It’s not wise to talk back to cops, and I’d been speeding, and we both knew it. Dude just couldn’t resist, though. Having noticed the crimson ghost sticker leering from my back windshield, the highway patrolman whose name I purposely forgot gave me a sidelong glance when he asked, “Why do you like The Misfits?” I didn’t like his tone.
“Why don’t you?” I shot back.
So much for getting off with a warning.
But seriously, why wouldn’t you like The Misfits? Glenn Danzig (born Glenn Anzalone) and bassist Jerry Only (born Jerry Caiafa) formed The Misfits in Lodi, N.J., in 1977, and the band quickly became one of the more enduring and iconoclastic bands to emerge from the American punk underground. With a succession of drummers and guitarists, The Misfits mainly Danzig conjured a sound that conjoined the pop melodicism of ’60s teen idols with the buzzing punk of The Ramones or The Dead Boys, even an occasional shade of Suicide’s droning minimalism. Matched with their obsession with B-movie schlock and striking visual presentation (greaser hairstyles remodeled into menacing “Devillocks” and plenty of skull-related decor), The Misfits were one of a kind. Three decades on, Danzig’s deep croon is still one of punk rock’s greatest voices, able to meet hardcore’s gruff urgency with infectious, addictive melodies. Songs about murder, aliens, zombies and all other sorts of horror-flick ghouls stick in the ear like razor blades in candy apples.
Covering The Misfits is a rite of passage for most punk bands. Even the indie-rock icons in Superchunk have dipped into the band’s potent well for choice live covers and a Record Store Day 7-inch. But for the elegant chamber-pop outfit Lost In The Trees, it’s a surprise move, to say the least. After busting out a rendition of the ghastly sing-along “Skulls” in 2010, LITT frontman Ari Picker has now assembled a local supergroup dubbed Lost Skulls to fly the ‘Fits flag at TRKfest on Saturday.
(Bonus: Lost Skulls landed a late headlining slot, so I won’t have to drive too fast to see it!)
I caught up with Picker to find out what inspired him to pay tribute to The Misfits of all bands, and how Lost Skulls which also features members of The Love Language, Some Army, The Toddlers and Gross Ghost might bring the cult legends’ most hellish hits to life.
Independent Weekly: Man, I’m really excited about this Lost Skulls thing. I remember back in 2010 and I only know the date because I just watched the video online Lost In The Trees covered “Skulls” at Legitimate Business in Greensboro. I think we’d talked not too long after that and you’d said Rusty Sutton [Lost In The Trees’ touring sound engineer] was kind of the instigator of that.
Ari Picker: Well, I had listened to The Misfits as a teenager, I guess, and then Rusty, our sound guy, and our drummer TJ [Maiani] both really loved The Misfits. We had always talked about doing a simple cover song, so that’s what happened.
Was that at all related to, or maybe the seed of, the idea to do this tribute band?
I think, yeah. There was just enough people who seemed interested in it when I talked to them about it. TRKfest and the Trekky guys wanted to do something unique and a little more exclusive, something interesting for the festival, and not just have bands play but have collaborations and stuff. So, it’s Stu [McLamb] from the Love Language and Nathan Toben from the Toddlers, and Rusty and TJ and I. We’ll just kind of plow through some Misfits songs.
I assume you’re at the front of it?
We all kind of rotate, so every other song is sung by a different person and we switch instruments. I’m not the front guy; I don’t know who the front guy is. Nathan should be the front guy because he kinda has the long hair and that deep, powerful, demon-Elvis voice like Danzig. He and Stu are much more rock ‘n’ roll vocalists than I am. I end up just screaming at the top of my lungs.
When I saw that “Skulls” video, it just struck me as so surprising. I mean, a lot of bands cover The Misfits, but most of those bands don’t sound like Lost In The Trees. As you’ve become this more complex musician with these lush arrangements, what is it that brings you back to that music you listened to as a teenager?
Gosh, it’s just simple and fun. It has a lot of energy. It’s different and rejuvenating. I mean, after racking my brain and beating my head against a wall writing these more beautiful, complex arrangements, it feels good to just rock out.
To have just, like, a blunt-force song about zombies?
How did Stu and Nathan and TJ and Rusty come to be in this group?
I just emailed them and talked to them, and they seemed excited about it. Everybody was gung-ho to do it, and they just seemed like the perfect people to do it with. Then when we got together and started playing, it certainly was the case. The music certainly had the energy I was hoping for with those guys. But we’re just all friends.
Have you put together the setlist yet?
Yeah. We know what the songs are, but we don’t know the order they’re in.
Without giving away too much, is there any particular era of The Misfits catalog you’re pulling from or avoiding?
(Laughs) It’s all the early Danzig stuff, none of the later re-emergence of The Misfits without Danzig. So it’s all Danzig stuff. A lot of Static Age and a lot of Walk Among Us, and maybe a few Earth A.D. songs. God, The Misfits’ catalog is so bizarre and disjointed. I mean, the fact that Static Age came out 30 years after it was recorded is insane. (Laughs) But I just have the box set, so we went through and listened to our favorite versions of our favorite songs.
Any electric piano “Cough/Cool”?
(Laughs) No. We didn’t do that. Maybe we should do that. I don’t think we’ll have a piano, though.
I always feel like that’s a sorely overlooked early record. It just has such a creepy vibe.
Was that a single, or did that make it on a record?
Their first single was “Cough/Cool” and “She,” but I think they ended up re-recording both later, but before they had a guitarist Glenn Danzig just played electric piano.
Yeah, I’ve listened to that and read about it in the box set stuff.
I guess since you’re pulling entirely from the Danzig-era, you’re probably on the side of the majority who think that The Misfits just weren’t as good after he left.
Oh yeah. For me, it’s all about his voice. His voice is so powerful and perfect. And his songs, you know, it’s really melodic, poppy, catchy stuff. It just has an attitude to it. And those lyrics are totally absurd, but it’s awesome.
How about the performance style? Can you make a field in Pittsboro feel like a VFW hall in Lodi, N.J.?
I don’t know. We’re going to be playing last, so it’ll be about 10:30 at night, and we’ll probably get a whole bunch of jack o’ lanterns and fake blood and try to go for it as hard as we can. And we’ll probably have been drinking in the sun for, like, eight or nine hours. It should be great! (Laughs) We’re definitely going to try to go for it, and maybe we’ll freak some people out, but probably not. It’ll probably just be good, wholesome fun.
It’s funny, given how violent and fucked-up some of those songs are, how if you put it on, everybody sings along instantly, no matter where you are.
Yeah. I guess one of the main reasons this is happening that I forgot to mention is that last TRKfest, there was kind of an impromptu, acoustic Misfits jam-out, like out in the parking lot with a few people. I think that made Will [Hackney] and Martin [Anderson] ask for it to happen. Then I called Stu and Nathan, so that’s how that happened.
Obviously it’s a stacked festival to begin with, but having something like this seems like it’s setting a new high bar for what’s already a pretty popular summer tradition.
Yeah. Cool. I’m glad people are excited about it. I’mveryexcited about it.