BLACKIE LAWLESS (W.A.S.P.) INTERVIEW:
January 15, 2010
Blackie Lawless is the heart and soul of W.A.S.P. and currently he’s the only original member left in the band which will celebrate it’s 28th year in 2010. You could say that after The Headless Children it has been the Blackie Lawless show. While there have been some missteps since that time there have been some great albums too, two recent examples are Dominator and the new album Babylon. I got an opportunity to talk with Blackie about the new album, the upcoming tour, why “Animal” disappeared from the setlist, micro chipping, steroids and The Raiders. I’ve been blessed to have gotten an opportunity to interview some of my idols and Blackie didn’t disappoint. I hope you enjoy reading this as much as I enjoyed doing it.
Sleaze Roxx: W.A.S.P. entered it’s 28th year of existence in 2010.
Blackie Lawless: We’ve been around for a longtime.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you think has been the key to W.A.S.P.’s longevity?
Blackie Lawless: A lot of vitamins and steroids!
Sleaze Roxx: For real?!
Blackie Lawless: (Laughing) Yeah! Yeah I’ve been watching this whole Mark McGwire thing and I’ve thinking to myself if people only knew the truth. There’s a lot more of that that goes on than you might think.
Sleaze Roxx: Would it be fair to say that after The Headless Children W.A.S.P. has been more or less been the Blackie Lawless show? Are you comfortable with that?
Blackie Lawless: Well there was period of time during the period of time that you’re talking about…let’s just say that a lot of it had fallen on my shoulders. If you look at what we’ve done for the last few years now, this band has been together for about six years now; the records that we’ve made are far, far and away much more of a group effort than anything I’ve done in the past. I’ll go on record to say that it also includes from day one and all the early records too. The guys that are in this band now are far superior musicians than anything W.A.S.P. has done before. They guys can compete with anybody in the world, they are world class musicians but equally as important is their level of creativity. They bring a lot to the dance and when we sit down to do preproduction for records it’s like a think tank in there as far as ideas that are being thrown around. To give you an idea, when you asked how much of this is me? On the last album we just did, Babylon, Doug Blair our guitarist… if someone made the statement that his contribution was larger than my own on Babylon you’d have a fair argument.
Sleaze Roxx: So Babylon is clearly a collective band effort then?
Blackie Lawless: Oh yeah, no doubt.
Sleaze Roxx: “Animal” is a popular song from the back catalog and is one of your signature songs. It certainly helped get the band noticed in the early 80’s. How do you feel about the song today and is it still a song that you perform live?
Blackie Lawless: We haven’t performed that song is several years now. A lot of it has to do with me personally. I was born again when I was 11 years old; I was in church actively through my teens. No one made me go, I reached a point where I became disillusioned with the church and left. I went for about 20 years when I kept bumping into walls and I had one of those epiphany moments in life where I came to the conclusion that I thought I was mad at GOD, but as it turned out I was not mad at GOD, I was mad at man for institutionalizing my thinking to a large degree. When I came to that conclusion I then put my guard down and I turned to my faith. That in large part is why I don’t do that song anymore. It’s interesting because silence, or the absence of not doing something, screams much louder than doing it. This then brings up the question, ‘why don’t you do it’, and I tell them.
Sleaze Roxx: The album that preceded Babylon, Dominator, was never issued in the United States. Will that ever see the light of day domestically?
Blackie Lawless: Well actually it is in America but through import. We did just strike an agreement where all that stuff will be available shortly.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s the theme behind Babylon?
Blackie Lawless: It just happened. I didn’t set out to go a certain direction or sound, I didn’t predetermine anything. The only thing that I predetermine is putting down in song where I am and what I’m thinking right now in my life. That’s the truest way to make a record, forget what is on the charts or what is hot in the market place. You can’t do that, or at least I don’t. I have to make records that reflect where I am today; who I am at this moment will not be who I will be in 5 years or who I was 10 years ago. In my opinion the only way you’ll be able to carry an audience as an artist is to get the band to know you. I think for them to know me I have to be intimate with them and that happens with my lyrics. As a writer I have to be willing to expose myself to them and a lot of people aren’t willing to do that. They don’t want to know what is going on in the nooks and crannies, you have to be able to crack your skull open and allow people to walk around bare foot in your head to really find out what is going around in there. If you’re going to carry that audience for your career the only way you’ll be able to do that if they think they know you and that is through your lyrics.
Sleaze Roxx: I like the visual of cracking your skull open and allowing people to walk inside your head.
Blackie Lawless: Well you’re trying to create art. If you’re going to create art, if it’s music, sculpture, painting or movies they are used to provoke thought. If you’re not making people think then you’re just a guy making records, there’s a room for that. If you’re going to make art, like I said you’ve got to make people think. You make them think of who they are and where they are in their own lives.
Sleaze Roxx: Prior to your call I got a chance to watch the video for “Babylon Is Burning” on youtube and you have all sorts of footage from stock Adolf Hitler clips, Saddam, Gaddafi and the ’89 Tiananmen Square protest. It’s pretty intense stuff.
Blackie Lawless: If you look at the lyrics of the song it gives you a pretty good idea of what it’s about. When I started working on the record it was toward (George W.) Bush’s last term and people were screaming about this global financial meltdown. The term they were using at the time was crisis which is code for ‘we’re going to try to take away some freedom away from you.’ When you hear politicians using words like crisis you’d better run for cover man because they are coming after your wallet. I was listening to them and also to some of the guys in Brussels in the E.U. One was talking about having a one world government and system. Then the second guy spoke up and said that if we’re going with a one world system then we should have a one world currency, the third one was the icing on the cake. He said that by the year 2017 that they would have the entire E.U. micro chipped. I stood there with my mouth open and thought “do these guys know what they are potentially suggesting here?” It was pretty shocking; this was essentially 666 what they were suggesting. I went online, you should do this yourself. Get on Google or another search engine and look up micro chipping and see what comes up. You’ll be astonished as to what is already happening right now and how far along this already is. When I saw that it literally had me shaking in my boots. I remember 20 years ago when I wrote “The Headless Children” there’s the line that says “four horsemen sit high up in the saddle in waiting and ride the bloody trail of no return.” From a prophetic point of view I look at that and say are we closer to that now than we were then? I went and did a deep detailed study of The Book of Revelation and other books in The Bible and compared it to what the guys in the E.U. were saying and it was astonishingly accurate and that’s where the premise of the record came from.
Sleaze Roxx: Two tracks that are standouts are the single “Crazy” and “Godless Run”, what are those two tracks about?
Blackie Lawless: “The Godless Run” is a basically a brief synopsis the journey that I was talking about earlier. I started out in the church then I got away from my faith, then I came back. At the same time all of us are on some kind of a journey, for me it’s about a man’s search for his destiny and salvation. “Crazy” when you first hear it you think that it’s about a man talking to a woman, in reality it is about a performer talking to an audience. The premise is this; it’s the performer talking to his audience telling them not to put him on a pedestal and not to worship me because if you do you’ll kill me. When I wrote it I was thinking about the idea of what happens when a performer is given too much and the whole idol worship thing that happens. They give to the audience then the audience gives back to them and it begins to create this vicious circle. The end result is what happened to Elvis Presley or a Kurt Cobain; humans aren’t designed to have that level of admiration out on them because if you do you’ll kill them.
When we were in the middle of making the record last year we had to head over to Europe for about one month and while we were there Michael Jackson died. We have a vacation place that’s about five miles from Neverland Ranch, I remember while I was in Europe that they had a live satellite feed, here I was watching this half way around the world watching what was taking place about five miles from where my place is at. There’s like a thousand people there outside of the gates at Neverland and I’m thinking to myself “hey that’s my neighborhood that were I live.” I got home a few weeks later, you have to keep in mind this is in a very remote location and there’s only one road that leads you there. To get there you must make an effort because it’s not something that you’ll happen to stumble across. These thousand people they had to make a pilgrimage to get there. So I was driving by his place (Michael Jackson), I had never paid much attention. I just stopped, I was by myself, I got out and I stood and I looked at the gates. It’s was interesting because one of the gates reads “Neverland” and the other reads “Once Upon A Time.” I stood there thinking two weeks ago, right where I stand, there were all these people and now there’s no one here. It’s just me and the birds chirping in the trees. It was so peaceful and so surreal, I was thinking to myself “how did this juts happen? How did we get to this point?” The song “Crazy” comes to mind and then there’s another song “Into The Fire” which is about the same subject. This is what happens to these guys when they get too big, that rabid fan base can kill you. As humans we’re not designed to handle that kind of level of admiration.
Sleaze Roxx: What’s your favorite track on the album and why?
Blackie Lawless: Honestly I couldn’t tell you. When I finish a record it takes me about a year to get away from it, I’m too close to it. I’ll say this about the song “Crazy”, when we wrapped up the record I must have listened to that track about 100 times. That’s very unusual for me to do. That song was just killing me. We were in Europe for three months and when we played that song it just destroyed the audience each and every time. That is difficult to do because every time you have a new album that record becomes the opening act. Songs from that new album that you’re promoting is going up against songs that people are there to hear and those songs 15, 20, 25 years old and people have had all those years to romance those songs. So when people are there to hear those classic songs they don’t want anything to come between them and those songs, so in a sense those new songs become like your own opening act. So I say that to say this, for a song to get the reaction that “Crazy” has received, that song has to be something really special. To watch a new song get the affect on an audience night after night I said to the guys “oh boy we have a big fish on the hook with this one.”
Sleaze Roxx: So it’s safe to say that “Crazy” will be in the set list when you kick off your American Tour in the next few weeks?
Blackie Lawless: You can count on it.
Sleaze Roxx: You also have two covers on Babylon, how did you go about selecting Deep Purple’s “Burn” from the Coverdale/Hughes era and Chuck Berry’s “Promised Land?” Both of turned out fantastic in my opinion.
Blackie Lawless: “Promised Land” was the first track we cut for the record, figuring that it probably wouldn’t go on the record. When you haven’t been in the studio for a while you need to get into the routine. So we were thinking about doing something easy and putting on the training wheels and that was doing a cover. It was something to ease our way into the recording process, so it wasn’t anything serious or that we thought would make the record. The “Burn” thing came at the end of the record. It was a song that we had played around with when we were doing Dominator but we never seriously gave it much consideration. It wasn’t until we got to the mastering process, and for those people who are reading this that don’t know what that is, it’s the last chance gas station for sonic improvements before it heads out for pressing. I was sitting there and because we had made this album at a break-neck pace, then we headed out to Europe for festivals we didn’t really have a lot of time to do this record. I wasn’t really looking at this record as a whole, I was only looking at individual tracks. It wasn’t until mastering that I was looking at tracks listing and I thought “wow! There’s a lot of fire on this record!” So then I started to think about the “Burn” thing again, we went back, recorded it, and put it in there and I think it works brilliantly. We recorded like 15 things for the album, as you know not everything made it. At the end of the day I’m not looking for the origin of the songs or where it came from I was just looking at what works best for the record. I don’t care if it’s two covers, one cover, three covers or no covers, I don’t care. Whatever works best for the record.
Sleaze Roxx: Babylon has a great flow to it and “Promised Land” is just a great way to close it out. I find it interesting that the closer was the first thing recorded and it wasn’t even meant to be used on the album.
Blackie Lawless: (Laughing) I would love to take credit for the way that “Promised Land” came together at the end of this thing. I’d love to tell you that there was this master plan there this record would take you to this dark place and then at the end it would bring you hope and take you to the promised land but it was one of those things where it started to reveal itself toward the end and it was just being controlled by something else that was bigger than us. It was just too perfect. It was really one of those great mistakes.
Sleaze Roxx: Initially you only had a handful of live dates for the United States, somewhere in the area of 4 to 5. I was looking last night on a site and you’ve added another 15 or so.
Blackie Lawless: Presently there are 25 in total.
Sleaze Roxx: Could you share what we can expect in W.A.S.P.’s set on this particular tour? Will the set list span your entire career?
Blackie Lawless: The show will run about one hour and forty-five minutes and it’s pretty interesting because we have this big movie screen behind us. We have taken a lot of the promo videos and we play to the videos in synch with the video behind us. This creates an interesting effect because it’s literally eight different people playing at the same time. You get four in the video and then the four live on stage, we’re synched up live so you see my singing live on the screen behind me and then you see me singing live in front of you at the same time. It’s interesting to watch the affect it has on the audience, they’ll watch me, then they’ll watch the video screen, then they’ll watch me again. You can see the puzzled look on their faces, it’s like they can’t believe what they are seeing. It’s like they are thinking, ‘how did they do this?’ It creates a really cool affect.
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve gotten asked this before, The Crimson Idol movie. I know it was shot and there’s footage that’s been used live and for music videos. Will we ever see its release?
Blackie Lawless: We did The Crimson Idol Tour two years ago with the movie playing in the background and to answer your question yes it will. It would seem fitting that it would be in a couple years that we do that for the 20th anniversary of the record. I’m not saying it will happen then but we will be releasing it in the future. It’s not finished, there’s a couple of things that need to be completed and then we’d need to edit it. There’s also quite a bit of footage that people haven’t even seen. For example when we shot the back cover of the album we did that inside the recording studio, there’s a big studio where we cut the live tracks that’s where we set up the shoot for the back cover, in that room. The next day we did a documentary that is about an hour long of me walking you through the studio; introducing you to the people that played and worked on the record and explaining how we got from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’. I stumbled across that thing about two years ago, I had forgotten all about it. It’s quite an interesting little piece because it’s almost like the making of the record. It’s something from a fan’s point of view that you’d find very interesting. All that stuff will be in there and it will literally take you back to the time where that record was released.
Sleaze Roxx: Would you ever consider doing an all covers album of stuff that you grew up on or that influenced you? I know you’re a fan of music from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and blues and you’ve done some great covers in the past, “The Real Me,” “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” “Paint It Black,” “Saturday’s Alright For Fighting” and of course the two on Babylon.
Blackie Lawless: I don’t know if anyone would be interested to be honest. You also have to remember that every time we did a cover it was never designed to be used for the record. In the early days for example with “Doctor,” “The Real Me” and “Paint It Black” those were all supposed to be B-sides for singles. We didn’t want to give our own original material away as B-sides. When we first recorded “Paint It Black” there was talk then that we were making a mistake, that we should include it on the record. I didn’t take it seriously, I was like, “you’ve got to be kidding me we’re not going to put that on the album.” When we were doing Inside The Electric Circus and we did “Doctor” that was supposed to be a B-side and it turned pretty good and I remember it was given to Capitol (Records). Word got back to me later that day that they were having one of their round table meetings that they had every week and they played the song and when it was finished everyone stood up and applauded. That’s pretty unusual for record company people to do that, so when that got back to me I thought, “maybe we got a big fish on the hook here.” So that’s how that song ended up on the record and “The Real Me” was the same way. It was never intended to be on the album, but when it was done it was so good we had to use it on the record.
Sleaze Roxx: Have you ever thought about entering politics?
Blackie Lawless: Well when we first stated that in 20 to 25 years I’d probably like to be a senator I was not joking about that, but as time went by I started to realize if you had me there on Capitol Hill I’d be in jail a week after I got there (laughing). I couldn’t stomach what goes on in that world. If it’s true that politics is the art of compromise I wouldn’t do well in a forum like that. If you go back to the idea that George Washington said that this is a country of laws and not of men, what he’s saying is that your individual opinion doesn’t really count it’s what the law says. When you start screwing around with the law all hell breaks loose. If we don’t like the law then we can change the law, but in the meantime you follow the letter of the law no matter what the argument is. It’s not like a constitutional amendment that takes an act of congress to change it. Laws can be changed easier but in the meantime we stick to the law. When you stand up and make an argument that we should bend here and make an exception there, then where do you stop? You can’t get a little pregnant. I found out that I have far more freedom to do what I do now, and to say what I believe to be the truth without compromise, than I ever would in a forum like the U.S. senate.
Sleaze Roxx: I know you’re a huge baseball fan but you also like football, I think you follow the Oakland Raiders specifically.
Blackie Lawless: A little bit yeah.
Sleaze Roxx: What do you think The Raiders need to do to turn it around?
Blackie Lawless: (Laughing) Oh, no! Not The Raiders question! Oh they’re in sad shape! (laughing) We missed basically the whole season we were on tour in Europe. We’d follow the NFL while we were there via the internet but it’s not the same. It’s been said that Al Davis’ (Raiders’ owner) biggest problem is Al Davis. His departure is long overdue; he should not be running that team on a day to day basis. I don’t know how true that is because unless you’re on the inside of an organization like that you can never really know what is really going on. Then again the results speak for themselves, because something hasn’t been right for years. This was a very proud and successful organization for a longtime with the greatest winning percentage in all sports until 10 years ago. It hasn’t been the same since and like I said something is seriously wrong there.
Sleaze Roxx: Who do you like this weekend in the playoffs?
Blackie Lawless: I’ve only got the last two week so you’re probably a lot further ahead than me. I saw the games this past weekend and I was impressed with Dallas (Cowboys) I didn’t think they would do as well as they did. I think Kurt Warner (quarterback, Arizona Cardinals) looked really good in that game too. Looks like the so called experts that I’ve been seeing on TV seem to think that Dallas is going all the way but I don’t know. I haven’t seen enough of this season to give you an opinion. I’ve heard that New Orleans is really hot but I haven’t been able to see one game. I really couldn’t say. It’s hard when you are overseas because you’re really cut off. Over there the big thing is soccer. I kid you not I watched the World Series there on an iPhone. I wasn’t getting pictures either I was getting text play by play! I’m going to bed at 5:00 AM by the time the games are over. That’s how I watched the World Series, it was agonizing.
Sleaze Roxx: Last question and I’ll let you go. Do you think Mark McGwire redeemed himself by copping to using steroids?
Blackie Lawless: No (laughing). I understand his argument by saying that they wouldn’t give immunity five years ago when he was on Capitol Hill. There was probably a lot of truth to that but when you sit there and you say that you don’t believe that steroids didn’t affect your performance in any way I am here to tell you that it does. I know this personally, you’d be surprised what all performers do to get up on stage. We started this tour in the beginning of October 2009 and effectively this tour is going to until Christmas of this year. You’re going to get beat up. I have a rotator cuff that’s torn on my right shoulder, when you do a show like we do, we’re running around it’s like playing a basketball game every night. People come into the dressing room and they say it looks and smells like a locker room. You can smell the stuff that we’re using, there’s guys taping themselves up and stuff like that. This isn’t a blues band just standing there playing, guys get beat up. I’ve used things over the years to keep me going, especially if I have an injury where I have to repair. Stuff happens on the road that you’d never believe where you can get hurt. It’s either taking something to keep going and mend or stop. There are times where you may need some help but for a guy to sit there and say that it doesn’t affect their performance they are being less than honest.
Sleaze Roxx: Thank you so much Blackie best of luck on this leg of the tour.
Blackie Lawless: You’re welcome and take care.