Lawless Continues His Discussi
Any interviewer worth a damn will tell you that any interaction with someone that is destined for broadcast or publication can be a crapshoot. Granted, some individuals may be more apt than others to give insightful answers to certain questions, but even then, there are no guarantees. Too many variables exist -- things like the mood of the people involved can affect the informational transfer, as can the skill of the one directing the conversation. I say conversation because when an interview is actually good or differs from the norm in some way, it’s usually because either through tone or content of the questions, the person being interviewed has decided that the individual they are talking to can be trusted to portray them if not necessarily in a favorable light, at least they could be counted on to portray them in an accurate light. If that happens, then, and only then, will the words exchanged differ from the content of a garden-variety press release. Well, when a transcribed interview comes in at just under sixteen pages, it no longer becomes possible or even desirable to follow a format put forth by a record company or a publicist or anyone else who may have only a cosmetic interest in what takes place. It became apparent to me as the clock ticked and the questions mounted, that Blackie was speaking candidly and that this alchemy may have actually produced a decent glimpse into who he is. This two-part conversation was set to coincide with last week’s release of Dying for the World, and it commenced with some discussion about the PMRC and concluded with some frank admissions about what type of individual he truly perceives himself to be. As I told you in the first part, the story remains the same -- with Blackie, you can take it or leave it, but at least you know it’s real.
KNAC.COM: Lately the press has been revisiting the origination of Tipper Gore’s PMRC. W.A.S.P was, of course, one of the many artists who were singled out for persecution. What was the hardest aspect of that ordeal for you? Was it the quick rush to judgment exemplified by many political figures? Were you ever questioned by any particular individuals regarding your motives for writing material such as “F*ck Like a Beast”? Or was it just a case where you were automatically labeled as “evil” without any opportunity to respond?
BLACKIE: No, the thing that bothered me was, you know, Nixon had done this to Alger Hiss in the ‘50s with the communist witch hunt. Joe McCarthy did it. When Bob Dole was running for President, he did the same thing, too. These guys are just interested in creating a political profile. They don’t give a damn about what I’m saying in the lyrics -- me, Prince or Madonna, or any of them. They don’t care. They are interested in creating a public profile on which they can stand -- a soapbox, if you like, where they can stand in the town square and beat on the drum and get people to listen to them. That makes them look like the saviors of the new generation and all that stuff, and there are a lot of people out there gullible enough to believe it. That’s what it’s about. That’s what bothered me.
KNAC.COM: So it bothered you to be more of an unwitting pawn or an instrument with which they could promote themselves?
BLACKIE: Yes, but you have to look at a bigger picture and see that this really isn’t about me. This is about the First Amendment, and if you saw that movie on VH-1 a few weeks ago, where one of the characters, I think it was Baker said, “If I had the ability to create an amendment to do away with this, I would.” That man is telling you that he has tried and convicted you before the whole thing even started. That’s what’s dangerous about this. I don’t think it would ever happen where the First Amendment could ever be overturned -- at least I would hope not in our lifetime -- our Constitution starts hanging by a thread when you start fooling around with stuff like that. There are ways to manipulate or to create certain effects, and the stickering is certainly a way of manipulating the First Amendment. So that becomes dangerous. Does it bother me personally? No, you have to look beyond that and look at the big picture.
KNAC.COM: In the subsequent albums, did you ever find yourself consciously going, “you know, if they thought that was bad, wait till they hear this,” and trying to make the lyrics more outrageous?
BLACKIE: No, because I write from a point of view of looking at words like colors. Certainly some words are weapons -- profanity is certainly a weapon. The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. I mean, they’re close, but they’re miles apart. If you’ll recall when you were in school and you had the eight-pack of crayons and you’re trying to color your picture and that guy next to you has got that sixty-four pack with the sharpener, well, words are like colors. If that guy knows how to use those colors, he will rip you to ribbons. If he doesn’t know how to use them, it’s an unloaded gun. Words are like colors and there are varying degrees. Hate, dislike and loathe are three varying degrees of basically the same thought. When you dislike somebody, you don’t much care for them. When you hate them, you really don’t like them, and when you loathe them, you hope they get hit by a truck. As lyricists, we are trying to paint pictures in order to create a mood or a scenario to put you in the spot. When I wrote “Trail of Tears” on this record, there’s a line in the bridge that says, “my feet are raw from the trail I have been.” Think about that for a second and the misery that would go with it -- to just put you there and feel that hurt. That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to put you there. If I’m gonna use words as colors to create the landscape that I’m trying to paint, and then I use profanity, that changes the scene dramatically. In all honesty, WASP has used very little profanity. The reason people think we’ve used it more than we have is because I’ve used it so effectively. It’s a weapon, and you don’t go and pull it out very much. It’s like a hammer, you don’t have to go and hit yourself in the knee very often for it to hurt. If you just keep tapping yourself over a period of time, and eventually your knee goes numb. It will lose its effectiveness if it’s overused. At that point, your weapon has been castrated if you like. Profanity must be used strategically to create the right effect.
KNAC.COM: Who are some of the lyricists that you look to as examples of those who have been able to utilize their words most effectively? I would assume that some are outside the metal genre. I know the Beatles were an influence.
BLACKIE: Lennon, Townsend, Taupin -- but Taupin for different reasons. Bernie Taupin taught me the value of vowels and how to use them. Within a metal context, vowels, because of their percussive ability, are very valuable, but to sing you need vowels, and you need to pull on the vowels. Chuck Berry, believe it or not is another one. I didn’t realize this for years until I heard Keith Richards talking about what a great lyricist he was that I really sat down and listened to it. You have to remember the time and the era that the stuff was done, and Springsteen is also unbelievable.
KNAC.COM: Who do you look at as being an example of a great wordsmith within the metal community?
BLACKIE: Geoff Tate comes to mind. Dio is good -- he’s pretty animated. Probably Halford, too, but the first guy that comes to mind is Tate.
KNAC.COM: Do you feel that the attention to the details and nuances of the lyric are lost today with the inclusion of rap and the melding together of different styles?
BLACKIE: Big time, but I also think there are a lot of guys in rap that are really good. I mean, I hear some really clever stuff coming out of it---
KNAC.COM: Do you think it makes the transition to metal effectively?
BLACKIE: Well, I don’t know it that’s for me to judge.
KNAC.COM: All I’m getting at is that you definitely understand the subtleties and the importance of individual words within the context of conveying a message through music, but I’m saying that as a listener, I’m not really hearing it these days as much.
BLACKIE: Nor should you, always. That’s just the way -- the beauty and the simplicity -- if you have to sit back and analyze everything, then you are losing the beauty and the enjoyment of it. Now if you want to see it, art should be viewed on multiple levels. It should be such that it can be. In other words, after you get through the beauty of the initial simplicity, and you want to go further, it should still be there for you to be allowed to do that. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s not really art. The choice should be yours as the listener.
KNAC.COM: There seems to be a lot of divisiveness within the metal community and even those who listen to this station with regard to many fans not wanting hear anything produced after, say 1990. You spoke earlier about how you felt that you basically had two different sets of fans -- do you think that’s fair?
BLACKIE: Well, that’s a whole different discussion because you’re getting into the criteria of what people or a station is looking at with regard to demographics and all that. That’s all target audience. That’s back to selling the Ivory soap again.
KNAC.COM: You do see an element of that though---
BLACKIE: Of course, but you’ve got other stations like the Tour Bus which is syndicated that plays all old stuff and doesn’t want to play anything really new. Then you run up against the problem of having a new album out and even though they play the old stuff, they’re not gonna play the new.
KNAC.COM: There has to be a certain amount of frustration there too. You release a new record, you want to evolve as an artist and you could put out the best cd of your career and you’ll still have those who won’t want to come out of the comfort zone of the first two albums.
BLACKIE: Headless [Children] was like that. Headless exploded in Europe immediately. We started the tour in Europe, and before we ever touched British soil, they presented us with a gold record. It was immediate -- America was very slow to respond. The rest of the world didn’t quite know what to think, and it ended up being our best selling record. Crimson Idol was the same way. What happens is -- I look at it like this now -- I’m not necessarily looking for a record to explode out of the box anymore. If it happens, great. Everybody is saying this new record is the best thing we’ve done in ten years. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I don’t know, but if it explodes, great. All I know is that you try to create something for the long run. If you do that, an audience will eventually find it.
KNAC.COM: And that of course would lend itself to longevity and an increased legacy of your music versus looking primarily at the short term.
BLACKIE: Yeah, some kid’s gonna sell two million copies or something right now, and he’s not going to be heard of two years from now. Mine will eventually sell two million -- it might take ten years to do it, but we’re still gonna be there and we will have done a lot more records in the meantime.
KNAC.COM: Could you have imagined even having this conversation in ’86 or ’87? A discussion of a twenty year career and a future that promises to last even longer?
BLACKIE: No. No. It would have been presumptuous or even arrogant to even think that way. You’re always just trying to put one foot in front of the other.
KNAC.COM: Do you think that might be why you’ve managed to have the career you’ve had? I mean most every kid that’s ever sold two million records believes the next one is going to be even bigger. They’re blowing money all over the place, and those tend to be the ones who drop off. Did it make you work harder not taking that for granted?
BLACKIE: No, because in the ‘80s, man, we sold a shit lot of records and made a lot of money. Even when we got to the point of doing Headless Children, EMI and Capitol didn’t want me making that album because we had done records before that, you know, with Doctor on it -- some commercial sounding stuff. They were like, “yeah, this is what you should be doing.” I told them that it wasn’t what I’m into, it was not who I am, and I don’t believe in it. I always said that Inside the Electric Circus was a tired record done by a really tired band. We had been on the road for three or four years. In the end, we shut everyone up, and Headless ended up being the best selling record we ever had. What it did was, it took us out of the ‘80s and put us in a category that was uniquely our own, so when the ‘90s did roll around, we didn’t get s*cked into that vacuum and go down with that boat like most of the rest of the other bands. It made me look like a genius, but that wasn’t my intention. I was just doing what I felt compelled to do -- it just happened to be the right choice. Again, that’s the truth though. As long as you’re doing the truth, there’s probably going to be a place for it. I can’t see in rock and roll why there wouldn’t be.
KNAC.COM: There’s got to be a lot of satisfaction knowing that when you to out on tour, you’re going to be playing new material -- whereas, a lot of those other bands who got their starts in the ‘80s are going out as well, but it is definitely more of a nostalgia trip with them.
BLACKIE: That’s true. I think about that sometimes because I don’t really have any other point of view. All I know is what I do, and sometimes when I think about those other bands, I think about them not really doing anything new and how strange that must feel.
KNAC.COM: Basically playing the same two albums of material over and over---
BLACKIE: Exactly, and I don’t know anything other than what I’m doing, so it feels normal for me. I just don’t know what it feels like for someone else.
KNAC.COM: As far as making up a new set list, what’s realistic as far as the ratio of new songs versus old songs?
BLACKIE: I’ll tell ya this -- like I said, I went to see McCartney a week ago, and he did something I had seriously been considering for a couple of tours now. He took basically the middle third of the show and just did acoustic stuff. That’s something I’ve really been entertaining the idea of doing and playing for longer because historically, we’ve always played about an hour and ten or an hour and fifteen minutes. We always did short sets. The reason being is that basically we just couldn’t keep that pace up. I didn’t want to go out there and basically give the people a watered-down two hours. I’d rather go out there and hit them with a sledgehammer real quick and get out. That’s always been the theory we had. People would moan and complain about it because they said they weren’t hearing everything. I tried to figure out how to do this. I’m watching McCartney the other night and they weren’t doing anything special, they were just doing the stuff, but it gave you the sense of being able to hear what you wanted to hear. I just thought that it would be great to take part of the show, do something from the Crimson Idol -- I chunk of it, a whole three or four songs maybe. Maybe a couple of other songs like “Sleeping in the Fire” -- things that don’t necessarily require the whole band. I’d just go out and literally put the audience in my lap, so it’s something I’m giving a lot of serious thought to. Let’s put it this way: I’ll try it probably and see what happens and see how the audience reacts, and if it’s good, I’ll keep it. It not, we’ll go on to plan B.
KNAC.COM: Trying to negotiate a set list that satisfies you and your desire to promote a new project versus trying to satiate the appetite of the fans has to be difficult. Many seem hell bent on playing their new material even though the majority of those in attendance came to hear their favorites. Does the new album always have to be the most prominently displayed portion of the set list?
BLACKIE: See, after watching McCartney the other night, I don’t think I would agree with that. He did probably 85% old stuff. New stuff can wear out its welcome. It’s a really delicate thing. The thing you’ve got to remember is that I’m fighting 15-20 years of memories -- McCartney is fighting 40. No matter how good your new album is, the thing you’re fighting are these fine lines that are etched in peoples’ minds. You cannot take that away. I’m thinking that at this time it’s better to give them two or three from the new record, put your best foot forward, and if they like what they hear from that, then they’ll go out and buy the record. Then they’ll get into it, and if you want to go deeper into that material next time around, then do that. Give it a chance to become recognizable.
KNAC.COM: So you do have an obligation to the audience that comes to see you---
BLACKIE: I really think you do.
KNAC.COM: How many songs do you think are automatic components of the set list?
BLACKIE: I don’t know. That’s difficult to say because with that too, my thinking has changed. Is it necessary for me to play “I Wanna Be Somebody” in its entirety? Why can’t I just string that stuff in a medley? This is our tenth studio record, and I certainly can’t play something from all of them. I’d be hard pressed to get one song off each of them. I’ve found that medleys work well for some that stuff, but I’d also like to play some things that people wouldn’t necessarily think of. I can’t cite you any examples right now, but when I see someone do stuff like that, it just blows me away. As a fan, it opens my eyes in a pure way. It’s like being a twelve year old and seeing it through those eyes again. It really is a refreshing thing. You know, the Beatles rewrote the book 25-30-40 years ago, and McCartney is doing it again. It should be required viewing for all musicians to go and watch this guy do what he’s doing. It’s amazing. It really puts you in your place.
KNAC.COM: He is considered a master. If you were going to take something from someone, that would be a wise place to start.
BLACKIE: Exactly, as a band they influenced everyone that’s out there right now whether they realize it or not.
KNAC.COM: So, is making Blackie Lawless a lifetime musician the ultimate goal? I mean, if you could plan the rest of your life, would it include playing music in front of an audience that comes to see you when you go on tour?
BLACKIE: A portion of it. The studio is probably… no, the studio is the most important thing, because one night in a lifetime when somebody comes to see you, is just that. It doesn’t last forever, but those records are permanent. They’re going to be around for a long time. That’s why I put so much effort into them because they’re little time capsules. You know, when they’re done and they’re in the stores, it’s too late. You better make sure you like them.
KNAC.COM: Given that, how hard is that last day of mixing?
BLACKIE: Shit, it’s cramming for finals. Then again, I’m such a control freak that I won’t give it to anyone until it’s done.
KNAC.COM: Deadline or not, if it’s not ready to go, it doesn’t go?
BLACKIE: No, they can scream and holler, and sometimes it costs a bundle to do it, but I’ve been pretty good about it in the sense that there may be a few things on records since Headless that I might look back on and maybe change a little bit here and there, but for the most part, I don’t have those nagging torments. That’s because I spend the time to do it, when I do it, so I’m not really tortured by that too much. Like I said, I’ll take the time.
KNAC.COM: Are videos a different story for you though? That’s an entirely different dynamic. Do you ever look back and go, “what the hell did I do?”
BLACKIE: Yeah, but its not just W.A.S.P. -- it’s almost like MTV shouldn’t have happened. We were talking about the Beatles a little while ago, and I saw some stuff of theirs the other day, and it was absolutely horrible. You know, because when you take people out of their element of what they do, very few are going to be able to make that transition. Some guys will be good, but not many.
KNAC.COM: Would you say that was a definite case of business imposing itself on music?
BLACKIE: Of course.
KNAC.COM: So you’re saying that by telling the truth and holding records back when they’re not ready that those are examples of you not putting the bottom line first?
BLACKIE: I always have. It’s cost me a lot of money over the years. A lot.
KNAC.COM: Do you think you’d make the same decisions if you didn’t have the same bank account?
BLACKIE: I think maybe it would be more of a question of “could you”? I can only speak for myself, but I look at it as if you do something really good, the reward is probably going to be there. Don’t put the reward first. Make a good product. Make a good record. Even as we were discussing earlier and it doesn’t explode right out of the blocks, it’s ok because if it’s good, ultimately people will find it. I have my own studio here, and I’m very hands-on. We made the mistake on Unholy Terror of doing it digitally, and I didn’t like the way it sounded. These records sound expensive because they are. It’s the only way you’re gonna get that sound.
KNAC.COM: Obviously many of the bands from the ‘80s don’t have that luxury any more. Would you say that you were more prudent in your financial dealings because you didn’t take the long-term career for granted?
BLACKIE: Well, that’s hard to say. I mean we went through twenty million bucks at one point and wondered how we spent it, but a lot of that money was spent doing business. For me personally, I never went as crazy as a lot of guys did. I had it rough for about the first four or five years that I came to L.A., and that scarred me really bad. I would piss away probably about seventy-five grand a year with nothing to show for it. That was pretty average for me. That was stuff like limousines, going to dinner, stuff like that. See, seventy-five grand when you’re making the kind of money we were making isn’t much. Compared to my contemporary peers, I lived a fairly conservative standard. I like to look at it now like the three little pigs, they did theirs in straw and paper, and I did mine in brick.
KNAC.COM: Are the early years worth suffering through to get to where you’re at now? I mean, at their worst, they had to be pretty bad.
BLACKIE: Well, I lived in a place that was $95 dollars a month. I didn’t have electricity or hot water for about three years. I lived on about five bucks a week -- fill in the blanks.
KNAC.COM: Did that make you scrutinize the people who suddenly became interested in you after the first album came out? How wary of them were you?
BLACKIE: No, because that’s just part of the territory. Then and even after we became successful, I have remained very selective about people. You know, “what do they want?”
KNAC.COM: That would be the first question you’d ask?
BLACKIE: Basically, the people I went up with who I was friends with then are the still the people I know now. There are a few exceptions.
KNAC.COM: I know that you said before that the record is the most important thing, so given that, you’ll soon be out on the road promoting Dying for the World -- how much of a grind does the road get to be?
BLACKIE: Well, the grind is making the record. Touring… well, some are worse than others. The hardest part, is the promotion of the record because I’ll do anywhere between 500 and 800 interviews supporting a record. That’s a lot of talking. That’s a grind, but all the rest of it’s not too bad. You know, if you just surround yourself with a lot of good people and put one foot in front of the other, from there you just go out there and make it work the best you can.
KNAC.COM: What percentage of interviewers would you say you just can’t talk to because either they aren’t informed or are just individuals that you don’t connect with in some way?
BLACKIE: About ten percent.
KNAC.COM: Do you go ahead and go through with it anyway?
BLACKIE: Well, I’ll get a little testy. If you get somebody who isn’t good or who doesn’t ask insightful questions, and I’ll have them off the line in ten minutes. You know, you have to remember that I’m not new to this -- I’ve probably done ten or eleven thousand of these things. What happens here is that here we’re speaking conversationally, and I can handle that.
KNAC.COM: How long does it take to ascertain an undesirable situation with the press, the first couple of questions?
BLACKIE: The first thirty seconds. The reason is, is that they are gonna tell on themselves real quick. Man, this is a trade just like being a carpenter or a plumber or anything else. You watch someone work for five minutes and you can tell what they know or what they don’t know. The worst guys are usually the newspaper guys because they’re turning out about three or four things a week and they’ve been doing it for so long that it isn’t that they don’t know how to do it, it’s just that they’ve got to fill up space. They’ve got to give their editor 500 words or whatever. They’re so burnt out from doing it that they don’t want to listen to the record. They may know who you are from a historical perspective because you’ve been around for a while, so the first question they ask is about something that happened in ’87. Then, they go, “why don’t you tell me about the new record?” I’m like “no, mutherf*cker -- you tell me about the record because you haven’t listened to it yet. By asking me that question, you’re trying to get me to do your work for you.” You know, it’s shit like that.
KNAC.COM: Besides, the press -- interaction with the fans is another big part of the job. I’m not just referring to connecting with the audience while you’re onstage either. I’m talking about the ones that may hang out by the bus for an hour or two after the show. How hard is it if you’ve just done a concert, you’ve been traveling all day, and you’re tired as hell -- how hard is it to make them happy and meet their expectations? Are their expectations for your accessibility unrealistic?
BLACKIE: I guess that depends on who you’re asking. If you’re asking the artist they might say yes, if you’re asking them, they might say no. It’s a difficult thing -- especially if you’ve been having a long day. Most of the days on the road aren’t too bad. You are traveling at night and you’re sleeping on the bus or whatever. Actually, that’s the best place to be because that’s where you have the most solitude. After a show, especially if you’re putting it all into a performance, I used to get frustrated because I’d go out and really leave it all on the stage until there was nothing else. Afterwards, I wouldn’t talk to anybody, because you can’t. People ask you, “what’s it like being out there?” Well, it’s like running a race until you thought you were going to throw up. That’s what I feel like after being out there for about three minutes. I’m giving it everything I have. It’s like when it’s over, I’m physically in shock. The people don’t always understand that, so what I find is the best thing to do is to just try to be as accommodating as I can.
KNAC.COM: Of course, you can’t take the human variable out of that -- it’s going to change from day to day---
BLACKIE: Man, you act like you’ve been doing this awhile -- that’s exactly the way it is. Every day is going to be different.
KNAC.COM: Yet, out of that fan’s life, that one night may be what they ultimately take with them.
BLACKIE: Here’s the hardest thing for me. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to them -- if we can become conversational, that’s great, but there’s usually that wall between us. I mean, I’m at a disadvantage because for twenty years now almost, I have let people come into my life. If you’ve been paying attention to this band since the beginning, I mean, really paying attention, you know who I am. I’m at a disadvantage when I meet them because I don’t know who they are. I may have an idea, but I don’t really know them intimately the way they know me. So, it’s like they say, “Hi, how are you?” Then, I go, “Fine, how are you?” Then it stops for a second. They need to initiate the conversation because they know me, and I don’t know them. The problem is -- because they get intimidated or whatever, they just kinda freeze. Unless the artist initiates the conversation real quick, they get labeled as being stuck up.
KNAC.COM: How many times can you initiate individual conversations with people you don’t know? If you have twenty people waiting, are you going to have to walk up to each and go, “Hey, great to meet you, what are your hobbies?”
BLACKIE: Exactly. Believe me -- that can become work. When you’re really tired and your brain isn’t functioning properly and all that stuff, that really becomes tough. In the end though, you do have to try to remember the situation and your role, and hey, that’s the life I chose. The problem is, I’m pretty reserved, and especially over the years, I’ve become more and more of a recluse. I want to give as much as I can, but at the same time, I’m still the type of person that demands his own space. The best thing for me to do is to not make myself accessible if I need that time. That way, if you don’t see anybody, you don’t disappoint anybody. There’ll be a time if you catch me, like now, where I’m just talking and being myself, and hey -- I’ll talk your ear off.
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