How do zombies keep their hair in place? With SCARE spray! And so would the legendary monster rock musician Michale Graves, were his hair still as long as it was in his Misfits days. Solidly kicking off his musical career in 1995 as the lead singer of The Misfits, Graves quit the band in 2000 to work on other musical projects. Ploughing his way through various new bands (including Lost Boys and Graves), Graves’ has extensively expanded his solo work since 2000. His solid discography, worthy of a glorious Halloween masquerade, includes horror-themed albums Famous Monsters, Punk Rock Is Dead and The Lost Skeleton Returns (2013).
Luckily for all monster rock fans heading to Amnesia Rockfest this year (Montebello, June 18th – June 21st), Graves’ name was unveiled as part of the festival’s incredibly eclectic 2015 lineup! Although monster rock will just be one of the many niche genres present at the event – keep an eye out for Russian gypsy punk with Gogol Bordello and industrial music with Skinny Puppy – Graves’ music has a particularly massive appeal for its dark glamour and quality storytelling. In anticipation of the rapid approach of the electrifying festival, I got in touch with Mark Allen Stuart – Graves’ work partner and friend. Thus, a few blissful days ago, I was nervously on the phone with Stuart and Graves, freaking out about the fact that I was actually talking to the singer of one of my all-time favourite songs: Helena (Misfits, Famous Monsters, 1999).
Nadia Blostein (NB): Hey Mark and Michale, I’m quite happy to be talking to you. So Michale, could you start us off with one of your best dead baby jokes [reference to Last Caress, Beware, 1980].
Michale Graves (MG): I don’t even have one. People who know me well would know that I could never make a dead baby joke. Maybe a joke about sacrificing chicken, to reinforce the monster rock stereotype. But definitely not dead babies. People who expect that from me are basically walking past a window and looking in – they see what’s visible from their perspective, but there would be a whole lot more to discover if they actually went inside.
NB: Fair enough. And here’s a very general inquiry. Although your real name is Michael Emmanuel, your stage name is naturally Michale Graves. Why do you spell Michale in such an unusual way (Michale instead of Michael)? Was it intentional?
MG: The pseudonym doesn’t necessarily have a meaning; it’s just something I did as a young man to make Michael more my own.
NB: There’s also an architect with your name, Michael Graves (he appeared on Wikipedia as soon as I looked you up), ever heard of him?
MG: Of course. When he came up with his first architectural line, people kept kidding me about it and giving me products of his for Christmas.
NB: Now I’d like to know more about you as a musician. Since the Misfits, your solo work has evolved immensely. A huge contrast in genres can be noticed between The Lost Skeleton Returns and Vagabond, which is a lot less raw and more melodic than the former. What genres are you currently trying to exploit with your music?
MG: Now this would be a very, very long answer to provide… Since The Lost Skeleton Returns, I have been discovering a more country, folk and spiritual side of myself as an artist. My music is really personal, something in which I reflect my past and current journey.
Mark Allen Stuart (MAS): That was a very good question and fact is that Mike has this powerful instrument in an incredibly unique voice – with his three octave range, Mike makes a quadruple threat: he can perform full band and acoustic whilst having both a monster rock and a folk voice. That’s why we’ve been able to put so much work out (10 albums in 3 years, half of them monster rock, half of them folk). His music is 40% acoustic, 40% full band, and some of his work is only instrumental. His ability, breadth and attention spam to play in both arenas create quite an interesting fan base: you’ve got fans that only like one of his styles and you’ve got the crossover fans. Thanks to Michale’s voice and musical talent, he has been very productive in terms of high quality work.
NB: And what would you consider your biggest musical influences? I know that that is an incredibly broad question, but what bands have had a particular impact on you as a listener and as a musician?
MG: The music that has inspired me the most is what I listened to between the ages of five and eleven. At that time, I was exposed to a lot of show tunes and theatre – think Grease. And thanks to my uncle, I found Bruce Springstein, Simon & Garfunkel, the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys… I used to listen to the great harmonies of the Beach Boys for hours on my record player; I was just so taken by them. I basically grew up on 60s and 70s music. Naturally, I learned punk rock through the Ramones, Bad Brains, the Sex Pistols, Muckey Pup…
NB: In the song Lost Skeleton, you mention that people should get dressed as you for Halloween. I am actually considering it, but what would such a costume entail?
MG: The whole song is about how the spirit of death is so taken by the lost skeleton that death wants to dress up as that character. What is every person afraid of? Death. But death decided to take on my image.
NB: Was Helena, my favourite misfits song ever, written by you? If so, is it based off of personal experience?
MG: I actually co-wrote it with Doyle. And all my lyrics have a personal experience injected into them. Helena is just one of those songs that was inspired by our perspective of a film called Boxing Helena. One of the reasons I love writing in a monster voice is the challenge of artistically working through an already existing work of art. What part of me and my life can I abstractedly fit into the piece of art I am trying to interpret.
NB: Now I’ll talk about about Amnesia Rockfest. Will it be your first time there?
MAS: He probably doesn’t even remember. But yeah, it will be his first time.
NB: And what are your fans to expect from you at the festival? The poster mentions the Misfits; will you be playing the hits you wrote for them, or mostly your solo work?
MG: Well, I’ll be playing monster music, of course. Mostly, the new monster punk album that I created (The Lost Skeleton Returns), but also past classics that I’ve written, such as Dig Up Her Bones, Scream).
NB: What bands are you looking forward to seeing and meeting at Rockfest? With your whole monster rock image going on, I can see you getting along pretty well with Rob Zombie.
MG: I would love to reconnect with Rob Zombie (I’m an admirer of the work and the writing he’s produced all throughout his career). In the bigger bands, I’m also excited for Rancid, Slayer, System of a Down. And I’m really interested in discovering Deftones, the Descendents, Groovy Aardvark…
NB: And what are you currently working on?
MAS: Well right now, we only have about nine minutes left to the interview because we’re in the pre-production process of a new monster acoustic album called Revenge of the Zombies, an album that tells sixteen ghost stories (one per song). Michale is also starring in Ripper, the story of how Michale’s character, Robert, is searching to find and kill the undead – it will be released on July 15th.
NB: Where do both of you find the appeal of monster and horror as a genre?
MG: I am personally not a big fan of blood and gore. My art is much more of a throwback to the movies that I love. I love the history, photography, artistry and allegories conveyed through old horror movies. It’s all about the thought behind them. One of the awesome things I’ve been blessed with all my life is a business partner and friend like Mark – he knows just about everything in this genre. Discovering his brain just sets me on fire.
MAS: The album Famous Monsters was released in the 90s. I don’t know if you were aware of it, but Famous Monsters used to be a magazine that started in 1958 – I used to read it as a kid in the 60s. What makes Michale’s talent so unique, if you listen to the lyrics that Michale creates, is that he loves to tell stories. We are storytellers. Anyone can do gratuitous blood and gore. We try to create a story, a hook. What is better than a safe scare (other than free BBQ chicken)? The majesty of what Michael does is what he does with that storyteller’s voice.
NB: Since we’re brushing over the subject of horror, could you guys tell me your biggest fears?
MAS: Probably hip hop music. (That was a joke.) Personally, I don’t like clowns. That’s why Stephen King’s It is one of the scariest movies ever. Michale’s favourite scary movie is Poltergeist (although Scariest movie, Stephen King’s IT watch it. Michale’s favourite movie is Poltergeist (1982), although its 2015 reboot is totally going to fall on its back.
NB: And what was your favourite movie to make together?
MAS: Probably the one we’re working on in the moment – it’s a great story. Michale will also be working on a feature film in September, so it’s a busy time to be Michale Graves.
NB: Well anyway, I bet you guys got to go head back to your work, but it was really nice talking to you. I hope to see you at Rockfest!
Overall, this interview made me realize that there’s lot to look forward to from an artist as hardworking as Michale Graves. So add Amnesia Rockfest (June 18th – June 21st) to your calender, because Halloween is coming to Montebello quite early, this year.