London May Interview

Best known for playing drums in Glenn Danzig’s horror punk/goth outfit Samhain, London May also played drums with a large array of punk and goth bands including Dag Nasty, Rat Patrol, Reptile House and Distorted Pony. Readers can hear some of these bands on his compilation Devilution: The Early Years 1981-1993. More recent bands include the black metal band Ritual and Symbolism, which features original members of Christian Death. In addition to a long music career, May is also an actor. He appears on TV, movies and in plays. Recently, he starred in the short film Brutal Reality, Inc. He plays a demon condemned to a ho-hum existence who escapes hell to achieve his dream of becoming a real estate agent. The film has moments of gore, hilarity and black metal drumming. We spoke with May about making Brutal Realty, Inc., his acting career and his time in Samhain.

Darren Cowan: Did you play the drums in Brutal Reality, Inc.?
London May: I did. I don’t actually play on the track. The track was sent to us by the fellow who did the score for the film. Thankfully, they gave us a track I could play to for the filming, so it would synch up. I had a little monitor connected to my ears where the track was playing. I had to play along to it, so we could synch it up to the music. Before we even started filming, we got in touch with my friend in Chicago, Sanford Parker and told him, “We want to do this movie and we need music for it. Can you give us an idea?” We told him about a couple scenes that we needed. That little taste of that bit I played in the studio changed the whole dynamic of the film, immediately, because it was so powerful!

We didn’t expect something that awesome that quick. Be careful what you ask for because what he delivered was red hot. It made everything better. I really had to learn that in a couple days. I had to play it like 30 times. We had one camera to get all of those shots, all the different effects and lights. That was cut together in, seriously, like two dozen different takes. Instead of being like a TV show and having three or four cameras rolling, you have the left profile and the right profile and the one in the middle. It was just one camera and every take we had to move it, slightly, and then put it all together. It looked like this swirling, whirlpool of conjuring and summoning. We really wanted to get that look like we were conjuring evil.

It’s funny you say “summoning” because you play The Summoner.
In hell, that was my job. My job was to cause chaos and summon minions to cause chaos and destruction! That seems like a hell of a job, but when you do anything, over and over, day after day, it gets monotonous. That’s the whole premise of the film. The Summoner wants to do something different. That’s why he gets into real estate (laughs).

Does the film take place in hell?
We are making a full-length movie that goes into more detail. It starts in hell and then it goes to Beverly Hills. That’s where I become a realtor. It begins in a corporate hell. I’m doing my nine to five job and it’s sucking the life out of me. I do the scene where I’m talking to my friend where I tell him my life is empty and meaningless, and I’m going to follow my passion. There is a scene in the movie where I escape from hell and go to Beverly Hills to start my real estate career. We kind of allude to that in the short film. You kind of have to jump around quite a bit. You can get the basic idea, I think. For me, playing in a black metal band and Samhain, being a spooky outsider my whole life, being told to go away, being made fun of, so that I really connect with. Of course being a demon made it more fun and more interesting than being a run of the mill black metal guy.

Talk more about being shunned for the music you play.
My whole life I’ve been into punk rock, Samhain and extreme bands. I’ve never played in a pop band. I’ve never been in an MTV band. It’s always been things I’m connected to, whether it’s movies or books or any of the extreme bands I’ve played in over the last 30 years; definitely bands that were run out of town. People laugh at you. I never really quite fit in to that Beaver Cleaver social norm. Being punk rock in 2019 is a pretty sweet deal, but being punk rock in 1981 was a completely different story. You get shit thrown at you from cars. It was rough. I had to go to two different high schools because of all the fighting. I looked different. That’s why I really like this story about a demon who wanted to follow his dreams. By following his dreams, he gets bullied and has to fight back.

A lot of comedies are that way. You have the protagonist who is getting bullied because he is different. In the end, he rises above.
The Summoner fucking kills them! He slaughters them! It’s kind of what he knows. You never know who you’re fucking with. Tolerance, tolerance, tolerance; let everybody do their own thing.

Was this the first time you killed someone on camera?
That’s a great question because I’ve always been killed. I get killed in so many movies or plays. I think this was the first time, so that is an excellent observation. It was so exciting to have a little bit of revenge and payback. In the other productions I’ve done, I’m the bad guy who gets killed in the end. The Summoner is kind of a hero. He’s definitely an anti-hero. It’s nice to have that moment where you fuck someone up and then go home.

Stephen King said he kills characters in his books because he can’t kill people in real life.
Yes, it’s nice to play on those fantasies. You play in a black metal band. What does that say about you? It’s probably the safest way to channel rage or loneliness and put it into something positive, and it feels good to do it. Most people into dark, crazy, violent, black metal, extreme music are the nicest people. It’s weird that most of the people who do the fucked up things in life are the guys next door. The people you never expect because they’re so normal are the ones who don’t have a release valve. We have a release valve. This movie is very metaphorical. There are a lot of messages in it.

On the subject of black metal, you joined Ritual in 2017. They’ve been around since 1993, old school USBM. How did this happen?
I was doing a play by Darren L. Bousman who did all the Saw releases. He’s doing the Saw reboot right now. He put on this really fantastical, immersive piece called The Tension Experience. I was in that play. I did 200 performances. One of the actors I was working with said there was a band that needed a drummer. He said he knew a girl who knew a guy who was looking for a drummer. It kind of came through my theater connection. Just to let you know, I left Ritual about a year ago. I was in the band for a year and a half. I got the offer to go on tour with another band last summer that I couldn’t say no to. Then, the movie thing happened in the fall. My schedule just became too crazy for it.

So I’m not in Ritual now. I think they played just over the weekend. They got a new drummer and are still out there doing it. Ritual popped my cherry playing black metal. They’re an awesome band. What a great experience it was. Talking about drumming for a black metal band, you have to come in hard and fast to really get on board with that stuff. That was really a big challenge for me because nothing I had played really prepared me to play black metal. I play with a different band, now. I play in a band called Symbolism. It’s more of a metal/punk/death rock band. It’s with Rikk Agnew and James McGearty, the founding members of Christian Death. It’s not black metal, but it’s pretty crazy stuff. It’s a total workout (laughs). That’s how I like to play drums. It’s a little more technical, complicated, and faster than Christian Death. It’s definitely more souped up.

Going back to your acting career, you made a quick appearance in the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises. What was it like appearing in the king of comic book character films?
I came out of the womb as a Batman fan. There was something about that very early on in my life. I had seen a Batman cartoon or saw the Batman show when I was a little kid and I was always fascinated. Superman is cool. All the Marvel stuff is cool, but they didn’t grab me like Batman. There was the casting call for The Dark Knight Rises and my friend said he was going to it and I should go as well. I said I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a head shot. I had very limited movie experience. He told me to go anyway. What could it hurt? He was experienced; he’d been doing movies for a while. I got cast, and he didn’t. It was the craziest thing. People were dropping off professional resumes, and I dropped off a photo-copied picture of myself.

A couple weeks later, we went in for a costume fitting, and I was a courtroom thug in one scene. I had a scene with Gary Oldman that got cut out of the movie, sad to say. I’m cut out of the movie, as far as I can see, but I can hear me on the left. I’m screaming in the background. I say “DEATH,” and I say it really loud. I remember the guy to the left of me, which is a common theme in my life, was like, “Hey! Settle down!” I was like, “This is Batman, motherfucker!” They said, ACTION! I’m the guy who is the most exuberant in anything I do. I laugh the loudest. I clap the loudest. When I was young and fearless, I moshed the hardest. Now, I have to be more careful. Grandpa can break a hip.

You also appear in the Glenn Danzig film Verotika. Talk a little about being in this film.
I bugged Glenn for years about being in one of his films. He’s been talking about making films for at least a decade. Whenever we get together or do music or stuff, I tell him, “Hey, I’m an actor, too. I know you’re thinking about making a movie. I love the comics.” He’s always like, “Yeah kid, sure, sure, sure.” Then he called me in December and said he had something for me, a movie. I went out and worked on it for two days. Once again, he told me to calm the fuck down! I’m still a very excitable kid, whether I’m on stage or in front of a camera. Now, he’s a director. That’s a note I used to get in Samhain, “Calm the fuck down! Just play the fucking song!” I would be going crazy! So when I did the movie with him, he told me to not go that crazy (laughs). Dial it back a little bit.

The movie is really cool. I’m very proud to be in it. Glenn and I will be working on other stuff, I’m happy to say. It’s very original, and he has a unique vision. It’s really charming. It’s enduring. It’s really heart and soul. I’ve seen it twice. He has plans for it. He has plans for another movie. I’m really happy to see him conquer another thing he has a real passion for. Whether it’s, “I’m going to start a comic book company, I’m going to sing in a band. I’m going to make a classical album. I’m going to make a movie,” there are all these things he wants to do that make people think he’s fucking crazy. He’s really an inspiration to me. When our movies premièred at the same festival, he looked at me and said, “You’re really making stuff happen. I’m proud of you.” That was a big compliment. Because we live in Hollywood, it’s all talk. When he says he’s going to do something, he means it. That is also true of me. Brutal Realty, Inc. happened because I wasn’t getting parts through the normal channels out here, so what do you do? You make your own. Your band’s not playing shows, put on your own show.

When is Verotika scheduled to come out in theaters?
I don’t know all the details on that. I know they’ve talked about doing more showings around the country, and then maybe doing a video-on-demand drop on Halloween night. You might want to check for the details, but I believe that is what’s going to happen. It’s a movie that really needs to be seen in the theater. Take your friends and go have a good time. It’s really something that when they say crowd pleaser, they mean it.

Do you have plans to show these films at SXSW or other festivals?
Both of us have films that finished two weeks after those festivals in the spring. Brutal will do more festivals in the fall. That’s when things will pick up again. Glenn has his own ideas about what he’s going to do, whether he’s going to do more festivals or not. Certainly, with Brutal we’re going to do more festivals. The plan is to keep doing the short at the festivals and in the meantime, we’re moving forward with the feature film. That’s very exciting. It’s something we thought in our wildest dreams this should be a full movie. We thought if nobody else is interested, we’ll probably do another one. We could make a little series out of it. After the first two festivals, we were approached by a studio, and we are in development making a full movie. The full-length is going to be ten times the blood, ten times the laughs and ten times the budget (laughs). I’ve seen the script and it’s a masterpiece of comedy, horror and metal. It really checks all the boxes for me.

Most people know you best for playing Samhain. You played on the classic Samhain III: November Coming Fire. That was thirty-four years ago. What do you remember about recording that album?
I was very scared. I was very nervous. It was my first real professional band. I was really out of my league. I went from playing in a garage band with my friends for a couple years, to jumping into Samhain. This made no sense when you broke it down. When I saw Samhain and heard them, it made perfect sense as an outsider, but then when the way it was made was so foreign to me. I was used to coming up with all my own drum parts. Everybody came up with their own parts, and then we played them all together. Samhain was completely different; Glenn wrote everybody’s parts.

In addition to your drums, one can hear percussion and backing vocals. Did you provide both?
I did backup vocals on it. I did some drums. There is a little bit of percussion, which may be sleigh bells or a piece of metal that’s going “ting, ting, ting,” Glenn did that. Glenn would go into the studio by himself and start banging stuff. We didn’t know what the finished songs were going to sound like until I heard the album. We would go in and just do our parts. It gives you the basic structure of the song. You either played this riff or that riff, but Glenn never sang. It was sometimes hard to tell what the verse or chorus was. Glenn had the whole thing created in his mind, but he was the only person who could share it. I would be playing along and not even know where I was in the song. We would go, “I do eight of these, four of these, hit the symbol, do a roll, and then we change to this weird part. He told me what to do, but I had notes and a music stand with a notebook. The notes looked like hieroglyphics because it really didn’t make sense to me. I did the best I could. When the songs started to get more layers, more vocals, then I understand that’s what he was trying to create. When you get all the ingredients for a stew out of a jar, you don’t know how much is going into what. He knew what we didn’t know.

You played with Glenn in Samhain on the Legacy Tour. Danzig used musicians from all three of his bands: Danzig, Misfits and Samhain to play sets from all three bands. How were those tours?
I wish it had kept going. It was such a great experience for the fans for the fans and all of us to see all that in one night.

I caught these shows in Austin. You played Fun Fun Fun Fest and Phil Anselmo’s Housecore Horror Film Festival.
Housecore was cool. We didn’t do the Misfits, though (just Danzig and Samhain). I’m sorry about Fun Fun Fun, as you didn’t get the whole set either (only two Misfits songs). Thanks for being so positive about that. That didn’t work out so well, unfortunately. That was a real bummer for everybody. We were crushed as well. We came there for one fucking reason; to crush all of it and put on the best show you’ve ever seen. It didn’t work out. I’m glad we were able to come back for Phil Anselmo’s festival a couple years later.

Samhain also toured with Goatwhore opening. Tell us about that tour.
Yes, we did a proper tour with Samhain in 2014. These things always surprise me. I never expect to get these calls about Samhain, about actually playing for Glenn. When we got back together in ’99, I never expected it. Glenn says that’s it every time we do it. He’ll never do it again. He takes a very hard stance. It’s like, “Come out and see it because it’s never happening again.” I take that to heart. I go on with my life. I move on with bands, with acting, with regular day-to-day stuff, and then I get call. I just go, “Ha ha, I’ve been waiting for this!” I hit that Bat pole, I slide down covered in blood, and I’m ready to rock! Now, Glenn is back with the original Misfits. I’ve seen that show five times. Absolutely mind blowing! It is something else! As a fan, you couldn’t dream of a more exciting, better show. That’s how I feel about Samhain. Even going to see Danzig. I’m such a fan. I can not get enough of it. I was crushed and my spirit was absolutely annihilated when I was let go of Samhain. I fought really hard about not being stubborn following Glenn’s career because I was so butthurt, but it was undeniable. It was fucking great! I had to bury my pride and tell myself, “Things happen for a reason. He’s moving on. It doesn’t sound like Samhain anymore. Danzig was not the right gig for me.”

He did Final Descent, which was basically a Danzig album.
Basically. When they did the re-issue with the box set, he tacked on a couple songs at the end that I play drums on. When the album was re-released in ’99 as a box set and a stand-alone there was a special re-release with all the demos of me playing four or five songs. When I left the band, Glenn replaced it with a drum machine. There is a version of “Twist of Cain,” a Samhain version that I play drums on. There is also a version of the Elvis song, “Trouble.” There is “Possession.” These were early Danzig songs, but with me playing drums. I thought it was a nice tribute to me because we had worked a lot on the Final Descent record and when it came out, I was shocked that I wasn’t on it, so that was his way of giving me credit later on.

What’s next for you?
Symbolism starts recording next month for our first album, which I’m excited about. Then, I’m going to Chicago to make a Brutal Realty, Inc. record with the guys who did the soundtrack: Sanford Parker (Buried At Sea, Corrections House, Mirrors For Psychic Warfare), Dallas Thomas (Pelican) and Bruce Lamont (Yakuza, Corrections House, Sick Gazelle). We’re going to recreate the music that’s in the film, and embellish it. We’re going to put a whole album together. The Summoner is actually going to play the drums on the record. Instead of playing along to it, I’m going to actually make a real record with those guys because they sent me some demos and that’s The Summoner’s band. One side will be black metal. The other side will be John Carpenter kind of music. It’s going to be busy. Of course, we are piecing together this feature film, which is beyond my wildest dreams. I’m still a kid watching black and white films on my TV and reading comics, so to make a movie and music, I’m really lucky. It’s a good life.

(interview published July 29, 2019)

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