When the topic of conversation turns to “Controversial Artists in Music” one name is ALWAYS mentioned…Blackie Lawless, founder of one of the most persuasive and thought provoking bands ever…W.A.S.P. With theatrics more than 20 years ago including a 12-inch circular saw blade codpiece, throwing raw meat into the audience, simulating bondage on stage…to a circus type atmosphere where anything goes…to finding himself “front and center” under attack from the P.M.R.C. on censorship led by Tipper Gore. Blackie has maintained a level of ascendancy few have reached. His lyrics have run the gauntlet from sex and partying…to in more recent years…being either politically or religiously motivated. In 1992 he released what would be to some the definitive concept album, “The Crimson Idol” and in 1995…“Still Not Black Enough,” which picked up where “The Idol” ended. Now… after working on a project for over 10 years, while still releasing new material in the meantime, Blackie brings forth a conceptual work demanding 2 parts to bring the story to life… “The Neon God pt.1…The Rise” and “The Neon God pt.2…The Demise.” Being ever dedicated to his work, Blackie while touring for part one, would fly back home to work in the studio on part two…in between shows. Blackie sat down and expressed his thoughts to us one night before a show in Columbus, Ohio.
Rhythm, Art & Groove- You’ve been a very busy lately. Tell us about the “Neon God – The Rise”.
BL- Well that’s …that’s a complete entire interview on it’s own. Let’s get specific. What would you like to know about it? I’m not being difficult; it’s just a very, very broad question.
RAG- How does it compare to “The Crimson Idol?”
Blackie Lawless - Well anytime you try to write lyrics on a literary level, you’re trying to build them with a multifacet. In other words, to simplify it, when you were a kid you had you a decoder ring from the Jack In The Box. You look at it one-way and see one thing … turn it another and see another. Well … lyrics are the same way from a literary point of view. You’re trying to create multiple images and multiple meanings. You’re also trying to do it where it’s timeless in the sense when a person reads it today it’ll mean one thing to them in their lives. Five years from then, they’ll see it completely different. So, in that sense, the concept of writing that style is identical. So it doesn’t matter if it’s “The Crimson Idol” or “The Neon God”, they’re both similar in that sense. And you know…it’s time consuming. It takes a while to try to get it right. If you’ve ever seen a piece of sculpture on a revolving pedestal, it’s constantly changing shape and that’s what you’re trying to do with lyrics. When it’s a work in progress you work on it for a little bit and look at it from one angle, then twist it and look at it again. All the same piece but it’s constantly moving and creating different viewpoints for the audience to look at depending on who they are or where they are in their lives. I’m not sure if you’re aware that you’re asking deep questions about this stuff. It can’t be explained very simply.
RAG- Right…I might take the songs one way and someone else may take it in a completely different way.
Blackie Lawless -Depending on where you are in your life. And that’s what it’s designed to do.
RAG- Sister Sade was a major player in the Neon God story, yet in the set up of the album she dies.
Blackie Lawless -Well…yes but, from a chronological point of view, she’s very much alive while she effected the kid. She doesn’t die until later on down the line.
RAG- I was going to ask you if we have to wait until part 2 of the story to find out?
Blackie Lawless -No. We tried to create a multimedia approach to this thing. What you should do is go on the W.A.S.P. Nation website and look at some of the stuff that’s on there because it’s almost like an interactive tour that we take you through and show you things about these characters…things that you won’t hear from either of the records. There are character profiles on there of all the characters in the story that you will not get on either one of the records. Number one there wasn’t enough space in the CDs and secondly … to try to create the interactive website it gave people permission to go look for themselves. So if you’re looking for that stuff, the best thing is to go to the website.
RAG- It would be cool in typical WASP style if we find out that Jesse is the one who killed her.
Blackie Lawless -(long pause) Well…he doesn’t but the story alludes to the idea that she dies of natural causes. It doesn’t matter because see … all these characters in the story they’re not so much people as they are euphemisms for other things. So …it doesn’t really matter how they die or something like that. The last thing I want to do is create a “whodunit” or why they did it. This is really far removed away from that sort of a story. Sister Sade represents powerful organized religion. She represents this monolithic structure that’s all-powerful and cannot be cracked. So, her as a person is not so much important as it is what she symbolizes.
RAG- Has there been any thought about making a movie about either The Neon God or The Crimson Idol/ Still Not Black Enough?
BL- Those are ambitious projects and the public tells you what they want. If there is demand for something like that, maybe we’ll think about it. That sort of stuff … right now to answer you honestly, I wouldn’t be interested. You know … I’ve worked 10 years assembling ideas for this story. The last 2 and a half years of intensive work on this thing and burned out on it to be honest with you. It’s like I need some space to separate myself from it for awhile to begin to entertain the idea of another sort of medium for this story.
RAG- Let’s go back in time for a moment. What were some of the bands that you were in before WASP?
BL- Not that many to be honest. Whenever I was in a project I try to get in something and stay with it for a long time. The band that I was in back in school, I was with for 6 or 7 years. Then after that, even before W.A.S.P., Chris Holmes and I had a band called Sister. Sister was really the original incarnation of W.A.S.P. We looked the same and sounded the same. He was 18 when I met him and I was 22, so it’s like I really wasn’t in that many bands.
RAG- You were one of the first people to use the pentagram for a band years ago. Tell us about that.
BL- (rolling his eyes) I was brought up in a home where … let’s just say that I was brought up in the church. Fundamentalist Christian. When I got into my teens I found myself still going to church … I went, nobody made me go. I went because I wanted to. My father was Sunday school superintendent, my grandfather was head deacon, my uncle was the preacher … so when the doors were open, I was there. But … when I was almost 18, I was having a lot of trouble with the “institutionalization” of my thinking … of what it was doing to me. I broke away from the church. And when I did, I went like a lot of people do when they’ve been in that environment for their whole lives … go away from it as far as you can. I studied the occult for 3 years. I practiced it heavily and that’s where the beginnings of those sort of symbols came from. But … I also discovered that after about 3 years of doing that I had swapped one organized religion for another. I found that when you’re dealing … the biggest thing I found is that there are 2 forces in the world. There’s positive and there’s negative. There’s nothing in between. You’re either one or the other. I just didn’t want to be a part of anything that was negative. I saw a lot of ugly things (long pause) when I was involved in that…things that I really couldn’t easily explain away. I know that the negativity can dominate people’s lives. You see it in every aspect of life. You see it everyday. I determined that that wasn’t for me. I walked around for 20 years after that thinking I was mad at God because of what had happened to my thinking in the church. I realized that I was not mad at God , I was mad at man. Once that light bulb went off in my head, I started seeing things totally different. I no longer have the resentment I had towards the church. I’m still very outspoken. Especially “The Neon God” is loaded with the idea of “think for yourself”. I’m not saying, “ don’t practice your own religion”, I’m not saying, “don’t have faith”, because I do. But, you have to be able to find your own answers. Think for yourself. Don’t let people screw with you. That’s where cults come from. That’s kind of a long-winded answer (smiles).
RAG- When W.A.S.P first started playing gigs you developed the concept of “psycho-drama”.
BL- Well … we didn’t develop it. That was something that was being done at UCLA. As a matter of fact, Jim Morrison was one of the first people. At the film school he attended there they were playing around with that idea. So he was probably the first guy to introduce it to rock but the Doors not being heavily theatrical wasn’t able to use it in a way that maybe later, he might have wanted to. I don’t know. It was a very crude attempt at an early version of getting an audience involved…an early interactive version of theater. Even though it was crude … I see other types of theater ensembles and bands doing stuff but I still think it’s an interesting idea. It keeps the audience from being board.
RAG- I’ve seen you many times on different tours even here, back in the 80’s and 90s and it’s like “he didn’t just do that, did he?”
RAG- On the first album W.A.S.P., what does B.A.D. stand for?
BL- “Bondage and Discipline.”
RAG-What about the L.O.V.E. machine?
BL- That didn’t mean anything. That was just like it became almost hyphenated. The original version of the song …the chorus was totally different. If my memory serves me correctly, because the word is spelled out in the chorus L.O.V.E, you gotta remember that song was written before the name W.A.S.P. had been thought of. So once we had the name with the periods, we went around looking for other things to put periods with. We did that throughout the first album. So if my memory serves me correctly, that’s probably why that came about.
RAG- Tell us about being on the front line, kind of “The Most Wanted” with the PMRC. ( Parents Music Resource Center)
BL- It’s one of those kind of things … after all is said and done. More was said than done. Whether it was myself or Rap, 5 or 6 years ago with Bob Doyle going after it … what they all have in common is that it’s people seeking a high political office. Some guy, standing on a soapbox …beating his drum trying to get people to pay attention. It’s all politically oriented. It has nothing to do with defending America or protecting the citizens’ rights. It’s blasphemy against the Constitution. That’s what it is. If you don’t want to hear something … don’t listen to it!
BL- As far as I’m concerned, that’s the important message that came out of it that people should remember. It rears its’ head once every decade. Nixon did it in the fifties, with his communist witch-hunt. (Paul) McCarthy and Frank Zappa went through it. Every decade has its’ version of it. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It manifests itself in many different shapes. But, the underlying message behind it is always the same. It’s always some political character seeking higher office.
RAG- Do you hear from them much any more?
BL- Well Al Gore is out of the picture now.
RAG- How has the music industry changed over the years?
BL- Well … it’s just like any other form of capitalism meets free enterprise. To continually morph itself into something bigger and bigger and bigger. Right now it’s to a point where it’s really ripe for a complete new way of going business. ‘Cause once it gets so big … it did it in the fifties, did it in the sixties. Every decade it does it as well. The bigger companies consolidate and effectively create monopolies. Once that happens, it does leave the door open for more inventive ways of doing business. I think we’re ripe for a revolution in that sense.
RAG- How do you feel about file sharing, Napster and things like that?
BL- Well … (sighs) that, too, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. When somebody tells you “well, this is just file sharing” (makes quotation gesture) well, sharing implies that … it’s just that we’re sharing with each other. How does a company explain itself when it just sold itself out to somebody for a billing plus dollars? Where did that billion plus dollars come from? That’s not sharing … that’s stealing! In principle, the idea of sharing … there’s nothing wrong with that … if it was just the fans. If these guys out here (points to the fans) tonight, with their records and stuff, want to swap records and things like that … hey, that’s fine. That’s what it’s about as far as I’m concerned. But when people get involved under the pretense of something that’s not really … that’s fraud. Go up to a 7-11 and to that … you’ll get 20 years.
RAG- Did you ever have any pressure from the record labels to make a hit record?
BL- Well every artist feels that (laughing). That’s what they sign you for.
RAG- Something commercial, for radio?
BL- No. No. They understood what we were from the beginning and realized whether it’s us or Iron Maiden , if you don’t like what it is to begin with … you shouldn’t get involved.
RAG- Where in the U.S. is your biggest fan base?
BL- Well, I don’t know. That’s tough. Like in any band, you have pockets around the country. To try to single one out would be difficult.
RAG- What about in Europe?
BL- Well it, too, is the same. They’ll be places that you go and you’ll do huge business and the next place … I can’t even get arrested.
RAG- Your album Kill, F**k, Die is one of your darkest albums. When it was released you were quoted as saying that you “were out to out Manson, Manson”.
BL- I didn’t say that. Somebody might have written that. I can’t even envision myself making a quote like that. That’s not my style.
RAG- Tell us something disturbing about yourself that we don’t already know.
BL- (long pause) I don’t know what you already know (smiles).
RAG- Just things we read or see in videos.
BL- (another long pause) Twenty plus years I’ve been doing this and I’ve never been asked that. I guess … you know… if you ask a psychopath “what’s the most disturbing thing about them, they probably wouldn’t be able to answer it either. Even that becomes normal to them. You know … for the life of me I couldn’t even begin to know how to answer that. I’m just being honest. I mean there’s nothing that comes to the top of my head. You go ask the people out here (points to fans) , they’ll give you two different stories … sorry.
RAG- Is there anything that you want to say to your friends or fans?
BL- I try to do my talking with my lyrics. That question is fairly common, and I see or hear artists sit up and blow smoke (at) their audience quite frankly … it repulses the hell out of me when I see that. It’s phony “show biz jargon”. You also have to remember when somebody is being interviewed in a written context … it’s very hard to win, cause you either come off as sounding arrogant, pretentious … when people read the written word, they can’t hear the inflections of your voice or see the facial expressions. So, when you answer questions like that in written interviews … it always comes off as “sappy”. If somebody wants to know who I am, I’ve spent 20 years of being as brutally honest as I can possibly be. If somebody wants to know who I am … it’s there in the lyrics.