I don’t just like horror in my movies, media, or dating experiences. I like a good dose of the macabre in my music, as well — which is why I jumped at the opportunity to speak with Pawl Bazile, the director behind the upcoming full-length feature documentary, “Living the American Nightmare.”
The film, which will be released on DVD this month, focuses on former Misfits lead singer and current frontman for Spy Society 99 and The Empire Hideous, Myke Hideous.
A host of other notable musicians and artists in the horror rock and punk subgenres are also interviewed at-length for the film, including J-Sin Trioxin of Mister Monster, former members of The Misfits; and Type O Negative and Seventh Void members, Kenny Hickey and Johnny Kelly, among others. In addition, “Living the American Nightmare” features one of the last interviews ever with the late, great Peter Steele of Type O Negative.
Almost as much of a presence as his film’s subjects, one thing that instantly telegraphs itself about Pawl Bazile is that the man can talk! Bazile has no shortage of passion for the music and musicians chronicled in his documentary, and spouts an encyclopedic knowledge of bands, their line-up changes, and musical offshoots. Basically, the guy’s the rock n’ roll equivalent of a sports statistician — only less obnoxious.
The “Living the American Nightmare” director comes across as much older than his 26 years and has worn a variety of hats throughout his short career. While he took up Media Studies in college, Bazile was the host of underground punk radio show, “Our Way,” where he regularly interviewed bands such as Anti-Flag and other notables on the punk scene.
A graduate of the New York Film Academy, Bazile is equally passionate when conversing about classic cinema and debating the quality of actors of 40+ years ago as opposed to Hollywood “personalities” of today. (Although it didn’t make it into the final cut of this interview, Pawl and I had a great discussion about how 1920s comedian Fatty Arbuckle, and his “magic Coke bottle,” could teach Led Zeppelin a thing or two about debauchery.)
If “Living the American Nightmare” is as insightful and oddly humorous as its director, you will soon have a chance to see the finished product of a cult classic documentary in-the-making.
Ghouls: For the uninitiated, please tell readers about “Living the American Nightmare”?
Bazile: “Living the American Nightmare,” is, obviously, a play on the words “the American Dream,” I feel like the new American Dream is to get famous. At one point, it was to be a rock musician. Now, it’s kind of just to be on TV, get rich and have a lot of money and power. Unfortunately, a lot of work goes into that and a lot of people don’t realize that getting in. We’re talking a lot in the film about Myke Hideous, who used to be the singer for The Misfits and The Empire Hideous. He’s also singer for Spy Society 99 and the former singer for The Bronx Casket Co. He’s the main subject of the film because he’s the ultimate guy who had all the “It Factors.” He should have somehow made it, but he never did. He hit certain peaks and pinnacles, but he always seemed to taper off and never reached what I thought was his potential or attained what he wanted to, as far as success goes.
In addition to Myke, we’re also talking about any artist or band. The subtitle of our film is “The Story of a Rock Star,” which is kind of tongue-in -cheek. But it could be the story of a writer. It could be the story of an actor. It could be the story of a pro wrestler. It’s anyone who wants to show off their creative merits and make a living out of it and what they have to go through in order to do that. We have a wonderful lineup of people who are all more than experienced and willing to talk about what they had to go through.
What inspired you to make “Living the American Nightmare”? How did you arrive at the idea about a documentary on this particular subject? What was it that spoke to you and said that these guys needed their story to be told?
Myke’s book, for the most part. “King of an Empire to the Shoes of a Misfit” inspired me to make this particular movie and have Myke as its main subject – particularly the last chapter in his book in which he talks sensibly about how if you want any success as any kind of an artist, it’s going to cost you something. You have to give up something to get that success.
I didn’t want to make “Myke Hideous: Behind the Music” because nobody knows who the hell he is. But what I wanted to do was to use his story as a vehicle, as the thread that runs throughout the rest of the documentary, and then have some of these other rock stars who are in the film – some of whom are way more successful than Myke has been in his career – and get their perspective on touring, record labels, and holding down a job and having a band at the same time.
Most people don’t know that most of these musicians that they see on the Warped Tour and these huge festivals, they all have day jobs and another source of income. I think a lot of people are under this impression that “Oh yeah, something happens and BOOM! I’m making a living doing this.” For example, J-Sin Trioxin who’s in our film. Awesome guy. He now plays for Wednesday 13 and the Murderdolls. Used to play for Michael Graves. Used to play for Myke Hideous in Empire Hideous and Spy Society 99. His [Trioxin's] band is Mister Monster.
I said to J-SinTrioxin, “Hey, is it too much to ask that you guys make $30 grand a year or $50 grand a year touring and doing this?” He said, “Short answer? Yes. It is too much to ask. We just don’t do that well.”
Can you name a few of the other people who appear in the film?
We have Bryan Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf from the Bouncing Souls. We have Todd Youth, who has been in every band that has ever existed on Earth – Agnostic Front, Murphy’s Law, Danzig, Cheap Trick for a brief period of time. This guy’s been around. Steve Zing from Samhain is in the film. Johnny Kelly and Kenny Hickey from Type O Negative, Seventh Void, and Danzig are all in the film.
We have a lot of former Misfits in it. Franche Coma – the original Misfits guitar player. We have Mr. Jim who played drums on my favorite Misfits album, “Static Age,” with Franche Coma. We have Bobby Steele. We have Merle Allin.
Athan Maroulis from Spawn Ranch, an industrial band — an amazing interview and he does a great job for us. We also have Jerry Only and Doyle’s brother, Kenny Caiapha, who was the manager for The Misfits for 20-some odd years.
Arturo Vega who designed the Ramones’ logo is also in it. And of course, it’s Peter Steele’s last interview ever in our film. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jamie Bastard and Argyle Goolsby who are with J-Sin Trioxin. Argyle Goolsby was in Gorgeous Frankenstein up until recently and also has his own band, Blitzkid.
Who was the most fun to interview?
Honestly? I definitely don’t want to alienate anybody, but goddamn, I had a great time interviewing Merle Allin [former bassist for the Murder Junkies and several other bands featuring his younger brother, G.G. Allin]. Everything about him is wonderful! From the dreadlock beard that drags on the floor behind him to the human skulls he stole from French catacombs that are all over his apartment to his serial killer artwork that he collects that I was more than happy to peruse.
I had a good time interviewing Merle, but as far as the most overwhelming interview for me? It had to be Arturo Vega. It seems like an odd choice since a lot of people don’t’ know who Arturo Vega is, but “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil” is one of my favorite books ever. It’s an amazing read and I remember being in Arturo’s place and freaking out because this was the place where Joey Ramone and Dee Dee Ramone lived and ate and slept. I was completely awestruck.
But the most laughing I did during any interview was with Johnny Kelly and Kenny Hickey. Fuck. When they get together, the guys from Type O are fucking hilarious. Not to leave Peter out, either. Peter basically wrote a stand up comedy routine for every question I had. They were all hilarious guys.
On the flipside of that, do you see your film as being something of a cautionary tale to aspiring musicians out there? What do you think some kid with a garage band will think about the industry after seeing “Living the American Nightmare”? Do you think he’s going to re-think embarking on the whole artistic endeavor “thing”?
To quote Franche Coma when I interviewed him, he said, “Bands back in the ’70s were a dime a dozen. Now they’re a penny a dozen.” And he’s correct.
They’re a penny a dozen and they’re less popular than ever for good reason because a lot of bands aren’t too good. What I hope my film does – a huge goal I had – is after watching my movie and if you’re in a band or you just started a band… I hope that you quit. I hope that it weeds out the weak. I hope it weeds out the people who don’t really want to be there or who are in it for the wrong reasons. I hope it scares the shit out of them, quite frankly. And all of the people who are strong and talented and confident that they’re good: I hope it inspires them to stick around more than ever.
A lot of uninspired, insecure nonsense is coming out. I see that a lot. I see a lot of metal bands that are just using a formula. I went to the Hellfest Auditions a few years ago. I swear to God, I watched the same band for 15 hours straight. It was briefly interrupted by one or two good bands. How come you don’t get different band members singing on different songs? The Beatles did that. Type O did that. Even The Who did that, occasionally. I used to love that. But now, no. Everyone is like, “There has to be just one singer.” Everything is so regimented and they try so hard to look bad ass, but it’s just a formula. I just hope more original people try to step up and do unique things because they saw my film. It’s brash to say, but that’s one of the things I had in mind as I’m putting it together.
Building off of what you just said, do you think this almost assembly line-like production of a band is either orchestrated by bands themselves, their managers, or a record company in order to commercialize the band and maximize profit so that they can be one of those “elite few” making the $30-50K a year? Or is this something bands are eventually duped into?
I’d love to be able to blame record labels for everything, but it’s too easy of an excuse. The real problem is there are lots and lots of bands who don’t know what’s up and get intimidated by what people think and by wondering, “What are labels looking for now?”, “What’s going to happen two years down the line?” And that’s why pay-to-play is around: Because bands put up with it. Instead of uniting and saying, “No. You’re not paying that band? We’re not playing your club until you make sure everyone gets paid.”
That’s one of the reasons why bands all went broke. Because a band back in 1989, who was making $500 a gig, by the way, I’m ripping this whole speech off of Bobby Steele , some other band would come around and go, “Oh! We want to play but we’re not quite good enough! BUT… we’ll do it for $50.” So, now a band that’s worth $500 is worth $50. And then some other band goes, “I’ll do it for NOTHING!” Okay! Well, then the price becomes nothing. And then other bands get in on it and then the crappy promoter says that you have to BRING 10 people, or 20 people, or 30 people. So now, the bands have zero power and they did it to themselves. They castrated themselves. It’s one of the reasons why rock n’ roll is a dying animal right now.
Another part of it is that at some point, bands became scared of money. I’m not saying everyone has to be super rich. What I’m saying is money equals respect. It’s called “show business,” not “show friends.” If people are paying you, they’re respecting you and respecting your product and your service a lot more. If you’re doing stuff for free, it comes down to, “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” So, all these bands lost a lot of respect from promoters and they put up with it.
Bands will say, “I’m doing this for the music. I’m not doing this for the money.” And once again, this comes from Bobby Steele. He said, “Poverty is evil. Money isn’t evil. Money is the thing that allows you to make decisions.” If you have money, you don’t have to go and play someone’s sell out gig. You don’t have to do something you don’t want because you already have money and don’t need it. If you’re broke, that’s when you have to do everything they ask of you. That’s something that bands did completely wrong. I think bands did it to themselves and too many people thought it was too easy to be in a band. And it was, if you have the money to buy a bunch of equipment and learn three chords, you could have a band. It was that simple. The problem is, there’s no respect for the art anymore. And what killed it was when bands stopped respecting themselves.
Would you consider yourself to be “Living the American Nightmare” right now?
Yeah. I would think so. Because I’m buying into the pomp, circumstance and bullshit just as much as anyone else … I really think of “the American Nightmare” as being an artist, but having to work a day job. I do it. I do some jobs that a lot of people would think are completely demeaning – delivering food, working in restaurants, and whatever. But then again, there is no dignity in starving to death. There’s no dignity in saying “I’m not going to go to work every day.” So, I’m going to try to work my hardest and hope for the best.
I’m trying to lay down plans for the future. But when plans go wrong, I feel like an asshole for even wanting them, so I’m cautious enough … But I will say to myself that this is what I want to happen five years from now. Will it happen? I hope so, because I hear so many great and big things. Yet, at the same time, every band I had ever talked to said, “Oh, yeah! They said I was going to be the next big thing.” Again, Myke Hideous: “You’re going to be the new singer for The Misfits. You’re going to be the biggest star in the world. You’re going to be the new Marilyn Manson.” All this stuff was told to him. I’ve had stuff told to me, too, by various people, but you have to take everything with a grain of salt and I think that’s the best advice you can give to somebody.
In light of all that and without spoiling anything in the documentary for people out there, it’s not all doom and gloom, right? There’s definitely some humor and hopefully, a happy ending or two in there?
Everyone dies and they don’t find the murderer. (laughs.) Honestly, the overall picture of it is pretty dark. However, being somebody who’s into the goth/horror punk/boo-wop/alternative rock thing or whatever … It always comes with a good sense of humor. There’s plenty of humor in the film. I think there’s plenty of stuff that will make you smile. Any time Peter Steele is onscreen, get ready to laugh your ass off. He says the funniest shit ever. And he does it all in sound bytes. Just a sentence here or there, saying the wackiest, craziest shit you ever heard and he definitely planned this out before we did the interview and he made me so happy that he actually sat down and wrote it like a comic … Either that or he might be that fast – might have been that fast, however you want to say it. He was just fucking hilarious
Yeah. I could see that. Some of his [Peter Steele's] interviews I had heard, he had this overly-baritone, Shecky Green style to his delivery.
YES!! He almost has this weird, Vaudevillian vibe. He liked puns. And so do I. I think that anyone who looks like a seven-foot monster who could pull my head off without even thinking about it and is willing to deliver a pun for me, you’re okay in my book, man! That’s my type of humor. Peter was one of those guys who knew how to be ironically funny.
One of the funniest aspects of the film is how seriously Myke Hideous takes himself in comparison to the other guys in his band. And when you see that, and as the film cuts back and forth, you see the other guys are really light-hearted about everything and then Myke is staring at the camera intently and pointing his finger. He’s hysterical and it’s completely unintentional. It doesn’t make him look foolish or anything like that, it’s just that that is exactly who Myke is if you’ve ever met him. He’s a very intense guy, a very passionate guy. He’s still passionate about stuff that happened 15 or 16 years ago.
What is it about “Living The American Nightmare” that you think will push those people with talent and confidence to stay on track and want to keep doing this sort of thing and want to keep creating art – outside of their own personal drive?
That’s a good question. I think one of the biggest things that people will take away from this will at least be an old school sense of brotherhood, especially since a lot of the guys we interviewed are in their forties – and that’s on purpose. Because anyone can picture a 26-year-old kid being a rock star. Not a lot of people can picture a 40-year-old, especially in a mid-level band, still keeping it up. But there was this sense of brotherhood that was going on. There was this sense that, if you’re talented, something good could happen and someone could recognize you. So, I’m hoping what people take away from this is that if they’re willing to make the correct sacrifices, and stay in the right headspace for the lifestyle of an artist, then they might be able to find happiness.
Now, don’t get me wrong. The film is a lot heavier on the dark side than anything else. Despite how goofy the horror or “death rock” – let’s call it – scene may seem, there is a profound sense of seriousness. Behind all the partying, all the “being hardcore,” there’s really a sense that this is these guys’ baby and they take it seriously no matter what.
I would like to think of it as if you’re seeing it, you’re going through boot camp, and when you come out on the other end of it and you see all the bullshit that goes down, that you might sit there and go, “That’s awesome! He went broke? He went bankrupt again?! That’s awesome! … He has to collect welfare? He has to tell his wife ‘I don’t know what we’re going to do?’ I wanna do that. I wanna be That Guy because there’s nothing better than standing onstage and making your art and having people appreciate it and being respected by your peers.” I think that also comes through.
Please check out the Living the American Nightmare website for more information. For more updates on the film and the musicians featured in it, you can like “Living the American Nightmare” on Facebook.