As a life-long fan of all things Misfits-related (most notably the Collection I and Collection II compilations and the first two Danzig solo efforts), I wholeheartedly embraced the addition of vocalist Michael Graves prior to the recording of the group's 'comeback' American Psycho (1997). Possessing a vocal style unnervingly similar to his predecessor, Graves led the group through a series of well-received tours and the woefully underrated Famous Monsters (1999). Ultimately embarking upon what would become a notoriously prolific solo career, the erstwhile Mr. Emanuel released Punk Rock Is Dead (2005) via Horror High Records to much acclaim. Recently, Graves, always a man of many words and interesting stories, was kind enough to speak with us regarding both his histories with the Horror Punk masters and his touring in support of The World Turned Upside Down (2017).
Todd: How did you initially become involved with the Misfits? Am I correct in understanding it was simply a matter of you being at the proverbial right place at the right time? I can't even imagine how that must have been.
Michael: “Yes, I was at the right place at the right time. I was working in a recording studio in Lodi, New Jersey Producing a demo with my band called Mopes. It just so happened that (Misfits bassist) Jerry (Only) and (Misfits guitarist) Doyle (Wolfgang Von Frankenstein) were working in the same studio. They had known the owner of the studio, Bobby Alecca, since they were kids and (Misfits frontman) Glenn (Danzig) had recorded a there. I was in that studio and Bobby said he knew some guys that were in a band called the Misfits and they were looking to get back together. He said they were looking for a singer and that he thought that I had some talent that would match what they were looking for. So he put me in touch with the guys and I learned as much Misfits material as I possibly could. I immediately took to it and knew that I had to be the guy for this job. I loved every single note that was coming out of the speakers and I understood it, so I went in and auditioned and then auditioned again and then started rehearsing with them. This went on and on for almost a year. As Halloween began to approach a year later, they had to make a decision about whether or not that they were going to come back. They were always on the fence about me. You've probably heard about (The Damned vocalist) Dave Vanian coming in, and this guy and that guy singing. They had to make a decision as Halloween approached because they had been given an opportunity to come out during the encore of the Type O Negative set that they were doing on Halloween 1993 at the (now defunct) Roseland (Ballroom) in New York City. But the Misfits didn't have a singer. They were like 'Oh, this is great. We'll do it, but we don't have a singer.' They asked (late Type O Negative frontman) Pete Steele to do it and Pete said 'I'll do it, but I don't know any of the songs', so everybody called me to teach Pete the songs. I was a huge Type O Negative fan, so I said 'Of course', ya know? So, now we find ourselves in Brooklyn teaching Pete the Misfit's songs and in the middle of practice, he stops everything and says 'This is ridiculous. This kid right here has to be the singer of this band. He sings better than anybody in this room. Certainly better than me, so this is your guy.' ...And the rest is kind of history.”
Todd: At what point did you realize your time with the group was coming to an end? Was there a clear and defining moment or was it a cumulative effect? Were you confronted about it or was the ending simply implied?
Michael: “I knew things were starting to get crazy and winding down right before we started to make Famous Monsters. When the band went to South America without me and took (ex-The Bronx Casket Co. vocalist) Myke Hideous instead, I knew we were in uncharted territory as a band and that it might be bad. And the reason for that was because I was an asset. At that point, I understood that I was simply an asset that was being mined for natural resources. And what I mean is that I began to more profoundly understand that there was nobody else in my orbit. There was nobody in the organization that cared about me, my future as an artist or really even as a person. It was all about 'What are you able to give this band? We don't care about anything else. And if you don't walk and toe the line the way that we see it and the way that we want you to do it, you can go home because there is a hundred people standing behind you that would love to be the singer of the Misfits'. That was what I was dealing with and it was very, very difficult. I know who am. I'm very confident in who I am and I'm very confident in my abilities, so all of what was happening was not worth it to me. The fame, the money and all that comes with it is not what I do this for, so it was much more difficult to walk away from the people that I loved than it was all of the bullshit nature of fame. At the end of the day I went home and started my life again.”
Todd: While moving on was obviously what you needed to do, making the decision had to have been agonizing.
Michael: “I know the nature of the band is to be tumultuous and sort of come apart. But yeah, man. I always wanted to have a band where we were like brothers and everyone worked together. It would all be awesome and we'd grow old together, ya know? Of course I'd always wanted that and I never expected, or even foresaw, my path being so rocky, if you will. And that's fine because I never necessarily pinned all of my hopes and dreams on me having my life, my career and my relationships all a certain way. There was definitely disappointment, but I understand that I'm on a potter's wheel, ya know? That storm weathered me to be able to meet the challenges that I face in my present right now and I am a much better person for it. I wouldn't change anything.”
Todd: At this point in your career, how would you describe your relationships with your former Misfits cohorts?
Michael: “I haven't spoken to (former Kryst the Conqueror/Graves/Misfits drummer) Dr. Chud in many years. I've heard that the has nothing good to say about me and that's unfortunate. I keep in touch with Doyle as best I can. I'm always keeping up with where he's at in the world and what he's doing. And Jerry, too. Jerry has been silent for a while now, but he's still considered a friend and again he knows that my phone is always on for that call, ya know? ...With Doyle and Jerry, at least, my relationship would be considered functional and very good.”
Todd: Once you officially embarked on a solo career, what steps were taken to get everything on the right track?
Michael: “One of my business partners Mark Stewart and I started Hydraulic Entertainment, which is still going strong to this day. When we partnered together, he and I put our heads together and he could sense that I was backlogged with creativity. I had a lot of music in me and a lot of sounds that I wanted to push out. Instead of metering things and then letting them come out, we rushed forward and really challenged the limits of creativity. I was thriving in the schedule that we were keeping, so I think it was because the songs were already there. I had the motivation to create and record them, so we just let it rip. It was an awful lot, I know and it was definitely something that was done rapid fire. ...But if an idea was in my head, I'd want to record it, so I would.”
Todd: How much of an impact did operating your own label have on facilitating the release of so much music within such a short period of time? It must have felt amazing to have gotten it all 'out of your system' so quickly.
Michael: “Absolutely. There is definitely something to being the one that calls all the shots. A record company probably would not have gotten behind what I was doing or the strategy it, ya know? ...Releasing two or three records within a six month period really doesn't allow for what a record company would want to do as far as marketing is concerned. But then again, I see it differently. It's a different strategy where I now have this huge, beautiful collection of music that I'm able to work on within a world that I've created. I can re-record it, re-release it or different packaging because I get to call the shots, which is a good thing. Record companies would not let me operate like this. ...And now I've sort of shifted because the strategy is to develop things out on the road. As you said in the beginning of our conversation, there is an awful lot of tour dates ahead of me that span the world. It's going to include an acoustic tour and then another run with the full band. I'm at least a year or so away from the next time I'll go into the studio with new material. I'll definitely pull out some songs from the past as well some that I think that have cooked long enough and are still relevant to the zeitgeist, if you will. I really want to take my time in the studio, record something solid and make a real record. Not that the things that I've put out in the past are not real records, ya know? But we would go into the studio and I would make a record in a week to two weeks for everything, which is insane. I want to go into the studio and really take my time. I want to get on a more relaxed Production schedule and get some talent for all the Producer and Mixers.”
Todd: Have you found it difficult to play Punk Rock music within an acoustic setting? That seems so odd to me.
Michael: “No, it's not because that's where this has all started. I'm much more of a natural acoustic player. And a lot of the music, ideas and melodies, even for the Misfits stuff, came from me sitting down with an acoustic guitar and developing a melody or a movement. It's a natural progression to deconstruct it. ...The way that I look at it, I'm in the business of Punk Rock. I'm in the business of Rock And Roll. When I saw deconstruct and go backwards, I say to myself 'Well, where do I come from? Where does my art and my craft come from?' When you start to back engineer it, all of a sudden you find (famed Blues legend) Robert Johnson sitting in the middle of a room somewhere in Mississippi with just a guitar, a microphone and what he's got inside. You're going back to the slave songs of the South that picked up on Gospel music and your moving forward to Elvis Presley. It was natural for me to take a step back and say 'I'm going to start at the beginning and work forward.'”
Todd: Vocally, what are your influences? Whenever you sing, I hear so many different styles being incorporated.
Michael: “I have a lot of them, but I'll give you the ones that immediately come to mind. When I was younger, I loved Ozzy Osbourne, I loved (former Skid Row frontman) Sebastian Bach and I loved Joe Elliot from Def Leppard. I was a big U2 fan, too. I loved (U2 vocalist) Bono and the way that he sang. I was also a big fan of (former Bauhaus vocalist) Peter Murphy. And I thought (Guns n' Roses frontman) Axl Rose was incredibly intriguing. ...Freddie Mercury and (The Doors vocalist) Jim Morrison have also been massive influence for me.”
Todd: What are your current touring plans? I'm assuming you'll be out on the road as much as humanly possible.
Michael: “We started in the Northeast of the country and have been working our way across. ...We're on the west coast now in California and we'll be going up into Canada for a bunch of dates. I see the audiences are growing, so it's just been great for me as a performer. I've set some goals for myself that I know I'm achieving, so everything is on the up and up. It's been really great. ...The set list right now is made up of half what we call Misfits songs, whether it's “Scream” (from Famous Monsters) or “Dig Up Her Bones” and “American Psycho” (from American Psycho) because that music is still relevant and people still want to hear the Misfits material. The other half of the set is post-Misfits Michael, if you will. As I go forward, I'm starting to add other songs from the Vagabond Acoustic (1993) and Wanderer (2014) records which are, genre wise, done in a style that's even further away from the Misfits. I'm still bringing the ship around, and playing the music that everybody I think is hoping I play. If not, it would be a four hour set because there is so much music and there are so many songs that I want to do live. I have ideas for visual stuff like lights, and video. When we first started, (guitarist) Loki and I wrote a set that was over three hours long. ...Obviously, we had to trim away a for it to be workable.”
Todd: Is it bothersome that a portion of your set is comprised only of 'materials' from your tenure in the Misfits?
Michael: “I'm cool with that. I'm all right with that. I am very, very proud of what I did with and for the Misfits, ya know? There was a time in my career where it was a little bit uncomfortable. I was like 'Why is everybody talking about the Misfits?' But it's something to be celebrated and for me to be able to have contributed a song like “Dig Up Her Bones” and be part of such a massive legacy is a blessing and an honor. I'll take it, ya know?”
Todd: What made you decide to join the Marines? That was a maneuver I certainly didn't anticipate you making.
Michael: “When I had pretty much been run out of music. I had come out of the Misfits a couple of years earlier and was back to normal life, if you will. My desire to have a family some day and to somehow be able to take care of myself definitely factored into the decision making process back then. I was angry and in a lot of ways lost. I was beaten and was really looking to get the hell out of Dodge, ya know? When you think about it, it was so crazy that I had volunteered to go fight a war in the middle of a friggin' desert and look for weapons of mass destruction that nobody ever found. It was crazy. People like to bring it up and say I really wasn't in the military that I only joined the reserves, ya know? I'm not taking anything away from any decisions I made back then, but it was a crazy time. I am much more of a music man. I've been put on the planet to save lives, not to take them.”
Todd: Outside of music, are you continuing to pursue a career as an actor? I liked your cameo in Brusier (2000).
Michael: “I would love to be offered or have the opportunity to act in a really cool, challenging role. I don't know if I actively pursue it, though. And one of the reasons is because as I get older, the desire for me to want to be behind the camera is much more palpable than being in front of the camera. I'm really excited about working on the different movie ideas I have and different video ideas where I'm the one behind the camera writing it, Producing it, shooting it, editing it and getting the talent out in front of you. When I was younger, a part of the big dream that I was having definitely included me being an actor, ya know? And I have always loved the craft”
The World Turned Upside Down (2017)
When Worlds Collide (2016)
The Lost Skeleton Returns (2013)
Halifax: Live At The Musicroom (2009)
Arkansas Sessions (EP) (2008)
Return To Earth (2006)
Punk Rock Is Dead (2005)
Cuts From The Crypt (2001)
Famous Monsters (1999)
American Psycho (1997)
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