Glenn Danzig may be one of the most intriguing and misunderstood figures in pop culture. Via both music and art he has influenced rock & roll with his dark imagery and macabre vision in myriad ways, some obvious, some more subtle. Of course, as a performer, subtlety is not what he’s known for, but as a person he’s actually quite reserved. He doesn’t give a lot of interviews, and when he does, he doesn’t sugarcoat or pussyfoot around his thoughts or views. This has contributed to the Danzig mystique, and even for those who know him personally, it’s a palpable part of who he is.
One of my earliest memories relating to music was hearing his band The Misfits blasting from my sister’s room. I was 6 years old, slightly terrified yet intrigued; it made a big impact on my innocent little mind. Years later, when I was in middle school, I stole those very same cassettes from my sister’s room. You could say The Misfits were my first love, and maybe first bad influence. Listening to them felt as if I found something that was written in code and not meant to be understood by everyone. It introduced me to a world of art and underground culture — obscure horror flicks, references to Ed Wood Jr., Rat Fink, ’50s comics and more. Trying to decipher Danzig’s imagery and lyrics and their origins became a fascination for me back then, and his success ever since proves I wasn’t alone. Glenn Danzig is more than just a lead singer; he’s an art director of many mediums and a visionary who made a rather fruitful career out of his passions while not compromising or apologizing for them.
As art curator at Lethal Amounts Gallery, I’ve been lucky enough to work with Danzig on a few projects for the past several years now and he continues to inspire me, and obviously many others. As he celebrates the 30th anniversary of his namesake band, I got the rare opportunity to sit down with this revered rock icon at home and ask some questions about the past, the present and what keeps him creating nonstop after so many years.
DANNY FUENTES: I feel like you’ve never stopped working in the 30 years of Danzig. What keeps you going?
GLENN DANZIG: It’s pretty wild that Danzig is not just still around but really successful — here and in Europe. We just came back from one of the most successful trips we ever did, if not the most successful. And the same here in the States — two of these shows we sold out right away. It’s a good place to be 30 years later.
Do you feel you’ve made an impact on mainstream culture? Is it weird seeing kids wearing Danzig and Misfits shirts as you walk past them on the street?
Well, I’ll spot someone wearing a Misfits skull, or on TV you’ll see some pop singer wearing The Misfits or Danzig shirt, so it’s a pretty big influence. Sometimes I don’t know if they know what it is, they just think it’s cool. But the good part is society has to deal with me whether they like it or not, and a lot of times they don’t.
After 30-plus years you might have a long list of naysayers, but are there any people that you feel have helped?
Yeah, there are people that helped along the way, people like Rick [Rubin], who believed in what I was doing, and a lot of other people, too. I’m sure there’re people fuming over my success, and that’s the icing on the cake for me. A lot of people say: If you don’t have haters, you’re doing something wrong. The reason they hate is because they’re either jealous or they can’t put in the time and the dedication and the sacrifice that you have to do to do this. You have to sacrifice friendships, time, relationships — and when everyone else is partying and doing shit, you have to work and go to the studio. There’s no time for personal life.
Do you think that’s why you never started a family?
No, it’s just not my thing. I don’t believe in marriage.
I feel like a lot of Danzig songs are about love and a lot are about hate. What’s your definition of both?
Yeah, there’re a lot of love songs and there’s a lot of hate songs. There’s a lot of anger, too, which is not necessarily hate. Anger doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s [about] hate. And it’s kind of like yin and yang. You wouldn’t know one without the other.
What was your earliest interest in dark subject matter or the occult?
Well, mainly the occult is the Bible and all the other kind of shit like that. My interest in the different mysteries came at an early age because I had questions for everything. And you know if you’re in church or whatever and you ask questions they don’t want to hear, like, “Well, who created God,” which is a great question you’re not allowed to ask. [They’d say], “Well, God always was,” and I’m like, “well, that doesn’t make sense because who created God and who created the person or thing or entity or energy who created that?” And that’s a question that they cannot answer. You know, with a reasonable answer. So it’s kind of hard for them to back up their case. You just have to blindly believe, but that’s not for me. I need answers. But occult is a generic word. So of course in reading Poe and Baudelaire, especially Baudelaire’s depiction of Satan or Lucifer — it’s a more realistic view and more rebellious view. It’s not this crazy red guy with horns and a beard; it’s just a person who wants to, you know, not grovel on the ground all the time. He wants to experience life and be the best he can be.
You just released Danzig, Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II, which features illustrations by Simon Bisley. Can you tell me a little bit about the book and your working relationship with Simon?
We did [the first lyric book] and the fans went crazy — it sold out almost immediately. We couldn’t keep it stocked, and fans kept asking if we were gonna do a part 2. So we decided to do a second volume, and we couldn’t keep that stocked, either. I’ve been working with [Simon] for about 30 years, starting with the Thrall cover (Thrall: Demonsweatlive). We’re gonna do a gallery [of his work], eventually.
You play multiple instruments on all your recordings. What’s your background in music?
I started off actually learning the sax and clarinet when I was a little kid. I did bass for a while and I was taking piano lessons. I tried to teach myself how to play guitar, but it was just not working, so I continued with my piano lessons. I started playing the piano and singing in bands. [Then one day] I picked up the guitar and just started playing because I guess theoretically it made sense now. I approached it from a different viewpoint and it was much easier [this time].
What do you attribute your interest in music to? Was your home life musical at all?
No. Not at all. [It was] Elvis really. Elvis, Black Sabbath, blues, and when I say blues, I’m talking about Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon.
People have called you the “Evil” or “Dark Elvis.” How do you feel Elvis has influenced you?
Anytime someone mentions my name in the same sentence as Elvis, you can’t top that. Name somebody bigger than Elvis! He’s the reason I’m doing all this. I was cutting school because school bored me and I would stay home watching old movies all the time. One day I was watching [Elvis in] Jailhouse Rock and I was like this is cool, this is what I want to do. As a kid, it’s the one thing that stuck and I ended up being successful. Nobody is bigger than Elvis, or had as much impact on rock music than him. People don’t realize that if Elvis weren’t a success, big labels would never put out rock music. They saw Elvis and saw that he was making money and said, “You know what? We can make money with this rock & roll. … OK, let’s start signing rock & roll.” We never would have ended up where we are now if he didn’t open that door.
I just shot photos for the Danzig sings Elvis record — now I just gotta do a deal here in the States and Europe. I’ve been working on and off on this for a long time. Danzig is gonna be taking a hiatus and I’ll be doing some Danzig sings Elvis shows, at maybe six or eight small venues. After this Irvine show, that’s about it — it’ll be my last [Danzig] show for at least a year or two and then I’ll see.
Tell us about the 30th-anniversary show in Irvine.
I wanted bands that fit the bill for Halloween, so The Damned, Venom, Meteors, Mutoid Man. It’s a good Halloween show. I’ve had Venom play the Blackest of the Black Fest before and have been a fan of them forever. I remember in New York you couldn’t wear a metal shirt to a punk or hardcore show ’cause you’d get your ass kicked. Unless it was Motörhead or Venom.
Your current lineup for Danzig has been with you for a while. Is this your longest?
Yes, this is the longest lineup by far. Tommy [Victor] is one of the most underrated guitar players there is. So many people steal his riffs. And as far as [being an] actual guitar virtuoso, he’s incredible. He can play anything and it still sounds like Tommy. I get along with him really well and I love having him as part of it.
I understand there is a movie based on your Verotik comics in the works?
It’s an anthology movie, which is kind of like Boris Karloff in Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath. It’s based on three different Verotik comic stories. Kind of like Creepshow, Tales From the Dark Side, and Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black — three different stories. (Verotik Comics character) Morella is doing the intro and outros to all the stories. We are casting it right now. We are gonna start shooting a week after Irvine (30th-anniversary show). I would imagine it’d come out sometime in 2019. We want to do some kind of theater events, midnight-movie style, where you’d get a free Verotik comic that you can only get at the screening. I’m donating a Danzig song to the soundtrack, and then I’m doing the bumps and groans symphonic classical soundtrack. Already started working on that.
Danzig’s 30th-Anniversary Halloween Hell Bash takes place Saturday, Nov. 3, at 6 p.m. at FivePoint Amphitheatre, 14800 Chinon, Irvine. Tickets and info here.