An interview with El Danno
By Craig Regala
I really, really like Stonerrock.com. So I interviewed the guy who set it up, and the guy he hired to moderate the damn thing. It’s a great site for a buncha reasons. Firstly, the obviously textual one: People write stuff about music that encompasses the harder, liquid groove… Well, let me quote the site: “Punk, grunge, doom, and sludge kept the fire burning in the ‘dark years’ and now combined with a fuzzed-out ’70s psychedelic groove to create a new and intense vibe; wanna join the revolution?” Secondly, it’s really easy to motor around, and it’s distinct. It’s been around for a while, and didn’t come out of a box. Thirdly, it’s populated by people who know a huge amount about all kindsa rock history and other political and social stuff. Many book shows. Many are or have been in bands and have good advice about the this or that of the this and that in the dingy clubland where these battles are fought.
There are thousands of people who check it on and off, and a couple hundred lifers who’ve have been around – way, way around – that I’ve met, stayed with, bled on, etc, all on account of posting on this site, with no other personal contact. This stuff often attracts ex-punks, mutant metalheads, rockers, doom hounds, those who lost faith after Mr. Cobain left the building, and the varied curious rock-centric out there. You wanna know about early ’70s hard funk? Brazilian acid rock? Japanese post doom? Retro-kickass? Queens of the Stone Age live shows? Argue about Nirvana vs. Guns N’ Roses? C’mon in. It does what a good site is supposed to: Have an identity and throb and morph with those involved. As Thor (God of Thunder; and rock and roll) was overheard saying, “Inhale the leaf, drink the mead, throw the horns: It’s StonerRock.com for me.”
Let’s start with some general history: When did you start? Why did you want to do the site? Did you plan for it to become what it has become?
StonerRock.com officially landed on the Internet on December 15th, 1999. At the time, I was living in Sydney, Australia where I’d been going to rock shows at small clubs for a couple of years. The two most obvious things that I noticed at these shows were 1) a lot of the bands I saw were extremely good, and 2) they were playing to very small crowds. This didn’t add up in my mind, so I conceived an idea for a website dedicated to improving attendance at rock shows worldwide. In essence, a global rock show database. A place online where you could go and type in the name of your town and find out what rock bands were playing that night, or next week, etc.
The logistics of this initial idea were simply too difficult to manage, so the idea quickly morphed into a general community website dedicated to my favorite kind of music, Stoner Rock. The StonerRock.com website address was available, so I considered that a sign and moved forward.
StonerRock.com has always had the same purpose as the original “global rock show database” idea, which is to bring the rock to the people, and to bring more people to the rock. But, over the course of the six years we’ve been online, it’s become a mostly self-sufficient community. Our 31,000+ registered members share information about upcoming shows and new bands (and everything else under the sun) with each other casually, rather than a structured resource website where we collect and provide all of the information. Of course, we do provide endless album reviews, news, interviews, mp3s, etc., to keep the wheels greased, but StonerRock.com wouldn’t be as great as it is without the strong and positive community of true music fans as the motor.
StonerRock.com is exactly what I hoped for and more, because I never planned to incorporate a record store. All That’s Heavy (www.stonerrock.com/store) has become by far the biggest and best online store dedicated to Stoner Rock, Doom, Sludge, Drone, Psych, etc.
Who are the bands that got you motivated to do the site? Do you keep up with new stuff?
The bands that motivated me then, and still do now, are Mudhoney, Monster Magnet, Queens of the Stone Age, Kyuss, Nebula, TAD, Steel Pole Bath Tub, and all the heavy ’70s rock from Hawkwind to Grand Funk Railroad to Black Sabbath to Bon Scott-era AC/DC.
I still listen to every promo that comes to our mailbox, so yeah, I definitely keep up with the new stuff! Although, “excruciating” is a much more suitable word than “enjoyable” for that process. We get 20 to 50 promos in the mail every week, and if I’m lucky, there may be one or two gems in there that really get me stoked. Discovering that one killer new band beneath so many layers of crap makes the pain worthwhile. YOB, Drunk Horse, Witch Mountain, Acid King, and Dozer are some of my all-time favorite bands that I’ve gotten into by way of my own website, but there are literally hundreds more that I could mention in the same league.
Do you really like Mudhoney that much? People often don’t think of’m as a grail band for stoner rock, although Martin Popoff (author of the Collector’s Guide to Heavy Metal, editor of Brave Words & Bloody Knuckles, Lollipop writer) really hit it when he called Kyuss “a melted grunge band,” linking them closer to Mudhoney than, say, Guns N’ Roses.
For me, Stoner Rock has channeled straight through Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, Hawkwind, Blue Cheer to Mudhoney, TAD, Monster Magnet, Kyuss to Dozer, Drunk Horse, YOB, Acid King. All of these bands have their own unique creative identity but share the same heart & soul. Heavy riffs, immaculate tones and drug-addled psychedelia are definitely elements on the surface. Underneath it all is raw passion. A genuine love of music and art. Unpretentious and uncalculated. Music for the sake of music, not a means to popularity and/or success.
How have things changed for you over the years, musically and site-wise? Did you think it was going to develop so much of an actual “community” feeling? I’ve had people invite me into their homes after only knowing me from the site, and considering my posts, that’s quite a trusting thing.
From your posts, I’d’ve assumed you’re a schizophrenic meth-head. (laughs) That aside, I had YOB play in my basement in Portland, Oregon several years ago, and I didn’t hesitate to post a public invitation on the StonerRock.com forums. It’s quite surreal to trust and be trusted sight unseen like that, but there were no problems, and everyone who came was super cool and respectful. Melanie (aka hellmistress) came all the way from New Jersey to be there. Previous to that, she was a member of the website and a customer of All That’s Heavy. Now she’s my wife and business partner. Countless other friendships and relationships have started in this same way. This is the best part about StonerRock.com, and I’m very proud to be involved with such a positive and creative community.
Do you think the name StonerRock can get in the way at times?
That there is the $64,000 question. Without a doubt, the term Stoner Rock has been a bone of contention since the beginning of its use. It can definitely have a negative connotation when people misuse it as a strict genre definition to describe the myriad of Kyuss and Fu Manchu clone bands. Others take offense to it, because they love the music, but they don’t get high. I think the controversial and ironic aspects of the term keep things interesting. It creates a continual debate and discourse around the music which is necessary to keep the blood flowing and fuel creativity.
Do you handle all the business? If someone wants to buy a banner ad, do they deal with you or have you farmed that stuff out?
We’re the definition of a mom-and-pop operation. I run the business side of things, but I also pack orders and break down cardboard for recycling. My wife, Melanie, runs the shipping/receiving department, and John Pegoraro (aka Arzgarth) is our Editor-in-Chief and main writer. We have a small team of freelance writers helping with reviews and interviews, but for the most part, it’s the three of us who’re responsible for everything on StonerRock.com, outside of the community forums. I handle most of our banner sales, but Lolliclicks.com (an extension of Lollipop Magazine) has recently started helping us out in that area.
You do the coding, right? I’m two-thirds goofy and one-third confused and I manage to work the site perfectly. It’s very user friendly: Was this intended or a bi-product of your general approach?
StonerRock.com is my own original creation from the concept to the design to the programming to the daily business operations. Malleus (www.malleusdelic.com) created the Fanny Jo Stingray artwork from my ideas, but other than that, I’ve developed the website from the ground up specifically for our community. My goal has always been to make StonerRock.com as user friendly and unique as possible. Miscellaneous tweaks and improvements aside, StonerRock.com is essentially the same website that it was when we first went online six years ago.
Do you own your own server? Are there things you’d like to do technically that you can’t?
Well, technically speaking, I could accomplish most of the things that I’d like, but time is the main hindrance. There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything. This is the only drawback to doing everything yourself! StonerRock.com is housed across two state-of-the-art dual processor P4 servers. One server for the website, mp3s, and jpgs, and the other hosts the database alone.
If you were to curate “El Danno’s three day weekend” of twenty bands, from any era, to represent a StonerRock.com fest, who would play?
The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Black Sabbath (with Ozzy), AC/DC (with Bon Scott), Led Zeppelin, Atomic Rooster, Leaf Hound, Pentagram, Sleep, Mudhoney, Steel Pole Bath Tub, Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, Fu Manchu, Monster Magnet, Unida, YOB, Dozer, Drunk Horse, Mammoth Volume, and Witch Mountain.