’t think that the people who listen to Amigo will expect what is on the record. Hopefully everybody really enjoys it as much as we did, we had a lot of fun working on it. Soon after, we’re actually releasing another 7-inch just cause we’ve had such a lack of vinyl over the past few years and it will contain three new songs of our own. It’ll be just Amigo. And those will be out around February or March.
Alex Obert: Do you have any plans to tour within the next several months?
Danny Kiranos: We’re just trying to write right now as much as possible for a few different releases we have next year. It’s looking like we’ll be back on the road for a full US tour starting in the spring. I can’t wait to be back out. I love being on the road. I love driving around and just meeting different people, it’s a really cool experience.
Alex Obert: In closing, do you have any plugs to share?
Danny Kiranos: More than anything, there’s one person that I really, really want to thank for all their help with everything. His name is Justin Pape. He does all the art for the records and most of the art for the shirts. I think that he deserves a lot of attention right now and we’re endlessly grateful for everything he’s ever done for us.
Alex Obert: I love to thank you so much for your time. I really had fun talking to you.
Danny Kiranos: Likewise. Thank you!