January 23, 2014 Interview – Jerry Only of the Misfits
In the mid 1970’s, American music became infused with a raw, real, and youthful aggression not seen in previous years. Punk Rock had been born, and it would change everything. Established from the need for individuality and to spread a social message the new breed of rock spawned many sub-genres. One of these, Horror Punk, began for Lodi, NJ, in 1977, with the Misfits. Combining the punk sound with horror film themed lyrics, the Misfits have become legendary artists in rock-n-roll history. After founding members Glenn Danzig and Jerry Only parted ways in 1983, many thought that would be the last audiences would ever hear from the Misfits. Then, over a decade later, Only took on the daunting task of resurrecting the monster he had created, and the band known as the Misfits began to rock again. Over two decades have passed since Only lead the reformation of the band, and they continue to produce new music, put on live shows, and have gone on to form Misfits Records. For the Misfits, the road has been long and filled with obstacles, but Only has pressed on, making the Misfits one of the most recognized names in rock music history, amassing two generations of dedicated fans. Recently we sat down with mastermind Jerry Only for a look into the history of the Misfits, reforming the band, making music for all the right reasons, horror movies, and much more
CrypticRock.com – The Misfits have been established 36 years now, and in that time have become one of the most recognized names not only in punk rock but in rock n roll in general. Glenn Danzig and yourself started the band all those years ago, could you have ever imagined The Misfits would become a household name like it is today?
Jerry Only – No I didn’t actually think it would have taken this long (laughs). It’s funny because we came out with something really good right in the beginning. I saw it, but it took the rest of the people to catch up for many years. The longevity of the project is what really astounds me because we have a young audience. Our audience is basically teenagers. I think that speaks a lot for the quality of the music and the real image of the band.
CrypticRock.com – That is true, you have a very diverse audience. When Glenn left the band nearly 3 decades ago, you guys originally parted ways back in 1983, what was going through your mind? Did you think that was the end of The Misfits or did you know in your heart that the band would eventually carry on?
Jerry Only – Well you have to realize The Misfits was basically funded and image created in my machine shop. It was like The Mad Monster Party? (1967). That is where we used to do our silk screening, promotional mailings, and built our guitars. When we broke up in 1983 we had built our own machine shop; a huge 24,000 sq. ft. factory. We were just moving into it, so that took us about 3 years to really settle in. When the band broke up it really gave me the opportunity to do that. Afterwards, that was one of the stumbling blocks in bring back the band, the fact that I set up the machine shop. During that time Glenn went out, did Samhain, and moved onto Danzig. He was doing real big stuff over in Europe. He was working at the game and we were setting up a home base and foundation.
When we decided to get this band back and going, and work out our differences with Glenn, that would have been a very strong time for us to team up. One because Glenn was already out there and established, and two because our war machine was ready. That never happened so we moved on. I did what I thought was the next best thing. That was getting a young singer into the game, Michael Graves, someone I could use as a point guard for the band to be able to go out there and appeal to a younger audience and show younger kids perspective on a legendary band. That worked for a little while and kind of fell apart too, which kind of left it back in my lap. At that point I said to myself, well look you can try and really groom someone else again or you know what needs to be done, why don’t you just do it? So that is what I did, I started working on my vocals and song writing.
I have a bunch of guys in the line-up which have been with me now for almost 13 years. We have done a lot of really great diverse things, which is what I am very happy about. We have a Christmas record, we have a Halloween record, and we have an oldies record which we keep adding material to. We have the new studio album, which I think is our best especially for my performance anyway, and we have a new live album that I think is showing some real creditability of how we are able to perform the stuff live. As far as bringing back The Misfits, it was a gamble. A lot of people said I don’t know if you should do this. I think the worst thing is not to try, I rather try and fail at something than never try at all. Peer pressure to me is nothing but more than a push to try and do something. When people say you shouldn’t do this, the more I want to do it. I don’t know if that’s the right way to do things (laughs), but can’t do it, now I want to do it.
CrypticRock.com – I understand that. When someone contradicts you, it makes you more determined to do it.
Jerry Only – Yea for sure. The more they tell me I can’t do it the more I want to prove them wrong.
CrypticRock.com – As you said you took over lead vocal duties after the departure of Michael Graves. You have provided backing vocals over the years but this is your first time taking the lead. What was this experience like for you?
Jerry Only – What I found out was you need to approach studio recordings in a different manner of speaking. Back in the day when we did Static Age (1978), we would go into the studio and we would play it live. We would play it 5 or 6 times and in those days you cut tape, you actually took a razor blade and cut a tape, if you had a good verse that you like, you found out where the spot was, you’d cut it and tape it together and you’d piece your song together that way. These days it’s the push of a button.
The thing is you need to get your drums in first, we always put our drums in first. We play along with the drummer live to give him the feel and energy, but we don’t actually keep the track with bass to do it. We go back over and re-record the bass, not line by line, but with a clean track, clean aspect and knowing what the drums are doing. It basically gives you an advantage to perform better based on having pieces like a house; first your foundation, then your first floor and your second floor. The thing most times in studio situations, record companies give you money. They give you money, and you spend your money, 10 days tracking the drums, 2 weeks tracking the guitar and bass, and only squeezed into 3-4 days for vocals. To me that is wrong, the hardest thing to really get right is the emotion, pitch, and performance of vocals. You are worried so much about your structure, then you have holes in your roof.
So what we do now is we get the drums done, I record the bass first in the morning, then Dez Cadena will do a bunch of guitar work, I will be working on my vocals, and then I will sing. I will sing until I start singing like shit, then Dez will come back in and work on guitars until the end of the evening. Every day I am singing, and every day I go home and listen to what I did. First day I have to listen to one song, second day two songs, third day three. Then I start making notes of what I like and don’t like. Then I go back then and fix that stuff and try and get it as close as I can. With The Devil’s Rain we spent about 35-40 days making the record, and I probably spent about 25 of them singing. Normally that would not happen. Where I may fall short as a premiere vocalist I make up by using a strategy to give me an advantage with multiple opportunities to achieve that level of playing. That is where we are at. I am really happy working with these guys, and we work well together. Everyone understands their spot, there are no egos. When I am ready to sing, Dez says ok I will take 5. Then as soon as I am shot, I admit it to myself immediately and say I am done. Dez just steps right back in and picks up where he is suppose to pick up and works on guitars all day. With that formula we averaged about a song every day and a half in the studio. For me that’s a home run, to actually work out of a studio and like what you’ve done and not want to change anything. To me, then you’ve achieved your goal.
CrypticRock.com – Definitely, it sounds like a great formula. The Devil’s Rain (2011) was the first with you on lead vocals and first studio album by The Misfits in 8 years. The record does have a different sound than previous Misfits releases. Was this something you were aiming for when writing the songs?
Jerry Only – No, I am a firm believer that songs write themselves. You will have an idea and start piecing it together, it will find its ground and go where it wants to go. If you just keep improving it and being critical of it, it becomes better and better. I think that one of the formulas is that none of our albums actually sound the same. You listen to Static Age (1997) and it has a cleaner sound. You listen to Walk Among Us (1982) and it is more of a punk album. Earth AD (1983) is just insanity. You listen to American Psycho (1997) and all of a sudden The Misfits have come into their own. You are listening to songs like “Dig Up Her Bones”, “American Psycho” and “From Hell They Came”. That album was the only time I kind of groomed something to make a statement musically that I knew people wanted to hear, and that was that we were a punk band. Really that album was a punk hardcore fastball, whatever you want to call it. Then Famous Monsters (1999) was all over the board. Once again the band exploded. It always seems you get to a point in the road where the it is time to re-create yourself you always come to a position where there is unstable ground. If the ground shakes hard enough, then people fall off and you have to bring new people in. That is what happened after Famous Monsters. My vision after that was that I had enough of trying to deal with too many personalities and not having the respect given to the project that I was given, that I was looking for everyone else to do.
When Marky Ramone and Dez were in the band, they wanted to do a 50’s record. I felt that if I did a 1950’s cover record picking nothing but number 1 songs, came up with a good arrangement, good tempo, a good feel, and made it our own I would totally be above criticism. You can’t turn around and tell me every song that I did, that was a number one song, that my material sucks (laughs). We did “Donna”, “This Magic Moment”, “Only Make Believe”, “Great Balls Of Fire”, and all great songs. It was just a matter based on performance and the performance was well. It was my first time singing, so I listen to that and say I wish I had a better shot at this line, or if that word was a little bit stronger, just because I’m a critic of what I do.
On the next record The Devil’s Rain (2011), I was completely satisfied because I gave myself enough time to evaluate what I was doing and make the adjustments. That was just a matter of strategy, not wanting to be a rock star, and not wanting to be in the studio. I was in the studio until the sun came up and the sun went down. We worked at Ed Stasium’s house and it went well. It was really good working with Ed. Ed will listen to songs and tell you let’s do this twice, I like this better, how about trying this. Then he will play all these little subtle parts in the background that you don’t notice but man it really gives the song a third dimension. I am really happy with the progress of The Misfits. I thank god because a lot of times when we came back, things were shaky, line-ups were shaky, that I doubted bringing back The Misfits was a good idea. I felt that we were legends, maybe I should have left it alone. Now the kids scream for “Dig Up Her Bones”, “Scream!”, or “The Curse Of The Mummy’s Hand”. I watch the crowd when Dez does “Jack The Ripper” and the whole place breaks out into a pit. To me, being the band that everyone built their visions on for the 80’s and 90’s, to still come back in 2014 and really just keep holding ground and breaking new ground.
CrypticRock.com – It’s great you are doing it, stuck with it, and The Misfits are still around. In 2013 you released the live record Dead Alive! It’s the band’s first live record in quite some time. What was it like recording this live record?
Jerry Only – This record was recorded in New Jersey, which is our hometown, at Starland Ballroom; one of the most premiere venues on the east coast, and BB Kings on Halloween night. We didn’t know if we were actually going to release it. We said let’s record it, the band is playing well. When we recorded it we listened back to it and said you know it has a lot of energy. It really shows that the live band as a 3 piece unit is really pulling its weight so we decided to do it. Based on contractual issues with old material, and the fact that there was an old album called Evilive (1987), we decided to go with more current line-up material such as American Psycho, Famous Monsters, The Devil’s Rain, and “Science Fiction/Double Feature” which we now recorded a studio version for. I call that single my “high production single”. It has piano on “Descending Angel” and female background singers. It is something I always wanted to do being a big fan of oldies. I really wanted to have something that was well produced that people can listen to and say hey this band really has class other than just balls.
CrypticRock.com – The band has definitely proved that over the years. You were a pioneering band back in the golden age of punk, combining punk rock and horror themed topics. Many would say you created what we now know as horror punk. What is your opinion on the direction of punk rock today?
Jerry Only – Well I tell you what, when punk rock first came down the pipes I thought Sid Vicious’ “My Way” was a break through. The Clash came out and were really punk in the beginning and they turned into a little bit of reggae and ska which really worked. They kind of brought punk music into the mainstream as far as public awareness. Today, I like Green Day. I saw them the other day. I do like the bands that are out there today, but at the same time songs are songs. Great songs that Buddy Holly wrote or Elvis played are still strong today. I think that’s where we excel. Horror punk and horror punk scene, I like it and I like the idea, but what I need from the horror punk scene is great songs. That’s what I am waiting for from the horror punk scene. It isn’t a bunch of guys in make-up. It’s where are my songs? Where is David Bowie’s “Space Odyssey” or Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”? Where is the best song in the world? I am waiting to hear this. I do hear some of them and every once in a while I hear a band play a song that really astounds me. That is what I am shying away from with this band. I don’t want to be a commercial entity. I want to be the greatest underground band of all time. I don’t want to make records because I need to make records. I want to make a record because it needed to be made. That, to me, seems to be the difference.
CrypticRock.com – I agree with you. Song quality is the most important thing. The Misfits continues to be strong and were very busy in 2013.
Jerry Only – Last year was tough, we came out really strong and recorded nine songs in the beginning of 2013. Then unfortunately Dez’s ex-wife had a hiking accident and was killed, my dad died, my good friend Josh from the 9:30 Club died. It seemed every time I turned around, after we started the year so well, everyone was dying around me. I took that fuel and instead of getting depressed and letting things slip away, I feel more inspired than ever to come up with something great; something that is really going to define the ups and downs, as they say the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat. In our success we find our ultimate failure in losing these people along the way. You can look at the way life treats you and the bag of rocks you are handed and think of it as a burden or a weapon. We are trying to use it as a weapon and re-create the band again. To come up with something new, keep the releases coming, keep the records coming, and put out a bunch of EPs and blend them into albums as we go. I think that is the wave of the future. The wave of the future is packaging. Your package has to be key, if you look at the new packing for Fiend Club Lounge (2005), I think it’s unparallel, I think it’s one of the best ones. Descending Angels (2013) we put together. I’d like to add another song to it, change the packaging, and have a little more time on it. We’ve had so many releases that we haven’t had time to totally tear these things apart and put them back together. At the same time we are the record label now, so we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to do anything. We just do what the hell we want (laughs). To me that’s the goal I really always had as a kid; to be able make music and make music the way I wanted to without being told what to do and being a negative vibe for kids.
CrypticRock.com – That artistic freedom has to be a surreal feeling when that is what you aim for. I imagine it’s what any artist aims for. Also to take all those negatives and make positives of them.
Jerry Only – I think that was the message of 2013. You could be the biggest and the best in the world but you can also bottom out just as quick. The only thing you have to realize is when you’re low you have no place else to go other than up. So you just keep digging and get back up. We picked it back up with the Christmas run. Now we are off to Australia. I tried to get a couple of songs over the holidays, a few more Christmas songs, a couple of 50’s songs, and maybe a few new ones so maybe we can have a new EP in 2014 as well. If I can get 10 or 12 songs off before the summer breaks then Misfits Records is rolling strong.
CrypticRock.com – That is great. It’s really something to look forward to. Over the years you worked with and befriended so many other now iconic punk artists from The Ramones, to The Sex Pistols, to Black Flag. These bands as well as The Misfits had a certain raw uninhibited attitude you don’t see now a day. What do you think is the main difference between that image opposed to bands now?
Jerry Only – It’s funny because my daughters are in catholic school and I write them a letter from the road every day telling them about what town I am in. I gave them laminates and they follow us around the country and put stars on where we are going. I write them about what I found, what the people are like, what’s cool and what’s not cool. I am kind of right on it with them.
I don’t play “Last Caress”, I will never play it. The point I am trying to make was when I was kid and we first learned the song I was a rowdy 17 year old; I wanted to make a mess, I wanted to be an idiot, I wanted to get drunk, get locked up, kind of mentality. When we did “Last Caress” it was cool, I had the idea alright, who cares, and not taking it serious. As years went by I saw something on TV of this couple in New Mexico who torched, raped, abused, and starved their 6 month old baby until she died. I swore that day I would never do that song again. Not because I took it seriously, but because some idiot out there might be into this band, might be all doped up, and might think something evil like that is cool. I won’t live with that. I won’t live with myself with that. I have more drive today, and I have more passion than I ever had. I also have more morals for what I do than what I did back then. My view point and perception of being, and what I want to be remembered most of all is being someone caring enough not to do something they knew was wrong.
That is the message I send to my kids. If I did something I know was wrong, if you did something you know is wrong you have to try and make it right. If you know it’s wrong you shouldn’t do it, that’s a sin. If you try and do something good and it turns out bad, that’s a mistake. There is a big difference. I don’t think the song should be taken literally. At the same time I think my statement as being the first one in the band to play that song, I turn around and say look at this little girl named Britney. I will never play that song again because it means so much to me that she was hurt. I may give someone the wrong impression because it’s my responsibility to lead my fans to a good place and a place they can be themselves. I always tell my kids you’re in a country you can do anything you want as long as you don’t fuck with anyone else’s shit. As long as you are not hurting anyone or ruining anyone’s property, and you are obeying the law, you can do anything you want. I prove that every day with this band. I think that’s an opportunity that needs to be respected and viewed as responsibility to those on top to point everyone else in the right direction.
I want you to be able to go home and play music and not get into a fight with her and get thrown out of your house. That is why I stopped putting swear words in my music. When we came back in 1995 we didn’t have one swear word on the records. When we first came out we had a fucking attitude, we were trying to be obnoxious and aggressive, in a good and positive way to show artistic freedom. Not everyone views it that way though. When we came back I made my subject matter still about horror, but it wasn’t about being socially ostracized. It was about doing what we do. This is the music we play and these are the songs. You can play them for your kids. “Elaine” is a little bit graphic but it’s not obscene.
CrypticRock.com – It’s clear you derive influence from a series of different areas of original rock n roll. Tell us a little bit about some of your musical influences.
Jerry Only – My dad was a football player at Lodi High School before he married my mom. My mom was a cheerleader and she used to collect 45’s. She had Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Danny And The Juniors, and Dion. My dad worked all day. He had gone to college, married my mom, and went to work in a machine shop learning a trade. He would be gone all day and my mom would put on 45’s. I would sit there for hours listening to oldies. In the 1970’s I got into Led Zeppelin, Davie Bowie, and Queen. I saw all their first tours because I was a 1973 and 1974 kind of guy coming up in high school. That is when all these big bands started putting out their records and I would go see them play in NYC at the Garden or Beacon Theater. I didn’t want to play until I saw David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs show in 1974. The show was so theatrical, so cool, that I immediately fell in love with the concept. What bothered me about Bowie is the way he would always change up the bit to what was popular at the time. He was doing Young Americans (1975) and Heroes (1977). I was a “Ziggy Stardust” fan, so I promised myself when I started my band that I would never change it.
CrypticRock.com – So you were determined from a young age to stay true to your vision. That vision really has stood the test of time, and is something a lot of people enjoy.
Jerry Only – Luckily for me, Glenn and I came into the scene back in 1977. I was still in high school. I used to drive to high school, hang out in the city, then come home at 4-5 AM in the morning and scrape my ass up and go back to school. What happened was everyone in New York was kind of fucked up, they were all doing dope. They were all older than me. I was 17 and everyone else was in their mid-20’s. I was an athletic, I wasn’t a heroin addict. When we found out that we couldn’t really hang out with these people and be accepted because we weren’t into that New York dope scene we started doing our horror stuff. We started writing songs like “Teenagers From Mars”. The horror scene was something Glen and I always enjoyed. He was into comic books and I was always into horror films and sculpting. So what happened was we created something really strong. What happened with my machine shop was I was able to create the persona of Jerry Only that was able to stand the test of time. I improve on it, my spikes get bigger and sharper, my leather gets a little bit thicker, my guitars get a little more rugged , but I am basically pumping the same stuff I always pumped. I am never changing that. I try to keep promises to myself.
I am lucky, being in a band is a thousand to one shot, maybe even great odds, you have to be lucky. You really have to love what you do because you may be standing there with nothing at the end of it all. I have seen that happen to people who were great, who were superstars, who stand there at the end and have nothing to show for it. It’s the ride, a journey, it’s what you live in the hearts of others that lives on. I try and meet everyone after the show, say hello, and take a picture. For them it’s a big night, for me I am there anyway and I really like meeting people. I can’t do that when we play 20,000-30,000 people, but when we play 1,000 people I can spend some time, sign some stuff and be personable. You only go through this world once. If I am not home with my little girl, I am there with you. I will give you the time I have to make your day a special day.
CrypticRock.com – It’s great to remain humble through all the success. My last question for you is pertaining to horror films. Crypticrock.com covers rock/metal and horror films. I’d like to know what are some of your favorite horror films?
Jerry Only – I would say Night Of The Living Dead (1968). The Exorcist (1973) bothered me. It still bothers me, even though I have a crush on Linda Blair (laughs). Frankenstein (1931), The Hideous Sun Demon (1959), Rodan (1956), and Godzilla (1954). The list goes on. I am more retro I guess. There are a few newer things, I thought Prometheus was great. That bothered me for about a week, the whole concept. I am always open to suggestions. I am a big George Romero fan. I watch The Walking Dead a lot. We do a lot of horror conventions with those guys, they are really nice people. I would say zombies have become our new superheroes. They are in all our TV commercial and stuff now too. Zombies went from being something that was obscure to being mainstream.
CrypticRock.com – It’s really unbelievable how after The Walking Dead the zombie thing has really taken off.
Jerry Only – There is a bank commercial with a zombie walking into a bank looking for a bank account (laughs). We can’t shake zombies, they are everywhere now.
CrypticRock.com – They are. I agree with you about horror films. The stuff from the 1970’s and 1980’s are excellent. Romero is great along with Dario Argento.
Jerry Only – We went to Argento’s place in Italy. We were at Tom Savini’s house not too long ago as well. Tom has every monster you can imagine. Life size all over the place. I said Tom who dusts all this stuff (laughs).
Misfits tour dates are as follow:
02/24/14 Athens, Greece @ Fuzz Live Music Club
03/15/14 MEXICO CITY, MEXICO @ HELL AND HEAVEN FEST
03/28/14 TORONTO, ON @ ROCK PILE WEST
03/29/14 TORONTO, ON @ ROCK PILE EAST
04/20/14 RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL @ CIRCO VOADOR
04/21/14 BELO HORIZONTE, BRAZIL @ MUSIC HALL
04/26/14 MARINGÁ, BRAZIL @ OUT MARINGÁ
04/27/14 SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL @ ESPAÇO VICTORY
Feature photo credit: Mick Rock, © 2011 Used Under License. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Misfits Records LLC