Amigo the Devil Wants to Steal — And Heal — Your Soul

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Amigo the Devil used to focus on shock value; now he's committed to telling intricate tales of humanity on his new album. - Credit: Visions of the Abyss*
Amigo the Devil used to focus on shock value; now he's committed to telling intricate tales of humanity on his new album. - Credit: Visions of the Abyss*

The moment Amigo the Devil realized his life was entering its next phase came when his 1979 Ford E-150 van burst into flames and burned to the ground last December in a Nashville parking lot.

“This was only two and half weeks after I bought it,” the singer-songwriter, also known as Danny Kiranos, tells Rolling Stone. “I get in, start it, it catches on fire — the whole thing blows up.”

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Kiranos shakes his head and chuckles in hindsight. At the time, the destruction of the vehicle was traumatizing and surreal. Now it’s become a metaphor for the artist who performs as Amigo the Devil, a realization that the only thing can control in life is how you react to a situation.

“It was the first time where I felt so helpless because I genuinely didn’t have a single idea of what to do,” Kiranos says. “It was this massive coming to terms with a lot of problems in my life relating to things I should be able to fix or control.”

Puffing on a cigar with a glass of bourbon in reach, Kiranos leans back into his chair in his studio behind his home. The property is just north of Nashville, where the beer-soaked streets and skyscrapers of Music City transition into rolling farmland.

Later that night, a slew of Kiranos’ friends pull down the long driveway toward the bright ranch house peering out from behind the tree line. The plan is to grill out, drink some cold suds and catch up, a pastime for Kiranos when he’s not relentlessly touring.

Until then, he’s talking at length about the latest Amigo the Devil album, Yours Until the War Is Over, a mix of rock, folk, and Americana music that’s dubbed “murderfolk” for its notable subject matter of death, destruction, and despair. Think Tom Waits meets Nick Cave, with a healthy dose of Rob Zombie ambiance.

“The more I try to understand who listens to these songs,” Kiranos says, “the more I realize that the number one element of the listener who enjoys it is that they have the ability to let go of something to immerse themselves in that song, as opposed to listen to it in passing.”

Take the track “Once Upon a Time at Texaco Pt. 1,” about a gas station robbery gone awry in which the attendant reaches for his gun before getting shot. “I’ve also learned some magic through the years/My bullet hocus pocus’ed through the back of his head/And made the side of his jaw disappear,” Kiranos rattles off in the song, with an energy and vigor akin to a slam poet. His live shows as Amigo the Devil are as intense and menacing as his moniker.

“It does end up being a funny dynamic where the lyrics and the stories do play a big part into how the songs actually impact somebody,” he says, “as opposed to a lot of other bands that I love [where] you don’t have any idea what they’re saying.”

This go-round, Kiranos tapped his guitarist David Talley to help co-write some of the material for Yours Until the War Is Over. That’s a big shift from previous efforts, where Kiranos was an island unto himself when it came to songwriting.

“I don’t co-write with people. And we didn’t know how to write with each other,” he says. “But there’s a lot of honest, vulnerable conversations [between us]. We’re like brothers and we’ve built that kind of trust.”

That obsession for quality art and a stylistic performance is a signature for Amigo the Devil. Hailing from Miami, the 36-year-old son of a Spanish mother and Greek father wants to shock and entertain — but do both at a high level.

In his formative years, Kiranos was immersed in the underground Miami scene of metal and punk music, street and gang culture, and BMX bikes. Kiranos admits some of his buddies made bad choices.

“All my friends growing up? They’re either dead or in jail. And I knew I don’t want to do that,” he says.

Kiranos was more a curious, old-soul kid, trying to figure himself out, sometimes in the most extreme ways possible. “Jumping off bridges, jumping into rivers, waiting for trains. Everything just to scare people, just to see if I could do it,” he says. “Shock value.”

He also developed a lifelong appetite for horror films, which grew into an enthusiastic interest in death. He has a collection of serial killer memorabilia, police photos of dead bodies, and an assortment of other items that most people wouldn’t let through their front door.

“I think horror [films] became a passion because I had a fascination with the dark side and it was a way to access it,” Kiranos says. “That’s not because of who I was, but because I saw it get a rise out of other people.”

In seventh grade, Kiranos was expelled from school, and when he entered his next middle-school classroom, he was ridiculed for his shaggy, metalhead appearance. But a chance encounter with a peer sporting a White Zombie shirt set him on his musical trajectory. The two bonded over a love of White Zombie and his new friend asked him to jam with his band. Kiranos said yes, despite not knowing how to play guitar.

“I showed up to practice with my guitar that my cousin had given to me,” he says. “We were children. But I really wanted to be in a band, so I learned how to play over the next week, just doing three-chord stuff.”

Eventually, Kiranos began writing songs and his material grew dark and sinister. About a decade ago, the stage name of Amigo the Devil came to life; it’s based on the name of a cartoon figure he found in a notebook that a close friend used to draw as a kid.

“There’s a version of myself that comes out when I’m under that banner of [Amigo the Devil],” Kiranos says. “I don’t think that me up there is different from me outside of it — it’s just a side that I don’t like to bring to the real world.”

Kiranos credits the cinematic element to his music to a profound experience of sitting in a Chevy Suburban, high on ecstasy, and blasting Godspeed You! Black Emperor. “I listened to that record just losing my mind. I’d never experienced anything like that up until that moment,” he says.

From there, he began touring the United States as a solo act, playing any dive bar or small stage that would have him. For the better part of eight years, he was “getting made fun of every night” and “playing was hell.” During one particular gig out west, Kiranos had finally had enough.

With drunken patrons heckling him, Kiranos jumped onto the bartop and began singing with every ounce of his being. The patrons were stunned and roared for more. Kiranos was out for blood, and he finally embraced his role as a performer.

“It’s the difference between a hobby and a career, between dedication and obsession. Those are things I wrestle with constantly,” Kiranos says.

With his backing band, Amigo the Devil is now a headlining act attracting fans of Americana, rock, and metal. And while death remains a major theme in his songwriting, his main objective is to tell a story as well as he can. That was his goal while making Yours Until the War Is Over.

“We tried to write these things so that the story was an actual story with a purpose,” he says, “rather than just going, ‘What if they die?’”

For all the death and devilish imagery in his art, Kiranos says he’s not religious or superstitious. He just finds dark topics fascinating and even comforting. He knows that other people like him do too.

“I’ve written songs about suicide notes, but I don’t feel suicidal when I’m writing that song. I’m recapturing moments I’ve had in the past,” he says. “My personal journey comes from, ‘Thank God, I don’t feel that way anymore.’”

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