"I think music in its basic, carnivorous stage is always an exciting
thing. You can see us four or five nights in a row and every show is a
little bit different. Everything's ad-lib, I mean, let's just go out
there and play and whatever happens happens." -- Jerry Only
Who ARE these guys? Skulls and blood and bullet holes and scary teeth?
No, it's not The Grateful Dead. This is The Misfits, a band that looks
death-metal, has a reputation for punk, and actually plays good old rock
and roll. Of course, they play it loud and scare the piss out of you
with their lyrics, but it's all in good, trash-culturesque fun.
Kids that weren't even born when The Misfits shocked their first audience
know some of their songs, though most of them think Metallica wrote them.
Parents who cover their kids' ears when Marilyn Manson shows up on MTV
may have worn makeup to Misfits shows in the 70s and 80s. A quartet of
New Jersey teenagers formed the band in 1977 and they quickly made quite
a stir, which is to say they made a huge impact within the fairly small
circle of people who discovered them. So much of an impact that a legend
grew, as evidenced in the 90s by the fact that bands as influential as
Metallica cover their songs ("Last Caress," "Green Hell" and "Die, Die
My Darling") and countless others show up on stage wearing Misfits
One member of the band, Glenn, left to attempt a solo career. You may
know him by his surname: Danzig. That defection cost the band dearly,
and it also resulted in court battles over use of the name Misfits and
confusion over just what kind of music The Misfits played in the first
place. More on that later. The fact is that bassist and spokesman
Jerry Only, along with his guitarist brother, Doyle, faded away into
the real world for a very long time. A few years back they rose from
the dead with an album called American Psycho on Geffen records. The
label never really got behind the band and their option wasn't picked
up. Once again the band was on the edge of oblivion.
But this is the thing that wouldn't die.
This month, a brand new album hits the bins, this time on Roadrunner
Records. Though it's the umpteenth album to carry the name Misfits,
the band calls this their second release. In fact, they call this the
year 1999 AD, meaning "After Danzig." Though they've influenced countless
musicians and, in their own way, influenced horror culture, they've
always reached for mass acceptance, and Jerry thinks this might be the
year. And it's not so far fetched. After all, who would have believed
they'd have a year like this? They've appeared in a movie (Bruiser) for
horror film legend George Romero (who also directed their video), appeared
in the Insane Clown Posse film, become associated with the three-ring
circus known as professional wrestling, and, joy of joys, they've been
immortalized in that coolest of trash culture art forms, the action figure.
On the day that the first of those toys was shipped to Jerry Only for
approval, he was obviously more than a little excited. A perfect time
for an interview. Good thing we'd scheduled one.
Cosmik: The new album, Famous Monsters, hits the streets on the 5th of
October. How do you feel about the album?
Only: I'm very happy with the album. It was done in a very short amount of
time, which was our own fault because we took some time off after the
last tour ended, which was last November, and when we got to the first
of the year we really had to cram and write. The difference between
your first and second albums is always the first album you have many
years to collect different riffs and musical parts that you like. The
second album, you've pretty much depleted your ideas and you have to
reinvent the wheel.
Cosmik: How did you pull it off?
Only: We made a list of things we'd always wanted to write songs about.
For example "Them," which is an old 50s B-movie, and "The Crawling Eye"
and "Pumpkinhead," so songs like this are just taken from horror that
we really like and wanted to comment about. The first album, American
Psycho, was written musically first and vocally second. Famous Monsters
was written vocally first and musically second. We kind of had to create
it around the image, so it was done in reverse.
Cosmik: An October release slides it into the bins just in time for
Halloween. Was it planned that way?
Only: Yeah, that was why we got into big arguments at the beginning of the
year, because I had said "we'll worry about our songwriting after Christmas,"
because during Christmas you can't get much done. So at the first of the
year everybody was still being a little lackadaisical about showing up and
getting the job done, and I started screaming. I said "hey look, if we
don't get in the studio by April, we're gonna miss an October release, and
we might as well wait a whole year and take our time, if that's the case.
So everybody showed up and got the job done, and it wound up working out
Cosmik: In the studio by April for an October release?
Only: You actually have to plan far in advance to have an October release.
Cosmik: You did good, because the album's a blast. I actually like it better
than American Psycho.
Only: Oh, I do too! I almost had to quit the business because I made a
promise that if the next album wasn't as good as the one before, that
would be it. I wasn't gonna let this band get lazy and slip into oblivion.
You know how a lot of bands come out great on the first album and then
just slip down hill? We're not allowed to do that. We have to get better
Cosmik: You keep calling this the second album but you've made God knows
how many in 23 years. You really do consider this a new band without
Glen Danzig, don't you?
Only: Oh yeah, pretty much. The situation is that we're trying to make
a statement going into the year 2000. What we were saying back in the
70s and early 80s, I mean it's still fun stuff, but I think we've improved.
I think we've come up a notch and taken it to where it needs to be to be
in striking distance from the top. This isn't really about money, it's
about being the best at writing great music and being able to go out and
deliver. Our goal is to be number one, and I think that the music is on
its way. But don't forget, the music really goes back to the 50s. It's
very 1950s rock and roll oriented. We're like a 50s band that was buried
alive for forty years and just came back to haunt you all. I think our
subject matter and melodies and riffs are kind of timeless. I listened
to bands when I was in high school that nobody has even heard of today.
I say bands like Mott The Hoople and people say "who the hell was that?!"
Things come and go, but we've been around 23 years, shooting for 25 real
soon. The goal is to remain credible and still have something to say
after all that time, for people to still look upon it and respect it and
draw from it. It shows a lot of integrity, and a lot of growing up,
musically, and after we lost Glen that's what we really needed to do. To
put the past behind us and really start from scratch. I think that having
four people work on writing the songs is so much stronger than one.
Cosmik: I completely agree about the 50s music. The Misfits are what punk
would have sounded like if it happened in the 50s. Okay, with some
concessions for technology.
Only: Yeah, well if you notice fashion and music, and entertainment as a
whole, seems to run in cycles. I used to wear bell bottom pants when I
was in 6th and 7th grade. Today I walk down the streets and all my
daughter's friends are wearing bell bottoms, and I think "wow, here we
go again." Things change. I think punk was actually the comeback of
the 50s, in a way, because everybody had been playing these ballads and
playing real fancy, and after a while that becomes real boring. I remember
going to see Led Zeppelin, who I was a big fan of, when Bonham was still
alive. I went to four shows in a row, and by the end of the fourth night
I was thinking "oh, I don't wanna hear this guitar solo anymore, where
he hits it with the bow and then points to the lights!" For one night
it was great, but after four nights it was like "let's cut out and go
get a soda or somethin'." (Laughs.)
Cosmik: Fun for a while, but ultimately flatulent?
Only: I think music in its basic, carnivorous stage is always an exciting
thing. You can see us four or five nights in a row and every show is a
little bit different. Everything's ad-lib, I mean, let's just go out
there and play and whatever happens happens. I prefer having that kind
of a presence over a real structured, polished, professional, choreographed
kind of thing.
Cosmik: I've never seen your band live, but I've always pictured pyrotechnics
and wild light shows, which you can't be spontaneous with...
Only: No, not at all. We have an arsenal of weapons that most bands don't
have. We're very resourceful because we have a machine shop and we have
a factory facility here to create whatever we want, meaning our own guitars
and our own drums. We build all our own stuff from scratch so it'll be
totally original. So when we get into a situation where we're playing
with other bands that are really good musicians that don't have much of
a show, we lean to the show side that time. We adapt each show to who
we're up against. When we come in with a Marilyn Manson, who has a really
elaborate show, or a Rob Zombie who has a lot of pyro and props, we just
come out and rock your ass off and stick you back in your chair, which
most bands can't do. Most bands either rely on their playing or they
rely on their show to get through. We have the ability to be both.
Cosmik: The new album is going to have different bonus tracks in different
parts of the world.
Cosmik: Are there any plans to release those as singles down the road so
everyone can get them?
Only: Oh yeah, we're thinking about repackaging the entire album, because
we were on the road most of the time the artwork was getting done, and
if you read the back you'll see I was in charge of the artwork, so I
guess a lot of it is my fault. But the situation was, for the band to
keep going, we had to get out there and work and keep things moving.
So we may repackage the whole thing for the second pressing. With
the bonus tracks what happened was that we thought we had one song that
was too much on the metal side for our American audience. We didn't
want to drop that in there and then have people review our album and
say "well you've got this one metal song in the middle of the whole
thing!" So we gave that to the Japanese kids because they're into it
and they'd appreciate it. We had a different track for Europe, too.
The thing there is they're really into digipaks there, and the digipaks
have totally different artwork on the inside. We added one track that
was left off the [American] album for continuity. The album is like
a statement from beginning to end. If you listen to American Psycho,
we have a big intro called "Dr. Phibes Rises Again,"
which was actually
used by El Vampiro [Canadienese] of the WCW for his entry into the ring.
That's someone we're hopefully going to be working with. Now on the
new album we have not just an intro but also an outro. It's called
"Kong At The Gates." That was actually the beginning of a song called
Christ The Conqueror that was written back in 1987. It's funny, because
in the late 80s, when we were in the gutter battling Glen and Caroline
[Records] for our name, we wrote this great album of heavy metal riffs
because we were building guitars. As we built guitars, we would sit
back and write riffs to see how the guitars sounded. We said "well,
we've got all these great riffs. What are we gonna do? Well, let's
put it in an album," so we did. It's sort of like Iron Maiden meets
The Misfits. It's something we did as a side project, but some of the
stuff in there is really great, so we've been using pieces of it here
and there in the writing of the last two albums, and probably the next
one, too. Thing is, I'm looking to release that album eventually, and
when I do it's going to be funny because people will sit back and listen
and go "I know what that is! That's this part of THIS song!" It's
funny. Music is a fun thing. Music is like an erector set. It's very
personal and it's a good way to express yourself.
Cosmik: The art for the album was done by Basil Gogos, which was very
appropriate considering the album's title. What's the story behind
Only: Basil was one of the first artists we appreciated, because he did
the covers for [comic book] Famous Monsters when we were kids. So this
album is actually our childhood dreams of being on the cover of Famous
Monsters. They just had Gene Simmons and Alice Cooper on the covers,
so they're getting into our time frame here. We're hoping to make the
cover so we can just... rest in peace, let us say. And then a buddy
of ours, Arturo Vega, did all the computer generated art on the inside.
Have you seen that?
Cosmik: Yeah, it's great stuff!
Only: Isn't that great? He came up with the idea in his head. It wasn't
something that he stumbled into. He actually went out and bought a
computer just to make those things. He didn't know how to run it or
anything. He just said "I have an idea, I'm going to go buy a computer
and make these things for you." Arturo was one of the guys around for
the beginning of The Ramones, because he and Dee Dee Ramone lived in
the same apartment, and The Ramones' first gig was in his loft, which
he still has. It's right around the corner from CBGB's. So Arturo worked
with them for their whole career, doing their merchandising and lights,
and he does lights for us now. So he's doing a lot of our graphic designs.
I thought they were fantastic. I devoted half our artwork to it because
I thought it was great.
Cosmik: And very powerful.
Only: And very now. I thought the most impressive thing was that when you
looked at it, it said "2000." You know what I mean? I didn't say "Misfits
1978." That's something I draw away from. A lot of people say we use our
past as a crutch, and believe me, we don't. I use the past as icing on
what would really be a fantastic pound cake, you know? And we do have a
great heritage, but we have about ten million kids who think The Misfits
is like Metallica, so I have to re-educate an entire planet of children.
Cosmik: No matter what you do a lot of kids will still think some of your
material IS Metallica's material because they have that level of fame.
Only: Well it's hard because we didn't have our day. I would have thought
that if we were really big and popular in 1980 or 81, like The Dead
Kennedys or Sex Pistols were, you would know who The Misfits were and you
would know Metallica was covering our stuff. You would know what it was
about. But we dropped out right before the big boom... the big bang
theory, as I like to call it, where all at once metal had its heyday
and the Megadeths and Metallicas and Anthraxes are all playing these
giant shows, and Metallica's out there covering our songs. Which I'm
very happy about, really, because they really made our name popular out
there in the industry, and actually, when I want to get into Toys-R-Us
or something, I send them the new Metallica CD with my whole biography
in the middle of the damned thing. (Laughs.) I mean, don't listen to
me, listen to the guys from Metallica. They really helped me get
Toys-R-Us for our toy line. But the kids hear them play our songs,
and they imagine us to be a similar band.
Cosmik: Which I don't think you are at all.
Only: I don't either.
Cosmik: The good thing, though, is it definitely brought a lot of kids to
you, like Zeppelin brought a lot of mid-70s kids to The Yardbirds, and
even Willie Dixon.
Only: Oh, yeah, it did for sure. We sold a lot more records seven years
after we broke up than we ever did while we were playing, and that's just
because of Metallica playing our stuff.
Cosmik: And then some of those same kids, metal kids, discovered punk through
Only: Yeah, well, then the other thing that was a problem for us was that
by the time that was happening, Glenn [Danzig] was out there in the top
40 with "Mother." The whole meaning behind the band Christ The Conqueror
was that Glen was out there doing all this dark, Satanic vibe music, and
kids were hearing Metallica, looking for Misfits and finding Glen. It
was bad enough they thought we were Metallica, but then they thought Glen
was the band. But I think we've put most of that to rest. I think the
toys'll do that. For example, we're working with the people that do
The Mad Monster Party movie, and if you watch the end of that you'll see
they're selling videos that have The Misfits doing "The Monster Mash."
I also have a song called "Island Of Misfits Toys" that kind of goes
along with Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, and if I can get to kids at
THAT age... (laughs). That's a really scary prospect, having The Misfits
infiltrating the ranks of five year old kids, ain't it? Way before they
even know what music is they'll know who we are. (Laughs.) That's a
scary situation, but that's really the way I view our band. I think we're
an American legend at this point, like the '57 Chevy, something that you
look at and it has "American" written all over it.
Cosmik: Ah yes, the faces of the all-American boys. Who'd buy you guys as
"normal" and apple-pie?
Only: We work at a machine shop with our dad, I got two kids, I coach a
basketball team and a football team when I'm not on the road, I help
my daughter with her cheerleading and her schoolwork... We're just a
middle class family that just happens to have a great band that's out
there kicking everyone's butts. It's something that other people can
look at and say "yeah, I see where that's coming from." It doesn't always
have to be some crazed kid who doesn't fit in with the rest of the world
and winds up blowing his head off three years into it. We're not just a
bunch of schizoids being handled by people who are just worried about
making cash... which really sums the business up, in a way. You get all
these very creative people who get manipulated by other people who have
the money and the means to get the job done. We've managed to hold the
manipulation off, for the most part. And obviously we're not the biggest
thing out there, but I think we're one of the best. The rest will come
Cosmik: There's something else coming out in October that I think is going
to be very cool, and that's a previously unreleased studio version of
"The Monster Mash."
Only: Yes, what do you think of that?
Cosmik: I haven't heard it yet, but being a fan of both the song and The
Misfits I think it's a freakin' great idea. Is it on schedule?
Only: Actually I'm in the process of working that out today. We're supposed
to be doing a big bash at the Garden next Friday. THIS Friday I'll be
on WSOU from 12:30 to 3:00 in the afternoon, playing the whole album and
giving all kinds of stuff away. Don't forget, this is the last Halloween
of the millennium, for cryin' out loud. [ed.note: yes, we know there's
really one more, but look at Jerry's picture... would YOU tell him he's
wrong??]. It's just fitting that we've come into our own at this point,
and "The Monster Mash" was something I always wanted to do, and financing
was always tough, so I wasn't able to get it out. We recorded this at
a place called Power Play. They have the video show that's on TV. They
invited us down, so we did the live version of "The Monster Mash," which
is now at the end of the Mad Monster Party video, and we did a couple
studio takes, too. The one that we're putting out is a faster version
with quite a lot of kick to it. We're sending it to every radio station
in the country, I think. We're financing it ourselves, and Roadrunner
is going to mail it out for us.
Cosmik: Is this the single that [famous fantasy artist] Boris Vallejo is
going to do the cover for?
Only: Boris was gonna do a cover called "The Forbidden Zone," which was
like The Misfits meet The Planet Of The Apes. It was actually going
to have a figure that looked like Doyle holding a girl, surrounded by
fire. Because [in The Planet Of The Apes] the forbidden zone was an
imaginary field of fire with all the monkeys burning. So we were going
to have all the monkeys reaching for him, and if you remember the movie
had the Statue Of Liberty in it, we're going to knock half her face off
and put the Crimson Ghost skull beneath it. (Laughs.) So Boris is
supposed to be doing that job, but he's dilly-dallying. I really wanted
it to be the cover for the European release, because they're into a lot
of metal over there. Here, metal's having a comeback, but over there it
never went away. Boris paints very 80s Man-O-War heavy metal kind of
painting that'll work very well in Europe, but I'm still waiting for him.
I should actually call Boris after we're through talking. His kids are
really cool. His step-kids. They come down to our shows, and his wife,
Julie Bell, who is a beautiful lady. She's a model and she's also an
artist. She used to be Boris' student. Thing is, Boris is a genius,
so I don't want to lean on him. I want him to do what he's got to do
to make it right. Twenty years after the thing comes out, Boris'
painting will still be on posters and t-shirts, so let him take his
Cosmik: When I was researching for this interview I went to your official
website and was really surprised, especially with the music industry's
paranoia, that you have downloadable MP3s of full songs right there on
the site. Not just one or two, either. I saw seven, including the live
version of "The Monster Mash." The industry as a whole dreads this
stuff. Was this a band decision to go ahead and make this stuff available?
Only: Oh, well let me tell you something, we're working with Roadrunner
right now, and my dad, well, he's sick. We've got a family business
here. So for us, in a lot of ways, this is our last major attack at
the wall. You know, you try to scale the wall to get over the top. If
people don't get this album and it just goes for six or seven months and
then drops off the face of the earth, what I think I'm going to do is
tell Roadrunner that I'm finished going out on the road and banging my
head against the wall, but we're still going to record albums and put
them on the website for free.
Cosmik: Ooooo, scandal!
Only: (Laughs.) Now that's a scary thought, huh? We'll just put 'em out,
and when people say "hey we want you to play Giants Stadium backing up
Metallica, then we'll go. But we won't be playing CBGB's anymore. Maybe
Roseland, but that's about as far I'd go and that's just because we've
got good friends there. But I don't see why I wouldn't be able to do
that. You could buy the artwork from the Fiendclub [the band's official
fan club]. We could send you the jewel case and you could download your
own CD. And you could actually download the artwork, too, if I'm not
Cosmik: Well, despite the industry screamers, that's really where things
are going, isn't it?
Only: That's what I mean. I think it would really be great for a band like
us to say "hey, we were around 20 years, and we're not going to tour
anymore, but here ya go! Make copies for your friends and have a good
time." Then we wouldn't have to do the songs all at once, packaged and
ready to go. We could have the song of the month club or something like
Cosmik: Do you have any contractual clauses that would stop that from
Only: Well, the thing is that Roadrunner could still have the option to
do the retail, but I don't see why I couldn't load it up on my website
if I want to. I'm sure Case is a good guy, and if it didn't work out
for us I could just say "look, you can do the retail in the store, and
anybody that wants to download it, God bless 'em. Let 'em." And really
don't sweat it. It's all about making music and being able to write
great songs. It makes you feel so good when you get one. It's like
catching a big fish.
Cosmik: Who runs your website?
Only: John Cafiero, the guy who did our videos. He just did the Insane
Clown Posse movie. We're in that. In fact, my son's in it. He's an
altar boy. He actually opens and closes the movie. John's a good
friend and he set up the web page. We're going to start up our record
company and it's going to be called Misfits.Com, and it'll have things
like "The Monster Mash," and old versions of other stuff that's laying
around. It's a service for our people.
Cosmik: Sounds like the ultimate fan site. All the things you usually
have to cross into gray area to snag.
Only: And maybe we'll put all the bootlegs up on our site so you don't
have to buy bootlegs anymore. Fun stuff, you know?
Cosmik: Free fright. Speaking of which, since you guys are one of the
ultimate Halloween bands, I was wondering what Halloween was like around
Only: It's always a major tour. It's our time to go out and shine, and it's
when we make the best money. I used to like being at home for Halloween,
because we used to throw a square dance that was really cool. My kids
would bring their friends, I'd invite my whole family and friends from
the shop, and it was always fun. But you can't compare playing for four
or five thousand people to having a square dance. You can have a square
dance any old time you want. Halloween is always intense. This year it
may be more so than ever. This is D-day. We're hitting the beach, and I
think we can take it. I think the album is great, the record company is
really behind us, which is important because if their not you aren't going
anywhere. I think Geffen was a perfect example of that. The toys are
out, the video's out...
Cosmik: How amazing was that, getting to work with [legendary horror film
director] George Romero?
Only: It was really great. He's the king of the zombies. I wish we would
have had a bigger budget and more time to prepare. We really lucked out,
because when we called to ask if he could do the job, he was making a movie
that needed a punk band inside a club for the final scene. That was like
a three day shoot to get our scene done, because there were like 500 extras
there in Halloween costumes. They did a beautiful set-up for us, too.
The deal was if we did his movie for him, he'd do our video.
Cosmik: An offer you can't refuse.
Only: What a deal! Any time I can trade my time for George Romero's, I'm
gonna be psyched. We wrote two songs for his movie, and we wrote them in
one day. We had a day and a half to record and a half day to mix. So we
did a really good job busting out two songs in three days for his movie.
For me, that's the future for this band, you know, doing soundtrack title
songs and that sort of thing. For example, the song we're doing for the
video is called "Scream." It was written for Wes Craven for Scream II, but
Geffen decided not to pick up our option and we decided to get the hell
out of there, so we never recorded it under their reign of terror. We
missed Scream II, and so we're buckin' for Scream III.
Cosmik: Which is right up the band's alley. And that brings me to the new
Misfits Action Figures. For a guy who grew up on these movies and comics
and all the cultural stuff that goes with it, this is the bigs, Jerry.
Only: The biggest thing I've ever done, I think.
Cosmik: Can it get any better than having your own action figure?
Only: No, it really can't!
Cosmik: How about a Saturday cartoon show?
Only: Well, we're working with Chaos right now, my buddy's working on a
comic book for them, so we'll see what happens from there. A cartoon
could be an interesting thing, but I'll have to see what the story line
looks like in the comic book. If it looks like it'll make a good cartoon,
then we'll contact somebody. But I was thinking more along the lines of
of a video game, first off. There's a lot of things we could do and a
lot of different characters who probably wouldn't mind having their image
added to our video game. So that's something we're looking at now.
Cosmik: Sounds like all the elements are there. The album rocks, the
visuals rock, and now you're hitting the toy market. Think this is
going to be the year of the Misfit?
Only: Let me tell ya, if the album was middle of the road, I'd be
a little worried about things, but the album is so great, and
now the toys are great. I think the sky is the limit. I
don't see why we can't be [popular] on the level of Metalica and Limp
Bizkit in no time. It really comes down to what you're selling.
What does it look like? What does it sound like? How good is it?
And hey, if everything in every column is a ten, how can you miss?
(C) 1999 - DJ Johnson