How Three Horror Punk Brothers Became a Cult of Their Very Own

When Davey Calabrese arrives to our interview, he has fangs. A cross of blood is smeared on his forehead. Behind him hums a blacklit altar to all things late-show monster movie, right down to the scale model of the Creature from the Black Lagoon. When it’s explained that this isn’t a video interview, he cackles, “Aw, I got all nice for you!” But when we offer him a chance to find somewhere more comfortable to sit, or lose the teeth, he thinks for about half a second, and then says, “Nah, I’m good like this.”

Davey’s dedication perfectly illustrates how his band Calabrese have become such an underground phenomenon. For nearly two decades, he and his brothers Jimmy and Bobby have steadily grown their project from low-to-the-ground horror worship to a scene staple, with a diehard following that sees them as something uniquely personal. Now, eight albums and one much-loved podcast in, Calabrese are not simply a great band, but figureheads within a scene that they are in many ways keeping alive and interesting.

For some, the idea of playing in a band with their siblings might sound torturous. For Calabrese, the coming-together of musical tastes happened naturally. The brothers — Bobby on vocals and guitar, Jimmy on vocals and bass, Davey on drums (“We’re all vampires, so we stopped counting age after a hundred years,” laughs Davey) — met in the middle of various genres with a novel idea: What if we made music we actually wanted to hear?

“Bobby was primarily in pop-punk-type bands, Jimmy was in primarily thrash/metal bands, and one day they were like, ‘Let’s do something we like listening to,’” says Davey. “Like, the Misfits meets Rob Zombie. At the time, when we started, no one we knew was doing something like that — mixing the horror, the movie samples, just doing it.”

On their first two full-length albums, 2005’s 13 Halloweens and 2007’s The Traveling Vampire Show, Calabrese locked in the sound that would become their trademark. The band’s riffs were buoyant and overdriven, but still ghoulishly delicious. Their rhythms and vocal melodies brought a momentum that injected their macabre subject matter with boundless fun. Their choruses were beyond catchy; their whoas had whoas on their whoas. Over the years, the band have refined their unique style, culminating in 2019’s Flee The Light, a record whose fuzz and synth elements smack of both party-punk and old-school grindhouse horror. Every Calabrese song is a good time, even if it’s about talking to dead people, getting killed by a vampire, or watching the world crumble around you.

“With, Midnight Spookshow, 13 Halloweens, Traveling Vampire Show, we were just like, MISFITS — OG Misfits, Glenn Danzig,” says Davey. “We just tried our best to be like the Misfits, while always remembering to throw in different things. The movie samples are a signature for Calabrese.” He also notes that the band’s Arizona surroundings give them a unique flavor. “If you listen to our music, especially starting with [2013’s] Born With A Scorpion’s Touch, there’s a Western twang to our songs. But as long as it’s got the three of us playing, it’s going to sound like Calabrese.

“Every time you start something you want to copy it — so let’s say you’re a young band and you want to sound like, well, like Calabrese,” says Davey. “And you try SO HARD to copy us. Don’t feel bad about that, because whatever goes into your brain will be different from what comes out of your brain. Steal like an artist!”

The band’s southwestern background certainly adds a lovable ruggedness to their vampirism. Davey is quick to brag that the brothers live a short distance from where director Kathryn Bigelow filmed the bar and exploding car scenes from 1987’s vampire classic Near Dark. That movie’s freewheelin’ outlaw vibe adds a healthy dose of cowboy to their persona — one that might have been picked up by another of the bloodsuckers in the horror punk community. In February, Danzig revealed the first trailer to his “vampire spaghetti western“ Death Rider In The House of Vampires, a film whose concept Calabrese had heard before.

“We did an interview with Famous Monsters Magazine [in 2018]. We did a video — it was a whole thing,” says Davey with a sly smile. “And we were asked, if Calabrese made a movie, what would it be like? And Bobby said — his exact words — a vampire spaghetti western. So, somebody is paying attention! Danzig, we’d LOVE to be in this movie! We’re right down the way! 

“But hey, we steal from him all the time,” laughs Davey. “He can steal from us!”

While Calabrese’s music is enthrallingly fun, it’s worth noting that they are not alone in mixing horror movies with punk rock. And yet what seems to set the band apart from their peers is the rabidity of their fanbase. When Calabrese drop a shirt, it’s sold out in minutes. Davey’s TikTok and Instagram videos are adored by the band’s followers. While not every punk is a Calabrese fan, it seems as though the ones who are will live and die for them.

“If in a livestream, someone says in the chat that they have just discovered and fallen in love with Calabrese, they’re typically met with four or five comments saying, ‘Welcome to the occult new blood!’” says Rachel, a professed “Cala-maniac” and one of the band’s most vocal online supporters. “That’s because we are always happy to have more people discover the band. We want the Calabrese ‘occult’ to spread as far as possible, because those three have been doing this a long time, giving us hit album after hit album, and are (in my opinion) criminally under-appreciated for it.”

“They manage to capture all of [horror and Halloween], and they do it very well,” says Phil, another hardcore proponent of the band. “Their music itself is just great. The guitar, bass, vocals and harmonies of Bobby and Jimmy, Davey’s drumming…it all just comes together and creates some of the best music there is. They haven’t made a bad album, and in my opinion they keep getting better…Having had the chance to meet them myself, I can say that they are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It was, by far, the greatest concert experience I have ever had.”

“They are sweethearts and goofballs who appreciate every single fan,” adds Rachel. “Their talents aren’t only musical, they’re social as well.”

 

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The band’s treatment of their fans isn’t incidental. According to Davey, fostering a sense of community has always been part of Calabrese’s MO when it comes to interacting with their listeners, and in his mind it’s directly tied to just important they are to the people who love their music.

“Since the beginning, our mindset was, Treat everybody like family, not fans. Every show is a party,” says Davey. “Personally, I want to say hi to everybody. There were even a couple of instances where someone was like, ‘I want a photo with you — let me get so-and-so!’ And then they leave without saying goodbye, and I’m like, ‘What the heck!’ Our mindset was, treat everybody really good. High fives, niceties. Always be as nice as you can. And even through the Internet. I think that attributes to people liking us.” The drummer sprouts a fanged grin. “Plus, on our hit podcast, you can see us being cool rock dudes!”

While Davey is certainly a one-man promotion machine, it’s undeniable that the Calabrese Mystic Cult of Horrors podcast has helped elevate the band’s renown. Though minor figures in the horror world show up regularly, larger names within the subculture — including New Years Day’s Ash Costello and, most recently, shock rocker Wednesday 13 — have guest-starred to talk all things dark and spooky with the three-headed fraternal hydra. At the end of the day, it’s that positivity and support of Calabrese’s chosen culture which makes the show so entertaining.

“I like to think that even though the podcast interviews are mostly musical people, we’ll throw some curveballs in there — Kaci the Homicidal Homemaker, or Andrea Subissati from Rue Morgue Magazine,” says Davey. “Just lifting up the horror community, spotlighting people we really enjoy and appreciate what they do.”

 

 

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Though they may reign over horror-punk’s niche world, Calabrese’s hard work, catchy tunes, and supportiveness for the scene around them has imbued them with the kind of momentum and following that most bands dream of. It’s not a bad look for three southwestern punks with a love of gothic horror — and a name no one knows how to pronounce.

“We say it like Americans — calla-BREESE,” snickers Davey. “The proper way is calla-BRAYS. People send us pictures of sausages and pizzas with our name on it, but for the listeners, readers, everyone wants to know why we’re named after a sausage — guys, it’s our last name. We were almost gonna be called the Coffin Daggers. But when you’re writing songs or picking band names, you’ve always gotta do a quick Google search. Was there a band named the Coffin Daggers? Well, yeah, there was. So we’re sitting there in Bobby’s room, looking at the Danzig poster on his wall, and we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it like the Ramones or Danzig.’

“But look, you can be from New Jersey, Arizona, California, Italy — anywhere,” says Davey. “If you like horror movies, we’re the band for you.”

Calabrese’s Flee The Light  is available now on all streaming services.

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Words by Chris Krovatin