The MISFITS are one of the most recognizable brands in music, right up there with KISS. Their familiar skull logo grins even from messenger bags, T-shirts, and mugs belonging to the modern day emo kids, who may or may not know anything about the MISFITS other than their name. At the moment, the heavy weight of the MISFITS brand is lifted by Jerry Only, band’s current singer and art-director, who turned it into a family enterprise. He is the only one left from the original MISFITS line-up that hit the US stage in 1977 with “Hybrid Moment” and “Return of the Fly.”
What are the MISFITS in the 21st century: a monument to MISFITS of the ’80s and ’90s, a totally different band, or something else?
I think this is just an evolutionary procedure and everything moves on and grows. I think that we broke a lot of ground early in our career and we refined our sounds; we have taken what THE RAMONES and THE CLASH were doing and took it to another level, and I think the new album that we have just finished is our best work for today. I think our future is brighter forward than it is behind us [laughs].
If there was a hypothetical change in the MISFITS line-up, would you stop doing vocals and take another vocalist?
For Elvis? Of course! [laughs] Hypothetically, yes. The thing with the vocals is that I kept getting forced into that position; it is not something I chose. It’s funny. When you’re a kid growing up and thinking of your ambitions in music, you always think you want to be this big famous singer and I always thought I wanted to sing the National Anthem in front of the stadium full of people and I did that. And I realized it was kinda scary. It is not as glamorous as you would presume. Being a singer in this band was more of a necessity. We had to fill in when Glenn had left the band in 1983. So we came back in 1995 and I thought the band had a lot of years ahead and we gotta have somebody young who could be impressionable and who could basically be the voice of the band more than me. You know, I’m 51 and when I talk, I talk from experience, which is good, but I would like somebody to talk about it as a new experience as opposed to same old thing over and over. So when I picked the singer I found him to be very irresponsible and not respectful of the job at all. So what was happening – eventually I decided to take the job over and do it myself. And I think with this new record you will see that in the last 10 years I figured how to do it [laughs].
So you would give up for Elvis? What about a living person?
That’s really hard because I cannot even think of whoever would want to sing. I wanted David Vanian to sing for us when we first came back; I thought he would be very good. But you know he is kinda like me, he does his own thing. You know sometimes it is difficult to change your hat when you are comfortable in your hat. I think David Vanian would probably still be my number one choice.
Are you on speaking terms with Michale Graves?
The thing is that I tried to avoid being derogatory about Michale. I’m trying to give him… I don’t wanna say “respect” but… the opportunity to mature – that’s a good word – and to develop his talents in a productive way. He is a little bit of a cry-baby. He was given a very good opportunity at the age of 19 and he flogged it away. And the thing is that I don’t really wanna talk to him because he has nothing nice to say about me and the funny thing is that he always wanted to be Curt Cobain. He was a very grunge kind of a kid – he dyed his hair white and put beads into it like he was a surfer in Hawaii or something; and he was always against the MISFITS look, the whole imagery of the MISFITS. He was always against it. That’s why he was always on his own. He immediately wanted to be Michale Graves from the MISFITS. It’s kinda ironic. And now he is working with Marky [Ramone] and it is funny because when we did our 25th Anniversary show in New York, Marky was one of the guest drummers and Michale refused to play with him. And now he works with Marky and he is wearing the makeup, so he is a little bit of a hypocrite. But the thing is that I want everybody to do well, I don’t do better when people do bad. I’m doing my thing and with Michale I think that if he has talent he needs to develop it and he needs to be someone who is easy to work with and not someone who is difficult to work with. And you know, he is not a Mick Jagger. He can’t fool around being an idiot and expect people cater to him. But he works with Marky now; I think it’s funny but I wish them luck. I really hope that everyone does well and he finds the happiness he is looking for.
Have you heard his covers of some MISFITS songs, for example, “Dig Up Her Bones” and what do you think about it?
No, I haven’t. I don’t think that Michale could play a song that the MISFITS have played and make it better on his own.
A lot of bands play the MISFITS covers; what is your favorite one?
I heard a cover of “Return of a Fly” that was on a compilation and it sounded like it was done in 1930s. It sounded like a big band and I think it was very cool.
After the release of the single, “Land of the Dead,” last autumn, you said that you were about to enter the studio this July to record a full-length album – how did it go?
I think it is probably our finest work, maybe the best album I heard in the last number of years. I think it is a major breakthrough with us being able to move forward and able to deal with its past. I think it will put everyone to rest, telling, “Oh you did this, you did that.” Everybody did everything, God bless you! The thing is that I’m not here to pat myself on the back. I just wanna make really great music for our fans and I think this is our finest hour. I am so confident with it that I am not even going to tour. I’m going to take time off and stay home with my little girl – I have a little girl at home. That’s it.
When you just came to the band with your first guitar, your main influence was David Bowie. What about Alice Cooper? Would you agree that horror punk wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t him laying the path for it?
Oh of course! Undoubtedly. I think Alice Cooper is an icon and his earlier stuff is much better than his later stuff. That happens with many bands. Ok, “Billion Dollar Baby” I thought was great, probably the greatest horror rock album of all times. I saw his Welcome to My Nightmare Tour many times ‘cause I was in high school at those times. I was maybe 16 years old and I went to watch Alice Cooper five times. I’m a very big fan of Alice Cooper. I was actually introduced to him at Madison Square Garden so I got to hang out with him for a while. And you know, I think Alice Cooper is phenomenal. I think he is more connected with us than David Bowie.
The reason why David Bowie was an influence on me was that I had a few important bands to me before, like AEROSMITH. I think I saw KISS too. But when I saw David Bowie the first time, I was working at a high school doing art photography, commercial art, doing images, you know, like an artist. The music that I was seeing with my friends was much more of a southern rock that really didn’t catch my attention. I saw David Bowie and I saw the connection between what I was able to do or what I was able to give as an artist and connected with the music. And when I saw the connection, it was like light a light bulb over my head. I was like, “This is what we have to do!” But also, David inspired us in another way because he is always changing what he does. I like that “Ziggie Stardust” stuff and the “Diamond Dogs” stuff. Then he started doing “Young Americans” and then it was followed by “Station to Station,” which was a techno kinda move. Then he did “Low,” which is garbage. And David Bowie would change his image to fit something that he found in the world that was now going to be new and coming in. He was hanging out in the city of the world. And he produced an Iggy Pop album and he did that because of the punk scene that was becoming popular. He worked with Iggy Pop and wrote songs for him. And the thing with Bowie is that I never liked that he kept changing – I thought if you had something good you had to stick with it. So when I started my band I wanted to make sure that I have exactly the same look and the same sound and the same equipment and the same clothes. I wanted to keep it genial. I wanted to create a standard for the band. When you come to see the band – you know what you are getting, there is no surprise.
Why do you think the horror side of music and movies and literature attracts such a vast number of fans, perhaps the biggest of all genres?
I just figured this out a while ago. It’s the fear of being devoured by another creature: sharks, or dinosaurs, or aliens. It’s the fear – maybe the fear of some disaster, of being vulnerable, the fear of being vulnerable and the imagination of the endless options of being eaten [laughs]. It’s what I figured out. I guess it comes to fact that we all were snails crawling in the oceans. We don’t wanna be eaten; you just try to avoid that at all costs. So that’s why I think it is something that we just can’t escape. And like I always tell people, “It’s your image, your band, why you do this political, and not this, not that.” When the movie and the camera were invented, it was Frankenstein that was made first and it was followed by the Phantom of the Opera, which are probably visually the most amazing things, and these things are still relevant over a century later. Now politics don’t stand up, social statuses don’t stand up – so that’s pretty much it. Horror seems to have an endless or timeless lifespan. I think that’s why our band is as popular as it was. That’s why we will still remain as something of an icon in this rock world; it’s because of this formula. You know, science fiction is eternal.
The band and the songs, they are so much based on death images; are you yourself afraid of death?
Not at all. I’ve come to terms with it. Like I said, it’s just the fear of being devoured. Everybody thinks they’re gonna live forever and they are not going to die. Well, the entire universe will eventually die. And that’s billions of stars and billions of planets. I don’t know, I think that we portrayed it in a good light. I don’t think we promote evil. We are a productive kind of thing. I think a lot of fans who follow us are more intelligent people, like from 10% intelligence folks on the top level and they are usually artists, writers. The kids that we attract are usually very brilliant in school. When you look at our lyrics, when you look at our songs, when you look at our art structure, it is very well-perceived. And it’s done in such a tasteful way. We draw from these fans contributing their feelings and their emotions and the artwork that we use. A lot of artwork has been done by our fans. The guys who make horror movies, doing special effects in Hollywood for I think Buffy the Vampire Slayer told me once, “You guys might not be the biggest thing here on the West Coast, but the entire horror industry listens to your stuff all day when they work. Everything that has been created in Hollywood related to horror movies was done listening to your stuff.” And that’s a big compliment.
Have you had any mystical or horror-related accidents in your life?
Yeah sure, I think everybody does. Of course I ran into some crazy things, especially in New Orleans, Chicago, places like that. Places that have their own soul. There were people being oppressed and it is a lot of turbulence that remains behind I think, like in New Orleans. And I can feel it, you know! You get certain things that come up. I think that the message is meant for you more that it is meant for discussion and everybody has that. I was talking to Sean – the bass player from WHITE ZOMBIE – and she had experiences like this when she was a kid. I think it is a very personal thing, because a lot of people are skeptical about that. I believe that there is something that opens up a little bit if someone has a very sad emotion. Good emotions also leave their trace behind. You can go to a place with good karma and you can feel that. I don’t think it’s all negative; once again it’s just a fear of being devoured that scares. Let’s stick with it.
Interview by Victoria Maksimovich