Singer/Songwriter Michale Graves has lead quite a storied life for a young man. Whether it’s replacing Glenn Danzig as Misfits’ frontman in the late 90’s, his turbulent departure from the band followed by his enlistment in the Marines, helping to found conservativepunk.com, or his involvement with the West Memphis Three, he has continued to show the Punk Rock elite and any naysayers who he is and what he stands for. In 2007, Graves released Illusions, which showcases his evolution from the aggressive punk rock style to the haunting stripped-down sound of acoustic guitar. Some of the tracks featured on Illusions were co-written by death row inmate Damien Echols. Echols has spent the past 15 plus years incarcerated and has become a figurehead of intolerance and injustice in modern day America. The HBO documentaries Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills and the sequel Paradise Lost 2: Revelations have brought the struggles of the West Memphis Three to the forefront. Graves has spent the past several years touring in support of the WM3 and raising awareness of the group’s plight. There is no doubt that he is a man with a lot on his mind and is not content to settle when it comes to his artistic endeavors. Jason Price of Live-Metal.Net recently sat down with Michale Graves for an in-depth interview. There they discuss Graves’ past, his songwriting, the upcoming release of Illusions Live/Viretta Park, making the jump to the silver screen with his role in Perkins 14, the possibilites of Misfit’s reunion, and much more.
Live-Metal.Net: How did music first come into your life?
Michale Graves: Music first came into my life from my mother, who always seemed to have a radio on and was listening to music. Anytime I was going to sleep at night, my mom always put a radio on My mom is the answer. [laughs]
What drove you to make music your career?
I fell in love with music when I was young and I discovered the power of music from being exposed to it so much. It moved me. I was able to feel music in much the same way that I do today. The difference is that now, I understand it much more. When I was young, it would move me and make me feel a different way and to me that was magic. I wanted to be able to do that and to be able to write a song. For whatever reason, I felt compelled to do that. I always knew that I wanted to do something creative, be an artist, and be a musician, always.
Who and what were some of the musical influences that help to shape the artist we know today?
Lots of stuff. All the way back to the beginning there was the influence of the music of the 50’s, 60’s and the 70’s that my Mom and my Dad listened to. My uncle Billy lived in the house with my family for a lot of years and he was older. A lot of the music that he listened to was pop music, the current music of the time. That was the late 70’s. As I got older there was David Bowie, Metallica, and all the bands of the 80’s and 90’s. I love a wide range of music. I guess it is hard to nail down a particular group of artists.
Is there anything that is sort of off-the-wall that people may be surprised that you were into?
Well, yeah! Like I said, when I was younger and my mom was playing music, Barry Manilow, Billy Joel, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel were always on the radio. Michael Jackson was awesome when I was a kid. Who else? Huey Lewis and The News. [laughs] I am gonna eat eggs thrown at me next time I go up on stage! [laughs] I am always amazed when I listen to something and it moves me, so regardless of the genre, if it touches me, I dig it.
A lot of people are familiar with you work with the Misfits.
For those who aren’t or are just discovering you, how did that opportunity originally present itself?
I was at the right place at the right time. I had a band that I was playing in, just a local band. I literally picked out the studio that had the nicest looking ad and that was close enough to my house that we could all get to. It happened to be the studio in Lodi, New Jersey that the Misfits were working at. They were putting together a project called Christmas at Max’s Kansas City. It was an old, old recording, like a tape of one of the first couple times that the Misfits played. They were actually overdubbing the guitar, the drums, and the bass and just keeping Glenn Danzig’s vocals. I was recording a demo with my band there. The guy that was producing the music when I was doing vocals one day said that there was a band called the Misfits and they were looking for a singer and that I should get in touch with them. I called up Jerry (Only) for an audition and he told me to learn as much of the music that I could. So I went out and bought a CD and became a fan of the music. I really loved the music. It was great. Then I learned the music, went down, auditioned, and hung around. I pretty much became the singer because they ran out of options at the end of the day to be totally honest with you and to make a long story short! [laughs]
How did your departure from the Misfits come about?
My departure came about from a series of events that took about a year or two. The first sign, if you go back into the Misfits history, the first sign of trouble was when I left when the band went to South America. I left mostly because I was championing the causes of Dr. Chud and Doyle (Wolfgang von Frankenstein). My problem with the situation was that I wasn’t being given the respect that I felt that I deserved, nor the ability to have the input on decisions involving art or direction. I was always told, just as all of us were, that “If you don’t like the way things were, you can go home and we will find somebody better.” My answer was always, “You can’t.” The planets aligned when we all came together and I was a major part of why the Misfits resurrected from where they were. It went from this underground thing, to this then relevant, powerful musical force. I wrote the majority of those songs that are one those records. I wrote the songs that you most associate with those records. “Dig Up Her Bones,” “Crying On A Saturday Night,” “Scream!,” “American Psycho,” and “Shining,” those came out of me.
I was always vocal. Jerry and I, the same problems exist today as they did back then. Jerry knows that if Chud and Doyle would pull there heads out of their asses, we could get the Misfits back together. It’s not on me and it is certainly not Jerry. It has always been mostly Doyle and then Chud. I left because there was just so much disfunction, so much unhappiness, and so much stupid shit.
I think the main thing that many of your fans are interested in is whether or not the door is closed for good on a Misfits reunion.
Jerry and I do not have a dysfunctional working relationship. Him and I both know and I know he knows that I am on board. It is a phone call away. I won’t step back into what I walked away from, but the problem isn’t with Jerry and I. The problem is with Doyle and with Chud. I just read an interview with Doyle where he is bashing Jerry about some type of Misfits reunion with Danzig, basically saying how Jerry threw a monkey wrench into it. (Read the interview at this location)
I saw that.
Well, what fans don’t know is how close a Misfits reunion came because he was having talks about that. After the first situation fell through, the next round of talks that was happening was “Hey, let’s get Jerry, Michale, Doyle…” Jerry didn’t want Chud, but I was fighting for Chud. The plan was to get us four back together. Like I said before, I was on board. The sticking point on why that fell apart was that Doyle wanted to bring his wife out on tour and wouldn’t bend from it because Gorgeous George or Gorgeous Frankenstein or whatever she is called had to be a part of the Misfits. Jerry didn’t even want Chud in the band. Chud is a waste of human life, BUT, he certainly deserved to be a part of situation that was being put together. I was the one that was sticking up for him even though he really doesn’t deserved to be stuck up for. Doyle says, “So let all the Misfits fans put that in their pipe and smoke it.” Well, you guys have to tell the whole story. They only give you half-truths and they don’t want to talk about me. You’re not allowed to bring up my name in front of them because they can’t hash their stories because they are on the fuckin’ losing end of it.
Looking back on that period, is there anything you would do again differently if you had the chance?
I wouldn’t have championed Chud and Doyle’s causes if I knew then what I know now. I wouldn’t have stuck up for them the way that I did, always more so than helping myself. But that is the way that I am and that is the way I treat people and the way that I conduct business. Those guys are different or at least they have changed a lot.
What is the typical songwriting process like for you?
I usually start with lyrics somehow. Sometimes it starts by browsing through old books. I have tons of old notebooks with lyrics, stories, poems, and just ramblings. Sometimes I will come across something, ya know, like when you listen to a song for the first time and it just hits a chord inside of you. Sometimes when I read lyrics, it just reminds me of something and it starts with that. Then I transform those lyrics into melody. Then again, sometimes the songs come out when I hear a melody in my head for some reason. I will sit down with a guitar and feel compelled to sing that melody and then record it. It can be a process of making up ridiculous sounds or words and then later transforming into a tangible song in the English language. It depends really. The last batch of songs, I was just really so inspired from being in Europe that they just kind of flew out of me.
How did you make the transition from your earlier works to the more acoustic style that we hear on Illusions and Illusions Live/Viretta Park?
Most of my compositions start with an acoustic guitar, so I have always had a guitar in my hand at the beginning of things. It was a natural progression to get where I am at now. I started playing a lot more guitar at rehearsals, but I think the acoustic part of it came from spending so much time down south in the last couple years and being involved with the West Memphis Three, as well as the music of the South. It had a huge effect on me. Blues, folk, country, and bluegrass and the stories behind it. The truth and emotion behind it are just amazing to me. They ring true and seem very relevant to my soul. When I listen to old Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, all the old blues cats like that, and (Bob) Dylan, the soul in their voice, the cadence in their voice, and the words that they are speaking, singularly from a man, a guitar, and a microphone is amazing to me. I wanted my fans and audiences to have something that is from our generation, that they can feel like that, as well as incorporate something new into this genre that I am obviously stuck in! [laughs]
You mentioned the West Memphis Three. How did you first discover and get involved with the their cause?
The same way that a lot of people did. I watched Paradise Lost and experienced all the emotions that everyone else does. You get mad, you get sad, you can’t believe that it is true. You identify with Damien (Echols) and those guys and the things that they have been going through. It was just me wanting to do something to help them. It didn’t dawn on me until I saw that Damien had written a book. I was going out on tour and I put two and two together. I got in touch with his wife and said that I wanted to start a campaign to advocate for him. He is a gifted writer and it is something that he is very passionate about. It is also something that helps in his struggle to maintain what makes him human. They sent a bunch of his books and I took them out to introduce as many people as I could to the West Memphis Three. I really wanted to stoke the fires to spread the word, especially in the younger crowd. You know, all these kids start a band and they love the Misfits and Michale Graves and they want to be like us. Giving them something like the West Memphis Three, which is a good cause that they can grab onto and learn from, is really inspiring.
You created a really compelling short film called “The Blackness and The Forest” while you were on the “Almost Home Tour” in support of The West Memphis Three. Any plans for a DVD release for the film?
In your opinion, where does Illusions stack up in comparison to your previous work? Is it something that you hold a little closer to your heart?
I certainly do. There is no sense in comparing it to American Psycho or Famous Monsters or anything like that because it is just so different. It is a totally different part of the forest. But yeah, it is something that I hold very dear to my heart and if it only sold five copies, it would still be very near and dear to my heart. When you get the Illusions album and open it up to the back cover, there is a list of names. When I ran out of money, I reached out to the fans and they were able to donate and get their name and whatever message they wanted to. So the list of names is the people that sent in money to help to get that record made. The music and the whole project is so inspiring, the way that it was put together. Not only from Damien and I, but from a whole community of people that reached out and helped put it together. It is an amazing and inspirational thing for me.
You also have another exciting project in the works right now. What can you tell us about Perkins 14 and how that came about?
It’s a great story! There are no coincidences in life and karma is real! The Misfits and I, when I first got into the band back in 1995, somehow got hooked up with Craig Singer. Craig Singer wrote and directed a movie that is being re-released on DVD very soon that is called Animal Room. It has Matthew Lillard in it and I wanna call him “Doogie Howser.” [laughs] That’s terrible!
Neil Patrick Harris.
Yeah! Neil Patrick Harris and Amanda Peete. The Misfits were in a scene in that movie. Craig and I hit it off and we had fun. He is a really cool guy. Shoot to 2007, last Fall I guess it was, and I was doing the Chiller Theater convention in Secaucus, New Jersey. Craig Singer rolls up to the booth. He is like “Hey, do you remember me?” and I was like “Of course I remember you, you’re Craig fucking Singer!” So, I started telling him about how I remembered the scene and how I remembered the line like it was yesterday. It blew his mind! So, we talked about that for a little while. I gave him a copy of some stuff that I was working on and a copy of “The Blackness and The Forest”. I told him that I was still very interested in doing some acting work. I never really had an opportunity to do any of that, although I have always wanted to and spent lots of time preparing for it. It just never worked out. I told him to keep me in mind and that if he heard of anything that might be good for me, to give me a call. Months go by and J.V. (Bastard) and I are out on the road, somewhere in the middle of nowhere, probably in crisis and something was probably breaking! [laughs] Craig singer calls me up and says to get in touch with the people who were doing casting for Perkins 14. There was a part that he thought I would be pretty good at and that he could see me doing. So I auditioned for the part via video and they gave it to me. The next thing that I know, I am in Bucharest, Romania shooting a movie called Perkins 14! In the film, I play a character called Eric Ross.
You did some demos there that ended up being on your upcoming release Illusions Live / Viretta Park.
Yeah. In the first scene that I am introduced in, I am playing “Blackbird” on an acoustic guitar. Having the guitar in my hands, being on set, playing for everybody, and the whole experience that I was having in Europe really triggered this whole chain of events that lead to a huge creative outburst. Being in that country, where their revolution took place in 1989 was an amazing experience. Actually, the guy who owned the studio was the only person in Romania who had film footage of the leader that was overthrown, Ceauescu. He was the only person with footage of his trial and execution. He sold the footage to the media and got millions of dollars and then bought the film studio. The whole experience over there was very inspirational.
Let’s talk about Illusions Live / Viretta Park, which you will be releasing in October. It is a great recording and it really captures the essence of your live show.
Thank you. The sound was taken directly from the board. When I listen to it, it is like I am sitting in the audience as well. It was a very cool and special night. It was the same night that I got the new “stitches” tattoo that I got down in Port Richey. The last time I got the stitches on my left arm, it was 2000 in Atlanta at the Dragon*Con Festival, which was a turning point for a lot of us in the Misfits. It stirred up a lot of memories and feelings. It definitely came out on stage that night.
I was most curious about the second part of the title “Viretta Park”. I would assume that is a reference to Kurt Cobain?
How did that song come about?
I was a huge Nirvana fan. A HUGE Kurt Cobain fan. One of my dreams was to be able to collaborate with him. I always wanted to jam with him. Along the way, J.V. and I started to talk about tragic heroes and talking about whether or not or why Kurt Cobain would have killed himself or he didn’t kill himself. Regardless of the fact, he is dead. We talked about how tragic that was and the effect that it had on us. When we were on the West Coast, we sought out Viretta Park, when we made it to Seattle. It became this big, huge adventure. [laughs] I was in high school when Nirvana came out, so when I listen to those songs, I am seventeen again. So being there in Viretta Park, there was so much nostalgia, sadness, and happiness that it had a huge effect on both of us. That day in Viretta Park, the weather was so typically Seattle! It was rainy, misty, and miserable. We were sitting there and for a minute it was like the whole world just kinda paused in my life. It felt very much like nothing would ever really be the same again after this. It was almost the feeling of when you are almost at the top of a roller coaster. It was very calm, but very anxious and it had a huge effect on us. Especially me.
Gotham Road is a side project of yours and I must say that the Seasons of The Witch is a great piece of work. What is the status of that project?
Thank You. Everybody can definitely look forward to those songs being played live and electric. As far as new stuff, definitely. As soon as there is time for us to get together and write some Gotham Road stuff, which is coming soon! Coming Soon! It is going to happen. There is so much going on right now, but it is definitely going to happen for sure.
Ever had a Spinal Tap moment on stage?
A Spinal Tap moment on stage? Hummm… like getting stuck in something? [laughs] I tell ya what! Yeah! My biggest fear was standing up on stage and having my pants blow open. That happened onstage at Asbury Park Convention Center with the Misfits. I was just rockin’ out and the whole crotch of my pants blew open! It was a nightmare! [laughs]
What do you think about the state of punk and rock music today?
It’s really bad. I don’t listen to a lot of punk rock music because it seems that punk rock has collided with emo and glam in a lot of ways. It is a lot like the way heavy metal did with glam in the 80’s, where they slammed into each other and morphed into this strange being. There is just so much unproductive angst, shallowness, and ignorance in those scenes, particularly punk. Not so much hardcore, well including hardcore or bands that think that they are hardcore and they’re not.
Rock. I guess there is some good stuff. Heavy stuff like Darkest Hour, Shadows Fall, and Lamb of God. Great bands. On the other end of things, we need some work. Especially in the horror scene. Ehhhhhh. It is bad. So bad! It is like a big dysfunctional family that doesn’t do anything.
What is the biggest misconception about yourself?
That I am some sort of some asshole or monster that doesn’t care and that has a lot of riches and monetary fortunes from the things that I do.
I think it is safe to say that you have had a lot of adventures in your years on the road and in your career… Do you think will we ever get an autobiography out of you to share these tales?
Absolutely. Definitely. Yes.
Any idea of what you might call it?
“I Turned Into A Martian”
What is the best piece of advice you could give to those who are just starting out and considering making a career in the music industry?
Learn about the structure of the business as it is today and what is happening currently with record companies, the internet, and distribution. Read about the way in which the industry has changed and adapt to it that way.
You are embarking on a Fall Tour, after that what’s next for you?
I am currently working on another project that is being developed for an Off-Broadway play. I am also going to be working on another feature film. I plan on putting together a full band to go out. Hopefully we will do a short run pretty soon after I get back from the acoustic tour. That will be leading up to the release of Perkins 14, which is January 2nd through the 7th. Like I said, I am going to do some acting stuff and I need to work on a new record, which I will hopefully release in the Spring of 2009. We’re going to go to Europe in March and all the way to Romania and back. We will also be working on the release of the record in Japan. So we are gonna hit Japan, Australia, and New Zealand in March and/or April, followed by another U.S. Tour with a full band.
Wow, you definitely have a lot mapped out!
You have always been somewhat outspoken politically, what is your take on the upcoming election?
A lot of people know that I am a Republican and I lean to the right, but regardless, I really do think that the Republicans are going to win in a landslide. There is just so much cynicism, anger, and disfunction on the left. That has nothing to do with their ideas. There is a lot of stuff on the left that I am all for, but it seems that it is the leaders of the left that are just not leading. I make the prediction that Republicans are going to win by a landslide. I think it is amazing that I live in a day and age that my niece, whose father is black, can look up at the TV and see this man regardless of his experience or his ideas, who is running for President of The United States and has a lot of support behind him. It is really inspiring people. We live in a country where 50 years ago we couldn’t even share water fountains. We couldn’t get past segregation. Now we have Barack Obama and it is a great story. There are great stories on the other side as well, with Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin, two successful and powerful women who are really succeeding. Regardless of what you think on either side, our country is great.
And finally, when do you think Chinese Democracy will be released?
[laughs] I am gonna say that Chinese Democracy will be released in April. April 12th.
Next question. In what year?
Is there anything else you want to add or let your fans know?
The site is MichaleGraves.Net. We are developing and will soon be putting online a tour site that is solely for this tour. There will be a map where you can keep up with the tour. We are going to be developing and putting online both audio and video from different places around the country. There will be interviews and updates. There will be all sorts of really cool stuff. Keep checking the site!
Thanks for you time and we all look forward to seeing you on out on the road.
www.michalegraves.net – Official Site of Michale Graves
www.myspace.com/gravesmichale – Official Myspace Page of Michale Graves
www.myspace.com/officialgothamroad – Official Myspace Page of Gotham Road (Michale Graves’ side project)
www.wm3.org – The Official Site of The West Memphis Three