"I've never been a contemporary," says Dusty Sparkles. "I've always been in the shadows." The lead singer, guitarist, songwriter, and visionary of Portland-based rock band Danava is rapidly becoming a hot property now, though. After a U.S. tour with Glass Candy (for whom Sparkles also drums), Danava are coming to national attention as a glam-metal act. Their live intensity and progressive aesthetic make them a modern classic.
Musically, Danava (pronounced "Don-uh-vuh") take liberally from the Black Sabbath catalog; riffs strafe overhead like bombers raiding a city. Danava favor repetition, with choruses chanted over and over—frenetic, breathless, and building. Drums pound and bass throbs. Guitar leads scream, but melody is never forsaken. The songs always seem to resolve—no matter how far a tangent is explored. Atop all this guitar-driven bliss is Sparkles's clear, Nugent-like vocal wail; beneath it swells a bed of tasteful analog synth.
"People compare us to Hawkwind," Sparkles says. "The synthesizer angle is there, but that could be just as much Pere Ubu." Sparkles admits he's obsessed with old heavy metal, synthesizers, and Midwest rock. Clearly, the energetic insanity of a Danava show takes more cues from the Jesus Lizard than any '70s dinosaurs. But he's not stuck in one specific part of the past. "I can't even listen to Big Black anymore. There are just some things that have to sit in the vault for a while. Some things will always be there, though—like Slayer."
Sparkles, who moved to Portland from small-town Illinois a few years ago, simultaneously hit upon a formula for making old rock riffs sound new, and dressed his band in frilly shirts and flashy haircuts. Catching the ear and the eye has been crucial in getting the band noticed. So has the internet. "People started sniffing as soon as we got on MySpace. Kemado found us about a week later."
It's rare in this era for a deserving band to write great music, put on devastating concerts, and then promptly get discovered. But the savvy folks at NYC label Kemado Records heard sonic gold in Danava's epic rock and signed them before a feeding frenzy could begin. Sparkles has made it clear that he's mistrustful of the industry in general, but not of his new business partners.
The quandary facing Sparkles is that he's worked so hard for so long for so little. Now that things are finally going his way, he's concerned about staying grounded during this rapid change. "I didn't expect anything. I thought people would think we were wanking. I didn't care anymore. I was like, 'fuck it.' Just crank the guitars up!"
Regarding the upcoming show with Witchcraft, Sparkles is pained that his friends might not be able to afford the price. "I don't want it to be a $10 show. I don't want to get into those realms." He'd prefer all Danava shows were a few dollars or free. But there is a practical sensibility at work, too. "Us getting signed is the only way we can stay together or go further."
The self-titled Danava album is one of the most listenable hard-rock records ever to come out of the Northwest, up there alongside works by early Nirvana or the Sonics. These five songs simply do not quit or bullshit you for a second. The disc has its share of quirks, but all the texture and originality work in its favor, rather than making it more difficult. Thanks to an honest recording by Johnny Jewel of Glass Candy, all the sounds are fully in the red, but never slick or overproduced.
Danava boasts a heavy sci-fi element, referencing Galactic Gods and Eyes in Disguise. But there are both metaphysical angles and personal aspects to these lyrics. "'By the Mark' is kinda like being afraid of being sent to hell as a kid. Hearing about Satan and God, light and dark, was frightening." In his lyrics, Sparkles simultaneously draws from his childhood, literature, and personal relationships. Ultimately, it's the questions he asks that continue to inspire him. "Why do I have bad posture? Why can't I quit smoking? I'm probably worried about a year from now or running out of money. Dumb shit. What's my deal? For some reason I feel like if I get too damn comfy, it might make the music go away."