Feature: 10 years on – Dananananaykroyd on memories, the wall of cuddles, and Demi Lovato

Photo by nyx-photography.com

The summer of 2011 was Dananananaykroyd’s last. The Scottish ‘fight-pop’ band had formed in 2006, armed with two drummers, two vocalists, and an entire arsenal of post-hardcore pop songs. Their debut album, Hey Everyone!, was released to critical acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic and somehow became a favourite of Disney Channel star Demi Lovato (more on that later); its lead single ‘Black Wax’ also claimed a spot on FIFA 10’s official soundtrack. Their live shows quickly garnered the band a reputation as one of the ‘must-see’ acts of their era, and they spent the last days of the 2000s convincing hordes of rock fans to “cuddle” each other, night after night, at small venues and massive festivals up and down the land.

During the autumn of 2011 – which saw ‘Dana’ play one final UK tour in support of their second album, There is a Way– the six-piece called it a day. External pressures meant that making and performing music together was no longer sustainable, and the six members each went their separate ways. They burned briefly, but brightly. Since then, ten years have passed, so Backseat Mafia sought out and caught up with John Baillie Jnr, drummer and vocalist in the band, to catch up on the last decade and wag our chins over Dana’s short but explosive career. 

So, what have you been doing for the last 10 years, since Dananananaykroyd called time?

Straight after Dananananaykroyd split up, David (lead guitar) and I started a band called Alarm Bells. At one point, Duncan (rhythm guitarist) saw us play and said we were exactly the kind of band that he wanted to stop Dana becoming [laughs]. We got to scratch that itch. Then I started Bossy Love with Amandah Wilkinson, which I’m still doing, and we built a little recording studio with some of our friends from Glasgow. And I’ve also toured as part of a group called Babe. And about seven years ago I started a restaurant – the Denniston BBQ in Glasgow. I don’t know how it happened, but it just turned into this monster that’s taken over my life. As usual, I’m spinning loads of different types of plates. 

There were, we think, 8/9 members of Dananananaykroyd across your half-a-decade as a band. Do you all still keep in touch?

On and off, yeah, like everyone else I suppose. We were in all different stages [when Dana split up]. We were all different ages and we all had different priorities. We’re totally bonded for life from doing the band, but not in a way that we would have been if we’d grown up together and all been the same age. It meant we couldn’t navigate long-term things as a unit. It was something we sustained for as long as possible until we had to disperse.

Do you miss being in the band or are you all just happy with what you guys achieved?

Yeah, I think we’re just happy. Also, the nature of Dana – the energy levels, the concept – couldn’t be sustained for much longer. It was just fucking gruelling [laughs]. It was so much fun, but it really would have had to become something else for it to carry on. In 2009, we toured from January to November. I snapped my arm in half mid-way through the tour – I was off for two weeks and then straight back in. I’m pleased with everything we did, but I’m more grateful and proud. It’s so bizarre that it even happened. I mean, we were called Dananananaykroyd – we didn’t exactly make decisions based on longevity [laughs]. 

It’s been ten years since you guys called it as a day. Do you ever throw on either of your albums just to reminisce? 

Nah [laughs]. I don’t try to avoid our music or anything, it’s just weird. Sometimes it comes up on shuffle and it’s, erm, a complex listen. It’s odd to know that it’s me, but also not me. 

Like a different version of yourself, I guess, because it was so long ago.

Yeah. And, strangely, I notice a lot more about the music than I ever could have done at the time because I was too close to it. I’m thinking, ‘Jesus, that first album is so compressed. Oh my god, I can’t believe how compressed it is!’ 

Do you still get recognised around Glasgow for being “The Guy from Dananananaykroyd?”

I’ve not been out in a year, so I have no idea [laughs]. It definitely happens less and less, but it still happens. They still come up to me like, ‘Oh, you’re that guy from that band!’ It’s pretty weird.

I found Dananananaykroyd on the FIFA 10 soundtrack. That was my introduction to you guys. Did you have much involvement with getting yourselves on the game or was it more of a label decision?

So, that would have been around 2008 or 2009? The first half of 2010 was pure chaos, 24 hours a day. Everything was picking up but we were behind on absolutely everything. I think we signed a publishing deal and we just got told that we were going to be on this FIFA video game. Some of the guys were really into video games and were losing their minds, like it was the coolest thing ever. It’s weird how ‘Black Wax’ is such a cultural flag for us. I went to my cousin’s wedding, who I’d not seen in years, and all his pals were singing ‘Black Wax’ at me. A football game, eh? Who’d have known? 

Yeah, ‘Black Wax’, until you get the last minute or so, is the least typical song in your discography. Maybe that’s why it crossed over? It was more accessible, perhaps? It’s hard to explain how the public responds to music. We’d be here for years trying to work it out. Live audiences always seemed to go for ‘Some Dresses’ more because of the “Wall of Cuddles”. Can you tell us about how that came to be?

A couple of us were super into bands like Fugazi, so from the beginning we had an extreme anti-bro, anti-macho moshing thing going on. That’s why everything was pink! And we had to play a couple of proper metal festivals, which was funny. But it became a thing when we were at a festival and the crowd were being aggressive – we’d stop them and embarrass them. Originally, I think we noticed that, once people in the crowd left the spot they were standing in, they felt totally free for the rest of the show. We had a few things we used to do, like old school dance-offs, and it spiralled into there being a “Wall of Cuddles”. We had about 12,000 people doing one at Reading Festival once, which was great. 

How was it recording the second album, There is a Way, after recording the “super compressed” Hey, Everyone?

In many ways it was a lot better. The dynamic of both albums is so different to one another – I’m sure you can hear it. For the first album, we all went to New York and they had us play our songs, but they were so road-worn. We’d been playing them night after night, so we were kind of on autopilot, and it was such a loud recording.

Yeah, super loud.

But when we went to Los Angeles for There is a Way, with Ross Robinson, the band were in a vacuum with him. He had an analogue recording set-up and we played twenty songs to him. He wanted to know everything. He’d cut you open in front of everybody just to get something out of you. There is a Way has no distorted guitars, so you had to earn everything. We had overdrive, but we had to play everything harder. There’s a lot of heart and it’s got an older mixing process, but I don’t think we ever considered how people were used to hearing us – at extremely loud volumes. 

What do you think it was that took you from Glasgow’s pubs and clubs, and being known around the city, to being known around the country and the rest of the U.K.?

I think it was just the straight-up, traditional story of playing a million gigs to nobody. People who saw us live – within thirty seconds, they got it. The two drummers, the weird, kinetic energy. That was the shortcut to making people like us. Eventually, labels were talking about our live shows. I think we just got lucky. It was a weird time for music as well – we sold a bunch of CDs, thousands of them, and that must have been the absolute death rattle of that happening. It was just at the point where streaming and illegal downloading were about to go mainstream, and there was a weird gulf for two years where it was just Lady Gaga and Adele. We managed to sell CDs in Tesco! A year later, I don’t think that would have happened.

Before we hang up, I just wanted to ask you about that Demi Lovato tweet. Did you know they were a fan back then or did you only find out years later? Because it’s not even ‘Black Wax’, it’s a deeper cut – ‘Infinity Milk’!

Oh yeah, we knew at the time. We were like, ‘What the fuck? Has everybody seen this?’ That was truly bizarre. I didn’t know how that happened at the time and I still don’t. 

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