INTERVIEW BY MARKO SYRJALA AND MATTI MARTIKAINEN
Legendary U.S band W.A.S.P. would stir up quite a bit of controversy in their mid 80’s heyday thanks to their explicit lyrics and over-the-top stage show, which many deemed violent and sexist. That controversy would fade in time as the band tamed a bit, and many more controversial acts came long, but not before putting the band to the rock world map and creating a ton of free publicity. The band released its self-titled classic debut in 1984 and wouldn’t stop or even slow down despite some highly disruptive lineup changes and slowly fading album sales. The band has been relentless in their album releases, never letting up or even taking a bit of a hiatus. Their latest effort, the 14’th studio album, BABYLON, arrived in stores just a couple of months ago. Although this band has faced many ups and downs in its long career, they now seem to do extremely well, especially in Scandinavia. In Finland alone, the band now sold out four shows and performed altogether in front of over 6000 WASP maniacs. In Helsinki, we had a chance to sit down with the band’s founder and mastermind Blackie Lawless and discuss many current topics, including the new album BABYLON, The Crimson Idol Anniversary –tour, the past, the future, the current global situation, politics, and Blackie’s thoughts about retirement. Read on and learn!!
BABYLON IS BURNING
You have mentioned a common theme in this new album BABYLON and HEADLESS CHILDREN, theme-wise, in many earlier interviews. There are songs about severe matters like political and religious problems. HEADLESS CHILDREN was released over twenty years ago. Has anything changed in the world over the years if you think of this current global economic situation (etc.)?
B: No, about a year ago I was listening to these guys from the EU here, they were talking about that they thought it was time, they told there is an international financial crisis, and one thing I’ve learned is that when politicians tell there is a crisis, it usually means they want to take more of your freedom away, they want to make it seem like the sky is falling, you have to be very careful when they start to use that word. So, I was listening to these guys. I heard one of them saying it’s time to create a one-world government, and one guy said it’s time to have a one-world currency. One that really got me was one guy saying that by the year 2017, they will have all the people in the EY microchipped. I stood there listening to what these men were saying, and my mouth was open. I thought to myself, don’t these men know what they are saying? Don’t they understand that this is the direct biblical prophecy you’re talking about? I started doing some research about microchipping, and I found out that there’s a famous doctor from Finland who said that this is the first generation of babies that will be microchipped around the world. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. I went and started doing a detailed study on the Book of Revelations, and a couple of other chapters lie the Book of Daniel. I look at the prophecy, and it was astonishing to me how accurate it was in describing what these men were saying. Another very interesting thing was, I remember as a kid in the church they were saying that the world was coming to an end, but you don’t take it seriously, but one thing I remember was that they told that “these will not be evil men,” and I was thinking how can that be? Because when you think of men who have created these systems, Hitler, Stalin, guys like that. I was watching these EU-men talking, and I could tell these are not evil guys. They just think they could create a better system, but at the same time, I was thinking that they don’t understand what they’re saying because they’re thinking more like scientists. I started thinking about HEADLESS CHILDREN 20 years ago, and there’s a part in the lyrics saying “four horsemen sit high up in the saddle and waiting,” and I was thinking myself 20 years later, are we closer to that end-time? I don’t know. Nobody knows; even Christ says in the New Testament, “Nobody knows the hour.” But I tell you, when you start listening to stuff like that, it makes you raise your eyebrow. At least it did to me, enough to write a record about it
There are two cover songs, “Burn” and “Promised Land,” on the album. I’ve read somewhere that those songs were chosen because they were lyrically suitable for the Apocalypse theme. Was it like that?
B: Yeah, you’re not going to do something you’re not a fan of. We played around “Burn” a few years ago, but nothing serious. When we went to master the record, we were so crazy about doing the festivals in Europe; I didn’t have a chance to look at the album as a whole. It was the last day I looked at the titles because I had worked only one song at a time. It’s not like CRIMSON IDOL when you look at it as a whole, so when I looked at the titles, I was like… “whoooo,” there’s a lot of fire on this album! I know it sounds silly, but I didn’t have a clue because I was focusing on each song separately. When I noticed that, I went to the guys and said, now maybe it’s time for that Burn-song! The song “Promised Land” was the first song we recorded for this record. We didn’t think it would end up on the record because we recorded like 15 songs! It was just something to get us worked up, like a rehearsal take; when you haven’t been in a studio for a while, it takes a minute to get into the idea of it. I didn’t think it was going to be on the record. But I thought we’d taken you to a very dark place, the whole idea of the Apocalypse, the end of the world. I thought where we are going to go from here, to the “promised land.” It seemed perfect to me. I wish I could tell you I planned all this out, and I had some master plan. I didn’t.
Tell us some more about the song “Crazy.” It sounds like a sequel to the story of CRIMSON IDOL, am I right?
B: You know, I haven’t thought about that, but you’re right, it could be. When I was writing about it, I wasn’t thinking about The Idol, but that’s a good point, a great point! Because it’s about the idea of what happens when people start placing idols on pedestals, and we were here in the summer when Michael Jackson died, you know I don’t live very far, I don’t live Los Angeles anymore, I live north from there, I don’t live very far from the Neverland ranches, and it’s funny because when we got home, and I was going somewhere. I had to go through, because it’s middle of nowhere like there’s one road, and I had to drive by his place to get where I was going. I had driven by it many times and never really thought about it until I was there about two weeks after he’d died. We were in Germany when he died, and I was watching television how thousands of people were outside the gates of Neverland, but when I drove by it, I stopped there, and I thought: a month ago a thousand people were standing here and now there’s nobody. And you have to realize where this is, its middle of California ranch land, there’s nothing there, nothing ever happens there. I was thinking myself, what just happened here? I felt that this is exactly what I wrote that song (Crazy) about, you know, what happens when people put performers on a very high level, a pedestal, and the performer starts to believe it and gives it back to the audience. The audience gives it back to the performer, and it becomes this vicious circle, and the next thing you know, it kills them. And I had a very interesting thought, I stood there and was looking at the gates, one of the gates says “Neverland.” The other says, “Once upon a time…”, like a fairytale, and I sat there in my car, and I thought to myself, the first commandment popped in my head: “You will have no other God before Me but Me.” When we think of that, we believe that well, we shouldn’t worship any other God; it means that, but I also believe that it means something more than that. I think it means that you are not, as a human, you are not capable of being God, and if you’re ever put in the position when people start to treat you like a God, you cannot handle it, look at Elvis, Kurt Cobain, all these guys. And I was running that film in my head what I had just seen on the television, how can this happen, how can fame create insanity to people, I don’t know? When I was a kid, like everybody, I thought I wanted to be famous, but I quickly learned that I did not want to be famous; I discovered that wasn’t what I wanted… The problem is that the time you discovered it, it’s too late. But then you become like me, very secluded. I hardly ever go to Los Angeles unless there’s something I need or I have business there. I’ve built a little factory out where I’m at; we have a rehearsal and recording studio there, everything we need, and that’s the way I like it. When I was writing the song “Crazy,” I thought this would fall on deaf ears. People will not understand what I’m trying to say to them. It’s like we’re wasting our time sometimes even by addressing these subjects, but it’s something I feel strongly about. The only way I know to make records is to write about what I’m thinking, and I can’t write about what somebody else is thinking. I have to do what feels personal to me. People ask me about how can I make great records after all these years because it’s driven by passion, and if there’s no passion for some subjects, I
I can’t do it.
BABYLON was just released in CD format in Europe by Demolition records. Do you have plans to release a vinyl version of that album as well?
B: Yes. BABYLON is coming out in vinyl in a couple of weeks
Do you already know when this album is going to be released outside of Europe?
B: Actually, Demolition just made a deal about an American release, so it’s coming out soon.
Live at Helsinki in 2009
POWER OF THE POLITICIANS
A lot of your lyrics are about power. There are lyrics about the power of a government, power of religion, power of the idol. What fascinated you in power?
B: From the political point of view, it’s all about freedom, you know, like I told whenever these guys use the word “crises,” look out…
What kind of freedom are they taking away from you?
B: The biggest thing I see, in the Western culture, I can’t speak for the rest of the world because I’m no expert in Asian culture, etc., but in the Western culture, I see the direct difference between what I see as a free culture of economics. And it’s very subtle, the power that the government uses and holds over its people because it’s not done with a gun; it’s done with the money. Thomas Jefferson, one of our founding fathers, said that a thing he feared the most was the central bank, he said that he feared that more than a standing army because he sensed the power of a central financial system that controls its people will be all-powerful. There’s nothing you can do about it, so what happens is when we talk about freedom, it’s done with the money. The average tax on citizens is about 60%, and that doesn’t include sales tax whenever you buy food or whatever. I dated a Swedish girl once, about 20 years ago, who was making a lot of money but was paying 55% taxes to the government. Her mother, who was an alcoholic and did not work, was making about half of her daughter’s salary. So, I was saying to myself, where the incentive to work? If the government is going to tax people to death to create a socialized society slowly, where is the incentive to work? We were just in Moscow, and I saw what that utopian dream does to people, and it’s pretty nasty. And I don’t want any part of that. I’m a true capitalist, and I was not born rich. When I first moved to California, I was close to homeless, and I slept on people’s floors for a year and a half. I lived for about five dollars a week for three years, so I understand what it means to have nothing, less than nothing. But I still wouldn’t trade that because I had a dream, and I didn’t want to give that dream away. Fortunately for me, that dream came true. But I didn’t want to be in a system that wouldn’t allow me to dream big. For me, that’s America. They say not many people can make that dream, that’s true, but at least you can try! When I was sixteen, my dad told me America is probably the last country where a man can be a self-made millionaire if he wants to pay the price, and I said yes, dad, I want to pay the price. I had no idea what I was talking about. Now I know what I’m talking about because I went to hotels and ate leftovers from the trays at the hallways, I did all kinds of things that are not pretty to survive, I did it because when you’re 19, the dream is bigger than the fear of failure, and that dream makes you do things that you wouldn’t do otherwise. So, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
It seems that you always have a lot to say in interviews and on your lyrics. Have you considered writing an actual book?
B: I think about it sometimes, but I don’t know if it’s that interesting. I don’t think I’m that important. I really don’t. Who cares?
But it seems that you have a lot to say and have many interesting stories and opinions?
B: Yeah, but I’ve done over 12,000 interviews in my career, that’s a lot of talking, and a lot of those old interviews are now coming online. What else can I talk about? Who cares if I ate leftovers? Is that important? For me telling some sad story is pathetic. I mean, who cares?
Maybe someone should go over all those interviews and put it all together?
B: Probably could.
BITS AND PIECES
There have been numerous band members in the history of WASP, BABYLON is the second album with this current (Blackie, Mike Duda, Doug Blair, Mike Dupke) line-up; how it is to work with these guys if you compare them to any other line-up you’ve had in the past?
B: These guys are great. These two are the only albums in my career that were complete band-projects. You can hear it. When I write a song, I always have an idea, and I show the guys only a rough structure. I don’t want to go into details because I want to hear what the other guys have to say. After all, it might be better than what I had in mind. When we made DOMINATOR, our drummer Mike Dupke didn’t use any of my ideas; his ideas were better than mine! His best idea was the song “Heaven’s Hung In Black,” the second chorus with the crashes (cymbals) going on, my version was the drums going straight forward, and Mike said, “no, let’s put some big crashes there.” We tried his way, and it was awesome. That song wouldn’t be the same without that. His contribution to these records is very important.
You’ve had a strong “shock value” on your career, but you always had deeper thoughts behind the shock. Do you think some bands use shock but don’t have anything to say?
B: Umm, yeah, but… First of all, I never saw WASP as a “shock band”; I never liked that title. There are bands that do shock. But I always thought that was too simple. I quickly learned that people listen with their eyes, not with their ears, which’s a big problem. We’re as visually dominant as humans, people are looking, but they do not hear it. When the first album came out, and people started talking about the show, I thought we were doing abstract art to create social conscience; nobody understood it. We did that show for a very short time because nobody heard what I have to say. I always said like “listen to this record. It’s a pretty good record!”, But people were saying, “yeah, but what about the show.” And now that record is a classic. But nobody was saying that then because they were only watching. By the time HEADLESS CHILDREN came along, I had realized that if you want people to listen, you have to pull the back. Some of the stuff you’re about to see tonight is far more shocking than anything we ever did because of the social comment involved. I learned that you can’t give too much on their plates if you want to do that. You have to tighten up the message. When I did the “Crimson Idol” tour, I realized that if you want people to listen to the lyrics, bring the band back when I really have something important to say, I move the band to the background, and I do it acoustically. It worked great. Less is more sometimes. I learned that both visually and musically.
Do you feel that people don’t understand everything you have to say?
B: Yeah, but nobody’s ever going to understand everything I say. You never go to get your message through to all the people. The best you can hope for: art is supposed to be seen on many levels, art is supposed to make you think, if it’s not doing that then it’s not art, you’re just some guy who makes records. What I try to do with lyrics is to tell who and where you are at this minute in your life. It’s not the same as you were five years ago or five years from now because your way of thinking will change radically. So, when I’m writing lyrics, you’re going to listen to it today and think it’s cool, but then you listen to it five years from now and get it totally differently. That’s what art is supposed to do. If you don’t get it on one level, you get it on another level.
Many fans have noticed that some of the lyrics on “Chainsaw Charlie” have been changed with these recent gigs. Why?
B: That’s just a question of my religious faith. For the same reason, you noticed we don’t do the song “Animal” anymore. I’m not going to go and do that anymore.
But still, last year, the lyrics were the original?
B: Yeah, but now it’s something I just feel strongly about.
And maybe it’s better because there are more of those younger kids in the audience?
B: That’s exactly why I’m doing it this way.
BACK TO THE CRIMSON IDOL
H: Last year, you finished a successful “Crimson Idol” 15th-anniversary tour. Do you think that you could do something like that again in the future? Would you even think about doing something like the 25 Anniversary “Last Command” tour next year?
B: I don’t know about that.
Let’s go briefly back to CRIMSON IDOL –anniversary tour. Now that the tour is done, how was the whole experience? How was it to go back and do the whole (CRIMSON IDOL) album?
B: It was a wonderful experience. Maybe the most gratifying thing I’ve ever done. There was a lot of pain making that record, that project drove me crazy, the doctor tried to put me in a hospital twice because of exhaustion. I mentally cracked; I hated everybody and started to hallucinate; it was really ugly stuff. So, 15 years later, I was able to go back and visit it, and it didn’t hurt as much. It was more like looking at something somebody else had done. I was able to enjoy it better. It took about a month to edit the film, and one thing I discovered night after night was that I really loved it! Whenever I wasn’t singing, I turned around and watched it. The last show we did on that tour was In Switzerland, and I felt really sad that night because I knew I wasn’t going to see it like that for a long time. It (the show) was different. It was absolutely amazing. I never got tired of it; I really enjoyed it.
In the middle of that tour you said that there would be a DVD from that tour, is that still in the making?
B: Well, here’s the problem, time. It’s ready to go, but now we’re promoting this record (BABYLON), and we have something planned for the next summer, so, where do we have the time to do it because this tour is going till Christmas of next year. We play here tonight, and it’s going to be two years until you see us again, and people ask, “what you’ve been doing?” We went to Buenos Aires; we went to Sydney, went to Israel, went to Dallas, Texas, and so on. We went to all the places, and it takes a long time, but after tonight these people won’t know that. They just think you’re in the Bahamas drinking Mai Tai’s and having fun! They don’t realize the amount of work it takes to do this.
But there’s a chance to get that DVD released at some point?
B: One day. I just don’t know when… It’s all about finding the time.
Have you ever thought about releasing some vintage WASP live material? For example, the classic LIVE AT LYCEUM would be amazing to see someday in good quality DVD format?
B: All that stuff is available online. I don’t know if it’s even important.
THE STRANGEST FANS AND RETIREMENT
For sure, you have heard the phrase “I’m the biggest fan of yours” a thousand times, but what’s the most surprising or strangest thing you’ve ever heard from a fan?
B: Oh yeah, I tell you one: This is about five or six years ago, this is in Germany, my road manager comes and gives me this book a fan-made, it’s a diary, and I started opening it up. It was a girl who wrote a diary about me with pictures and stuff, maybe a hundred pages. I looked at the ink, and it was like dark reddish-brown. The whole thing was written on her blood. I kept it. We always keep those things as evidence. In case something goes wrong. There has been some craziness over the years; some things are a bit too crazy. The new song “Crazy” it’s exactly what it is.
Are you still looking forward to taking the stage every night after doing this for over 30 years? Don’t you ever get fed up with all this stuff? What will Blackie Lawless do after the last WASP show on earth?
B: Well, I’ll be dead then. I have no idea about retiring. About five years ago, I thought I might, so I moved to a remote area in Arizona called Sedona. I kid you not, I wasn’t there five minutes, and I realized it was like climbing a wall. I can’t do this because one thing I learned about myself is that you can go on holidays all you want to, but nothing is the same until you look around the room that you’re in and you see your stuff, you see your clothes and your furniture, and it’s like man, we’re really doing this now aren’t we? And then it hits you, man, we’re here, and it’s like I don’t want to be here, I want to go back to where I came from. I realized then that the whole idea of retiring is never going to happen. So as long as I’m able to sing, I’m going to sing, so I’m never going to stop. I look at guys like Little Richard. In his 70’s, he still sounds great, and I got a similar kind of voice. God willing, I keep doing it.
There are hardly any people in the metal scene that has completely retired. Ozzy has quit maybe ten times, and there’s Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and others still going on strong. What you think, what’s the reason for that?
B. I think it’s the passion we are talking about. It’s a passion for what you’re doing. My biggest problem is, you know, I have people come up to me, and they say they don’t know what to do with their lives. I have so much I want to do, I just don’t have the time to do it! You’re asking me about the DVD; I want to do the DVD, I can’t do the DVD. I don’t have time to do it. I just don’t have the time to do all the things I want. At the same time, it sounds like I’m complaining. I don’t mean to because I’ve already lived four or five of somebody’s lifetimes. I got my money’s worth out of this, and I understand it, but to me, I’m just like, “My name is Jimmy, I take all you gimmy!” “Laughs”
Our time is running out now, but here are two “important” questions by my friend left. First, where’s your mascot Elvis at the moment?
He’s in storage in Germany.
Is it really you on Facebook?
B: I don’t have a Facebook; I don’t even have time to answer the phone.
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