Monday, September 24, 2018

From Christ to the Crimson Ghost: Michale Graves Speaks His Mind

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That’s the word that comes to mind whenever I think of Michale Graves. At 19, he stepped into the intimidating shoes of Glenn Danzig to become the singer for the reformed Misfits. In the early 2000s, he stood against the prevailing mindset of “Punk” by voicing his views as an unabashed conservative. And as the West Memphis Three sat in prison, he devoted tremendous time and resources to help prove their innocence.

Along the way, he has also built a sizable discography as a solo artist, most recently with the piano-based album, Keys. Currently, he is on the lengthy “Course of Empire” US tour with a backing band comprised of Blitzkid/Doyle/Dr. Chud veteran Argyle Goolsby on bass, guitarist Loki and extraordinary new drummer Nic Kartchner. The show is set to head to Europe early next year.

I recently reconnected with Graves – a man I’ve been honored to call a friend since 1995 – for the first time in a decade at his recent performance in Manchester, NH.

Let’s start with your most recent release, Keys, which is a little different than what you’ve put out in the past. What prompted you to do a piano-based record?

It’s gotten to the point that I’m able to do that because of [solo] releases like Vagabond and Wanderer and the acoustic tours I do. That presentation of music in that way, just on piano, is not unheard of now, which is a great thing. Just looking over the catalog of music, I started to see there were a lot of piano tracks. Mark Stuart from Hydraulic Entertainment said, ‘Why don’t we get all of these together and put out a piano album? You’ve always wanted to do something like that.’ So, we did. There’s a really neat version of ‘Dig Up Her Bones’ that I recorded when we were doing Vagabonds – me and [guitarist] Chibo. It’s like a Phantom of the Opera version; it’s very, very dark. It’s a take on the song that’s never been presented before. I think people will dig it.

You’ve used crowdfunding for many of your recent releases. How has that impacted not only what you’re able to do with your solo career at this point, but also your ability to connect with your audience?

It’s given me the opportunity to use those platforms as an effective pre-sale mechanism to fund the record and be able to put it out, but it also gives unprecedented access to my fans and my fans to me. The variety of things you’ve able to offer them in compensation for [providing] money to put out the records really gives artists an innovative tool to bring a new level of access and experience to fans like we’ve never been able to do before. Because of my relationship with my fans, it makes it even more exciting to be able to do that.

You have a very lengthy solo discography at this point, and of course you have the Misfits material you sang on. How do you go about comprising your current set list?

That’s a great question. Well, there’s always the songs that people have to hear. ‘Dig Up Her Bones,’ ‘Saturday Night,’ ‘Scream.’ The balancing act is just knowing where I’m at and knowing what my fans want to hear. I’ll always play ‘Dig Up Her Bones;’ I’ll always play, ‘Saturday Night’ for the same reasons that the fans want to hear it – they’re so ingrained and entrenched in my heart. The night has to have those songs in it. I do the balancing act of knowing that the fans at this point still want a healthy dose of some of those older songs and mixing in some of the newer stuff that contains the emotions and the themes that I think right now need to be said and presented for myself and what I’m trying to reflect and where we’re at. That’s where the magic and the connection with an audience comes into play. We’re still tweaking the set list; it’s almost the spell that you cast over the night.

You started your solo career after going through the most intense boot camp possible with the Misfits guys. Looking back, what would say was the greatest takeaway or lesson from that experience that informs what you’re doing now as a solo artist?

Probably the way we held onto our fans and the way we looked at them – and the way [bassist] Jerry [Only] especially always put the fans first. It was the utmost priority [for him]. I remember in the beginning, we battled many nights with the clubs because it was the beginning of, ‘Let’s put a barrier up between the stage and the audience.’ We wanted to be as close to the audience as possible. What was going to be best for the fans was always put first.

The last time we crossed paths was at the West Memphis Three benefit in Hackensack, NJ back in 2008. Obviously, a lot has happened with that situation since then. What are your thoughts on what ultimately became of that case and the boys being set free?

Since [that show], I lived in Little Rock, Arkansas for a year. I was working with and helped launch one of the first internet-based television stations in Arkansas, and it wasn’t soon after the West Memphis Three were let out of jail. It was very bittersweet how it concluded, because everybody – including the State of Arkansas – knew and knows still that those three kids – those three men – did not kill those three little boys. That’s why they went through this process of letting them out the way they did. The State of Arkansas knew they were going to lose if it went to court; they knew then that they were going to be sued left and right. They knew then as well that they were going to set them free and all this corruption was going to come out –  from the top levels of government and all the way down. At the end of the day, they were still going to have a killer they were going to have to find and convict. Arkansas took that all into play and offered Damien [Echols] what they offered him. I don’t judge anybody for the decisions they made. It’s a disappointment because for everyone who is still paying attention, once again the system – the Government – kind of won. Sure, Damien’s free, Jason’s out there and he’s free and and Jessie’s living his life, but they’re still felons and there’s still a murderer walking around who did horrible, terrible things to those children and killed them in cold blood.

When I lived in Little Rock, I had the opportunity to meet up with some of the families and protest outside of the State Capital, where I worked every single day with the television station. I saw Judge Burnett - who was a senator at the time - every day. Those families are still brokenhearted. John Mark Byers was there; he and I made our peace with one another. We battled for many years, and he’s now one of the strongest advocates for change in Arkansas. I got to work with a group of young lawyers who were going to school to study and whose strategy is to elect officials and eventually get into the inner workings of the Government in Arkansas to then reopen the case – which very hard, long, difficult work.

When I was in Little Rock and doing my TV show and producing the other shows that were on the station, I really became a pessimist. There were some optimists saying, ‘Oh, we’ll get it done. One day, they’re going to be free and exonerated.’ During the time that I spent there, I always applauded the efforts of all those folks - and I still do – but the Government will never relent. I don’t know how it’ll ever be right and the way we think it should be – and the way it really should be made right. I don’t think it ever will, so I think it then becomes a lesson of how bad things can get when you get ingrained corruption within government at a local level, a state level - and even at some points at a federal level, because the FBI were involved - and just how dangerous it can be to just normal, everyday people like Damien or like you and I.

To your credit, you’ve been very outspoken with your political views over the years. It’s not typical in Punk Rock to have the views you have. What is your take on the current state of affairs politically in America?

I think it’s unfortunate that we’re still not able to have conversations with one another, especially nowadays, without coming to blows in a lot of ways. I’m a conservative, I’m a Libertarian, I’m pro-human, I’m a believer and Christ is my savior. I’m individualistic, and I raise my family as such. What’s happened out there is scary because people like me have been demonized, equated and put in the same level as Nazis and true evil. When those things start to become relative on either side – and you start to dehumanize one another – terrible, terrible things happen. I’m unapologetic about the way I am – my morals, my principles. I don’t get asked directly about them a lot; people just think, ‘Well, you’re a conservative Punk. How is that?’ instead of having opportunities to talk about how somebody like me views particular issues. So, when other people hear, find out or they just read something really quick that I’m a conservative and a believer, they [think], ‘Jesus guy! He’s one of those Right Wing crazy people! He’s a Nazi; he’s one of them.’ And that creates division, especially with young people who are cliquey anyway and are being overwhelmed by one message that’s coming out of music – one message that’s coming out of Punk Rock or Rock or entertainment. The entertainment and music industries are overwhelmed by power and money, and they’re connected to all the other things, people and corporations that are putting out a message that is ultimately geared to cull us all and turn us into what China is.

I walked into Starbucks today, and on the front of the New York Times was a very large picture of a Chinese reeducation camp. China, in real time, has rounded up tens of thousands of Muslims to reeducate them in the largest internment since the Mao Dynasty began. To intellectual thinking people, that should stop us dead in our tracks. Here we are calling each other all of these things and arguing with each other about things that aren’t even real. We’re tumbling through all of these arguments; meanwhile, the real enemy is at work, and you see little glimpses of it like you do today in the New York Times. America, although exceptional and the greatest place on the planet, is not not susceptible to - for example - things that you see happening right now in China, what happened in the 40s and what has happened all throughout time. Course of Empire. That’s the allegory from this whole tour and that’s the conversation that I feel needs to be had. I’m one of these people who believe that the horse’s nose is no longer underneath the tent; the horse is inside the tent, and we’re just being distracted by all this crazy Russia stuff and, ‘The President is crazy.’ It’s insanity, because what the truth is and what is really happening is way scarier than any of the made-up stuff. I’m out there, and I hope that I get as many opportunities as I can to speak about it.

What are your thoughts on Danzig going back to The Misfits?

I’m so happy. I’m so happy that those guys have come to an agreement and put aside whatever they needed to put aside – personal, business, whatever. I applaud whatever got them together to the point where they can go out on stage, play those songs and celebrate the music and the work they did and what they mean to music – what they mean to people like me and you and all of those fans. I really am so happy for all of them. I will always wish those guys the best, because when they’re happy and they’re able to function – however it is they function – and do things like we see with the original Misfits lineup, it’s the fans who benefit and the fans who are saved. People look forward to something like that; it gets them through their day. It’s like, ‘Life is rough. I’ve gotta wake up every morning, and I’ve got this and that, but I’m going to see The Misfits in 30 days!’ That’s a wonderful thing. I was real excited. I would have gone to those shows, especially the one in New Jersey, if I hadn’t been out of state.

You’re approaching a quarter century as a professional musician, which is a long time for anyone to survive in this industry. For you, what is the most gratifying thing about still being able to do this?

It’s the fans, Joel. It’s when I do those V.I.P. things and I see those little kids. I met a family last night that had gone through terrible things; for them to come to a show and then stay afterwards and share those things with me and glorify my life and honor me and say, ‘Thank you for helping us get through some of the darkest things in our lives’…For them to honor my life in that way is a blessing, and I recognize that. It’s gratifying to know that in lots of small ways, I’m out in the world. Through the glory of God and how I’ve been brought up and how my eyes have been opened up, I’m able to recognize that I’m that light in a lot of darkness out there. That’s what keeps me going. When I’m away, I tell my children and my family that’s the work I’m doing. There’s a lot of darkness out in the world, and I’m out there to bring light to it. That’s my mission; that’s what I’m here for.

*Portions of the above interview were edited for clarity. 

Official Michale Graves Website 


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