SPRINGFIELD — Since he first joined legendary punk rockers The Misfits in 1997, Michale Graves has been a true musical dynamo.
One could almost set a watch by his album releases — 23 and counting that he contributed to in the past 16 years, spread out over five different bands or solo projects. And that’s just the beginning when it comes to the creative projects that have consumed his time.
“First I was in a group just called Graves that was more toned down, and then I was in Gotham Road, which was a lot angrier and more angsty than The Misfits,” said Graves, who will perform tonight with his current three-piece at Donnie’s Homespun Pizza in Springfield. “Then I just hit the reset button on everything and worked on an acoustic project to support the West Memphis Three. And after that I went searching for answers about punk rock’s origins.”
Those are just bits and pieces of how Graves spent the past decade after contributing drums and vocals for seven Misfits albums. In addition, he also produced and acted in horror films, expanded his abilities as a painter and became a political activist. For several surreal months in 1999 he even appeared with The Misfits as characters in Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling. Their ally? An undead wrestler named “Vampiro.”
“I came from a theater background, and I’m a good athlete, so it wasn’t that much of a stretch,” Graves said. “It was quite an exciting time.”
That phase, however, didn’t last long, a common theme in Graves’ work. He feels a constant compulsion to keep experimenting and moving on to the next thing. The only thing he has always wanted to stay the same is the reaction he gets from his most ardent fans.
“The search for new experiences leads me from each project to the next one,” he said. “In my music, the common thread is my focus on being as truthful and substantive as I can possibly be. Each night, I get to listen to fans relate these stories to me about how my music profoundly affected them in some way, and that’s what’s most important to me.”
In a way, Graves says he needs that constant reinforcement to convince himself that the ongoing grind of creative work is worth the toll it takes on the rest of his life.
“I’m away from my wife and children all the time, so I’m always looking for those reasons why,” he said. “I don’t necessarily need people applauding me, but I do need to affect people.”
Within the last year, the artist took to the popular crowdfunding website Kickstarter to get his fans directly involved in two different projects. Asking for $20,000 on each album, he received a total of $63,000 across the two, easily making the “Vagabond” and “Lost Skeleton Returns” albums a reality.
“I’ve always had a very strong base of fans who are willing to support me,” Graves said. “I once literally ran out of money halfway through the recording of ‘Illusions’ in 2007, and the fans made that album happen.”
With fans like that, it’s easy to see why Graves is compelled to keep producing new works at such a furious pace. With two album releases this year already, he shows no sign of slowing down.
“The hunger to create is the monkey on my back,” he said. “I have an overwhelming need to communicate and share my experience. It’s exhausting, and at the end of most tours I say ‘I’m finished, I have nothing left.’ But the desire always comes back.”