Dangerman Bring Salsa Vibe To Rock Radio

New York band samples Latin bandleader Willie Colon for 'Let's Make a Deal.'

Dangerman's current single, "Let's Make a Deal" (RealAudio excerpt), may sound as if it was written just in time for summer, but songwriter Dave Borla says the seeds for the song were sown 10 years ago when he picked up his eighth-grade English textbook.

"I just remember one line that talked about these people on the Lower East Side [of New York] in the summertime, partying to [Latin bandleader] Willie Colon's music," Borla recalled.

That line was still in his head when Borla hunted down a Colon cassette during a break from a Dangerman practice. He and bandmate Chris Scianni then decided to sample Colon's "Pa Columbia" for their first single -- the laid-back, Latin-flavored "Let's Make a Deal," which has been capturing the attention of modern-rock radio listeners for the past few weeks.

With the song now garnering regular airplay, the band will open for the reunited new-wave group Blondie beginning May 14 at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn., said Tracy Bofferd, a publicist at Dangerman's label, 550 Music.

An early demo of "Let's Make a Deal" so entranced producer Brendan O'Brien (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine) that he offered to produce the song on the spot. Within seven days, the band was recording it and a few other songs in O'Brien's Atlanta studio.

"I said, 'If you write some more songs that stand up to these, we'll do 'em,' " O'Brien said recently. "And sure enough, they [did]."

Dangerman's self-titled debut album stitches together a variety of sounds and textures in an attempt to re-create the colorful vibe of the New York City streets where drummer Borla and vocalist/guitarist Scianni were raised.

"On the Eastside" is propelled by charging percussion but undergirded with cinematic sound effects, while "Roll 'Em on Down" takes the groove down to a half-step. "Memphis" inserts a lolling, Southern feel to the mix.

But it's the rich hooks of "Let's Make a Deal" that are reeling in listeners. The song was inspired by a short walk though New York's garment district and the area around the city's Port Authority bus terminal, where everyone on the street seemed to be consumed with some sort of transaction.

"People are selling stereos off the back of trucks, and there's drug deals going down, and everything else you can imagine, within a two-block walk," Scianni, 26, said.

"We just had this totally intense, surrealistic experience where we saw all these deals going down within the span of five minutes," Borla, 23, added. "More than 10 different kinds of deals going down: illicit, legal, whatever. And then this song was done in five hours."

Dangerman attracted a number of well-known early supporters and friends in addition to O'Brien. Scianni and Borla were members of tennis great John McEnroe's blues-rock cover band, and they met and jammed with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and bassist Jason Newsted at McEnroe's house. Ulrich and Newsted counseled the pair to heed their own muse in the face of detractors.

McEnroe's Robin Hood approach to his band helped financially support Borla and Scianni in the lean days before the duo even had a name.

"He would use his tennis game as leverage to make sure the band could get gigs," Borla said.

"He'd be like, 'Listen, I'm not gonna show up and play [Jimmy] Connors and [Bjorn] Borg unless you book a gig for the band, get us five grand and book us hotels and plane tickets,' " Scianni said.