Glenn Danzig is best known as the singer and bandleader for the seminal horror punks The Misfits, his eponymously monikered hard rock band, Danzig, and his hit song “Mother.” But a deeper look into his discography reveals a connection to Hollywood, one that pre-dates the ’90s rumor that he was offered the role of Wolverine in X-Men; his music’s inclusion in an episode of The X-Files and The Hangover movies; and his eventual debut as a writer/director with last year’s gory anthology, Verotika. Released in 1987, the song “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” on the Less Than Zero soundtrack is credited to “Glenn Danzig and the Power and Fury Orchestra.” And alongside tracks by LL Cool J, The Bangles, and Slayer, lurked another Danzig contribution, as well: “Life Fades Away,” co-written with late ’50s icon Roy Orbison, who performed vocals and guitar.
In this recently unearthed interview, conducted 30 years later, Danzig told the story behind his involvement with the soundtrack to the classic ’80s movie and The Power and Fury Orchestra.
Less than a year after his small role as a romantic rival to one of the heroes in Weird Science, Robert Downey Jr. turned in a memorable supporting performance in the Rodney Dangerfield vehicle Back to School, which shared the young actor’s charisma with the world in the summer of 1986. Around the same time Back to School was in theaters, multiplatinum producer Rick Rubin went to see Glenn Danzig perform with Samhain at New York’s New Music Seminar, reportedly encouraged to do so by Metallica bassist (and major Misfits fan) Cliff Burton.
Rubin was at the center of a cultural revolution with Def Jam Records, the label responsible for massive albums by Run-D.M.C., Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and Slayer. Danzig began Samhain immediately following the October 1983 breakup of the Misfits, together with longtime Misfits friend and photographer Eerie Von. Samhain explored similar themes but was much darker and menacing in image and tone. After that New Music Seminar gig, Rubin signed Samhain.
Rubin suggested Glenn change the band’s name to simply “Danzig” after the entrance of new guitarist John Christ. It was somewhere in this period that Rubin agreed to produce the soundtrack for the latest “Brat Pack” film, Less Than Zero, loosely based on the Bret Easton Ellis novel of the same name. Andrew McCarthy played a college freshman who returns home to Los Angeles for Christmas break to discover his high school girlfriend (Jami Gertz) and best friend (Downey) are not only sleeping together but are hopelessly addicted to drugs. Years before he squared off against Iron Man as Ultron, James Spader (who co-starred in Pretty in Pink with McCarthy) played a drug dealer menacing Downey’s troubled Less Than Zero character.
In much the same way he would later revive the career of Johnny Cash by pairing the country icon with contemporary rock songwriters, Rubin put Glenn Danzig and Orbison in a room together. The resulting song, “Life Fades Away,” was one of two Danzig co-writes for Less Than Zero. The other, which became the title track, is a ’50s style ballad, on which Rubin shares credit. The melody is reminiscent of the 1967 hit “To Sir with Love” by Scottish singer Lulu, which appeared on the soundtrack of the film by the same name starring screen legend Sidney Poitier.
The recording features drummer Chuck Biscuits who, prior to his four-album stint with Danzig, was a member of crucial punk bands D.O.A., Black Flag, and Circle Jerks. (His work can also be heard on the Rick Rubin-produced Run-D.M.C. album Tougher Than Leather, released in 1988).
John Christ plays guitar and Danzig, of course, sings. Bass was performed by George Drakoulias, who later produced albums by The Black Crowes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Loudermilk, among others. (In more recent years, Drakoulias was music supervisor on several movies, including School of Rock, Tropic Thunder, and the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Beastie Boys dropped his name on Paul’s Boutique; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and Dead Man named characters after him; and Star Trek even named an alien creature, the drakouilias, in his honor.)
Copies of the soundtrack album misspelled the singer’s name as “Glen” rather than Glenn. In this interview conducted around the release of Danzig’s 2015 cover album, Skeletons, the singer/songwriter and Los Angeles resident pulled back the curtain on his Less Than Zero music.
Your enthusiasm for this material really comes out in your performance. The production style really captures that energy too. It sounds like a band in a room.
Glenn Danzig: Yeah most of it’s recorded live, and then we do overdubs afterwards, but I still record analog, ya’ know? (Laughs). It goes into a tape machine, it goes into the board, and then it gets dumped into the Pro Tools system. I still do real drums. I still record through a real recording board. So, there you go.
People making records on laptops may not understand the warmth and electricity that comes from a reel-to-reel or a Neve console. Analog is becoming a lost art.
Glenn Danzig: Yeah it is. I actually just started working back at the old studio (Hollywood Sound Recorders) I used to work in with Rick (Rubin) in Hollywood. It’s one of the only real recording studios left in Hollywood.
Those kinds of studios are having trouble keeping their doors open.
Glenn Danzig: Well this place is booked a lot because it’s one of the only games in town and it’s a great recording studio.
Your songs have been covered many times, by Metallica and others. You’ve also written for other artists, like the late Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. The song “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” from the Less Than Zero soundtrack was first intended for a female vocalist, right?
Glenn Danzig: Yes. Rick wanted me to write the song. He told me the premise and what he wanted it to sound like. So, I wrote the song and I had to do a demo vocal on it. So, we recorded all of the tracks. I’m pretty sure I played all of the Hammond B-3 (organ). Rick didn’t know what a Hammond B-3 or a Leslie was at the time, I had to tell him what it was. He wanted to have a girl sing it. At the time, he was thinking of signing a girl, because he always wanted a really good girl singer on his label. Rick was having a hard time finding a girl that he wanted to sing the song. (Def Jam) was still with CBS (Records Group, through Columbia Records) at the time. They heard the song and they were like, “Well, this guy is doing a great job. We should use this!” Rick asked me if they could use it and I said, “Sure. I don’t care.” Ya’ know? That’s really the story.
So, is that the demo vocal that’s on the final album or did you recut it?
Glenn Danzig: No that’s the (original) vocal. If I’m doing a vocal for a girl to come in and redo it, it had to be exactly (as if) it was going to be used.
Rick Rubin signed Samhain which became Danzig while you were making the album. Where did “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” fall into that timeline?
Glenn Danzig: Later. And during. Because it took us a while to record the first Danzig record. We did the first Danzig record at three different studios. During that time period (Rubin) was also working on the Less Than Zero soundtrack.
Was there any particular reason you chose to credit the song to Glenn Danzig And The Power And Fury Orchestra rather than Danzig or Samhain?
Glenn Danzig: No that was Rick’s idea. Rick was going to be calling all of his orchestra stuff that he did The Power And Fury Orchestra.
I like that it’s credited that way, because it adds to the unique vibe of the song. Sort of like how “Who Killed Marilyn?” was released as a Glenn Danzig song in 1983.
Glenn Danzig: “Who Killed Marilyn?” was my first solo single, yeah.
What’s the status of the Samhain catalog?
Glenn Danzig: It’s not in print anywhere. If you see anything out there it’s probably a bootleg. Hopefully we’ll be able to re-release it sometime in the future. We have plans to put everything back out on vinyl and CD. We’ll probably make a lot of stuff available digitally, too.
The full unedited audio of this interview is available via the Speak N’ Destroy podcast.
Ryan J. Downey has covered film, television, music, and politics as writer, reporter, producer, and editor for a number outlets, including MTV, MSNBC, GRAMMYs, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, IFC, and more. He is the cofounder of PopCurse.