Duane Denison Talks with Tone Tribune!!

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September 27, 2012 by tonetribune


Duane Denison is one of those iconic sonic sculptors who has been steadily chiseling his signature sound into the face of Rock for the last 25 years. His sound is instantly recognizable, but not because he is limited to a tried-and-true formula. His mouse-trap arrangements can draw the listener in with an unusual or pretty bait and then clamp down for the kill at any moment. Like all great Rock n’ Roll guitarists he is equal parts mind and pelvis. He can puppeteer any size audience with his six-strings, drawing from an endless aural palette of spidery scaling and dissonant chording that is perfectly balanced with beautiful, melodic structures and percussive phrasing.

With the eminent release of the new Tomahawk album Oddfellows slated roughly for January 2013 and an upcoming tour that kicks off in Nashville, TN on October 27th, he manages to have time to pursue two other exciting projects detailed below in the very first Tone Tribune artist interview.

Without further due…

TT: You have a very unique blend of melody, rhythm and dissonance that is both primal and cerebral. How much of these attributes are the result of any kind of classical training? You seem to have a deep pool of scales and chords to draw from, yet you use repetition and swagger to sometimes bludgeon the listener.

DD: Well, I actually do have some classical training, on both guitar and piano, so I can read music pretty well. I can rip ideas from all sorts of obscure sources….but I’m still a rock guy at heart so I try not to get too cute with it, I guess.

TT: I always find it fascinating when a musician’s style in some way mirrors the environment from which they are creating in. When you were in Chicago all those years do you think cacophony of an industrial/urban environment seeped into your riffs? I noticed how when you joined The Legendary Shack Shakers and relocated to Tennessee that aggression transferred perfectly to their agridustrial style, albeit a bit greasier.

DD: I grew up in Michigan, in the Detroit/Ann Arbor area, so the clank and hum of industry was there from the start. I’ve worked in factories at various times in my life, so noise and repetition are pretty deeply ingrained…maybe a bit too much…

TT: As a guitar player who plays in vastly different bands, sometimes simultaneously, do you find that certain guitars sound right for certain bands or do you always have a full quiver? I notice when you play with Tomahawk you have employed a big, resonant Gibson hollow body and with Jesus Lizard you use the Travis Bean and the new Chessie, which is made entirely of aluminum.

DD: Yeah, different guitars for different gigs, when possible. Actually, that was a semi-hollow w/Tomahawk (ES 135). I’m currently using guitars from the Electrical Guitar Company that are all aluminum semi-hollow bodies. They have a nice combination of bite, snarl, ring, crunch, all that.

TT: You mentioned an upcoming collaboration with Alexander Hacke (Einsturzende Neubauten) and Brian Kotzur (former Silver Jews Drummer) called Unsemble that you described in Rolling Stone as “Neo-Chamber instrumental music.” This excites me to no end as I am a huge fan of your instrumental Denison Kimball Trio records. Are you gonna bang on those aluminum Chessies and play behind the bridge? You seem to use every audible part of your guitars at times.

DD: Yes, I bang on the aluminum EGC Chessies a lot w/The Unsemble. We improvised a good bit, and in that world its “anything goes” so the guitars are plucked, scraped, bowed, banged, and actually played on sometimes.

TT: I have heard a few tracks from Empty Mansions (not houses as they said in Rolling Stone), another project you are involved in with Sam Fogarino and Brandon Curtis of Interpol. It has a dark, seductive and voyeuristic feel to it at times. You are making some outlandish ambient sounds on some of the tracks. Do use a slide in place of a plectrum sometimes or is it a trade secret?

DD: I don’t remember! We actually recorded more recently and it’s getting deeper and darker. Good stuff, I hope we play live. I think Sam Fogarino is a great all around musician–player, writer, thinker, etc and Brandon’s no slouch either–they have style and chops, which don’t always go together these days.

TT: Finally, everyone is anticipating the upcoming Tomahawk album, Oddfellows and the tasty teaser clip that is circulating the web features one of the craziest, spidery arpeggios I have ever heard on a guitar. It must be an absolute gas to play with a rhythm section like Trevor Dunn and John Stanier.

DD: John and Trevor are two of the best out there right now, no doubt about it. It’s a treat playing w/them. That ‘spidery’ arpeggio of which you speak is actually the main riff of the song played in double time, an octave up, so it takes a few reps for it to cycle around to the downbeat, know what I’m saying? Glad you like it.

Nice chatting w/you, Fletch.


There you have it folks. An extra special thanks to Duane Denison for being gracious enough to give some valuable time to this fledgling rock-writer.

Here is a little taste of what Duane Denison, Mike Patton, Trever Dunn and John Stanier are cooking…..


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