Where is ‘Danzig Sings Elvis’? (And Why Is It So Important to Me?)
Danzig. The name alone can conjure strong reactions from music fans. For as much as the musician who bears the surname is considered doom rock’s godfather, he’s also become a prime punchline for the generation of cyberpunks raised on (and now tending to) meme culture. All the same, respecting Glenn Danzig and lampooning him don’t have to be mutually exclusive, do they? Arguably, his core work still holds up, even if picturing the dark crooner going grocery shopping makes you chuckle.
These days, Danzig’s been dabbling in horror filmmaking and reuniting the original Misfits, the influential punk ghouls he founded in the ’70s. But for those more interested in his other music, especially that of his eponymous metal act — the one he launched when his post-Misfits vehicle Samhain became a Rick Rubin-guided monolith beginning with 1988’s Danzig, the album that spawned the singer’s signature tune, “Mother” — a piece of the puzzle is missing.
Danzig Sings Elvis, the collection of Elvis Presley cover songs that Danzig first promised five years ago, still isn’t out.
That could change soon. Although no exact release date has emerged, Danzig’s team announced a “fall release” for Danzig Sings Elvis in April of this year. That would place its arrival somewhere amid the musician’s directorial debut with Verotika and the Misfits’ late 2019 reunion dates. The recording is complete, the artwork finalized, and the tracklist is forthcoming. That’s the latest official update, anyway. But it has to come out. And I hope that it does because I’ve wanted to hear it so bad.
Sure, Danzig’s released other albums more recently. Beginning with 2010’s Deth Red Sabaoth, he even experienced somewhat of a career renaissance this decade that sparked two more fairly well-received efforts, one a separate covers collection with a single song made famous by Presley. Still, most of that time, the specter of Danzig Sings Elvis has loomed just out of earshot, its name often invoked but its materialization never realized.
And there’s a bounty of unreleased rock albums that have gained legendary status over time, regardless of whether the public ever heard them. Electric Nebraska never saw the light of day once Bruce Springsteen’s demos sufficed for 1982’s Nebraska. Prince’s withdrawn The Black Album stayed shrouded in mystery for years until a limited version quietly came along. Hell, the master tapes for Green Day’s fabled Cigarettes and Valentines were purportedly stolen from the recording studio, leading the band to start from scratch and reinvent themselves with 2004’s American Idiot instead.
Should it never actually appear, Danzig Sings Elvis could become another mythical rock album, even though it’s been teased by the artist as far back as 2014. In an update from August of that year — which just so happened to coincide with the date Presley died in 1977 — Danzig shared a photo from the studio with what was probably the first public word of the release at that time plotted as an EP. (“So strange how things happen,” he wrote. “Working in studio all this week on ‘Danzig sings Elvis’ ep & tonight is anniversary of day Elvis died.”) But Danzig isn’t the only one in the image. Beside him is the producer and recording engineer Chris Rakestraw. But we’ll get to him later.
We did eventually hear one song that will supposedly appear on Danzig Sings Elvis. In 2015, Danzig was on Sirius XM’s Elvis Radio for what was called the “Danzig Graceland Takeover.” In addition to airing his spin on Presley’s “Let Yourself Go” from that year’s Skeletons, he also debuted a new version of “Always On My Mind” done Elvis-style. (Presley didn’t write the songs he sang, so covers of Elvis songs are nearly covers of covers themselves. To wit, something like “Always On My Mind” was also made famous by other artists such as Willie Nelson.)
“It’ll probably be a full album,” Danzig revealed to Vanyaland in an interview around the time of the radio appearance, upping the ante a year after he first announced the Elvis project. “I was working on the next Danzig album and we had some downtime so we recorded it. But I don’t know… hopefully it comes out sometime in 2016.” (The other album he’s referring to is what became 2017’s Black Laden Crown, Danzig’s most recent batch of original material.)
It’s not like Danzig doing Presley’s tunes is anything new. Reaching back into Danzig’s catalog, an Elvis number first appeared on the 1993 Thrall/Demonsweatlive EP. There, a version of Presley’s “Trouble” divided the group of outtakes and live cuts that spurred the surprise success of the aforementioned “Mother” well after its inclusion on the band’s first album.
Why do I care so much? Oddly enough, you could say my interest in Danzig was born ironically, coincidentally, or both. While I became a music writer out of my love for rock, punk, and metal, I initially wasn’t too familiar with Danzig. At least not outside of his animated appearance in a 2002 episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, “Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past From the Future,” wherein he plays a hilariously idealized version of himself househunting for a haunted home dripping in elfin blood.
But around the time I started writing music news regularly in 2016, whenever a Danzig story would come up, I noticed my mind rushed for the ironic or comical angle, if only due to the context with which I came to know him. (And perhaps thanks to the patent absurdity of some of the stories themselves.) I’m sure memes played their part in my thinking as well, but the name was always spoken flippantly in my youth. Apart from Aqua Teen, the earliest memory I have of Danzig getting mentioned occurred when I played Pearl Jam’s “Push Me, Pull Me” for a school friend. My buddy’s indignant, bewildered reply — word for word — was, “What is this, Danzig?”
That’s right; I’m late to the game. I’ve only really been waiting on Danzig Sings Elvis for around three years, not five. And I only became a bonafide fan of Danzig’s music even more recently.
By the time I began freelancing for Loudwire, a site exclusively dedicated to rock and metal culture, I finally got around to listening to Danzig’s first four albums. And that’s when I realized I enjoyed them — a lot. To put it one way, I earned my valid Danzig fan card once I connected a passing cultural knowledge of the singer and his namesake act to the perverse lead-in for this Elvis covers album, prompting me to seek out the group’s classic stuff. Lately, I’ve been wondering if other recent fans have experienced a similar introduction and subsequent conversion.
I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong, either. I mean, it’s not as if Danzig isn’t having some fun with all of this himself. All one has to do is view the musician’s uncanny portrayal in that 2016 Portlandia episode to gain insight into Danzig’s sense of humor. And to gather that he probably doesn’t give much of a damn what anyone thinks about him, anyway.
But the music itself was never funny. It may seem trite now, but Danzig’s early work made a massive impact on modern rock and metal. The material found on those first four albums can scan as bland classic rock to today’s punk and hardcore kids. Twenty-five years ago, though, it was unironically called “death metal” in the press, before the actual subgenre of death metal had appeared on most headbangers’ radar. When I first heard Danzig’s closing invocation on Danzig III’s “Godless” — which, yes, I listened to for the first time fairly recently — I got a genuine chill down my spine, and I was ready to assail anyone who had ever wronged me. (“May we always be strong in body, spirit, and mind,” the singer intones in the cryptic paean. “And all those who would try to harm us, let them be cast aside.”)
But back to the album at hand. Rather than just wax enthusiastic about Danzig Sings Elvis, I wanted to give this essay some substance and speak to the people who would know the most about its creation and anticipated release. Maybe I could learn something new about its long delay, or even get an official statement for this article. This summer, I pitched the idea to a particular punk news website, and they agreed to work with me on this piece if I was able to investigate the issue further.
After communicating with some more nice folks in my field and reaching out to a few helpful individuals at official Danzig fansites, I located one Christopher M. Jimenez, a filmmaker and the founder of the horror movie website Sinful Celluloid. On his Instagram bio, he describes himself as the “Left Hand Of Glenn Danzig.” Upon making contact in July, he indicated he would be about the closest thing I could find to an official Danzig spokesperson, and he agreed to answer a few of my queries over email. Soon after, I sent him about five general questions relating to the album’s delay and his overall association with Danzig. As of this posting, I’ve yet to hear back. But he did mention that he’s usually quite busy. He was perfectly cordial with me, although I didn’t necessarily expect to receive his answers. I still haven’t.
Perhaps I should’ve left it at that. But conveniently enough, my daily writing in the heavy metal world led me to another revelation. While covering the pre-production and writing process of Megadeth’s upcoming album, I noticed the engineer on the sessions was Chris Rakestraw. It was then that I linked the producer’s visage with that of the second person in Danzig’s August 2014 photo, the one that announced Danzig Sings Elvis on the 37th anniversary of Presley’s death. I went through Facebook and found that Rakestraw had shared the same image. From there, I was moved to contact him and see if he’d be game to talk about the album.
I reached out to Rakestraw, and he was also perfectly polite and professional with me. However, he said he was unwilling to discuss the recording process, which is understandable. What I didn’t expect, however, was the cold wave of “imposter syndrome” I experienced immediately after receiving his genial rejection. (This is a thing with writers.) Only fools rush in, I suppose, and the fool was undeniably me. It made me feel more like an enthusiastic fan than a music journalist. And maybe I am.
In his response, Rakestraw seemed somewhat bothered that I hadn’t attempted to contact Danzig outright. I guess if I thought I had even a remote chance of speaking with Glenn Danzig himself, I would’ve tried for that, too! (I hope I didn’t ruin my chances. I would love to interview him someday.) Maybe I was thinking too small. But I was trying to stay modest when approaching people as just myself, without being a direct agent of some more extensive business apparatus.
Because I’m a freelance writer, I wasn’t representing any particular outlet when I contacted people during my research. In each instance, I laid out my plan to write a piece about Danzig Sings Elvis — with a focus on the album’s delay — and, if they were responsive, I kindly requested their participation in answering a few questions. (By contrast, in my other work for entertainment sites, an editor often arranges interviews before I’m involved. Or, alternately, I’ll request to interview a particular artist through that same editorial network.)
But the hits just kept on coming. Since I was unable to get an official source on record, the website that accepted the pitch canceled the article. I don’t blame them, but it still felt terrible. (They graciously extended me a kill fee.) The rejection also had me questioning why this album is so important to me in the first place.
Because what’s my angle here? Why am I so devoted to an unreleased album of Elvis covers from Danzig? (I’d prefer to be the first to call out my bullshit if that’s what it is.) I’ve been strangely fixated on this seemingly forthcoming effort, especially recently, as I struggled to button this whole thing up. I’ve been so focused on the minutiae of it all that I wasn’t going back to the entire reason I care about Elvis songs. But if I stop and think about it, it’s because I care about Elvis. And so does Danzig.
Like the singer sometimes referred to as “Evil Elvis,” I also grew up with an appreciation for Presley. His stuff was always somewhere around my childhood home. My parents are roughly the same age as Danzig, and Elvis was one of a few popular artists my mom regularly enjoyed when she was young. (My dad’s was Chicago. Yes, they were nerds.) My parents married in ’77, the year Presley died. In 2010, I watched my mother cry at Presley’s grave at Graceland; the same memorial Danzig’s shown solemnly observing in a photo from early Danzig bassist Eerie Von. As for myself, I tend to gravitate to Elvis’ Sun sides. Or his gospel stuff when I’m feeling low.
“Yeah, I’m still a big Elvis fan,” Danzig affirmed months ago in an interview with radio host Full Metal Jackie, where he again pledged Danzig Sings Elvis’ arrival later this year. “I’ve said it before, but after seeing Jailhouse Rock when I cut school, ’cause school was boring for me, I’d just stay home and watch movies. I saw Jailhouse Rock, and I was like, that’s what I wanna do.”
Therefore, without Elvis, the hallowed progenitor of suburban boogie, perhaps there would be no Danzig, the foreboding but endearing rockstar who’s only now fulfilling his tribute to the late icon. That’s pure hyperbole, of course, but here’s the best explanation I can find for my motivations: Maybe I was hoping Danzig’s album of Elvis songs would be of comfort to me since I find such solace in both artists’ work already. One urge I inherited, the other I discovered on my own.
Here’s hoping Danzig Sings Elvis arrives this fall.
Update (April 24, 2020): After a couple of further delays, Danzig Sings Elvis is finally available.