Duane Denison of Tomahawk: An Interview

Formed in 2000, alt-rock supergroup Tomahawk are half way through a busy year. Despite years without a tour together, they now haven’t stopped since autumn of 2012, releasing a new album, Oddfellows, in January. We caught up with guitarist Duane Denison, currently in Nashville, Tennessee, ahead of a headline slot on Reading & Leeds’ Lock Up Stage:

Tomahawk haven’t toured together for some time – what prompted the decision to start touring again?

Well we all stay in touch pretty well and we recorded the album last year. We got a new bass player, Trevor Dunn, who was a perfect fit. He’s played with everyone from Mr. Bungle to the Melvins, so he was already kinda part of the family in a way. So, our schedules were such that we were able to rehearse together and record together and then we sort of started making plans. We said OK, so next year the album’s gonna come out, so we made sure everyone set aside time to do it. By the time we get to the UK, we will have been playing together coming up on almost a year. Last fall we did a short tour of the US around Halloween before the album was out. By the time you see us, we should be hitting on all cylinders!

Oddfellows, released in January, was the first Tomahawk album with Trevor Dunn on bass. Have you noticed a change in your sound since he came on board?

So far, there’s not that big a change in the sound, just the overall confidence level I think. Trevor’s just such a great all around player and he’s very professional and consistent. There’s never any question or any doubt in anyone’s mind. He gets up there and if he says “yeah, I know that song, don’t worry about it” then we don’t worry about it, so we can just get up there and do our thing. He just locked in with John Stanier on drums right from the first rehearsal. We’re already starting to make plans for the new album and I think you’ll see more of his sonic imprint on there. But there were little bits on Oddfellows which were written with his nimble thunder in mind.

Tomahawk - Credit @ Tim Moss
Tomahawk – Credit @ Tim Moss

Having toured for many years, do you have any favourite venues that you like to revisit?

It’s funny, the ones I like seem to come and go. I’ve been doing this for so long that when I ask “whatever happened to such and such a place”, they tell me it closed down years ago. But I’m actually discovering new places that I’m sort of enjoying. I had never been to Poland, believe it or not, and I’d never been to Israel but I kinda liked that and South America earlier this year. I like to expand my horizons but any time I go back to places there’s a touch of nostalgia. I go back to places I visited 20 years ago with The Jesus Lizards and now, for some reason, I’m still doing it with a different group. Some people will probably think that’s not good but I think it is good; I feel fortunate in that regard. I just take it as it comes up.

Do you change your show depending on the audience you’re playing to?

No, not really. We tweak the set list just slightly depending on how we’re feeling. Sometimes, if you play the same songs in the set so many times, you get tired of it and it starts to lose its energy. So maybe then we’ll take it out and put something else in. There are times when we’ve talked about tweaking the set list, for instance for Latin audiences. We’ve got a couple of songs which might have a slight Bossa nova feel but then we just decided that that’s almost like pandering, isn’t it? We didn’t want to pander to these imaginary ideas of what you think the audience wants and usually, that’s not what they want! They’re tired of bands coming over and trying to get all Latin for them. People come to see us, or so I like to think, because they want to hear our songs, the old ones and maybe some of the new ones too.

photo 1All the members of the band have had careers pre-Tomahawk – do you think that affects the dynamic you now have?

Definitely. We all became aware of each other through those other things, so that’s never gonna go away. For me personally, like it or not, I will always be for some people ‘the guy from The Jesus Lizards’ and nothing else. I can live with that but I’ve done lots of other things since then, I mean we all have. So yes, we’ve all done a lot of things in the past but if you think about it, the music industry is so different than back then. The way they listen to music, the way it’s marketed, all those things are completely different now because of the internet. So, when we all started playing, everything was on LP and cassette. A lot has changed so you can’t stay too much in the past in that regard.

Why should people come and see Tomahawk at Reading & Leeds 2013?

Well, to see what we’re wearing this year. To see what well-dressed middle-aged American men should wear this year. To see what sort of sartorial splendour shall be on display. Seriously, what can I say? So you can hear the latest sounds and killer riffs and kick-ass beats. Verbal bombshells, you know we’re the fucking underground trend setters.

(OK, we admit, that was a horribly loaded question that deserved a sarcastic answer. Slap on the wrist for Tim.)

Duane Denison
Duane Denison

What have you got coming up with Tomahawk in the near future?

Personally, I’ve been writing a lot and I’ll probably start demoing new material for what may be another Tomahawk album in the near future. I’m working on a soundtrack, along with my friend Alexander Hacke from Einstürzende Neubaten. Him and I and another guy here in Nashville have a thing called The Unsemble  and we’re working on a soundtrack together which is shaping up. That and my daughter’s starts school later this week.

Whilst the realities of home life might slow some down, the future sounds busy for Denison and his Tomahawk band mates. He’s even admitted to a new album (probably) so watch this space!

Find Tomahawk on Facebook . Tomahawk headline the Lock Up Stage on Saturday (Reading) and Sunday (Leeds). Check out our guide to that day here.




Author: Tim Higgins

CFO/Music Correspondent Tim spends every moment he possibly can going to gigs and loves finding small venues with a great atmosphere.