For more than 30 years, Glenn Danzig has served as a physical manifestation of the rebellious, anti-establishment ethos of punk rock. As his projects changed—The Misfits (1977), Samhain (1983), Danzig (1987-present)—the 54-year-old, who continues to write, produce and perform, was elevated to legendary status (his otherworldly biceps helped in that regard). His newest release Deth Red Saboath, which was released June 22, is quintessential Danzig and yet different. But it's not so much a shift in his music as an evolution. It's a raw, swampy album in which metal, blues and straight-up rock ooze through a pool of dark lyrics with Danzig's baritone vocals bubbling up and bursting from the surface. At times he voices low, whispery invitations, and at others, loud proclamations of the consequences that result from messing with Danzig.
In addition to the album and a nine-city tour that kicked off June 15, Danzig has yet another gift for his fans: a comic book. Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand contains previously unreleased lyrics to 22 songs and includes hellish illustrations by longtime Danzig collaborator, artist Simon Bisley. It's a frightening black-and-white look into Danzig's lyrical process. It's no less unnerving to interview him.
Boise Weekly: Thanks for taking some time to chat with me today. (I'm so anxious, my voice has gone up three octaves.)
Glenn Danzig: Yeah.
I was concerned that I wouldn't have a copy of your new book before this interview, but fortunately, it arrived in the mail today. (My voice is now so high, I'm practically chirping.)
Um, shall we start there then?
That's up to you. You're the one doing the interview. (Oh, shit. This is not a good start.)
Ohhhkaaay. So tell me why you put out this book of your lyrics.
This is a co-publishing thing that I do with my label and my comic company [Verotik]. Over the years, you know, the fans have been asking, "How can I get these lyrics? They've never been transcribed, they're not in the record." Some didn't make it because there wasn't enough room. Some, it was before, you know, we did lyric sheets or anything. So for all these years, the fans have been asking how they can get the lyrics and finally I thought, "I'm going to transcribe these lyrics. They've never been transcribed before an rather than just do a book of lyrics, I hired one of my artists, Simon Bisley, whose pretty famous to do an illustration for each song. And so finally it came out—he's kind of a temperamental artist, as they all are. His temperament is drinking at the pub (Danzig chuckles and, still nervous, I laugh like this is the funniest thing anyone ever said); he'd rather be doing that than art. It was late, but it's worth it. We put it out and the fans are digging it. It sold out six times from our distributor
Unprecedented. Now in the comic market, you never get reorders. We haven't gotten reorders from our main distributor in, what, maybe eight years. This is just insane. So the fans are really digging it because it was really hard work. And it was really because of them that I put it out. (Danzig is proud of the book, his tone has lightened and he's even laughing a little. I am going to keep him engaged on the topic of his book as long as I can.)
How many copies have you sold?
Well, we started with 10,000. And I think we're going to be out of them soon, which is pretty big for a book like this.
Yeah. Do you refer to it as a ...
It's a coffee table art book. It's not a novel or something, obviously.
Of course you have an introduction in there, but it would be really interesting if you didn't explain it was lyrics. It would come across as poetry. (Silence. Shit again.)
Would it be wrong to refer to it as ...
No, it's free verse. I write all of my stuff in free verse. I always have. I don't write lyrics like everybody else. I write free verse. My influences go back to Poe and Baudelaire and stuff like that. Bukowski. Actually on the first Misfits record, I thanked Bukowski just because reading early Bukowski in the '70s was just, wow. This is pretty, no-holds barred kind of whatever you feel like writing, you write this shit. You hurt somebody's feelings, ah well. Too bad. Going from that kind of traditionally rebellious stuff like Baudelaire to something like, all of a sudden, you pick up this little pamphlet and it has this pockmarked, alcoholic guy on the cover, with a beer belly, and you read this stuff and it's like, "Wow!" Something going on in this guy's head, know what I mean? But even before picking up Bukowski, my lyrics were free verse. So, you're correct.
Did you hand the lyrics to your artist and ...
No, I did everything. I laid it out.
But I mean, did he already have images? Were they inspired by ...
No, no, no, no. Some, I would just say, "Here's the lyrics, this is what it's kind of about, go crazy." Some, I would do rough layouts with him, the same way we work at the comic company. And some, he would say, "I want to try this or that," and I would say, "Yeah." It was a great collaboration. That's how we work.
Do you have that much of a hand in everything that you do ...
Of course. (Shit. Stupid question.)
... is your thumbprint on everything? (Why didn't I stop at "do?")
Of course. The Misfits, I laid out all the record covers the old way with rubber cement and X-actos. Whatever I had to do.
Back in the days when cut-and-paste actually meant cut-and-paste.
(Danzig laughs at this. I'm back in!) In some ways it was a lot easier and the things you could do that you can't do on a computer. That being said, though, you can change a font right away and know whether or not you like it.
That's definitely a cool artistic element in the book, that the fonts are different.
I changed them for each band, I did an intro page for each band and I did it chronologically from the newest song to the oldest song: Danzig newest song, second newest song; then Samhain newest song, all the way back to the Misfits. The last song is the earliest Misfits song never transcribed.
Are there enough un-transcribed songs to do another book? Another 10 books?
Not 10, but at least another book. For example, on this new record, we did a great booklet. Originally it was only going to be eight pages, but I told them I needed 12. Pretty much the Rick Rubin-era stuff is covered.
Do you have big banker boxes just full of cocktail napkins with lyrics on them?
I don't write that way. I write on pieces of paper. And I still write the old-school way. And I have a microcassette recorder, because I write most of my best songs while I'm driving. So I have to scream and play the drum beat into this micro recorder while I'm driving. That's how I still do a lot of it. [Before that] I lost a lot of great songs. I'd get to the studio and be like, "I had this great song idea on the way here, but then somebody cut me off and I started screaming and following them." (We both laugh hard at this.)
Speaking of new songs, let's chat about the new album. From a listener's perspective, it has such an organic feel to it. It's almost like a live album; it feels like everything is happening right there. It doesn't sound overproduced. (He's quiet. I just told Glenn goddamn Danzig what his new album sounds like. What is wrong with me?)
Am I misinterpreting here?
It's not overly produced. Rick was great for a lot of the things he did, what he did, but one of the reasons I stopped using him—like, on How The Gods Kill (1992), I produced that and he was just executive producer on that—was because I needed it to get more, like you said, organic. I don't like stuff too dry and I needed that roar to it, kind of like you saying it sounds live. I need a lot of that. I leave mistakes in. He would take mistakes out all the time and sometimes they give a song character. It could just be a flub, or someone forgot to take their hand off the strings or something. If it sounds cool, I'm like leave it in. Some you have to take out because you're like, no man, that sounds awful. But sometimes that stuff is character. I'm sure if you listen to the old records, the classic records that I have that people still listen to, you can hear the mistakes. I listen to the oldies stations all the time and you hear this Mamas and the Papas song, "I Saw Her Again Last Night," you can hear them come in two bars early before they're supposed to come back in with their chorus. And somebody left that in. (I love that Glenn Danzig just said that he listens to the Mamas and the Papas. He says that last part about the mistake with such a joyful sense of discovery, I relax again.)
It gives it a sense of immediacy. As a fan, as a listener, it's almost like you're kind of in on it.
I play everything live in the studio still. When we do our drum track, it's not some ProTools drum track. It's a live drum track. We don't drag stuff to a hard drive. I still go into a real studio with a big board. I don't sit in somebody's room and record into ProTools. It's a real recording session still.
Deth Red Saboath definitely has that feel to it. So, say someone doesn't know you or your music, someone really young, and this is their first introduction to Danzig. Is this a good introduction?
Sure. Any of them are. We get a lot of young kids at our shows. The demographic is like 50 to like 14. (We both find that very amusing.) It's insane. But it's cool. People are always like, "How do you feel about that?" You know what? It's why we started punk. We didn't want people to be listening to Journey and Foreigner.
Yeah, whatever that crappy FM '70s shit that was like "let's make a record and make money and go on tour." It was just a big media suck-up. It was just the worst, most uninspired stuff and was actually the impetus for punk. That whole rebellion.
That's still sort of going on with stuff like American Idol. It's so manufactured. (Oh, I'm way off track now, but I'm sort of lost in the moment.)
Even when we started Danzig, we were like the more things change, the more they stay the same. And now here we are with American Idol. You have these manufactured people who haven't done the hard work being out on the road and playing for 10 people in Iowa or something. They make them stars overnight, they put out a record that sells to those people that watched it that season and then the next record, they're dropped. They're the flavor of the month and next year, they're working at McDonald's.
I did want to ask you about this nine-city tour ...
It's not even a tour. I traditionally don't go out before a record comes out, but my management really wanted me to go out because we're not going out again until the fall with my Blackest of the Black Tour, which is going to be really big this year. The management said you've got to do some dates, so I said I could do four or five dates on the East Coast and four or five on the West Coast. I'll live with that. We'll see how it goes.
How on earth did Boise get lucky enough to be on something like this? The kind of tour that you never do ...
You know, we come to Boise all the time.
(Forgetting that I'm talking to a music icon, and one who could crush my head with his upper arms, I yell the next part in a far-too sassy tone.) I know. But how ...
That's how! (Danzig yells right back, but he's not angry. We both laugh. Phew.) We're going to places where we have fans and where people wanted the show. You'd be surprised but Reno is a really big market for us and we're going there. And Boise is within driving distance. We could've gone to Spokane but we didn't. (He pronounces it Spo-kayne. Suck it, Spo-kayne.)
On behalf of Boise fans and those within driving distance, I'll thank you now. (As soon as the words leave my mouth, I feel ridiculous.)
Well, thanks for being so nice to us. It's great when you go somewhere and people appreciate it. I know the last two times we went to Boise, the shows were nuts. One of the times, we had Doyle [Paul Caiafa a.k.a. Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein] with us and the people up front were going crazy. I was like, "You have to calm down." Not that we don't like fans going crazy, but just like totally out of their minds. They didn't know where they were. They were like, "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!" It was cool. (We are both laugh so hard, it takes a moment to get back on track.)
Well, good. And I'm sure those guys will be there this time, too. You were just talking about a booklet for this new CD. Is it important for you as a musician, a multimedia artist if you will that people pick up the physical product or are you OK with people buying in online?
No. I hate that. Since I started doing all of this music stuff, the cover is so important because it tells you about the band: what they're about, what they're thinking about. When you download a song on the Internet, you don't get that. I want to hold something in my hand. As soon as I put the CD in, I'm opening that booklet to see what they're about. I want to see some lyrics or some pictures that they decided to put in there. Right away you can tell whether the band put it together or their label did it for them. A band put it together, it's going to be a gigantic booklet. A label did it, and it's going to be a four-page folded thing with dorky pictures. I don't come from that kind of mentality. Punk bands and metal bands—I guess they were calling it "underground metal" at the time—they were all really involved in how people perceived them, and the artwork on their covers. You know what I mean? (I do know what he means and my admiration of Danzig grows immensely.)
It's really important to this day for me and I know it's important to my fans. I get that feedback from them right away on the road. They want a good package.
And also these days, like you said with the downloading, you better give your fans a good package or they're just going to download it.
And you can't think of a Misfits song without thinking of the album cover, too.
It's important to do that over and over. If you're going to put out a record, you better make sure the cover looks good. I think that's also a throwback to the '60s, maybe even the early '70s before it got all sell-out. The record covers are important. That's what made me buy my first Black Sabbath record. It was called Black Sabbath and here's this girl in a satanic cloak on this dead farm. I was like, "I gotta have this record. If it sounds halfway as good as it looks, I'm going to be blown away." And I was.