Monday, February 16, 2009
Detroit Blues Rock, Reality TV And Peter Green : An Exclusive Interview With Guitarist Danny Methric Of The Muggs
To say that Detroit, Michigan has an extremely rich musical history would be a vast understatement. The city has spawned many gritty hard rockers throughout the years, from Iggy & The Stooges, Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, Ted Nugent's Amboy Dukes, Bob Seger, Grand Funk Railroad, The MC5, The Alice Cooper Band (who although from Arizona, never got their mojo working until moving to Michigan) all the way to The White Stripes. Add in Berry Gordy's Motown, with its staggering amount of classic soul and r&b hits and the city's blues pedigree (John Lee Hooker was from Detroit) and you get one proud rock and blues tradition. One which continues in the present day, exemplified by one of the most exciting bands to come from the area in quite some time, The Muggs.
Formed in March 2000, the trio made up of guitarist/vocalist Danny Methric, bassist Tony DeNardo and drummer Matt Rost came together with a mutual love of the hard driving blues rock of the 1970's. Drawing from a deep well of influences which included not only classic heavyweight boogie bands such as Led Zeppelin, Cactus, Humble Pie and The James Gang, but also a deep rooted appreciation of traditional blues, the band went through the usual garage band rituals before finally debuting at the 2001 Mussel Beach Party held at their favorite local hangout, the Cadieux Cafe.
Then, in September 2001, two days after their debut gig, that all changed. After a hemorrhagic stroke - thought to be the result of an undetected birth defect - DeNardo spent a month and a half in the hospital. Completely losing the power of speech and suffering what, for anyone, let alone a bassist, would be devastating - complete paralysis of his right side - the then 28 year old faced the situation head on with great courage. Through intensive rehab, he battled back through the next couple of years. Unable to play bass conventionally, he took inspiration from the advice of fellow Michiganite, Outrageous Cherry's Matthew Smith and took up the keyboard.
By hooking a Fender Rhodes piano up to a bass amp, he was able, through much learning and relearning, to get a sound very close to his old electric bass. Meanwhile, in a rare case of camaraderie, the rest of the Muggs waited while he regained his strength and health. Not wanting to replace DeNardo on bass guitar, Methric and Rost decided to get involved in different bands and other projects while he was recovering, until finally in 2003 they made a triumphant return to the stage where it all began, at the Cardieux Cafe. It's a powerful human drama the three wish they could change, albeit one which shows clearly the sheer determination, perseverance and the close knit bond between the talented blue collar, working class musicians.
Finally, after extensive gigging around the area, in 2005 the self titled "Ugliest Band In The World" released their critically acclaimed self titled debut album. Showcasing essentially their live repertoire, it soon captured the ears of discerning heavy blues rockers all over the globe, receiving rave reviews from critics and fans alike. Featuring guitar god worthy riffs and stratospheric lead work courtesy of Methric that seemed more suited to being played in spacious, astroturfed arenas than small clubs, the music captured on disc was highly reminiscent of a collusion between classic English rockers ala Zeppelin, the earthiness of Muddy Waters, combined with the elegance and synergy of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Pure power trio rock delivered with passion, fury and skill worthy of the greats of the genre, it announced to the world quite convincingly that these Muggs were the real deal.
In the fall of 2007, Hollywood came knocking on their door. Amazingly for a blues rock trio, out of over 6000 bands who sent in audition tapes, they were chosen to audition for Fox TV's reality series 'The Next Great American Band.' Wowing the panel of judges ( which included Johnny Reznick of The Goo Goo Dolls) in California, the three soon found themselves on their way to the desert sands, neon and heat of Las Vegas, where they were tabbed from the 60 hopefuls as one of the final 12 semifinalists. Performing live in front of millions of viewers nationwide each week, they managed to last from the preliminaries until the second round before being voted off after an ill advised, admittedly calamitous rendition of Elton John's "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues." A puzzling choice by the producers of the show to pick for a power trio, like a fish out of water they never stood a chance - any more than if Motörhead had been saddled with the same song. Returning to Michigan they began recording sessions for what would be their next offering.
In 2008 the band finally released the long-awaited full length follow-up 'On With The Show.' The 11 self penned tracks which comprise this offering range from the opening slow, moody deep urban blues "Motown Blues," long extended guitar workouts such as the 8 minute plus "Never Know Why," hints of classic psychedelia on the title track, to hard driving riff rockers like "Slow Curve" and "Get It On." It's safe to call this a diverse, remarkably cohesive collection of songs which show the trio building upon and expanding their core sound to add elements of mid-period Beatles both compositionally and in terms of studio effects. A heady, intoxicating brew, it easily ranked among the finest offerings of the past year, and if you're a fan of classic blues based guitar rock it comes highly recommended.
Recently I caught up with Methric at home in downtown Detroit, where we discussed the band's new album 'On With The Show,' the blues, life after reality TV and much more. Read on as we have an exclusive conversation with one of the rising guitar stars of blues-based rock, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Danny Methric of the Motor City's hard rockin' Muggs....
Special thanks to Tony DeNardo for coordinating, and a very big thanks to Danny Methric for conducting this interview with Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!
Special thanks to Tony DeNardo for coordinating, and a very big thanks to Danny Methric for conducting this interview with Nightwatcher's House Of Rock!
February 17, 2009
Interview and text by Nightwatcher
Nightwatcher's House Of Rock : First off Danny, I'd like to thank you for taking the time out to talk with me...
Danny Methric : No problem, we just really appreciate you taking an interest in us and what we do. It's tough for us to get out there because we're not a big touring band.
NHOR : The Muggs have a new album out, 'On With The Show,' so let's get right into talking about that... it's been three years since your debut self titled album came out, and now that it's out, are you pleased with the results?
DM : Yes, I'm really pleased with how the record came out. One of my concerns was when we were supposed to record the record, it was supposed to be 8 months earlier than we did. But the TV show got in the way. Not really got in the way, as it definitely helped us out, but one of my concerns was that we pretty much had the record written right before the TV show happened... I was excited about the show, but my concern was, "If we do get signed by the label associated with the show, they're just going to cut all these songs down." You know, "That's not a hit...that's not a hit...we're going to bring in our songwriters." I was so worried about that.
So after the show, it was semi-disappointing that we didn't get picked up, just because it's pretty lucrative financially. But we were happy in the fact that we could make the record that we wanted to make. Which, at the end of the day, although we didn't get signed, we got to make the record completely to the vision that we wanted to make it to. I'm really happy with it. I had some trepidation about a week before the record came out, because you just get that songwriter panic, "Geeze, I laid myself too much on the line lyrically." Then you get nervous about what people are going to think of this, but then after it's been out a couple of weeks, and feedback's been really great, you go, "Oh cool...Whew." (Laughs) I just feel so much better. Now I can listen to the record without freaking out about it. I can listen to it with different ears now, and I really enjoy it.
NHOR : Are you happy with the response that the album has received thus far?
DM : Yeah, it's been fantastic actually. We keep running into local musicians, and those are the ones who are going to be the toughest critics, and they've been really excited about the record. They come up and like to talk about this song, the solo on that song. And one of my favorite local guitar players here said, "Man, you guys just raised the bar for songwriting and album making around Detroit." That was the nicest compliment. I was just like, "Oh man, thank you so much!" It just made me so happy. We just wanted to make the best record that we could possibly make. And we produced it ourselves, which is the first time we ever attempted to do something like that. It was interesting, and a big learning experience. But I'm really happy with the results and how people have been so positive about it. I told people, relatives, friends and such, "Give it a few listens first." Because it's a different type of record, and a different approach for us from the first, as it's kind of conceptual in nature and it has a flow to it. Just give it a few listens before you dismiss it, and hopefully some of the songs will grow on you first. (Laughs)
NHOR : One thing that's quite clear on the album is that although you still have plenty of songs on it that are straight forward, balls out heavy rockers, you've also expanded your sound with this one. There are double tracked guitars, background harmonies, panned stereo effects, it really seems like you were more relaxed in the studio this time around, is that correct?
DM : Yes, we were actually. On the first Muggs record we wanted to try and capture our heavy live sound with minimal overdubs. We were kind of in a hurry in the studio, so we just kind of threw it down as best we could and make it live and heavy. This time around, with the second one, because The Beatles are my favorite band of all time, I was listening to nothing but The Beatles and Queen through headphones, hearing all these crazy panning effects, and I was like, "You know, I want to make a 'Revolver' sounding record." It won't be as good as the production on those albums, but I wanted to do the panning and the overdubbed solos like Brian May, that type of stuff. The way we made the record, there's a couple of songs we probably won't be able to do great justice to live, but the song lives forever on CD. The live performances can always change.
Coincidentally, we actually had less time on the second album than on the first record. We funded the record ourselves, so we had even less money. We had a small local label for the first one, so funding this one ourselves, we had three days less to mix, record and master it, so we had to make split decisions on the spot, the solos had to be right and ready to go, things like that. But for some reason that immediacy helped the performances I think. I listen to the record and there's not one solo that I would take back and want to redo. I kind of dig the layered effect on the record. It's kind of interesting to me.
NHOR : The production gives the songs an added dimension and scope to the sound this time around....
DM : Thank you. I wanted to show a little more songwriting, that we're not just a riff machine on this album. I love the art of the melody too as much as the art of the riff. Once again the Beatles and Queen influence is so gigantic.
NHOR : There's definitely a Beatlesque type vibe to some of the tracks on the album, but it's not in the usual power pop type way... one can certainly hear the influence in spots of an album such as 'Revolver,' or say, "Paperback Writer"...
DM : Yeah, totally. I love the stereo effects like that. "All Around You" has a lot of stereo on it, and that's the one I wanted to be as Beatle-like as I could possibly make it. I had a lot of fun doing that one, the solo and the tambourines, all that stuff. That was my Beatles homage, so I just had to do it like that. The engineer kind of went, "Wow, that's kind of crazy." Because I was going, "No...put that solo on that side, and this one on the other side, and let's mix the two, and it's going to go across this way, and the other's going to go that way." (Laughs) He kind of looked back at me and said, "Okayyy..it's your record." (Laughs)
At the very end though, after it was all done, there was so much of that on "All Around You" that we just stood away from the speakers and listened to it, and it sounded fine. He just gave me that nod like yeah, it sounded crazy at the time, but all in all it holds up like a normal song now. I thought you were nuts, but you're not so nuts. (Laughs)
NHOR : At least not in that way anyway...
DM : Yeah right. (Laughs)
NHOR : What are your favorite songs on the album?
DM : They all have their certain charm to me. They're all autobiographical in a way that it brings me to the place I was when I wrote them. The particular favorites that I go to... "On With The Show" I really like, just because it's kind of different and fun. "All Around You" means the most to me on the record. It's a song that I wrote in a disasterous point in my life. I was just having health issues with like a panic disorder. That was written out of a week where I had to cancel a bunch of gigs, stay home, then had to go to the hospital, and get diagnosed with what I had. I was having a panic disorder for all these reasons. But a great song came out of it. It's tough to listen to because I hear where I was at the time, but that song tells the story perfectly to me. "Get It On" is really fun. That was a fun tune to do. It's a nice, funny story to tell, and it kind of drives along like a train. I always wanted to make the ultimate homage to the train in song.
NHOR : Hence the train sounds in the beginning...
DM : Yeah, totally. I had to start it off with the train. Which was another idea where the engineer thought I was goofy. But it ended up sounding better than I thought it was going to sound. (Laughs)
NHOR : But that kind of thing is great. You don't hear those things, the sound effects, the panning etc. on albums these days for the most part. But it was prevalent in the late 60's and 70's...
DM : No, you don't actually. People are afraid to experiment. Or perhaps it's just a lack of imagination with a lot of the modern rockers. Maybe not lack of imagination, but I'd like to see more. As you said back in the 60's and 70's there were no limits on anything you could do. They really did whatever they wanted. They really indulged their imaginations, and I'd like to see people do more of that these days.
NHOR : Speaking of songs, in contrast to the first album, which included several covers, this time around these are all originals. What is the process that you have when you're coming up with songs? Do you write separately from the band, then bring the compositions in and the other guys add their ideas, or do you just jam and come up with songs that way?
DM : We pretty much come up with... as best I can, I'll come up with like two parts, and one of the parts usually starts off with a riff. I'll treat it like Aerosmith or something. I'll come up with a riff first, an idea for a riff, maybe a little bit of a change, but no lyrics or vocals. Maybe an inkling of a melody possibly in my head that I'll possibly sing. I'll bring it to the guys, and I'll teach Tony the riff, and give Matt an idea of how the drums are going to go. He'll just pick it up anyway. We jam on the riff for a bit, see if it works or not.
I've brought a few ideas to the band that didn't really work, we knew it and pitched them. But I'll bring it to the guys and bring out my little piece of crap tape recorder, I'll put it on, and we'll jam to it for a little while. I'll do a little bit of a solo, then take it home and see if it sounds good or not. If it sounds good, I'll go, "Okay cool," then I'll start writing a change, maybe a melody to it. Then bring it to Tony and Matt again the next week, at the next practice. Then Tony and Matt will go, "Let's try something like this. How about this part we tried at the beginning, let's try it in this area." It's totally collaborative after that. I'll say to Matt, "Oh, let's go to half time on this part." Then Matt will go, "That's a good idea." But it's totally collaborative. It's never a finished song when I bring it to the guys. It just starts off with a riff or idea, then we work on it until it turns into a tune. We do like a song to have interesting twists and turns.
NHOR : You can hear that on this album. Many times throughout, the songs will start off in one direction, then transform completely into something else...
DM : That's what we try to do. We try to make it interesting.
NHOR : That's once again, something you don't see too much of these days. In most cases, in the first 30 seconds, you know where a song is going to end up right from the beginning...
DM : I'm glad you noticed that. That's one of my things to do. Sometimes I'll come up with a part, and I'll go, "You know what? This is a cool riff. I'm not going to use it until the middle of the song. It's the only time we're going to use it." Like on "Down Below." There's that riff that comes in, it's just for the solo. Then it goes away and it never comes back. But it's just kind of fun to have the song go one way, then "Bang," it sounds like a whole different song. Then try to connect the dots until it comes back to the original song, so you have some sort of song structure to it. Then end it kind of crazy. That's kind of The Muggs' way.
NHOR : That does make it interesting. Too many times it's "Okay this is a ballad," "This is a heavy rocker," and you know exactly what's going to go on within that song from the first few seconds...
DM : They become sort of formulaic. I really appreciate that you noticed that about the album. That's good listening on your part.
NHOR : Lyrically speaking, where do you come up with the ideas for the songs? From personal experiences?
DM : Yeah. Ten of the eleven songs... well, actually only nine of them have lyrics, are all personal experience type things. "Get It On" is just kind of a fantasy type road song, this never-do-well dude just running around, wants to get back to his girl, and all the stuff he does to get back to her. (Laughs) Just a silly, fun tale that sprouted in my head one day. The other ones, it's so funny to me that when life is going good and everything's optimistic and hunky dory, I can't write lyrics, I can't do anything. But when something disastrous happens, or somebody wrongs me in some sort of way, or I get my heart broken by a girl... man, the lyrics just come flowing out. Even the progressions just sort of happen. So I hate being depressed, or have something angry happen to me, but it's nice to be able to write about it. It's just so much easier to write lyrics which mean something to me personally after something crazy happens. It's a double edged sword. It's great for lyrics, but it's terrible for my mental demeanor. (Laughs)
NHOR : You're certainly not alone in that aspect. That's a common theme amongst songwriters...
DM : Totally. Some of my favorite Bob Dylan lyrics are when he's angry, like on "Positively 4th Street." I just love the lyrics on that tune. Actually I love all of Dylan's lyrics, but when he's at his angriest his lyrics are at his best. John Lennon was another one. "Strawberry Fields Forever" just knocks me out. You know exactly where he was at mentally when he was writing that song. You can feel it, and see where he was at.
NHOR : Then you have the flip side illustration, when Paul McCartney was at his happiest you'll get something like "Silly Love Songs"...
DM : Exactly. That's what you get, that, "Wow, he's really optimistic." That's what I get from McCartney is that he's always in love and he's never in a bad mood. (Laughs)
NHOR : What are your expectations, sales-wise for this album? What would make you happy in that regard?
DM : Being the dreamer that I am, I'd really love to get in the 20,000 copy range. Ultimately, I'd love to sell 100,000. But 20,000 would be a ridiculous amount. Our first album sold around 4,000 I think. I'm trying to be realistic. We're in a society today where if you can just get one hit picked up on the radio, it will boost your sales. Unfortunately, with The Muggs, we're in a position right now, where we're in such a good position in Detroit, but we can't crack anything nationally. We don't know what to do with ourselves with expectations. We've worked so hard to get the band to where we're at, and we're just hoping for that one extra push where we can get out there and be like The Black Crowes, or The Black Keys. Just playing 1,000 seat arenas, little intimate venues, where you can sell around 20,000 records on your own, and you can sustain your touring. That's what we're hoping for. We don't have gigantic expectations, but we definitely want to be farther than we are. We lucked out recently, as there was a magazine in England but they took the song, "Get It On" and put it on one of those '15 Bands You Must Hear' CD's that come with the magazine. That's as good a promotion as you can get. Because I buy those magazines all the time, like Mojo, Filter, because I'm curious about who's out there. I found a great band called Get Vegas from England that way.
NHOR : They're another great, promising band, a lot like old Free with Paul Rodgers....
DM : Oh, they're fantastic, and that's how I heard about them. Then I passed it out to my friends. Definitely a Free/Bad Company type of vibe. Great lead singer, great guitar player. They don't have a record out yet, but that's as good promotion that you're going to get, on those CD's.
NHOR : If you were to encounter someone who had never heard The Muggs before, how would you describe the band's music to them?
DM : I would say we're definitely bluesy, riffy rock. The easiest band to compare us to, not that we sound like them, that people know... because if I say Cactus is a huge influence, because unfortunately people don't know who Cactus is, would be Led Zeppelin and Cream. Those are the two bluesy rock bands that everybody seems to know. With a melodic sense like Paul Rodgers from Free, with a Beatles-like type of melody. But definitely always riffy rock. Joe Walsh and The James Gang gets tossed around a lot, among people who know the James Gang. We get compared to them a lot. But I like to say riffy, bluesy rock mainly. I'm happy with that three word description. I'm a blues guy at heart.
NHOR : It's a shame that bands like Cactus, Humble Pie and such aren't known as well these days...
DM : Humble Pie is another nobody knows. Rory Gallagher is another who should be too.
NHOR : Where do you feel The Muggs fit into the music scene, and what is your take on the state of music these days?
DM : I'd love for The Muggs to be like a modern day Led Zeppelin. I think there's definitely an audience out there for the type of music we do. I reference that with bands like The Black Keys, who I mentioned earlier, The Black Crowes, The North Mississippi Allstars... even Wolfmother, who had some huge success. If we could just get into that type of vein. God, when Wolfmother came around, everyone around here was like, wow, they sound like Sabbath. And everybody loves Black Sabbath. They're going, "This is the kind of music I dig!" I'm going, "Geeze, here we are, we've been here for a long time." (Laughs) It's pretty interesting that a band like that actually broke through, and how much people just loved them. I think ultimately people are getting really sick of what's on the radio these days.
To answer the question of the state of radio, it's terrible. It's really unfortunate. It's gotten so cookie cutter. Ever since bands like Limp Bizkit came out, it's been all these bands who have this over produced guitar sound, and they're trying to get one hit out of a band, then casting them aside. There's no bands with careers anymore. Or bands where you can look forward to their next record. You can name artists like that on one hand. There are bands like Beck, The Black Crowes... I'm a huge Ween fan... The Black Keys, I look forward to all their records.
It's just a huge drag for us to get out there, but there are all these festivals like Coachella or Bonnaroo. Man, I would love to play one of those, and that's exactly where we need to be. Gov't Mule's a great band, and I'd like to be right where they're at, just putting on a two hour bluesy rock show where people can have fun and then go home. That's what we'd really like to do. We're not looking to play gigantic arena shows. Just a nice tour... like, a Cactus tour would be fantastic. Or Robin Trower, who we got to open up for. The audiences who go to see bands like Cactus and Trower end up loving us. They're like, "Wow, where did you guys come from?" We're like, "We've been here for years." (Laughs) But you'd be amazed though. Here in Detroit, you're starting to see it. There are 15, 16, 17-year- old kids out playing guitar now who are just sick of the radio. It's like the new generation coming out now. They're getting into the blues, and all these older bands. They really love The Muggs, and these 15 year old kids are covering a couple of our songs. I'm starting to see the generational shift happening. People are just getting sick of what's going on, and in 5 years I think it's really going to change. Rock's going to come back. Things can only get so bad before they have to start getting better. That's the hope anyway.
NHOR : There do seem to be a lot of young kids these days, in their teens and early 20's, who are playing a 70's styled hard rock, and you know they've been raiding their parents' record collections...
DM : Yeah, going, "This is way better than Blink -182." (Laughs) It's the stuff that inspired me, and it's timeless.
NHOR : What was the defining moment when you decided, "Hey, I want to be a musician?" You didn't even pick up a guitar until you were almost 20, when you were in college. What made you decide to pick up the guitar?
DM : I've always been interested. My uncles played. There was an acoustic guitar around the house all the time. When I was a teenager, 15... 16, I kept looking at it, I'd go up and kind of strum on it for a second, but I was just too immature to pick it up. I was a really nerdy kid in school, really smart, played sports and whatnot, but I just wasn't interested in sitting down and playing. Then when I went to Michigan State for college, a couple guys on the floor had a guitar. We had a lot of down time there, and we didn't want to study. We're sitting in our dorm room, there's nowhere else to go, and I was like, I want to learn this thing. I want to learn the Beatles' songs. Because I've been a Beatles fanatic since I was 6 years old, and I decided I wanted to learn those songs. I got an acoustic guitar, as I had asked for one for my birthday, so I got this cheap $80.00 guitar, which I still have. I brought it to Michigan State with me, and was like, all right, I'm gonna learn this thing. It took me a few months to get the chords down. I started playing the riff to "Day Tripper" which was one of the first things I wanted to learn. I've never thought about it until just now, but the first thing I wanted to learn was a riff. What a coincidence. (Laughs) My roommate was getting so upset with me, going, "Oh, can't you play anything else?!"
It took me two weeks before I finally got the riff together, then after that I went to the riff to "Lady Madonna"... "Paperback Writer." then I started going through chords, "Nowhere Man," "Dear Prudence"... basically just started off like that. I picked up on it really quick. It just came to me really fast for some reason. I stuck with it so much, and it wasn't two years in that I had all my chords together, and was starting to write little songs. When I was 22 years old, that's when I started discovering the Blues. A relative of mine brought over three Savoy Brown CD's. I'd never heard of them before. I was into Zeppelin and Hendrix, all the stuff they had on the radio, but they said, "Hey check these guys out." I put on 'Blue Matter' by Savoy Brown, and I was just blown away by it. I was thinking, wow, this is bluesy, but it's progressive...it's out there, but it's neat. Needless to say I just went nuts.
From there I discovered Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. Nobody that I knew at that time was listening to that stuff. Nobody in the whole Detroit area. It was unheard of. I'd never heard it before, and I was open to new ideas. This was in the early 90's, when Nirvana was huge. I just started getting into these bands, and man, I just went nuts. I discovered Humble Pie, and it was all over from there. My guitar playing got better, I started soloing, getting into B.B. King. Man, where blues met rock, that's the be all, end all. From then on, I was like, I've got to form a band like this. Tony and I did some early bands, where we were doing stuff like Soundgarden, Smashing Pumpkins, but both him and I were like, "You know, blues is where its at." The two other guys in the band at that time, they weren't into the blues. They were like, "Blues music? That's terrible. You don't want to be doing that." Meanwhile I started writing more bluesier songs, and they didn't want to do them. So I said to Tony, "Let's break up the band and form a new band the way we want to do it." And that's how The Muggs came about.
NHOR : What draws you to the blues, and which blues artists would you say have been the most influential to you?
DM : First and foremost, B.B. King. I just think he's the absolute greatest blues guitar player ever. Wonderful tone, and his singing, his whole approach to solos. His melodic solos, he never had to play fast. B.B. King taught me about melody, harmony and vibrato. I try to get a good vibrato together. Freddie King for sure. Otis Rush, Albert King, John Lee Hooker... I'm big on the Delta guys right now. The old Mississippi delta cats like R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, T Model Ford. But really ultimately B.B. King was the one. Then from those guys I went to Peter Green and Rory Gallagher. It's just that there'd be no Peter Green if it weren't for B.B. King. You hear Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton and those guys, then go back to the roots, and see where those guys came from. So that's how I really got into that.
I really took to blues music. For some reason I could put on the music and really feel what they were feeling. A lot of people said, "Awww, blues is boring music," this and that. But I could put it on and really hear what they were talking about. It really hit me emotionally. I'm thinking wow, I don't know why people think this is boring. This is absolutely amazing! When I hear B.B. play a solo, it's so beautiful. And when I hear John Lee Hooker do "Hobo Blues," and it's so deep down and dirty. People would be talking when I'd be listening to the song, and I wouldn't even hear them talking, all I'd hear was blues music just coming out. I'm just naturally sensitive to it or something. I just feel what they're talking about. That's where it's at, right there. It just makes me feel good. It's like misery loves company. You're in a bummer mood, they're in a bummer mood, you're like, yeahhh, that's satisfying. (Laughs) Because we're both in a bad mood.
NHOR : Speaking of Peter Green, you and Tony also have gigged around the Detroit area as part of The Rattlesnake Shake, a Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac Tribute band. Are you still doing that?
DM : Yes we are. We play about three or four times a year. It's a specialty band, just because when I wasn't touring a lot, my roommate, Bret Lucas, who is an unbelievably great guitar player, he's the Peter Green of the band. Not that we dress up like them, but we both have our roles in the band. I'm the Danny Kirwan of the band. Bret's in Bettye Levette's band, who's a legendary 60's soul singer, who just got nominated for a Grammy. Her schedule has just gone through the roof now. So he's got lots of gigs, so we kind of have to work around his schedule. But it's the funnest, most guiltiest pleasure. I've never had so much fun playing one band's music. We do the whole gamut, with the harmonized solos. You'd be amazed how many people think Santana wrote "Black Magic Woman." They'll go, "You do "Black Magic Woman." That's a Santana song". No, that's a Fleetwood Mac song. We do "Oh Well," and they'll go, "That's a Rockets song." No...Fleetwood Mac. (Laughs) "Green Manalishi... "Isn't that Judas Priest?" No....
NHOR : What is it about the early Fleetwood Mac's music and Peter's playing that hits home for you? You even included a great version of "Underway" from 'Then Play On' on your debut album....
DM : Oh man, totally... that song knocked me out. Peter was great because when they first started out they were just a strict Chicago blues band. And at that time Peter admittedly was basically emulating B.B. King on guitar. Which turned me on to him for sure. I was just, wow, this 21 year old kid at the time, playing B.B. King, amazingly. But then Peter's songwriting got pretty progressive, with for instance, "Man Of The World" and "Green Manalishi." He basically took his blues and expanded it out of real personal experiences, which eventually led to his demise, as he just got so depressed, and with all the acid and such. Who knows, only Peter Green knows the real Peter Green story. But it was really his take on the blues how in two years he went from straight up Chicago blues to this really deep, psychedelic, heavy blues. 'Then Play On' is such a seminal record for me. The song "Rattleshake Snake" is such a blast, with such a nice groove. "Before The Beginning," which is also on 'Then Play On,' is such an innovative, minor blues song, and I just feel where Peter was at. In fact, "Curbside Constellation Blues" on the new album is a direct homage to Peter Green. I wanted to write a minor blues like he did, with my own progression, and try to make my solo sound like Peter. I tried the best I could, with my own style. I wanted the tone to be as close to his as I could. That was just an homage to Peter, that's for sure.
NHOR : You can hear Peter's influence on that song, as well as on "Motown Blues"....
DM : That's another one that's Peter Green inspired. I'm glad you noticed that, not too many people notice that one. And Peter was one of the ones I started with when I came up, along with B.B. King. I would sit down with those recordings and think, man, if I'm going to play the blues, I've got to go to the greatest who ever lived. It's funny, their styles are very characterized by reverb. So it's not a coincidence that "Curbside Constellation Blues" and "Motown Blues" are both drenched in reverb. I turned the reverb way up, and it's just so instantly identifiable when you hit those notes, you think B.B. and Peter Green. Theirs was a clean, overdriven sound that's just haunting with the reverb. That's what I really dig about their playing.
NHOR : Are there any guitarists or bands on the scene these days that you've been particularly impressed by?
DM : There's one band, and I don't know if you're hip to these guys but they're fantastic, The Universal Temple Of Divine Power. They're fantastic. The name's kind of a mouthful to say, but they're local boys, and they're doing the two guitar, Humble Pie type thing. Chuck Burns, who was the drummer for the 80's metal band Seduce, he's actually one of the guitar players, and he's amazing. Another local band called The Hotness are doing a great thing like that. Pearls and Brass out of Pennsylvania are excellent. They're very progressive, but riffy. A three piece, with progressive songs, but it's heavy. There are almost no time changes, one minute they're in 5/8, then all of a sudden they're in 7/8. That's one I would definitely recommend looking up. 'The Indian Tower' is a really great record.
NHOR : Do you feel that coming from Detroit gives your music an edge that you might not have otherwise, if say you were from L.A. or Chicago?
DM : For me, particularly, you might say that there's something in the water here. There's a pervading attitude in Detroit. It's not miserable, because Detroit's a wonderful city. It gets a bad rap nationally, that's for sure. I live in actual downtown Detroit. But there's something about the scene, or the situation we're all in that gives the songs an edge. I don't want to sound pretentious in that, but there's just no coincidence in the whole Detroit explosion that happened a few years ago with The White Stripes, The Henchmen and whatnot. Music is all anyone really lives for around here. It comes down to cars and music, what Detroit's known for.
We really take pride in the music. For some reason there's always around 10 really talented bands that make everybody else step their game up. For some reason we're very competitive too. We're always trying to outdo each other, so it helps the music out. The more you compete, the better the music gets, and everybody wins. I can't really put a finger on it, and unfortunately it's hard economic times here. They say when the nation gets a cold, Detroit gets pneumonia. Economically, we're as bad as anybody in the nation. We live and die by the car industry. Being a bartender, a lot of guys come in who've lost their jobs. It's easier to write the blues just because everyone's got the blues. But we all pick each other up and try to inspire each other. It's like a big family here, because we're all in this mess. We're all just trying to make the best of it through music or art. There's a lot of great artists in Detroit too. I suppose it's the conditions here that bring it out of us.
It's pretty crazy. There've always been pioneers from this area. I live downtown too, so Motown's 'Hitsville USA' is only about a half mile away from me. All the hits which were created there... Stevie Wonder was there! Detroit's a great city. It gets maligned a lot. I'm sure statistically it looks scary to people. I just ran into a girl the other night from Omaha, Nebraska, in with her husband for a conference, and she was going, "I was really scared to come to Detroit, but everyone's really nice around here." (Laughs)Don't let the media dictate what you think. Everyone's really nice around here. Everyone who comes through Detroit are just so shocked how nice everybody is. They just think it's just some bad ass town. But if a guy like me can live downtown, with glasses, nerdy looking and be all right, anybody can. You've always got to keep your head up, but you've got to keep your head up in any major metropolitan city.
NHOR : You're also a big Cactus fan, whose guitarist, the legendary Jim McCarty has been an outspoken fan of you and the band. You got to open for them during a sold-out show at The Magic Bag in July 2007. What was it that attracted you to Cactus' music, and what was it like for you to get to play with them?
DM : Still, to this day, that's the greatest show we ever got to play. We've been lucky to open up for some really great bands, like Mountain, Robin Trower, Ten Years After, but Cactus was just... it was a revelation hearing Cactus for the first time, and it was a revelation playing with them that night. They came out and demolished. Even though, afterwards, Jimmy McCarty said, "Ah, it was an all right show," honestly that was the best I'd seen him play. Because when he plays his blues gig, he does a lot of his bluesy licks, but on this he was just bringing out that bend outta heaven and hell. Stuff that he hasn't done probably since the 70's. It was just an absolute honor.
For some reason Cactus, out of all the bands who were huge influences on us, like Free and Savoy Brown... they are the closest to what we do. If we're ever accused of ripping off somebody Cactus would be the band. Especially on the first Muggs record. Coincidently, I was writing Cactus-like songs in The Muggs for three years before I even knew who Cactus was. We couldn't find those records around here. There were no records until 'Cactology' came out, then I could finally hear it. This was before the Internet was big, around 2000. Those records were just unavailable. Then when that came out, I was like, "Wow!" I head "Evil" for the first time, and I was like, that is exactly what we do. Then when I went on tour with The Paybacks, I went to every record store just looking for Cactus records. In four different cities, out of a two year period, I found all four records finally. (Laughs) I've got some bootlegs too, some soundboard live shows too, from the 70's that someone burned for me that are just amazing. I think people are finally getting hip to the importance of Cactus now, and it just goes to show that there's this up and coming, bubbling blues rock cult coming up.
Jimmy Kunes was the coolest cat when we got to open for Cactus at the Magic Bag. What a great voice too. Tony's grandfather and Jim McCarty's were best friends, so the two families sort of grew up together. It's a small world out there. Tony's dad actually brought us in to see McCarty when he was in the Detroit Blues Band, right when I started to play guitar and I thought, oh, these guys are fantastic! I didn't even know who he was, or who he played with at first. Then I found out he played for Mitch Ryder, and I was like, oh cool. I didn't know so much as I was only 20 years old, learning about stuff. Then I found out about Cactus, and was like, "This guy's a legend, and nobody knows about it." Around here at least. They do, but not as much as if Clapton was playing in a club three times a week. Jim McCarty deserves a lot more respect than he gets. We went to Spain, and the Spanish kids were like, "Jim McCarty lives in Detroit. Do you get to see him all the time?" I'm like, "Yeah", and they go, "Oh my God!" They were so excited, and I wanted to say, "They take him for granted in Detroit." But around Europe he's legendary.
NHOR : The Muggs were on Fox TV's 'Next Great American Band', which showcased you in front of millions of people for the weeks that the band was on. Have you seen any benefit from being on the show, or do you feel that it may have hurt the band, even temporarily?
DM : You know what? Actually a little bit of no on each. There have been significant benefits, in terms of exposure for the band. It really helped us Stateside, because there were a lot more people ordering the record just from seeing us on the TV show. It didn't hurt us one bit, actually. The people who said when we got voted off after playing Elton John's "Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues,"... "Oh you can't sing, the judges were right, I wouldn't buy your record." There are some real hard core people who sit around and watch those reality shows. And they judged us on a minute and a half of some Elton John cover. But those are people who won't understand our record anyway. Then there's other people who said, "Oh, your band shouldn't be playing Elton John, that's ridiculous, that show's terrible! You should be playing your own music, I'm buying your record." So ultimately it helped us, because the people who hassled us, they have no idea who we are. They probably never heard of Humble Pie, or Rory Gallagher. Those people I don't even worry about.
NHOR : They weren't going to buy your album anyway....
DM : I can imagine what's in their collection anyway... Celine Dion, these great singers. They're expecting 'American Idol.' Perfect voices, stuff like that. Man, I'm a blues rockin' guy. I have a far from perfect voice.
NHOR : Look at it this way though, if they'd had Bon Scott or Mick Jagger up there they would've told them the same thing...
DM : Or Jimi Hendrix, they would've told him the same thing. Mick Jagger, perfect example. It didn't matter, Rory Gallagher wasn't a great singer either. There's a long list. We were so bummed out before that episode too. We knew it was going to be a disaster, and knew it was going to be our last performance. They gave us, "I Guess That's Why They Call It The Blues" I guess because we're a blues rock band. We said, "It's a ballad." Then they said, "Oh, rev it up. Try to adapt it to your own style." We had like two hours to do that. We had to keep it under a minute and a half, and then we just walked off disastrously. I was feeling so bad about having to do it, then the judges were ripping us for doing a song we had no business doing anyway. I just had no other recourse but to say, "Booooo!"(Laughs) Just basically that I disagree with everything that you're saying, this is just terrible. You know they made me turn my amp down to about '1'. My amp was barely on, it just sounded bad on the stage. You couldn't even get into it, and it was an all vocal mix. Oh God it was just a disaster. But ultimately the exposure was huge, and the further people got away from the Elton John thing, the more it just looks good on the resume. "Wow, they were a Top 12 finalist on 'Next Great American Band'."
NHOR : Were you surprised when the show called you?
DM : Absolutely shocked. For a band like us, even when we got the call to audition we were shocked. All we thought was, cool, a free trip to Los Angeles! We'll go there for a few days, they'll say, "Thank you but we're not looking for your band," and we get a free trip and a cool story to tell. We went to Los Angeles and did "White Boy Blues" and "Gonna Need My Help" from the first record. Then they came out and said, "We're sending you guys straight to Las Vegas for the main auditions."We were like, "You're kidding." We thought by going to Las Vegas that we'd extended our vacation for a few days. So we get to Las Vegas, we're in front of the judges, it was 108 degrees out at 11 in the morning. We'd been there since 6 in the morning. Just feeling really rough, but excited. We came out, did our tune, and we're like, thank you so much for indulging us. Then the judges kind of went nuts for us. I was like, "You're kidding me." (Laughs) They said, "You guys are going to go to the next round." We were thinking that we couldn't believe this was happening. I still can't believe it happened. For a band like us, it was just unbelievable.
NHOR : To be honest, it was pretty shocking that the band was on the show in the first place.... it was like having Led Zeppelin on... you stuck out like a sore thumb...
DM : I know, I know, that's crazy. I suppose though from a producer's standpoint, I'm sure they were pretty intrigued by Tony's story too. They were like, "Wow, these guys can play, and look where this bass player came from. They could be our requisite rock band, and they've got a story to tell." So I'm sure that had something to do with it too. Tony's story is always going to be Tony's story. For every gig we do, he's got one arm doing it. He's got a heroic battle every day he's got to deal with all that stuff. So we don't get too bothered by people saying, "Oh they just made it because of Tony's story." But that's a story we've got to live with all the time. We'd like to change it if we could. We'd love to have his arm come back, and everyone can stop talking about it, but that's just the way it is.
NHOR : One thing that further illustrates this about the band Danny besides the music is the fact that the three of you are truly a band. What I mean by that is that Matt Rost got sick with non contagious tuberculosis during the last few days of taping the Fox show, and when you guys got back to Detroit there were people who told you to get a replacement to capitalize on being on the show, but you told them that wasn't going to happen. It's the same kind of camaraderie that kept you guys together while Tony was recovering from his stroke. It really seems that you guys have a "all for one, one for all" mindset. Most bands would've said in both situations, "We like you a lot, but we need to make some cash here." But you didn't, and that's rare in this business. It shows in your music, there's a synergy there for sure...
DM : Right on. We haven't had many breaks in this business. I mean, we had breaks with the TV show, that's for sure. But health-wise, it was like, Jesus, It's been one after another with this band. But I'm just so thankful. The Muggs wouldn't sound like The Muggs without Matt and Tony. With Tony's approach to the bass, and with Matt's approach to the drums, the Muggs couldn't even exist without those two. We just mesh together chemically in some sort of capacity. Matt is like the right wing conservative, politically. He's more conservative than Bill O' Reilly. (Laughs) Then Tony and I lean a lot more to the left. We have discussions about politics and religion, and amazingly as big as our dichotomy is ideologically, we get along so well. I listen to what he says, he listens to what we say, and we can have a normal conversation about it. We're all such different people that we blend in musically in some sort of capacity. We all know what the common goal is, and that's trying to make the best music possible. I'm just so lucky to have those guys, that's for sure.
NHOR : Where would you like to take the band's music in the future?
DM : The most nervous part about the second record was not how people were going to accept songs like "Slow Curve," or the riffy, heavy songs that sound like The Muggs, but was how they were going to accept songs like "On With The Show" and "Somewhere Down The Line," which were not poppy, but a little different. They're more structured, composed songs. The response has been fantastic, in fact to a lot of people those are their two favorite songs on the record. Which was kind of shocking to me, and were the ones I was nervous about. But it kind of gives me a green light to expand The Muggs' sound a bit. It's always going to be riffy and bluesy, but I'd like to add a better melodic sense. I think I'm getting smarter with my songwriting. I've really been studying other songwriters. Jack White of The White Stripes is a huge influence on me. I like how he can just write an amazing melody over minimal chord progressions. I've always been into The Who, but I love how Pete Townshend can throw the best melody over a big chord progression, like "Baba O' Riley."
So I'm really working more on melody and song structure. Then again, the stuff we're writing is still heavy Muggsy stuff. I don't know if it'll necessarily be a progression, it's always going to be there. I'm getting into a real Delta Blues phase too. Things are just getting heavier and swampier. I've got so many ideas now, I'm not sure what direction the next record's going to take. I really like the experimental side, but really it's going to come down to the blues. It's just a story of a good man feeling bad. I'm just in this position where these songs are really coming to me now. Our expectations as a band have always been that we want to be one of the best bands of all time. It's basically a goal. Not that we're going to, but if you shoot to be one of the best of all time, and you land somewhere in the middle, that's good enough for me. It's better than saying, "Oh, I just want to play on the weekends and work."
I respect music so much, and I practice so hard, and I study all the songwriters that should be studied. It's basically like studying for an exam. (Laughs) Or wanting to graduate with honors. I just want to be seen by my peers as, "That kid tried really hard, and we like where he's coming from." That's what I want to do. I see a lot of mediocre bands out there making it, and you get jealous. You know you can do better, and you wish you could get out there. But at the very least we're enjoying ourselves, we're writing songs we're happy about, the record's getting nice reviews. This is enjoyable. Sometimes you have to just take a look back and say, "I've done some really fun stuff with my career so far." This is what I wanted to do when I picked up guitar. That was my goal when I played my first C chord, that eventually I was going to get really good with this thing, going to travel, go to Europe, and maybe I'd make it on TV. Now that I've done those, now I'm not happy. (Laughs) I want to go further.
NHOR : The band released the 'Live At The Magic Stick' DVD a few years ago. Are there any plans afoot to release a second, with some of the new songs added? Or even a live album?
DM : No, not yet. But that's something which would probably be a pretty interesting option. The 'Live At The Magic Stick' DVD, from Can You Hear Me TV, was by a company that was a couple of guys from Grosse Point. They put that together. We were just asked after they saw our live show. They told us, "You guys would be perfect for this." In order to put one out ourselves, we'd probably have to find a company to do something like that. I think a live record would be really cool. Perhaps after the third record, to have enough material. Really, we have all these new tunes, so I'd love to update. 'Live At The Magic Stick' is around 2 years old. With all the new songs we have in our live set now, it's completely different these days. I'd love to see a DVD with our new set, with a different approach. Then again, with the Internet a lot of people are coming in with their camera phones, recording the whole show. There's a lot of bootleg Muggs shows out there. I'm not sure if they're making it to the Internet or not, but they always end up giving me one. They're not the best quality a lot of times, but sometimes they are decent quality, and they're fun to see.
NHOR : What's your take on bootlegging the shows, and the downloading of the band's music on the Internet?
DM : I don't mind it actually. I appreciate it. Ultimately it comes down to getting the music out there. Even if it came down to someone burning a CD for their buddy or something. I've had people tell me, "Oh, I burned one for my buddy in Utah," then they apologize to me. But to me, I'm just happy the music gets out there. People are pretty respectful of what's going on. I enjoy it when people tape the concerts, then pass it around to their friends. With the live shows, there's a lot of that going on around here. It's a real honor to have people excited enough about your music to want to tape your concert, then pass it around to people. Like bootleg copies, "Oh, I've got the last Muggs show"..."No way!". What an honor it is that people are interested in you like that.
I'm exactly where I'd like to be. If anything, I'd like the Muggs to make a little more money. Basically to where we could tour, come home and have enough money for rent. That's all I want is enough money for rent. I don't need a fancy car or a fancy house. In fact, the less I have of those, the easier it is for me to write. If I could go off on tour, then come back with enough money for rent, a case of beer, and put gas in the car, I'd be happy for the rest of my life. (Laughs)
NHOR : Is there anything else that you'd like to say to all the fans out there?
DM : I just want to thank the fans. Everyone who supports The Muggs, thank you so much. If this is the first time you're hearing of us and are curious, please check us out with an open mind. I'm just absolutely thankful for anyone who takes interest in anything we do. For just a group of blue collar guys from Detroit, just working day jobs and trying to make music, this has been way past our expectations. We're thankful for every day. We never foresaw any of this happening, but we're just really very thankful.
For more info on The Muggs go to this location : http://www.themuggs.com/