An interview with Danzig

We spoke to the music legend about covering the classics on his band’s new EP and what it felt like to put Misfits make-up on again.

Danzig Montreal
Danzig performs in Montreal Oct. 18

If you think the wholesome harmonies of the Everly Brothers have nothing in common with the gory lyrics, dynamic vocals, and skull face paintings that have become Glenn Danzig’s claim to fame, then think again. Casual listeners may not hear the similarities between those seemingly disparate artists. But longtime fans know that Danzig fused the style of such ’50s rockabilly luminaries with punk as the cofounder of Misfits, unleashing New Jersey’s late ’70s psychobilly subgenre, which will forever haunt hardcore music.

Now Danzig is paying further tribute to those bygone, golden era rock hits with Skeletons, a newly released covers EP featuring his own subversive versions of the Everly Brothers’ “Crying in the Rain” and Elvis Presley’s “Let Yourself Go.”

“That’s just the garage rock and rockabilly that I grew up with,” says Danzig. “Elvis has definitely been one of my biggest influences, him and Black Sabbath. If you had taken them out of my listening equation as a kid, then Danzig wouldn’t be the band it is today, that’s for sure.”

Danzig Misfits Montreal
Danzig-era Misfits. Danzig performs in Montreal Oct. 18.

His love of both the King of Rock n’ Roll and the Prince of Darkness is apparent on Skeletons, and in between those genre polar opposites Danzig also covers songs by Aerosmith, ZZ Top and pioneering garage rockers the Troggs, among others.

“I didn’t want to do the same kind of songs over and over again. That’d defeat the whole purpose doing something like this,” Danzig says. “My intuition led me to pick these songs. I felt like I could do something cool and different with them, that I could leave my mark on them.”

That outlook is informed, in part, by his past partnership with the famed mastermind of the blockbuster cover song: Rick Rubin. The multi-Grammy winning producer and label head is famous for, among other things, helping legendary country vet Johnny Cash pare down aggressive alt-rock hits to haunting skeleton dirges.

“I learned a lot from Rick, from a production standpoint, as far as taking a song apart and putting it back together,” Danzig says. 

That kinship between the hardcore horror master and the bearded studio guru began in 1987, when Rubin signed Danzig’s band, Samhain, which Danzig formed after a falling out and creative differences with his Misfits bandmates. Samhain went through enough tumultuous line-up changes that Danzig decided to take further ownership and adopt an eponymous title, thanks in part to advice from Rubin. He returned the favour to Rubin by penning a song called “Life Fades Away,”  for esteemed rockabilly star Roy Orbison, with whom the producer was collaborating on a soundtrack for the 1987 film Less Than Zero. Danzig made a similar arrangement with the producer again in 1994, writing the song “Thirteen,” for Johnny Cash’s Rubin-produced American Recordings, which launched the country outlaw’s unprecedented comeback.

While Danzig was honoured to have those iconic musicians reinterpret his work, he says that he gleaned no sage wisdom from the exchange. “As far as someone covering my songs, I just hope they do a good job, and be authentic, but also make it something different and exciting.”

Danzig Montreal skeletonsThat advice is straightforward, but practical, and Danzig was wise enough to follow it himself while covering other artists on Skeletons. He not only applied that ethos to the LP’s music, but also its cover artwork, explaining: “I was trying to decide what to do for the art, and thought: ‘One of my favourite cover albums is Pin Ups,’” he says of the classic 1973 David Bowie LP. Danzig recalls saying to himself: “‘I’m going to take on Pin Ups, but I’ll paint a skeleton on my face and the girl’s face, to make it a much darker version.’”

His fans may be oblivious to that Bowie reference, but they are sure to be excited by the cover for another reason: the sight of Danzig — after 40 long years — finally  emblazoned with the famous face paint that became the Misfits’ symbol.

Danzig says etching those black and white lines on his face once again was not nostalgic or thrilling, but it did illicit another strong emotion. “I didn’t give it much thought. And I just put it on the day of the photo shoot. It’s not face paint, I do it with acrylics. And when it was done I looked in the mirror and smiled. And I said to myself: ‘Man, I look crazy. ’” ■

Danzig in Montreal

Danzig will perform in Montreal with opening acts Superjoint Ritual, Veil of Maya, Prong and Witch Mountain at Metropolis (59 Ste-Catherine E.) on Sunday, Oct. 18, 7:15 p.m. sharp, $42$55.30

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