Glenn Danzig is well aware that his fans sometimes call him “Evil Elvis.” “That’s fine,” he says with a laugh. “Anytime someone mentions my name and Elvis’ name in the same sentence, that’s great. It doesn’t get better than that.”
Danzig’s love for the King has been well documented over the years, as he’s covered Presley tracks going back to the early days of his pioneering punk group the Misfits. He famously included an ultra-metallic take on Presley’s King Creole track “Trouble” (“I’m evil, so don’t you mess around with me” are lyrics that sound custom-fit for Danzig) on his Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP in 1993 and another similarly heavy rendition of the Speedway cut (and ’68 Comeback Special showstopper) “Let Yourself Go” on his recent Skeletons covers album.
Now Danzig — who recently unveiled his debut horror film, Verotika — has devoted an entire album to hailing the King. The long-in-the-works Danzig Sings Elvis, due out April 24th, features Evil Elvis’ covers of iconic Presley numbers like “Always on My Mind,” “Baby, Let’s Play House,” and even the distinctly un-Danzig-like “Pocket Full of Rainbows.” What’s most surprising is how faithful his versions are to the originals.
His take on “One Night” — Presley’s foot-stomping rockabilly barnburner, which made it up to Number Four in 1957 — retains all the lustful passion of the original with gently buzzing guitar and as much glorious slap-back reverb as Danzig could find. Never does it drift into metal territory; it’s simply a reverent tip of the pompadour to the King.
The only thing Danzig — who is planning some all-Elvis concerts for Los Angeles and San Francisco later this year — would not do on the album is dabble with Presley’s saccharine backup vocals like the Jordanaires’ contributions to “Love Me.” “Even though I’m doing this whole thing of Elvis songs,” he tells Rolling Stone in an interview about his love for Presley, “I still have to retain my identity while paying tribute to Elvis.”
When and how did you become an Elvis fan?
Obviously, when I was younger, everybody knew who Elvis was. I got into Elvis because I hated going to school, so I would play hooky a lot or cut school, and I’d stay home and watch old movies. I remember one day watching Jailhouse Rock. And just going, “Whoa.” By the end of the movie, I was like, “This guy’s cool. This is what I want to do.” [Laughs.]
And [my career] happened a lot like [Elvis’ character in Jailhouse Rock], too, because nobody would put out Misfits records, so I would take them everywhere, and people would tell me it was junk and noise. So I had to put it out myself. And then of course, along the way, people hear your stuff and then they rip it off. They tell you they’re not interested in your stuff, and then they rip off what you’re doing. It’s a typical story. I’m sure it’s happened to a million other people. So that was it for me.
Did you ever see Elvis live?
No, I never did. I remember when he first came to the Garden in the early Seventies, I was just a broke little kid. The show was sold out a million years ahead of time. I remember I was at some local fair, and a friend says, “Hey, a friend of mine bought tickets for Elvis, and they can’t go. They’re selling the tickets.” I’m like, “Oh, man. I want to go.” And he’s like, “They’re $25 each.” Twenty-five dollars back then was a lot. I think concerts were like, $4, $5, $6. This is like multiple times what a normal concert goes for. He was like, “I gotta sell them by this or that week,” so I’m raising money. I’m doing all this crazy stuff. Finally about a week later, I call him up and say, “I got the money.” He goes, “The guy sold ’em a couple days ago.” And that was it.
What was the first Elvis song you tried to sing?
The first Elvis song I sang, probably in a garage band, was, like, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” “All Shook Up,” “Hound Dog.”
You steered clear of a lot of Elvis’ biggest hits, like “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” or “Suspicious Minds,” for this record. Why is that?
Yeah, I stayed away from a lot of that stuff, and I just did what I felt I wanted to do.
Was Elvis a key inspiration to you as a vocalist?
Yeah, of course. I don’t have that screechy, high metal voice, so I gravitated more to that kind of vocal style, like bluesier stuff. I’ve been pretty vocal about my influences, like Elvis or Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, things like that. Yeah, the deeper voice always worked for me better.
What was the first Elvis cover you did with Danzig?
We started doing “Trouble” with [Danzig’s band between the Misfits and Danzig] Samhain. But I remember even back in the Misfits days, we would cover an Elvis song here or there. I know that we did “Got a Lot o’ Livin’ to Do” once live and “Blue Christmas” once, we started it out like regular Elvis and then made it all punky after that, at a Christmas show. I’m pretty sure Jerry [Only, Misfits bassist] is still a big Elvis fan.
In Danzig, we did “One Night” acoustically and we did it loud, too. And of course we did “Trouble.” But I wanted to take a different approach with this record, and that’s what we did.
What is it that stands out about “One Night” to you?
It’s a great song. There’s a lot of different versions of it that I did while I was in the studio with multiple vocal takes. I did some a little softer, some a little harder. Some in between. The one I decided on is the one I like the best.
That song always makes me think of the ’68 Comeback Special. Was that show a big deal for you?
Yeah, I remember watching it as a kid and thinking, “Wow. This is pretty cool.” He basically hadn’t done any live performing. He came back from the Army and was just doing movies. Then all this stuff was happening like the British Invasion and the Mod thing and hippies. I think he was like, “Where’s my place?” So he went, “I’m Elvis. This is my place.”
You’ve been working on this record for several years. How did it come together?
What happened was, in between doing it, I’ve been working on a million other things. I’m working on other records. It started out as, “I’m gonna do a Danzig Sings Elvis EP, and it can be four or five songs.” And eventually, while doing other records, we’d have downtime and I’d just turn to Tommy [Victor, guitarist] and say, “Let’s do another Elvis track or two.” He’s like, “OK.” Eventually, it became an album.
The arrangements on the album are pretty true to the originals. Was it nice to do something lighter than a typical Danzig record?
Yeah. There’s tracks on there that people would not think I would be doing on a Danzig Sings Elvis record. So I think people are going to be hopefully pleasantly surprised [laughs].
Do you worry about what fans might make of you singing a song like “Pocket Full of Rainbows”?
No. It’s a great song. Elvis sometimes gets dogged about the soundtrack stuff he did, but there are some really, really good songs on those soundtrack records. And that’s one of them.
Which of these songs have a personal meaning for you?
They all mean something to me. The tough thing was picking which songs to do, because there are so many great Elvis songs. If you think about the short time that he was recording, and how many records he did, it’s a lot. He was probably averaging three or four records a year, which is crazy. What other artist can you think about that does three or four records a year? [Laughs] I think it was different back then. I think other bands were working at a similar pace — bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were probably putting out two records a year.
Maybe it was easier for Elvis to do more records because he wasn’t writing the songs.
Yeah. I know he was involved in the arrangements. You can see some of that on the That’s the Way It Is documentary. But he didn’t write any of his own material.
Does the album feature your regular Danzig band?
It’s me and Tommy. My old drummer Joey [Castillo], he was playing on the last Danzig record, he did the drums on “Fever.” And that’s me playing bass on “Fever.” I did all the other drums. It’s just doing something you enjoy doing as opposed to, “Hey, I want this to be a hit record or chart or something.” It was nothing like that. It was just a labor of love.
A lot of these are love songs, which seems unusual for you.
Elvis had a lot of love songs, but there are a lot about love gone wrong. So when you’re looking through the catalog, you’re like, there’s a lot of failed romance in the songs that he’s singing.
Are there a lot of other songs you recorded that didn’t make the cut?
So would you consider a Part 2 at some point?
No [laughs]. [Pauses] I’m sure they’ll end up somewhere down the road, maybe as a B side of a single. I know we’re doing a seven-inch for “Always on My Mind,” just because it’s retro to begin with, and on the B side we did an alternate vocal take of “Lovin’ Arms.” It’s the same arrangement, but a different vocal take.
I got the idea to do that from a lot of these CDs that come out, and they show you the alternate takes as bonus tracks. Especially a lot of the Elvis stuff that comes out on the Follow That Dream label, you get to hear six or seven different vocal takes, like maybe the first pass at it where he’s trying to wrap his head around how to sing it, and then more from later, and then you hear the final one he released. Sometimes for fans, it’s kind of cool to hear how you’re working it out, and because I’m a big Phil Spector fan, I believe sometimes those first vocal takes have that magic. That first vocal take has got stuff that maybe another one that’s executed better just doesn’t have. It has that energy or excitement to it that a more polished take just doesn’t have.
What do you have planned for the Elvis-themed shows you have coming up?
I want it to be kind of an old-school, Vegas-y vibe that’s all seated with 400 or 500 seats. Right now we’re just gonna do San Francisco and L.A. We’ll have tables right up onstage. No pit. None of that crazy shit. Come relax. If you want to have a drink, great. If not, come watch me and the guys do some Elvis stuff — it will be all Elvis stuff.
Do you think you’ll do more?
We’ll see. I have a pretty heavy schedule right now with the new film and the old film. And I’m going back out with Danzig this year to do some live shows in Europe and the States. We’re headlining Psycho Fest in Vegas when I get back from Europe. We’ll be doing the Lucifuge album in Vegas.
You’re currently working on a new movie. What can you tell me about it?
It’s called Death Rider in the House of Vampires; it’s a “vampire Spaghetti Western.” We just finished editing it, so now it’s going to color, which is Technicolor. And then going into sound.
Have you been happy with the reception you got for your first feature, Verotika?
Yeah [laughs]. It’s pretty much crazy. We freaked a lot of people out, which is good. But everywhere we took it — we did showings all over the country and even into Barcelona, Spain — people seem to love it. So it’s great.
What are you doing musically right now?
Nothing. I did the soundtrack for the movie, but other than that, chillin’.
Would you ever want to make a record of your own that’s quiet like Danzig Sings Elvis?
I don’t know. Not right now.
Do you have future plans for the Misfits?
Not right now. I know we have a show we have to do on May 4th, some festival we’re headlining. But that’s it for a while, especially since Danzig’s going out this year. [Editor’s note: The Domination festival in Mexico where the Misfits were set to perform has since been postponed.]
As far as reunions go, the guitarist on the first Danzig albums, John Christ, has been saying he would want to play with you again. Is that something you’d consider?
I’m not even gonna comment on that. It was like 20 years ago, at least. Maybe more. It was 25 years. I’m pretty happy with Tommy right now. He’s an incredible guitar player. People steal his riffs all the time and he doesn’t get credit for how amazing he is.
Have you thought about trying to do a live Misfits release or recording something?
Yeah, we’ll see. It’s something we’ve talked about.
Are you happy with the way the Misfits shows have been going?
Yeah. Shit, we sold out Madison Square Garden. As a matter of fact, we oversold it. Back in the day, all the bigwig promoters and record label people were like, “A punk band will never headline Madison Square Garden.” And of course, we’re the first punk band to headline there. And not only did we sell it out, we oversold it. So a big fuck you to all those assholes, who are probably selling hotdogs on Sixth Avenue.