One Man And His Band

Going it alone is Danny “O” and debut album ‘Introducing…Danny “O” & The Astrotones’.

The revelations are somewhat surprising during Famous Last Words (FLW) discussion with frontman, guitarist and general all-round band leader, Danny “O” (actual name Danny Dawkins) of Danny “O” & The Astrotones. Before the nitty gritty concerning his new band gets underway, the conversation bounding back and forth over the garden fence of a location on the south coast of Blighty ranges from, in no particular order, tastes in music, former bands, education, politics (The “B” word rears up on one or two occasions), societal issues and concerns, DJing, travel and so on.

From that list of conversational topics, one of the surprising details shared is when Danny “O” confesses his admiration for one of the pioneers of shoegaze, My Bloody Valentine (One for the indie kids’ dear rockabilly readers). Such a revelation lands with the force of knockout blow considering a background for Danny “O” that has largely featured in the realms of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, with a recent excursion into garage rock via Thee DB3. However, once the list of “likes” unfurls with nods to the genre of garage and big love for punk blues of Jack White and former band The White Stripes, it’s pleasing to hear that other genres of music appeal to an artist who is part of a very different music scene. That said, it’s these other musical reference points that make Danny “O” & The Astrotones sound a little bit different to their counterparts.

“I think what makes what we do possibly a little bit different is that I like other stuff as well as I like to make a racket,” begins Danny “O” in relation to defining his band’s sound and their influences. “Listening to 90s grunge and contemporary garage helps with that. So, for example, I like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, and I think my girlfriend will shoot me if I call My Bloody Valentine an influence because she’d feel like she’s been banging her head against a brick wall trying to make me realise that they are good!”

And there was FLW thinking it was all about 50s and 60s music for Danny “O”!

“I don’t actually listen to a lot of 50s and 60s music right now,” continues Danny “O”. “I go out and I enjoy it and it’s all my record collection is full of, but I listen to a lot of what’s on BBC 6 Music to try and make sure that I’m not closing myself off to any music because I think when you start doing that you limit yourself. I don’t want to write songs with [only] three chords. I want to write songs that do more than that, but I also don’t want to write anything off the White album either [The Beatles]. I do like having that rock ‘n’ roll feel in a pop sensibility in inverted commas if you like; three minute songs that are really good and have got choruses and bridges and guitar riffs that might go into a minor key when you don’t expect it.”

With that in mind, your passion for music and with an ear to other genres of music outside of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, it’s not surprising that the debut album ‘Introducing…Danny “O” & The Astrotones’ is a tightly coiled ball of energy that unleashes itself in a blaze of rock ‘n’ roll, garage rock and punk blues that holds links to the past yet has a distinctly modern edge.

“It’s weird that its sounds modern,” replies Danny “O”. “I’ve got this thing that all I want to do is make a record that sounds like it was recorded in 1961 and I can’t do it [laughs]! I don’t write in that way. I listen to all the music that I regard above everything else and if I could go into the RCA Studios in 1958 where Elvis recorded ‘A Big Hunk O’ Love’ that’s how I want everything to sound because it’s the be-all and end-all of production. You’ve got sax, piano, two guitars and you’re f****** going for it and it’s electric!”

‘Everday Chains’ from your album ‘Introducing…’ seems to be THAT track where many people have suggested it’s got a strong modern feel to it, would you agree?

“I think it’s nice that people say it’s got a modern feel to it [Everyday Chains] because it means that it’s different enough to not just blend in with everything else,” considers Danny “O” before adding, “yet, at the same time, we’re obviously not [modern] and therefore something is going wrong somewhere [laughs]! With The Caezars we always wanted to be a rockabilly band, but we couldn’t do it. We weren’t good enough. I think you find a lot of your creativity in your limitations, sometimes people who are the best musicians in the world end up sounding like carbon copies of other things because they’re so good that they don’t ever have to find a way around what they can’t do. I spend a lot of time trying to make what I can’t do look good.”

Bearing in mind your reply to previous single ‘Everyday Chains’, how would you describe Danny “O” & The Astrotones sound?

“I was trying to think of something succinct because I knew that you’d ask this, and I still haven’t quite got there. What I want to try and emulate is the electricity of a Doctor Feelgood show with the power and presence of The White Stripes and Link Wray with a heavy, full-on guitar and with the ingenuity and arrangements of someone like Chuck Berry with that quick lyrical delivery that isn’t just inane rubbish. They’re the elements that I want to make a point of. Just full-on, in your face rock ‘n’ roll because that’s what I have fun playing.”

The speed of the band’s inception, seemingly coming out of nowhere and producing original material to an increasingly expanding fanbase is not, in fact, how it all came together. The reality is a much lengthier process, halted by delays regarding changes in personnel and a tragedy much closer to home. Driven by a personal crisis (Danny “O” lost his father in 2018) propelled the entire band into the position that they now find themselves as Danny “O” explains:

“I did all the demos in my shed and got them to a point where I could put words to them. I decided to contact a guy called Dale who played in The Caezars a few times, in addition to a guitarist, and I knew that I wanted my best mate in the band, Steve [Neller] (double bass) who also used to be in The Caezars. I sent them the demos and we were all up for it.”

After a brief period, the drummer decided to jump ship to pastures new and for reasons unrelated to music, which put things on hold for Danny “O” & The Astrotones in 2017. It wasn’t until two years later that life for this venture started to take off with Curtis [Doel] (drums) being spotted by Danny during a videoclip for The Red Hot Rockets and decided to make contact. With Sam [French] (guitar) also joining the ranks for the first rehearsal in 2018. Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse as Danny continues to explain:

“After the first rehearsal in 2018, my dad went to hospital, which took the shine off things, and he left us the following Saturday. So, he never got to see us play. He only got to see us do a small run through. He was 54 years old when he went. He was a quadriplegic. It made the whole thing [continuing with the band] quite hard, but also made me refocus because I’d wanted to front my own band for years. I was going to do it anyway, so I decided that I had to redouble my efforts because it will keep me sane for a while or however long it takes me to come to terms with what’s happened.”

What did you decide to do in order to see the new line-up and recordings come to light?

“We kept rehearsing,” replies Danny “O”. “For my dad’s wake, we didn’t want to be standing around and sombre, I put together, not a tribute as such, but every band I’d been in performed one of dad’s songs. So, The Caezars did ‘Heartache Overload’; Thee DB3 did an instrumental called ‘Kerbcrawling’, and with the new band we did another one of his songs. This is a big diversion, but there’s a point to this because some clips went online of us playing at the wake and if it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t have announced that I was getting a band together until later. However, the clips went up of us playing and we ended up getting booked at a festival in Spain, and a gig in London that sold-out within an hour. Our first ever gig was in Portsmouth last November, which I booked as a warmup for the Spanish festival and, again, sold-out in a short space of time.”

The grief experienced provided a springboard for Danny “O” & The Astrotones’ debut album and, once aired, revealed these very emotions where angst and anger surface but so too bouts of humour. But how does this new role compare for Danny “O” considering he’s now the man in charge and fronting this new unit compared to serving as guitarist in previous bands?

“Playing guitar is what I’m good at, and this band is probably a vehicle for that. I really enjoy being up on stage and it being loud and getting that feel of the guitar behind me and it feels like a jumbo jet with that force and power; that’s what I get excited about. So it’s a lot more pressure [fronting a band] and what I feel the pressure with isn’t necessarily while we’re playing the songs, it’s the bit in between, it’s the stand-up comic bit, you know, that nobody likes to do unless you’re good at it. My favourite person in the world for doing it is Halum Pelle of The Hives as I would pay to watch him do stand-up because I think he’s amazing! I can’t quite do that, so, what I’ve tried to do is adopt a Ramones-like approach to the live set where you do a song, “1, 2, 3, 4 song. 1, 2, 3, 4, song…” and try to keep the gaps to a minimum and cram as much music down peoples’ throats leaving them feeling breathless by the end of it.”

As the discussion begins to conclude, FLW reflects on all that has been said and arrives at the opinion that Danny “O” & The Astrotones is a solo project rather than a full-time band. Over to you Danny “O”.

“It’s called Danny “O” & The Astrotones because I wanted to be in a position where nobody was going to argue with me. One of the things that made The Caezars fantastic was the fact that AJ [lead singer] argued with me the whole time, and that’s what made our songs so good because it was the tension. But I wanted to do something that’s just me, and that’s scary because if people don’t like it, then I’m the only one they can blame. So, there’s a big risk, but I took on that risk because this is kind of a hobby now as it’s me doing what I want to do and having fun with it.”

Do you believe this is the vehicle to really make a mark for you on the music scene?

“I hope this is the foundation of the rest of my musical career because if I go back to playing in other bands that’s great, but I wanted to do a solo thing so that I can always go back to it, I can always do the Danny “O” & The Astrotones thing.”

Considering that you’ve moved on since the breakup of previous band The Caezars, where do you see Danny “O” & The Astrotones fitting in with in terms of the rockin’ scene?

“I hope the rockabilly scene likes us,” replies Danny respectfully, “because the rock and roll world is my world. But like we discussed earlier, I couldn’t start a rockabilly band, I tried, and it didn’t work. I am a rock ‘n’ roll fan. So, I want it to appeal to as many people as possible because that’s what musicians want. When you put a record out into the world, you want people to like it. I want people to find our music exciting and I hope that the rock and roll world likes it and we can play those cool festival gigs on the scene. But living the dream is playing sold-out shows in the UK. The Caezars got to that point through eight years of hard work. If you can be in a position on a Thursday night with a hundred people wanting to spend their wages on coming to see you play the music you’ve spent so many years creating, there is no bigger honour than that. If you can get people out on a work night and willing to go to work the next day with a hangover on your account, then we must be doing something right.”

Danny “O” & The Astrotones is doing something right judging from the critical reactions to the debut album and their energetic and passionate take on rock ‘n’ roll that looks set to take on the world in 2020.

(Photography courtesy of ZIGPIX – 2018)

FLW - From the Tapes

“The reason the band is called The Astrotones is because my dad called his guitar the Astrotone. He hand built that guitar, and it’s signed by Link Wray. When my dad had the accident, I was ten. Nobody picked up that guitar for eight years, until he gave it to me for my eighteenth birthday. Then I used it in The Caezars until The Caezars pretty much split-up.

“A good friend of mine, Little Carl, built me Astrotone Mark II. It was copied off the same design and specs as my dad’s guitar and used the same Japanese one-piece solid body guitar that he used to butcher. I painted it red because I wanted it to look like Jack White’s guitar and it was my guitar and my Astrotone to use. So, this band is me and my two guitars that wrote all the songs backed up by musicians. That’s why it’s called Danny “O” & The Astrotones because it’s not the musicians that are involved, it’s the fact that it’s me and the two homemade racket making devices.”

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