Courtesy of Girlie Action PR
Known as one of rock’s more cantankerous characters, singer Glenn Danzig isn’t an easy guy to interview. Even before our short phone conversation begins, we’re advised to not ask any questions about the Misfits, the horror-punk band that he founded. After they broke up in 1983, bassist Jerry Only reformed the Misfits in 1995, and Danzig sued Only last year in the attempt to get a cut of the profits from the merch that Only had licensed, allegedly in secret. Danzig lost; we’re guessing he’s still a bit peeved, so we steered clear of the topic.
Even though anything relating to the Misfits was off limits, we still wanted to learn how Danzig, who grew up in Lodi, New Jersey, in the ’70s gravitated toward horror at such an early age.
“I don’t think I ever gravitate
to anything,” he says in a recent phone interview, his booming voice suggesting just how annoyed he is by the question. “I just do what I feel like doing. I just blur the lines between what is heavy and aggressive. It’s just what I do. As a kid you’re exposed to all this stuff and like what interests you and intrigues you. I liked Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I liked history and ideas and things like that. That’s the kind of stuff that interested me.”
As much as the Misfits provided Danzig with an outlet for his fascination in the macabre, it was Samhain, a gothic rock group he formed in the wake of the Misfits’ breakup, that would catch the attention of influential producer Rick Rubin, the mastermind who formed Def Jam Records. Rubin would sign Samhain to his Def American label and then cultivated Danzig as a solo artist. The well-respected Rubin then enlisted him to write songs for rock icons such as Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash.
“They come to you and ask you to write a song for them, and it’s like, ‘Fuck yeah,’” he says when asked about writing for the Rock Hall inductees. “They were the cream of the crop. They turned out to be nice people too. You know how sometimes you don’t want to meet people you look up to musically because they turn out to be assholes? But they were the nicest people. They’re incredibly talented, and it was an honor.”
Danzig had a big hit in 1988 with “Mother,” a grim song with bellowing vocals and a heavy guitar riff. While that song introduced him to the MTV generation, he's continued to steadily cultivate an underground fanbase in the wake of that success (and has even reunited Samhain on occasion).
, his forthcoming album of covers, he revisited his past.
Fans might be surprised to find out that he’s a huge Elvis fan. He saw the Jailhouse Rock
film as a kid and found it inspirational. The new disc includes a cover of Presley’s “Let Yourself Go.”
“I was a kid and I liked watching old movies,” he explains. “Jailhouse Rock
came on and I decided I wanted to do that. I thought it was cool. His voice is just incredible. Try singing some Elvis songs — they’re not easy. He has a great voice.”
And do Danzig fans tend to be Elvis fans?
“I don’t know,” he says. “I’m sure there is a big chunk of them that are. I don’t sing like some traditional metal or punk singer. I couldn’t please everyone who likes Elvis. But someone who likes Elvis might like me."
Danzig’s cover of "Devil’s Angels," a dark number taken from a biker movie soundtrack, is more in line with what you’d expect from a Danzig covers album.
“I like old biker movies, and I remember watching Devil’s Angels
in the late ’70s,” he says. “ I thought, ‘Wow. I think that song could be a cool intro song.’ I started playing it on my guitar, and it sounded really cool. I wanted to do it since back in the day. I just told somebody yesterday that the arrangement of ‘Devil’s Angels’ is the same one that I came up back in 1979. I’ve wanted to do a covers record for a long time. Just getting around to doing it has been difficult. Before you know it, a year or two has passed and you don’t realize it.”
He says he set out to put his own stamp on the songs he covers.
“People can do what they want to do, but I don’t want to do them exactly like the original,” he says. “Everyone has heard the original so many times. People will say they like the original better because they’ve heard it a million times. I always try to bring my own take on it and take it in a different direction. The Elvis track is pretty heavy. Elvis wouldn’t have done it that way. There’s a Troggs track, and I made it super punky. It’s really just me taking a song and giving it a new life.”
The album also includes a rendition of the Sabbath tune “N.I.B.” Danzig has covered Sabbath in the past, and he treats “N.I.B.” with real reverence.
“Of course, there’s going to be Back Sabbath song,” he says. “With ‘N.I.B.,’ I made it heavier. I cut the drums to half-time. It’s pretty heavy and pretty cool. It has a good vibe. Some of those early Sabbath songs are so great, you don’t really have to do much with them.”
Danzig has said he doesn’t like touring anymore but he’s on the road this fall with the Blackest of Black tour, a heavy metal package tour that pairs him with Superjoint Ritual, Veil of Maya, Prong and Witch Mountain.
“I love being on stage and that’s the great part of touring,” he explains. “I’ll always do that. It’s the bouncing around on a bus. That’s the part I hate. I’m a workaholic. When you’re on the road, you don’t have all your stuff with you and you can’t work. A long time ago, I stopped touring and my manager asked if I would tour if they let me fly home once in a while. We did a few West Coast tours and it worked. We tried it on a national level and it kind of works so that’s why we started doing shows again. If I retired, I would find other things to do. I just keep doing what I do. At some point I’ll stop touring. That’s for sure. After this tour, I’ll take a break for a while. Then, we’ll see. There are comics and all that good stuff to keep me busy.”
Blackest of the Black Tour featuring Danzig, Superjoint Ritual, Veil of Maya, Prong, Witch Mountain, 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 23, Agora Theatre, 5000 Euclid Ave., 216-881-2221. Tickets: $29.50 ADV, $35 DOS, agoracleveland.com.