PHOTOS BY JEANEEN LUND
Most performers have to span a gap between their public image and their private life, but Glenn Danzig has to jump between two distinct public versions of himself. Think of the disconnect between the cheesy camp of his “Mother” video and the lurid power of the song itself. Occult Glenn earns public ridicule to almost the same degree that Songwriter Glenn earns praise, like an actor who wins a Razzie and an Oscar in the same week. When I mentioned this interview in an email to a friend, the friend wrote, “You don’t really think of Danzig as someone you get to ask actual questions of.”
Because I’d been scheduled for an interview, and not a jam session, I’d steeled myself for all variety of Occult Danzig worst-case scenarios. This was needless worry. Glenn met me at his Los Angeles office with a friendly nod and a handshake. No hooded Metalocalypse minions guarded the periphery. In person, that legendary voice was a shade smokier than I’d expected, still marked with traces of a Jersey accent, like an off-duty James Gandolfini. He led me into his dimly lit inner sanctum, turned down Fox News on a TV in the corner, and motioned for me to take a chair. Only at that moment did it occur to me that I’d just stepped into a dark room with Glenn Danzig.
Vice: Thanks for doing this interview in person. It gives me a strong incentive to not be a smartass.
Glenn Danzig: Yeah, my day’s slammed, but I got here early to try and accommodate.
I’ve always been curious how a band like Danzig works. You’re the figurehead, the front man, the namesake, and the songwriter...
That started after Samhain, when I hooked up with Rick [Rubin], because we were courting lots of major labels at the time. It was his idea to change the name to Danzig. I said, “Well, I was gonna do that after the Misfits. I just thought it sounded too much like Billy Idol or something.” But by the time Samhain had run its course and was becoming Danzig, people knew what to expect from me, from Danzig. The original idea was to have a different lineup every record.
What changed that?
We got into touring mode. But it should have been done sooner.
It seems like that would deny you any lasting chemistry with your bandmates. There are basically term limits on your musicians.
No, you just work with a lot of different people. You get to experience lots of different stuff and do a lot of different things. I like that freedom a lot better. It’s like, “Maybe I can work with this guy.” I still like that kind of rebellious punk thing where you change it up all the time. If you get bored, change it. When it’s stale, fix it.
I guess I’m curious about this because it kind of puts you in the position of being the employer. How do practices work if you’re like the boss of the band?
I don’t like to look at it like that.
I’m not saying you are the boss, like you have laminated posters with Employee Rights and Grievance Number Hotlines on the wall of the practice space, but...
At the end of the day you have to make sure you do pay attention to the business end. But it should still be that everyone’s having a good time. If you’re not having a good time, there’s the door. If you come in and you’re like [makes whining noise]—goodbye. I don’t have time for that fucking shit. There’s not a lot of money in music these days; I do it because I enjoy it. I could get a lot more money doing other shit. Am I going to tour forever? Probably not. But I enjoy doing it still, and anyone who puts a damper on that, I don’t need you. You really should be doing music because you love playing music. And if you’re going out on the road, you’ve got to enjoy playing live. If you don’t like playing live, you shouldn’t be on the road, because people are paying to see you and they don’t want you up there all bored. That’s bullshit.
So how do practices work when you’re the primary songwriter?
I’m the only songwriter.
Do you show up with prewritten parts? Do you say, “Hey, Tommy, here’s the new part”?
This is the same question you would ask Bowie or somebody.
Yeah, but I’m never going to get to meet Bowie. You’re it.
You’ve never been able to ask this question before?
I’ve never spoken with anybody who’s reached this point in their career.
Oh, OK. Well, basically I write the songs, I bring them down, show everybody their part, and then we play it until it sounds good.
So if at any point one of your musicians says, “I’ve got a way this could sound better,” does that constitute employee insubordination?
If it’s just a way to play the riff or the chord pattern, no. But if you’re trying to change the actual makeup of the song, yeah, that won’t fly.
For most musicians, that’s an alien concept. Every band I’ve ever known has operated on a level far below this, hashing out competing musical visions in cramped practice spaces. What’s your process for writing songs?
Sometimes I get the guitar lines, sometimes I write on the piano, sometimes I’ll write the lyrics first and then figure out the chord patterns on guitar, and sometimes I write the drum pattern first. It’s all different.
Is it all up here [points to head] or do you keep stuff on a tape recorder?
When I first started working with Rick, he made me buy not one but a couple of microcassette recorders, because I would come to rehearsal and I would go, “Man, I had this great song on the way here.” I wrote a lot of songs when I was banging on my steering wheel, driving and screaming “Fuck you!” to really bad drivers, but I would forget the songs by the time I got to rehearsal. Rick was like, “You gotta get a microcassette recorder! That could have been a hit song!”
I would think that after the first time that happened you’d be banging your head on the dashboard.
I don’t stress on that shit. But now, unless I’m at my pad or whatever and a song comes to me and I just pick up my guitar and write it and lay it down on something, then yeah, I usually hum it into a microcassette recorder and then I transpose it when I get home and work it out on guitar or piano.
I’ve read that you’re going to slow down on touring some because you don’t want to deal with the downtime that comes on the road.
After the 2005 Blackest of the Black tour, I stopped touring. Then I said, “Well, I’ll do local shows, because I don’t have to sit on a bus for fucking three days between shows, doing nothing.” I’m a workaholic, and so I’ve always got to be doing stuff. When you’re on the bus, you can’t do shit. You’re not at home, you don’t have all your shit.
But I guess you then got tired of not touring…
I love playing live, so I started out again with a couple local shows. Then we put together a West Coast run and I flew home after every two or three shows. And then we tried this thing where we flew out to the East Coast, did four shows, I flew home, and then we started a West Coast run that went out to Denver for two and a half weeks, and every two or three days I flew home. It worked out OK, so in 2008 we did a Blackest run where I flew home every few days. That didn’t bug me, so we’ll try a full tour this time. I’m going to try the flying-home thing and see how it works.
That implies that you had decades of not doing that, of being on tour and dealing with the constraints of Tour Time. I’ve known so many touring musicians who surrendered to the downtime, who would let their natural rhythms go to hell and sleep until three, not exercise, not read, not do any of the things they’d do at home...
I try to work out, but a lot of hotels don’t have gyms anymore, so I always try to find a local gym where there’s not a ton of ’roid-heads, ’cause I can’t stand them. It’s tough. I read a lot, so that helps.
Are you able to read on tour? Meaning, can you concentrate even with other people’s noise?
I get my own back area where people stay away from me. [laughs] I’m always reading or going to bookstores. When everyone else is farting around in the daytime, I’m at bookstores.
But you must have had years before that where you were staying at people’s houses, in the early days. In the 80s, you weren’t staying at hotels and you didn’t have a bus.
We would sleep in the van sometimes.
Dude, I’ve tried that. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.
In Samhain, I carpeted everything but I built a thing so the amps would never hit you, and it was also a bunk. So it had doors on the top, and when you opened them you could get to the amps or you could climb up to the top bunk. The top bunk could have two people sleeping up there. It was all plush carpet. You could fit another four people below there, plus three people in the front.
Feasible, but not posh.
It was comfortable. It was better than the Misfits, I’ll tell you that. In those days you could still have the cab connected to the back of the truck, so you didn’t have to get out of the truck to change drivers. I would be like, “Here, switch off,” and while I was driving, I would jump out of the seat and hold the wheel until another person jumped in and grabbed it. Real touring, motherfucker!
I’ve always assumed “Mother ’93” was kind of the dividing line when you started to get a lot more public recognition. Is that correct?
MTV didn’t want to play the “Mother” video, but it was being played five times an hour on the Music Box. The original was banned when it came out. MTV told Rick they needed the censored version. He thought he sent them censored version, but he sent them the uncensored one. They played it, and they got all these religious people—who can go fuck themselves anyway [holds up middle finger to empty space]—freaking out, and MTV banned us almost forever.
Am I right in thinking that when you go out now, to the supermarket or wherever, you get a certain amount of gawkers?
Yeah. I have to sign autographs wherever I go.
Here’s a question I’ve always had. Have you heard of Jerusalem syndrome? That’s the thing where normal tourists go to the Holy Land, freak out, and convince themselves they’re John the Baptist or Jesus.
I’ve never heard of that.
It’s a recognized psychological phenomenon.
I’ve never heard of it.
I guess it’s not that well known. I didn’t make it up, though.
All right. ’Cause I read a lot.
Well, I’m wondering if there is a Danzig syndrome? Do you have a thing where your persona or physical presence inspires people to flip out?
I don’t know, you’d have to ask them.
What I mean is, have people freaked out on you? Has anyone come up to you in public and acted unhinged at the sight of you in person?
I don’t know about that. I think people are just like, “Wow,” and are really happy that they saw me. “Oh, will you sign something for me or take a picture for me?” Most of my fans are pretty cool.
I’m talking about 1 percent of 1 percent. The person who comes up to you and says, “I sacrificed my dog in the name of Kramdar. Here’s the body, Lord Danzig.”
I saw John Carpenter speak in 2002. He was 54 then, but he looked ten years older, and he talked for a while about his sagging energy levels. You’re the same age now, right?
Give or take.
Well, you look my age and it’s kind of weirding me out. Do you ever have problems with your energy levels?
What’s your secret?
I don’t know. I don’t eat shit food. I don’t do drugs. I don’t know what else to tell you.
I’m 40. I don’t do any of those things. I eat salad for lunch. And I wake up almost every day feeling like a wet bag of sand.
Salad is terrible if you put creamy crap on it.
It’s low-fat creamy crap!
There’s no such thing.
So you have nothing to share, nothing to impart to those of us who are rapidly turning into jiggly piles of goo? It seems like it happens quick.
Uh, do you work out at all?
Not every day.
You don’t need to do it every day. Diet is really important and I think vitamins are really important also. Maybe you want to go to a nutritionist and find out what your body is lacking and what it’s not lacking. And I don’t mean a fucking quack, chemo, murdering doctor. I mean a nutritionist, who evaluates your blood and tells you what you’re deficient in and what you’re not deficient in.
Those are all good things to know, but they’re no surprise. You don’t have any one thing that…
If I can help it, I don’t go to modern doctors.
They’re full of shit.
Across the board? All of Western medicine?
Pretty much. If you had cancer would you get chemo? You’d be dead in a week.
I wouldn’t be dead in a week!
Bet you. [laughs]
What would you bet me? Let’s make this interesting.
I wouldn’t bet you anything, because in a week, even if you live, you’re not going to live that much longer! Chemo radiation will kill you, and it’s not the way to heal your body from cancer. You need to make your body stronger. Your body has natural things that fight off diseases. Cancer is just cells deteriorating more rapidly than your body can heal and fight it. So you have to find out what that imbalance is. Doctors are too busy writing scrips that they get kickbacks on and charging you hundreds of thousands of dollars for chemo.
I think what I was looking for here was something that would help me to not look like Elmer Fudd every time I look in the mirror. But you’re not going to give it up, and I respect that.
Well, you gotta work out. Do you work out? You said no. [laughs]
I said no in italics. There’s some wiggle room there. I go to the gym once or twice a week. [laughs unconvincingly] Here’s something else: This morning there were reports—false ones—that the guy from the Twilight movies was set to play Kurt Cobain in a biopic. At some point, someone’s going to play you in a movie, whether it’s about stuff that you’ve done, or at least peripheral to stuff you’ve done.
I’ve never even thought about that. [laughs]
It’s inevitable. Who plays you?
That will never happen.
Here’s where the bet comes in. There’s gotta be some money in this for me.
First off, that’s never gonna happen. And I couldn’t even tell you who I think should play me because by the time a movie like that is ever done, whoever I would pick now would be too old. [laughs] And also, you know Hollywood doesn’t ever pick the right people to play those parts.
That’s kind of what I’m getting at here.
Hopefully I’ll be dead and I won’t have to know about it.
Danzig’s new album, Deth Red Sabaoth, will be released June 22nd on Evilive/The End Records.