Back in the late ’80s, Glenn Danzig (born Glenn Anzalone) had no idea his eponymously named band was going to be his most enduring musical project. Longevity was probably the furthest thing from his mind.
“Rick [Rubin, founder of Def American] was looking for bands that were not the conventional rock band….contrary to what the major labels were signing,” Danzig explains over the phone.
With their sleeveless t-shirts, black clothes leather jackets and perma-scowls, the members of Danzig were a far cry aesthetically from the poodle-permed hair farmers that dominated the late ’80s musical landscape. With its bluesy rock, distinctive vocals and lyrics that flirted with the occult, Danzig was also musically distinctive from the crop of radio-friendly hair metal of say, Poison or Motley Crue.
As commercial rock evolved through it’s varying permutations, from grunge to pop punk and nu-metal, Glenn remained largely unimpressed.
“I would just see the cycle over and over again,” says Danzig. “Terrible pop crap radio bands trying to have a hit and then you don’t hear from them again.”
Although Danzig’s work with the late ’70s/early ’80s punk outfit The Misfits has inspired generations of kids to discover punk rock and start their own bands, he doesn’t have much regard for the current crop of bands he inspired. And he certainly isn’t afraid to be vocal about it.
“There is no punk,” Danzig laughs before repeating this sentiment for added emphasis. “Punk is a time and a period and an attitude. And a lot of the bands that think they’re punk are missing that attitude. They’re concerned with getting their song on the radio. With punk, it was never about getting your song on the radio.”
So, what is his secret when it comes to enduring with the same band, give or take some significant line-up changes, for 25 years?
“For me it’s about not forcing yourself to do a record when you don’t want to and only doing a record when you have something to says,” he explains. “If I have something to say, I just say it.”
It sounds simple enough. That philosophy has yielded nine studio albums in the band’s 25 years. That’s not including 1992’s Black Aria and 2006’s Black Aria II, Glenn Danzig’s classical albums, the former of which had debuted at number one on Billboard’s classical charts. It will also yield a covers record and another studio album at some time in the near future.
His covers album gives Danzig the chance to explore some of his influences, the most obvious being Elvis and Black Sabbath with some more surprising selections from ZZ Top, Aerosmith and The Troggs.
Those who attended Danzig’s send-off show for the Universal Gibson Amphitheater in L.A. got a taste of what the covers record has in store when Glenn was joined onstage by The Runaways’ Cherrie Currie. She recorded a dirgy rendition of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra “Some Velvet Morning” with the diminutive frontman.
Given Currie’s unassailable history as a hard rock pioneer and the fact that The Runaways came to prominence in the same era as The Misfits, Currie seems like a logical, if not obvious choice. However, Danzig’s manager had other ideas.
“When I said I wanted to do a duet, I had a manager at the time who wanted me to do it with some alternative chick. “I’m not gonna say who it is. I don’t want to degrade those chicks any more than they degrade themselves,” says Danzig, proving once and for all that chivalry is not, in fact, dead.
He dismisses his manager’s candidates as “here today, gone tomorrow” flavors of the moment before revealing that he was looking for “…someone cooler, someone with a little more credibility.”
Of course, these unwelcome creative suggestions are part of what has turned many of Danzig’s managers former managers.
Maybe the fact that he’s never quite gelled with managers has less to do with their questionable motives and more to do with the fact that Danzig is, quite notoriously, the kind of artist that needs to to be in charge of every aspect of his career. He’s no stranger to putting out his own records, including the The Misfits’ imprint Plan 9 records and Evilive Records through which he put out some of the latter day Danzig albums.
Danzig is also a multi-instrumentalist and if any of his hired guns can’t nail a part within the first few takes, he’ll just play it himself. He’s also the sole songwriter for his bands and eventually took on the mantle of producer after Rick Rubin’s role in the studio diminished during the recording of Danzig III: How The Gods Kill.
Despite his proficiency with every instrument, he’s also a big believer in the frontman being the frontman. Anyone who has seen Danzig live knows that he takes this responsibility seriously. He may not be near as svelte as his Danzig I days and the bald spot at the back of his head becomes wildly pronounced the second his hair gets wet with sweat. But despite the physical wear and tear that comes along with aging, the energy with which he propels around the stage is nothing short of inspiring. The way runs the length of a stage, gives every clamoring hand a high-five and praises the audience for being a bunch of “crazy motherfuckers” is enough to make a crowd forget that this is a man who is pushing 60. It’s this commitment to creating an electrifying live performance that’s most likely what keeps the arenas packed despite the lagging sales of his later records.
While it’s his controlling nature that has shaped the band’s aesthetic and made it a commercial success, there’s also a flipside to that kind of intense personality. The frontman has also gained a reputation for being difficult and combative. Given his short temper, shorter stature and inability to laugh at his own inherent ridiculousness, his Napoleon Complex is well documented. Over the past few years, many times Danzig’s name has popped up in the press, it has had little to do with music.
For starters, there were his alleged prima donna antics at Austin’s 2011 Fun Fun Fun Fest where he threatened not to play unless his demands for stage heaters and french onion soup were met. He took the stage 45 minutes late. Glenn also made some waves in the press when he commented to the L.A. Weekly about how he wouldn’t have played Wolverine “as gay” as Hugh Jackman did in the X-Men movie. Then, of course, Danzig has revealed what may be interpreted as right wing leanings during his 2011 appearance on the Fox News program Red Eye as well as the “Democrats are fascists disguised as liberals” remark he made to Minneapolis City Pages earlier this year. Oh, and god forbid any journalist ask him about Tom Neely’s Henry & Glenn Forever, which features Glenn in a non-explicit, PG-rated relationship with longtime friend Henry Rollins. It’s this rigidity in his public persona that makes a photo of him grimacing while carrying kitty litter through a parking lot gain instant internet traction.
Any attempts to clarify his use of the term “gay” for Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine performance or to discuss politics were met with outright hostility, a rant against political correctness and the paranoid accusation that the purpose of this interview was to smear his politics under the pretense of the paper’s liberal agenda.
“FUCK YOU, FUCK YOUR SPIN, AND FUCK THE VILLAGE VOICE!” he yelled.
Here’s hoping he’s saved some of that fire for the stage.
Danzig plays Roseland Ballroom Friday, Oct. 18.
Advertising disclosure: We may receive compensation for some of the links in our stories. Thank you for supporting the Village Voice and our advertisers.