Danny Worsnop: Vice City Stories

If the Babylonian empire of 80s glam metal rose from the coal black pavement of LA’s iconic Sunset Strip, then today we are sitting at its hallowed, if unofficial, throne.

Perched at the top of Sunset Boulevard stands the Rainbow Bar and Grill, that notorious bastion of rock’n’roll decadence frequented by the likes of Lemmy, Dio and even Elvis Presley. Tucked away at the back of the Rainbow’s dimly lit dining room lies the seat of honour – the semicircular corner booth, where, since the early-70s, rock’n’roll’s Holiest of the Holy have held court while drinking, snorting and shagging themselves rotten over its slippery red vinyl. Today, seated across the booth from Metal Hammer is the Strip’s next generation of rock royalty – Danny Worsnop.

With a beat-up straw cowboy hat and a simple plaid shirt pulled across his broad shoulders, the 24-year-old frontman more closely resembles an American farmer than the lead singer of Asking Alexandria, one of England’s most successful metal exports. That is until he slaps the table and roars, “I’ve snorted more cocaine off of these tables and in the bathrooms of this fucking establishment than I have anywhere else in the world combined, bar maybe Colombia!”

Born in the north of England, Danny was barely a year old when Nirvana’s Nevermind broke the back of hair metal in 1991, casting the entire Spandexed genre into a void of cultural irrelevance. By the time he reached his teens, hair metal worship had already been relegated to kitschy VH1 specials and retro nights down the pub. And yet, coming of age in Yorkshire in the mid-Noughties, it wasn’t Maiden or Metallica that commanded Danny’s attentions. “The first band I ever saw was Bon Jovi,” he declares with pride over a glass of Cabernet and a bowl of clam chowder. “Then I went through the Rolling Stones, which led me to Mötley Crüe and Def Leppard, which obviously led into Winger and Warrant. That was just the end of it for me, because I was like, ‘Well I’m stuck here now… this is my future.’”

With this declaration, Danny’s path to stardom diverges from the majority of his heavy metal colleagues, many of whom may still cling to the notion that copping to a Winger obsession amounts to career suicide. Danny, however, dismisses such pretence, explaining, “I have a beautiful gift for not giving a fuck.”

The more that Danny absorbed the sounds of Mötley Crüe, Winger and Aerosmith, the less comfortable he felt stranded in the English countryside – eight agonising time zones away from his hair metal Shangri La. By the middle of the decade, shortly after forming Asking Alexandria with guitarist Ben Bruce, the two realised that their fortunes awaited them in the US.

“All bands back in England gig around and then try to go to America, and if you get to America, you’ve made it. We were like, ‘Fuck it, let’s go to America to begin with.’ In for a penny, in for a pound. So we flew over.”

They would quickly learn, however, that “making it” required far more than purchasing plane tickets.

With a healthy measure of bravado, Danny recalls his first few months in the United States – the archetypal, “humble origins” phase. “We came over in 2007 with no money, but we got a cheap, shitty RV, parked it in a Wal-Mart parking lot and hoped for the best. There was garbage everywhere and we were sharing packs of Ramen Noodles. It was a wild experience.” A ruthless touring regimen and a collection of heat-seeking demos earned them the attentions of the majors and a battalion of indies as well. Ultimately, they signed with Sumerian, released a range of successful albums and never looked back. Yet, even as Danny carved his niche in metalcore, it was Mr Big and Def Leppard that dominated his own playlists.

Polishing off our drinks, we slip from the dark confines of The Rainbow back onto Sunset, where we meet up with Markie McManus, Danny’s drop-dead gorgeous girlfriend, serendipitously beneath an Asking Alexandria billboard above the Roxy. The hot sun has mercifully begun its evening descent, casting golden rays across the boulevard. Oblivious to traffic and passersby, the couple kiss hungrily on the sidewalk before leading us down Sunset. “I remember when we first came to Los Angeles,” Danny recalls. “It was just me and Cameron [Liddell, AA guitarist] up front in the RV, and we see the signs start coming, ‘LA – 100 miles’, while listening to Crüe. We’re getting amped, yelling, ‘Let’s get fucked up!’”

The entrance to the Whisky A Go Go looms ahead and a pair of doormen jump out to greet Danny, pumping his hand and peppering him with greetings. We ask about his first time playing the Whisky – a rite of passage for any band navigating the West Coast.

“I went up on the first song and tore all the ligaments in my ankle,” he explains. “I did this big jump at the beginning and on the first note, I rolled my ankle. I finished the show and then went straight to hospital, where they hooked me up with a nice amount of Vicodin. I went straight to a house party and got fucked up. That was my initiation to Los Angeles. It was always going to become a very dangerous place for me – a very sinful environment – and I was OK with that. Very much so.”

For most artists, explicit tales of drugs and depravity are only recounted through the prism of hindsight, but Danny is candid about his own exploits.

“I had a house in Beverly Hills for a couple of years,” he says, “but the neighbours didn’t like me very much. We didn’t sleep and the music was loud, and at any given time, like, 40 people would be in the house, going crazy, throwing stuff off balconies… Lots of women, lots of drugs and lots of drinking, not a lot of sleeping and a whole lot of fucking and then a whole lot of denying it all the next day.”

During this time, Danny read Crüe’s notoriously lurid autobiography, which the singer viewed as an unqualified challenge. “It got even worse after reading The Dirt. That was the worst decision we could’ve made. Anything seemed possible. That’s really fucking dangerous for a group of 20-year-olds. You give them all the money and drugs and women they want and they’re going to go crazy. And we did. When you’re young, it’s hard to say ‘no’ to that.”

Asked if, during that time, he tried anything that he swore he never would, he answers, “Heroin. I always said ‘never,’ and then before you know it, I’m in the back lounge, mixing it with my coke. It was amazing! It was very short-lived though and I would never recommend it to anyone. I’d never tell someone, ‘Don’t do cocaine.’ I will, however, tell them, ‘Don’t do heroin.’

At one point, after violently convulsing in the Grafton Hotel, Danny checked into rehab, which served as more of a breather than a wake-up call. Today, while he still enjoys heroic bouts of overindulgence, he insists that he has slowed down, now ceding much of his free time to his girlfriend and his golden retriever puppy, Cowboy. Yet he’s still a long way from the sound decision-making that generally accompanies periods of sobriety. For example, he recently purchased a new Harley Davidson 883. When asked if he has any concerns about riding such a powerful piece of steel through the frenzy of LA traffic, he proclaims, “I have balls of steel and no self-preservation instinct.”

In business, however, he has developed keen instincts. He continues to buy and sell real estate around Beverly Hills, recently losing a bidding war on a property to Cee Lo Green (“When I found out who was bidding against me, I said ‘Let him have it…’ He’s wealthier than I,” he laughs). More recently he invested in ZZ Top legend Billy Gibbons’ tequila company and has acted in movies and television.

Among his friends, Danny counts the likes of Dee Snider and Sebastian Bach, and yet, until recently, the only element missing from his fantasy was his own 80s-style band. Enter We Are Harlot, Danny’s new rock machine. While he won’t neglect Asking Alexandria, Harlot affords Danny the opportunity to tap into the whisky-soaked sleaze that first inspired him. An album drops in the new year, followed by a global tour.

“It’s sexy, it’s raw and it’s dangerous but it’s not heavy. It’s just good ol’ rock’n’roll. This is more of what my voice was designed to do.”

We drop by the Viper Room, where the only action is a nameless band soundchecking inside, before circling back to the Rainbow as a pair of denim-clad hooligans hang over the patio, hooting at Danny, who beams and darts right over. It’s Andy Biersack and Ashley Purdy, from Black Veil Brides. Before leaving him to his mates, we point out that eight years ago, he was a bored uni student living in Northern England. Today he is Hollywood rock royalty, buying houses in Beverly Hills, dating models and hobnobbing with legends. Is it safe to say that his dream has finally come true?

“No,” he replies. “I have the belief that once I’m satisfied, I’ll never go any further or get any better. I can never be satisfied, which means I can never be truly happy because I always feel like it’s never enough. But it keeps me moving and gives me a reason to wake up in the morning.”

Of course, when you’re Danny Worsnop and living in Hollywood, there’s no shortage of reasons to rise and shine.

Asking Alexandria tour the UK from October. From Death To Destiny is out now via Sumerian

Joe Daly

Hailing from San Diego, California, Joe Daly is an award-winning music journalist with over thirty years experience. Since 2010, Joe has been a regular contributor for Metal Hammer, penning cover features, news stories, album reviews and other content. Joe also writes for Classic Rock, Bass Player, Men’s Health and Outburn magazines. He has served as Music Editor for several online outlets and he has been a contributor for SPIN, the BBC and a frequent guest on several podcasts. When he’s not serenading his neighbours with black metal, Joe enjoys playing hockey, beating on his bass and fawning over his dogs.