Glenn Danzig is best known as the singer and band leader for the groundbreaking horror punks The Misfits, his eponymous hard rock band Danzig and his hit “Mother”. However, a deeper look at his discography reveals a connection with Hollywood that predates the ’90s rumor that he was offered the role of Wolverine in X-Men. the inclusion of his music in an episode of the films The X-Files and The Hangover; and his eventual writer / director debut with last year’s bloody anthology, Verotika. The 1987 song “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” on the “Less Than Zero” soundtrack is credited. “Glenn Danzig and the Power and Fury Orchestra. “In addition to the tracks by LL Cool J, The Bangles and Slayer, there was also another Gdansk contribution:” Life Fades Away “, together with Roy Orbison, the icon of the late 1950s who played vocals and guitar.
In this recently unearthed interview, conducted 30 years later, Gdansk told the story behind his involvement in the soundtrack to the classic 1980s film and The Power and Fury Orchestra.
Less than a year after his minor role as the romantic rival of one of the heroes in Weird Science, Robert Downey Jr. gave a memorable side performance in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School vehicle, which shared the young actor’s charisma with the world in around the same time, When Back to School was out in theaters, multi-platinum producer Rick Rubin Glenn attended Danzig with Samhain at New York’s New Music Seminar, which was reportedly encouraged by Metallica bassist (and big Misfits fan) Cliff, Burton.
Rubin was at the center of a cultural revolution with Def Jam Records, the label responsible for massive albums from Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy and Slayer. Danzig began Samhain immediately after the Misfits disbanded in October 1983, together with long-time Misfits friend and photographer Eerie Von. Samhain explored similar subjects, but was much darker and more menacing in image and sound. After this appearance in the New Music Seminar Rubin Samhain signed.
Rubin suggested that Glenn change the name of the band to “Danzig” after the arrival of new guitarist John Christ. At some point during this time, Rubin agreed to produce the soundtrack for the latest “Brat Pack” film. Less than zero, loosely based on the novel of the same name by Bret Easton Ellis. Andrew McCarthy played a college freshman who returns to Los Angeles on Christmas break to find out that his high school girlfriend (Jami Gertz) and best friend (Downey) are not only sleeping together, but are hopelessly addicted to drugs. Years before taking on Iron Man as Ultron, James Spader (who starred in Pretty in Pink with McCarthy) played a drug dealer who threatened Downey’s troubled Less Than Zero character.
Much like he later revived Johnny Cash’s career by bringing the country icon together with contemporary rock songwriters, Rubin Glenn put Danzig and Orbison together in one room. 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 that gives Rubin recognition. The melody is reminiscent of the 1967 hit “To Sir with Love” by the Scottish singer Lulu, who appeared on the soundtrack of the film of the same name starring Sidney Poitier.
The recording shows the drummer Chuck Biscuits, who was a member of the most important punk bands DOA, Black Flag and Circle Jerks before his four-album stay with Danzig. (His work can also be heard on the Rick Rubin-produced Run DMC album Tougher Than Leather, released in 1988.)
John Christ plays the guitar and of course Danzig sings. The bass was played by George Drakoulias, who later produced albums by The Black Crowes, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and Loudermilk, among others. (In recent years, Drakoulias has been the music supervisor of several films including School of Rock, Tropic Thunder, and the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Beastie Boys dropped its name in Paul’s boutique; The Life Aquatic, starring Steve Zissou and Dead Man, after whom characters were named 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 about the release of Danzig’s 2015 cover album, Skeletons, the singer / songwriter and resident of Los Angeles pulled back the curtain on his Less Than Zero music.
Your enthusiasm for this material really shows in your performance. The production style really captures this energy. It sounds like a band in one room.
Glenn Danzig: Yeah, most of it is recorded live and after that we overdub, but I still record analog, you know? [Laughs]. It goes into a tape device, it goes into the board, and then it goes out into the Pro Tools system. I still do real drums. I’m still recording through a real capture card. Here you go.
People who record on laptops may not understand the heat and electricity emitted by a roll-to-roll or Neve console. Analog becomes a lost art.
Glenn Danzig: Yes, it is. I’ve only just started working in the old studio [Hollywood Sound Recorders] I worked with Rick [Rubin] in Hollywood. It is one of the few real recording studios in Hollywood.
These types of studios struggle to keep their doors open.
Glenn Danzig: Well this place gets a lot booked because it’s one of the few games in town and it’s a great recording studio.
Your songs have been covered many times by Metallica and others. You have also written for other artists, such as the late Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash. The song “You and Me (Less Than Zero)” from the “Less Than Zero” soundtrack was originally intended for a female singer, wasn’t it?
Glenn Danzig: Yes. Rick wanted me to write the song. He told me the premise and how he wanted it to sound. So I wrote the song and had to do a demo voice on it. So we recorded all the tracks. I’m pretty sure I’ve played all of the Hammond B-3s [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 a girl to sing it. At the time, he was thinking of signing a girl because he always wanted a really good singer on his label. Rick was having a hard time finding a girl to sing. [Def Jam] was still at CBS [Records Group, through Columbia Records] back then. They heard the song and said, “Well this guy does a great job. We should be using this!” Rick asked me if they could use it and I said, “Sure. I don’t care.” You know? That really is the story.
So, is that the demo voice that is on the last album or did you re-cut it?
Glenn Danzig: No that’s that [original] Vocal. If I made a voice for a girl to repeat, it had to be just like that [as if] it would be used.
Rick Rubin signed Samhain, which became Danzig when you made the album. Where did “You and I (less than zero)” fall on that timeline?
Glenn Danzig: Later. And during. Because it took us a while to record the first Danzig record. We made the first Gdansk recording in three different studios. During this time [Rubin] also worked on the Less Than Zero soundtrack.
Was there a specific reason why you attributed 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 would call all of his orchestral stuff he’d done The Power And Fury Orchestra.
I like that it is credited this way because it adds to the song’s unique vibe. Kind of like “Who Killed Marilyn?” was released in 1983 as Glenn Danzig Song.
Glenn Danzig: “Who killed Marilyn?” was my first solo single, yes.
What is the status of the Samhain catalog?
Glenn Danzig: It is not printed anywhere. If you see anything out there, it’s probably a pirated one. Hopefully we can re-publish it sometime in the future. We plan to get everything back on vinyl and CD. We’ll probably make a lot available digitally too.
The full unedited audio of this interview is available on the Speak N ‘Destroy podcast.
Ryan J. Downey has written, reporter, producer and editor for a number of branches covering film, television, music and politics including MTV, MSNBC, GRAMMYs, The Hollywood Reporter, Billboard, IFC and others. He is the co-founder of PopCurse.