By Greg Olma
It’s been 25 years since WASP unleashed their debut release, and the ground hasn’t stopped shaking since. I remember scouring the metal magazines in 1984 looking for any articles or pictures of these madmen. Back then, their shows were shocking and controversial and probably inspired GWAR to take up the shock rock banner. Fast forward a bit to 1989 and you get a WASP that is much more mature in their lyrical approach. The Headless Children started a trend that combined their unmistakable hook-ridden metal with more thought provoking lyrics. Sure, Kill Fuck Die and Helldorado brought back some of that earlier style but for the most part, WASP have stayed on course and delivered meaningful releases like Unholy Terror and Dying For The World. Their newest CD Babylon continues in the tradition of containing some of the catchiest metal around with the concept of the Apocalypse.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Blackie Lawless earlier this year and like his records, he doesn’t hold back. He says what he means and means what he says. Most people shy away from political discussions but not Blackie. You may not agree with everything he says (I actually find myself agreeing with him more than disagreeing) but you have to give the guy credit for not hiding his thoughts and standing behind what he says. That being said let the interview begin.
Was it the political climate in the U.S. or global that sparked the creation of the new album?
Blackie Lawless: Global. Yeah, because it was right around the end of Bush’s last year in office. When the whole global financial crisis, supposed global financial thing had gone on. I was watching some guys in Belgium, in Brussels, and one guy was saying “maybe it’s time for a one world government, a one world system” and then I heard another guy speak up after that and he says “if we’re going to have a one world government, then we should have a one world currency”. And then the one that really got me was a third guy speaks up and says, well they believe, by the year 2017, they thought that they would have all of the E.U. micro chipped. I heard that and my mouth dropped and I thought to myself “do these guys not know what they’re saying?” It was astonishing to me to sit and listen to this. I started doing a little research after that and it’s maybe something you should do yourself. Don’t take my word for it. Go into Google and type “micro chipping” because I had no idea that it was as far advanced as it is. It was pretty amazing what I found on there. That basically got me going toward the idea for it. If we look at the Biblical prophecy; is this what we’re talking about right now? So I went and did a pretty detailed study of the Book of Revelations and some other books of the Bible as well. I was astonished at how really accurate it was in describing what these guys were talking about.
Were there any additional tracks that you worked on that didn’t make the CD because they didn’t fit the theme?
Well, I originally, let me back up a little bit, we recorded about 15 things for the record and like anything, you’re just going to pick and choose, when you’re done, to [find] what fits the package. The first thing we actually recorded to kind of get our feet wet a little bit was the old Chuck Berry song “Promised Land”. It was never intended to be on the record. Sometimes when you haven’t been in the studio for a while, you kind of put on the training wheels a little bit and just do something to kind of ease us into this and re-familiarize ourselves with the process. And lo and behold it ends up making it on the record. That process is always mysterious as to how it works.
Speaking of “Promised Land”, I don’t know if it’s the upbeat style of the tune or what, but even though the CD has a very apocalyptic feel, having “promised Land” as the last tune gives the listener a sense of hope. Was that your intention; to say “we are heading down this path but we can still turn it around”?
That is why we chose it. Well, I would love to take credit for what it is. I would love to sit here and tell you that it was part of the master plan when we were first doing it but it didn’t work out like that. Like I said, it was the first song recorded for the record and when we got finished, I looked at it and I thought we had taken you to this really dark place. Let’s take you to the “Promised Land”. Let’s give you hope. It was so perfect when it was done. I thought, there is no way I can pass this up. Again, I would love to tell you that that was the master plan from the get-go but I’m not that good [laughing].
Maybe you are. You just do it sub-conscientiously? Who know? [laughing]
One of the things I remember reading a long time ago in Kerrang! Magazine was an interview with you where you accurately predicted the Senator Al Gore’s ambitions to get to the White House. You seem to be very knowledgeable and outspoken politically. Do you sometimes feel that you are alone in the Metal community standing up with this type of view of politics?
Probably not but if I am, then it certainly thins out the playing field. I’m not going to think of it in those terms of whether I’m on an island or not. I’m somebody that wants to be politically and socially aware who just happens to play this kind of music as apposed to being the other way around.
When I read other interviews with other artists, you’re views, and maybe I’m reading into it incorrectly, but you seem to be more on the freedom and conservative side, almost like a Libertarian.
I’m definitely a conservative. It’s funny. I’ve thought about it a while back and it’s almost like I should have been part of the folk music movement [laughing]; as far as the way I think and what I write about. I guess I’m doing folk music, just a little louder [laughing].
You’ve been writing songs for a while now. How do you know when a song is done? When does a song tell you it’s finished?
Oh, it talks to you. When you’re writing, one of the things you learn after you’ve been doing it for a while is once it starts to take shape, get out of the way of it. You see, it will start talking back to you after a while. All song writers who have been doing this for a while will tell you this; that they [the songs] will talk back to you and the trick is to get yourself out of the way. Stop blocking it. Let it say what it wants to say and let it take you in the direction that it wants to go. Now, when it’s done, and here is the torturous part that all creative people will tell you, it’s then once you believe it’s done, of then at looking at what are the alternative possibilities. That can be a torturous process because it’s a lot of work for maybe a miniscule change. One of the things I learned from [Muhammad] Ali is the difference between good and great is the attention to detail. A lot of that, that last 10%as far as man hours goes, ends up being a lot more than the other 90% that got it going in the first place. So you have to go back, even when you think it’s done, and say “are there anymore possibilities of where we could go here or go there?” I think that at the end of the day, when you look at it and whether it’s done or not, you ask yourself “does this thing move me?” You can always tinker with something to death and it’s not necessarily going to make it better. Sometimes it can make it worse. Like I said, it’s really just a question of learning to listen to it.
I read recently that you were not going to play “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)” live anymore. Are there any other songs that you feel don’t represent the WASP of today?
I haven’t played “Animal” for quite a few years now but I would have to give it some thought. That was really the first one that came to my mind. A lot of times, the silence is louder than the actual thing itself. By not doing it sometimes speaks volumes than actually doing it. The absence of something screams at times. I think that is a positive.
Are there any plans on filming this tour for a possible CD or DVD release?
I don’t know. We just finished 3 months in Europe and we did a lot of stuff over there. Some of it is actually really, really impressive looking. This show that we’re doing now has a movie screen behind us. We’re running a lot of the old promo videos from the past and when you see “Wild Child” or something like that, you see the old video behind us and it’s in sync. You see me singing in the video from 20 years ago but you also see it in 3-D as I’m standing there singing in real time. It’s got kind of a neat effect. When you see the presentation, it’s pretty impressive and there is some really good stuff that we have but I just don’t know. The world has changed as far as the way bands approach making studio records and live records. I think live records are something you are going to see less and less of because labels aren’t really interested in doing that anymore. Historically, a live record would have represented ½ of what a new studio release would have done. It’s not just what bands want to do. You have a whole retail world that you have to take into consideration. Is Best Buy going to want to take that thing? There are all kinds of considerations that the people never think about. They think the artists make the sole decision and it’s not always like that.
What was the last CD you purchased as a download or physical CD?
I can’t even remember. I don’t listen to as much stuff as people might think. My first reaction is to say John Lee Hooker but I don’t know it that is accurate or not. People say “what are you listening to?” but you know, I’m doing it all the time. It’s kind of like a mechanic who works on cars all day; he may work on brakes. The last thing he wants to do is go home and work on his own brakes. It’s a little bit like that with what we do. I certainly don’t listen to anything in my own genre. When I listen to music, it’s usually going to be something related to what we do.
What was the last concert you attended as a fan?
My last question is, if you had a record label, how would you do things differently?
The situation that I have right now is very much a partnership with the label that I’m involved with right now. In a lot of ways, it’s like that even now. But for myself, I’m doing what I would want to do. The big question is “would you or could you do it for somebody else?” and that’s where the problem lies. 15 years ago when we started Sanctuary Records, that was the whole dream, to start our own record company and so we did and that’s no longer a situation that functions, number one but secondly, even if it did [function], you can’t do what we did before. When we did that with Sanctuary, we were the last of it’s kind. You will never see anything like that again, not in our lifetime, because the model that we used to create that was the same model that everybody had used before which was effectively Ahmet Ertegun’s model that he had created with Atlantic Records. We all used that for 50 years and then when the internet came along, it literally destroyed that working model. Until somebody finds out a new working model of how to sell records, you’ll never see that again. It’s a brave new world out there right now of how things are done. The drag is we started Sanctuary because we hated the idea of what the majors had become. We referred to them as the “evil empire” and as bad as they were, the one thing that they did really well was get us new material. We were with EMI for, I think 13 years. When they decided if you had a single that they believed in, to watch them put that machinery to work was a thing of beauty. On a global level, you talk about bringing the hammer down. It was a beautiful thing to watch that machinery work. But that doesn’t exist anymore so that was one of the things we lost of not having those “evil empires” as I refer to them. The single biggest thing that you’re going to lose is new music because there is no vehicle now to bring that stuff to people the way that it used to be. There’s certainly not going to be artists given the opportunity to grow and develop. I mean, a band like AC/DC would never have had the chance to make Back In Black. They would never have been allowed 3 or 4 records to develop. Somebody was asking me the other day “where are all the great frontmen coming from?” and I sad “there aren’t anymore”. This is it. What you see right now is what it is. When Any band capable of headlining a festival or filling a stadium; when those guys are gone, they ain’t coming back. It’s over because there is no factory to recruit that anymore; where that factory will allow that talent to develop, to become that great frontman. If you want to see Lemmy, you have to buy a ticket to go see Motorhead. If you want to see Geoff Tate, you’re going to have to buy a ticket to see Queensryche. When all those great frontmen are gone, they are gone. They are not coming back. They are an endangered species.