The "evil Elvis" reverently covers tracks like "Always on My Mind" and "Love Me."
Even casual Glenn Danzig fans know he loves Elvis Presley. His titular group, formed in 1987, his ’80s death rock/punk band Samhain, and even his renowned late-’70s horror-punk/hardcore group Misfits all covered Elvis songs. But all it takes is a cursory listen to Danzig’s baritone croon — a cross between the King and, maybe, the Lizard King — to tell how important Elvis was to his development as a vocalist.
“Elvis was an incredible singer and performer, and his range was insane,” says Danzig while chatting on the phone from his Los Angeles home. “And he’s still huge.”
Given Danzig’s longtime adoration of Elvis, it was hardly a surprise to learn in 2016 that he was working on a covers EP. He and guitarist Tommy Victor (Prong, ex-Ministry) started revamping Elvis arrangements between work on Danzig albums and the soundtrack to 2019’s Verotika. The more songs they learned, the more they wanted to record, and the EP soon became the full-length Danzig Sings Elvis that Cleopatra Records released April 24. It was completed during downtime from the soundtrack for Danzig’s second film, Death Rider in the House of Vampires.
While his past Elvis covers, “Trouble” (from the Thrall: Demonsweatlive EP) and “Let Yourself Go” (from the Skeletons covers album) were amped up and metalized, Danzig Sings Elvis remains true to the sound and spirit of Elvis — although the singer removed the sugary backing vocals from songs like “Love Me” and simplified the production elements on tracks like the rockabilly “One Night” and “Pocket Full of Rainbows.”
“Mostly, I just stripped the songs down,” explains Danzig. “I felt like a lot of the background vocals got in the way of the song and Elvis’ vocals. And I changed some of the arrangements a little bit to make some of the music more haunting or sadder.”
Danzig Sings Elvis is refreshing take on pioneering rock classics, but that may not be a major selling point for Danzig fans. The singer often describes his band as a cross between Elvis and Black Sabbath, but most of his followers are far more familiar with the latter.
“This is not my metal hard-rock band,” he emphasizes. “I pretty much did this as a vanity project for myself. I couldn’t wait to sing these songs. Some people will like it, and some won’t. I’m fine with that, but a lot of people that have heard it are digging it, which is great.”
Like many people born before 1960, the now-64-year-old Danzig first heard Elvis on the radio as a kid. When he was a little older, he started watching Elvis movies, and developed a profound love for the captivating performer. “I used to hate going to school, so I used to cut school all the time,” he recalls. “I’d say I was sick, and I’d stay home and watch old movies that used to be on TV all day long. I remember seeing Jailhouse Rock, and by the end of it, I was like, ‘This is cool. I want to see more. This is what I want to do.’”
Some Danzig Sings Elvis material, like the 1956 Leiber & Stoller hit “Love Me,” 1958’s “One Night” and 1972’s “Always on My Mind,” were hits for the King. But most of it is less well-known, including the soundtrack cuts “Is It So Strange” (from Loving You) and “Pocketful of Rainbows” (G.I. Blues). Danzig largely stayed away from Elvis’ hits because he wanted to do music he could relate to, but also bring something a little different to while still paying homage to the artist.
“Elvis gets ragged on for a lot of his soundtracks,” he observes, “and there is some incredible, overlooked stuff on those. I wanted to record some of them because they’re great songs.”
For Danzig, the greatest challenge was hitting the notes with a natural grace approximating the King. “It’s not easy singing a lot of Elvis songs, man,” admits Danzig, who found “Love Me” the hardest one to do. “His voice was insane. So to sing it right, you have to go from the low to the mid to the high — that thing he does so effortlessly. And that took some effort to get right.”
Danzig had planned to showcase Danzig Sings Elvis in April at two intimate performances in San Francisco and Los Angeles, but both were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. He hopes to reschedule the concerts, but if that doesn’t happen, he has no intention of performing selections from the album at any upcoming full-scale Danzig shows. “My idea with the Elvis show was to do it in a small, old-school Vegas environment,” he says. “No pit, just tables and seats, and everybody can watch and enjoy it and have a really good time. That doesn’t really lend itself to a big metal rock show.”
He hopes fans will find Danzig Sings Elvis a refreshing change of pace from his usual fare, but it’s not meant to tide them over until his next album. However, when the coronavirus crisis passes, Danzig plans to do select tours with his full band, and he doesn’t rule out playing more Misfits shows in the future.
“I like playing that stuff, of course,” he says. “If I reconnect and go back to that, that’s fine, but right now I’m doing other things.”
His comments about the Misfits seem promising in comparison with backhanded remarks he made about the pioneering group years before it played reunion shows to celebrate its 40th anniversary. But Danzig insists fans misunderstood the alleged animosity between him and his former bandmates. He said that despite a legal wrangle over rights to the Misfits name, he and bassist Jerry Only have kept in touch over the decades.
“People need to realize it was a different time and a different thing,” he explains. “When I’d be doing Danzig, people would say, ‘What about the Misfits?’ And I’d go, ‘You know what? The time for you to talk to me about the Misfits was back when they were a band.’ Back then, they were ignored in punk and hardcore. And then all of a sudden, these people want to talk about that band. I was like, ‘No, go f–k yourself. You missed your opportunity, a– wipe.’ ”
Meanwhile, Danzig continues to work with his comic book company, Verotik, and will likely soon finalize plans to release Death Rider in the House of Vampires. Set in the Wild West, the movie makes a knowing nod to such spaghetti Western directors as Sergio Leone and horror movies, from classic Universal and Hammer monster flicks to blood-drenched Dario Argento thrillers. It stars Devon Sawa (The Fanatic) and Julian Sands (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo). According to IMDB.com, it also features Danzig, veteran actor Danny Trejo, Hostel director Eli Roth and Fear vocalist Lee Ving.
In addition to directing Death Rider, Danzig wrote the soundtrack. “I love the old spaghetti western stuff Ennio Morricone did, but I also really like the music from the original Django movies,” he says. “I started the Death Rider soundtrack a while ago and had 90% of it completed before we even filmed the movie. I added more and more music as certain scenes needed it, and now we’re almost done with the movie, which is great because Hollywood is shut down due to COVID-19].”
Meanwhile, Verotika — an adult-oriented anthology based on Verotik’s comics published — is gaining cult status. “We premiered the movie across the country and did the Cinepocalypse festival in Chicago and the Sitges festival in Barcelona, and it just continues to grow,” says Danzig. “When it came out in March], we topped the Amazon DVD Blu-ray chart, not just for horror, but for all movies. And now the movie is finding a second life during this whole stay-at-home pandemic thing. People have been binge-watching Verotika together. They’ll connect with each other online and watch the movie, which is pretty cool.”
Danzig is now working on a screenplay for the follow-up to Death Rider. He also may start on a sequel to Verotika. But if he has his way, his third picture will be “a really bloody martial arts film” that will reveal another facet of his love for B-movies. “I don’t want to go to a movie and just see people talking for an hour-and-a-half,” he says. “I want to see people get their heads chopped off and some crazy stuff. And there are a lot of people out there who are like me and really like lots of blood and insanity.”
As a developing film director, Danzig eventually could be in the position of having to balance his time between his band and his movies. Right now, however, that’s not a major concern. “I don’t tour that much anymore to begin with,” he says. “Maybe I’ll do a week or two here and there, but I don’t stay out on long tours. I stopped doing that a while ago, so I don’t think much is going to change me. We’ll have to see.”
And when can fans expect the next metallic Danzig album? “For now, people are going to have to be happy with the Danzig Sings Elvis record, and I’ll see in a couple years if I feel like recording another,” he muses. “If something comes in my mind, maybe I’ll do another. Maybe I’ll just give it away for free or something. I don’t know. But as long as I’m having a good time, it doesn’t really matter.”