The cover of Amigo The Devil’s new album resembles one of those eerie tintype outlaw images from the Old West, its subject glaring wide-eyed with the look of a predator about to pounce. That pretty much sets the tone for the ominous contents therein. Born Against (Liars Club/Regime) can be a difficult listen, but it rewards patience—and a strong stomach. In the end, it’s difficult to look away from Danny Kiranos’ personal multi-vehicle pileup.
Death is a recurring theme, and Kiranos certainly has an eye for narrative detail. “I pried his kneecaps off like the lid on a can of paint/I nailed his tongue to his chin so I couldn’t hear him complain/I stuffed some PVC where the sun don’t shine and threaded some barbed wire through,” he sings with a twisted surgeon’s glee on “Better Ways To Fry A Fish.”
“I did love horror movies when I was young, and I was very interested in true crime—only because I couldn’t understand why people would do that,” says Kiranos, who describes a childhood in Miami filled with love, laughter and support from his mother, a single parent. “I lot of it is just an exploration of why people are so cruel. Why do people have so little empathy? Still, I don’t want it to be strictly from a shock-value point of view. I’m not trying to scare people or depress people.”
Not unlike Tom Waits’ best work, Born Against counters its darkness with ragtag theatrically and musical ambition. It’s the damaged beauty Kiranos conjures on tracks likes “Small Stone,” “Letter From Death Row” and “Different Anymore” that provides a flicker of humanity amid the mounting body count. For the latter’s video, he chose a unique setting to deliver a powerful version of the most personal song on the album.
“I wanted to find a setting that mimicked the COVID mentality, and a cave was the loneliest place I could think of,” says Kiranos. “It’s a very specific song that I’m glad came to fruition. I’d been writing it for a while.”
A guitarist in various punk and noise outfits as a teenager, Kiranos bounced around in the West Coast brewery industry through much of his 20s before eventually finding fresh roots in Austin, where he’s resided for the last five years. “I was touring a ton and living in a Prius,” says Kiranos of the moment when he realized he was a full-time musician.
He made it official with Amigo The Devil’s well-received 2018 debut, Everything Is Fine. By then, Kiranos had perfected the maniacally charming banjo- and guitar-strumming stage persona defined by the far-off stare and the knowing smile. Amigo The Devil is no angel—but he’s no serial killer, either.
“I feel like I get most of that stuff out on my records, so I think everyone is safe,” quips Kiranos. “Some of the first songs I wrote really were for just the shock value, and that’s because I really didn’t know how to tell the stories yet. Hopefully, I keep advancing a bit with each record.”