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W.A.S.P. - Interview with Blackie Lawless
By Pati Gabriel and Wojtek Gabriel,
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WASP metal band
The first three W.A.S.P. albums are absolute masterpieces for me and I've always wondered how one is able to create such great music using such basic riffs. For me W.A.S.P. has always been about blood and fire, about pure rock 'n' roll and about Blackie screaming his guts out, and if it was up to me I'd never let him "develop artistically". But even though the band's style has changed I will always respect the master for his input in metal music. The new release "Dominator" was the first subject of this interview, but I also dug a bit into the band's past. I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed talking to one of the metal scene's most charismatic musicians.
Hello Blackie, how are you today?
Good, thank you.
You're halfway through your Scandinavian tour now. Where are you actually?
We're in Bergen, Norway.
I've heard various rumours about the release date of "Dominator". Actually, when you did the tour in autumn last year you already used the "Dominator" stage set and you played songs from that album. So, it seems that the album has been ready for months. So, why did you wait for so long and why did you switch labels from Sanctuary to Demolition?
I'll start with your last question. We did not switch labels. That thing was never signed, that was premature on their part to announce that we had signed to them, because the deal was never finalised. So, that's a miscommunication on their part, that should have never happened. As far as the recording, or as a reason that we did what we did, we decided to record some more when we got to Europe last year. We recorded a little bit when we were in Munich and a little bit when we were in Belgium and actually the song "The Burning Man" came out of these sessions. I wasn't ready to release the record, because I wanted to record a little bit more first.
The lyrics on the new album carry a post-September 11th message and are full of politics-related deep thoughts. You obviously think it's a great subject for a heavy metal record?
I think the best subject for any record, no matter what genre it is, is one of things the writer is the most passionate about.
The listener might think these lyrics are about relations between a man and a woman, but in fact you wanted to show the relations between a powerful country, your homeland and smaller countries. Do you think it's easy for the average young metal fan to work this out? I mean, aren't the lyrics too serious?
That's why I'm talking to you right now. You do interviews, when you make album, for the certain reason, because people will read interviews and it makes more sense to them. But whether they read interviews or whether they don't, it's not important, because we're talking about art. Art is in the viewers' eyes or ears. They interpret the way they want to interpret. And what I try to do is I try to write on multiple levels, where depending on who you are right now on this day in your life you're going to hear one thing, in five years from now you're hearing something different, because the person you are today is not who you're going to be in five years from now. So, if someone is not particularly interested in politics right now, they're not gonna see politics in the lyrics. But as they get older and they get a little more interest about what's going on in the world around them, they're gonna see this record in a whole different way.
As a child I lived in a country ruled by the communistic government. Poland wasn't a fully independent country back then; it was more like another Soviet republic at times. Today we have so called democracy but the new governments steal and lie the same way the old ones did and there's a lot of political scandals going on all the time. Do you think that there's one political system that is fair for all citizens, or maybe all systems are good, but people who rule are not?
Well, it's a very, very difficult question. There is no perfect system. You know, when the American form of democracy was created, over 200 years ago, it was referred to as a big experiment. We still refer to it, to this day, as a big experiment, because we know, that the world is watching us. But to be completely honest, we know, that we're just kinda making it up, as we go along. In other words, there is no definitive way of doing it. Our system is a combination of things, that have been borrowed from the Greeks, from the American Indians, and a little bit from the English. And we took all those, we put them together, and we created this new experiment. No system is perfect, but at the same time, when it was being created, Thomas Jefferson, who was one of the original founding fathers of these documents, he said, that a patriot must be willing to take up arms against his government at any time. So, what he's telling you there, is that they realised, as good as what they were creating was, that any system could eventually become corrupt, and that the people must be on guard at all times. So, I think to answer your question formally, number one - there is no perfect government, but in America we have what we refer to as a government of the people for the people, by the people. But what that means also is that when the people get lazy and want the government to do everything for them, then it opens the door more and more to things that are happening like they are right now. Which is the reason that I've made this record, to try to create awareness. You know, these are all things, that like you talk about in Poland, you know what needs to be done, but there's gonna have to be some patience. And I know you'll say, well, you know, that was 20 years ago, that all changed, but in the course of history, that's a very short period of time. Maybe eventually you will see those things change and it will be better. But, no matter what it is, Poland is better off right now, than it was 50 years ago. So you know, Thomas Jefferson said, that even though we are frustrated with the form of American democracy that we have, all change was designed to happen slowly. Because sometimes if it happens too quickly, you may end up with the dictatorship, which is what we are angry about right now in America. George Bush has used the first six years, that he's been in the office in the United States to try to create as close to a dictatorship as he can. In America it would never be a real dictatorship, but he used all the power that he can, to create an atmosphere, that is similar to that. Luckily for us, the way our system is set up, our president is limited to having to have the approval of congress and senate, before he can do too much. And without that, then you will have a true dictatorship. But like I said, these changes can be frustrating. I mean at home right now the people are really pissed off, because we've got two more years, that we have to wait before we can get rid of this guy, and the two years for us right now seems like an eternity. But again, that change is designed to happen slowly. So my advice to you is don't give up hope just yet, that it's gonna take a little while.
You said, "I love my country, but I'm scared to death of its government". What did you mean by that?
Well, if you think back to the time when I actually wrote that line, his father was president. And now I'm writing a similar statement, while his son is president. And in the meantime we had eight years of Bill Clinton. Clinton was a very popular president in the United States, we all liked him. You know, in a democracy you're gonna have periods when you're just not gonna be happy, that's all it is to it. I mean, I hated Reagan, Jimmy Carter was four years like nobody can really remember what happened, because it was so boring and then we got eight years of Reagan. Like I said, I mean I hated him, you know, I hated Bush, I liked Clinton, and I got another Bush. Sometimes that's just the way it is.
US metal band WASP
You probably know the US constitution better than most politicians...
Yeah, probably...
I'm sure you're not interested in this job, but if you were the president of the USA for one term, what would be the three most important things you would be trying to change in your country?
Wow... That's a good question, never anybody asked me that one... Let's move on with the interview, we'll come back to that question later, because I have to think about it for a minute...
OK, a simple question for a change. There are three versions of the new album, the standard one, limited digipak and limited vinyl LP. Are there any special features on those limited editions?
No, just the packaging is different right now.
My three favourite W.A.S.P. albums are the first three ones. It was just pure rock 'n' roll for me, simple music, simple lyrics. Then you started to write some more complex compositions, concept albums with lyrics that forced people to think. These days your lyrics involve much serious subjects, especially politics. Don't you sometimes miss the early times of "Winged Assassins", "The Last Command" or "Inside The Electric Circus"?
Ahh, sometimes, but you know, on the album there is also a song called "Deal with The Devil", that for me is reminiscent of those, this type of song. But I also think, as an artist you need to grow... Those early records that you're talking about, they're still there. You can go listen to them anytime you want to. And just because an artist changes, it doesn't mean, that those records are gonna go away. They are forever. I mean I appreciate what you're saying, but you also have to understand me as an artist, that I have to grow, because anything in this life, if it does not grow, it dies. Whether it's a tree, a plant or a person, if you don't grow, you die. So, you have to give me the freedom to do that.
I've got a question about the previous albums - two parts of "The Neon God", which are another concept work, after "The Crimson Idol". What inspired you to write this another dark story?
Well, I don't know if that's a dark story. It's really about asking one question - what is the purpose of life. You know, it's a personal thing, who am I, why am I here, is there a god, is there no god, you know, all those questions. That's personal asking and really what it means is, the very first lyric that you hear on the album is, "Oh, tell me my lord, why am I here" and that's really what it's all about. It's about an individual trying to figure out the purpose of life.
So, you think god exists?
For me, yes.
I mentioned "The Crimson Idol". When I heard your voice on that album I thought that I'd never before heard any man put so much emotion in his voice and sing so sadly. Who is your favorite singer?
Wow, ahhmm... Probably Elvis, I mean he's had the ability to do exactly what you're saying, I mean he could in some songs. The emotion in his voice was incredible. So, I would say he's probably my favorite.
Your artistic pseudonym is as old as W.A.S.P. itself and I suppose not many remember your birth name. Does anyone call you Steven anymore?
About the beginnings. How and when you did start playing music? What were your first steps?
My brother had a guitar and I used to just pick it up, try to start playing and that's really where it began. I was about six, seven years old when I first started.
You're a multi-instrumentalist. How many instruments can you actually play?
I don't know, maybe a dozen...
I've read you had some troubles when you were in military school as a teenager, yeah?
A little bit, yeah...
What really happened there?
I got into a fight with somebody and they threw me out. But that wasn't a bad thing, ha-ha! I was ready to go, I was tired of it, so it was a good thing for me.
So, you were a rebel?
Yeah, but that's why I got sent there in the first place, because of that, ha-ha! You know, because of being a rebel.
You are one of my three favorite musical personalities ever, along with Alice Cooper and Doro Pesch. Do you like their music?
Well, yeah, a group with Alice Cooper, you know, I'm his big fan. And Doro, you know, I have enormous respect for her voice, she is an incredibly talented singer.
I asked Doro about you once and she said you were a very nice and protective man. She said you took care of her when she was ill on tour. She remembers that until today. Do you remember that event?
Oh yeah, sure... I like her a lot, yeah...
You once lived with Nikki Sixx, your doom brother as you called him and you played in Sister together. I wonder, why didn't you go on together in one band?
We had very different ideas about what we wanted to do. I mean, he's been a good friend of mine, but like I said, we have very different musical visions what we want to do.
I love the '80s US scene. What do you remember the most about those times, about the LA scene overflowing with musicians who wanted to succeed?
I think it was probably the most exciting period of my life, because there was this incredible music scene that was going on in Los Angeles at the time. And just to be a part of that was a very magical experience. You know, because there was so many bands, that were there at the time, many bands that went on to be very famous. And we were all playing the clubs there and you could see any other band almost any night. One of the clubs was Troubadour, The Whiskey or any other clubs. And it was incredible magic. You could feel it when you were there. And that was probably, like I said, the most exciting period of my life.
Roman Catholic priests once bought tickets for your concert just to pray during the show...
Yeah, that was in England.
Must have been almost as interesting as the show, ha-ha!
Yeah, ha-ha! It was interesting.
What were the fans' reactions?
I don't think the fans really paid attention to them, I'm not sure the fans even knew that they were there.
You wear your favorite socks at concerts, are you superstitious?
Yeah, well, I think everybody has things that they do before show. It gets them mentally ready and I think that's a part of it, I think it's just a ritual I have...
So, what are they like?
They're special, they're... You'd have to see them, there's a lot of patterns on them and stuff.
Through almost 25 years of your band's history you've played with many musicians, you've had five drummers and five guitarists on your albums alone, not counting touring musicians. So, what is the criteria for choosing a musician for W.A.S.P., besides technical abilities? How do you know that this or that guy will fit the band?
It's like you're married. You don't really know a lot until you work with somebody. If there was five drummers, I mean, I remember four. But still, over the 25-year period, bands change.
WASP heavy metal
Frankie Banali was one of the musicians that have played with W.A.S.P. the longest. Was the re-union of Quiet Riot the reason for his departure?
So, what was?
Well, I mean, he has things that he wants to do, and I think it's important, that he's satisfied with those things.
In the '80s and even later your shows were far more spectacular than today. You spat blood, you had the burning band logo on stage etc. Why don't you do theatrics anymore? Is it a matter of budgets?
No, it's all about the message that I'm trying to convey. Because with what I'm saying now, for me quite honestly, I think the message is far more shocking. You don't need theatre to convey the messages of what we're trying to say now, 'cause when we did the "Crimson Idol", I realised that I wanted to do something where people are really, really listening instead of watching. Because before, the people were listening with their eyes actually. They were watching us more than anything. And I just didn't want that to happen anymore, I wanted them to listen to what we were doing musically. That's the biggest reason.
So, what do you think about bands trying to shock the public instead of writing good music?
I've always thought, that you should have both, you know? If it's just sensationalism or just shock, that's not really rock 'n' roll. Rock 'n 'roll is about music first, and it really should be there. I mean, even when we started, at the beginning people said, well, you know, "They're a shock band." Yeah, but now, twenty years later people look at the first album and they say, "Well, that's a classic record." Well, that's the reason we survived, just because that record was good and you have to have good music. The music comes first, the show comes second.
Two or three years ago I read an interview with Rik Fox, who told a story about a hornet that stung him, and that it was him who came up with the name Wasp after that...
Well, you know, in any thing that becomes famous, you're gonna have a lot of people that say that they did this, they did that, you know? You have to understand that that's gonna happen and just take it into consideration, because anything that is famous in this world is gonna have people saying things like that.
And have you heard that musicians who were kicked out of the band said that W.A.S.P. stands for We're All Side Players?
Yeah, I mean, I don't look at it as like anybody was kicked out, that's a pretty negative point of view. I mean, everybody left this band because they thought there was something else that they wanted to do. If someone leaves, it doesn't mean he's been fired. There's a whole lot of artistic differences, you mentioned Frankie Banali a while ago - for Frankie it's purely artistic differences, what he wants to do and it's absolutely nothing wrong with that. I mean people need to be happy with what they're playing.
When I go to a concert, the headliners play for 1,5 hours, up to 2 hours, but W.A.S.P.'s sets are usually much shorter, around 70 minutes. Why is that?
It depends on the night that you see us. I mean in average it's about an hour and a half. You know, maybe the night that you were there I wasn't feeling well. When you're on the road you can get sick, things like that happen.
Why do you play The Doors' song as an intro?
We've used this from the beginning as a band. We always thought that it may be our really ominous statement, to start the shows.
I saw a bootleg video once, where you played three songs with an acoustic guitar only. Have you ever thought about including something like that into your regular concert?
Yeah, I mean we will be doing it later on this tour, probably we're gonna start within the next week. It's just a different dimension of the show. For me, I think it gives the audience a chance to see how the songs were created, it's just the singer and his guitar, and that's it.
I heard you don't like the photographers taking pictures at your shows. Are they distracting you?
Who told you that?
A guy, who was touring with you.
That's bullshit. I mean at every show, whether it's us or whatever band it is, for the first three songs you got photographers down in the pit every night. Let me tell you something. This is a part of the business that we're in. You're gonna have to learn to understand that people will say all kind of shit to try to enforce their idea of what they think. What I'm telling you is a fact. You cannot be in the entertaining business and not allow people to take photographs of you. It's not gonna happen. It's part of the job. Forget that.
OK, are you ready to answer the question about the president of the USA?
Ahhh... The first thing I would do, there's a social reform, that needs to be taken care of first, our welfare system. Something that is more fair to the people who really need it, and more strict to those who don't need it. I think immigration reform, that's something that is also very, very important. And probably it would be foreign policy. America is sticking its nose in places where it really doesn't need to be.
Have you found the person responsible for a sick joke about your death in a car crash in autumn last year?
I don't pay attention to that stuff. I don't concentrate my life on negativities, I'm trying to go more positive. And stuff like that, you have to understand, when you become famous, there's a lot of people all over that are envious, and because they don't have it they will go after the people that are famous just to try to do things to hurt them. And those are negativities. If those people turned the negative energy and used it in a positive way, they would be amazed what they could accomplish in life. So, I don't concentrate on that stuff. I'm looking for whatever is positive. Things like that are all bullshit.
You played a short UK tour a couple of weeks ago. For a band with such a long history a tour is just a routine I suppose. Venue, tour bus, hotel, venue, tour bus, hotel etc. So, do you remember anything special from that short UK tour?
I mean we've been to the UK many, many times and we've been lucky to have really good audiences there, I don't remember anything particularly different.
The songs from the new album that you have included in the setlist are "Take Me Up" and "Heaven's Hung in Black". Why those two?
Well, we're gonna do more later this year, but those are just the first two that we've chosen right now.
Have you maybe written any new material yet?
No, the only thing I wanna concentrate on right now is this tour, that's gonna take us to Christmas.
I think you're returning to the UK later this year. Is that just plans or has anything been confirmed yet?
Nothing is confirmed yet, but it will be.
So, you're returning for sure, good to hear.
That's what they tell me.
Interview by Pati Gabriel and Wojtek Gabriel

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Tags: W.A.S.P., heavy metal, Blackie Lawless, Dominator
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© 1997-2020 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved. Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations or corporations without the prior written permission.
© 1997-2020 Wojtek Gabriel. All rights reserved.
Unauthorised use of any works published on this website is prohibited.
Materials may not be reproduced in whole or in part by persons, organisations
or corporations without the prior written permission.