Photo: Karen Jerzyk
Growing up and listening to folk music on my family’s long camping trips, I remember never getting bored because my imagination would be blown up by artists like Pete Seeger, Simon and Garfunkel and Peter, Paul and Mary. Now, Orlando, Florida’s Amigo the Devil weaves his brand of storytelling with his macabre and twisted tales from the cheesy funny to the brink of darkness. His recordings meld the banjo and acoustic guitar—one listen to a song, and it’s stuck in your head.
It was by luck or happenstance that Amigo the Devil even exists. The man behind the project, Danny Kiranos, found himself playing in a grindcore and hardcore band in a younger, different life. In an interview for SLUG, Kiranos talked about how, one day, he purchased a banjo because it was cheap, and he found it funny. He said it sat in his room for years, and one day, he decided to pick it up and start messing around.
“When I started, I had no context of country or folk or that genre at all,” he says. “I didn’t grow up with it—I wasn’t surrounded by it at all … It was after I realized that I liked the banjo that I started going back and being like, ‘All right, what are the roots of this, and how can I actually learn to play this?’”
He learned to write folk music through his first song, “Perfect Wife,” which tells the story of a husband removing body parts from his spouse to make her a more perfect wife—it’s all done in a more humorous way than you’d think. Hence arose the self-coined term for what Amigo the Devil has created: murderfolk. Kiranos felt that the murderfolk name fit, even though a lot of folk music is already dark in subject matter in the way of drinking issues or losing people. He didn’t think people would take to murderfolk the way they did.
Kiranos found his lyrical influence from true-crime phenomena—mainly serial killers or just his love for the macabre. Regarding his interest in writing songs about serial killers, “The part that really interests me about it is the internal process—the thoughts behind doing it, the leading up to it and deciding to do it and the internal factors,” says Kiranos. “That’s the really dark part to it.” Horror films and true-life gore and murder videos fueled his curiosity and fascination—watching gore and violence was about testing himself to find the worst thing he could see, which, he admits, was a challenge for him.
Amigo the Devil’s body of work consists of three EP releases: Manimals, Diggers and the newly released Decompositions. Each has songs that range from tongue-in-cheek dark humor to the completely morbid—a fictional tale of Jeffrey Dahmer going to Hollywood to become a man/monster who eats children; a man hoping a woman he’s fond of wishes that her husband dies; a fun song about how the only thing that people do is die; stories of Ed Gein wanting to be comfortable in his own skin, but really liking the one you’re living in. The dyad of humor and morbidity go seamlessly together. “I was always really curious about the morbid aspects of things—not so much the bad ones, [and] not so much, ‘Oh, I love evil things,’ but just the curiosity of the gore,” Kiranos says.
Amigo the Devil is a self-promoted and self-funded project—the band doesn’t exist on a label. The DIY sensibility contributes to the fact that his partner, Hayley Miller, is listed as a band member—Kiranos says that Amigo the Devil would not exist without her efforts. Kiranos is also humbled and impressed that his curiosity in something different has gained so much interest. “It’s slow growth, but it’s—as I like to call it—honest growth,” he says. He likes that he still gets to connect with his audience, and mentions showing up in Olympia, Washington, for a show where the venue didn’t know he was playing and where only two people showed up, and how he had the greatest time with those two people nonetheless. Amigo the Devil was welcomed to the Southwest Terror Fest, which had him playing impromptu shows around the festival, including a set in the men’s bathroom, which he packed to the brim but also took the time to let folks relieve themselves when necessary.
Decompositions marks the end of the current chapter of Kiranos’ songwriting style of Amigo the Devil. This stylistic ending marks a release of all of Amigo’s work, which will be combined into one digital/ CD release, including some B-sides that show the upstarts and what’s to come in the future, including a special double-LP version to be released tentatively in August (depending on when the pressing plant finishes). Kiranos admits that the songwriting he has done felt like he was writing to appeal to what he thought people would expect or want to hear. “From now on, we’re going to go back to being a little more off-the-beaten-path—a little less expected in instrumentation and all that, a little stranger, a little more of what I feel I am,” says Kiranos. “It will be more coherent in songwriting, but I wanted to have more of that eerie feel to it—the get-under-your-skin kind of thing.” Watch out for an upcoming Amigo the Devil show in SLC this fall.