The skeleton has returned. While Michale Graves needs no introduction, I can’t help but write down some thoughts that I learned as a result of my 20 minute conversation with him. Behind the skeleton mask is one of the hardest working and dynamic performers in the business. But more than that, Michale Graves is a fiercely devoted family man and a man whose legacy is built on his deep-rooted faith and undying devotion to his fans. After speaking with him, I recall what he said about overcoming adversity. Simply put, he is a “victor.”
Never in all the years that I have been attending concerts have I seen so much sweat fly from one performer. While coming to the stage at The Firebird in St. Louis, MO in full facial make-up, the sweat and heat of the venue had all but caused the make-up to melt away by the end of the set.
Michale Graves is till flying the flag of the two albums he created with The Misfits; American Psycho and Famous Monsters but his set also included some of his criminally under-rated solo material.
Michale was kind enough to take 20 minutes out of his very busy day at the end of a grueling tour. We can’t thank him enough for being so gracious and humble. We’d also like to give a HUGE thanks to tour manager Carlos as well as Tracy and Tom from TAG Publicity for making this interview happen. Enjoy….
What prompted you to decide to put the makeup back on?
Well, one of the focuses of this tour is and what I wanted to be… and I think I’ve accomplished was the start of my effort to raise the optics on me as a performer in my band and what I can accomplish and what I’m capable of on stage as a performer and as a vocalist. So putting the make-up on has allowed me to raise the theatrics and introduce the characters. I weave a story through the set list that we play, through the music and make it more of a 3-dimensional experience for the fans.. for the people that have come out.
A different dynamic than the acoustic set..
A different dynamic than the acoustic set indeed but the same determination to raise the optics on myself as a performer. Here you have tonight this, again 360 degree performer where I’m jumping and I’m singing and my heart is beating and my breath is going… and that takes a lot. And that means that I’m just not sitting around in between shows. I’m working. And the notes that I hit in the songs as well as when you take the show that I do where it’s just me an my guitar. It’s just as powerful and emotional and gripping. And I’m trying to in the best way possible to have every opportunity as a performer to show what I can do.
There are a couple of Youtube interviews that you did. One was last year with a guy named Jimmy Black where you stated that you were open to the possibility of going back with The Misfits but that the problem was Jerry. But there’s also a post on the “Fiend Club” on Facebook, 2015 where it was stated, “Jerry knows that if Chud and Doyle would pull their heads out of their asses, we could get The Misfits back.” So I was wondering if you could clear the air on that.
Well, for a long time I’ve been very excited about a Misfits reunion; American Psycho and Famous Monsters, you know… reunion. I’m not the problem. You know… I want to be treated fairly. I would never walk back into a situation that I walked away from. However, I’m the easy guy in this situation and they hold all the keys to turn that engine on. The harsh language is “everybody pull their heads out of their ass” and make decisions that are going to be positive for the music that we’ve created. That’s Number one. It doesn’t matter about personalities or ego or narcissism or who did what. We can have that argument. They don’t want to have that argument.
But what’s most important is what we’ve done through that music for the fans and that’s why what’s happening with the Misfits right now is a beautiful thing. Because unfortunately even with my time in the Misfits, it’s so mired in the negative stuff…the legends of the fights and he said this and this is what happened. And there’s so much more good in the music that we did and I think that’s true as well with when Glenn first started the Misfits. And that’s why it’s really great that everybody gets to go and celebrate that music and get excited. I look forward to and hope that we can work hard for when it’s American Psycho’s time… to come back and celebrate its 25th anniversary.. We were a great band
As you started from the beginning, was it fun or even humbling to see yourself sort of win over the audiences progressively?
It was satisfying. Again, there was so much hard work and determination and focus and pain and growing and scratching and clawing from the beginning that it wasn’t really until the middle of Famous Monsters or after the album came out and we were touring where really there was a break in my life. And I remember it very very clearly and I was sitting somewhere and I had a couple of weeks to just kind of take a breath and look back on everything. Truly going through that experience…I very very rarely took the time to look around and ingest all of that. It was a train that rolled forward at a speed that I’d never experienced before and so it was always a matter of always keeping your hands above your chin and leaning forward and just rising to the occasion at every opportunity you had and it was a lot… It was a lot.
You did some work with Damien Echols (Of the West Memphis 3) where he submitted some lyrics. Was it a pain in the neck communicating with him being as he was in solitary confinement and have you spoken with him since his release?
The way that Damien and I communicated was through letters. We wrote letters back and forth to each other. And as we got into it there was this sort of rhythm in our letter writing that we became accustomed to….as someone becomes accustomed to when you are communicating in that way. It’s a little bit slower than a lot of people are used to but you can effectively do it and we did.
We came up with this creative process that eventually turned into these beautiful songs that we wrote together on the Illusions album. I got to spend time with Damien not long after those guys were released in New York City… when they came to New York with Mara Leveritt, all the WM3.org folks to release Paradise Lost 3. And yeah… I got to say “hello” to everybody, spend time and hug. It was really great.
You did two tours from what I’ve read… one in 2005 and one in 2016 where you had the unfortunate circumstance where all your gear was stolen. And in the 2005 case, I read that you wanted to continue the tour even in spite of a nasty ear infection. So I’m wondering, with all of that put together, how in the world did you recover from those things?
Because I live my life as best I can especially now as a victor and not a victim and I don’t look at things that… my failures and wallow in them and let those things define me. The things that define me are coming BACK from such …from nothingness, from all those things.. i.e. “Now everything’s gone.” Well what are you going to do? Are you a victim or are you a victor? I live a life of victory and those are the things that define me and the people around me. And that’s why I’m at where I’m at.
You did instrumental versions of the When Worlds Collide album, also Supernatural and Lost Skeleton Returns. Why did you decide to do instrumental versions of those?
Well a couple of reasons. There’s an old industry standard that there’s the instrumental version and there’s the final mix and that’s what you turn into a record company. And so going through that process, through Hydraulic Entertainment, my partner Mark Allan Stewart and I …you know, we’d sit in the studio and we would listen to the instruments and listen to the instrumental versions especially.. I just love to really be able to focus on what the instruments are doing without the vocals. Sometimes it reveals things in songs that you never hear before with vocals on it. And we thought it’d be a cool way to entertain our fans… to release instrumental versions of those songs. I know a lot of my fans are big fans of my vocals and again, how could would it be, you know…sing along to the instrumental versions? But again, really to highlight the instruments and the playing without the vocals, if you will “distracting.”
I heard that you were working on a couple of movies, one of which was based on characters in the songs like “Scarecrow Man,” “Crimson Ghost.” What more can you tell us about that project and where you are with that?
I think about it every single day and I’m developing all the characters; the Gas Mask Man, Scarecrow Man, The skeleton, Crimson Ghost and yeah I’m developing the characters. I’m weaving the story line. I’m putting it all together. That’s all I got right now. All those characters will be there. The things that I’ll be releasing going forward and the stage show that I have now, you kind of get a gist of who these characters are and what they’re about.
I heard you state in interviews more than once that you were a guy with a very deep sense of faith. Is that something that you’ve carried with you since you were a little kid or is that something that happened as a result of a catalyst when you were grown up?
It’s something that I’ve had. I was raised into a Christian family and as a very very young man, even before the whole music and art thing, I believed that my calling truly that I was going to be a man of God whether that was going to be a priest or a preacher. And it kind of runs in my family. When you look back into my family there’s been, you know my mom and my grandfather were both studying on the path. It’s very strange. It’s a thread that you see in my family. But yeah…my faith in Christ and the God that I hold as most high has been with me all through my life. It’s something that I use and fall back on as a man of faith.
And I know that I’ve heard you state how it’s important for you to be able to connect your message with at least one fan at a show and that’s kind of what keeps you going out on the road for so long. So what’s one of the best reactions that someone has given you personally as a result of an effect that you’ve had like that?
I hear form people, you know young people. I’ve come across a few young people and I’ve looked into their eyes and they say that they were at the darkest place that they’ve ever been and they contemplated taking their own life. And when I look into their eyes, I know that they’re at least 75% serious, where they were seriously contemplating hurting themselves. And then they equate their “way back to the light,” if you will…by music. And listening to that music had revealed or gave them whatever ability they needed to find their way and have strength to say, “You know, maybe I’ll hang on for 15 more minutes, an hour…Maybe I’ll just get through today.” And then the catalyst is coming and telling me that and looking in my eyes.
You know, some of these kids are young. It takes courage to walk up to somebody and say that and share that. And it’s things like that… that I can then go home and share with my children and say, “This is what I do. This is what my work and my time away from you, when I’m not here…to take you to sit on Santa Claus’s lap. This is what daddy does.” And yeah….it makes it worth it.
So you have an upcoming UK tour next year as well as the movie projects. But do you find that when you go from continent to continent, do you feel like you need to change the content of the set-list a little bit or is it pretty much universal?
I’ve never brought this show to anywhere but America, never brought it across the ocean…anywhere really. So I think that we’re going to continue to run the show that you’ll see tonight. There might be some adjustments in the set but I think that we really have a beat on something. We’re really clicking and like I said, all the characters are really starting to come to life. And we’re building on something. So there won’t be too many changes because it’s so good right now. Everybody has to see the non-stop power that we can bring to a stage anywhere.
Ok… Nonsense question…
New Jersey Devils or New York Rangers?
New York Rangers!
Many, many years down the road, a very distant relative locates a box in the attic of an old home. Inside that box they find a Michale Graves album. What would you like this person to know about the legacy that you’ve left simply from listening to your music?
The same thing that I articulate every night. I want them in that box to find whatever evidence that shows that I have been illuminated to the fact my mission is to come out here and to reach people in many different ways through the music and the art that I create and then personifying that music and that art by reaching out to them as best I can in a physical way; shaking their hand, making a connection with them…breaking down the illusion of what’s usually seen as a rock star or a famous person, as a celebrity. When you get on equal playing field with them, they go, “Oh my God… He’s just like me” and that saves everybody a little bit because you know at the end of the day, we’re all very equal on a lot of different relative terms. We’re all worthwhile and different and individuals.
This time, you’re going in the house…and in the house in the hallways, you’ve got a series of ghosts. Each one of those ghosts is singing a Michale Graves song. But they all represent a different dynamic in your solo career. So, you look back through your solo career and think of the songs that you’ve done from like the happiest of moments, to one that was the most painful or therapeutic. If you consider those different dynamics in your solo work, what would be examples of those songs?
Three of them? I think that the first ghost would be singing, ‘Crying on Saturday Night” and then the second ghost, he would probably be singing “Best of Me.” And that third ghost would be singing “New Song.”
Do you want to go further as far as what those are about?
I think that “Crying on Saturday Night” goes with articulating everything in my life as a young man, as a teenager and as a young man in his 20s that culminated up to writing that song. There’s a yearning in that song that’s just.. It’s the death of something. It’s not necessarily what you think …the girl that was killed… the death of something that has died that is so profound in whatever character is singing that song. And then you jump to “Best of Me.”
You click a little bit more forward in my life and “Best of Me” in that song, you’re saying that “Everything is Gone” and again asking “everything is gone but everything’s alright.” And that you got the best of me… And through all the difficulties and through all this pain and seasons of our lives that are difficult, I’ve given you the best of me. Some people get that song wrong and they think it’s “Oh you got the best of me… that you’ve taken advantage of me.” And that’s not it. That song is written about a beautiful soul whose name is Tommy Lyster and his beautiful fiance Suzanne. And it came through the pain of losing somebody in that way. Yet saying, you know in their life…they gave the best of everything they had. And in that song it’s saying “It’s alright.” Everything’s alright.
And then click to “New Song” you know you move ahead through different parts of my life to where now I have children and now my life has become these other souls that I’ve created and brought into this existence. What am I going to do with that? The life that’s behind me… that’s behind me. That’s mine. Now it’s about those beautiful gifts that have been given to be by that most high God that I worship. And so it’s about them. And in that message to that song, “when the world catches fire,” again just like a lot of my other songs… you have to hang on. It’s going to be alright. It’s a sad song but yeah…
It’s going to be alright.