There’s something missing in rock, and Danny Rocco wants to deliver it.
“At the end of the day, I think art is adventurous and ambiguous and risky and cultural and interesting,” says the New York-based Rocco, who goes by Des Rocs. “I feel like a lot of people don’t inhibit that spirit of it anymore, and they are just recreating lesser versions of great things.”
Des Rocs moves swiftly. Since releasing solo his 2018 debut Let the Vultures In, and follow up Martyr Parade in 2019, he’s transfixed audiences with frenetic performances—even opening for The Rolling Stones during the summer of 2019—and was gearing up for his first big headlining tour before the world shut down earlier this year.
“Performing live is what I was put on earth to do,” says Rocco, who remembers his last live show in Detroit in March. “It was super as hard since you lay all this groundwork and getting ready to do like the first like real legit headlining tour and everything just gets closed down. But there are so many people in worse positions, so for me to complain about not performing… it’s on the back burner.”
During the pandemic, New York City shut down, and for awhile it was pretty bleak for Rocco, who grew up just a half hour outside of the city in Long Island. Even though it’s technically time “off” the road, he can’t stop thinking, moving, and creating his art, and will continue to release singles that he’ll likely compile into another EP later this year.
There’s no jumping off point with Des Rocs. He already dived deep into some rock and roll pool, experimenting in sound and scratching across genres with the more melancholy drip of Martyr Parade’s “Used to the Darkness,” his ode to a barren Times Square during the COVID shutdown, to a more arousing trance-blues rendition of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Sex Talk.”
Calling his latest two singles “quarantine songs,” even though they were written last fall, Rocco’s unorthodox, innovative rock is perfectly weaved in the ’60s psychobilly tinge of “Wayne,” through the melodically manic “I Know.” Filmed in the thick of lockdown, the video, featuring a crimson-screened Rocco, peels the skin off the sinister dub-industrial fused track’s paranoia, claustrophobia, and anxiety with Rocco bellowing I know that you may hurt some times / I know you’re in your head all night … And I know you think you fucked this up / And that you are unoriginal .
“For me, the real goal in those songs was to just totally push and challenge what a rock artist can look and sound like in a new decade, and in a new millennia,” he says. “Just take big risks on the production, get weird, and whatever feels good. It doesn’t matter if it’s technically right or wrong. There are no rules.”
His is a different elixir of rock, one drawn from icons and mixed into some nefarious concoction. “I want you to be like this song sucks or this song is amazing,” says Rocco. “If you feel like you’ve heard this before, that’s my nightmare. I’d much rather it be horrendous, because I feel like there’s just so much mediocrity in rock music that it’s a waste of everyone’s time to write anything that’s middle of the road.”
A native New Yorker, Des Rocs once played classical violin in high school and even got a law degree before rock took complete hold. New York has always been part of his DNA—literally—and seeps through his music.
“New York is so integral to my identity as a person,” says Rocco. “To me the city was this paradise I could escape to after school or on the weekends. I’d hop on the train, and I was obsessed with it.”
Rocco says he couldn’t wait to escape suburbia, move into the city, and make music, but by the time he finally relocated the early aughts scene, fused through The Strokes, Interpol and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, had already shifted.
“When I got to the city, that whole part of all the artists was long gone,” he says. “But at the same time, there is still an energy to the city that no other city has, even big cities that are comparable in size. There’s this X factor that they don’t have in so many ways and this energy and this mindset and that seeps into all my music.”
At the moment, he’s not finding the current state of the city particularly inspiring but is working with what music he’s got. “For me, a lot of my writing comes from a place that is really joyous, even the really dark records,” says Rocco. “I have to be in this extremely positive mindset where I’m just like living and breathing the song and I’m just like going, going, going. So when times get really dark and depressing, I actually don’t write depressing songs, which is really strange.”
For Rocco, evolving as an artist is key. “The most important words for me is constant evolution,” he says. “My nightmare is to put out records that sound alike. I always want the vibe to be cohesive, like it could be a hard rock song or it could be like a more rap-based song and you’re still in this desert rock universe.”
Citing some of his heroes—Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Queen—who pushed boundaries and were innovators in the genre, Rocco wants less formulaic rock and more risk, more exploration. “I love that stuff, and it’s ingested into my DNA, but I never want to try and recreate it,” says Rocco. “It’s actually the spirit of innovation that makes rock so great, not preservation.”
He adds, “For me it’s evolve or die. Things move so fast right now. Culture moves so fast right now. There are so many talents and so many colors in the palette of production that you can choose from today. You can make any sound, so why not push? Why not innovate?”
Now, Rocco is ready for whatever comes his way and will release more music throughout the year.
“With me, just expect the unexpected,” says Rocco. “I just want to make the most batshit, insane rock and roll records I can make.”