[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
If you never met him, you might mistake Amigo the Devil for a monster. The 25-year-old murderfolk maudit's most popular song is called “Perfect Wife.” With gallows humor to make Marshall Mathers wince, it details gruesome spousal abuse that escalates until the wife rifle-blasts her husband.
Two other beloved anthems are “Dahmer Does Hollywood” and “The Reluse,” which was originally titled, “Ed Gein.” The latter opens this month's self-released Diggers EP by loosely sketching the necrophiliac Wisconsin serial killer who once made a belt out of human nipples. Think Johnny Cash at his blackest, mixed with Father John Misty, if he exhumed graves at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.
“Everyone has morbid thoughts, but there's a very large gap between having insanely sick thoughts and actually doing them,” says the Miami-raised Devil, born Danny Kiranos. “But these people exist, and I'm fascinated by them. I'm sure as hell never gonna know what it feels like.”
If you saw the Devil from a distance, his heavily tattooed appearance could confirm your most sinister expectations. He has beefy, butcher's forearms and a keg-shaped upper body. But if you look closer, many tattoos are jokes: There's God with an iPod, drinking a beer and thinking about breasts; bees on his knees; and sad dinosaurs crying with the bubble quote, “God doesn't believe in us.” Several are devoted to horror movies. The rest are “just bullshit.”
This morbid sensibility has run through all his creative endeavors. He first came to L.A. at 18 to make horror films at the Los Angeles Film School. But after an impromptu cocaine and whiskey binge on the morning of orientation, he quit by noon, and instead enrolled in a local culinary school.
After graduation, he moved to San Francisco to get a job at a brewery. Growing up in Florida, he'd dabbled in metal and hardcore bands, but nothing took off like the Devil.
“One day I was bored and drunk and picked up a banjo. 'Perfect Wife' came out immediately,” he says.
He put that first song and several subsequent others on MySpace. Feedback was unanimously positive, but music stayed a hobby as the Devil pursued a master's degree in brewing, attending schools in Chicago and Berlin. He eventually moved to Orlando to open his Cassadaga Brewing, named after the Florida town deemed “The Psychic Capital of the World.” Each beer was named after a famous murder victim.
Between stints in San Diego and Orlando, the Devil recorded his debut EP, Manimals, which sold 2,000 copies almost entirely via word-of-mouth. No label, no booking agent, not even a website.
By the end of 2011, his cult's strength convinced him to sell his brewing equipment, trade his car in for a van and move back west.
Amigo the Devil has since split his time between L.A. and San Diego, recording Diggers at Sunset Lodge Studios in Silver Lake and playing shows across the country. Fans have ranged from the tattooed and savage to well-heeled 40-year-olds to frat bros. The only similarity is that they all sing along.
Just three tracks, Diggers displays why the Devil is far more than a folkie with a dark side. There's a sepulchral beauty, acid wit and ingenious arrangements. Both his larynx and his lyrics make him one of the most unique voices in music — even if he sticks only to songs of the doomed.
“The best moments for Amigo have been when I felt the worst, just hung over, terrible situations. It's not heartbroken stuff but when I feel like shit,” the Devil laughs. “There's a weird perception: Some people think I just sit at home drinking whiskey all day and beating the shit out of things — which is true.”