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‘Doubt Is a Powerful Tool’: Amigo the Devil Learns to Let Go

On his latest album, Danny Kiranos found that he had to be free of his fans’ expectations to see it through
Amigo the Devil
Amigo the Devil at home (Credit: Courtesy of the artist)

Danny Kiranos had his mind blown after seeing Zach Bryan perform at the 2023 FairWell Festival in Oregon. Kiranos, who records and performs as Amigo the Devil, didn’t quite know what to expect from the Oklahoma-born singer-songwriter, nor was he even all that familiar with the guy’s music, but he left feeling awed by what he’d just witnessed.  

“I was just sobbing,” Kiranos says. “It was the craziest feeling. It was like his hands extended and grabbed everybody. From the second he opened his mouth, it was the loudest singalong for an hour that I’ve ever heard. People were losing their minds.”

It’s a cool February afternoon at Kiranos’ property outside Nashville, where he relocated from Austin in 2022. He’s dressed in blue jeans and a t-shirt from the Texas band Rattlesnake Milk that’s layered under a dark flannel shirt, his long hair tied back. He chose this spot because it offered acreage and a family-compound vibe between the ranch-style home where he lives and the corrugated metal barn that he’s turning into his home recording studio. “The previous owners took care of [the property] with their heart and soul,” he says. “It had been in their family since the 1890s, which is insane.”

Like Bryan, Kiranos has his own growing legion of fans who obsess over his words. An Amigo the Devil concert is often a boisterous communal singalong, with Kiranos prowling the stage — a banjo or guitar in his hands — and belting out lyrically dense folk songs that can be uproariously funny or heartbreakingly sincere in tone — sometimes simultaneously — while fans enthusiastically shout the words back at him. 

“His shows are a wild ride — I’ve seen tears, belly laughs, proposals, and even a fight or two,” recalls singer-songwriter Stephanie Lambring, who opened shows for Amigo the Devil in 2021. “Danny has fostered a force of a fanbase. Amigo fans are kind, loyal, and fiercely supportive, both of each other and Danny.” 

When it came to making his new album Yours Until the War Is Over, however, Kiranos found that he had to let go of his fans’ expectations to see it through. That meant shedding his ego when he was tempted to say something that didn’t serve the song and welcoming doubt in the hope of finding the most honest version of every story. “Doubt is a really powerful tool if you know that it is a tool and not a state of being,” he says. The release puts Kiranos in the driver’s seat as producer and showcases a ferocious songwriting talent whose work is unfailingly humane, humorous, and completely singular in the world of roots and folk music. 

A dedicated studio space would’ve been handy while Kiranos was recording Yours Until the War Is Over, which was recorded in his house after another booking fell through. Improvising, he and his collaborators cleared out two rooms of the basement and got to work, running audio cables through the air conditioning ducts. The tracking room, a cozy home bar space with wooden walls and a metal ceiling, is mostly empty except for an automatic scoring machine from a bygone Nashville bowling alley and a shelf holding beer steins (and bones of once-living things) that runs the length of a wall.

Amigo The Devil
Amigo The Devil in studio (Credit: Visons Of The Abyss)

One of the persistent descriptions of Amigo the Devil’s music has to do with its perceived darkness and violence, perhaps owing to a handful of early songs Kiranos wrote from the perspective of famous serial killers and possibly his penchant for writing minor-key melodies. Those descriptors followed him through albums like Everything Is Fine and Born Against, even as he’s tempered that darkness with doses of humor, deep introspection, and imaginative yarns.

“It doesn’t matter how many songs I write that are not that, everyone goes, ‘That’s the serial killer guy. That’s the dark guy,’ But then it’s also my fault because the lyrics are still dark,” Kiranos says, sighing. He’s sitting at a pub table in his future studio, where the walls are lined in wood from a century-old tobacco barn and the air is perfumed with the aroma of cigar smoke. It’s warm and inviting in here, an indication of someone who’s just as attuned to sensory pleasures as the bleaker aspects of living. 

To that end, Yours Until the War Is Over is still dark in places, but it dials back any feeling of menace in favor of vivid storytelling and unflinching honesty. It’s even quite fun at times. “I’m Going to Heaven” is a giddy tale of falling into a ketamine hallucination and threatening the devil, complete with a dead-eyed gospel choir, while “Once Upon a Time at Texaco, Pt. 1” is a wild story of a liquor run that goes horribly wrong when his character decides to rob a convenience store. 

Amigo The Devil
Amigo The Devil (Credit: Alison Clarke Cliqmo)

“I didn’t want to do the aggressive violence anymore,” Kiranos says, citing his songs like the vengeance tale “Drop for Every Hour” as being excessive. “I thought if we’re going to do violence, let’s be fun about it. I didn’t want to be a bogeyman on this album.”

As a new approach in his creative process, Kiranos worked with a co-writer in guitarist David Talley, who helped him shape and refine his song ideas. “It was cool because I finally had somebody to funnel the chaos down into,” he says. “My brain is a mess, [but] he was able to go, ‘I think you mean this.’ And I’d be like, ‘YES!’”

That also meant Kiranos had to acknowledge that writing songs, beloved though they may be by fans, isn’t a life-or-death pursuit. “There’s nothing to fear about it. Even if you make a shitty song, who cares? It doesn’t matter,” Kiranos says. “It’s not this life-altering dilemma if you fail, which is awesome. You can just do it again and again.” 

That realization helped Kiranos find the human core in every composition. “Cannibal Within,” originally conceived as a meditation on the harmful ways we try to counter aging, went from being “pompous” (in his words) to being one of the album’s most powerful statements on regret. “It’s the little bit inside of us that eats away at ourselves,” he says. “We all live many lives, but I get stuck thinking about them a lot, and I have a lot of those lifetimes I’m not thrilled with. Those are the moments that beat the shit out of me.”

More complicated still, “Garden of Leaving” is a crushingly sad story about two parents in the immediate aftermath of losing a baby, which Kiranos somehow sings with nuance. On the other hand, the riotous “One Day at a Time” is a rag that Kiranos delivers with jazzy elegance and flashes of Broadway theatricality. The penultimate track “Stray Dog” employs a booming R&B arrangement and builds to a joyously noisy climax as band members cut loose with a series of feral, unrestrained howls. Fans at the shows are undoubtedly going to hold their partners tight and howl along when Amigo the Devil plays it.

Kiranos is still fascinated with how that happens, writing something personal and seeing it become something fans will latch onto when it’s out there in the world. For his own ability to stay productive, he had to keep those expectations at bay this time around. The songs are just songs, he realized, and he was probably right. And yet, depending on who hears them, the songs are so much more.

“I love, love, love how vast the space between something just being what it is and the impact it has on people,” he says, moving his hands far apart on the table. “That space between is magnificent. That’s the universe we don’t understand. Why does this silly little thing get to here, and how? I don’t know, but that’s fucking cool.”