Late last month, Glenn Danzig posted a photo to Facebook of himself wearing full skull makeup for the first time since his days in horror-punk hell-raisers Misfits nearly 40 years ago. “I wore makeup only at a couple of live shows and maybe for a photo shoot,” the singer tells Rolling Stone of his early punk days in the above video. “I think it was originally for a Halloween show, ’79, at [New York City’s] Irving Plaza. I also had the skeleton shirt and skeleton clothes on, so I was a full punk skeleton man. I can’t remember if it was that show or the next year’s Halloween show that we hung dead animal heads and limbs and carcasses all over the place. It smelled like a slaughterhouse. It looked like a slaughterhouse because it actually was.” The venue was not too happy.
Danzig donned the skull face in 2015 with no carcasses present (or at least none in frame) for a photo shoot to accompany his long-awaited upcoming covers record Skeletons. “I had titled it skeletons before the makeup, to be like ‘skeletons in your closet,'” he says. “It’s like pulling out old songs.” The record features the “Mother” singer’s touch on songs by Black Sabbath, ZZ Top, the Troggs, the Everly Brothers and others. It’s one of many projects he’s been working on, including an EP of all Elvis Presley covers, a new LP of Danzig originals and his recently released Danzig Legacy film, but at the moment it’s the project closest on the horizon that could arrive as early as next month.
“I had to put it out now or else there would be so many songs I’d want to do that I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he explains with a wide smile. “Even the way I did it, there are so many songs I still wanted to cover. My attitude with covers is, make it your own or else leave it alone.”
In the case of ZZ Top’s gentle, fuzzy-synth ballad “Rough Boy,” Danzig says he turned it into a “heavy Fifties song,” since both he and Prong’s Tommy Victor play guitar on the song. “I made it the way Billy Gibbons did it,” Danzig says. “It kind of stops and the chorus never finishes, so I made it a flowing song. I hope he’s not too upset.”
In addition to Danzig’s take on the Troggs’ “A Girl Like You” (“I made it real punky”) the Litter’s “Action Woman” and the Everlys’ “Crying in the Rain” (“It’s very creepy and dark,” Danzig says of the piano-led album closer), Skeletons will also feature his second Black Sabbath cover, following his industrialized take on “Hand of Doom” from the mid-Nineties. This time, Danzig tackled a track off the trailblazing metal group’s 1970 debut: the herky-jerky love letter from Lucifer titled “N.I.B.”
“It’s one of the Sabbath songs I really liked, and the first Sabbath record is pretty groundbreaking,” he explains. “I just dropped it down to a half beat, pulled all the bass out of the beginning, and it’s just drums, guitar and vocals. When the chorus comes in, it’s just big old bass chords and church bells.”
One of his more surprising choices was the title song from the 1967 movie Devil’s Angels, originally by Davie Allan and the Arrows. “It’s an arrangement that I gave that song back in ’79 and never got to record, because I’ve been planning on doing this covers record forever,” he says. “There’s a similar vibe to that song and the Troggs’ ‘A Girl Like You’; very old-school punk.”
In addition to the covers record, the singer has been working on a proper Danzig album. “It’s pretty much all recorded, except I keep writing extra songs so I’m gonna go back in the studio probably at the end of June,” he says. “Some of it’s very swampy and dark, some of it’s…I don’t know what the right word is. It’s pretty heavy though.”
Danzig recorded both the LP and the covers record with guitarist Victor and former Type O Negative drummer Johnny Kelly, but he also has been recording his own guitar and drums parts for select songs, switching off on bass with Victor. It’s a through-line of sorts back to his Misfits days when he recorded his first solo release, the 1981 single “Who Killed Marilyn,” which he recently reissued for the first time in decades. On that release, he performed every instrument.
The singer first learned sax and clarinet before switching to piano, for which he took lessons. “I picked up guitar, couldn’t really play it well, put it down and then a year later picked it back up and was able to play like that,” he says. “When I write, I write the drum beat. Though sometimes I write on piano or guitar.
“With ‘Who Killed Marilyn?’ a friend who used to work with us just told me, ‘ You should do a solo record, you should be on your own,’ because the Misfits were going through a period where it wasn’t really doing anything,” he continues. “And the guys didn’t really want to do anything. So I put it out and it was a success for that time period.”
In between recording sessions for his new records, Danzig has also been recording Elvis songs. “I’m making it a little different,” he says. “Some of the stuff I’m stripping down, bare bones, very old-school Fifties echoey slap-back vocals, piano, guitar. It’s pretty much done, but every time I go back into the studio to work on a new Danzig record, if we have time, I’m like, ‘Let’s do another song.’ So we’ll see what ends up on the record.” Possibilities include “Home Is Where the Heart Is” and the Faron Young–composed tune “Is It So Strange,” which Presley recorded in 1957.
The singer says his favorite Elvis recordings include the King’s comeback LP From Elvis in Memphis and the late-Fifties records featuring guitarist Scotty Moore. He even likes the gems in Presley’s extensive soundtrack recordings. “I remember trying to bum money to go see him at Madison Square Garden, and I just couldn’t get enough money,” he says. “At the time, it was $25 for a ticket, which was a lot back then. Concerts were about $8 or $9, so it was more than double to see Elvis and I just couldn’t raise the money in time.”
In recent years, Danzig has been embarking on “Legacy Tours,” wherein he plays songs from Misfits and his mid-Eighties goth-punk group Samhain along with Danzig solo tunes. It’s exemplified in his Danzig Legacy video, which aesthetically mimicked Presley’s 1968 comeback special, and finds him playing in the round with Victor, former Misfit Doyle and former Samhain bassist Steve Zing. But the singer says nostalgia has not affected his process. “I’m able to be objective and keep my perspective,” he says. The film, which premiered as an exclusive on Vimeo, will get a proper physical release in the near future.
Now he’s looking forward to putting out new records and doing a proper Danzig tour, which kicks off in Ponoma, California on July 11th. “I’ll play some of the cover songs and some of the old songs people want to hear and maybe play a couple of new tracks,” he says. “If I can make people forget whatever they’re dealing with for an hour and a half, two hours every night, that’s nice.”
The only other bit of Danzig news is that the singer turns 60 this week. So how does Glenn Danzig celebrate his birthday? “I don’t,” he says with a laugh. “It’s just another day to me. Does it change anything? No. I just do what I do.”