Shooting the Breeze Mit Mr. Denison
CoC interviews Duane Denison of Tomahawk
by: Jackie Smit
Tomahawk (for those of you who have lived under the secluded safety of a rock formation for the past few years) is the veritable super group featuring such auspicious members as Kevin Rutmanis (The Melvins) and the vocal talents of 'little-known' Mike Patton (Faith No More, Fantomas, etc.). However, far from being a Patton vanity project, Tomahawk is actually the conception of one Duane Denison, better known to some as the guitarist for seminal rockers The Jesus Lizard. With a fantastic new record running under the moniker _Mit Gas_ fresh on the shelves and a fair amount of European tour dates lying ahead of them, I was given the privileged opportunity to discuss all things Tomahawk with Mr. Denison from his home in Nashville.

CoC: Starting with the new record: I found that _Mit Gas_ is a far more accessible and often more commercial record, as opposed to the first album that took quite a while to actually sink into the listener's conscience thoroughly. Did you guys approach the writing and recording of the album any differently?

Duane Denison: I don't think that there was anything inherently different, except that on _Mit Gas_ some of the material had actually been played live before we recorded it, which obviously wasn't the case with the first album. But other than that, there wasn't a different mindset or anything like that -- I mean, you basically make something up and see what the other guys think of it. And there wasn't much of a difference in actually recording the album either -- both records were basically played live in the studio and mixed and completed in about two and a half weeks.

CoC: So with you being Tomahawk's main songwriter, what primarily influenced you in writing the album?

DD: Well, too many things to say, really. You know, I really write stuff all the time and quite possibly you'd hear some of the influence coming through from stuff I'd been listening to at the time, like Radiohead or, lately, stuff like Twilight Circus and Dub Sound -- again, I don't know how much of that came through on the record, but it's a possibility, if you know what I mean.

CoC: Well, those are pretty atmospheric acts and generally _Mit Gas_ has a far more tangible sense of atmosphere than the first album.

DD: Yeah, definitely. I think the fact that we had played together much more as a band when the album was recorded also contributed to that, because it basically gave us more of an idea of what we were capable of. And that obviously gave us more of a group instinct and really a group sound, which was maybe missing from the debut record.

CoC: Now, from what one hears about Tomahawk, one sort of gets the impression that the band was started as more of a side-project, as opposed to a full time band. Do you guys treat is as such?

DD: Well, I don't, because this is my main thing right now, and when we're working or when we're touring or rehearsing or recording everyone gives 100%. Obviously the other people have other things that they do as well, but with this group I write the bulk of the material and kind of initiate everything, so that doesn't place as much stress on them. I think that Tomahawk sort of gives them the opportunity to really just let loose and not have to worry quite so much.

CoC: Tomahawk obviously gets a lot of attention because of Mike Patton's involvement -- does this ever bother anyone in the band? I mean, I'm thinking particularly of you as the main songwriter in the band.

DD: I think that obviously everything Patton does is going to get a lot of attention and his involvement in the band may well be a large reason why we're having this interview. But on the other hand, people make their contribution to the group in different ways and it's not as though I am the sole owner of the group anyway. People are always going be interested in everything that Patton does and in this band, probably more so because as a frontman you are automatically seen as the band's centre-piece -- the same as with people like Bono or whoever. Most of the time if you ask him about it he'll say: "Hey, this isn't my band". He himself is aware of the situation and so it never really gets to the point where it becomes a problem.

CoC: At the same time, do you think that he treats Tomahawk with more seriousness than he would something like Fantomas?

DD: No, I think that he treats it just as seriously as Fantomas, in the same way that Kevin treats it just as seriously as Melvins. When we're together we treat it as the only thing that matters, which is important because we spend a lot of time together. We just spent six weeks on the road. We're coming to Europe soon and then after that we might go to Australia and New Zealand, and then afterwards we'll probably get together and work on some new songs. I mean, we really are together about five months of every year, and that's a lot of time -- you can be really productive in that time if you do your homework and you are able to bring something substantial to the table. It also gives us time off from each other though, because when you're together for too long you can get tired of each other and the formality wears off. So I think that we have a really healthy situation right now as far as that is concerned.

CoC: So, are you guys all good friends or is it more of a working relationship?

DD: I'd say that we're all friends to varying degrees. I mean, different people like doing different things and we'll hang out with each other from time to time. Maybe someone would like to go to a restaurant, while someone else might want to go to a bar. We do different things together. So, we kind of accommodate each other in various degrees and it works out real well.

CoC: Judging by what you guys wrote on the Ipecac Records website, you're obviously expecting the album to do quite well. Have you been happy with the reception so far?

DD: Sure, but I always want more. I want to go triple platinum, I want to win the Nobel Prize, I want to drink champagne with the president of France, I want to drink vodka with the prime minister of Russia. <laughs>

CoC: Now, Tomahawk has been on tour in support of _Mit Gas_ for a while already -- have there been any incidents similar to the Mike Patton / security guard urination fiasco of the Astoria in 2002?

DD: Fiasco? What fiasco? <laughs> That was the greatest publicity coo of all time. Nothing happened. Anyway, I don't know -- maybe, maybe not. Maybe I'll get arrested. Maybe people will find out that John Stanier is a sexual predator. Maybe Kevin Rutmanis will be charged for impersonating a human being.

CoC: What's your opinion on the current state of music?

DD: It depends. I think that the independent label circuit seems to be doing pretty well, because almost any type of music these days can find its place in the scene or the market somewhere. People are getting hooked up well enough through the Internet and they're able to be exposed to a wider variety of stuff, and obviously they're also able to get their hands on a lot more stuff. As far as popular music goes, it's still dominated by the worst low-level common denominator music, and that's just that way things go. There was a time, about ten years ago, when you could safely expect something good to come off a major label, but that doesn't really happen all that much anymore. Queens of the Stone Age and Radiohead are exceptions in that case, but it's pretty rare. Things go in cycles though -- people can say rock is dead, but it just goes through changes like everything else. I mean heavy metal and rock were hybrid forms of music since their inception, and I don't see any kind of an end in sight as far as the creative aspect is concerned. Again coming back to the Internet, it's literally just opening so many doors and making things possible for so many bands that a lot of people are struggling just to keep up with the technology.

CoC: So does Tomahawk mind if their music gets distributed on the web?

DD: Well, I don't mind if it's getting done through Internet radio or something like that, but when people can download entire albums... that's just wrong, you know. It's theft of intellectual property. When people play the song on the radio it's great, but when someone can just download for free what you put time and energy and money into doing and just disseminates it for you and doesn't give you the chance to do what you would like to do with it -- that's just wrong. What it also means for record companies though is that they have to put more effort into presenting the CD as a product. Taking our record as an example -- have you seen the artwork?

CoC: Yes, it looks great.

DD: Well, it's because people download so easily that you have to give people more of a reason to buy your work, and maybe one of the ways to do that would be to take more trouble with things like the artwork and the presentation.

CoC: Is the work ethic at Ipecac any different from what you've been used to before?

DD: No, it's actually very similar to when I was on Touch & Go. I mean, the business area of things is a bit smaller, but I like the fact that if I have a question or whatever, I can just go to someone and ask them and get it solved, where on a bigger label you can't really do that. So, from that angle it's really good. And looking at some of the shows that we've played and how the label marketed that to the people -- who in turn came out and really appreciated what we did -- it's really nice to be on a label that is considered to be an ascending force in music.

CoC: Are you planning any side-projects at the moment?

DD: I do local things here and there in Nashville, but nothing major. I recently played guitar on a Johnny Paycheck album and I do a bit of session work here and there. There's a couple of other stuff in the pipeline, but nothing that's really definite yet. I don't really want to say too much about that yet. We might record later on in the year.

CoC: Is it going to be Duane Denison's death metal project?

DD: No, you'll see.

CoC: So, ultimately, where do you want to take Tomahawk?

DD: I don't really have any goals. I'm just sort of getting the ball rolling and looking where it takes me. I think right now we're definitely doing what a band should be doing, in that we're evolving and getting better at what we do. The first album was really sort of just us getting our feet wet, and we've played quite a lot of shows since then and basically improved to where we are on _Mit Gas_. So, yeah -- I don't have any goals. I just want to evolve and continue to be something that's interesting and enjoyable for us as well as the audience.

CoC: Well, it's been great talking to you, Duane. Any last words?

DD: Eat buffalo, drink whiskey and get ready for Tomahawk!

(article submitted 18/7/2003)


ALBUMS
10/3/2007 J Ulrey 9.5 Tomahawk - Anonymous
6/3/2003 X Hoose 6.5 Tomahawk - Mit Gas
4/5/2003 X Hoose 8.5 Tomahawk - Tomahawk
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