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No Rest for the Wicked. An Interview with Michale Graves

Interview with Michale Graves November 2008

by Bryan Schillo

Michale GravesMichale Graves is a busy man.

Since he left The Misfits in 2000, he's released more new material than all of his former bandmates, combined.

He's currently on tour as the singer of the newly-formed band, Marky Ramone's Blitzkrieg.

He recently finished filming for a horror movie he starred in, Perkins 14, directed by Craig Singer, for After Dark Films.

Within the past 2 years, Graves has been delivering his music through an uncharacteristically punk rock approach -- his last two releases and tours were acoustic.

Graves is also one of the many artists who support the case of the West Memphis 3. On his first acoustic album, Illusions, Graves collaborated with one of the 3, Damien Echols. Echols wrote the lyrics for a handful of tracks that appeared on the album, and Graves wrote the music.

His latest album, Illusions Live! 2008: Viretta Park, captures a live recording from his first acoustic tour, and also includes a handful of "demo" tracks recorded in Romania.

Acoustic or electric, Graves thrives in the energy of the moment and loses himself in the trance of sound onstage. However, if you happened to see him on one of his acoustic tours, you were in for a treat. There may not have been hundreds of people, packed shoulder-to-sweaty-shoulder, but perhaps that was for the best. Most times, the modest crowd was the perfect catalyst for the ambience and intimacy of the evening. Whatever cosmic influence Graves draws inspiration from, his powerful, booming voice resonates above all else when he's onstage, crafting his songs into emotional, haunting pieces.

Bryan Schillo: Take me back to the time and place when you decided to do both an acoustic record and tour.

Michale Graves: About two years ago I was at work in Vernon Valley, New Jersey, I was making snow for a ski resort, and I was thinking about how the Illusions album came together. I was starting to get into and become more influenced by the music that I was immersing myself in as I was working on Illusions; blues, country and bluegrass. I was listening to a lot of gospel. Things were so tumultuous around me, I was having such a difficult time keeping a band together. I was trying to simplify things and it seemed like the smartest thing to do. It seemed natural to go back to the beginning and push everything in the world away, and go back to just me, my acoustic guitar and my songs.

Bryan: When you told your friends, family, or people you knew in the music industry about your idea, what was their initial reaction?

Michale: Most people thought I was crazy. Especially my wife, because in the beginning I said, "I'm going to go out and do this tour by myself in my truck, and I'm going to write a book." We laughed. I said, "I'm not going to come back the same, I'm going to come back very different." To some people, it seemed like a desperate attempt. A lot of promoters were shaky about the whole idea. There was a lot of hesitancy and a lot of convincing that had to be done, beforehand.

Bryan: Was there any fear in taking this step in your career?

Michale: There was much less fear than I've ever had before as far as going out on tour and putting something up in front of an audience. Going back again about pushing everything away, I wanted to do it mostly for me. I wanted to sit on a stool to whoever wanted to listen to what I had, and just play those songs. It's as simple as that. There was very little fear, it was a very natural thing. I've had an acoustic guitar in my hands and I've been writing songs since I was 11-years-old.

Bryan: You said that that you'd come back from this tour a different person. You've completed the tour, how are you different?

Michale: I'm different in a lot of ways. I'm different because of the vehicle that I've become to play those songs the way that I have. In order to do that, I had to do a lot of reviewing of my life and think about where those songs came form, why those songs were written, and the pictures and mental images that come into my mind. I don't know how to particularly put a finger on how I'm different, but I've certainly gained more confidence. I've become, I believe, more sensitive as a musician. By that, I mean by performing those songs this way, with nothing to hide behind, I think that I've sharpened my skills of delivery.

Bryan: Viretta Park, in Seattle, Washington, obviously had an impact on you. Being a Nirvana fan, what was it like to be there in the last place Kurt Cobain was seen alive in public?  How did you take it all in?

Michale: Being there is one of the things that has added to me and has changed me. I was a huge Nirvana fan. Sitting at that place and reviewing my life and remembering when I was a teenager driving around in my car and listening to Nirvana's songs, and knowing and feeling how it was impacting me and how it was impacting my generation, it felt like coming full circle.

Bryan: Do you believe Kurt killed himself or that he was murdered?

Michale: I walk the line, I'm still on the fence. I look at the evidence that somebody might have kilsled him and it makes sense. But, I look at the evidence at him committing suicide, and the argument for that makes a lot of sense, too. At the end of the day, he's gone and he's dead. If somebody killed him, obviously there should be justice. He's gone, I cant talk to him and you can't talk to him, we can't listen to his music live. Either way, it's a horrible, horrible tragedy.

Bryan: From what I hear, Illusions Live! 2008: Viretta Park is doing very well.

Michale: It's doing remarkably well. What's cool about this album and being at Viretta Park, Kurt Cobain, to people our age was like John Lennon. That's his only memorial. That's the only place that people like us can go and mourn or celebrate his life. There's nothing dedicated to that man and it's very, very sad.

Bryan: Why did you pick a show from New Port Richey, Florida, to be the live recording?

Michale:I reviewed all the audio that I had and listened to the different shows. I picked the one that I sync into the sounds and become detached from being a performer. When I sat and listened to the audio I was affected, where I heard the songs and my voice touched me. When I'm removed from that place as a performer, I know that I have something, instead of me saying, "oh, missed that note a little, need to hit that string a little bit harder." That night in New Port Richey was just one of those shows. The audio isn't that great, but the emotion behind it and the feeling I get when I listen to the record was perfect for what I wanted to convey to my audience.

Michale GravesBryan: The album was released on Screaming Crow Records. I'm assuming they're a new label, how did you wind up there?

Michale: Yes, they are new and Illusions Live!/Viretta Park is the first album to be released on it. A couple months ago Fuse Network got in touch with Eric Corbin, who runs the label.  Eric called me up as a favor to the liaison over at Fuse TV to ask me if I wanted to be on one of their shows that they were developing, The Weekly Riff. Eric and I started talking and I was telling him about Romania. I told him that I recorded some demos over there and I emailed them over to him. At this point, I didn't even know he had a record label. So, I sent him over the music and he asked me if I wanted to put out a record. I said absolutely, yes.

Bryan: Are you going to continue the acoustic tours, go back to electric, or mix up the styles?

Michale: I'm working hard and looking forward to putting together a full band. I want to have the right band together. I want to make sure that it sounds the way I want it to sound. I will not get into another situation where I'm trying to keep three or four other members happy. I can't deal with the turmoil, I'd rather do acoustic stuff than deal with that. Until I find myself surrounded by the types of musicians that I want, and operating in a positive work environment, I'm going to do the Bob Dylan thing (laughs).

Bryan: Speaking of touring, you just announced that you're going on tour in Europe with Marky Ramone. Tell me how that came together, I don't think anyone saw that coming.

Michale: I got a phone call from Marky and he asked if I wanted to be involved in this project, and I said of course!  It was Marky and his people that somehow threw my name into the hat and I got the call. We're going to be doing 30 Ramones songs.

Bryan: Will you be touring Stateside, also?

Michale: There's a very good chance. Right now, the plan is to go over to Europe, we're going to do some shows from November through December. We're going to do some Latin American shows, we're going to go down to Mexico, we're going to hit South America, and we're going to go over to Japan in the springtime. I believe we're going to do some festivals in the summer and the US will be hit. I, and I'm sure the rest of the guys in the band, want to make sure that we're tight and ready to bring it to the States.

Bryan: Is there any chance you guys would do any recording?

Michale: I don't think that the door is completely closed on something like that. We're all committed to taking it one step at a time. The first thing is to get this material down and put together a really great show that's going to pay tribute to one of the greatest rock n'roll bands in the world, the Ramones. Once we get that under our belt, and we begin to grow together and feel each other out, we'll hopefully make those steps. If not, we'll just keep rockin'.

Bryan: Speaking of being overseas, you mentioned you were in Romania. In addition to recording music, you were specifically there to film a movie, Perkins 14. How was that experience for you?

Michale: The experience was wonderful! It came together after I ran into Craig Singer in New Jersey, probably about four or five months before the process of me being cast in the film began. Craig directed the movie. When I ran into him, I was reiterating and telling him how vividly I remembered working with him in 1995 when I first got into The Misfits. I made a cameo in a film of his called Animal Room. He was blown away by all the details that I remembered. At the conclusion of our conversation I said, I've studied acting, I still want  to take a serious stab at the craft. If there's anything that ever comes up that might fit my abilities, please get in touch with me. While I was out on the road on the first Illusions acoustic tour, I got a call from him and he put me in touch with Perkins 14. I did my screen test for the people in London and they gave me the part.

Bryan: When will people be able to see the film?

Michale: It's released theatrically in most major cities, January 2nd-9th. Then, they go right to DVD. Probably by the end of January, or beginning of February the latest, it will all be available.

Bryan: Are you planning on working with Craig again?

Michale: Definitely. I'm working on a play in New York City that Craig wrote. Actually, he's adapting it to the stage and he's looking forward to developing it as a major motion picture. I'll be working on that, it's called Paradiddle. In January, we're performing it in New York City, and hopefully developing it for film in 2009.

Bryan: Alright, it's time for me to throw some Misfits questions at you. In recent interviews, you seem to be a lot nicer when speaking about Jerry Only than you were in the past. What made you change your tone?

Michale: I changed my tone on the surface of things in the hopes that Jerry would engage in some decent conversation with me. I never, and I will never, let up on  my opinion on what's happening. But, I took a smoother tone because I see what he's doing, and I see what Chud's doing, and what Doyle's doing. I play in front of our fans, and I talk to fans from all over the country and world that love The Misfits. What I was trying to do was extend the olive branch as best I could. I tried it with Chud and Doyle, and recently tried it with Jerry -- to try and get us all in a room, and at least start to make steps towards just being decent with each other. Even if we're not decent with each other, getting together and playing these songs that all these kids want to hear. What I've always said to them, and what I truly, truly, believe is that The Misfits is bigger than me, or Jerry, or Doyle, or Chud, or even Glenn (Danzig). It's not about us, individually or even collectively. It's about the fans . It's about the people that hold us on their shoulders and continue to buy the music, and continue to buy the t-shirts, the shoes, the pants, and everything else that has the skull on it. What's missing is the music. There's no soul. You're getting the body of the music when Jerry is performing, or when Doyle and Chud are playing. Even with me, you're not getting the whole thing. I was hoping that tone would come back my way. Jerry and I, prior to the change in tone, exchanged a couple of conversations that were decent. But at the end of the day, it's pretty much the same.

Bryan: So, we know you're in. However, do you think that everybody can put the past aside the and make positive steps together towards the future?

Michale: Not anymore. That's certainly one of the tragedies of all this, and it's a huge tragedy in my life. I know what the potential is and was. But, those guys crossed so many lines. It's so bad that if it was to come together right now, those guys would just be doing it just for money. It's so messed up, and that's sad because there's so many fans out there. It's so dysfunctional.

Michale GravesBryan: Do you think it's weird that Argyle Goolsby performs your music in Doyle's band, Gorgeous Frankenstein?

Michale: Yeah, I think it's a load of crap. It's absolutely ludicrous, almost insane. If Doyle and Chud are going to walk onto stage and call their band Gorgeous whatever and do mostly a set of songs that I wrote, that we as the Misfits created together, why wouldn't you just call me up and have me sing for the band? Doesn't that make sense?

Bryan: Yeah, to me and probably most of the fans out there, too. Why they didn't, I have no idea.

Michale: Because they're not good people. They hate me. You know why they hate me? I'm going to enlighten everybody, I'm not going to step into their band, whether it's with Jerry, Doyle, or Chud. I'm not going to be the "yes man." If I don't like something, I'm going to change it. I'm going to be a leader like I always have been and will be. Those guys can't deal with the spotlight not being shone completely on them; Chud and Jerry especially. Doyle's a different story. I don't know why he won't open his mouth and say something. He lets everybody tell him what to do, or what not to do. But Chud and Jerry need the spotlight so bad, and they so badly want to be famous for whatever reason. It doesn't matter why they're famous, they just want it. I'm a completely different musician and artist.  I'm a completely different human than them.

Bryan: You were in and out of The Misfits a few times over the years. During the time leading up to your final departure in 2000, in Orlando, Florida, did you forsee that it was really the end of the road? Or was it a situation where you saw things straightening themselves back out within a few months?

Michale: That day, I made a phonecall to the acting manager of the band and I told him that Halloween of that year was going to be my last show. Things had become so dysfunctional within the band. All of our personal lives were crazy. I was literally coming apart physically and mentally. I told those guys I was finishing up that tour, and then needed to walk away for a little while. Halloween was going to be my last show and I needed a break. When I said something that night on stage that it was going to be my last tour, and that I would see everybody soon, Doyle walked off the stage. Then, I think, I walked off. Then Chud walked off. Then everybody ‘s wondering why we're not coming back on stage. Doyle and I were going at it backstage, arguing very loudly and very aggressively with each other. It was just coming apart. There were a lot of raw nerves. Every time I left that band it was for the same exact reason. That reason was I was always told that if I didn't like things and I wasn't happy, and I wanted this-or-that changed and it wasn't happening, that it was too bad and I was replaceable. If I didn't like things -- anything -- then I could leave. So I did. I was officially out of The Misfits in about 1998, and after that I worked for them. I was just an employee of the band. I was separated completely.

Bryan: So, you're out of the band that final time and you go home. When does reality set in for you to completely comprehend what had happened?

Michale: I knew that it was over way before it was over. It was like watching someone you love, die. I really feel that I went through all those emotions, where it wasn't real at first. I think it really hit me when I woke up one day and I was back at my mom's house. I had nothing. I had no money. I had a mattress. I had some of my gear, the stuff that I didn't sell, or try to sell. It hit me like, "Oh my God, I'm right back at the beginning. I'm back at my mom's house, all the same ghosts of the past." But I just had to do it again, that's all. I just had to dream it all up again.

Bryan: What have been the best things to come since your time with The Misfits?

Michale: Meeting my wife. Being able to look at myself and my life from an extraordinary perspective, and having all the opportunities that I've had and gotten from The Misfits.

Bryan: How about on the flipside, what have been the worst things since leaving?

Michale: I lost my best friends, I lost my family. I loved those guys, they were my whole world. The Misfits were my whole world, every bit of it. I lived and breathed The Misfits. As much as people hear that I didn't care, or didn't want to be in it anymore, I loved those guys and I loved our music and the times we had together.

Bryan: After The Misfits and prior to your solo career, you had two other bands, Graves and Gotham Road. Was there ever any point where you got sick of the drama and runaround of trying to keep a band together, and just wanted to hang it up and quit?

Michale: Yeah, Gotham Road. Before I left for the military, I had fallen in love with a beautiful woman that I was making plans with. I was trying to get back on my feet. I was trying to do all these things, and it seemed like every time I did something the whole world would come down. It was hard. It started from the beginning, and the guys that I took out on tour, worked with, and still work with. They were babies, but to me they're still babies. What I mean by that is J.V. and Loki, and Paulie Lifeless had never been out on the road and toured before, really. We just piled in a van. We would sleep on the side of the road. It was rough for them. We'd all pile into one motel room if we could afford it.

Bryan: When did you realize then, that this is what you had and wanted to do.?

Michale: After I left for the military and came back because that didn't work out, I dabbled in trying to go out and play again. Then the whole Winnebago thing blew up. I really had an epiphany two years ago after I got my EMT license. I started practicing emergency medical work. In my town, I was volunteering for the ambulance and there was a call one day where this man stepped in front a train. He was trying to kill himself and got banged up really, really bad. I was the first medic to arrive on the scene with two other police officers. Looking down at that man and trying to keep him together, something clicked inside me that day.  Something in me just said, go out and use my gifts that are inside me, and save people in a different way. It was crazy.

Michale GravesBryan: When will we see Gotham Road again?

Michale: Gotham Road, for the record, never actually broke up. Me, J.V. and Loki are good friends and constantly in touch. We're just waiting for the right time to sit down, realize, write and record an album that we'd be proud to call Gotham Road.

Bryan: Around the time you recorded Punk Rock is Dead, you re-recorded Web of Dharma, also. That never got released, but that was something a lot of your fans were looking forward to. Is that ever going to come out?

Michale: No, the re-recordings are bad! They're not good. I really want to release Web of Dharma, but Chud doesn't have the spine to call me. I don't know what his problem is. He doesn't want to, or can't work something out with me. I leave the ball in his court. I want the record out, and I don't want to give him a penny of it. But I respect the law. If he wants to play the game this way, when he copywrote the material, then that's the way it is. I respect that, as much as I disrespect what he did to me. However, he's just being his selfish, stubborn self, and just holding onto that to spite me or something. When you're dealing with The Misfits camp, Jerry, Doyle, or Chud, that's what you get. I'll re-record them someday, or you can go on MisfitsCentral.com and find the link and download the album for free.

Bryan: It doesn't bother you if people download and share your music?

Michale: It really doesn't. Some of the sites bother me. Sure, you can look at it and say it's taking money from me, but at the same time there's a lot of people that I meet who say, "I downloaded some of your stuff and I think it's great." Then, they come out and they buy shirts and CD's. They do their fair share of supporting and contributing monetarily to my business. I don't mind it, it keeps me on my toes and keeps me creative. It makes me continually compete with myself and the stuff that's being downloaded. I can't avoid it. What am I going to do, sue everyone? That's what The Misfits do.