Amigo the Devil: An Apparition of the Old Wild West

Amigo the Devil is not sponsored by Piss Water Light, nor are his songs representative of anything that could be deemed civil and patriotic.
Amigo the Devil
Courtesy of Emily Butler

Unless you arrived at this story hellbent on perusing some disturbing, albeit entertaining, journalistic jibber-jabber about bingo halls, BMX, and serial killers, you don’t know jack shit about Amigo the Devil. And up until about a month ago, I’ll admit, I didn’t either. Of course, to some of the brattier, angrier music snobs out there conveniently hiding behind their laptops—those whose defining moments in life include verbally crucifying a teenage girl in a Metallica shirt for not being able to name three songs—this shameful ineptitude of the sonic darkness that’s been spewing from Danny Kiranos (the name Amigo’s mother gave him when he shot out of the womb) for the past decade is unforgivable. And hell, maybe they’re right. Perhaps I should be tarred and feathered in the street, suffer castration, or at the very least be stripped of my publishing privileges from here to eternity. Well, suck it, fanboy. We all arrive in our own time.

In the weeks leading up to this highly-anticipated interview, I dove in extensively to Amigo the Devil’s catalog of consternation—starting with Everything is Fine (2018) and on through his latest offering, Born Against (2021)—doing my damndest to remedy the unintentional ignorance I’d been wallowing in all this time. Hey man, what can I say? I’ve had better things to do than keep up on the great American drool. Given the often-sad state of music today, my expectation of hearing anything again that would blow my mind was somewhere between ignoble and the final note that would have me out on the ledge of my second-story office window, ready to belly flop to my death. But Amigo the Devil, that sly banjo-playing bastard, did not show up at this point of my shoddy existence to send me on a deep dive to the netherworld. Although half anticipating some hipster hack crooner from the beaten horse of a post-MTV unplugged generation, there wasn’t a shred of that to be found anywhere on his recordings. No sir, this Amigo fella was a disturbed, solemn, sarcastic son of a bitch. And I liked it!

My crash course in his brand of what is being hailed by music critics across the globe as dark folk, I’m proud to say, took place in the comforts of my backyard, aptly seasoned with a metric ass-ton of beer and edibles, all while aggressively smoking one of nature’s weaker, slower beasts on the grill as the sun slumped into the horizon. Ah, ain’t it poetic? Now, to Amigo’s legion of rabid followers—and believe me, he’s got a more loyal, dedicated fanbase than the Dark Lord himself—my drunken, stoned familiarization methods may seem a bit too leisurely for a proper review. But that’s precisely how this old music aficionado goes-a-hearkening these days: In real-time. Out here, parts deemed by some as the Armpit of America, we enjoy good tunes when we’re all buzzed up, reveling in the quandaries of life, and swatting at goddamned mosquitoes.

Although some of the less cultured of the societal downtrodden might be quick to label Amigo the Devil as part of the redneck, twang genre, we need to be careful with those accusations. It’s not that cut and dry. Why, this is not the faux Rhinestone fuddy-duddy of the new school singing about God and country for the red, white and blue, shit-kicking conservatives of a Trump-humping 2024. Don’t you dare compare him to that rotten scene or any other for that matter. Amigo the Devil, at least as far as an ethos, is an apparition of the old wild west, circa black and white, and all the lawless debauchery of the dusty trail – a time when prostitutes always had a bloody nose, moonshine stole the eyes of lost men and cutthroat violence plagued the streets like an alley cat in heat.

It was when I heard the songs “Small Stone,” “Murder at the Bingo Hall,” and “Shadow,” that my affinity for this young man’s mission took a serious turn, a blasting effect that sent me crawling back to the beginning of his catalog to take in another round. Perhaps I was a little stoned by this time in the evening—okay, I definitely was—but these grim tunes spurred a series of emotional tremors. I felt like I was trapped in some dismal corridor of the H.H. Holmes murder house with absolutely no way of escaping, and my swan song was being ushered in by an organ-grinding monkey in bright red lipstick gripping a bloody razor. Holy freaking shit, Nick Cave and Roy Orbison must have given life to a love child when I wasn’t looking and Mike Patton, the Almighty Savior, was the godfather. But that couldn’t be, could it? The illegitimate spawn of such masters, for reasons we need not get into right now, would have surely been born with a severe case of rickets. I mean, there’s no way in hell for that much talent to fit into a test tube without producing a ghastly birth defect or two. And maybe that’s what makes Amigo the Devil so damn unique—he’s an illusionary oddity wrapped in a decent human being—and he’s rickets free, as far as I can tell. I know this to be true because I had the pleasure of talking extensively with the man via Zoom while he was parked at a Shell station in Little Rock, Arkansas. So what if you’ve seen him driving around town with the taxidermied head of a deer in the passenger seat. Who cares if you can’t understand his inquisitive nature for murder or propensity for taking the occasional shot of Hypnotic when the sadistic spirit moves him? Who among us, am I right? I tell you this; we’ve only witnessed a handful of genuine gut-belting troubadours with the range to cover all the bases in the past two decades and, mark my words, this dude is one of them.

Courtesy of Vision of the Abyss

High Times: Where are you right now, a fucking Sunoco?

Amigo the Devil: Yeah, I’m mid-drive right now. I started driving around 4:30 this morning, and I got about six hours to go. I collect a lot of weird shit, so I’m basically driving around collecting. I got a whole haul today.

HT: Is all that for your personal collection?

ATD: Yeah, yeah. Every once in a while, I’ll trade for something. But today was pretty good. (Turns the phone so I can see what he’s got in the backseat) I got a peacock, a little bear, and a Victorian skeleton.

HT: Nice, man. Well, I appreciate you taking time out to talk to me.

ATD: Yeah, thank you for your time. I appreciate this.

HT: My pleasure. Well, first thing’s first, let’s talk about bingo halls.

ATD: Sweet!

HT: I went to one at the American Legion back in the day, and it was insane. Judging from the song Murder in a Bingo Hall, you have also seen your fair share of them. What’s the fascination?

ATD: I love playing bingo, and honestly, I wish I went more often now. My first core memory of the bingo hall experience was in the first band I was ever in. I was like 15, I think. I grew up in Miami, so I was still living in Miami. I was 15, maybe 16, and we were doing a little mini tour of Florida. And this is obviously long ago. We all had these fake IDs that we were using on tour. The bass player, my buddy Kyle, rolls in with this literal photocopy of his brother’s ID. They looked at it, and they just kind of looked back at him and were like, “No.” And he goes: “Please?” I remember sitting there thinking, “Kyle, you’re going to get us into so much trouble.” And she was like, “Okay, fine.” And so, we go in. We played a bunch of rounds. We got the thick packets and all that, and I was hooked. Hooked, hooked, hooked! So, on that tour, I just went to every bingo stop I could find, and that is where one of my obsessions began.

HT: Bingo halls are pretty intense. They are surprisingly low-key until someone beats the room, then look out.

ATD: Oh, it’s brutality.

HT: Well, you knew there was no way you could interview with High Times without getting asked about weed. By law, I have to ask you several personal questions about your experiences. Since you agreed to talk to me, I’m assuming that you’re an advocate or user. I promise, we won’t tell mom.

ATD: I’m an advocate and user. Regular user, but highly lightweight. It’s really funny. It kicks my ass the most of anything ever.

HT: Really?

ATD: Oh yeah, and I don’t know why. I’ve never been able to build up an actual tolerance to it. For me, it’s pleasant. But a lot of what my friends smoke these days just puts me on my ass right away. It’s still enjoyable. I’ve always loved it. I’ve always loved the culture around it. I’ve always loved what it does for people. And I’ve never been able to immerse myself as wholly and completely as I would love to because I’m a lightweight. I’m weak.

HT: No, man, not weak. There’s no need to be a hero. Weed is super strong now. I’ve had some instances where I was like, holy shit, I don’t know if I’m going to come out of this, so don’t feel bad. How did you get turned on to the plant? Any funny stories about your first time?

ATD: I was like 10 or 11. The first few times weren’t very memorable because it was just like what was happening with my older friends. And so, I just got kind of pulled into it and all that. Most of the good stories are from early tours. Again, that same first band I had. They were still relatively lawless. It felt, compared to now, it felt like lawless days in terms of just getting away with things and partying and never really getting into trouble. There’s no YouTube and cameras everywhere and all that. It was just a lot of debauchery, ending up in houses that I shouldn’t have, trying to get weed. And honestly, I’m glad that a lot of people don’t have to go through that shit anymore.

HT: I understand you suffer from depression. Many people argue that cannabis helps ease the worst of their symptoms. Yet, some claim that being stoned makes them too introspective and actually exasperates their condition by highlighting their insecurities. Which side best describes your experience?

ATD: I wouldn’t say I’m unique in this, but I feel like most people around me and most people growing up have the same experience of that absolute inner rage, that turmoil. The hormone explosion and not understanding anything about life.

HT: Ah, yes, testosterone on steroids.

ATD: Absolutely. I remember being able to just take things lightly, and it always brought me down to a place where I was able to rationalize more effectively than the absolute outburst of throwing things, for example. And that’s one thing I loved about smoking when I was young. Funny enough, I always joke about how much I miss shitty weed. I know I’m going to get hell for this. I know everyone’s going to rip on me. But I remember being on tour in Texas, and I gave this dude like $10 or something, and he gave me this giant bag of like dog shit. Just horrible, horrible. I don’t even know what it was. It was like mud. Bricks of mud. And we were like, sick! We were able to just smoke blunts all night. We probably weren’t smoking weed at all. It was probably cow shit or something. But it was great (laughs).

HT: Sure, you didn’t get too fucked up, and the night remained social without incident.

ATD: Exactly. And I miss that. I miss being able to smoke extensively as opposed to just two or three hits and dying.

HT: Yeah, back in the day, my buddies and I would get a quarter bag and smoke it all night long without ever gripping our chests or fearing for our lives. You got high, but not like people do today. So, what about edibles? I love a good edibles story. I’m assuming they’re kicking your ass too?

ATD: Oh my… so one of my favorite edibles stories. I have too many. I’m so stupid. I don’t learn, ever. I’m dumb as hell (laughs). But somebody in Vegas, a friend of a friend, had given me a cookie. That night I had driven right outside of Zion National [Park] in Utah, and I was going to hike Angels Landing in the morning. We planned on hiking at around 7 am or whenever the park opened up. We got to the hotel, and I was like, you know what, I’m going to crush this cookie, go to sleep, and wake up all fucking refreshed. I have problems sleeping anyway so that shit helps me a lot. I ate the cookie and was like, “You know what? I’m going to get snacks. I want snacks real quick.” So, I went to the 7-Eleven down the street. And as I’m in the 7-Eleven, I feel like my blood is just going vrrroooosh-vrrrooooshh. I remember going, “Okay, I’m fucked up. Cool.” All of a sudden, I was like, oh my God, this was not weed at all. These are fucking mushrooms.

HT: Holy shit.

ATD: Before it kicked in too hard, I remember jumping in the car and racing back to the hotel. I got up to the room and just blurted out [in a slow drone]: “It’s not weed. It’s mushrooms.” (laughs). In the room, [my girlfriend] Alicia was like, “Oh, calm down, you just got too high.” I was like, “no, no, no.” All of a sudden, it hit her, too, and she was like, “Fuck…fuck…fuck!” I do love mushrooms. I just don’t like it unexpectedly.

HT: Right, you don’t want to get hit in the face with an impromptu trip.

ATD: Exactly. So, we both curled into bed, and we’re like, it’ll be fine. I remember trying to text people. That was the first semblance of me not having control of anything. I was trying to text, but the letters kept getting further away in my phone. So, I couldn’t read what I was typing anymore. That’s when I knew we were in it. I put my phone down. Alicia goes to use the restroom, and I’m lying in bed. I can feel my heartbeat. I feel like I’m having a fucking heart attack, which is my fear anyway, with my eating habits and other shit. I feel my heartbeat shaking the bed, rattling the bed. Fucking hours go by. And I was like, oh my god, Alicia died. Alicia is in the bathroom, and she died. How the fuck am I going to solve this? So, I’m in bed, and I’m freaking out. So, I was like, just do it, just do it. So, I called out: “Hey, babe.” Immediately, she was like, “Yeah?” And I was like, “Are you okay?” And she was like, “Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” I was like, “You’ve been in there so fucking long.” She was like, “It’s literally been 30 seconds.” I had the entire world collapsed on me for what felt like hours, trying to figure out how the hell I was going to explain that she was dead in the bathroom.

HT: You almost got your Sid Vicious moment.

ATD: Yeah, that was just one of those moments where the trip spiraled so far south, and in one instant, one little response made everything lighten up again.

HT: Yeah, but did you learn anything?

ATD: No! Absolutely not. But I guess my point is that’s how a lot of the strong edibles make me feel now.

HT: I’ve had some scary experiences with edibles, so I can empathize. I had a buddy who did dabs for the first time, and he had to bear crawl on his hands and knees back to the cabin. He couldn’t function at all. The next day, I said something to him about being too high for his own good, and he said, I wouldn’t call that high (laughs). Have you ever done dabs and had them fuck you up like that?

ATD: I’m going to go ahead and say anybody who does dabs regularly is a superhuman. Every time I get suckered into it—and I say suckered lightly because it’s always my choice. It was at a show in Tulsa, and one of my really good friend’s little brothers was there, and he was like, “Hey man, want to smoke?” I was like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do this.” I was thinking we would go back and rip a little bowl and be very civil about things. But when we go to his car, he pulls out the whole dab rig out of the backseat. So, I’m sitting there going, “Oh god, goddamnit.” Now, I still have to go back to the show.

HT: Wait, you had to perform?

ATD: I still had to play.

HT: My God, dude.

ATD: So, I was like, you got this, Danny. You’re good, you’re good. I’m psyching myself up. I was like, I’m just going to take a baby rip and use the excuse that I got to play. Whatever. So, he does his whole thing: OOOOOSSSSSPPPPTTTT (giant hit from dab rig) and just the biggest rip of all time. It’s in the book of world records somewhere. Has to be. And I was like, alright, here we go. He hands it to me, and I was oospt (smallest hit ever), the tiniest, little hit, barely any suction. And he was like, “That’s all?” I was like, “Yeah, I’m good. I’ve got to play. More later.” I got out of the car thinking that I got away with it. This is sick. Fuck no. I could barely fucking walk. The second I get into the venue, all I remember is crawling under the merch table and asking the person doing merch, “Hey, can you tell?” She was like, “Yes, the whole fucking room can. They just saw you do that. They just saw you crawl under the table. Nothing about that was slick.” My grand plan was to pretend it was a magic show. So I came out from under the table and went, “Tada!” I remember everybody looking at me, and I was like, they know how fucking destroyed I am.

HT: They did. Promise.

ATD: Jesus.

HT: So, how did you perform that night?

ATD: Horribly! I have performed better with the stomach flu than I did that night. I have performed better puking into a garbage can on stage than I did that night. (laughs) Like I said, I’m a lightweight. I still love it.

Courtesy of Courtney Gauger

HT: Well, I might have gotten you into enough trouble already, so I guess we should talk about music.

ATD: Okay.

HT: So, going back to when you were a kid. What bands did you listen to during that time that got you to go, fuck, that’s it, I have to play music?

ATD: Growing up in Miami was weird because I didn’t have the same access as people on the West coast or people in New England did to a lot of music that would shape me later. So, I relied a lot on older friends and my cousin, specifically, to guide me. I’m talking 10, 11, 12 years old. I think that’s when I learned, for the most part, what I really enjoyed, and a lot of that had to do with my older cousin, who was the coolest guy in my family in my eyes at that time. And so, every time I’d go visit, he’d be like, “Yo, check this out.” And then he’d play like Testament or something. I’d be like, I obviously love this because you like it. So, he kind of got me into that thrash-esque world, like the Slayers, the main names for then. Once I started figuring out that I could ride my bike to record shops and pick up the zines and pick up fucking tape catalogs, and then I started ordering weird cassettes and weird CDs and all this shit. And that kind of spiraled into weirder and weirder influences. That was mostly for heavy music, which led me to grindcore and all the noise stuff and the weird black metal stuff. The other half of my influences, oddly enough, came from BMX videos.

HT: Wait, no shit?

ATD: Yeah, BMX videos and magazines. I found out about Tom Waits through… I really wish I could remember the name of the magazine, but they had a review, and it sounded so interesting that I went out to try to find it. And I found it at… I’m trying so hard to remember this because they’re just good memories. Uncle Sam’s in Miami Beach had it, and I picked it up, and it was weird. And I loved it. Same with like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, I found that through a BMX magazine.

HT: I remember those BMX magazines. Did you ride?

ATD: Yeah, that’s what I thought I was going to do for the rest of my life.

HT: Dude, that’s all we did when we were kids, ride dirt bikes and jump shit.

ATD: (laughs) Oh, yeah!

HT: We’d wreck, never wearing helmets or any of that.

ATD: Hell no! I love that it was literally just kids going, can you jump from that to that? And you’d be like, obviously I can, and then you’d just eat shit (laughs).

HT: You had to do it, too, because they’d be like, you fucking pussy. You’d never live it down.

ATD: Now you have these 10-year-olds on fucking YouTube doing like front flips and shit off of staircases.

HT: Insane, right? I watch that stuff like, how in the fuck, man? I never did that.

ATD: Oh no, no. I think that’s why I never actually did anything because I didn’t want to get hurt (laughs).

HT: Not like that, man!

ATD: Yeah, like, not that level. I got hurt a lot. I rode for a long ass time, and I stopped when I broke both of my knees trying to jump over a car.

HT: Damn, that will stop you. How old were you when you did that?

ATD: Nineteen.

HT: How old are you now?

ATD: Thirty-four? Thirty-five? Thirty-six?

HT: Those fucking dabs will get you, brother.

ATD: I’m blaming that fucking Tulsa show for most of my problems.

HT: Seriously, Danny, in dab years, you’re only eleven.

ATD: (Laughs)

Author’s Note: At this point, Danny spots the John Wayne Gacy “Pogo The Clown” plate I have on my desk.

ATD: Is…is that a Pogo dish in the back?

HT: Yeah. A reader made it for me.

ATD: Holy shit.

HT: So, it’s not like anything legit, but someone did make it for me, so I thought it was a cool decoration for my office. 

ATD: That’s badass.

HT: I know you’re a big fan of serial killers.

ATD: Yeah, yeah, I am. I love true crime. It’s just too weird, too weird not to.

Author’s Note: Danny and I geeked out for a few minutes about the HBO series True Detective and the 1995 David Fincher film Seven before resuming the interview. If you haven’t seen either of these productions, you’re missing out.

HT: So, like, and I’m sorry to keep switching gears on you. If you were expecting a professional interview, you were sadly mistaken.

ATD: (Laughs) You can try the professional interview thing; I’m still going to be jumping from thing to thing.

HT: Right on. I appreciate that. So, I read somewhere that you tried film school, which parlayed into culinary school and brewing. How did that path bring you to become Amigo the Devil?

ATD: My youngest passion was BMX. I was going to be a BMX pro for the rest of my life. And then I started joining bands, really shitty bands in school, started learning to play instruments, and music was cool. And when I realized that music was a lot more rewarding in terms of social. Especially at that time, BMX kids were getting ripped on a lot.

HT: Sure, we were the hoodlums of society.

ATD: (Laughs) So I was [like] okay, I can ride BMX and be in bands. Perfect life. I stopped playing music for the culinary school dream because I was like, music is for bozos. This shit is going to go nowhere. I was still riding BMX. I went to culinary school, and then the accident happened. Big one. And at that point, I was like, I got to get a real career. I have to. My grandpa was disappointed in me, and that meant a lot to me. And… [Danny pauses]. Oh, I just watched a car explode in the Walmart parking lot.

HT: Holy shit, what?

ATD: Can you see this? (Danny turns his phone toward the parking lot so I can witness the carnage). Oh yeah, you’re joining me on this.

Author’s Note: Danny and I watched this vehicle burn in a Walmart parking lot while droves of callous customers walked by. We’re assuming the owner was still inside the store shopping when their car went up in flames. Man, that really sucks. Hope they splurged for full coverage! Thankfully the Little Rock Fire Department finally showed up with a hose. Be careful out there, kids.

HT: I was checking out some of your live shows on YouTube the other day and what I noticed was that while the theme of the evening might be death and destruction, everyone is super happy and having a fucking blast, singing along and having the best time. And so are you, seemingly. My question is, is this the funeral all of us wish we could have? How does Danny turn death into a party?

ATD: When you find somebody who is into the same weird thing that you’re into, there is an instant spark. Let’s take it to the fun extreme, like very niche kinks. As soon as you find somebody that’s kind of in the same vicinity of the same kind of weird as you, it’s exciting. Because you’re like, “Holy fuck, I’m not alone… or I’m less alone.” So, at the shows, we all get to sing about these really stupid, dark things together in this small niche of people who aren’t that afraid of thinking about death or what is indicative of death. I think the first thing that happens when you hear an entire room full of people singing the same morbid line is excitement. In the same way, if you see someone wearing a t-shirt down the street of a tiny band that no one else knows [Danny points]. You’re not immediately talking about the band. You don’t walk up to them and ask about their favorite album. And I think that’s what I hope is the reason the shows are fun because it’s a room full of people going: I can’t believe we’re all thinking the same shitty thing.

You can catch Amigo The Devil on tour this summer with Murder By Death. He’ll be at the Louder Than Life festival in Louisville, Kentucky Friday, September 23, 2022. Warning: I’ll be there too with a dab rig. And if I see Danny before you do, you better damn well know that I’ve attempted to get him Tulsa high. By his own admission, Danny doesn’t learn, so it should be relatively easy. Just look for him under the merch table. And if he’s not there, buy a shirt anyway.

Yeehaw!

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