The enigmatic Blackie Lawless has been the one constant staple in W.A.S.P. for the last 28 years. Formed in 1982 W.A.S.P. paved their way with their notorious live shows, but the core of the band, the music, is what has carried them through the decades.
In late 2009 W.A.S.P. released “Babylon”, their 14th studio album. Said to be based around biblical visions of “The Four Horseman of the Apocalypse”, (or perhaps just inferred from the album art) Lawless says that this record was made to get people to think about the world around them. Sound wise the album picks up where “Dominator” left off and is one of their strongest efforts to date with powerful new music and a few surprise covers.
Blackie and the current line-up of W.A.S.P. (Doug Blair on guitar, Mike Duda on bass and Mike Dupke on drums) are gearing up to hit the road in support of “Babylon” with a show that is sure to methodically eviscerate the senses.
I recently caught up with Blackie to talk about the tour, the new album, and some politics and sports for good measure!
Interviewed by: Roger Scales | February 2010
Blackie what would you say is the general theme of your newest release “Babylon”?
Oh boy. Well I must commend you, of the couple of hundred interviews I have done for this record you are the first person who has asked me that and I appreciate it. With any record that is made you are trying to create a piece of art. All art is designed to make you think. I don’t care if its movies, books, music, painting they are used to provoke thought. If you’re not doing that you’re just some guy making records for the sake of saying you did it. Specifically with this record it’s to get you to think about the world that’s around you.
The guitar playing of Doug Blair really stands out on this album. Is it fair to say that he brought a lot to the table in terms of musical contributions on “Babylon” than say on “Dominator” (2007) ?
Boy you New England guys stick together don’t you? (Doug was born and raised in Connecticut). Well I’ve said it a number of times already and you would have a fair argument if you were to say that his contributions on this record were equal to or even greater than mine. It was that important. But I would also say that beauty is in the ear of the beholder and the stuff he played on “Dominator” was just as good. Both records are quite honestly (I don’t use these words very much) astonishing.
Let’s talk about the two covers that you did on Babylon “Promised Land” (Chuck Berry/Elvis Presley) and “Burn” (Deep Purple) – how did each of those come about?
Well they were an afterthought..as most covers usually are. At least they have been for me. When you go into the studio and you haven’t been there for awhile it’s a whole another world. What a lot of folks don’t understand is that playing in the studio and being out on the road are two completely different universes. When you first get in you just sort of want to get your feet wet a little bit. Kind of put on the training wheels sort of speak and the first thing we did was “Promised Land”. Because it was simple and it was already written just something to warm up a little bit. Then as the record progressed we started to look a little more closely at the content of the record and we all realized that ‘WOW..there is a lot of fire on this record.’ We had actually played around with the” Burn” track during the “Dominator” (2007) sessions but didn’t get real serious about it and I thought this is a perfect place for it to go in here. I’d like to sit here and say that we visualized this from the beginning but truth be told is these things just sort of reveal themselves as you go.
I really enjoyed the nod to Elvis at the end of the song “Promised Land” – “Make me another peanut butter and banana sandwich.”
You like that did you?? Ha-Ha, Chuck Berry wrote the song but Elvis made it famous.
The video imagery that was captured on the first single “Babylon is Burning” (watch the video) was perfect to what you were trying to get across to your audience in that song. I understand that “Crazy” will be the next video attempted. How is that progressing?
We were going to start shooting the week before the tour started but we decided to wait until the end of the US tour before we shoot. We want to meet with the director next week to finalize some additional ideas I had and then we hit the road but so far so good.
In keeping with the “Babylon is Burning” mentality, here in Massachusetts we had our own sort of burning with the election of State Senator Scott Brown after 47 years of the Kennedy democratic stranglehold on this area. In fact I played the song “Babylon is Burning” in my car with the windows rolled down as I left the polls..to some strange looks I might add!! Change is a coming Blackie!! Your thoughts?
For as long as that seat had been held, that election and its outcome was cataclysmic! That was not just SOME seat that was held for a long stretch in some backwater place that nobody was paying attention to. This was THE definition of that progressive democratic mentality. For that to be uprooted where you are was amazing. That philosophy, that way of life, could not be overestimated beecause the message this sends, which progressives still refuse to look at, is hey wait there is another way. These progressives are not stupid. They didn’t get to be where they are because they are stupid but their way of thinking is so entrenched in their fiber that you stop caring about people. You’re going to pursue your own agenda that you believe no matter what. The only way that this tree rot will be uprooted is with a pair of pliers. Congrats on taking that first step for all of us.
I recently went through and listened to “The Crimson Idol” (1992) from beginning to end after having not listened to it for quite some time and it still sounds as fresh as the first time I heard it 18 years ago. If you were to retire after this tour, hang up the saw blades and start a whole new chapter of your life doing something else other than creating music and I wrote the bands epitaph and stated that W.A.S.P. begins and ends with “The Crimson Idol” as their most creative piece of entertainment ever released would you be ok with that?
I wouldn’t say no. As a writer you’re always going to see your efforts as one piece of work. Let’s say for instance you had written a book and it was a best seller you wouldn’t want people pulling chapters out of it would you? I like this chapter better than that one…but that one I’m not so keen on. So you’re always going to try and see things as a complete body of work. That work is not finished until you’re finished. I’m resistant to give your opinion a complete thumbs up yet but at the same time at this point would not completely disagree with it.
What should fans look for from W.A.S.P. 2010 in terms of a live show and concert? Is it tough to pick a set list from such a varied back catalog? Do you feel compelled to play more songs from “Babylon” as opposed to some of your older material to satisfy a hardcore W.A.S.P. fan?
Well the first thing you need to do when you release a new record is that you always have to be conscious of how much new material are you going to play. There is a good percentage of that audience that may not have purchased that record or even heard it yet. So if you go out there bombarding them with a bunch of new stuff I’ve always looked at that as being self indulgent. Sometimes you have to look at things as an average ticket buyer. If you’re going to see an act you have to ask yourself what would I want to hear? What’s in that catalog and take an average account across the band’s history. That’s really how you have to approach it. That’s how we always have approached it. I mean you’ve got some act’s out there and they go out and play all B-sides. You cannot do that. You’re cheating your audience. 99% of that audience will look on in disbelief and say what are they doing? Who could blame them for that? Hell I’d do the same thing if I went and saw someone I liked and didn’t hear an average of what they’ve done. Bottom line is you have to be real real careful about doing too much new material. If the new record is really good it’s going to find an audience all on its own. You don’t have to jam it down their throats. We are currently playing two songs off this new record (“Babylon is Burning” and “Crazy”) and I think that’s plenty for right now. If Babylon finds an audience than we’ll do more tracks on down the line.
We are really looking forward to your show on March 9 in Massachusetts at the new Showcase Live venue in Foxboro which as you may or may know is home to THE New England Patriots. I hope with your true Oakland Raiders loyalty this will not propose any real issues with you playing this gig?
Ha-ha. Well you know I think there is more made of the Raiders stuff than it should have been. I’m more of a fan of the merchandise the logo and what the Raiders stand for (Just win baby!) than a diehard of the team itself. I’m more of a baseball guy anyway…hell I grew up on Long Island. Now you’re getting into a very sensitive area..my Yankees!!
Keeping the discussion within Boston/Massachusetts do you have any fond memories, any gigs that stand out from playing here so many times over your career?
Well number one, the heritage of that place speaks for itself. Taking music out of the equation for a moment I’m a history fan of this country and New England is steeped with tradition; you just can’t deny that. I think when people live somewhere their whole lives they take certain things for granted. I lived in Staten Island and I could look out my bedroom window and see the Statue of Liberty yet I never went to see it in person. Yet when someone else goes to a place that they don’t live in that’s a big deal. At least it is for me. It’s tough for me not to go to place like that and not be awed over it.
The band is in it’s 28th year. What do think is the secret to W.A.S.P.’s longevity?
Well that’s a tough one. You ask ten different people your likely going to get ten different opinions. As simple as it may sound for a band I think it’s the songs. If the songs aren’t there you have nothing whatsoever to talk about. It all starts and stops with that. There may always be certain fans that may like something about an artist’s personality or their live show but at the end of the day it’s the songs that make or break your enduring popularity. Always has and always gonna be!
I’m a huge fan of the Hear N Aid project (1985) that you were involved with along with Ronnie James Dio and some other huge bands of that era and I’m just curious what memories you have looking back at that experience nearly 25 years later?
I think everyone was very intimidated being there on that night when we recorded “Stars”. You could feel that sort of tension in the room as the night wore on. Chris (Holmes) and I got there about 6pm and we didn’t start to shoot the video for that song until about 9pm. Needless to say as the cameras started to roll most everyone was slightly inebriated. For us there were a lot of guys in that room that we had grown up listening to and idolized so that certainly led to some of that tension. Being in the presence of that “rock royalty” was very scary. As the years have gone by I’ve found out that they were all feeling the same thing. It’s funny how everyone can have the same effect on everybody else. I have nothing but fond memories of that night and the cause of course was a very cool thing.
Is it true that the origin of the W.A.S.P. classic “I Wanna Be Somebody” is from watching a Barney Miller episode?
Yes it is. I cannot recall the exact episode but during the show’s run in the last few seasons Ron Glass who played Detective Ron Harris was writing a novel called “Blood on the Badge” and his publisher had arranged for a book signing so he had gone to Miller and got the okay for some time off. Suddenly as he is about to leave the office a mugging detail comes and Captain Miller yells “Harris you and Dietrich go check it out.” “But what about my book signing?” Miller yells again. “Now!” Harris slams the phone down and yells “God I Wanna Be Somebody!!!” He did it with this sort of cry in his voice and it was really funny when he did it but then I thought about it and thought a lot of people probably feel like that and that was the origin of that song. I didn’t realize at the time that the song was going to become the anthem it has since become. The reason I gravitated to that song was the same reason I gravitated to covering “The Real Me” (The Who 1973). Yes, we liked the music but I equally indentified with the lyrical content even more so. It took me years to figure out that the common theme in all of the W.A.S.P. records was “Who am I? Where am I going? What’s it all about?”
Any final thoughts Blackie to your New England fans as you head out on the road to support Babylon?
Well it’s been awhile since we been there and anytime we have a chance to go back and revisit that it’s always like going home week. I have lot of fond memories of Boston..most of which I cannot tell you!! But seriously this show is very unique, we have huge movie size screens behind us during the entire performance and we are using lots of promo videos this time out from all through the different eras of the band. We’re playing “Scream Until You Like It” (From the Ghoulies II soundtrack 1987) on this tour and we’ve never played that song live on any tour prior to this one. In fact that was the first top ten single we ever had in Europe. You will see me sing the song in the movie but also in synch on stage live at the same time. It almost creates a 3-D effect and the fans are trying to figure out how we are doing this?? They almost look like the RCA dog with their heads twisted sideways trying to figure how the hell we are pulling this off? So not only do you have that going on but you more or less have two bands playing simultaneously all night long. It creates a real spectacle. I think especially for folks who have not seen us for awhile they are really going to enjoy this. Hell, even now during soundcheck I’ll turn around and watch it and say WOW look at this.
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