Gotham Road and Ex-Misfits' Michale Graves
By Jay Oakley
First of all, I want to thank you for taking a second before your set to talk to me.
You're welcome, thanks for giving me the opportunity.
How is the tour going for you? It was set up pretty aggressively as a big set, retrospective of Michale Graves' career and full makeup.
That's true. We've been going for about four or five shows. They've been scattered in and around the New York and New Jersey area. But this is the first night that we've really left home and gone out. You're right, it's a very aggressive tour. It's just about 80 American cities, leading up to the day before Christmas. We're going to cover as much ground as we possibly can. The reason for that is to do my best to raise the optics on me and really get as many people as I possibly can out to see how I perform and the level that we are able to perform at. The level that I'm able to perform at, before I get too old to perform at that level. Come and see me! It's an exciting time. I'm focusing again on makeup and costume and trying to make this show more complex with lights and everything. It's a slow process but I'm committed to it and trying uber hard.
I've been fortunate to see you in a few different incarnations. I was, unfortunately, no able to see you with the Misfits, but I've seen you play acoustically, locally, in a more intimate setting. I saw you play in Virginia with a full band and a shorter set; Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg, and last year at Raw Ink, where you played a much larger set of almost 30 songs. Talk a little bit about the different shows that you do and how you play them whether they are plugged in our plugged out.
They're all different experiences, they're all different expressions, so it's difficult to say. I enjoy all of them and it's just a different sort of cosmic experience for me. I like to describe it as a different path in the forest, it's a different part of my life when I'm playing. For example, the Vagabond, or the Wanderer, the more laid back country folk sort of grass-roots Americana-sounding things. It's a different part of my life that I'm expressing and emoting in different ways. To then when you start to get to the creepy, spooky, evil part of the forest, like when you get closer to the big, spooky castle in the hills you start to come up on Gotham Road and the Misfits stuff. The incarnations of The Lost Skeleton Returns and all those characters and allegories and those experiences start to come in. It's different, for me the it's the perfect time in my life to turn into that crazy scarecrow, skeleton guy and scream about and sing about things that I'm singing about now. And like you said, with the acoustic stuff, it's almost like everything gets sucked inward and there I am on stage, just myself, with just my voice and just my guitar, the ultimate test of a musician, it's just three chords of truth. All you have is your guitar and your talent. It goes back to, for me, the old story of the crossroads in rock and roll and making that deal. I love sitting up on stage and just having to get through that, and giving a powerful, giving a performance that is as powerful as when I'm up there with those guys. It's just my guitar and just my voice. I love blowing peoples' minds in that way when I play, especially the Misfits songs, and I deconstruct them and I love the reaction, I love that intimacy.
Do you find that with your song writing, whether you were writing for the Misfits, Gotham Road, Graves, or even just solo, do you feel that your writing style works well for all of those projects? Taking a Misfits song versus a Gotham Road song versus a Michale Graves song like "Blackbird," do you write the same way? Or do you aim for a certain style depending on what you're writing it for?
I definitely cater to, if I'm writing for Gotham Road, or the latest records; it's the same sort of process. It's the filters that I put it through. Again, if and when I was writing for the Misfits, I would put it through the filter of that character, that part of me that I want to resonate through that music. The anger, and the twistedness, and the darkness of the forest, and the crookedness of everything and that character is very nihilistic and he almost enjoys seeing the world burn. He's like a joker sort of on that cusp of: is this guy crazy evil, or is he trying to do good for everybody? And you walk that fine line, so I'll put it through those filters where you dial it a different way and it's the Vagabond and the Wanderer stuff. That character is much more Michael Emanuel who's who Michale Graves is singing about. Where it's just my life and my children and my family and my spirituality and MY raw existence in the world. Almost not put through the filters, just giving it to you straight. That creates a different sort of thing and so the culmination between that is all of those things are me, so at the end of the day, I just keep the truth in there, there's going to be common-ness through all that music. I think that's why I'm able to play so many different types of music and it's accepted by the fans, and all the people that listen to my music. They feel it. Regardless of the delivery system.
Speaking on the delivery system, over the years now, you've been very active with Kickstarter. What has been your decision with going with stuff like that? Is it so your fans can be more of a part of the process of you putting out music?
Well, for 5 years, I've been working with Hydraulic Entertainment and Mark Allen Stuart. When we got together and I started to ponder with him on how to capitalize projects. It always steered back toward platforms like Kickstarter and there's other funding mechanisms for independent artists. But for me, and for a company like Hydraulic Entertainment, the synergy, the cornerstone of everything we do is an experiential property with our fans. And so, Kickstarter is the perfect platform because you're able to inject capital into your projects, but also offer opportunities to be part of the process. Watch the process and be in videos, be included in the creative process. But, in the very least, something like Kickstarter is a great way to presell your CD as well, to bring in capital to fund your projects, to then bring it to market. So Kickstarter is perfect, it's very, very exciting. We're heading toward over a hundred thousand dollars raised in capital for projects over the past few years.
At this level and these times, for independent artists, the business isn't like it was, even when I joined the Misfits where the record companies were flushed with cash and they would invest in artists. It's a different equation now because of the times we live in, it's a different business. To be an independent artist, if you're creative, you're smart and you're focused, you're dedicated, and you use your mind, and you use these systems to capitalize your projects, especially in punk rock. It's not cool to be smart. It's not cool to work hard, but there's so many tangible delivery services, and we can bring our products, our ideas, our creativeness to market and can build systems that we can make livings off of.
Absolutely, and 2017 has been very busy for you, because you have two records out. You have the acoustic album, and the plugged-in album, so please, talk about them.
Backroads is the acoustic record, and The World Turned Upside Down is the full band version of that. That project, as we back up; I was going to release two new records of "monster music." Some people were saying, "Listen, you're bringing the monster stuff back, but you're touring this middle-of-the-road music, that's not exactly "monster music." What's the deal?"
This project was supposed to be "monster music." When I started to write for it, the stuff that started coming out of me was so not "monster," it was something very, very different. One of the reasons was because I relocated to New York State, where I'm at in New York State has connections back to, the fans will recognize the song "Gorch," when I talk about being in Greenville, New York and being a young man. So, I relocated to that area, and I plugged myself in to it, and I really re-explored a lot of my younger-ness, [Laughs] of being a young man. It's very, very introspective. I've gone through a lot in the last couple of years. I've gone through a divorce in the past two years; the love of my life. I have two, now three small children. A very young son. So, it's been a crazy time. And through all of that and everything else-- last year of the tour, my dog dying, and me getting seriously injured, and trying to push through that, and then getting robbed--it's been very, very tumultuous. So, through all of that, after I took a deep breath, and just kind of settled in in the country. I live in the middle of nowhere in beautiful upstate New York, in a very simple, old farmhouse that's a little bit haunted. I started to write this music that became Backroads and The World Turned Upside Down.
How has it felt, getting that music out to the world? How have you felt the reception to be, even though people were expecting "monster music?"
It's in there. If you listen to these records, you feel it, it's there. It's a different sort of music. I'm an 80's guy. I love that era of music. There's so much good music, and so much of my writing and style is geared towards that music. It sounds very much like I think a record might have come out in 1986, 1987. I urge people to listen to it, it's a different kind of Poison.
For the people that will be reading this, and going to the shows, will you have these albums on tour with you?
Yeah, I have everything with me on tour, and if you don't see something that you want, we'll tell you how to get it.
I love to talk a little bit of history. It's very common knowledge about how you joined the Misfits when they reformed after they settled the legal battle with Glenn Danzig. Starting at the beginning, how did you feel you were brought into the band? Did you feel welcomed?
Did I feel welcomed? I think I felt welcomed. It was such a long process, and who really opened the door for me was Pete Steele, from Type O Negative. The short story, that's a long story, was after about a year, as Halloween approached, the Halloween the Misfits came back, they still didn't have a singer. I was still the one guy standing. There were still rumors about Dave Vanian showing up, which were ridiculous. By now, Doyle and I had become very, very close. However, there was consensus among the band that there must be somebody else out there, we have to keep going. So, Halloween was approaching, and if they didn't come out and launch, they were going to have to wait one more year. That's a long time. So, the Misfits, without me, were given an opportunity to come out during an encore set at a Type O Negative show at the Roseland on Halloween night. We were close with them, and we ran in all the circles with those guys back then. So, they said, "We don't have a singer, ask Pete if he'll do it." They asked Pete if he would do it, and Pete said, "Of course, no problem, but I don't know any of the songs. Somebody teach me the songs." So, they called me, they said, "Can you come and teach Pete Steele Misfits songs?" I'm a huge Type O Negative fan. HUGE Type O Negative fan. I was like, "Of course! Yeah! I'm going!"
So, we all pile in, we go to Brooklyn, we start rehearsing. I would sing "Halloween" a couple times, hand the microphone to Pete; he would blast through it. We would do it again. We got about two or three songs in, and I got through "Horror Business," or whatever it was, and we stopped, and Pete said, "This is absolutely ridiculous, this is ridiculous, this is your singer right here. This kid does it better than anybody in the room. He sings it better than anybody else. You need to give him the opportunity." I'm paraphrasing, but basically, he said, "This is your guy." And everybody looked around at each other and said, "All right." And from then on, I got that opportunity to walk out with them at Roseland and go forward from there.
I was thinking about this question leading up to the interview. I've always been a fan of your writing, Arturo's (Santaello, sitting next to me) been familiar with that, because we've talked about that kind of stuff, but with all the songs that you've done, the classics, "American Psycho," "Dig Up Her Bones," "The Haunting," things like that, were there any songs that you turned in to the guys that you were afraid to turn in?
Sure, "Crying on Saturday Night."
For real? They still play that song now, and you were afraid to turn that in to them?
I wrote that song when I writing for Famous Monsters. I came up with that tune and I called one of my best friends, I called Jason Ash. I said, "J, I just wrote this song, I think it's awesome, but I would never show these guys, they might beat me up." So J comes over, says "Let's go for a ride, let's see what you got." And I put it on, and listened to it a couple of times, and it really wasn't like anything I'd written before. I wanted to write a song. I was prompted by Arturo Vega, from the Ramones, who toured with us, and we were sitting outside one day, and he calls me over, and he says, "Michale, you need to write a beautiful song for the next record. Something beautiful. You know, think 50's, something that Joey Ramone would sing. Make it beautiful and horrible." I always remember Arturo saying that. And so, when I was sitting there writing, and demo-ing, I pictured this scene where Danny Zuko from Grease, when he's swinging on the swings, and he has that solo. I wanted it to kind of feel like that moment in life, that was reflected in the movie. And I just started doing the simple three chord loop that's in every single early rock and roll song and it just built into "Crying on Satuday Night." And J stopped the truck, his pickup truck, he said, "You have to show these guys this song. This is absolutely amazing. This is right on the money." And I showed it to them, and they got it, they understood. They got it. It's took my best buddy pushing me.
When you look back at those two albums (American Psycho and Famous Monsters,) how do you feel they stack up in the long run? It's been 20 years since.
It's been 20 years since, and I'm meeting children whose parents are turning them on to this music and it's holding up really, really, really well. It's a blessing, it's absolutely amazing that the music settles into peoples' lives and it attaches themselves in that way. That's the dream come true.
One of the things I wanted to touch on was your filmography, you have a very fun filmography over the years, with appearances with not only the Misfits but also just as yourself like Perkins' 14. I wanted to start with movies like Animal Room and Campfire Stories, I've heard you're not a super fan of the movie but you really like the song you submitted for it. So, talk a little about those opportunities and how they came about.
Well, the first opportunity, with Animal Room, was from Craig Singer. I worked with Craig on Animal Room, where we met, we did Perkins' 14 together, I was in a short film that Craig did (The Pier,) Craig and I collaborated on the "No Rain" video (Blind Melon cover) and the other stuff just came through the projects that I was doing. Working with Don Oriolo for Campfire Stories, yeah I'm not a big fan of that movie, it's really not cinematic genius but there's tons of really talented people in it.
The song that we did for that was a song that was really at the end of the road for the Misfits. That was at the end, everything was really coming apart. But, the newness of that song and the different creepiness of it really pointed in the direction that I wanted the band to go and where I think that the band was naturally going and we were drifting towards something like that. It was so exciting because at the end with that big, Jim Morrison rant, we were really starting to get that, sort of, flashiness to us. Doyle and I really loved to listen to The Doors and Black Sabbath and we loved Type O Negative so when we were writing and we would collaborate, and (Dr.) CHUD always got that too and he loved that bigness. We really started to lean back into the music a bit and get comfortable to be abe to but out songs like that so I love that song. It's called "No More Moments."
Another movie you had a cameo it, which is actually a movie I really like, is Bruiser.
Right, right. George Romero, of course.
That movie had some great songs that you put on Cuts From The Crypt. I love the idea of bands, in general, performing in movies and playing for a crowd. Were you performing straight up and being recorded or did you have to do the takes thing?
Oh, we were doing the takes. That was the take thing and you always have to do like twenty-seven takes and we never messed it up on stage, it was always something else. I love that process. I loved that we were really crossing the streams more and more with video and film. Especially, working with people like George Romero, it was very exciting.
I have to touch back briefly on Type O Negative because you said you were such a fan.
What did you think of Carnivore?
I loved Carnivore. I used to go see Carnivore at the Limelight in New York City. I used to be at shows like Carnivore, Reverend Horton Heat. I think I saw Carnivore, it was either Carnivore or Type O Negative with Marilyn Manson before anybody knew who Marilyn Manson was. He opened up for Type O Negative. The Limelight in New York City. I remember Manson coming out on stage when he had the light and being like, "What the fuck?! What is happening?"
Since we talked about Bruiser and touched on Cuts From The Crypt, I have to through this at you because I think it's awesome. From my understanding you're a big hockey guy and so am I so you have to tell me about " I Wanna Be A NY Ranger."
Man, it's not a good story, I really didn't have anything to do with that. [Laughs] It's so funny, man. Some day the whole story of the Misfits will come out, especially for my side of things. So, check it out, there's this legend out there, there's this story out there that I quit the band when they were going to South America to play ice hockey. It's totally untrue, it's total fake news. So, of course, I'm a huge Ranger fan, I love hockey, I love playing ice hockey. I've coached youth hockey, played, I just love the game. So, this whole stupid story about me quitting the band to play ice hokey comes in and we come back, we patch everything up, I'm not on good terms with the band at all, they get this opportunity from the New York Rangers to work on some sort of promo or something for them. Nobody calls me, nobody makes a move towards me, I had no idea that the project was happening. This is a John Cafiero production, John Cafiero wouldn't know anything about the New York Rangers or hockey if you beat him with a hockey stick and I'd like to. So, they're working on this project, like walking around in the dark and, at the end of the day, it wasn't used by the organization because somebody made the decision not to take out the lyric, "I wanna live the life of danger." So the NHL, the Rangers franchise didn't dig that, that they were incorporating danger. It was a stupid concept anyway. I apologize to the people that like that song. I think it's corny and dumb, I really do because I'm kind of bitter because I would have liked to have been part of that project and I wasn't. The coolest part was getting to work with Fat Mike. We worked with Fat Mike (NOFX) and we put it on one of his records (Short Music For Short People.) That was cool to re-record it. I didn't want to re-record it, I thought it was dumb. So yeah, I was bitter. I didn't even get a hockey puck. They didn't bring me a hockey puck, nothing.
There was one other thing that I wanted to bring up about the Misfits world. I had heard about this and I thought it was interesting so I wanted your retrospective on it and to tell me a little about it. So, from my understanding, there was the idea of a Misfits 2000 with you, Doyle and CHUD and not Jerry (Only.) Is that true? Can you talk about that?
Of course! There was so much turmoil in the band and at one point I told those guys, "Onstage, we're 75% of this band." We were the fucking majority. Why is everybody being bullied? Why do we feel like baby in the corner all the time? We don't need this. If we feel that we are going in different creative directions, who cares what we call ourselves. The three of us know what we need to do and we had no problems doing it. We loved each other, we loved each other. When fights and terrible things would happen CHUD would, kind of, run away but we all stood up for each other in profound ways. We had the type of relationship like Christmas' and New Years. I would go to their families house and I would remember their first-borns and their second-borns, it was like that. So, why are we doing this? Why are we so miserable? Lets just fucking jump. And, those guys were always like, "Yeah! Lets do this!" and we were going to have Vampiro (WCW wrestler) play bass for a while. Vamp was like, "Yeah! Whatever, I'll play bass." But, everytime I made the move and it was time to stand up and say, "We are 75% of this band, we're the majority. This is what we're doing and if you don't like it then we're walking out that door and we're taking our talent with us." But, everytime that moment came, I was left standing completely alone. Doyle never stood up for me, CHUD never stood up for me. It was always me then saying, "Can you guys please say something? We were just talking about this twenty minutes ago and now nobody has anything to say?" I was low man on the totum pole at that point. I was just the guy, at that point during Famous Monsters, I was just the guy they hired to sing and it got that way because Doyle and CHUD never stood up for me. That goes back to the whole ice hockey thing in South America. I was left with my balls in my hand because Doyle and CHUD said they weren't going to get on the plane without me and that's when the whole Myke Hideous thing come into play. Yeah man, it's, kind of, messed up. But, it was supposed to be that way. We were supposed to go on and continue to create music like we always did if we couldn't make ammends But, everybody freaked out. But, I'm still going. You look at my track record and there's been some bumps and glitches but I never stopped.
That's the truth. I'm not trying to demonize anybody but everybody has to know that's my life. I went through those things. I was a young man in a very, very big, big world and there was nobody looking out for me. There was nobody looking out for me and nobody looking out for the professional side of me much less the personal side of me. There was a lot of things I did as a young man that I , kind of, regret but there was a lot of fault to go around and I think that when the story comes out it will speak. It's all put on me, like I didn't want to work hard enough and I didn't want to do that. That's not true and I feel empowered to talk about it now because all you have to do is look behind and my work and the things I have done and I've contributed to the musical world and to the world itself stands on its own and speaks for itself. I've put my money where my mouth it.
Do you casually keep in touch with those guys?
I do. Jerry and I keep in touch. I reach out to Doyle as often as I can. I haven't heard from him in a while but I'm always rooting for him. I'm always rooting for those guys. I love the fact that they're getting together with Glenn. That's so, so exciting. The fans are dying inside, they're so excited and I love that. I love those guys on a deep level. I wanna bash their fucking brains in but they wanna bash my brains in too. So, it's all good. There's nobody better then us on stage.
One more thing with the Misfits because you mentioned it with the Misfits 2000 thing. You had a relationship with Vampiro and you guys used to pop up every Monday night for a little while doing some pro wrestling.
Vamp! Vampiro is still my Mexican brother. My Mexican-Canadian brother.
Talk a little about how the wrestling thing happened. It must have been pretty cool?
It was when I was off pursuing my professional ice hockey career [Laughs] and those guys were in South America. It was that tour where I didn't go and Myke Hideous was there and they ran into Vampiro and got that relationship going. I walked into it. It was already happening when I got back into the band after they came back from South America. But me, Vamp and Doyle became very close and Vampiro and I became very close and we're still close. We still talk and my heart is broken for him and all his fellow countrymen who are going through that fucking earthquake, it's terrible and all my Puerto Rican brothers too. It's horrible, man. It's so messed up. But, Vamp and I just hit it off and in the beginning I was always the little guy. Yeah know, I was 180 pounds but I was in good, good shape. I was strong but when I got around WCW folk I was nothing, I was a piece of paper and I knew my place and I was excited for the opportunity that we were going to create and meld the music and the wrestling. It went awry because, bless his heart, I love him, Jerry really got into it and really wanted to pursue that career in wrestling and make something for himself. I did not want that, Doyle didn't want that and CHUD didn't want that and a lot of the wrestlers didn't want that either because we were dealing with real fighters. Guys that played college ball, real athletes and we weren't on their level. We had no place and, in my opinion, Jerry had no place saying some of the things he did and pursuing some of the things he did. Those guys in the ring would accidently punch you as hard as they possible could, it was a dangerous game. So, I had tons of fun and opportunities started to crop up for me but once WWF came in and WCW started to fall apart, the relationship, because it was being funneled through certain people, when WCW started to deteriorate, that company was very, very interested in me and Vamp and CHUD and Doyle going forward but again when it became time for people to stand up nobody stood up and everything came apart and then it became a brawl in a lot of ways which is unfortunate. But, we had a lot of fun.
Yeah, it's cool that you got to be a part of that. I know that a lot of fans were unsure if it was you or Myke taking part in that because of the time frame.
Myke Hideous is totally innocent in the whole Misfits story. He's a good guy, he's a talented man. He got a raw deal.
Something I wanted to ask while we were sitting here talking. What's up with your neck? What's the deal with the paper clips?
[Laughs] So, my children, my three children are everything to me. It's very, very difficult to say goodbye to them. We've been going through a lot in the past coupe of years and I'm a very emotional individual, I'm a crier. And so, my oldest caught me crying and put together this necklace of paperclips and brought it to me and put it over my head to make me feel better and she said, "Daddy, promise me you'll wear this on stage. It will make you feel better." and I promised her. And, there it is.
When you look back at everything, again this tour has been very retrospective, how have you felt about your progression from Michale Graves then to Michale Graves now?
I look back and I feel very proud. I feel very proud. My road has been a tough one. I'm not complaining, my life has been very, very blessed, I'm surrounded by blessings. I'm proud, I'm almost surprised because when I write the process becomes introspective but, for the most part, I'm always looking forward and charging ahead. So, when I sit and I look behind and I look at everything, it's surprising and it's amazing. It's great. I'm proud of myself because my Mom is proud of me and I know that I am doing good work and the mission is being accomplished. A Michale Graves show is a lovefest. There's so many hugs and smiles and we fucking cry together and it's awesome, it's awesome. It's like we're saving each other a little, little bit. For such aggressive, tear-your-throat-out music, people are surprised because, again, when you come to a Michale Graves show it's a lovefest. It's awesome.
You can tell that while there is a certain amount of love for the past, present and future, there is a certain amount of anger and annoyance for the past, the present and the future. But, it's clear that you have always stuck by your guns that you know what you do, who you are, what you represent and what you put out there.
The truth shall set you free. I'm a truth guy. I'm a truth guy so I stick with my heart and my soul and my truth and I do my best. I've done my best to stick with my values, my integrity so that I don't have to have regret. I'm not superhuman, I'm human so there are things that I look back on and I've had regret on but it's minimal. I've mitigated that because I've done my best to stay true to myself and stay true to God.
Michale, thank you so much for taking the time. All that matters, is that you felt respected in this and you enjoyed your interview.
Thank you. I appreciate you. I love the opportunity to talk about my life and I appreciate the chance to expand the consciousness of people that enjoy Michale Graves music and the stuff I do, I'm happy to do it. I appreciate the opportunity to talk about my life. Thank you. God bless you.