On Friday November 24th 2017, black Friday to be exact, I met up with former MISFITS front-man Michale Graves for an in-depth sit down interview. Aside from taking place on the unofficial day that gives hardcore shoppers a waiver to turn all brick & mortar shops into a scene from Mad Max, the interview was also conducted at one of the most bloodthirsty landmarks in Americana folklore…the infamous ECW Arena! Well, the former ECW arena, as it’s changed ownership many times since ECW’s untimely demise in 2001. Being Black Friday and at the ECW arena set the perfect tone for a night that would culminate in a rather expansive interview with one of music’s most prolific pioneers of the macabre movement. For those who aren’t very familiar with Graves brand of rock music laced with a generous dose of ghoulishness, he served as The MISFITS lead singer from around 1995-2000. The MISFITS, whose crimson ghost logo is as recognizable as any logo in Rock history, has been the leading force in the Punk Rock/Horror themed scene for over 40 years now, and judging by their legions of fans, they aren’t in jeopardy of closing shop any time soon. While the band currently only maintains one original member, its marketing power is as strong as it’s ever been, as the fans in attendance appeared to span age groups ranging from their early 20’s, to ones definitely eligible for Social Security.
The band’s roots trace all the way back to 1977, with Glenn Danzig serving as the original lead vocalist. And although their music was never cookie-cutter enough to warrant strong radio play, the MISFITS rise to royalty would not be denied. Their peers have never been shy about recognizing the genius of the MISFITS either, as household bands such as Gun N Roses, Metallica, Green Day, and Blink 182 have all included MISFITS tracks in their own live sets for decades now.
After a long hiatus, and after some legal battles over the rights to the band’s name, the MISFITS acquired a 22 year old rookie musician by the name Michale Graves to be their new lead singer. With Graves on board, the MISFITS officially returned as a true force during the mid 90’s. The release of not one but two ground breaking LP’s helped them to garner legendary status amongst punk rockers, and later the mainstream rock community as well. Both American Psycho and Famous Monsters are still considered staple albums in any punk rockers collection.
Although Graves hasn’t officially been with the MISFITS for quite some time, that hasn’t stopped him from proudly carrying on the spirit. In the days since fronting the MISFITS, he’s released nearly 20 studio albums, acted in movies and appeared on television segments such as The Daily Show, maintained a loyal cult-like following, joined the military, and somehow managed to squeeze in nearly 22 years worth of touring every corner and crawlspace on the globe.
In this interview, Graves tackles such topics as- If he would be open to returning to the MISFITS lineup, recording an album with Damien Echols (of the West Memphis Three murder trial infamy), his time in WCW, a near fatal backstage encounter with an enraged Macho Man Randy Savage, if the MISFITS are Hall of Fame worthy, working with legendary director George Romero, what surprises might be on his music playlist, if there is ever any crossover fandom with ICP, the synergy that exists between horror themed acts like MISFITS/GWAR/ICP/DANZIG, Rob Zombie being a fan, the filming of Perkins 14 in Romania, his cameo in Big Money Hustlas, Mick Foley’s book mention, and quitting music to join the military. For those unfamiliar with Michale Graves actual sound, please don’t be quick to regard him as just another one-note punk rocker, as you will find that Graves discography is as musically diverse sounding as one could imagine. Hope you enjoy!
HODGE: I appreciate you taking the time to do this. The first thing I want to discuss with you is in regards to shooting a music video with the recently departed George Romero. Now I don’t know if you were a huge horror movie fan growing up, but if so, did it live up to your expectations of working with such a legendary director?
MICHALE GRAVES: I definitely think that it did. I understood the relevance and impact that George Romero had on the industry, so to be able work with him and take direction from him, it was mind blowing, just like I hoped it would be.
HODGE: I believe that song/video (“Scream”) ended up being used in the soundtrack for Romero’s film Bruiser, but I heard it was originally recorded with the intention of being used in one of the Scream films, which would have seemed more obvious, given the title. Can you expand on this?
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah, that was the original idea. Jerry (Jerry Only of the MISFITS) wanted to write a song based on the movie “Scream”, to try and place it in the movies. That was a good idea, but when the band (MISFITS) crossed paths with George Romero, George was working on the film Bruiser and he asked us to write two songs for his film, and as a trade-off he would direct the “Scream” video for us. So both parties did our thing and paid our own expenses, and it was a real creative collaboration. So he directed the “Scream” video and I worked together with all those guys. To live up to our end of the bargain, I wrote “A Fiend Without a Face” and Jerry wrote “Bruiser”, which both made the Bruiser soundtrack.
HODGE: The way the “Scream” video turned out, it was almost like it captured all of the theatrical effects and scares of an actual full feature zombie film, but somehow squeezed it into a two and a half minute music video. It was really excellent.
MICHALE GRAVES: You have to realize that there was nothing computer generated either. All of those prosthetics and make-up effects were done organically, which I feel added to the overall effect of the final product. You know, it was really all about that lost art of “attention to details” that really made that video work so well.
HODGE: Aside from making music for films, you’ve also appeared on-screen as well. I remember a cameo appearance you made in ICP’s “Big Money Hustlas”. Now I’m very familiar with ICP’s fan base, and as I’ve seen with other musical acts that have collaborated with or appeared in a project with ICP, sometimes they receive a fair amount of crossover interest. Was there ever any crossover fandom that came your way from being in their movie?
MICHALE GRAVES: Of course, sure. I definitely think so.
HODGE: I mean you guys (MISFITS) were only featured in there for a short amount of screen time, but I know that that’s how I first got put onto the greatness of the 2nd version of the MISFITS. The first version of the MISFITS was many many years prior, and that film (Big Money Hustlas) is how I got introduced to your era of the band. Do you suppose that happened with members of ICP’s fan base as well?
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah absolutely! There’s a weird sort of synergy that we have with the ICP fans. It’s like, you know the isolation and the cliques we’re in and experiencing are very very different. But, in a strange sort of way, we kind of have the same sort of struggle. It’s very strange, The face paint styles never hurt either.
HODGE: Both the MISFITS and ICP can wear that badge of macabre and have built a legacy from it. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of bands out there can make it as successful, or manage to make it last I guess.
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah, there’s that dark humor with it, that quirky twist. And I tell ya, I think that Glenn (DANZIG) was a master at that. I recognized that in Glenn’s MISFITS. You know, when was taking it apart, or trying to understand what he was doing, or trying to reconstruct it, I could feel the creative genius in it. And I really noticed that with Glenn, and ICP certainly has that as well.
HODGE: A few Bands like GWAR, ALICE COOPER, and even GHOST, all seem to have it figured out as well. It’s like a little piece of creative magic, that you all have, and there’s no real formula for it, but you all fit it precisely. They make it work and that’s their genre. And even as a solo artist such as yourself, you can sing, you can write, play guitar, you’re very musically inclined. But even with those talents applied, it still has that element of darkness to it that keeps us horror kids coming back to it year after year.
MICHALE GRAVES: Right, RIGHT, yeah! Thank you man. I feel the same way. The knowledge of good and evil ya know. You can’t really place a finger on it, but our staying power is proof that, that there’s still something there.
HODGE: So I’ve gotta ask this question. A lot of people believe that the MISFITS are overdue to one day be put into the Rock & Roll hall of fame. This notion seemed like less of a long shot after peers of yours, The Ramones, finally got inducted after decades of being overlooked as “too unrefined” or “sophomoric” to be considered as serious candidates. I know it’s such a political campaign for any act to ever get in there. I mean you look at the list of names and you have first year candidates getting voted in, and then you have other household names that have to wait twenty years to get put in. If the MISFITS were ever to be recognized by the committee for their marketing genius or staying power alone, would you be willing to participate in the event, even knowing the likelihood that you might be snubbed in the manner that Journey‘s current singer (Arnel Pineda) was?
MICHALE GRAVES: I better fuckin be there!
HODGE: Well, my concern was more geared to how when Journey was finally inducted (after decades of waiting) into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and for whatever reason, their current, and most consecutive lead singer, (who has been with them for 10 years) wasn’t allowed (per the institution) to join the band on stage in accepting the honor. I thought that was pretty messed up.
MICHALE GRAVES: You’re right, it really was. If I didn’t get invited, I would be outside. I WILL be outside! They’ll need security to drag me off, I promise you. But if something like that happens (MISFITS/H.O.F.), what an incredible honor! It’s kind of hard sometimes for me to be objective about that, because you know, because of my emotional investment and the things that I did with them. I think that of course the MISFITS are very very relevant in music history and the foundation in which rock, and punk specifically, and thrash, and speed metal, and metal…and so many different things…and even fashion was built upon.
HODGE: Aside from The Rolling Stones lips logo, and maybe a tie between the Grateful Dead or ICP’s (hatchetman) logos, I have never seen a band’s logo that has endured as long as the MISFITS crimson ghost has. It’s everywhere you look. I mean, you look into any Spencers, Hot Topic, FYE, It’s always there and has been for decades. That just goes to show you the staying power that the MISFITS brand has created.
MICHALE GRAVES: It’s a cultural phenomenon that is now spanning generations. I’ve met people around my age that have children, teenagers, that know who the MISFITS are. It’s incredible. It’s a great thing. I’ve contributed to that. It’s in my heart, my soul, in my artwork. I continue to do that. I fly the flag of the MISFITS.
HODGE: You had an acting role in the theatrical release of the 2008 film Perkins 14. I believe it was part of those After Dark Horrorfest series of films. How did that come about, and did you always have aspirations to be in film?
MICHALE GRAVES: Absolutely. I always had aspirations to be an actor and to work in films. Perkins 14 began through a website, I forget what that website was, but it was based on a fan driven contest, through something like massify.com. They sourced a story. So all sorts of writers sent in stories for the film. And then the online community voted on them. They whittled it down, and then they chose Perkins 14 as one of the eight films to be released in theatres. Then they gave all the actors and actresses the opportunity to audition for roles. Same thing, the roles were chosen by online voters. I knew a guy who helped create the film’s website. So he reached out to me, because they were looking for this Erik character, and for whatever reason my face popped into his mind when they were coming across casting for that character. He called me up and asked if I wanted to audition for a part of this and I said absolutely. He then told me that it was filming in Romania, which was totally fine by me.
HODGE: A friend of mine was also in the film, but he said that it wasn’t really what he had hoped for, simply because the conditions in Romania were kinda brutal at that time of year.
MICHALE GRAVES: The temperature was brutal! But it was amazing for me though. Out of those times of going through that came songs like “Best Of Me” and “Locked Away”. I wrote music with Partick O’kane, who stars in that movie. So it was just an amazing time. I was hanging out with people that weren’t very much younger than me that remembered the revolution in Romania. You could still see the bullet holes on the wall. The studio that we filmed Perkins 14 on was purchased by the guy that filmed Ceausescu’s (former President of Romania) assassination and was the only guy that had the film (which he later sold). But yeah, the whole history of that location and the artistic avenues it opened for me while I was there filming, just an amazing time man.
HODGE: I actually felt that for that series of films (After Dark Horrorfest/8 Films to Die For), that a lot of them were generic, but Perkins 14 was more of a thinking man’s film. Definitely one of the better ones.
HODGE: The Hall of Fame wrestler Mick Foley, who had the New York Times bestselling book (“Have a Nice Day”), made mention of you guys in the autobiography. He mentioned not being a fan of your type of music, which makes sense because he openly admits to preferring music that might make “the boys” aka fellow wrestlers, and his fan base cringe. I mean he often mentions liking softer music than one might expect a hardcore legend to be into, such as Tori Amos. But in his book he also mentioned how surprised he was to learn how down to earth and kind you guys were. This was kind of funny to read since he’s from wrestling and portrayed 3 separate larger than life personas. Do you get that a lot, where people think, “oh he’s a nice guy, but I wouldn’t have expected that”?
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah I do. I get that a lot. I get that often. It’s a compliment. “My god he’s so down to earth, he’s like a normal person”. It’s a strange compliment to call a person, “wow, you’re just a normal person”. Of course I’m just a normal person.
HODGE: According to his (Mick Foley’s) book, I guess it wasn’t very organized on the set of Big Money Hu$tla$ at times, and you guys offered up your trailer so he could get some rest and get out of the cold. So it really touched him how nice you guys were, even though you make a living appearing as Monsters.
MICHALE GRAVES: Of course. I mean, the stage is the stage, but the rest of the day I’d like to think I’m just a regular type of guy.
HODGE: Since we just touched on a wrestler, how did your involvement in WCW come about?
MICHALE GRAVES: I had nothing to do with it. Jerry and the rest of the MISFITS ran into Vampiro when they were down in Mexico.
HODGE: He (Vampiro) gave you guys a lot of props during his podcast with Vince Russo (former lead writer for WCW). And by the way, Russo had very fond memories of working with you guys in WCW and has been looking to get you in contact with you about appearing on his podcast one day.
MICHALE GRAVES: He (Vampiro) is a good guy. We call each other brothers. They (MISFITS) ran into each other when they were doing the Mexican tour. That was the tour that I wasn’t on. Where I was supposedly playing hockey. Like I would ever I give up my career for ice hockey. So anyways, they ran into each other and Vamp was in with WCW and they just came up with it. Now, when I got into it, it was brilliant. We were gonna build on the music side of things. Cause we were so theatrical, we were larger than life. We were gonna merge the two, the music and the wrestling. And through storylines and through music, you know, tell and highlight the stories and the events of the all the characters that we were mixing it up with. From the Daffney stuff and the stuff with Ric Flair’s son. David was the crazy guy, and I was the opposite of that. We were going to play off each other. And the Crowbar stuff was building with us. And she (Daffney) fuckin jacked us (storyline). And that whole thing was going to be nurtured by and told through the wrestling and through the music. But it just went off the rails man.
HODGE: Well Ian (Vampiro) once told me that you (MISFITS) were actually too “over” aka popular with the fans. And that the creative management in WCW did not like the fact that you were becoming more popular than some of their most popular acts, and that same management may have actually tried to sabotage your momentum there.
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah man. I really tried to stay out of the politics of everything. There was so much drama going on within the band itself at the time. I just knew that we had so much talent and so much creativity. The fire in such a young man that burned in me, and the things that I wanted to do. It was very frustrating that it was such a big boy world with lots of money and power. You know. And I was just a creative guy. So I saw all of the struggles and I was just really kinda fuckin sad that it all got squashed over stupid shit. And if we had people around us that could stand back and be objective and go “these guys are creative, they’re strong, they’re talented, and they can make us a lot of money”. We were on the verge. We were really on the verge. We had people like Rob Zombie calling us like “Hey man, can I direct your video”. And I saw all this happening. And again, I was a small fish. I was just a young guy in my early 20’s. So I just did my best to keep myself together and pray to god that we could keep the bus together…and we couldn’t man. We just flew apart.
HODGE: Vampiro mentioned something that I was wondering if you could speak on. Something about you and Doyle (Von Frankenstein) being caught in Macho Man Randy Savage’s wrath at one point, supposedly over his then valet/girlfriend Gorgeous George?
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah, yes. It was terrible. There was a time at one point, when me and Matt, the two smallest guys on the MISFITS/GWAR tour, got cornered backstage by Randy Macho Man Savage. A very angry, drunk, Macho Man Randy Savage.
HODGE: How’d you get out alive, that guy was intense?!?
MICHALE GRAVES: I just stayed calm. I called him Mr. Man. I swear to god. I said Mr. Man, listen… and I just hoped for the best.
HODGE: I recently met Bill Apter, the guy that was the senior Editor for all the big wrestling magazines back in the day, and he said that he once got on Randy Savage’s bad side as well. He felt like his life was in danger and that he just couldn’t believe the intensity of the guy.
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah, ya know. I can’t really speak ill of the dead. I’ve gotta be honest with you. With my run-in with Randy Macho Man Savage, that man had every right to be pissed off the way that he was. And every right to be as scary as he was. And if he wanted to, he coulda choked the shit outta me. He was just awesome you know. He was an intense guy! “Stay calm son”, is all I could think to myself.
HODGE: Now, I know that since your time with the MISFITS, you’ve occasionally performed with both Doyle and Dr. Chud (former band mates). Knowing that you guys can still co-exist together on stage, I feel that the fans would collectively say “YES” if a MISFITS reunion with yourself and the rest of your era MISFITS crew should materialize. What would you say to a proposal like this?
MICHALE GRAVES: Of course! I’d tell those guys, the earth would shake just a little. Godzilla woke up again! And that’s the truth and that’s the power of us. And I hope that, you know, we’re able to reveal that at some point. You never know. Life is fuckin crazy. But I honestly feel like a simple sit-down meeting, just like we’re having here, is all it would take to really answer that question.
HODGE: I gotta ask you. So Damien Echols has been in the news (for being accused of the ritualistic murder of 3 small boys) for nearly 25 years and struggled behind bars for nearly as long. Anyone that has seen the documentaries (Paradise Lost) feels like the entire legal proceedings were a total miscarriage of justice. Obviously you’ve felt the same, as you joined in as one of his many celebrity supporters. You even created the album (“Illusions”) with him. Now, as blatantly evident in the documentaries, it always felt like the justice system was totally tainted for those guys. But there were times when I would hear or read some compelling evidence, and it did made me think for a moment “wait, could he/they have done that?”. So, was there ever a time, before you worked with him obviously, that you may have felt like, “I don’t know, I just don’t know”, about his innocence?
MICHALE GRAVES: I’ve always kept that in mind. And that’s always there. And that’s why people like me…I don’t ever think that he actually did it. However, I always sought for evidence that would point to it.
HODGE: Just so you could prove to yourself that there was no bias? Or because you just wanted to see justice applied evenly?
MICHALE GRAVES: It was more because I could not believe that in America the level of corruption ran so deep, in pretty much nowhere Arkansas, that it was just mind blowing. It was mind blowing!
HODGE: No single shred of concrete evidence was ever produced. Only false testimonies and witness tampering. Then they spent their entire youth/young adulthood behind bars.
MICHALE GRAVES: Damien Echols would be dead if they didn’t make a documentary (Paradise Lost) about him. Now the tragedy, and of course there’s an underlying tragedy. There’s tragedy that happened to Damien and Jessie and Jason and their families. But for those three children (victims) and their families, there’s still a killer walking around that did the most horrible things to those children. Horrible horrible horrible. And those parents, the ones that still ya know, are still in the fight if you will. They know that there’s no justice for them. There’s no sleep for them still. Still. And it’s a horrible horrible thing. And then the tragedy on top of that, when you start to look at how many poor black folks are sitting in jail or how many poor white kids are sitting in jail, who aren’t able to defend themselves for things that they didn’t do and things they shouldn’t be in jail for and on and on and on. Does it peel away all the layers of rot and reveal horrible things with our justice system? We will never ever see justice in the West Memphis Three Case. There will never ever be the resolution that we would like to see…never.
HODGE: On a bit of a lighter subject, what surprises might be found on your playlist? For example, Prince loved the Talking Heads. Lil Wayne loves Nirvana. I even spoke with DMC (of RUN DMC) and he mentioned being a big fan of Sarah McLachlan. Is there anything on your playlist that people might be surprised to hear?
MICHALE GRAVES: Yeah, Dr. Dre. I love listening to the stuff that Dr. Dre produces. I love Eminem. I love Snoop Dogg also.
HODGE: Obviously you’ve spent a lot of time under the MISFITS banner, and still do. You’re also a longtime member of the Ramones universe, as you’ve performed and toured with Marky for years. What other musician/act would be on your wish list to collaborate with?
MICHALE GRAVES: Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters). I would love to jam with Dave Grohl!
HODGE: You took a departure from music for a while and Joined the Military. What branch of Service did you join?
MICHALE GRAVES: I joined the United States Marine Corp Reserve.
HODGE: Was this after 911?
MICHALE GRAVES: It was after 911. When I got out of the MISFITS. By the time my decision to join the military came up, I was so beaten down. You have to remember that prior to that, I helped found a website called ConserativePunk. And it was like me and couple of other people that went up against, what was at the time called punkvoter.com, which was part of the democratic political machine. When I started to write and started to speak about my views, you know, right or wrong, agree or disagree, the backlash was so horrible, that it was like I was squashed into oblivion. Nobody would book me. No magazines would talk to me. No bands wanted to play with me. There would be hordes of kids, kids outside waiting for us to show up and ready to fight. They would make their way into the show and start trouble with other kids and start fights with us. It was terrible. Terrible for us, terrible for those guys (his band at the time). And I was cold and I was looking at the rear view mirror from where I came from. I was the lead singer of the MISFITS. I had people like Rob Zombie and George Romero calling our phone saying they wanted to work with us. I was at the top of the top and now I have nothing. And I was in love and I want to marry this girl and want to start a family. I was something. I need to be someone and be something. So all that mixed together. And for a guy like me, where am I gonna get a job? IHOP? Alright that’s fine, that’s cool. Maybe a manager someday. But I knew I was more. I knew I was more. There was a side of me that wanted to achieve excellence. There was a side of me that felt I could achieve excellence through supporting our nation in the military ranks. It (military) also appealed to me because, you know, I would get a paycheck, and I would have a house. You know, I would be able to get married. I would get bonuses and support my family properly. It was to me like an honor to get my fuckin brains blown out on the battlefield. After all the crazy shit I’d been through. But in it all, me becoming a Marine was illusions of failing. I don’t need any thanks for anything that I did, which was nothing compared what so many of these guys that I worked with and have known and are still in the service. What they have done and what they continue to do, that’s what the story is, it’s not about me. It was a really crazy crazy time man. Ya know, in the middle of all of it I woke up. I had guys that were already in the military that were fighting and come back saying “this is all bullshit”, it’s all an illusion. And so I had guys telling me, “go fight this in a different way.”. “You know who you are; you know who you can be.”. And it was very very difficult for me to reconcile all that. You think about those two different worlds and it was insane for me.
HODGE: Well, that took a lot of guts. Just to join, you were putting your life on the line. You signed that contract that said that you would die for your country. That’s a courageous gesture, considering that it was a time of heightened conflict in the Middle East.
MICHALE GRAVES: You know what’s gutsy though. I ran into a guy backstage. He was in the Army. He pulled me aside and said he needed to talk to me. He said that he and his buddy were inspired to join. They recruited together. Went to bootcamp together. They were on the same team together. One day they were out in the field and got ambushed. All sorts of shit started fuckin happening. His friend was a couple vehicles up. He said that he jumped off and started running towards the fire. He remembered running and running. There’s black smoke and he can’t hear and it’s crazy and he jumps over this duffle bag. He thought “what the hell is this duffle bag doing here?”. He keeps running and does what he has to do. On his way back, he’s coming up to that duffle bag again, and he realizes it’s not a duffle bag…it’s his buddy. And this guy tells me this story backstage before I walk on for an acoustic show. And he’s thanking me for helping him to get through what he needed to get through and what he continues to get through…through the music. And so you know, it’s those guys that are gutsy…I’m just a music man.
HODGE: Wow, that’s deep man. Thank you for sharing that with me. I really appreciate you taking the time out to do this interview with me and for being so open and candid in your responses.
MICHALE GRAVES: It was my pleasure. I really appreciate you and for the opportunity to speak on these topics. And to everybody that’s supported me through the years, thank you for allowing me to find my meaning in this crazy world
Interviewer: Michael Hodge