Interview with Glenn Danzig: Brick By Brick

Invoking Glenn Danzig’s name sparks in the mind ideas about an eccentric man who has howled, moaned and wailed in his signature baritone for close to 35 years, about the scary monsters and devil wenches that wait for us all somewhere deep in the darkness. He’s rocked crowds and scared the shit out of squares since his days with the legendary punk band The Misfits, and then with Samhain—the metal and blues hybrid that would serve as the prototype for what would ultimately evolve into the band of his namesake—the band that would make him a household name, and prove to be his greatest creative vehicle, of which there are many.

But everywhere he has gone, mystery and drama have surrounded Glenn Danzig. Of late, he was the subject of a bizarre Internet story that reported an altercation between himself and a neighbor, who had complained about a pile of bricks that cluttered Danzig’s front yard, and was apparently upset about what the collection of bricks was doing to the property value. By now, most of the free world has seen the video of Danzig getting knocked-out backstage at a show in Arizona in 2004. And now, the man who has spent a lifetime recording and performing for his legion of fans seems uncertain, at best, about how much longer he’ll continue to do either.

Recently, Danzig recorded new music to be featured in the soundtrack for the film The Hangover Part II. There have been plans for a third installment of his Black Aria series, the modern classical project he began in 1987, and it has been long rumored that there is an album of cover songs in the works as well.

“I’ve got six or seven songs recorded,” says Danzig of the covers album, from his home in Los Angeles. And though he promises he’ll “let everyone know soon which songs he’s doing,” there is the sense that his most recent release, Deth Red Sabaoth, may very well become his last. His last words to me on the covers album are the ominous, “We’ll see if I start working on it again,” while as of late, Danzig has been quoted in the media as saying that the financial realities of recording and distributing an album may not make it worthwhile to undertake such a project again.

So, if Deth Red Sabaoth indeed becomes Danzig’s swan song then he will have left on an extremely high note. The album, his best work in recent memory, is filled to the brim with bone-crushing riffs that are a throwback to the records Danzig made with the classic line-up that featured John Christ on guitar, Erie Von on bass and Chuck Biscuits on drums. For Deth Red Sabaoth, Danzig recorded the tracks with former Type O-Negative drummer Johnny Kelly and former Prong guitarist Tommy Victor, both off-and-on Danzig collaborators since 2002. “Tommy and I have worked on a lot of records together but Johnny had been playing in Danzig off and on since 2002, and it was just time to get him on a Danzig record,” says Danzig. “He was supposed to play on [Danzig’s 2004 release] Circle of Snakes, but he had to leave and do a Type O tour.”

The trio pummels through the material on Deth Red Saboath with hell-storm abandon, like on the thunderous opener, “Hammer of the Gods.” Like the signature album openers from some of Danzig’s previous albums—such as “Godless” from Danzig III: How the Gods Kill and “Brand New God” from Danzig 4p—the track opens with a blistering riff that cracks through the center of the universe, while Danzig himself delivers his verses with that unmistakable voice of his. The track soon breaks down into a haunting sludge factory of sound, before picking up again and leading out with the ferocious riff that began the song. Much of the album is splattered thematically with black moons, hungry beasts and blood, and it is by far the most consistent record that Danzig has made since 4p. “Just the vibe that was what I was going for on this record more than anything,” says Danzig. “I was pretty happy—actually, I was more than happy with the way it turned out. Better than I was hoping.”

“I wanted it to sound like a ‘70s record, but with updated guitar sounds. Right away, I knew I wanted to do my guitar tracks through a bass amp. A lot of the heavier bands from the ‘70s did that—recorded with amps with 15 and 18-inch speakers. So, I just went around buying old gear.”

Danzig will tour behind Deth Red Sabaoth, doing over 30 dates between late April and early July, both in America and Europe, in spite of the fact that Danzig openly detests the rigors of touring. “After the 2005 Blackest of the Black Tour with [Misfits guitarist] Doyle, I stopped touring,” he says. “But then I just did some local stuff around here so that I could come back home in-between shows. And the next time out, I went out for about two weeks of shows and then came home. So, that seems to work, and that’s how I’ve been doing it ever since. As long as I can fly home and not be on the road too long.” Even still, performing is in his blood. And regarding playing live, he says that he still enjoys “just being out there, and getting the immediate reaction from the people.”

Danzig is not known for taking nostalgia trips down memory lane; it’s widely known that he doesn’t really like talking about The Misfits, and his volatility in general makes him difficult to get a read on. But while the process of making music has changed for him over the decades, he remains certain about why he got into making music in the first place. “Back in the day, we hated disco and FM arena rock records by these terrible ‘70s bands, and we just wanted to bring it back to being exciting and crazy. We wanted to see all the cool shit back in the music; we wanted cool record covers again, we wanted to bring all that crazy energy back, because it was lacking. And it ended up having a big impact.” If his future seems up in the air right now, at least Glenn Danzig’s perspective on his career thus far remains pure and true: “I just record what really makes me excited, and hopefully that excitement translates to other people.”

Danzig will be playing the Starland Ballroom on May 14 and the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on May 18.