Duane Denison of
Tomahawk is (from left to right John Stanier, Mike Patton, Duane Denison, Kevin Rutmanis)
The seeds of Tomahawk were actually first sown in 1999 when Duane Denison was living in Nashville and went to a Mr. Bungle show where he met up with Mike Patton.
Denison has also played guitar for one of the more celebrated and influential punk bands of the last decade, Jesus Lizard. He played cool, jazzy instrumentals in the Denison-Kimball Trio, whose first recording was the soundtrack for the film “Walls In the City”. And he put out a 7” with Nirvana. All of that is just the tip of the iceberg...
I had the privilege of catching up with Duane Denison on his tour bus with Tomahawk, on their way to a Pensacola, Florida gig, opening up for Tool.
What does “defy unlearn” mean to you?
Well, "Defy"...I could take a traditional meaning, to stand up against an authority. "Unlearn", I suppose it could be said growing up in a western society we’re kind of forced to accept certain things from learning institutions that may or may not be real. I wish I could come up with something wittier than that but I haven’t been awake that long.
When doing interviews is there a question you hate being asked?
No, not really.
Well I wasn’t going to ask it anyway.
How about a question you wish someone would ask you?
Gee not really… I don’t spend that much time thinking about those things.
What kind of role did music play in your life when you were growing up?
When I was a child it was just an over present background, whether it was coming from the radio, my parents' stereo, sometimes from my parents themselves because we had a piano in the house and my parents both played. I had to go to church when I was a kid and I’d sing in the choir and I took piano lessons when I was about 8 or so; then at 12 or 13 I got a guitar and it pretty much took over my life.
Did you teach yourself to play the guitar?
At first and then I took lessons from local teachers and then eventually I studied music in school.
That’s right, you have a degree in classical guitar, right?
I have a Bachelor of Science and Music and classical guitar was my main instrument so yeah, I guess you can say that.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
Baseball player or psychiatrist.
You’ve been in different bands and played different genres of music, what kind of music are you listening to now? And which bands?
Lately… let’s see, I listen to all sorts of things, I think we all do. This trip I brought along some old 70’s fog rock; some modern stuff, like experimental improve stuff and I always bring a little bit of country too, just to kind of keep it real.
I know that you like soundtracks, particularly “scores”, what are some of your favorites?
Yeah... Pretty much any of the film music by Toru Takemitsu, a Japanese composer who passed away, I believe in 1997…Some of the English things I heard, whether it’s John Barry or Peter Maxwell Davies. I can’t think of anyone US right now, maybe Angelo Badalamenti, you know [David] Lynch’s guy.
Can you tell me how the name for your band “Tomahawk” came about?
It sort of just came up almost by accident; I was looking through the dictionary and came across the word “tomahawk” and they had a nice little picture and I just like the way it sounds…some people think...I don’t know what some people think, they might think there’s some sort of extra musical explanation for it and there really isn’t.
I have a question about 1 of the songs on your album. “Malocchio” means Evil eye in Italian…
Yes, uh huh.
Can you give me the background story on that song? How you came up with name and what it means to you?
Well I wrote the music for it, I didn’t write the lyrics so I don’t know if that’s what you want.
Who came up with the title?
I was just intrigued because I’m Italian and I was wondering about it.
Well Mike speaks fluent Italian and he has an Italian wife
and “malocchio”… it just sounds cool. Laughs.
Can you tell me one thing that makes a really good audience?
Um, well obviously some kind of enthusiasm, some sort of knowledge of the material they’re being presented with. I prefer seeing people, especially pretty girls, dance, rather than seeing men beat each other up in the mosh pit. I’m kind of tired of that, I think that’s so over…oh and a willingness to shower us with money and drugs.
How are you finding the crowd on this tour so far?
On the Tool tour? Very good actually, they seem to, for the most part, like us. There’s always going to be a certain percentage of people who become impatient with the opening act which is us in this case, and that’s to be expected, but compared to other tours I’ve done where we were the opening act, they’re actually fairly receptive.
Do you have a favorite song to perform live?
Myself? I don’t know, probably “Point and Click”.
Have you starting working on recording the next Tomahawk album?
Yeah, actually we’ve been playing a few new songs live and we sort of have been in the process of writing it and now we’re now in the process of making plans to actually record it in the fall, late in the fall.
Think back to when you started this tour and tell me about…
A comedic moment:
This had to do with our drummer John. He got really drunk and then he got mad at us because he thought there weren’t any ribs left to eat on the bus and he was so drunk that he didn’t notice that there were plenty of ribs for him to eat; then he went out to sit in with Tool and play drums along with them, they invited him to come up and play. While he was waiting, he was so drunk, he was waiting by the side of the stage yelling “Boring! Boring!” then he went out and played and then he came back and he ate and then he grabbed some barbeque brisket, beef we call it, and he was so drunk that when he ate it, he got it all over himself to the point where he had to throw his shirt away and then the next day he didn’t remember anything.
A tragic moment:
No, it’s all been fun.
That's good to hear.
A moment of perfection or beauty:
We’ve had a couple of shows where I thought everything flowed together pretty well, we played well, sound was great, lights were great.
A moment of gratitude:
Tool and their crew have been very gracious to us on this trip and usually when you’re the opening act they don’t really go out of their way to do that. For instance, we had a camcorder and last night was the first time we ever actually saw what we looked like on stage… and their lights…they had a lighting person working..and it just looks amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a band that had lights that looked that good.
And they don’t have to do that, they’re doing it because, I don’t know, for something to do or maybe they like us...so I tip my hat to Tool and the crew.
Last question, you live in Nashville, have you lived there long?
No, I grew up in the mid west, Michigan, I lived in Texas for a while and then I moved to Chicago where I lived while I was in the Jesus Lizard, after the JL broke up, I moved to Nashville three and a half yrs ago to play with Hank Williams the 3rd and I played with him for about a year and a half and then we started this group Tomahawk. My girlfriend and I decided we liked it there and that we were going to stay.
Do you have a favorite place to live?
I like them all for different reasons. Austin has its charm Chicago has its wonderful options, but for me right now, Nashville is the right place to be.
Well thanks so much for talking to me!
I look forward to seeing you at the Manchester NH show.
I’ll be in the pit taking photos and I hope to hear you guys do some live improv stuff.
I’m sure we will…
Interview by: Carina