The storied rise of Portland's hippest metal band is by now so familiar to indie rockers and headbangers alike, it might as well be in book form: Young malcontents escape the cornfields of rural Illinois, form a band in psychedelic Portland, discover doom in the last days of disco punk, and score a big-label contract that will Robin Hood their lives. For some people in the music business, that book already exists. Danava's press kit—47 pages in all—arrived last Thursday with a copy of their new album, UnonoU. And the funny thing is, it's all kind of too good to be true.
The story begins with frontman Dusty Sparkles and drummer Buck Rothy growing up in Quincy, Illinois, a small agricultural city on the banks of the Mississippi River. Central Illinois collectively speaks in a slightly mismatched Southern drawl. Sparkles retains a bit of the accent, but to think of him as a country boy is to negate his age, 31, and his four years in Chicago—a fact never mentioned in the sprawling press kit.
"I ended up moving to the Six Corners for a while," Sparkles says, referring to the center of Wicker Park, a one-time arts hub. During these Chicago years, he followed the city's free-jazz scene and befriended Drag City's Steve Krakow, who has since released tracks by the Bitter End—a defunct 1960s garage band fronted by Sparkles' father—on the Galactic Zoo Dossier CD zine. Rothy attended Southern Illinois University in downstate Carbondale, meeting bassist Dell Blackwell and planning a larger escape for 2002.
"They were like, 'Well, let's go somewhere random,'" Sparkles explains. "I was like, 'Hey, what do you guys think of Portland, Oregon?' And they were like, 'Yeah, perfect.'"
When Danava formed in 2003, Sparkles was drumming for local no-wave troupe Glass Candy. The association with Glass Candy and their dare-to-be-synthetic music triggered some confusion when Sparkles emerged as the singer/guitarist for what he calls, simply, "a rock band." With time-machine clothing and arguably egregious haircuts, Danava blended Hawkwind prog with Ozzy hard rock on their 2006 eponymous full-length, and they're still getting static for it.
"There's a lot of that commotion going on, and people are saying 'retro,'" Sparkles sighs. He defends the band's measured image (which is still excruciatingly vintage), arguing that the 1970s, for example, weren't even authentic. "They were trying to be retro, but there was this strange, new quality about it," he enthuses, drawing comparisons to 1950s blues and 1930s theater. "Pretty much every phase of music has been retro in a lot of ways."
This chapter ends with UnonoU, an album nearly as sprawling as those 47 pages. The group spent over a month recording at Kemado Studios in New York City with engineer Chris Ribando, known for his work with Madonna and Michael Jackson. "He's not one of those guys at all," Sparkles laughs. "He fucking despises that shit." The CD veers from Blue Öyster Cult FM rock into Clockwork Orange synth horror ("Where Beauty & Terror Dance"). It also bridges Terry Riley minimalism with the timelessly weird time signatures of King Crimson ("The Emerald Snow of Sleep"). Showing brass fringe and hard-rock soul, Danava escape modernity again.