Denise Mercedes Interviews
NYC breakout band Tower's
hotshot guitarist James Danzo
Rocker James Danzo, a Queens, NYC native and resident, is a powerful and versatile guitarist/songwriter in the quickly gaining momentum band Tower – a badass and meticulously energized 5-piece metal/thrash/classic rock mash-up band with a fierce and highly lauded debut album of the same name on The End Records (Danzig, The Zombies, HIM, Simon Kirke of Bad Company, Jethro Tull, +). The name Tower connotes strength, fortitude, rising above -- and only just releasing their album on October 28, 2016, Tower has jump-started up to this commanding image by instantly scoring multiple times in critic picks for the Top 10 Best New Albums of 2016!
Metal Injection 10/10:
“One of the hardest hitting, world shaking, mind breaking records to ever cross my path…hands down one of the most talented acts to hit the scene in the past twenty years…"
The Pure Rock Shop Top 10 Albums of 2016:
“By far one of the most exciting debut albums I have ever heard. They have crafted an instant classic.”
Tower are probably my favorite new band from 2016.”
“Big Apple metal the way it should be: fast, dirty, sexy and hard as a mofo!”
James Danzo is also well known and respected on the music scene for having been in numerous projects over the years. He began by playing acoustic guitar at age 9 and within a year, had gone electric. Always into Metal, James was already in a band by the 8th Grade. Wasting little time, his first proper gig was in 1998 at CBGB’s with his high school band Pathogen. Then James invested quite a few years cutting his rock teeth by playing in different situations, always ready to try new things. Some of the earlier groups he’s performed with include Hardcore band The Mugs (2000), in which he played bass; Thrash Metal band Vermefug (2007-2014), who released one album on independent label Old Metal Records, part of the Deceased label. James also spent 5 years in the regional band Deceased, a Death Metal outfit from Virginia (2011-2015). Further sharpening his chops, he also had time for two on-and-off concurrent projects: The Psycho Hippies, a loose party-type group with two women singers – including Sarabeth Linden who now fronts Tower, who covered a wide and eccentrically dynamite variety of classics from the 50’s-70’s including the Ronettes, Temptations, Flaming Groovies, Jefferson Airplane amongst others (2012-2013); and Holy Diva, an ‘all Dio’ female-fronted band again featuring Sarabeth Linden on vocals, with material taken from all eras of RJD (2013-2014). Info on these former early projects of James is included in this interview.
Members of the Queens/Brooklyn/NYC band Tower include:
Sarabeth Linden, vocals
James Danzo, guitar
Zak Penley, guitar
Philippe Arman, bass
Justin Sherrell, drums
James, you stated to me your personal Top 5 influences as a musician/guitarist were “Tony Iommi – the Master, Randy Rhoads, Glen Tipton (Judas Priest), Marty Friedman (Megadeath), Adrian Smith (Iron Maiden).” In your years of experience playing in all kinds of bands -- and being a fan raised on the guitar gods of golden age of Metal, do you now feel that you are getting to truly express yourself as the guitarist you sought out to be in Tower?
Jesse Balgley, James Danzo, Sarabeth Linden, Zak Penley, Philippe Arman.
Photo by James O’Brien
Dee, first of all thanks for this opportunity! I believe that Tower has struck gold finding each other. It’s unlike anything I’ve been involved with in the past. As far as I’m concerned we truly hit the sweet spot musically. We take influences from all over the place, be it thrash, soul, pop, hardcore, classic rock, oldies, punk, or whatever, and blend it all into this strange brew of ours. Granted everybody is in love with their own band so I’ll spare you. Our music is easy to find, decide for yourself!
I understand that you and Tower vocalist Sarabeth Linden have been in a couple of previous bands together (Psycho Hippies and Holy Diva), and also that she and guitarist Zak Penley had jammed. How did you all wind up in this one group and how long has Tower been together?
I met a lot of people just from hanging around and being in so many bands over the years. I first met Sarabeth in 2010 through one of my band mates at the time. Our first musical collaboration was with the Psycho Hippies, which was fun but not a serious band to me. We covered oldies, the Ramones, the Flamin’ Groovies, The Temptations, stuff like that. We’d play the up-tempo tunes kinda like the Ramones would, and we did ballads, disco, soul, and Motown. That lasted about a year and a half, from 2012-13. We formed a Dio cover band soon after and performed under a couple of different names. That lasted about as long as the Psycho Hippies did, but we took it more seriously, having to do justice to Dio, Iommi, Ritchie Blackmore and Vivian Campbell. You can look up videos of Holy Diva on YouTube but I fuck up on every one of ‘em! I’m self-critical, but overall we were pretty good.
By the end of 2014 most of the projects I was involved in sputtered out. Vermefüg officially ceased when Jeff threw in the towel. That’s the same Jeff who produced the Tower album. Me and him shredded like a motherfucker in Vermefüg. When I joined in 2007, we went straight to the studio and recorded an EP and then went on tour for three weeks straight after. That’s how you do it. Music is an expensive hobby, and I have too much drive and too little patience to spend much time with bands that don’t wanna go all the way. And this band did. Well, we tried, at least. We played crossover with endless guitar solos and put out an album in 2009 I’m still proud of called Wet Nightmare.
It was printed and distributed by Old Metal Records, a label run by King Fowley of the bands Deceased and October 31. Deceased is one of the original Death Metal bands, formed in Virginia in 1985 and the first band ever to sign with Relapse in 1991. I spent years following Deceased and had the privilege of playing with them from 2011 to 2015. With them being based in the DC area, eventually I had to hand in my resignation due to the distance and the complications it brought along. Everything was amicable.
In late 2014 I started a project called Eat Lead that I still want to do, which was more Hardcore than Vermefüg and tuned down. Within a short time I had a falling out with the drummer and Eat Lead was aborted. By 2015 all of my projects were over. I gave notice that it would be my last year with Deceased. By that point I wondered if I’d just had enough. It didn’t take long before Sarabeth invited me into this thing she started with Zak. They had been jamming with a drummer and a guitarist and bassist who didn’t work out. She sent me some demos and I said I would come and jam. That happened in April 2015 and it was my first time playing with Zak and Joey Bouchard, the drummer on our first demo. By the second rehearsal, Philippe was on board and Tower became the band we know today.
Who writes the music? The lyrics? How do you all work this out?
We’re lucky that everybody writes in this band. Constructing a song usually starts with one good riff, at least that’s how I’m used to doing it, and then build it up - essential parts being the intro, verse, chorus, middle, and conclusion. You have to designate which riffs will become which parts, put them into sequence, and lastly decorate it with a vocal melody on top. 99% of the vocal melodies and lyrics are written by Sarabeth. Philippe writes vocal harmonies with her. A handful of new songs we’ve written since we finished the album were initiated by melodies Sarabeth wrote, with riffs being the second step in the process, after the vocal. I wasn’t used to working like that, but it’s been real successful. I think people will like the new songs.
The End Records, 2017
The band has played locally gaining fans and notice, even opening twice for the legendary Uli Jon Roth of the Scorpions -- and have done some initial US touring in support of the album. How did that go? What were the crowd reactions as Tower is a brand new band?
We’ve had some off the wall shows but we get positive reactions every time. Our focus now is getting in front of bigger audiences, which is what’s going on with Uli. Playing BB King’s is a milestone. Now we have a record label, management and an agent and as you can see they’re doing their job!
Let’s talk about the album cuts a bit. I have to say that Sarabeth channels some of that haunting Grace Slick power and authority. She’s a real dynamo. You and Zak (guitar) are a perfectly in-synch team.
Thanks! We might make it look easy but it ain’t!
It was very touching to discover that one of the ‘covers’ you added in “I’ve Never Been More Alive” was a homage to your friend Mikey Hodges of Pop Zeus, from Brooklyn, who had cut the track then died in an motorcycle accident and never got to play it. You honored his legacy and memory in a true expression of loyalty and friendship.
Mikey came to New York from Lebanon, Indiana around 2010. One of our friends throws a big party every summer upstate and that was where I first met him in 2012. I saw this dude from the window of a car I had passed out in, shooting roman candles in the woods at 5 or 6 in the morning. He was genuinely one of the nicest people, so easy to get along with. That, combined with having a large circle of mutual friends, definitely forged a bond, but honestly, we only hung out a handful of times from 2012-13. He moved to the West Coast in 2013 and died in a motorcycle accident in LA in December 2014. He’d been working on a new album and strangely enough, the only song they got to complete was called “I’ve Never Been More Alive.” It came out about a month later. We thought it was a beautiful and powerful song and decided to adopt it.The original can be heard at
Would you please provide some insights into the album’s songs – how they came about, the messages? It’s interesting to know some behind-the-scenes info on how someone creates a deliberate and full body of work like this album.
“Tower” Writing is usually straightforward for us, but this one had a lot of twists and turns. It started when me, Zak and Philippe were hanging out at Sarabeth’s house. I don’t remember why we were there, maybe for a meeting, but we had been rehearsing a lot and she was burnt out on playing music that night and asked us not to touch her guitars. Of course we didn’t listen and at some point Zak picked up an acoustic and played this riff that was an instant keeper. If you know the song, it’s the riff that happens just before the verse, and is also the last riff in the song. I recorded it on my phone and the first attempt by me and Philippe to write and arrange it ended up scrapped completely. It took all sorts of experimentation and some moments of frustration, but after about a month, the four of us confidently decided on what we felt was the perfect arrangement. And we demo’ed the song at rehearsal. After we played it, the drummer at the time tried to tell us we didn’t know how to write songs. We got another drummer. Favorite song on the record.
“Party” (Ready to Roll) Started from a Zak riff, the one in the intro and the chorus. He’d been kicking that riff around for a while and we knew it was one of those building block riffs that we will definitely make a song out of. We had no direction for it until Sarabeth said one day at rehearsal that she was feeling a Grand Funk vibe. I came up with the verse riff and instinctively she sang “We’ve been having a party…” the song pretty much wrote itself after that. Lyrically it’s not too heavy, just a party theme ala Sam Cooke and Southside Johnny.
“Hold On To Me” The only song on the album taken from our first studio session back in May 2015. We favored the attack of original drummer Joey Bouchard on this one. At the time, we were still forming our identity and this song is a little out of character for what we turned into. It suits the album and we’re proud to have made it but it hasn’t been in the set list for a while.
“Flames” Written by accident. One day at rehearsal, probably the very first one, I played the verse riff out of nowhere, off the cuff. Sarabeth had lyrics to some other song out on her phone at that moment and used them to make up a vocal line on the spot. We decided to write a brand new song around our spontaneous creation. If she hadn’t latched onto the riff right then, it likely would’ve been forgotten. This goes to show the power of collaboration. It’s fast and showcases some vicious dueling guitars and is the second most common show opener after “Tower.”
“Raceway Rock” A dude named Dan Rozelle introduced Sarabeth to Marge Raymond, ex-lead singer of a band called Flame that featured Jimmy Crespo on guitar. Jimmy replaced Joe Perry in Aerosmith between 1979 and 1984. Steven Tyler was at a personal low back then, and what ended up happening is everyone in Aerosmith formed a new band with Marge called Renegade. They were just about to make an album when Steven got it together enough to record “Rock in a Hard Place” and Renegade dissolved. Anyway, Kicks was Marge’s band from around the same time and they recorded “Raceway Rock” in the early ‘80s. Sarabeth is her friend now and she introduced us to this song. It’s one of our favorites to play live. Check out Marge’s official site: www.margeraymond.com
“Mountains” The oldest Tower original. Zak and SaraBeth worked out an arrangement before I was on board, and once me and Philippe joined, we tweaked the intro and the song underwent something of a transformation before our first recording session. I had no guitar solo prepared for the song that day, and what I improvised on the first take ended up being the solo that I stuck with live, and on the album.
“Elegy” I wrote the main riff at one of our first practices in April 2015. We kicked it around for about a month before the chorus finally came to me one day after work. I was supposed to go to SB’s house and work on some other song when suddenly this chord progression and vocal melody came to me. I had to pick the guitar up and figure out what was going on in my head - it took a few tries! When I got to her house I said “you gotta check this out, I have a new part for that other song.” Once we got it down, the rest of it came together literally in minutes. Because of the pulsating beat I figured the song might be about sex or partying, but when she wrote the lyrics about death it became even more powerful.
Where can fans find your music?
Tower were invited guests at this year’s Revolver Music Awards, with your vocalist Sarabeth appearing on stage. Can you tell our readers how that came about?
Our label, The End Records, has come through big-time getting us press and invitations to events like this. It was a strong statement for a new band like us to walk the black carpet with Megadeth, Anthrax, Ace Frehley, Zakk Wylde, Doyle, and many others that night. Sarabeth used to work for Sirius XM and knows Jose Mangin, who co-hosted the awards with Dave Mustaine. Jose’s been keeping “Elegy” in steady rotation on Liquid Metal. He invited Sarabeth onstage to give away a prize, and he gave a shout out to the band while she was up there. Tower got cheered upstairs at Webster Hall before ever playing a note there! Aside from that, my favorite part was meeting Brian Slagel, founder of Metal Blade Records who discovered Metallica, Slayer, and many more. His Metal Massacre compilation series is almost sacred to me. You can tell I was stoked looking at the photo.
What is the band’s touring plan for 2017?
We’ve got a couple East Coast dates in March, hitting Delaware, North Carolina, and Virginia before we open for Uli Jon Roth in Pennsylvania and New York City. Check the itinerary at the top right of the article. There’s a US tour booked from April 21 - May 21 but we can’t talk about it yet.
As a longtime dedicated musician, and someone who has hit the nail on the head with the right band/right lineup/right sounds – what advice do you have for those working on their chops and/or band, hoping to achieve some of the success you are experiencing in Tower?
All I can say is, if music is truly your calling, then quitting would never cross your mind. And if it does, you won’t stay retired for long. Finding the right group and keeping it together is difficult, but on the bright side, the more people you play with the better you’ll get. Don’t let yourself get bogged down by unmotivated or untalented people. Persistence will lead you to the pot of gold eventually. Remember that music is collaborative: know your role, serve the songs, and don’t stifle other peoples’ style. Second guess yourself, but execute with confidence. PRACTICE!!!
Musicrealms thanks James Danzo for this interview.
Writer Denise Mercedes: Artist Endorsed by Hagstrom Guitars of Sweden Founder/guitarist of classic early NY punk band The Stimulators.
Tribute work: Lead guitarist of Girls Girls Girls (2006-2016) and Bible Black NYC *An original project in the works.
TOWER TOUR DATES 2017
Friday 3/10: Wilmington, Delaware @BarXIII
Saturday 3/11: Raleigh, NC @Slim's Downtown
Sunday 3/12: Richmond, VA @25 Watt
Monday 3/13: Sellersville, PA @Sellersville Theater
Tuesday 3/14: New York, NY @BB King's