"Don't ask any stupid questions." Glenn Danzig is smiling as he tells you this, but you know he's serious. The occasion is a career-spanning interview in Los Angeles with this maverick of punk rock and heavy metal, this vampire Elvis with the Mr. Universe build. He's been at this since the Blank Generation, leading an unlikely procession of monumental, hard-charging acts: the Misfits, Samhain and, for the last 30 years, a band he calls Danzig.
He's tangled before with journalists and photographers, and is quick to point out that he did it all without ever once before appearing on Revolver's cover. So when you tell Mr. Danzig it's only the answers that matter, and not your stupid questions, he looks unconvinced. "My attitude is, I'm doing you a favor, you're not doing me a favor," he says, looking more amused than truly confrontational.
Anyone who says the man lacks a sense of humor has not seen his rare 2016 acting appearance on Portlandia, as a neighborly Transylvanian sunning himself in black shorts and shades while imparting beach-going wisdom to an awkwardly Goth couple played by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein: "Are you familiar with Billabong?"
His life's work has been a public adventure into loud music, indie comic books and, soon, an original horror movie. At 63, Danzig is in the midst of directing an anthology film based on characters from his macabre and sexually charged Verotik comics. Danzig is writer-director-composer of the film, financed by Cleopatra Records. On screen, your wicked host will be the horned demoness Morella, leading viewers deeper into the twisted caverns of Danzig's imagination, overflowing with swords, monsters, blood and boobs.
All of this activity remains rooted in his decades as a musician. In 2018, this Dark Knight of Lodi, New Jersey, has been celebrating the 30th anniversary of Danzig, his first solo album and his inaugural collaboration with producer Rick Rubin. That recording set the stage for much that followed, introducing the career-defining single "Mother," and leading all the way to last year's Black Laden Crown, his first album of original material since 2010 and, shockingly, one of his best.
There were wild experiments along the way — going classical with the Black Aria series or dabbling in industrial in the mid-Nineties, layering his rich, manly vocals beneath a layer of distortion. Danzig even wrote songs on order for his heroes Johnny Cash ("13") and Roy Orbison ("Life Fades Away").
Most surprising of all was his left-field reunion with the Misfits, the band of creepshow punks that launched his career in the pre-digital age. It was made possible by a legal truce between Danzig and bassist Jerry Only. The OG Misfits (including guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein) reconvened onstage for the first time since 1983 at Riot Fest in Denver in September of 2016, and have continued sporadically at select shows across the country. (Their next gig is in April 2019 in Chicago.)
For Danzig, following one's own path is a way of life and the key to his longevity. "You have to stay true to yourself and stick to your guns," he says. "That's the way you do it. Anything else is BS."
AT THIS STAGE OF YOUR CAREER, WHAT MATTERS THE MOST TO YOU?
GLENN DANZIG Doing cool shit. Leaving my stamp on stuff that I always wanted to do. Like, of course, the Verotik movie, and doing something out of the blue like a Danzig Sings Elvis record. I'll just pick some really cool songs that I love by Elvis and do them as true as I can to him, but also true to myself. Hopefully, it'll come out in 2019.
AFTER THE MISFITS AND SAMHAIN, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU REALLY MATURED AS AN ARTIST BY THE TIME YOU GOT TO THAT FIRST DANZIG RECORD IN 1988?
That was definitely a turning point. [Producer] Rick Rubin got right away what I always wanted. His vision was my vision and he said all the things that I wanted to hear: "I don't want you to just be an artist that puts out a record and then three or four years later everyone's forgotten you. I want people 30 years later still buying your records and citing them as influential" — like the Velvet Underground's first record and stuff like that, where people go back to them.
CLEARLY SOMETHING WORKED BETWEEN YOU TWO.
In the beginning it was really good. I enjoyed working with Rick a lot, but then it started getting weird. I remember we had lunch and he was telling me he enjoyed the business end of it more than the musical end, and I go, "That's not good." And it was right when he started getting less involved with the records than he used to be. So we fired him as a producer on Danzig III: How the Gods Kill and I produced it. He was the executive producer. Then he got the picture and was a little more hands-on. On the next two records we both shared producer credit.
THOSE FIRST THREE RECORDS DEFINED WHAT YOU WERE ABOUT. WAS IT A REVELATION TO HEAR THAT STUFF AFTER IT WAS DONE OR WERE THE FINISHED RECORDINGS EXACTLY WHAT YOU EXPECTED?
When a record comes out you're always, "Oh, I could have did this, I could've did that," but you gotta let it go because at the time when you finish it, it's the best that you can possibly make it. Just move on.
YOU RELEASED AN EP WITH A REMIXED VERSION OF "MOTHER" AND IT BECAME A BIG HIT IN 1993. WAS THAT ALL POSITIVE, OR DID THAT SONG ECLIPSE EVERYTHING ELSE?
There's some negatives because then the labels are like, "When are we getting the next 'Mother'?" And I'm like, "You're not getting a next 'Mother.' That's the song." The story with the EP is really funny because I had to fight with the label to put that record out. The label said, "EPs don't sell. Name me one EP that sells." I'm like, "I'll name you two: Metallica's Garage Days and Nine Inch Nails' Broken." And they're like, "OK, we'll put it out." [Laughs] So we went back out on the road for nine months straight. We got back from Japan and Australia and "Mother" is a massive hit.
WHAT'S THE STORY BEHIND THE SONG?
I wrote it about the PMRC. At the time, Tipper Gore and [Vice President] Al Gore were trying to censor music and stop records from coming out. I was so infuriated. I wrote that song and right from the start I knew it was something special. Rick said, "This is a good song." But the video we did for MTV — Rick told them it was a censored copy. I guess he accidentally gave them the uncensored version and they played it and flipped out. MTV then banned everything Rick did — at the time he had Slayer, Danzig, Andrew Dice Clay and the Geto Boys. Rick was on the blacklist.
THERE'S AN UPSIDE TO BEING ON A BLACKLIST. IT'S LIKE THE PARENTAL GUIDANCE STICKER.
Oh, we love it. We would get stickered because I was saying stuff they were offended by — questioning religion and questioning government. That's a no-no. You get stickered for that. Now you get kicked off the internet because you're fake news, [laughs] because you're not doing the government narrative.
YOU WERE TOURING PRETTY HEAVILY THOSE YEARS. DID YOU ENJOY IT MORE THEN?
I certainly enjoyed it more then. I don't really tour now. I'll do a string of dates and that's it. I don't like spending months on a bus and not being home.
HOW WAS IT 20 YEARS AGO?
It would get to you eventually. You would definitely get burned out on the road really quick if you were doing four in a row with no time off. We don't just stand there and play. I jump all over the stage, running all over, I'm sweating every night. You have to replenish that or eventually you get really emaciated and it starts fucking with your brain. You're dehydrated and in sweaty clothes. Sometimes you get hypothermia, too. Really got to be careful.
WHEN YOU RELEASED THE FIRST INSTRUMENTAL BLACK ARIA RECORD IN 1992, A LOT OF PEOPLE WERE CAUGHT BY SURPRISE.
I put a disclaimer on there so people knew this is not your typical Danzig record. It said "Glenn Danzig." It didn't cost me much to record. The artwork might've been more than the recording of it and it ended up going to No. 1 on Billboard's classical chart, which surprised me and I ended up selling tons of them.
BY THE TIME YOU DID BLACK ARIA II IN 2006, IT WAS STILL A SIDE OF YOUR MUSIC THAT YOU WANTED TO EXPLORE.
I've always dug certain classical music, like Wagner, Prokofiev, a lot of different stuff. On the first one, the five pieces were about Paradise Lost. For the next one I thought, I'm going to talk about Lilith — the first wife of Adam — this female character that has been buried for generations because people are scared of a powerful, independent woman. She becomes a demoness and is banished to the desert. It was something I thought I could do something cool with.
ASIDE FROM MUSIC, HORROR MOVIES AND LITERATURE HAVE IMPACTED THE WAY YOU SEE THE WORLD.
First of all, you've got to define horror. For me, politics is horror. Religion is horror. True crime is horror — but it's not as horrific as hundreds of thousands of people being killed in a genocidal war. So who's the bigger murderer? Some politician who decides he's gonna off tens of thousands of people at a time or Charles Manson, who may or may not have been involved in the killing of four or five people and didn't actually kill them? Are people who get killed in drone strikes any less dead than the people that get killed in their apartment?
WHETHER IT WAS FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND OR SOMETHING A LOT MORE REAL, HORROR BECAME PART OF YOUR MUSIC.
I definitely saw a connection. In the beginning, [there] was the Misfits. Frankenstein is such a tragic tale because they're killing this monster — when in the beginning he's trying to be friends. It's a metaphor for a lot of different things: change and not fitting into that square hole if you're a round peg. At any cost we want to kill the monster.
ARE YOU JUST AS INTERESTED IN THOSE OLD MOVIES AS EVER?
I'm starting this new Verotik movie. I'm finally getting to direct my own movie and no one's going to tell me how to do it. It's one of the reasons I'm doing it with [CEO] Brian Perera and Cleopatra Records. He's like, "I want you to have your vision." Who's going to tell you that? I've had so many meetings with places that are just going to step all over my movie and then people are going to judge me and it's not even my movie. So I'm pretty happy. Of course, in a lot of the old movies, I love the photography because my background is photography. So you'll see a lot of the stuff I love in this movie — shadowy stuff, gore and all of it.
I ASSUME THIS WILL BE RATED R?
Oh yeah, I'm not doing anything other than an R movie. I like boobs and blood. [Laughs]
ALL YOUR DIFFERENT OBSESSIONS — PUNK AND METAL, HORROR MOVIES, COMICS — USED TO BE DISRESPECTED BY THE MAINSTREAM. NOW THEY ARE CELEBRATED.
We were talking about the Velvet Underground before: Nobody caught on to them except that every year Verve Records were like, "Wow, we sold another 100,000 Velvet Underground records and they've been broken up since whenever." It takes people time to catch up if you're ahead of the game. And that's what's happening with me, with my stuff. Who would ever think that Walking Dead would be the No. 1 drama on TV? I want to see that pitch: "Yeah, it's going to be this drama, and people are eating people, and eyeballs are exploding and we're cutting off people's heads. It's going to be great." "Get out of my office!" [Laughs]
SO AS A CREATIVE PERSON, IS THIS THE BEST TIME TO BE DOING THIS?
I think it is the best time. I always tell people when they get depressed, you don't know what's around the corner. So just wait. Instead of just being depressed, roll with the depression and tomorrow's another day, man. You never know what the future holds. I want to be surprised by it.
HAVE YOU PERSONALLY HAD THOSE DOWN PERIODS?
Everyone has depression. I think people really need to see depression for what it is. You can't have an up without a down or else you won't know what the up is. So just deal with the depression. It's not there forever. If you have a real problem, get some help.
BUT YOU NEVER HAD ANY DOUBT ABOUT YOUR CAREER?
No, I'm pretty confident. I just stuck to my guns. I didn't know where it was going to end up. I just knew I was going forward. Anybody who is not with me gets left in the dust.
WHEN YOU STARTED SAMHAIN, YOU TURNED MORE TOWARDS METAL. BACK THEN, METAL AND PUNK WEREN'T ALWAYS FRIENDLY TO EACH OTHER.
The Misfits were kind of metal-punk, which was like what Motörhead and Venom were, too. There was definitely an emphasis more on music and lyrics and singing in Samhain and more of an atmospheric kind of thing. Some people call it the first goth-metal-punk record. We went right out on the road with it and the response was amazing.
WHAT'S THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PUNK AND METAL NOW IN YOUR MIND?
There was always a relationship there. What happened was, punk bands stripped it down and took out all the bullshit drum solos and bass solos and 10-minute lead guitar solos and made it more about the songs again and just having a great time and going crazy. It was a response to being broke, being inner-city kids who had no money. No one was listening to you, nobody cared about you. At the time, New York was bankrupt, garbage was piling up on the streets. There was a lot of frustration and anger and you'd hear all these dopey arena-rock bands putting out the worst records of their careers and being played on the radio.
IN THE EARLIEST DAYS OF THE MISFITS YOU GUYS WERE VERY MUCH A MID-SEVENTIES NEW YORK PUNK BAND. YOU HAD THAT LOOK — BEFORE THE MISFITS EVOLVED INTO THEIR OWN IDENTITY.
People don't understand that punk really started in New York around '73-'74 and that's what was happening. We were just riffing on it. The Misfits were a second wave punk band. The first wave was very artsy — the Ramones were the only ones that weren't artsy. Everybody else was like Blondie, Talking Heads. We weren't.
YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO BE HEAVIER WITH IT.
At the time, we just wanted to be in people's faces. The stuff I was writing and the images I was creating and designing — I wanted to do stuff that no one's doing.
MOST OF YOUR CAREER HAS NOT BEEN WITH THE MISFITS, SO WHAT HAS THAT BAND MEANT TO YOU ALL THESE YEARS AS IT HOVERED IN THE BACKGROUND?
The Misfits was just the starting point. It was the early crazy punk stuff that led to Samhain, which then became pretty big, pretty quick, which led to Danzig. When I first met with Rick, he was like, "I don't want to insult you, but I don't like the Misfits." I'm like, "I don't care." Then he goes, "I love Samhain. This is the shit."
Originally, I was going to call Samhain Danzig, but I thought it was too much like Billy Idol. Eventually Rick and I agreed that it should be called Danzig. He said, "You shouldn't have to change your name every time a band member leaves. You write the songs, you sing them, people can come and go and you don't have to change the band's name." Each record would be a different lineup of super-musicians.
THE MISFITS CONTINUED AFTER YOU LEFT.
Once I left, the band broke up and those guys tried to do a Christian metal band called Kryst the Conqueror. So there was no Misfits until '95 or '96. Then they came back with that abomination, whatever it was, and it was really sad. In the meantime, I did Samhain and that blew up, and then Danzig, which blew up even further.
WERE PEOPLE COMING TO YOUR SHOWS IN THE EARLY DAYS WEARING THE MISFITS SKULL?
Not in the beginning. It was a whole different kind of audience. By then punk was kind of gone. Even during the Samhain days, you wouldn't see many people, if any, wearing a Misfits shirt.
BUT PEOPLE GOT INTERESTED IN THEM AGAIN LATER.
The Metallica guys were big fans of Samhain and the Misfits: Cliff Burton used to wear the Misfit skull on his arm, and then James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett would wear the Misfits skull and the Danzig skull. People were discovering the Misfits. It was still a cult band, and every year it would sell — nothing major that's going to light the world on fire or chart on Billboard — but every year it's selling X amount of records.
NOBODY EXPECTED YOU AND THE MISFITS TO HAVE A FUTURE.
Jerry and I resolved a lot of legal issues we had with each other. This just happened about two and a half years ago. And I'm seeing all these people die unexpectedly: Bowie, Chris Cornell and Prince, really out of the blue. And I'm just like, if we're going to ever do this, we should do it now while we're still healthy and we still look good and can run around onstage. I take care of myself, man. And we're all in pretty good shape. And who knows how long we're going to be like that. I don't want to be onstage with crutches or a cane singing. Fuck that shit. That's not the Misfits.
Misfits are fucking take no prisoners. It's in your face, right to the front of the stage — smash your head against the wall until we're done and we say goodnight. That's what it needs to be. I don't want to go on tour. A show here, a show there, keep it special. I don't want people to think we're just milking it. We should just be selective and let people see what it really was. And so far it's been insane.
ARE YOU ENJOYING DOING THAT MATERIAL AGAIN?
I just go out there and enjoy the interaction with everybody. People are just losing their minds, so it's a lot of fun. I try to do what I normally do. I'm just me, singing the songs I wrote, going crazy onstage and running all over. I'm enjoying having Dave [Lombardo] drumming because he's one of my favorite drummers of all time and it's just so much fun.
CONSIDERING ALL THE THINGS YOU'VE DONE SINCE THE MISFITS, THAT'S A LONG ARC OF CREATIVITY, AND A LOT OF YOUR PEERS HAVE COME AND GONE. HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO CONTINUE THIS LONG?
I always stay true to myself, stay true to what I want to do, and I always keep the people who follow my stuff in mind. Could I have done things quicker and differently if I sold out a little more? Yeah. But that's not me. Anyone who follows me and my stuff knows that I won't do that and that's why people stuck around. They see that I enjoy what I do. I think it translates. If you do stuff that you don't love, people see it right away. They can see the phony bullshit.