If you go
• What: Danava, in concert.
• When: 9 p.m. March 23.
• Where: Dante’s, 50 W. Burnside St., Portland.
• Cost: Free for 21 and older.
• Information: 503-226-6630 or http://www.danteslive.com.
Listening to Danava’s music puts you into a bit of a time warp.
Though formed in 2002, the Portland band’s music sounds like it comes right from the heyday of 1970s proto-metal and hard rock. Think Black Sabbath. Think big riffs. Think long hair.
Which isn’t to say the band is stuck, just looking into the past. Frontman and lead guitarist Gregory Meleney says Danava’s style — a classic-feeling update that avoids the ironic trappings of some similarly minded musicians — comes from a true appreciation of the era’s ethos.
“I’m inspired by music I grew up on and tend to throw it in the mix,” he says. “I also feel like, musically, the chances that were taken in the golden age of music were much greater than they are now. People were pushing to have their own voice.”
Featuring Meleney, bass player Zachariah Dellorto-Blackwell, rhythm guitarist Andrew Forgash and drummer Matt Oliver, Danava got its start when a group of friends moved from Illinois to Portland in 2002 and began jamming.
“Portland’s definitely a rock city,” he says. “I immediately recognized it when I arrived here.”
The band proper didn’t really get going until 2004, Meleney says, eventually leading to a record deal with Kemado Records and the release of a self-titled album in 2006, the epic, synth-heavy “UnonoU” in 2008 and the band’s last release in 2011 — the riff-tacular “Hemisphere of Shadows.”
Each record is a variation on the Danava theme: guitar-based rock music with cleanly sung vocals, fuzzy distortion and a distinctly analog vibe. While the band came to the fore at time when “retro” rock bands were a cause célèbre in the music media, Danava defined itself by not fitting that mold. The band works with a consistent feeling and within the confines of genre, but seeing them live puts to rest doubts that it’s all pretense-laden artifice.
“Well that’s the focus,” Meleney says. “Sounding like ourselves, trying different approaches. Part of it means taking the extra time to explore because there’s so many bands now it all bleeds into the mix, and I can barely find bands with their own personal stamp. It’s just a huge cauldron and the fact that most people in the world aren’t buying or really actively listening to music beyond background noise is perpetuating something I have to run away from. I’d like to think we make music for active music listeners. But as always, I do this for myself first and foremost, and I’m my own worst critic to an almost crippling degree at times.”
More than a decade in, Danava is at a point of reflection. On March 23, the band will play a free show at Dante’s in honor of the vinyl-only release of its 2004 demos.
“For years, people have asked if we still have any demos for sale and the answer was always no,” Meleney says. “I knew I wanted to release it when the time was right. We are in the middle of writing our new record, but have a tour coming, and thought getting this demo out in between records would be a good idea. It’s been fun to revisit.”
So, what have they learned, now, as relatively grizzled veterans of numerous tours in Europe and the U.S., not to mention three full-length albums?
“Well, the only thing I can say has changed is that we’ve learned our limitations and try to focus on what we can bring to the stage,” Meleney says. “Our second album (“UnonoU”) was horribly ambitious and can’t really be performed live, which sucks, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Meleney says the new songs are shorter, but in many ways harder to play. “When you only get to play four songs in a 30 to 40 minute set, it gets old.” He says the next record, to be finished after an upcoming European tour, will come out on a new, as of yet unannounced, record label.
And the last word from Danava, a statement of rock ethics?
“Stay true to yourself,” Meleney says. “And don’t get sucked into the machine.”