Dusty Sparkles: long hair plus bangs, like Mick Fleetwood in ’74, and you better believe he shakes it around sweatily when he grapples guitar and synth (sometimes simultaneously), ’cause that’s what it’s for.
His band, Danava: retro plus progressive, terms that sound like they’d cancel each other out. But no, they explode. Like Alka-Seltzer plus Cold Duck. Only better.
“We just tried to do whatever we could do, and that’s exactly what we’re doing,” tautologizes Sparkles in an appealing dudely drawl. “I know there are people out there who think it’s just a bit too much, for sure.” But better too much than not enough, right? “Yeah.”
The Portland band’s debut CD is 45 minutes but only five tracks, which averages out to . . . lemme get my calculator, but the songs are long. The makers made the lengths long by adding parts, changing tempos and adding more parts, the way Hawkwind or early Pink Floyd used to do with such boundless abandon. “My problem,” Sparkles confesses, “is that I just can’t stop adding.”
The music sounds jammy without actually jamming much, Sparkles’ muffy Fever Tree–like guitar riffing, stuttering and wailing through a battlefield of buzzing synthesizer, gummy bass and crashing drums laid down by fellow Portlanders Rockwell, Dell Blackwell and Buck Rothy. We know it’s possible to trip and truck in space, and Danava serve notice that to boogie is also an option, pushing galaxy’s edge with aerobic physicality. (Consult the stomping bolero “By the Mark”: “You’re screaming and vengeance must be sought/With minds full of venom may dissonance be brought.”) The universe expands further out of Sparkles’ insistent, melodic vocals, echoing in an interstellar zone somewhere between Rod Evans and Geddy Lee — “The echo’s mainly just to blend together all the fuckin’ dirty stuff.” Most unpunk, which sure seems fun right now.
Sparkles’ girlfriend made him do it. “I’ve been playing music since, like, ’89. I would have a band, but I never cared, y’know? My girlfriend was like, ‘Why don’t you actually do something, man? You never know.’ She’s really good about being perceptive, the energies and things like that, so I just kind of trusted her on it. It’s gone better than I ever thought it would.”
Danava tossed some tunes onto MySpace a couple of years ago, and on tour, without any real publicity, they encountered audiences already pumping fists. “We basically made our name,” says Sparkles, “on a stinky little demo.”
Now Danava find themselves boasting a full schedule, a growing reputation and a new album with a quintessentially illegible logo designed by Sparkles himself. Maybe the success is partly due to not figuring out what audiences want. “I don’t care how people perceive us, really,” shrugs Dusty.
Though Sparkles also digs hip-hop, experimental and a lot of other music, he first visited progland via his father, who dumped Amon Düül II’s Yeti on him when he was 6. “My dad was stationed in Munich in the Army from about ’69 to ’71; I think maybe he got a case of trying to be hip or something. He was into good music — he gave me Alice Cooper, Hawkwind, even ZZ Top, which he still loves, and Groundhogs, Black Sabbath. The first guitarists that really struck me the most were Brian May, Tony Iommi, maybe Mick Ronson — luckily I had a copy of Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World when I was a kid.”
The band name is pronounced like Donovan without the final N. “It came from an ex-member who used to play synthesizers with us. He was born into a Krishna kinda household. It’s an old Sanskrit word for, basically, demon. It’s hard to explain what a danava is — they aren’t totally bad. They are wise demons in a way, but they are more sour and more ego-bloated.”
Sparkles identifies with that? “I definitely do. And I’m trying to grow beyond it — it’s a personal challenge. It’s just exorcising demons, for me, making music. But you can probably expect to catch some crazy energy by having that name.” Or maybe the crazy energy caught the name.
Is the world ready to catch hell from Danava? “I don’t see us being massively appealing,” says Sparkles, “but I could be wrong.”
Genderwise, who’s listening? Doesn’t proggy stuff draw almost exclusively dudes? Not always. “We get a lot of females comin’ out — it’s cool. Different cities bring different results, but for the most part we have just as many women there.”
Danava and Sweden’s Sabbath-soaked Witchcraft play the Echo, Sat., Oct. 28.