Heart of Steel: Interviews

W.A.S.P.'s Blackie Lawless
Interview by EvilG

W.A.S.P. evokes images of skulls, blood, fire, saw blades, racks, Harley's, poignant and relevant lyrics, and of course to any long time fan - memories of the 80's. In a nutshell, this is what W.A.S.P. makes me think about. I've been a fan of this band since I heard their first album and saw their first video for "I Wanna Be Somebody." W.A.S.P. is a band that some just do not understand. Some find them “amusing” or even worse. To me they are an example of a great heavy metal band that is as strong and as relevant today as they were in 1984…if not more so!! I was blessed with the daunting, overwhelming, yet exciting task of speaking to Blackie just prior to the release of the latest W.A.S.P. album - DYING FOR THE WORLD. I can tell you, this album is excellent and captures the sound and feel of what W.A.S.P. have always been about. The album will be out on June the 11th, 2002!

 

Obviously I want to first talk a little bit about the new album Dying for the World, which I understand from the press releases a lot of it is inspired by recent events such as September the 11th and things like that. So what is the title itself "Dying for the World" refer to?

Well to be honest with you, I'm not trying to be difficult here, there may be some titles where I'll say to somebody "Okay point blank, here it is. This is what I mean", but there was a number of ideas that I had, and I've learned that art has to be multidimensional and I don't really want to tell people exactly what I'm thinking. You know, I'd rather just have them use their imagination and have it apply to them, because if I do that I cut off their creativity. Kind of like you know, when I write a song that I show to the other musicians, I don't tell them right away what I'm thinking, as far as what they should maybe be doing. You know I want to hear what they have to say first, because if what they come up with doesn't work we can always go back to what I'm doing, what I was thinking. I would rather hear what they have to say. I would just say this: For me, there's a number of ways it can be interpreted but I'd rather not shut anybody's imagination down.

 

Right. Usually when I get a W.A.S.P. CD the first thing I do, besides pop the CD on, is open up the booklet and read along with the lyrics, because W.A.S.P. are one of the bands where I find the lyrics are as important as the music. Unfortunately my promo didn't come with a copy of the lyrics. Haha! [Blackie: Sorry about that...] I'll be picking it up anyway...I was just wondering if you wanted to pick out a couple of the songs and give me an idea of what inspired you to write about a certain topic.

Blackie: Well you know, like any other artist what I'm doing is just trying to show people who I am at the moment. You know, because who you are now is not who you were five years ago, or who you're going to be five years from now. I think it's important to, if you're going to take people along, if your going to have a true career, if you're going to take people along for that lifelong ride, they have to feel like they really know who you are, if you have to make them become intimate or allow them to become intimate with you. And if they're not intimate with you, they're never going to feel like they know you. And the only way to really do that is to open up your heart, your soul, your mind, kind of crack your head open and allow people to come and walk around barefoot inside your head just to see what's there. And to do that, you really have to expose elements of yourself that some artists may not be comfortable with, because they don't want people to know them that intimately. But if I don't do that, you're never really going to feel like you know who I am. If you followed my career from the beginning, you watched it evolve, you've got a pretty good idea of who I am right now. And the reason you'll know that is because I've shared it with you. I think if you look at artists that have had long careers that's one of the things they have in common, is they've been willing to share themselves with the audience. When you read the liner notes of what I do on the record, one of the reasons I like doing that is because as a fan, you know, I'm a huge Beatles fan, whenever I read stuff that's intimate about them, especially stuff that takes you into the recording studio, to allow you to see the process develop you know, that's fascinating to me. So I like doing that. Whenever I make a record and put the lyrics in there, that's one part of it, but the liner notes are just as important, maybe even more so, because what I'm doing is opening the door to the studio and I'm saying "Come on in. This is how it happened", and I just love that.

 

Yeah definitely. I remember the liner notes for "Unholy Terror". You had, I think it was two of the songs, there was explanations, almost a line by line treatment of things. [Blackie: Correct.] That was really cool. So regarding the creation process, I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about the writing process of this album. Did you write the entire thing yourself, or was there input from some of the other members?

Well I usually write most of the stuff. I mean, in any creative process everybody is going to put their two cents in, but as far as the music and the words that's primarily myself.

 

So how would you compare the creative process, let's say for writing a new riff or a vocal melody line, to writing lyrics? Or are both kind of similar? Do you have to be in a certain mood?

Ummm. You know what I find is the most challenging thing, whether its lyrics, whether it's the actual music itself, the melody line or guitar rife, it's not so much a sitting down. I used to hammer things, I mean just sit down and really hammer out a riff, and I will still do that to get it exactly the way I want it. But I'm finding the longer that I do this, that true creativity is more of a process of not so much hammering on it, but getting your conscious mind out of the way, and letting the subconscious come through. Because eventually, and it doesn't matter whether the song is good or not, eventually it will take shape. You know, the analogy that I use a lot of times is, it's kind of like having a raw block of stone in front of you with a hammer and a chisel, and you start whacking away and pretty soon it takes shape. Some shapes are going to turn out better than others but it doesn't matter so much whether it's a good shape or a bad shape, one thing that you're assured of, is it's going to happen. With every one that you do, sooner or later somewhere along the way, you slip and your knuckles are going to get bloody. That's the one thing that it has in common with all of them. I have found that more now, that it's the conscious mind that wants to defeat us by confusing us with ten thousand peripheral thoughts. I'm talking about getting yourself in a state where the conscious mind is not so dominant. Trying to clear your mind. Because as a writer you're always writing whether you're aware of it or not. So I'm trying to get all the hurdles and the stumbling blocks, and get all the trash out of my mind, and let what's really in there that's trying to come out, and will eventually come out whether I make it hard on myself or whether I don't. It's going to come out, so why try to torture myself in the process you know? Get your brain out of the way and find out what's really there.

 

So your new guitar player Darrel Roberts joined the band in time to tour for Unholy Terror. I was wondering did that make it easier, when he was with the band touring, for the recording process?

Yeah probably because it gave him time to really get his feet wet and become more solidified in the situation. Playing live is one thing, going into the studio to create something that's never been done before is different because playing live he was emulating what had already been done, but going in, the first couple of tracks we did on this was a little, you know, it was challenging. But about half way throughout the record he started to get a grip on what it needed to do, what it needed to sound like, and towards the end he was blowing right through it. And, I gotta say, having worked with guys like Bob Kulick and Roy Z, I mean these are world class guitar players. I mean these guys are a pleasure to work with, and Darrel was pretty damned good! I mean what he did on this record, there's parts of it, I mean there's some impressive stuff on it. I really got to give him credit.

Yeah I really liked his soloing on what is perhaps right now, after hearing it a couple times, my favorite track, "Hallowed Ground". I really like that stuff.

Uh huh. That was the first solo he did for the record.

Really? Yeah I really like that. There's a really good solo in it, and in the intro where the solos are going, it was cool. Hehe. Do you have a favourite solo or song on here, it is it kind of they're all equal right now?

It's too soon for me to tell, I'm so close to all of them.

 

What is your opinion of the new "Sting Live" DVD? I was wondering if you've seen it, and is it considered to be authorized?

I've not seen it. I don't know anything about it.

Is it an authorized release?

It was done by a company that we have no more dealings with. And I am limited as to what I can say.

Yeah ok, sure.

 

You worked, as you just mentioned a moment ago, with Bob Kulick on two great CD's;  The Crimson Idol and Still Not Black Enough. Have you ever thought about maybe working with him again sometime?

Oh I love Bob. We weren't sure what was going to happen when Chris was leaving the band last time, so before Darrel came in I had talked to Bob and said "all right, you know if we don't find a permanent replacement, do you want to play on this next record?" He said "yeah, just tell me when". So that would not have been the worse thing that could have happened. Anytime I get a chance to work with him, I welcome it.

 

As some fans consider The Crimson Idol (1993) to be one of the best W.A.S.P. releases; I was wondering have you ever considered doing another concept CD in the vain of The Crimson Idol?

I was writing it simultaneously as I was doing this record. And it's almost all written, and if the truth be known, I worked on it more than I worked on Dying For The World. It will probably be the next thing that comes out.

Right, I was going to ask you about that later. So, I know you're working on another concept album. What can you tell me about that?

Ahhhhh....I don't want to get into that right now. But the majority of it's written already.

OK sure. Do you have a release date in mind?

Next year sometime.

Have you actually started recording?

Not properly no.

Ok, and there's no title yet is there?

Not yet.

 

I've read that there was talk of before, I don't know if it's just speculation but, is there plans for a Crimson Idol movie or book?

Well, one of the things that we wanted to do was like a live version of it that we would film. And there's also been talk about me doing an unplugged version of it where it's just me with an acoustic guitar, and filming that as well. Because there was footage that was shot a long time ago, about 30 min long, that was never released. And all of the stuff that I do want to do, is just a question of time. With everything that I've got going on there's just been no time to do all this stuff.

 

And how about plans for doing a second Best Of CD? Is there anything in the works for that?

Well, I would like to put some distance between some of that stuff that came out a few years ago and now. I think, and again I have to be real selective as to what I say right now 'cause I could get sued; they've made it very clear. They're reading everything that I'm saying, watching what I'm doing, they're looking for me to bash them. And I would just say that there needs to be some distance put between some of the stuff that's come out the last few years and where we are now. I don't like ripping the fans off you know, it's like I am a fan and there has to be reason to do things. Not just to flood the market place with the same ol same ol stuff by trying to repackage it and make money off of it.

 

Do you plan to ever release...I think it was called "First Visions Last Cuts"? It was a Japan only video compilation.

All that stuff is probably going to be released in September.

It will be on DVD as well?

Yup, and it will have all unreleased footage and all that stuff.

 

Cool! Video was obviously important for W.A.S.P.'s rise in the 80's. I remember seeing all your videos come out, and that's one of the key things that helped me get into W.A.S.P. a little more. Do you think that the absence of support for videos from Hard Rock & Heavy Metal bands in the last say, ten years has hurt W.A.S.P. in any way?

Well I wouldn't say it's hurt us but it's definitely hurt new bands. The same reason you're saying right now helped you get into us; there's a lot of bands out there that never got the exposure that people are never really going to know. Fortunately for us we were probably part of that last generation to be able to go out and tour a lot and develop a really dedicated core audience. I don't think bands get a chance to do that now these days.

 

Is McFarlan ever going to get off his ass and do the Blackie Lawless doll??

Probably not! I mean they have been contacted and they went back and forth and back and forth, so we're working with another company right now. They were given the opportunity and didn't do anything about it. I'm not saying that they won't in the future but we're in the process of doing something right now with somebody else.

I had heard that they had a prototype created and that's as far as it went.

Yeah, well like I said...I don't want to say anything to offend them, it's just that it didn't happen, or it hasn't happened yet. So we're already in the process as we speak, of doing it with somebody else and we hope to have them ready for the tour that will start in July.

 

A reflective type of question here; After about 20 years of being involved in the metal scene, by many you are considered somewhat of an "elder statesman" of the scene. I was wondering do you see yourself in that role and what impact do you think W.A.S.P. has had on today's generation of Heavy Metal bands?

I hear people say what you're saying, but as far as myself personally thinking about it...I mean in the scheme of the history of the world it's not that important is it? I'm not trying to be overly awful, I'm trying to be realistic. I have bands come up to me all the time and the guitar player for Rage was telling me that if it wasn't for our first album, he would have never started playing. You know and I hear that stuff all the time now. But I think probably me being on the inside I'm never gonna know truly what other people are thinking of. I've heard Manson say how about I got him into it and stuff, and I'm sure they're probably being sincere. But, I don't think of myself in terms of trying to rate ourselves in an encyclopedia or history book, I mean that's for writers to do, and they are things I don't think about 'cause I'm just doing my thing.

 

If you don't mind me asking a little bit about history, I was wondering if you remain in contact with any of the former W.A.S.P. members?

Occasionally. But from my understanding they are pretty much spread out over the country. The last time was Randy Piper about 2 years ago in Ohio someplace.

 

And in regard to Chris leaving W.A.S.P. again, do you still keep in touch with him or you kinda a little upset over that maybe?

No, I've known Chris for over 25 years now, and he's gotta do his thing and there's nothing wrong with that. Everybody has to do what they feel they are compelled to do.

 

In 1986 I believe it was, was when Randy left the band and he was replaced by Johnny. You then switched to rhythm guitar. I was wondering why did you make the switch and why weren't you playing rhythm in the beginning if that's what you wanted?

I was.

You were at the very beginning....

Right at the beginning of the band we had another bass player, his name was Don Costa. Him and Chris really didn't get along so he left. And not long after that he started playing with OZZY. See I'm a guitar player by trade, you know I'm not a bass player. Believe it or not I play bass pretty good, but it's just not my primary instrument. Not to sound like I'm tooting my horn but I could probably play with anybody, but I'm just not passionate about the instrument you know. It's just one of those things where you see people sometime given the ability to do something they don't care about. I think like a guitar player.

 

And do you still ever play bass at all now or do you kinda just have no interest what-so-ever??

It depends. Occasionally there's something I may do. Like there are 2 tracks on this record, one was "Black Bone Torso" and the other was "Trail of Tears" that I played everything on it; drums, bass, guitar, everything.

Drums, really?

Yeah, I started out as a drummer and then became a guitar player. I did that for about 3 months and then my parents decided I was not going to be a drummer! (laughter)

So I've always been a frustrated drummer. And occasionally I've done stuff on our records throughout the years but and of the real hairy stuff I leave to the other guys (laughs).

 

Sometime in 1993 I believe it was, you temporarily disbanded W.A.S.P. and decided to do a solo career....

That was more EMI speaking, that wasn't me speaking. We entertained the idea of it, but the fan mail was pretty overwhelming and said "that's not what we want". So we squashed that pretty quick.

 

In the 80's W.A.S.P. were always.... I guess you get this question in every interview, but you were on the black list of organizations like the PMRC. However, I haven't heard much lately about these types of controversy in recent years. I was wondering do you think people are basically over that or have they realized that there are actually real evils in this world?

Well there that movie that came out a couple of weeks ago on VH1...

Is that the one entitled Parental Guidance? Did you have a role in that?

No, but I mean W.A.S.P. is pretty well chronicled throughout the whole thing. It was one of the primary focuses of the movie lets put it that way. I'm forever going to be linked to that. That's the way it is, but it's historical significance is pretty important because (and it's not just because it happened to us) it's the idea that politicians every few years will use this as a stepping stone. In other words they use it as a soap box to stand on and preach to try to create profile for themselves. So they can get elected into office because it makes them look like the saviour of the common man. And it's crap. People need to be made aware that this is something that when they see it, to recognize it for what it is. looks like crap, smells like crap....it must be crap. This is Pete's "Wont Be Fooled Again", recognize it for what it is.

 

There hasn't been any people doing this recently has there? I mean I remember there was a big thing in the 80's.

Well not to us, but if you back up and look even 5 years ago when Bob Dole was running for president; he was attacking rap. It doesn't matter if it's rap, rock, movies, whatever it is, it's all about free speech and it's all a lie. And it's like I was saying before, It's important for people to recognize things for exactly what they are. Propaganda for politicians to create a profile for themselves.

I've read that back in the day when, I don't know if this was in the 80's or 90's, I've read that you've received death threats or bomb threats from these types of fanatics who didn't see through the propaganda. Is this a thing of the past now or do you still encounter this type of attitude from people?

It gets a little funky still from time to time. We had a situation not this tour but the tour before last. We were doing an in store appearance and somebody tried to come in with a gun. [Wow. . . . .] So it will still happen from time to time in various places.

I know this has caused you in the past to kind of shut yourself away a little bit from the outside world.. [Blackie: It sure did.] Do you still feel that way?

Yeah. I mean when you go through something like that, it's a life altering experience. [I can only imagine.] You'll never go back to being the person you were before because it shows you a side of humanity that you were naive to, and once you've seen it, it becomes real. You know the word realize means to make it real to your life, and like I said it changes you forever. Doesn't make you paranoid, it just makes you aware.

So do you stay away from the public type thing or.....

I'm not sure what the reason is but I've definitely become more of a recluse throughout my career because like I said I don't how much of it had to do with that. The whole idea of fame and things like that, I think everybody gets into the showbiz because they think they want fame. It's not what I wanted...I thought it was. I'm interested in creating my work, and yes you want to be recognized for it but you also want to live some sort of a normal existence; and that's almost impossible.

 

Can you tell me a little bit about the Fort Apache studios. Is it still something you have?

It's a few yards away from me as I speak.

It's in your home now right?

Not in my home but in another building about 200 yards away from me.

Is this just used for your own band?

Occasionally I'll let somebody come in and use it if it's somebody I know. But it's not as commercial as you would think.

So there hasn't been any big name bands record an album kinda deal?

Well when it first got started KISS came in and worked in there, Warrant came in and worked in there...

Were you the producer?

No it's just people I know that wanted to use it whenever there was some down time. So I'd let 'em come in.

 

So how much of a role do you have in the new album Dying For The World in terms of was that done in your studio as well? [Blackie: Oh yeah] And did you do the production yourself ? [Blackie: Yes.] Is that something you like to do? Or do you find it's something you have to do to realize what you want and to get it at the end of the day?

Well by the time you tell somebody else what it is you're really trying to do, you could probably do it yourself couldn't ya? it takes more time to tell then it does to just do it.

 

Related to the upcoming tour that you will be doing for the new album; have any plans been laid down in terms of where to go?

Well I've got a meeting this week about that and it looks like we're probably going to start the beginning of July but, nothing that I can tell you about right now. All I know is basically when.

 

And have you put any thought in what you would do on-stage?

It's a little early yet, but that is stuff we'll have to sit down and go through. nothing has been determined about that yet.

 

Do you still want some of the elements in your stage show that are "shocking" - or whatever you want to call them.

I've never thought about it as shock. I like to provoke thought. We did something on the last tour...not sure if you saw it or not, we used a couple of black lights and some body paint and stuff like that. It's a really simple thing but it ended up being probably the most visually stunning thing we've ever done. It was really disturbing to look at. It's abstract art and I love that. I enjoy playing with elements like that.

 

Well, that's everything I had lined to to ask you about. Is there anything else about the album or news going on with the band that you want me to let people know about?

I think you got it pretty good right now. I appreciate your time bud.

Yeah me too man, thanks!

Take care.

 

Transcribed by Ronnie