Heart of Steel: Interviews


W. A. S. P. ´s   B l a c k i e   L a w l e s s

Interview and live pictures by Luxi Lahtinen

I met the one and only Blackie Lawless here in Helsinki  on 22nd of May 2004. Having received this extraordinary opportunity to share a few words with him about his new ambitious work for the story behind THE NEON GOD - THE RISE. As usual, Blackie was full of passion to explain to me some specific details about THE NEON GOD. He actually explained some of those details so full-heartedly and very passionately that eventually I simply had to leave most of my questions out of the interview due to a lack of time.

Also, in this very chat with him, Blackie was wondering why promoters have been so afraid to do business with W.A.S.P., especially here in Finland. 

 

 

I heard you have been suffering from some sort of flu for a while now...

Yeah, but I'm not gonna die...

 

 

Thank God because I badly want to see your show today...

(*laughs*)

 

First of all, congratulations for making this new great W.A.S.P. album!! I can honestly admit that I have been listening to it a lot lately and I think it's one of your best works you have ever done...

Thank you. Appreciated...

 

 

I cannot help but be amazed at how you can be such a creative person from one year to another , writing better and better songs and better albums almost constantly. So what is your secret ?

The last 5 years I've probably been the most creative place in my career. But at the same time I have noticed in my career that I have had periods when I'm very creative and then on the other hand, I have had periods when I don't feel creative at all. And you know that creative period is coming to an end. I feel right now that with finishing both of these two records that being on tour is a good thing for me because I have been on tour for a long time and it creates a better balance. So for 5 years I didn't want to get out for a studio, but now I'm glad that I'm out because I feel like I´ve done that creative period for a while and all of a sudden to play live for a while in order to try to create that balance. I don't know how it works, y´know, you were talking about how creativity works, I have no answer to that how it works. I have learnt though over the years, do it as long as it feels creative. And when creativity feels like it's not out there, then go do something else like go on tour because there's always something to do.

 


So can you tell what kind of things inspire you to write stories like you have on this new album about this orphan boy?

Well, I started thinking about this story about 10 years ago and I started thinking: "What are the greatest thoughts that we all share... that all people share?". And I came to the conclusion that it was: "Who am I? Does my life mean anything? Whom my life mean anything after I'm dead? Is there God? Is there no God"? All these thoughts... When I came up with the lyric which is the very first lyric you hear on the record, the first line says: "Oh tell me my Lord, why am I here...?". When I came up with one thought, I thought that takes all of those other questions and puts them in one question. And that's really what the record is all about, y´know. All the characters, they are just vehicles to try to re-enforce the idea of what is this all about. Y´know, and I'm very careful in the liner notes of the record to tell people that this will not find those answers for you; something you just have to find yourself. But if this record helps push people to think a little more, then I think I have manage to get the message through the record. That's what it is really all about. It's designed to make people think,  what's going on here. Because I think we all think about it, but we just push it ahead because it frightens us, it scares us. It's natural, but it makes people to think and then it's a successful record, I think.

 

 

So is the story on THE NEON GOD all fiction or have you borrowed some references from your own childhood? I mean, can you see yourself in the story of this album in a role as this young and innocent orphan boy named Jesse Slane?

Well, not really. I mean because I feel like we are all on the same boat together. And I'm like just a third party, the observer - just watching everything and where everybody else goes to. It's not biographical at all; it's purely fiction, but fiction in a sense that it really is everything that all is surely thinking. Because I heard of a survey about 10 years ago that said that an average person thinks of death 10 times in a day. Sometimes only for a little bit, but sometimes maybe seen in accident on the other side of the road think about it for a long time. But we averagely are thinking of death 10 times in a day and that's a lot. Also I thought, y´know, again with all these questions. We are here on this planet, trying to make sense what this is actually all about. It's very, very difficult a lot of times... most of the time, I can tell.

 

 

Now when you are reading yourself the story behind this first part of THE NEON GOD, do you feel like the more you think the actual story in your head, the more the whole story amazes you each time when you read it?

When I wrote it over a year ago... well, actually I sat down... for 10 years I was putting pieces of a puzzle together; I was just remembering out from my head. And then I sat down and I wrote. And I did not make many corrections to it. Most of what you see in the album right now is the original first draft. I went back and made some corrections, but not too many. And then I didn't look at it again for 6 or 7 months and I just started on working with the music. Because what's difficult about making a record like this, is when you make a regular record, you record all the elements, y´know, all the songs and put them together. And then you create a running order when you put the symbol of songs - and then you don't like that running order for some reason, you change it. But on the concept record you cannot do that. You have to write a story first, and then do what we refer to Hollywood; we talk about a ´story boarding´. In that thing is where you create individual scenes. So each song becomes an end of an individual scene, so I wrote the story, I story-boarded the scenes and then I worked backwards and I put the music in place. And you do that so can create a flow of the record how the record to see how the pacing of the record is like. Basically I'm creating a running order at that point because if I do that and I don't like it, I can still change the music before the lyrics´ going. Because once the lyrics are put in the place that helps still the story. You cannot take track five and put it whenever you want to put it. You just can't do that. I mean, you can, but it's a major surgery. It takes all the lyrics - and after that you should re-write the lyrics, sing them again and it would be a major pain in the ass. I actually did that when I did CRIMSON IDOL. I learnt the hard way. Get the music all in place first and just then go sing the lyrics, y´know. But anyway, when I was singing it's like when you are doing something like this, it's very very and much more difficult, but I started writing the music and about a half way into the recording music - because you got to remember this took two years to do, so I wrote the story and then when I was writing, I had done all the music and I was getting into the lyrics and I couldn't remember one part of the story, so I had to go back into the story to read what it was so that I could then finish the lyrics. And I just started reading the whole story I hadn't done for over a year. And I read it and it was so really good, y´know - and that was the first time I knew the story was good because you have to get away from it for a while, y´know, to forget about it. And then come back and read it again as it's the first time you have ever seen it. And that's when I knew the story was good. Now even saying that writing out as far as the music goes, I'm too close to the music. I can't tell you how good the music is because I'm still too close to. I'd need another maybe 6 months to a year to be able to really tell you how good it is, but because I have had a long time for the story. But I know that the story is real good.

 

 

I was also just wondering a short while ago that was one of your purposes to offer listeners a chance to take this orphan boy's place or some sort of a role in the story and make them imagine what the life could have been for these listeners in the actual story?

Well,  the characters in this story to me... well, let's just put it this way that there could have been a lot of different things in the story. It just doesn't have to be Jesse the way he is; it could have been a lot of things because the characters in the story they are really only vehicles, they represent... well, they are just symbols like, I give you an example: Sister Sadie, in a story she is a Catholic nun, but in reality Sister Sadie is a symbol. She is that person that we all had when we were this small and she used to scare us to death, y´know. We all had one of those in our childhood. She represents domination of a childhood; she represents suppression of a childhood, so she could have been anything. I mean, I just chose a Catholic nun because I figured a lot of people would be familiar with that. But she represents the domination of the childhood the same way when, in a song "The Red Room of the Rising Sun / What I Will Never Find", when Billy dies. Billy is Jesse's friend, but Billy represents the death of Jesse's childhood. When Billy dies, Jesse is in the crossroads in his life. He's gonna go one way or the other, so all these characters; they are characters, but they represent more than what you think they are in the surface, y´know. Like I said, Billy is the death of whatever innocence Jesse has had, he's getting rid off it in the end. So all these characters, they look like one thing when you first look at them, but the more you listen to the story, the more you realize that there's much more going on. When Jesse tries to kill himself, he jumps into the wishing well. He's in a coma for three days, and on the third day he's risen. What other persons do you know about that have had a similar experience, y´know. Three's all kinds of little references; there's religious references, there's... well, if you are a religious person you understand about religion. You'll see this is a religious story. But if you don't know anything about religion, you'll see a completely different story. So when you are writing lyrics from a literally point of view, like literature, you are trying to do on many levels, so different people conceive different things.

 

Last time when I was talking with you here in Helsinki while doing promotion for your UNHOLY TERROR record, you told me that you also have a religious background in your own childhood. Do you think that  based on your religious background, this fact helped you to write this story for THE NEON GOD?

(*Blackie takes a deep breath and stops thinking in this point for a while...*)

... probably, yeah. But I could not tell you exactly...

 

 

Since you also know a lot about darkside, do you think you even might have used some references from there as well for the story of this album?

Hmm... I'm sure there is, but I haven't really consciously thought about it. But then again, whoever we are as writers, we are always drawing on our past experiences whether we were or whether we're not, so I'm sure you are right, probably yeah...

 

 

Musically THE NEON GOD is a bit darker, but also at the same time more melodic and melancholic than your last couple of albums ("Dying for the World" and "Unholy Terror"). Do you think this more melancholic and harmonious musical direction on this first part of THE NEON GOD goes better with the story than let´s say if the album would have more up-tempo and faster types of songs in it into vein of "Wild Child", "I Wanna Be Somebody" and so on?

Yeah, that's a good question. I wanted to use the music like colors,  like a painting. I wanted a lot of colors. When I look at CRIMSON IDOL, that album to me is a much more intimate record. It starts out with little acoustic guitars and then it builds, but it's almost like,  you and I are talking right now. There's the intimacy to it. I don't get that with THE NEON GOD. Like I said I'm still pretty close to it right now, but the feeling in my head that I'm getting right now, is that THE NEON GOD makes me uncomfortable. And for the creator to say that piece of work makes it uncomfortable, It's probably gonna to make other people uncomfortable, too, because it's not an intimate story. I mean, even,  those little references like I said CRIMSON IDOL starts out with the acoustic guitar, THE NEON GOD starts like: "BANG..!!" I mean it's louder, it's not an intimate record at all. And like I said the lack of intimacy on the record makes me a little more uncomfortable. So I see it like they are like apples and oranges, I mean, they are two completely different pieces of works and I'm not so much sure yet why THE NEON GOD makes me feel so uncomfortable, but it could have to do with some of that childhood stuff you were just talking about, I don't know, but I know from a musical point of view it's not nearly that intimate record to me as CRIMSON IDOL was. Even though there's more colors on this record, it's still not as intimate as CRIMSON IDOL was. At the same time, a song "The Red Room of the Rising Sun", which is my favorite song from the record, I guess because we have never done anything like that before, it's the colorating the imagery of "I wanted you when you heard that song. I wanted to put you in that room. I wanted you to be able to taste it, to smell it, to feel it,  of exactly what that little sanctuary for him could be. It's funny because I've talked to a number of people in a sense of had this record ignored. I've got a little room in my house and I'm going to make it like "The Red Room of the Rising Sun", (*laughs*) and I thought it's a great idea. I'll do one for me.

 

 

Kind of like the 70´s hippie style...?

Well, for me more like late 60´s, but it's just like the whole idea is kind of like that poster back there behind you. Like having this whole vibe to it. But I was just, like you said, yes, there's more coloration on this record than probably on CRIMSON IDOL. But there's a level of discomfort in it and I know what you said it's darker, I think it's that darkness that makes me feel little edgy about it, it's making me uncomfortable by it to the end. Like I said if you can do that to the creator, then you are probably going to do it to a lot of other people, too (*laughs*).

 

 

Also the story on this first part of THE NEON GOD, just like you have been trying to explain to me, is kind of dark in its own special way in my opinion, in which f.ex. Sister Sadie "Bitch in charge", the leader of all these Catholic nuns in that Orphanage in the story, has a major role to create this feel of darkness and evil. I think Sister Sadie was sort of a leader of all things evil and scary in this story of the 1st part of THE NEON GOD, in her own frightening way; in a way kind of cult leader...

Well, I did a lot of research on cult leaders. I looked at Charles Manson, David Koresh, that guy from Texas, the leader of the Branch Davidian sect, 10 years ago, Hitler. I looked at a lot of different people that were cult leaders and the one thing that they all had in common, was their childhood. They all had just devastating childhood, a really bad - and, y´know, I remember listening to Henry Kissinger, talking about Richard Nixon one time. He said: "My God, think of the greatness of this man could have achieved if he had only been loved...". Think about that for a second. All these guys, these cult leaders, the thing they had in common, is that childhood. These were extraordinary people. All of them could have achieved greatness, but they had that Sister Sadie in their childhood that they are gonna go one direction or the other. They were fucked up as a kid and they ended up going to a wrong direction. These were people that were going to be different, no matter what. They were destined for something more than the average person because they were screwed up as a kid, taking a wrong direction in the life. But for me what makes Jesse a really interesting character when I was studying these cult leaders, they go around telling people they are a messiah - or they are God, they don't really believe it. Jesse is not sure. Jesse has to tell people he thinks he's messiah because he was so fucked up as a kid. He has now become delusional. And I had to make, I had to concentrate a lot - maybe more than even I wanted to in the first album about his development of his childhood because in the 2nd record when he becomes this global cult leader, this cult phenomenon. For someone to come out and say: "I'm a messiah...", a kid with an average childhood could not do that. It has to come from some extraordinary place. Someone has had a lot of dramas a kid, so I spent more time in the first record, developing his childhood and then I really wanted to do, but I thought it was really important to do that to make the second record believable. Because any of these cult leaders, they have to be believable to people. You cannot, just like I said, you cannot come out from an average childhood and go: "I'm God... accept me!". I just doesn't work like that. It has to be someone - or that person that's coming from where this first album comes from. You have to understand completely how he got fucked up like he did. So it's important, like I said, the first record sets up the second record.

 

The second part of the first album title was called THE RISE. Will the 2nd part of this story be called THE NEON GOD: PART 2. - THE FALL then?

No.

 

 

I've seen some lots of speculation about the second part of the album that some W.A.S.P. -fans have gone through on some certain message boards, claiming it to be called THE FALL, and so on...

It would be just too evident and simple...

(* The 2nd part of THE NEON GOD - saga will be called THE DEMISE which should be out 28th of September on Sanctuary/metal-Is Records * - Luxi adds)

 

You have said that you listened to the Beatles´ THE REVOLVER album a lot when you were writing songs for your previous album DYING FOR THE WORLD. What about with this album; were you under influence of some other Beatles album when you were coming up with stuff for this album - or these two albums?

Not really... no more than usual. I'm having been on E.M.I. all these years. I have got a lot of outtakes that other people don't have. And I just find that just really rough demo or things like that. It's really good from the song writing point of view. It teaches you to have right songs,  I mean they were masters, I think. So to me I see that stuff educational.

 

 

Besides I think The Beatles has overall been a remarkable influence for you personally all these years...

Absolutely...

 

 

Wouldn't be kind of cool to make some sort of a short film some day - based on the stories of THE NEON GOD parts 1. & 2.?

We did that with CRIMSON IDOL and we never released it. There's a 17-minute film that was made for CRIMSON IDOL. That will eventually be released. It's just we are not sure when we wanna put it out. At this point it's been 12 years and I'm thinking about maybe take a 15 anniversary for it when we will take it all. There's three songs that we never put on the original CRIMSON IDOL album. They are just as good as the rest of the record. But E.M.I. was pressuring me to meet a deadline so... It seems to me that because there songs are missing from CRIMSON IDOL, there's holes in that record that I've known that should be there to really complete the work. So we could do that and put it together with a little film and to me it would be a complete piece of work then. I don't know what we are gonna do with this shit. We've been talking about doing a number of things. I know that that little film that we made for CRIMSON IDOL was very ambitious and it was very expensive to make. To do it right, you really need to make sure that all the proper elements are in place and it's expensive to do. Then we will just wait and see what the reaction of this record is before we will make a decision.

 

 

As I unfortunately have only a couple of minutes left this conversation with you, I'd like to know what you think of this ongoing European tour thus far? Has it lived up to expectations?

I honestly cannot put it into words how good it has been so far. It's been just absolutely great to me personally.

 

I cannot almost believe it, but it's been 17 years since you played here in Finland last time...

I mean, when we played here last time, there was 3000 people in that place and they tore that place literally apart...

(*laughs*)

It was great, y´know. But you know, even here tonight this is kinda small place where we should play. I tell you that the promoters did not think that we could do the kind of business that we are doing now. We are probably gonna come back here in October, and then we'll play at a proper size place here. The reason why we didn't come here in the fall last year was because the promoters didn't believe that  W.A.S.P. could do the business and stuff. And now they have seen... The Finnish fans have shown them that they were wrong.

 

 

It's kind of funny that the promoters didn't believe you because when the tickets came for the advance sale, they were sold out almost right away ...

I don't know what was wrong with these guys, these promoters right here, I mean, even Stevie Wonder could see what was going on around here, y´know...

(*laughs*)

... it doesn´t take a genius to see it, but they couldn't see it. Now we can...

 

 

Ok, unfortunately our time is up, so I wanna thank you Blackie for sharing some of your time with me and Metal-Rules.com. Thank you very much...

Thanks to yourself.


W.A.S.P. Online: www.waspnation.com

Past W.A.S.P. interviews in Metal-Rules.com:

W.A.S.P. Reviews in Metal-Rules.com