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Danny Marino (The Agonist)

Interview with Danny Marino from The Agonist
by Paul Carr at 25 October 2016, 10:16 PM

Metal Temple recently sat down with Danny Marino from metal survivors, THE AGONIST. He was able to shed some light on the recording of their forthcoming fifth album, suitably entitled “Five. Although the recording of the album was anything but plain sailing, by removing themselves from their comfort zones, the band was able to push themselves to experiment and approach writing in a different way. Danny also discusses his musical background, how the band got together and his embarrassing musical taste before one album changed it all. 

I want to start by asking a little bit about your upbringing. I understand that you come from a musical family with your father and brother playing bass.

Yeah, that’s right. My father also plays guitar. It’s kind of how I fell into it. Not really on purpose. I wasn’t really interested. I was all into sports and video games when I was a kid. And then I picked up a bass out of boredom when I was like 14 and I started. This was pretty fun and I learnt a couple of songs and then six months I picked up a guitar and it was like, forget bass. I could do a chord and play something that sounds like a song.

How easily did that come to you?

I found it so enjoyable I just spent 4 to 6 hours at a time in my bedroom just playing. My brother was in metal bands so he hooked me up early with decent sounding equipment. That helps with inspiration to keep on playing. I just loved writing music. I did it from the very beginning. I didn’t spend a lot of time learning a lot of covers.  I just immediately started tinkering with random improvisation.

Are you one of those annoying people who can play by ear?

That’s a 100% how I learnt. I would just put on a playlist of songs and I would just play along to them either figuring out what they are doing or just jamming along. So that helped me get a melodic understanding. I didn’t go to school for music but I did teach myself music theory because I do think that it’s important. It’s helpful to know that for song writing. It’s all about balancing classical composition with total feel, like raw emotion.

Can you remember the first album you feel in love with?

I grew up in a house with lots of classic rock. So HENDRIX, PINK FLOYD, ZEPPELIN, THE BEATLES. Probably “Sgt Pepper” as a very young kid. I bought new things when they came out. I was into NO DOUBT. I had the “TMNT” soundtrack, MC HAMMER. All kinds of embarrassing things. My brother being into metal before me was obviously my gateway in and he had “The Black Album” cassette tape. That was probably my first introduction (into metal). Instantly I was like “this is awesome” and my brother was like, “yeah that’s ok. Have you heard “Ride the Lightning”?” That’s kind of how it happened. I wouldn’t say I’m a mega fan or anything but they were my gateway in.

Tell me a little about the band got together.

This is actually the third incarnation of the band. The very first band was me and the bass player was called SOLACE. We had a male singer and a different drummer. When that singer left, Alicia joined and we called it TEMPEST. In 2007, it became THE AGONIST.

Why the name change?

It was a legal thing. There could’ve been issues down the line. We were told by our record company that “Now was the time to do it”.

How does the band feel now compared to 2007?

I feel like I understand a lot more now. I have an understanding of the music industry and what it takes to be in a professional band. I’m much better at song writing. But there’s more pressure too. At first you are just going with it with no long term thinking. Now I am much more bigger picture.

Do you get as excited playing as you did back then?

When I’m leading up to it and thinking about the logistics, it’s a little more worrisome. I mean can we do this and get this together in time. When it gets to the day of leaving that’s it. At that point I am really excited. Once I’m on stage it’s no different from the first time I got on stage. Everything else just goes away. Nothing else excites. I’m glad I have that because I know plenty of people who don’t. They get to that going through the motions stage.

Let’s talk a bit about the new album. How easy was it for this one to come together?

I guess you could say it was easier because of the amount of material we put together in time. But it’s honestly that, since Vicky joined the band, it’s been the way it is. Our (me and Vicky) songwriting tandem is just so quick. We are able to throw things back and forth all the time. She’ll throw things back like “what about these lyrics”. We bounce off each other really well and she is just eager to write. She’s as excited to create new songs as I am. So that’s how we are able to take new material and turn it into a song relatively quickly. That’s easy. At the same time this is the first time ever we didn’t record without our original producer, Chris Donaldson, who is one of our best friends. For the first time we went to live in LA by the studio. That was a test.

In hindsight, was that a good idea?

Yeah. It renewed the material we had. We were 100% happy with the recording of “Eye of Providence” with him (Chris), but with our new songs we knew what it would sound like with him. We needed another ear as there are much more diverse styles on this album. Chris is a great metal engineer but there were times with Mike (Plotnikoff), when we would hand over the demo and he would track the drums and he would stop and say “I don’t know about the beat on that” and we would think “Oh yeah, this is gonna happen. Now the fights are gonna start”. Sometimes he won the fights and sometimes we did. There were debates throughout the process.

Did you end up second guessing yourself?

Yeah, totally, and not knowing what’s the right answer and I could see his point of view but I also saw what my original intention was. Who’s right? It’s hard to say who’s right. Sometimes I would be just like “no way”. He knew there were some arguments he wouldn’t win but there were times he made adjustments and improvements. He would make us try something new. On the spot see if I could change it up. That creative side was interesting.

There seems to be more atmospherics and space between the notes on this record. Was this something you actively tried to do?

I tried to be more patient. It’s good to write something without looking at your neck. A lot more writing for the song. Creating mood. We tried to be melodic. Our previous albums were like a chocolate block. Everything was a 10, but the bands I like have a big dynamic range, which was something we aimed for.

When you approach writing a solo are they meticulously planned?

They are mostly done beforehand. When it comes to the fast shreddy solos; That’s Paco (Pascal Jobin). Paco wrote 2 songs; “Anchor and The Sail”, and the “Villain”. I do the more feel, atmospheric solos. They are written before. The only difference was  “The Hunt”. That came more in the studio. I just felt like trying something out. The guitar was there and it worked out.

The song “The Raven Eyes”, Where did that come from?

Well, the guitar part that was just me noodling in my hotel room and I recorded it on my phone and thought it was pretty cool. So I showed it to Mike and he said he thought it was really interesting. I wrote a bunch of lyrics and gave the lyrics and the shitty iPhone recording to Vicky. She added a cool piano part. Then Mike asked what we wanted to do about the strings. And he knew a guy who used to play in YES and he just arranged the composition of keyboard and strings into a realistic sound. The song itself; It’s a lot to do with death. It’s a story about the Black Death. There were these plague doctors who couldn’t cure anything but some were corrupt and would ask for money for people to help their loved ones for money even though they had no chance of survival. Vicky wrote the lyrics to the last song and it was weird how the lyrics matched up. So we deliberately made “The Trail” a companion piece that tells the next part of the story.

Are you touring soon?

Yeah we head out in a couple weeks. I’m really excited about it.

Have you played any of the new songs live?

Not a one.

Which ones are you most looking forward to playing?

I’m really looking forward to playing “The Moment”. Especially nailing that big drum sound that’s on the record.

Do you have a standard set list or do you like to change things up?

We have a fairly standard set list that we like to stick to. We’re actually practicing tonight, so we will work out a set list over the next few days. 



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