Interview: Glenn Danzig of Misfits and Samhain

words by Seth Gotro | photo courtesy of Evilive
| Monday, October 30th, 2006

DanzigAccording to Hebrew folklore, Lilith was the first wife of Adam, banished from the Garden of Eden by God when she refused to make herself subservient to Adam. Cast out to the outer edges of the Red Sea, Lilith began breeding with Samael, giving birth to countless lilin, demon children. Adam calls on God to return his wife to him and He sends three angels, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangel off to return her to the Garden. She refuses and is told that she would have to kill 100 of her own demon children every day. She vows revenge on newborn children (males especially). From there, the story takes different twists, often dictated by superstition and fear of the unknown.

Now, the story of Lilith is being interpreted again on Glenn Danzig’s latest disc, Black Aria II. Whereas Black Aria I found its footing in Wagnerian and Celtic sounds to interpret Milton’s Paradise Lost, the highly-anticipated sequel takes a distinctly darker stance to interpret such a varied story.

“It’s more of a cerebral, complex record to listen to,” Danzig said of his latest classical piece during our telephone interview. “It draws you in, sucks you down. At least that’s what I get out of it.”

Black Aria II is highly influenced by a Middle Eastern sound, and uses chants, organs, operatic vocalists, thunderous drumming and percussion instruments, chimes, and effects to bring the listener into the story of a perfected personage ultimately destroyed by her refusal to bend to the will of God. The album is a haunting, eerie disc that requires more than one listen to fully appreciate. Once you know the story (or any given interpretation of it anyway), the disc becomes so much more than an album of creepy music from the Danzig frontman, but becomes the soundtrack to the birth of evil.

Danzig has been hinting about this follow-up album for several years. Finally finding the time, Danzig spent approximately two days a week for “two or three months” to record layer after layer of sound to get his version of Lilith’s story right. According to a press release by his publicist, some pieces boast between 30 to 40 individual tracks. All of the music and vocals were performed by Danzig himself, with the exception of “Overture,” which features guitarist Tommy Victor. The disc also showcases some female operatic vocals by Tania Themmen. But because the album features other artists doesn’t mean the story wasn’t 100 percent Danzig’s creation.

“It was my vision. [Tommy Victor] played one part and then I ended up re-recording it anyway. All of the other instruments you hear are all me. It’s funny because these are professional opera singers — you pay them for their services and I had to teach them to sing. I actually had to sing the parts for them so they could perform,” he laughed. “It’s funny, but it’s typical. The fuckin’ punk rock kid teaching them.”

Black Aria I went to number one on Billboard’s Classical Charts, something Danzig shrugs off in relation to his second foray into a classical music full-length.

“Well, it was the [Billboard] Classical chart,” Danzig said. “Does Billboard still have a classical chart? When it [Black Aria I] went there the first time, I didn’t even know that it had happened until someone told me. I did the first one for the fans because they had heard parts of it on Danzig albums, like intros to Danzig songs, and they wanted to know where they could get it. It ended up selling near platinum.”

Having performed and recorded in the music industry for nearly 30 years, Danzig is still a force to be reckoned with. Working on several fronts, from working on Danzig’s new album Lost Tracks of Danzig (due out in a couple of months, spanning the career of the band), to his graphic novel company Verotik, to his upcoming film debut Gerouge, time is not always at his disposal. Black Aria II is almost a luxury for the now 50-something musician.

“I can do [things] the way I want to, but I don’t get the time that I want,” he explained. “I’m sure if my management had their way, I would do one of these albums every year. I’ve just started thinking about doing another Black Aria but nothing has motivated me [story lines] to actually sit down and write another entire score.”

Grabbing a spare moment when he’s not on tour, doing interviews, recording, or writing is often a fleeting exercise. When the opportunity arises, Danzig takes full advantage of it.

“You spend so much time on tour. A new album means touring for a year. What do I like to do when I’m not working? Sleep,” he said, laughing. “I watch horror movies. If I have a chance to, I like to work out. I like to read; I have so many books laying around that I never get a chance to read, so I like to do that.”

It’s somewhat of a given to say that Danzig fronted one of the best and most aggressive punk rock bands in the genre’s history. Forming the Misfits in the late 1970s in response to mainstream music, Danzig has seen punk rock’s devolution into a commercial mess. He’s not shy about hiding his disgust for pop-punkers, and, if you ask him, punk rock is a done deal.

“There is no punk rock,” Danzig said, adamantly. “I just don’t see the attitude and the aggression. All I see is watered down pop music. You know, like I hear MTV saying Avril Lavigne is punk rock. It’s not punk rock — it makes me just want to kill them (laughs). The only time they even mention the Misfits is when we were arrested for grave robbing as a sound bite for ‘MTV News.’ MTV would never ever, ever, ever play real hardcore, real punk rock, even though it’s inspired so many bands.”

Thinking back to when the Misfits first began their punk assault on America, Danzig recalls a time of real rebellion. In 1977 (I was three), punk rock was uncharted territory. Mainstream society thought that they had seen the worst. They hadn’t seen sweet fuck all. Bands like Iggy and the Stooges, Misfits, Black Flag, and Minor Threat set out to punch figurative (and literal) holes in the faces of mainstream music. Looking back, did he think that the genre would last?

“I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I knew that I hated everything I heard. Everyone that was in punk back then was [like that]. It was an angry shout at a giant — it became what it was. We didn’t do it for money because there was no money. We did it because we loved it,” he said.

In retrospect, if punk gets any respect from music critics, it lies in the admiration of the blue-collar work ethic. Henry Rollins wrote in his book Get In The Van about walking for miles, elbow deep in homemade poster plaster, only to have shows cancelled by the police. Has punk rock lost its work ethos? What about the up-and-comers, the punk and hardcore bands struggling on tour?

“Well, there is no punk rock, so that’s sort of a non-question,” he said. “I still see the work ethic in extreme metal; guys who hop in a van and play everywhere for no money. If you think you have something viable and everyone says you don’t then get in a van and go play everywhere. Music lately is mall-punk — as soon as MTV stops playing it, no one remembers any of it.”

Speaking of malls, with the advent of eBay shopping and revolving door stores like Hot Topic, the “underground” is all but dead and buried. Young teen punkers walk the streets wearing “Fiend Club” patches and Misfits shirts with little more than an ephemeral knowledge of a band that was part of the forge for modern heavy music. When queried, many of them don’t even know who Danzig is (or was). Danzig takes this all in stride.

“I’d rather that they were wearing Misfits shirts than wearing Journey shirts,” he said.
(Not a fan of Journey, Glenn?)

“No way. Journey is the reason punk rock started. Them and Foreigner,” he says with a laugh.

But don’t expect a reunion tour. While the Misfits are still touring (in a general sense — when they played Victoria, British Columbia, Jerry Only was the only original member left standing), you won’t be seeing the man dubbed Evil Elvis fronting the group any time soon. Even in its heyday the band was rife with conflict, and the Misfits went through no less than seven drummers. When I interviewed Mike McColgan of Street Dogs, I asked him if he wanted to ask Danzig anything. His question was: Would Danzig please bury the hatchet with Only and do one last reunion tour simply for the fact that the Misfits were such an integral part of punk rock (whether Danzig thinks punk lives on or not)?

Danzig replied quietly: “I don’t think so. Doyle is in a big blowout with his brother anyhow, so I don’t think that it would happen, even if I wanted it to.

I then told him about them playing Victoria with only Jerry left.

“Yeah…it’s not the Misfits. It’s pretty sad. That’s all I have to say about it.”

At the end of the day, Danzig continues, after all these years, to remain true to his own creative process, producing heavy, black music that fans love and that he can be proud of. His detractors have called him egotistical, arrogant and bullheaded. I found him to be anything but during our interview. He was candid and intelligent, polite and to the point. Music is more to Danzig than record sales and statistics. It’s an art form that many bands give up in exchange for money and fast fame.

“I do what I love,” he emphasized. “I don’t know if I’d call it work or not. I hope that whatever people do for work is something that they love and really put themselves into, that they’re true to themselves.”

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