I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Staying in the Game: An Interview with Jerry Only of the Misfits

by Timothy Misir
March 27, 2014

Bassist Jerry Only is one of the founding members of New Jersey band the Misfits, known for inventing the horror punk genre, and is the only remaining member from the band’s original lineup that produced the punk classics Static Age (1978) and Walk Among Us (1982).

After breaking up in 1983, the band was involved in various legal battles, but Jerry started playing again with a new lineup in 1995, releasing several albums and touring constantly since.

I caught up with him for a short chat ahead of the Misfits’ concert at Arena Moscow on Feb. 21 to see what has been going on with the band recently.

NA: Your last studio album, The Devil’s Rain, is the first album of new material since 1999. Now you’re doing vocals with the band since now it’s three-piece. How have things changed over the years?

JO: We started in April 1977 — We’re almost at 40 years now. We’ve picked up a lot of different ideas from different people, different bands we saw over the years. It’s my first studio album on vocals anyway. I mean, we’ve done a 1950s cover album [Project 1950, 2003] that I felt was the right step to come back in and getting the job of a three-piece band. In the 1950s project, all the songs on the album were No. 1 hits, so people can’t criticize the original material as no good. So that was one of the first things we did and stepped into it that way. At that time we had Marky Ramone in the band. Now we have a more solid lineup.

We have Dez [Cadena] from Black Flag on guitars -- he was also doing vocals before -- and Eric “the goat,” but now we call him the “chupacabra,” his new monster name. He’s from Murphy’s Law and a bunch of other bands, but he’s very good with the double foot pedals, which is something we want to start incorporating to our newer stuff: tasteful licks of double bass drums … so the band is progressing. I mean, we look at the newer bands and see what they do, and at the same time, we want to stay true to our roots because what we do is a very original sound and a very original look. So we don’t want to lose what we have, but we want to take on good stuff that makes the band better.

NA: The Misfits played with Marky [Ramone] on drums for five years. What was it like, and why did you guys stop working together?

Marky’s fine, but we parted ways with no hard feelings. The thing was that when Marky was in the band, there was a very strong undertow I guess — to play Ramones songs, Ramones songs, Ramones songs, and I understand that. At that time, Johnny, Dee Dee and Joey had just passed away and that was an honorable thing to do, but as we started to get into newer music, Marky wanted to stick with the older Ramones stuff and play that angle. And that’s fine, but you know, the Misfits is not a band that is retired going up 20 years. The Ramones broke up in ‘96, so about 18 years they’ve been out of the game. We plan on staying in the game for another 13 years if possible. I want to try to get to 50 years, and in that time, we’re going to release new material. We understood where Marky was — Marky’s a Ramone, and that’s fine. So, y’know. One of the things we took from the Ramones was playing all of those songs one after another — it didn’t give you a chance to breathe.

NA: And you’ve been working with Dez for quite a long time now, longer than you and Glenn Danzig played together.

I know! He came on as a special guest in 2001 because we were doing our 25th anniversary, and he’s been here 13 years now. I tell my brother [former Misfits guitarist Doyle Wolfgang von Frankenstein] that all the time, I’m still on good terms with him. He’s not feeling too well tonight but I hope he gets better by the time we hit the stage.

It’s a good band and it has a very strong and wide fanbase. So I think if you stay true to the music, and you try your hardest and you try and give the kids the best you can, I think you can survive. We’re not battling against other bands right now, we’re battling against the test of time. Sometimes you get nervous before you play and I just say to myself: “Look, you’ve been doing this for almost 40 years now. Half the kids that are coming to see you, their parents came to see you, so just hang in there and do what you do.” So I’m proud of this band and I try my hardest.

NA: Any plans to record new material?

We’re going to start working on the new record. I think right now, we’ve been going through some personal things. I lost my father, and you know, my father and brother were working in the machine shop, so now that my dad is gone, I have to step up to the plate. And we built a new studio in my house in New Jersey, so we’re going to be working.

I’m trying to make at least 10 new songs or recordings a year, whether they be cover songs or newer songs. We’re working on a Christmas record right now which should be pretty funny. We find that going forward, it takes so much time to release a full-length album and the attention span of the audience is so short, it’s more advantageous to do two or three EPs a year instead of an album, because for one, you get a more wide base of artwork and visuals, and two, you’re really able to focus on a couple of songs instead of going “Oh, we need 18 songs for a record!” Eighteen songs sometimes takes a long time. So if you’ve got three or four good ones, you can put out a product and I think that’s more the way to go today than the extended play albums.

NA: Now you’re also releasing them on your own label.

Yeah, we formed our own label which is going good. We have about 50 different releases on it at this point. It’s nice because if we want to change something, we can. For example, we just recorded a couple of new tracks for the ‘50s project and we’re re-releasing it with a couple of extra bonus tracks. Every year, I’m hoping to add one or two songs to that project until it becomes a double-album set, with 20 to 30 songs on there, of older stuff that influenced us growing up.

NA: What’s a Misfits show like now? The last release was a live album [Dead Alive!] that didn’t feature any songs from the ‘classic’ era.

Like the Ramones, we play one song right after the other and about 40 to 50 songs a night. We cover the entire history of the band, all the bases. We play some of the original stuff from the Danzig era, we do some stuff when Graves was in the band. Now we open with some of our newer stuff, which is The Devil's Rain. Yeah, the first three songs are from that, then we do "Scream," which is a newer one, we do some of the older stuff then. We do "Hybrid Moments," "Attitude," "Some Kind of Hate," then we roll back into the newer stuff, we do "Curse of the Mummy’s Hand," which is one of my favorites … we mix it up. It’s a very good variety of stuff. We don’t disclaim any of our old releases based on politics or social problems with other members. They’re all Misfits songs, as far as I’m concerned, so they’re all fair game.

NA: Great. I Hope you have a good show in Moscow.

I’ve been here many times. It’s maybe my fourth or fifth time. But I think it’s got very warm people. It gets better every time we come. I think everybody gets a little bit looser and people seem to enjoy themselves more. As life progresses on the planet, I think that’s the way it’s going to be. People are going to be more understanding and more giving. It’s coming to that. It’s very nice here, I enjoy my time.

Timothy Misir is a Russia-based Singaporean writer and researcher in urban planning and architecture. He is currently working at The Moscow Times where he is a copy editor and writes for the arts section. He can be contacted at tim.misir@gmail.com.