AS THE FRONTMAN TO W.A.S.P., BLACKIE LAWLESS HAS BEEN TO HELL AND BACK. FROM TAKING ON THE P.M.R.C. IN THE EIGHTIES TO PUTTING ON THEATRICAL SHOWS INVOLVING RAW MEAT AND FLAMES SHOOTING FROM HIS CODPIECE, THERE IS LITTLE BLACKIE HASN'T SEEN OR DONE. NIGHT WATCHMAN CAUGHT UP WITH THE METAL GOD TO FIND OUT THE STORY BEHIND HIS LATEST CREATION, THE NEON GOD, A TWO-DISC CONCEPT ALBUM THAT MINES THE DEPTHS OF LIFE, DEATH, AND WHY WE ARE ALL HERE.
Night Watchman: I know that W.A.S.P. started as a band, and, in recent years, it has been you primarily as the main member. How has that changed the way you approach things?
Blackie: Well, in the last few years, I’ve thought of W.A.S.P. as a Jethro Tull or Motörhead situation. It’s more of an idea than it is components that go into it. As long as the idea is there to make the engine run, then it can work.
NW: I know there was a time when you said you were done with W.A.S.P., and you were going to do solo material. What happened during that time that made you change your mind? Was it the material you were writing? Did that lend itself more to W.A.S.P.?
B: At the time, we were doing The Crimson Idol, and we were just going to do away with the name. That’s when I first got the idea of this being an idea. That, by and large, is what came back from the fan base. They said, "You don’t get it, do you? You’re on the inside, but you don’t understand. This thing is an idea. It’s bigger than the people in it." And I thought, "You know what? I think they’re right." And we just left it. We just let it go at that, and it ended up being a good thing. It pays to listen, I guess.
NW: So do you feel like you have to compromise in the type of music you want to perform?
B: No. It’s given me more freedom. I mean, you look at what we’ve done on this new album, and there’s different collaboration all over it. Things that an ordinary metal band could never get away with.
NW: Yeah. I’ve really noticed a progression within the last few albums. Not to trivialize any of the earlier material, but it seems like there is so much more of a story, and many more ideas you’re trying to convey; especially with the concept albums.
NW: As far as The Neon God, did you write it as a story first?
B: Yeah. We storyboarded it like a movie, and then worked backwards.
NW: And then you broke it down into songs?
B: Well, yeah. What you do is you look at the story, and ask, "Musically, how do I want to pace this?" And once you’ve got the music put in place, then you go back and start adding lyrics into it. Because that’s the problem when you’re doing a concept record. With a regular album, you can create any running order you wish when it’s all recorded. With a concept record, once it’s done, those songs are in stone. If you don’t like that running order, you’ve got a big problem. You’ve got to rip it all down and start all over again. So, once you put those lyrics in, the story starts pacing itself that way. You’ve got to make sure that wherever you place the music, that’s where it’s going to be. You can change things around before you get into the lyrics, but once the lyrics are put in place, if you want to change something, it becomes major surgery.
NW: So there is just a lot more pre-planning on a project like this?
B: Way more pre-planning than actual recording.
NW: In reading the background story for The Neon God, going into the orphanage, there was a quote: "Give us a child until they are seven, and we will set their ways for life." In the story, you keep repeating that. Is that something you feel is true in all aspects?
B: Well, I’m trying to make a social observation with that by telling people that may have kids at this point-- make sure you’re not f*cking them up. Don’t create anymore monsters like there are in this story. This thing was really written from a point of view; I tried to write it on as many multiple levels as I could. Within the story, there are all kinds of little subplots and social commentary-- the album is laced with the idea of abuse. Alcohol abuse, drug abuse, child abuse... all these things. Anytime you’ve got a huge story like this, you have many opportunities to say all kinds of different things, so you may as well take advantage of it. Everything that’s rattling around in your head at the time, get it in there.
NW: A lot of these themes are things that you’ve touched on before, even on The Idol. Are you trying to exorcise your own ghosts with your music?
B: Probably. I did The Idol, which is a thing that is very near and dear to me, but it was basically a short story. It was a simple idea of a kid growing up trying to impress his parents. Wanting his parents to look at him after he grows into adulthood-- the thing we all want. Where you want your parents to go, "You know what, kid? You turned out okay." That little pat on the back that all kids want, but that kid never gets it. So I think that’s the thing that endeared people to that record. But when I was doing this record, I was looking for something bigger this time. So I started thinking, "What’s the single greatest common denominator that we all have?" And I don’t mean food, shelter... that kind of thing. I mean emotionally, spiritually... the thing that links us all together. I came to the conclusion that it’s that thing we rarely talk about, oddly enough. It’s the thing we all have most in common, but we rarely talk about it for whatever reason. And that’s the whole idea of, "Who am I? Where am I going? What’s this all about? Does my life mean anything? Will it have had any meaning after I’m gone? Is there a God? Is there no God? What the heck is going on around here?" And I came up with a lyric: "Oh, Lord. Tell me why am I here," and I went, "Bingo!" For me, that encapsulates all those thoughts. So I thought, "Okay. This is what we’ll base it on, because I think that’s the one thing we all have in common." I saw this statistic a few years ago that said the average person thinks about death ten times a day; whether it’s just a passing thought, or they’re seriously contemplating what it is. So, whether we like it or not, we’re always faced with that mortality issue, and it frightens us. We think about it, and we want to immediately bury it in our heads and move on. And I think that’s natural. But, at the same time, I thought, "Death is one aspect of it. But there is a whole lot more that goes on between birth and death, and that is the journey we’re all taking as we try to figure this out." And this character that I selected for this story, this kid’s got massive conflict going on inside him as he's trying to figure this out. I just thought it made for an interesting story.
NW: You’ve split the story up into two albums. The first part is out now, and the other will follow later this year. I know you’re going on tour in Europe and the States, but how much of the story will you be performing?
B: We’re only going to be doing about four songs from it, because we don’t want to go out and try to force-feed stuff to people that really aren’t ready yet. Sometimes it takes records a while to build, and I think it’s important for any band, whoever it may be, to listen to the audience as much as the audience is listening to them. They will tell you what they want. You’ll figure it out. You won’t be out there very long, and you’ll start to get a sense of what they want to hear. It’s just equally as important that the band listens to them.
NW: Do you think that’s one of the reasons that you have been successful, and have been able to have such a great career? That you listen instead of trying to force an album, and then getting mad because it’s not what people wanted?
B: Well, no. From a record point of view, I’m making what I feel conflicted about at the moment. Going out and playing it live, that becomes a different issue. Let's say I’m particularly conflicted about making a record; but then you get out there and find out that maybe they’re not into it. To force them to have to listen to the whole thing, that becomes self-indulgent, on the artist’s behalf. I’m just looking for ideas that I think tie us all together, because I’ve got pretty general tastes. I mean, I like the same movies and the same food and all that stuff as most everybody else. I would say 99 times out of 100, if there's something that I feel pretty passionate about, there’s probably a pretty good chance that a lot of other folks do, as well. I’m just trying to create this humanized listening environment, and see what happens.
NW: That makes sense. You started out with this basic idea of "Who am I?" And in the story, Jessie is becoming this cult leader. Is it easy for you to understand what it takes for someone to cross that line, and to become something like that?
B: Well, it was a little bizarre. I went back and studied cult leaders, and the one thing I found that they all had in common was that childhood. You start looking at it, and start asking yourself what they all have in common. Well, the conclusion that I came to was that they were people who were all destined for something out of the ordinary; whether it was good or bad, they were going to raise their head above the crowd. And it reminded me of something Henry Kissinger said about Nixon once. He said, "Think of the greatness this man could have achieved if he had only been loved."
NW: So do you think that anything built on a foundation that flawed is destined to go wrong?
B: Well, what’s the old expression? "Destiny’s been changed by missing a bus." Well, in this particular kid’s case, it all starts when his dad dies. This kid would have not ended up the way he did. I mean, this kid is severely traumatized. But, like I said, all the cult leaders I looked at-- whether it was David Koresh or Jim Jones or Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler; all those guys-- they all had that childhood in common. What makes this kid really, really interesting to me, from a creative point of view, is that in all those other cult leaders that I mentioned, it’s more, "Don’t do what I do. Just do what I say." They don’t really ultimately believe that they are who they are telling people they are. They’re con men, and they know it. What makes Jessie interesting to me is that he’s not sure. He sometimes thinks he really is. He’s become so delusional, because he’s been so f*cked up as a kid. I mean, how bad does it got to be where someone starts to create their own environment? He tells you early on in the story that he’s creating his imaginary little kingdom. It’s escapism, because he cannot handle where he’s at physically or emotionally, so he’s looking for any way out. If you go back and look at people who have multiple personalities-- and I’m not talking about schizophrenia, I’m talking about true multi-personalities-- more often than not, it stems from a childhood where they’ve been abused to such a degree that they have to invent these characters in their minds just to cope with given situations. So, borderline multiple personalities is what he’s dealing with; it’s hinting at it.
NW: And that’s why he sometimes believes it, because it seems like it’s coming from another person?
B: It’s a defense mechanism. It’s a simple story, as far as the premise goes. But when you get into the story itself, it's not that simple. Like I said, I tried to write it on as many levels as I could. It’ll take people a long time to really grasp what this is.
NW: Jessie becomes a leader to these other people who are lost souls and followers that are just looking for anything.
B: They, too, are weak.
NW: Right. He uses that weakness to his advantage.
B: That’s right.
NW: I found that very interesting. As I was growing up, one of the first times I really started to question people's motives was when there were the P.M.R.C. hearings. I remember people making a big deal out of your albums, and reading your lyrics out loud, thinking that you were some kind of satanic leader. It was obvious to me, even as a kid, that the music was entertainment, and that these people were trying to gain some kind of power by villanizing you. Is there a correlation there?
B: Well, yeah. These are people that are after political gain; they don’t give a damn about censorship. They are only interested in what they want, so they’re trying to manipulate folks in a similar sense to get what they want.
NW: It would be interesting to find out how many politicians have the same kind of background as Jim Jones and Koresh; you know, people that aspire to have huge political positions.
B: Well, you know, in all honesty, whether its politicians, actors, musicians-- any sort of performer-- I’ll be brutally honest with you, they are all people that are looking to get that little hug every night from 10,000 people that they just couldn’t get anywhere else. To get to any level of professional entertainment, you’ve got to be possessed and driven. The average person with an average childhood just won’t end up being driven like that. Something is missing somewhere that pushes people to that.
NW: I’ve read some things about your childhood. Is that the case with you, as well?
B: Oh, yeah. I can’t exclude myself from that; I’d be lying if I did. You look at any athlete that makes it to a professional level, and watch them try to give it up, and they stand there and cry like kids. Why do you think that is? Yeah, they love the game. There’s no question about that. But there’s more.
NW: Have you found peace with that time in your life?
B: You get more as you go. It’s a wolf in sheep's clothing. You get into it as a little kid, in this particular sense, because of the love of the art. In my case, it was music. But as you get older, the complexity of childhood-- especially when you get into adolescence and all that stuff, wanting attention and all that-- it seems like then you can take your art, prostitute it, and start using it for your own advantage. It's not dissimilar to what we were talking about with the P.M.R.C. Now, granted, you’re not really using people to do it; you’re using yourself. You’re using the art form to get what you want, and you find that you can use and manipulate that. And then, if you’re lucky enough to keep doing it for a long time, you can get a record deal. And if you can do it for 20 or 30 years, you end up coming full circle. You start to understand that what’s important here is what got me into it in the first place, not the peripherals. Everybody when they first get into it thinks they want to be famous, and I stress the word "thinks". You get the tiger by the tail, and, man, you got one of two choices: you either hang on for a rough ride, or you let go and get your ass eaten. You’ve got to get off of that thing, because it’s spinning and will throw you out of control. You asked me if I got a better grip on it, if I got some peace with it? Yeah, I think so. You satisfy that whole thing in your head, that idea of fame; for me, that was something I discovered very quickly. After about two years of it, it’s like, "You know what? This ain’t really what I thought I wanted." And that’s why you hear so many people say that when they finally got there, they still weren't happy. They’re looking for surrogate situations. You’ve got to find that within your own self. And again, it takes us back to this record; it’s all a part of what that journey is about.
NW: Going back to that quote again, I know that in my own life the things that I loved to do as a kid-- drawing, creating-- I later found that all those things were the only things that truly made me happy later on in life.
B: Well, what I mean by that is not that specific example that you just mentioned, but it’s more like the influences that you have around you: your parents, friends, and things like that. Something that might make you happy or traumatize you, those are the things that are going to stay with us. I’ve heard psychologists say that they thought it was as little as three years. The first three.
NW: Really? In talking about coming full circle, I know there was a point early on when you were touring and recording albums, and there wasn’t any kind of rest. I had read something you said, about how you got to a point where you didn’t know who you were anymore, and the band didn’t know how to function together very well. I also know that you and Chris Holmes had started working together again, and then that didn’t work out. Do you feel like maybe Chris hadn’t reached the point where he had come full circle? Do you think that’s why he is no longer a part of W.A.S.P.?
B: I don’t know, to be honest with you. For me to answer that would be presumptive. I really don’t feel qualified that I could even begin to answer that.
NW: That’s understandable. Do you still talk to Chris at all?
B: Not really.
NW: Now, with the band, you have Darrell Roberts on guitar, and he’s been in the band awhile now, right?
B: Going on four years now.
NW: When I last saw you in concert in Columbus, Ohio, it was right after he joined. That was a great show, by the way!
B: Thanks. That would have been at The Newport, right?
NW: Yeah. I can’t wait to see the new show.
B: Yeah. We’re playing there again.
NW: Great. I’m up here in Milwaukee now.
B: We’re coming up there, too. We’re playing The Eagles Ballroom.
NW: Yeah. I’m definitely going to check out that show. What are you guys planning to do for this outing? Is it going to be full theatrics?
B: Well, you know, when we’ve done records like The Idol in the past, we shied away from doing that. There will be some in this, but it won’t be exactly what people are expecting, in the sense that what theatrics we are doing is more avant-garde; it’s very hard to describe. It’s abstract; it’s not the blood and guts and all that. It’s pretty cool. To give you an example, you saw The Newport show. Remember the thing I did with black light makeup?
B: Stuff like that.
NW: That was amazing to watch.
B: But you can’t describe that to people. It’s one of those thing that you have to see.
NW: I can understand that. If someone had described what you had done, I would have thought, "That sounds kind of cool." But to actually see what happens....
B: Right. I’m trying to do stuff that’s enhancing the music.
NW: So, are you going to just do a short tour and then wait until the second album comes out? Or are you going to continue touring through that release?
B: Well, we’re not really sure yet. We’re going to wait and see what the reaction of the audience is, and that’ll tell us what we’re going to do.
NW: Throughout the years, how has touring changed? Is it still as wild and crazy as it used to be?
B: Yeah. I think that’s a constant. Just by virtue of being there every day is different. There is some new insanity going on somewhere. It makes it interesting.
NW: It's a break from working on the albums, though.
NW: Do you find that when you’re in the studio you wish you were on tour, and vice versa?
B: No. I’m usually pretty content with wherever I’m at.
NW: When is the second album going to be released?
B: In about three months.
NW: Great. To wrap up, I have one last question. In your professional opinion, do you think dogs have lips?
B: Those ones you find on the road when you’re touring? Those kind?
NW: Yeah, those kind.
B: Um... some do, some don’t. (laughs)
NW: Do you try to stay away from the ones that don’t?
B: Mostly, yes.
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