Photos by Amber James
“We have five raccoons out here that we feed every day,” Danny Kiranos says. “They come into the house now and all that. It’s amazing. Well, two of them do; two of them feel comfortable. Kevin is the main one.”
Kiranos, the jovial human counterpart of the wild-eyed murderfolk demon known as Amigo The Devil, notes several times that he lives “in the middle of nowhere.” Originally from Florida, he has settled in Spicewood, Texas: the land of Willie Nelson and a landscape more befitting of his banjo-driven, outlaw-country proclivities. “We live in such a weird bubble of awesomeness. Everyone around us is basically older couples who came out here to retire and party,” he shares. “Everyone’s really open. We live in a strange pocket of Texas where no one cares about anything.”
So, he lives in good-time country? “Basically, yeah,” he confirms. “We have one bar next to us in our town. It’s called Poodies. Whatever you imagine it to look like, that’s what it looks like.”
Kiranos may reside in good-time country, but Amigo The Devil’s romantically sinister folk tunes are devoted to chronicling the bad times. His first three EPs—2010’s Manimals, 2013’s Diggers, and 2015’s Decompositions, which were combined with several unreleased tracks to form an LP, Volume 1—scrutinize the world through a pair of carmine-colored glasses, capturing the most mundane human fears and desires from the perspectives of infamous serial killers.
Amigo The Devil’s new album, Everything Is Fine—out Oct. 19 via Regime Music Group—is slightly less blood-spattered than his previous output, bringing his own internal struggles into vulnerable focus without quite so much homicidal window dressing. Longtime fans can rest assured that Everything Is Fine is still steeped in darkness, but does this shift mean that—as Rust Cohle so incisively mused—the light is winning? Not exactly. Kiranos is less interested in refereeing a battle between light and dark and more intent on exploring their interdependence, an impulse he can trace all the way back to his childhood.
“One of the recurring themes that I can always lead back to: I vividly remember sitting in a pharmacy with my mom while she was doing whatever shopping she was doing with my grandma down in Panama, ‘cause most of my family lives in Panama,” he begins. “I started reading tattoo magazines that they had. I remember flipping through them and thinking, ‘These people are so stupid. What a stupid thing. Like, they look like idiots.’ I used to do the same thing with BMX magazines; I’d read these magazines while my grandma and my mom were doing their gossiping and think, ‘These idiots. They’re gonna get hurt! What a stupid decision.’ Two years later, I started riding BMX, and three or four years later, I started getting tattooed—I was, like, 14. I’ve realized that most of the things I do are things that, at some point, I’ve made fun of or judged harshly or ridiculed in general in the past. So, I might just have an internal struggle with myself that I just have to pursue things that I despise at some point—and I never dabble in it. I don’t dip my toes in it. If I’m gonna pursue something, it happens. Now, I have so many stupid tattoos,” he laughs.
This correlation—and confusion—between attraction and repulsion or risk and reward is not uncommon, as those responses are generated by the same part of the brain, the Amygdala. Perhaps the thing that turns some people into darkness-obsessed void-gazers—“That’s the best term I’ve ever heard for it,” Kiranos chuckles—is just faulty neural wiring. Essentially, our brains are stupid. “They really are,” he concurs. “Just so simple. We pretend to be such complicated individuals, and it’s only because we can’t stay focused on anything.”
Regardless of the cause, Kiranos fully embraces the dichotomy, and Amigo The Devil’s cult-like fanbase of likeminded weirdos show their appreciation in a most apropos way: by getting tattoos.
“I love [tattoo] culture so much now, and it’s unbelievable every time someone shares a picture of an [Amigo The Devil] tattoo,” he says. “It’s one of the only things I can name that doesn’t change, feeling-wise, from the first time it happened to now. It’s always the same insane gratitude for that kind of support—and slight confusion. I guess I’m just really grateful that it connected with somebody to that extent. I don’t understand how or why, but I’m definitely really grateful for it. It’s a really strange feeling, but I’m really happy that there’s a group of us who feel similar to some degree. It’s clear that somebody else feels the way I felt writing those songs, and that’s a crazy feeling—to not feel alone.”
“One of the most obvious places that I can physically see that manifestation is at the shows,” Kiranos continues. “It makes me unbelievably happy to see people who should never, ever want to be in the same room together singing along together and having a good time. There are no scuffles, there are no problems. People from all walks of life—religious views, political views that I don’t agree with and other people don’t agree with, but within that room, everyone just unites.”
Perhaps Amigo The Devil’s use of the term “fellowship” to describe Kiranos’ fans is not so tongue-in-cheek. He preaches the gospel of blood and unity, leads roomfuls of disparate people in song—he’ll even hear your confession and help you exorcise your personal demons.
“People come to me and tell me all their stories and hardships,” he shares. “I do enjoy feeling connected to everybody, and sometimes, it’s hard to hear the hardships and the struggles and the problems people are having when we talk at shows, but overall, I think the uniting factor is that everyone does have problems and internal struggles and demons. Everybody does. No matter what you believe, no matter what you do for work, no matter how you spend your day—if you go to brunch or you play video games—it doesn’t matter. You’re gonna have demons, and everybody’s been so open about them with this project that they’ve really become a part of it. They’ve really allowed themselves to grow this beyond, y’know, some chubby dude playing music. It’s kinda nuts.”
Kiranos is functionally a solo artist, but this outpouring of support and devotion from fans has altered the very fabric of Amigo The Devil’s identity. In other words, his name is Legion, for we are many.
“People ask me why I say ‘we’ and ‘us’ so often, and at this point, it’s just habit,” he admits. “It’s not me trying to be quirky or me pretending that there’s multiple personalities. To be honest, I’ve just gotten so used to so many more people being a part of this than what it initially started out as that […] it’s just become this unified situation. It’s amazing to see people drop the façade and focus on the internal aspects and feel comfortable to open up in that situation.”
Community and connectivity have been a cornerstone of the Amigo The Devil fellowship since its inception, but while the singer-songwriter’s earlier work hinged on recognizing the humanity in individuals most people see as inhuman monsters, the Everything Is Fine era finds Kiranos making radical empathy his explicit mission statement.
“A lot of the first songs—even songs that didn’t get recorded—I think a lot of that was about humanizing real-life, everyday problems using the most extreme measures,” he explains. “Granted, I’ve obviously struggled with people thinking I’m glorifying serial killers, and that’s always gonna happen, but all I’ve ever tried to do is take the most extreme measure—’cause everything happens on a spectrum, a line, and what you may consider a problem isn’t a problem at all for someone else down the line. You just take the furthest example of that line and apply it to everyday life, and you realize everyone is just kind of the same, just on a different side of that line.”
“It’s such a strange thing, but I’ve always been fascinated with the true crime aspects because I couldn’t understand that people actually did it,” Kiranos emphasizes. “It’s easy to think—y’know, you’re in traffic, and you’re like, ‘Uhg, I hope you fucking die.’ But it’s so different to actually pursue that. It seems like this small step, but it’s not. It’s strange, but once anybody starts diving into these cases of—for example, Henry Lee Lucas. You read about his childhood, and again, I’m not excusing the crimes, I’m not excusing the actions, but you’d be really hard-pressed to find anybody who would turn out a civil member of society with an upbringing like that. A lot of these people didn’t really have a choice in the matter.”
“[Carl] Panzram, Lucas—and even [Ed] Kemper didn’t have the best time. On the new record, we did a song about Kemper,” he says, referencing Everything Is Fine’s penultimate track, “Edmund Temper.” “It’s just a strange situation to dive into. I’ve been trying to be very, very careful to not glorify it, because I don’t want to. It’s one of those things—I just had to choose a complicated one. I couldn’t just skateboard, I had to ride BMX, y’know? Instead of three components, I was like, ‘Let’s choose the one with 50!’ Instead of hacky sack or some shit, I chose brewing. It’s so stupid.”
Songs like “Edmund Temper” and “The Dreamer”—which is baby-making music told from the perspective of Wisconsin-born arts and crafts fanatic Ed Gein—may beg sympathy for the devil, but more introspective cuts like “Cocaine and Abel” and “Everyone Gets Left Behind” chart Amigo The Devil’s efforts to afford himself the same kindness.
“It was a very hard turn for me, because I wasn’t used to it, so I didn’t know if I was doing it correctly,” Kiranos says of writing more personal songs. “The first thought that crossed my mind was, ‘Who cares? Who’s gonna care? No one cares about how I feel, because it’s not anybody else’s problem how I feel.’ Then, it was something that became a little bit more natural to do as I was writing the songs.”
“Once I put that fear aside—’cause I’m really scared of writing songs, essentially. Like, I don’t write a song and go, ‘Yeah, everyone’s gonna fuckin’ love it,’” he laughs. “So, it’s a huge fear inside of me. I was able to offset that a little more before, because they were stories from general perspectives other than my own experiences. Y’know, I sprinkled my experiences in there, but it wasn’t directly related to me. [Then], I fell into a really interesting few years—a lot of ups and downs, and y’know, that’s life. It happens. But I realized within that time that there’s something a lot worse than true crime and serial killers. Depression is wild. Depression is a very wild thing. People just see it as, ‘OK, you wake up and you’re sad. That’s depression.’ People who haven’t dealt with it or experienced it see it as a single unit of measurement for somebody’s feelings that day, and it’s so much more imprisoning than that.”
“That was a crazy thought to explore and go through, and I think a lot of this record deals with that internal prison of somebody who—” Kiranos catches himself. “‘Somebody’ sounds too general—of things that I was going through and exploring. So, I took a shift in the writing process at some point and decided, ‘I’m just gonna be as honest as I can. Whatever is there is what comes out.’ It ended up being a little less storytime and a little more verbal vomit. It ended up being me complaining a lot, essentially—and that’s OK! It’s something that felt good to get out there, but my biggest fear is that I don’t want people to consider it a record about me. I hope anybody who listens to it applies it to however they’re feeling or whatever they need to hear from it, as opposed to taking it as: ‘Damn, this guy’s sad.’”
Everything Is Fine is a deeply personal record, but Kiranos admits that the horrors of our current sociopolitical climate “absolutely did affect a lot of it,” especially informing his desire to push back against dehumanization.
“I think, on a very obvious human scale, things are pretty shit right now in terms of people having empathy,” he says. “It’s heartbreaking to see people have such an ignorant perspective toward other humans—for whatever financial gain, for whatever personal gain or benefit or comfort that they’re expecting from it. I did try not to make it extremely obvious, in terms of my personal views on everything, because I wanted to keep it focused on the internal. I wanted to keep the emotional aspect of it. So short answer, it absolutely affected it, but it also was a guide to keep me in line to the true purpose of the songs. Basically, there’s a lot of people out there who will be able to vocalize what I wanted to say about the current state of things much better than I could. I figured I’d leave it up to those people. I just really wanted to focus on the empathy side of things and the lack of it.”
“For once, I wanted to kind of allow people to believe that it’s OK to feel bad and it’s OK to feel like shit and it’s OK to not be at your best at all times,” Kiranos expounds. “That’s not a problem. It doesn’t mean anything’s broken. It’s a rough patch, but hopefully, it’s solvable. There’s hope there somewhere, I guess. It’s real hard to find sometimes, but it’s there.”
This plea for listeners to treat themselves with as much patience and kindness as—Kiranos hopes—they show to others crystalizes in Everything Is Fine’s closing track, “Stronger Than Dead.”
“It’s a simple song,” Kiranos acknowledges. “It’s nothing crazy, but it definitely hammers home that feeling in the morning when you wake up and your body feels like it’s made of stone, and you can’t get up. You can’t cut through the haze, even though you know there are responsibilities you have, […] daily responsibilities, your personal responsibilities—realistically, your responsibility to yourself to be happy and enjoy your day. But you can’t find that in the haze at all. That’s OK. That’s all right. There’s gonna be days like that. How boring would life be if everything was just up and up and up and happy all the time? It doesn’t work. It doesn’t ever work.”
“My friends, my family, one of the biggest issues I see them deal with is that they beat themselves up over those days so much,” he continues. “They just throw this stone body that they have into a well and just let it sink, and it goes further and further and further. That’s not anything anybody should ever feel ashamed about. Nobody should ever be scared to mention that they’re having a bad week, bad month. I don’t know; I feel real positive right now. Is this positive? Is this what positive feels like?”
Anyone who has ever vomited after imbibing a few too many spirits will tell you that the quickest path to feeling better is getting all the poison out of your system. During the writing process for the record, Kiranos found that the same logic applies to emotional poison. When in doubt, fucking puke.
“The first song on the record, ‘Cocaine and Abel,’ is the first one we put out. I’m sure it sounds really negative to a lot of people, because it’s just—I wouldn’t call it self-deprecating. I don’t think that’s what it is. I think it’s just very, very honest, like verbal vomit,” he explains. “But I feel good that it got out there, that it exists outside of my brain, because it just feels like I talked to a friend about a problem I’m having. It feels really good to just be honest with everybody about how you’re feeling regardless of how ridiculous it sounds in your head.”
While purging that emotional effluvium can be extremely cathartic for the person carrying the burden, it can be difficult to know how to respond when you’re the one who ends up with garmonbozia all over your shoes.
“It’s so funny how our instinct, especially with people we care about, is to just completely flip it to the reverse of what those people are feeling,” Kiranos offers. “When somebody says, ‘I feel ugly,’ our immediate instinct is to [say], ‘No! You’re gorgeous! You’re the extreme opposite of what you feel.’ And I hope nobody ever feels ugly ever, because no one should—everyone’s got their thang goin’, y’know? Everyone’s awesome in their own way. But it is funny, our human instinct to just negate somebody’s feelings and just completely eliminate it by saying the polar opposite. For me, I think it would help a lot more if someone was like, ‘Well, why do you feel ugly?’ That was something I was trying to explore a lot on this record.”
Uncovering the “why” of it all is, indeed, the hardest part. As an avid collector of morbid oddities, Kiranos turned to primary sources in search of insight.
“So, I’m sitting in the room where I write most of these songs, and I’m realizing how looney tunes I probably seem while I’m writing stuff, because I’m surrounded by a bunch of dead things, a bunch of dead people,” he divulges. “I just tried to dive in as deep as I could. I collect a ton of weirdo crap, and one of the things I dove into right before starting this writing process—I started collecting a bunch of suicide letters. I wasn’t ready for it. Usually, I’m pretty good with morbid, depressing, dark, taboo subjects, and I thought if I could get my hands on a bunch of these letters and feel them and read them and see the handwriting and study them, I’d be able to understand the mindset a little better.”
“This is one of those moments where I can easily be misconstrued as glorifying this by having these items,” he cautions, “[but] y’know, if someone’s gonna try to cure cancer, you’re gonna study cancer. It’s terrible to deal with, but it’s necessary, right? I’m not trying to cure [depression]; I just wanted to understand it a little better, so I could write from a more honest perspective besides my own. I wasn’t ready for it at all. It was so much heavier than I expected it to be. As I’d sit here in this room reading these letters from other people, it was brutal. It was so different from holding a mummified hand or a skull or whatever, and there’s definitely bits of that on the record. Just the burden. Just an extreme burden on paper. That’s all it is: it’s words on paper. But it’s such a burden, and it feels like a million pounds.”
“That was the first part of this collection that I’ve had to pass on to other people who are gonna do better things with it,” he adds. “I just—it’s insane how we can put ourselves into objects as people: our burdens, our fears, even our joy.”
The letters are gone, but Kiranos is still surrounded by an impressive collection of curios, many of which are human remains. As a hobby, it’s slightly more polarizing than collecting stamps.
“The way I look at bones—because I have this conversation with people regularly who don’t understand why I enjoy collecting bones as much as I do—they’re not really the basis of a human,” he explains. “They’re not really what creates character or experience. It’s simply the structure, the architecture. It’s the last thing that remains. It’s an entire story on its own of what held the character and the spirit and the heart and the emotions of that person, but realistically, all the skeleton is—in my eyes and in my beliefs—is a shelf, like a shelving system that carries all of these incredibly specific and complex aspects of the human condition around for 80 years or so. People always feel like it’s disrespectful, but I think rather than just have them be forgotten, you appreciate the shelf. You keep the shelf safe and appreciate the shelf, and you let the rest go, the belongings. We’re not dressing ‘em up and dancing with them in the living room; they’re presented appropriately and respectfully and appreciated as such.”
“Man, I probably shouldn’t relate skeletons to shelves. That probably was counterproductive to the whole situation,” Kiranos lets out a huge belly laugh. “‘So, you see, it’s like IKEA…’ Jeez.”
If the deep, dark stories on Everything Is Fine are themselves specific and complex aspects of the human condition, then the music serves as the album’s shelf—ahem, skeleton, and the aural obstacle course Kiranos runs across these 15 tracks is just as diverse as the 206 different bones present in the average human body. The second track, “If I’m Crazy,” sounds like Amigo The Devil should perform it onstage at the Roadhouse in “Twin Peaks: The Return,” and the seventh track, “Capture,” squints at the listener from its seat on the porch in “Deliverance.”
“So, funny story about ‘Capture,” Kiranos offers, excited. “That was actually recorded on my deck out here in the Hill Country.”
So, he was living his full Buck Owens fantasy? “Absolutely,” he confirms.
Of the rest of his sonic influences, Kiranos redirects, “I think [producer] Ross [Robinson] pulled it out of me more than I would have on my own. He opened me up to so much of my past, a lot of the influences that I had when I was younger, just movies I dig—because I love ‘Twin Peaks,’ I love a lot of that in general, but I hadn’t brought it with me in a long time. We just had an assortment of instruments laying around with no real plan. We had the core of the songs, and we were just letting everything layer as it happened as opposed to deciding what was gonna be on there. So, I think a lot of that influence came from—I love old horror, for example. Love, love, love old horror. A lot of the grindhouse stuff and a lot of, like, just weird movies, a lot of strange crap that nobody should ever like. Just terrible. Like, most of it’s terrible. I have bad taste; let’s just—I have bad taste in things, and that’s OK.”
“So, a lot of those sounds I think Ross pulled out of my past more than anything that was happening in the [room], and one of the main things that it allowed me to do is essentially explore the roots I came from a lot more than I had before,” he continues. “Growing up in Miami, we didn’t have a lot of access to a lot of the bands that other people did on the West Coast or even Midwest. My access was very restricted to—there was a great noise scene, a huge EDM scene, obviously, and then all the Latin influences that my family played. Then, for some reason, my mom loved Meatloaf and my dad loved Kenny Rogers. Those were the only two examples that I had of anything outside of that world: just Meatloaf and Kenny Rogers. Besides that, I was really trapped in a small bubble of what I could find, and a lot of that ended up being strange cinematic noise-type stuff that I’ve always carried in me. I just didn’t bring it out until Ross did.”
Robinson and Kiranos may have been a match made in heaven, but the two musical hellions required a bit of intervention to help keep the train on the tracks.
“I’ll admit there were definitely times in the studio when we just went way too far,” Kiranos says. “I’m glad we had reasonable people there to scale us back, because me and Ross were just like, ‘Let’s just put three minutes of white noise over this whole track!’ Someone else would be like, ‘No, don’t do that, please.’ ‘What if we put a microphone on this blender and we use that as percussion?’ Y’know, I’ve been tellin’ people who ask me about working with Ross that it’s simultaneously the absolute best pairing because we got each other very well, but at the same rate, we need a handler; we need somebody to help us hone and pull back a little bit, because we’re both just too far gone—especially when we would get in the zone. It was like two mischievous little kids, because anytime it was just us two in the studio or somebody was running out, you could tell that they were like, ‘Oh, god, we can’t leave them alone.’”
One of those adults in the room was legendary drummer Brad Wilk.
“Brad Wilk was there as much as he could be. He was working on Prophets Of Rage stuff as well, for tour and all that, but he was there most of the time,” Kiranos shares. “He did all the drums and percussion, which was a crazy experience for me, because I loved Rage Against The Machine when I was young. I learned a lot—I don’t mean manners ‘composure,’ but playing ‘composure,’ in terms of laying back a little bit. He definitely made me a better player by being there, which I’m very grateful for. It was really nice to see how unbelievably kind somebody can be who’s had so much influence on so many people. It was a wild experience. We had fun. We had a lot of fun.”
“Besides that, we had players come in and do little bits and pieces, but for the most part, it was us three,” he adds. “I had never been in a situation like that. I had never recorded in a studio of that caliber with an actual producer. It’s always just been me running into the studio for three, four days, tracking everything that I could as quickly as I could, and then getting out of there. This was the first time I had time breathe and think and have somebody hold my hand through the whole process and guide me. Brand new. Most of this is new for me. I’m learning. I’m a sponge.”
Offering a few more examples, Kiranos lists, “This is the first time I worked with a label. Regime has been doing amazing with putting up with my shit. Just real kind, like, very kind and very helpful. Dez [Fafara of The Oracle Management] is the first manager I’ve ever had, which is a whole new world for me, because I’m so used to doing everything on my own and being stubborn. It really has been a learning curve to let go for me, because I hold on so tightly to everything—but, as I said a while ago, at no point through this journey has it only been me. I’ve had insane amounts of help and support from people who were just kind enough to give it, whether it’s advice or word of mouth or whatnot. It’s kind of unbelievable, and I’m extremely grateful to everybody who’s really helped carry this along. I’ve never, ever had the strength to do it alone. It’s kind of cool to know I don’t have to.”
Kiranos will once again bask in the glow of community when Amigo The Devil heads out on tour across the U.S. starting Oct. 13 at Aftershock Festival in Sacramento and wrapping up on Nov. 18 in his one-time home of Orlando, Florida.
“We’re going on tour with Harley Poe,” Kiranos says. “He’s somebody who I’ve really appreciated and enjoyed for a really long time—Joe [Whiteford], the main, I guess, frontman, if you wanna call him that. They haven’t really toured for a long time; they never really toured extensively. We ended up playing a festival together recently. I was really excited, because I had never gotten to see them play before. At the festival, I just made a joke, like, ‘Hey, y’know, if you ever wanna tour again, come on, let’s do a tour!’ He said yeah, we got it together, and it’s a huge deal for me because it’s someone I’ve always wanted to go out with. I know it’s somebody who a lot of the people who listen to this project have wanted us to go out with, and it’s gonna be a really good time. He’s one of the most fun individuals live that I can think of. Just really high-energy, depressing songs.”
“I’m all about that: just high-energy depression,” he laughs.
Following the U.S. dates, Amigo The Devil will spearhead a first-time U.K. jaunt in December.
“I’m really nervous, because, for anything, I’m always gonna have my doubts about myself, but I’m really excited,” Kiranos says. “We go there to visit, I guess, a couple times a year, but playing seems like such a different situation, because I don’t really know what the outcome is gonna be. Here, I can sort of predict my comfort zone and make a decent guess, but out there, I have no idea—but you gotta start somewhere. It’ll be fun either way. I’m not gonna run away or anything.”
“I do love it out there. There’s a lot of great people who we’ve met over the years, so at least I can blame them if they don’t come out—finally gonna hold friends accountable,” he jokes.
Considering the headliner, the highlight of the tour is sure to be the Halloween show in Denver. However, for someone so immersed in serial killer lore, banjo-strummed murder ballads, and literal dead people, Kiranos says he doesn’t expend much energy celebrating All Hallows’ Eve.
“I don’t hate it. I’m not opposed to it. I’m not anti-Halloween,” he assures. “I’ve always been so scatterbrained that I forget it’s coming up, so I’ve never made the appropriate arrangements to enjoy it fully. I think that’s maybe a reason I haven’t been able to grasp onto it.”
“Surprisingly, I really enjoy Christmas,” he admits. “Not so much Christmas as a holiday, but I do enjoy Christmastime. Family. Food. Everyone’s pretending to like each other. There’s just something familiar and comforting. I love the smell of Christmas trees in general. I love the holiday-time candles that they come out with, like, the seasonal scents. Those are the best. We stock up. I buy 50 candles for the rest of the year. I get so wild. Someone else tries to grab a candle, I’m slappin’ it out of their hand, like, ‘No. That’s mine. Don’t touch it.’”
Could it be that the mother of all spooky holidays just loses some of its appeal when one’s everyday life is dominated by devils and death?
“I wonder if we really are Halloween people, and we just forgot it because we’ve been living it for so long,” Kiranos laughs.
It’s true: If you stay creepy, you ain’t got to get creepy. Regardless, Amigo The Devil is committed to putting on a proper 2018 Halloween Spook-tacular.
“I always have the intention of dressing up, and when it’s Halloween, I always say, ‘Oh, next year, I’m gonna plan this in advance and make it happen,’ and then, two days before, I’m like, ‘I fucked it up again!’” Kiranos concludes, “but this year, since we have the Halloween show—well, we added a second night to Denver. The Halloween one sold out, I guess, so we added the second one. So, I’m thinking maybe I’ll do something with duality—a good and evil kind of thing. Like a Mario and Wario thing. I’ll start working on ideas.”
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