Interview: Glenn Danzig

By request, here is a transcript of an interview I did with Glenn Danzig in early 2007. It was for The Lost Tracks Of Danzig, a compilation I heartily recommend. Parts of this interview appeared in a feature in Unrestrained! #35. Of all the interviews I’ve done, Danzig’s left the worst taste in my mouth. It came more from his tone than what he said; he was understandably quite jaded from having to do press. In hindsight, his belligerence is actually refreshing. Too many interviews end up regurgitating talking points. Getting people to talk off-topic is often more revealing.

- Cosmo Lee

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What’s going on?

I just got off the phone with this MTV idiot (laughs).

I’m sorry.

No, it’s not your fault. I had an interview with MTV.com or whatever. And it was just retarded. I shouldn’t have done it. I hate MTV. Everyone’s like, “No, you gotta do it, MTV.com is different, it’s for the metal kids.” And it was retarded.

How was it retarded?

Uninformed. Why would I think they would know anything about underground or metal music anyway? Why am I shocked?

Are you still living in Los Angeles?

Yeah.

I was looking at the liner notes for Lost Tracks, and the images seem to have a very LA feeling.

Yeah?

Do you feel like your location has contributed to your sound or aesthetic?

No. Actually, it doesn’t look like LA to me. I don’t know where you go in LA (laughs).

For Lost Tracks, you played guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums. How proficient are you at these instruments?

You tell me (laughs).

You have your sound, but I wonder if outside that, you’re some sort of virtuoso we don’t know about.

I don’t know about that, dude. I just play fucking music.

Your music has a lot of blues in it. Where does this come from?

I’ve always been a bluesy kind of singer. And that’s the stuff I listened to growing up. Elvis is a very bluesy singer. But more than that, [my influences come from] Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, all that stuff.

Do you feel like a preservationist?

No. I have no respect for anything (laughs). I do and I don’t, you know what I mean? I can respect what people did before me, but I also know that I have to chart my own path, and I also have to take shit and make it my own. And if that means ripping it apart and putting it back together my way, I’ll do it.

Now that you’ve done Lost Tracks, will this blues album with Jerry Cantrell and Hank III come out?

No. I think we’re too busy doing our own things. Whereas [before] it looked like it might be able to happen, I don’t know that it will [now]. I’m not saying that it won’t. I just don’t know whether we’ll be able to get together and be able to do it. It would be nice if it would, but we’ll see.

Mandrake’s Cry

In the liner notes of Lost Tracks, you ask the listener whether “Mandrake’s Cry” should have been left off 4p. To answer that, I think yes.

It should have been left off.

Yeah, it’s a bit maximal for that album.

It’s OK. I’m still just kind of like, “Eh.” Really the only reason I put it on there is because everybody who hears it tells me they love it, and that I’m crazy. Even the mastering guy! I think one of the reasons I don’t like it is that it’s traditional I-IV-V rock. That’s just rock-and-roll-y to me. But I think that’s why a lot of people like it, because I never do that kind of stuff. They can catch on to it really quick because it has that traditional chord progression.

On that record there were some chords that were more complex, not your normal power chords. Was that you?

Yeah, even since back in the Misfits, when I do overdubs of power chords, I always add weird chords in that you wouldn’t traditionally add into rock music. Whether it’s augmented or diminished or 7th or 6th or 4th, I always add that kind of stuff in to give it a different element, to make it a little strange or creepy. You’d be surprised at what a couple notes can do for a mood. I’ve always done that.

I know that Rick [Rubin, producer] didn’t really dig it that much. Sometimes he would, though, in certain things. But for the most part, he’d be like, “It sounds weird!” And I’d go, “Yeah, it’s supposed to make it sound weird!” Sometimes, though, he’d think it sounded cool. So you’d never know.

Are you musically trained?

When I was a kid, I had clarinet lessons. Later on, I had piano lessons for about a year. Then I taught myself how to play guitar. My piano teacher said, “Look, all I’m going to be able to teach you now is speed and dexterity. If you stay with me, you’re just going to become a carbon copy of me. So you gotta decide what you want to do. You pretty much know all the notes and chords, and you can read music.” And I said, “Yeah, you know what? For what I want to do, I don’t think I want to sit here and play Bach all day. I want to do my own shit.”

Danzig in studio with Tommy Victor

When you write a song and show it to your band, do you write it down on paper?

No, that takes too long. What I do is, I show them parts either on piano and guitar, and then we go from there. A lot of times with bass players, because they think that they can remember a song and they don’t, I’ll actually write down [their parts]. I’m like, “Look, until you know it by heart, just write it down, there’s no crime in it.” And that usually works the best.

How much room do you give the players in your band? Is every note you?

For the most part, yeah. What they bring is their own individual style, which is what anybody would bring to any song. That’s what I look for. I look for people that have a style. I look for someone that has a style that also complements what I’m doing. That’s why I love working with somebody like Tommy Victor. I think his style lends itself really well to Danzig.

Have you patched up your differences? Will you work together in the future?

I think we’re still friends. I would hope we’re still friends. Tommy’s been in Danzig twice now, and you never say never.

What exactly happened with Rick Rubin that caused all the litigation?

Basically, after so many years and selling a lot of records, I really hadn’t gotten paid. Or accountings or anything. So it broke down after that. I’d always had my own record label, and going with Rick was the first time I did the label thing. And I wasn’t that happy. So I wanted my own label back again.

Aside from getting your unreleased tracks, has everything else been sorted out?

I’m still waiting for accountings from them. And there are problems here and there. I’m hoping those can be worked out so I don’t have to sue him again.

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Rick Rubin, Roy Orbison, Glenn Danzig

How do you feel about the fact that Hot Topic, as well as bands like My Chemical Romance and Atreyu, are commodifying an aesthetic you helped build?

The same could be said for anything that any band does after other bands do it. I don’t really think about that kind of stuff. I have enough to think about with my own shit. Why should I care what they’re doing?

It might lessen the value. I can go to Hot Topic, and if I spend the right amount of money, I can look like the Misfits.

But that’s gone. That was back then. I know what it looked like back then. And you can buy all the shirts in the world [and you still won't look like that]. Most of us made our own shit back then, or went into a thrift store and bought something and ripped it up. Now it’s too PC. Punk was very un-PC. Everyone’s trying to be so politically correct. That’s not what punk was about. Punk was about saying whatever the fuck you felt like. And if you piss people off, even better.

Do you still feel punk now?

Certainly more than any of these other fucking poser losers.

Your love of horror and gore is well-documented. Is any of this on a kitsch level?

I think maybe back in the early Misfits days, there was maybe a kitschy element to it. But eventually it became a little more real. There’s nothing kitschy about seeing someone get their head cut off. There’s nothing kitschy about seeing serial killers offing people, or wars which have been going on for centuries or millennia. I think people try to trivialize true horror because they’re scared of it.

At the same time, some of the Verotik artwork, while not necessarily humorous, is certainly quite exaggerated, or doesn’t seem to try to be horrific.

What I try to do with Verotik is to make it a little more real. The characters in those stories — this is their everyday existence. We’re dealing with what I like to call “reality-based fantasy.”

How do you feel about acts that take horror and gore really over-the-top, like Cannibal Corpse?

I don’t think that they trivialize it as much as, say, somebody like GWAR, where it’s really very comic book-y and old-school kitschy. But I think they intentionally do that. They actually do make a joke out of a lot of different stuff. I don’t think that Cannibal Corpse and them are on the same level.

Due out December ‘09

I saw some footage of you doing Misfits covers with Metallica back in the day, and it struck me how often Danzig tours with bands that are faster or heavier, like on Blackest of the Black.

I wouldn’t agree. I don’t necessarily think that Metallica is heavier. They may be faster, but they’re certainly not heavier than the Misfits.

They’re more conventionally considered extreme.

I don’t think they’re extreme. You think Metallica are extreme (laughs)?

Oh, no. But you guys are touring with, like, Behemoth and Asesino.

I like Asesino. I like Behemoth, too. I take out bands I like. I try to take out bands that have something to say, and that have good songs. That’s my criteria.

What’s in your CD player these days?

Right now, I just got a reissue of AC/DC’s High Voltage. Abba (laughs). And the new Belphegor [Pestapokalypse VI].

It’s good.

The new Belphegor is the best. They’ve outdone themselves. The new one is incredible.

After this last Blackest of the Black tour, how do you feel about touring?

I don’t want to tour anymore. This was just the West Coast, and I went home after two or three days. I flew home every time. I don’t really want to tour. My reason for not doing it is because I’m bored of it. I like being onstage, but I don’t like sitting around all day doing nothing. I could be home, working.

You’re an avid book collector. What are some recent additions to your library?

I get books every week. I have so many books, dude.

What have you read recently that’s good?

Books that I could recommend to people would be Montauk Revisited and One Foot in Atlantis. One Foot in Atlantis is not really what you’d think it’s about. It’s about the real reasons for World War II and different things [like] the Vril power, which is the destructive sound power generated from nothing, which is what Tesla and Edison and Eisenhower and Hitler were trying to cultivate. Are you hip to any of this stuff?

No.

Basically, Eisenhower and Hitler were trying to create this sonic boom cannon created from the Atlantean Vril power. It’s a whole other [world]. There’s lots of good books.

Have you ever thought of doing an autobiography?

No (laughs). To me, Glenn Danzig is the most boring subject, because I’m stuck with myself 24 hours a day. I already know all about it.

In doing Lost Tracks, you’ve had to look back through your solo career. Now that it’s done, what are you feeling?

Relief (laughs). I’m glad it’s done. I can move on.

Did you feel any nostalgia?

No. But what I did really see was, when I picked the songs for the record, I really realized how many good songs never got released.

That was my impression also. I was, like, “Man, this is like a greatest lost hits.”

Yeah, somebody else called it a “Danzig alternate reality.” Like a reality you didn’t know existed, a whole other world. It kind of is an undiscovered whole section of songs. Even though I have to listen to these things over and over for a year and mix and work on them, they’re still songs I love hearing.

What struck me was the “cold rain” song.

“Cold, Cold Rain” — yeah, Rick hated that song (laughs).

He hated it?

I think it was too Elvis-y [for him].

That’s why I like it.

At the time, I was listening to the Elvis Memphis record a lot. And he didn’t dig it. And then I realized that no matter what we did to the song, how I rearranged it or tried to sing it differently, he was just not going to like it. I think I had it around in some form or another since Danzig I, but we didn’t record it until the Lucifuge sessions.

Cold, Cold Rain

After this compilation, are there any loose ends in the Danzig catalog?

There’s so much unreleased shit [wearily]. One of the reasons that this record got put out was the fans asking to get this stuff in real v
ersions, not 20th-generation cassette copies. But there’s so much unreleased stuff. Of course, I’m always trying to move forward. Once I get a couple things under my belt this summer, I think I’ll start really working on this next Danzig record. And I think I’ll do a Black Aria III somewhere down the line.

You’ve helped pushed the aesthetic range of darkness so that a lot more bands explore this now freely. How do you keep pushing it in the future?

I don’t know. I just do what I do. I don’t think about it that much. I think of doing something, and then I just do it. It’s really what it is. I don’t really say, “How can I top myself?” or that kind of shit. I just do what I do, and hopefully it progresses and moves forward enough that it still is relevant.