INTERVIEW AND PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJALA
W.A.S.P. is an American heavy metal band formed in 1982 by Blackie Lawless and Randy Piper. W.A.S.P. gained notoriety for their shock rock-themed image, lyrics, and energetic live performances. The band’s popularity peaked in that decade. During the era, the band released such classic albums as W.A.S.P, THE LAST COMMAND, and HEADLESS CHILDREN. The band went through many significant changes in the early nineties. Blackie became the only remaining original member of the group. He then decided to start a short-lived career as a solo artist and work on the next album, which became THE CRIMSON IDOL. After all, the album was released under the name W.A.S.P. The record was a big success on many, and ironically, many critics feel that the concept album has been the best W.A.S.P. output so far. The band toured in 2017 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of THE CRIMSON IDOL. A re-recorded version of the album titled RE-IDOLIZED will be released on February 2, 2018. The anniversary tour arrived in Helsinki last September. Then I had the opportunity to sit down with Blackie and discuss the upcoming album and other recent happenings in the WASP world.
CRIMSON IDOL RE-IDOLIZED
First of all, I would like to congratulate you on this new tour, because it’s been entirely sold out so far. There is a lot of demand for W.A.S.P., and in my eyes, it seems that the band’s popularity is growing again. Is this something that you didn’t expect this time?
Blackie Lawless: It’s hard to predict. Do you know what I mean? Who knows how an audience will respond? As an artist, you make the best work you can and whatever happens, happens. You can’t predict anything. As I said, the only thing anyone ever is in control of is the stuff they do. So, anything after that, you hope for the best. But it’s nice to, you know, I’m at a point in my career where I’m trying to make the best records that I can because I don’t think there is anything to prove. The time itself speaks for that: any artist who can go 20, 30 years. So, the only thing you really can do is keep doing quality work, and that’s my motivation. Yeah.,
This time you don’t have an actual new studio album to promote, but you’re soon going to release the re-recorded version of THE CRIMSON IDOL, which is one of your most significant records to date. Also, the long-awaited movie based on the album will finally see the light of the day. Would you tell more about those upcoming releases and the reasons behind the decision to re-record the old album?
Blackie Lawless: Yeah. This is what we’re doing now. I mean, that new version of the record comes out in February and the movie. So, it was a tremendous amount of work to re-record that album and to put that film together. I had never done anything like this and the amount of work that I took to do it. It was just like it never stopped. I had five guys. After the record was finished, I had five guys working in different places all over the world, editing that movie, doing special effects on it. I’m trying to coordinate with all these guys. I have never done this before. I don’t know exactly what’s involved, and I’m trying to organize them with each other. They’ll send me pictures. They’ll send me 30 seconds of one song and say, “What do you think about this?” Then I’ve got to coordinate this with somebody else doing whatever they’re doing on the film. I mean, it’s unbelievable, and I have never done it before. So, it’s a tremendous amount of work. So, when you say it’s not new, it’s all-new. It’s just in a way that I never expected it to be.
When you start the recording process?
Blackie Lawless: For the album, we started a year ago, at the beginning of September. So, it’s been a little over a year, and even that turned out. To be honest, I didn’t think it would take more than maybe two or three months to do it. The first thing we did was go to the studio, and we took all the original tapes that I had not heard for 25 years, 26 years, and it freaked me up. Because the more I listened to it, the more I realized how much work was in that. I thought, oh boy. How are we going to do this? This is a mountain of work to try to do. So, we attempted to try to recreate it, note for note faithfully. To make it as close as a carbon copy as we could make it. But even doing that, you still will never be able to do it the same way again. The equipment was a little bit different. It’s enough to where if there is only a 5% difference, it will sound different. So, we got ready to mix. Logan Mader mixes our records, and he had done three mixes on different songs, and it was good. But it was like that we hadn’t found it yet. Finally, he did the fourth mix on “The Idol,” and there it was, and it didn’t sound like the old record. It sounded like a movie soundtrack, and I was like, “Wow!” I said this is the template for the whole record. I would love to sit here and tell you that I planned it like that, but I didn’t. It was an accident because it made perfect sense. We’ve got a movie for it; it should sound like a movie. So, it’s the original record has a thing all of it’s in, and it’s great, but this album also has an idea all of its own, and… have you heard it yet?
Blackie Lawless: No? When you hear it, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. It’s the same record. My wife said it the best. Logan lives in Las Vegas. We finished mixing, I took the album, and we drove up down the Las Vegas Stripless Center, and she listened. She said it the best, and she’s very familiar with the old record, and she goes, “It’s gone from 2D to 3D.” That’s the best way to describe it, and when you hear it, you’ll understand what I mean.
Originally this album was supposed to get released at the same time as the current tour started, but now it won’t be out before February. What’s the reason for this delay?
Blackie Lawless: Manufacturing problems for the Blu-ray because everything was supposed to be done on September 25. They had a problem with the Blu-ray. So, it had to be pushed back, which nobody is happy about it. But it’s not going to matter much, though, because we’re going to tour this record for a year. So, it’s okay.
MORE ABOUT THE ALBUM AND THE RECORDING PROCESS
If I’ve understood correctly, the new album will contain three missing tracks from the original CRIMSON IDOL version.
Blackie Lawless: Right, right.
I have also heard that initially, you had a plan to include those songs for the new set-list, but it didn’t happen. Why?
Blackie Lawless: We did think about it. But when I say we had planned it, we talked about it. But when we did this album originally, when the footage was shot, it was shot in ’92, right after the record was recorded. We only have original footage of those songs. The other three songs were in my head, but they weren’t recorded. So, what’s the point in trying to shoot footage because I’m thinking to myself at that time? Those three songs may never be recorded. So how can you shoot something when you don’t have music for it already?
You have stated many times that CRIMSON IDOL is a very important and personal album for you on many levels. I remember seeing stories and interviews with you saying how difficult process it was to create the original album. And now you went back to that stuff. Was it more comfortable this time?
Blackie Lawless: It was hard in a different way this time, because like I said, the first thing we wanted to do was… all right. You take an iconic record, and if any artist does this. If they have made an iconic record, the first thing people are going to say is, “Why?” Okay. The answer to that question was contractual. We could not get the right to do it for the film. So, we said, okay. Then we’ll redo it. So, then you say it yourself, “Can we do it as good as we did it before?” That became a challenge. Because the one thing that I quickly discovered that first night, when we listened to the original tapes, that I hadn’t listened to for 25 years. It made my back stiffen because I realized how much emotion was on those tracks, and I thought, “Oh boy! How are we going to do this?” Because the reason that emotion was on that record the first time is that it’s like method acting. You get into the character, and you stay there, which made me crazy when I was finished with it. I didn’t want to do that again, but I had to get into this one advantage. There is a couple of benefits to doing it this time. The equipment that we were using is almost the same equipment as we used them. But mixing in computers makes things a little bit easier. I mean, we still record on two-inch tape the way we used to. But we take everything from the two-inch tape, and then we put it in Pro Tools and mix it there. So that’s easier. But I’ve had 25 years to live with this character now. There is a little more action going on when you hear the vocals that I did this time. Because I understand the character better than I did the first time I did it. So, you’re going to hear a little bit of difference in the vocals. Not dramatically different, more intense in the parts that need to be intense. So that was an advantage because, as I said, I’ve had 25 years to get familiar with that character. So that became a significant advantage that I didn’t have the first time.
After playing most of those songs live for over 25 years, you probably have a different view and touch to the songs now, so maybe that helped the process a little bit?
Blackie Lawless: Yeah. But the studio is different than live. It’s almost like a night and day difference. They really don’t have a lot in common with each other.
THE ALBUM CREDITS AND MORE
One crucial question is, who played on this new album?
Blackie Lawless: Doug Blair played guitar. He went in, and it was challenging because you’re asking him to re-create Bob Kulick’s licks that Bob did originally. Bob played some amazing stuff on the record. It’s kind of like asking you or me to speak someone else’s language. Because just because you play guitar doesn’t mean that you play like this guy or that guy. Everybody has got their own vocabulary, and they’ve got things they do really well. But maybe this guy over here does; they’re no better than the other guy. It’s just different. Getting him to do what Bob did, was a challenge for Doug. You’re going to hear, I would say, there was a couple of things that we intentionally did differently. But they’re minor things, and you would have to know the record really well, to hear the differences. We purposely did one thing on “Chainsaw Charlie,” and as I said, it’s such a minor thing. Only a real, real fan would notice it. It was something on one of the songs; I think it was “Arena.” Yeah, it was on “The Arena of Pleasure,” which Doug did a little bit different way. But other than that, when he wasn’t just playing Bob’s licks, it was getting the tone Bob had.
We had to work that a lot as well. We tried very hard to get all these tones right. Even if we got 90 or 95% right, as I said, when you put it all together, it’s like asking somebody to cook a gourmet chef to cook dinner, and you give him these ingredients to create this thing. But the next time you give it to him, you say, well. The Ingredients are kinda close, but they’re not exactly the same. He’s going to look at you and say, then it isn’t going to taste the same. That’s not saying that it won’t be good. It’s just going to be a little bit different.
How about the drums, which are just phenomenal on the original album. Who played the drum parts for the new album?
Blackie Lawless: Mike Dupke did. It wasn’t easy. Mike had played that stuff before, so he knew it, but when you disassemble what Frankie Banali and Stet Howland had done before. Again, playing it live is one thing. Playing it with the precision of the way that that stuff was played originally. Frankie used creativity; it was so good and smart, the things he created, like “Charlie.” Frankie and I would throw ideas off of each other, and I’d watch him get mad and walk around the room because he couldn’t figure it out. Then he’d come back and go, okay. Let’s try this. Then slowly, you would see him get some idea that he was struggling with, and eventually, it would start to take shape. So, as I said, those things were difficult to do.
Mike Duda mentioned earlier that he played all bass parts, so this time you did not use players outside of the band, right?
Blackie Lawless: Nope. Yeah, it’s just us this time.
Is it true that Doug Aldrich also played some parts on the original album?
Blackie Lawless: There was something that he did for “Arena.” Yes. But it was a small thing only.
Many years ago, you said in one interview: “The story of Jonathan was written from a satirical point of view. That means that wherever a person is in their life and whoever’s viewpoint they’re listening to in the story will determine the story, they’re going to get. If you’re 18 and you listen to it, you’re going to see one thing. If you go back and listen to it five or ten years later, you’re going to get a completely different story. I didn’t want to create fast food for the ears. I wanted something that I thought was going to have longevity.” How has that theory worked in real life?
Blackie Lawless: You tell me? “Laughs”
I would say the album has lasted time really well. It still sounds fresh, and the songs are still great to listen to after all those years.
Blackie Lawless: Yeah, and that’s because the songs are like buildings. If they’re well-constructed and steady, they’ll last a long time. Whether it’s this record or something else? I think that’s the secret, is the secret of how well are they constructed. When you write lyrics, “Are you just writing lyrics that only mean one thing?” Are you writing lyrics that mean a lot? And that makes it much more difficult. Because that way, each person’s listening will uniquely interpret those lyrics themselves if they’re multi-dimensional. If they’re not multi-dimensional, you will never get that. That’s the secret of longevity.
There’s time for one more “Laughs” It’s been a couple of years since the latest studio album GOLGOTHA came out. Have you had time to write any new material after that, or has the CRIMSON IDOL project taken all your time and energy?
Blackie Lawless: No. There are now new songs ready at the moment. Because working on CRIMSON took so much time to do, it was an insane lot of work.
Thanks for your time.
Blackie Lawless: All right. Thanks for coming by.
LIVE PICTURES OF W.A.S.P SHOW IN CIRCUS, HELSINKI