February 16, 2018 Interview – Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.
Perhaps one of the more enduring Rock-n-Roll bands to come out of the 1980s is W.A.S.P. Outlasting other decade juggernauts such as Mötley Crüe, W.A.S.P. has consistently toured and produced quality albums all the way back to their 1984 self-titled debut. Forever and always led by the unmistakable Blackie Lawless, W.A.S.P. has an identity all their own.
Sustaining a dedicated following across the world, perhaps one of the band’s most beloved pieces of work comes in the form of the 1992 album The Crimson Idol. An epic concept record, Lawless took the time to sit down and talk the blood, sweat, and tears which went into the original recording sessions while providing insight into the recently release of Re-Idolized. Take a closer look into the mind of Lawless and see what feeds his undying inspiration.
CrypticRock.com – W.A.S.P. has been one of the most consistent, successful, and hardworking bands in Rock over the past three plus decades. Releasing 16 studio albums and touring the world over, briefly tell us, what has the journey been like for you?
Blackie Lawless – I would say probably self-discovery. I know that sounds artistic, but you know what, I say that’s the same for everybody. The one thing I learned early on is to make records that reflect who you are at the moment, because who you are today is not who you are going to be 5 years from now. I personally think the secret to maintaining an audience, to take them on that lifelong journey, and I am not talking someone who makes records for 10-15 years, I am talking about doing it for a long time. If you are going to take people on that lifelong journey, they are growing as well. You have to be able to speak to them conversationally like we are doing now. You also, as an artist, have to be able to open up your head. Almost like cracking your skull open and let them walk around your head barefooted to see what is in there, to find the good and bad.
My tastes are pretty general. I have very average tastes. I am not one of these artistic guys who have exotic tastes. I am pretty average, I like the same music, movies, and food as everybody else. If I’m motivated to write about something, there is probably a pretty good chance that other people are going to feel the same way about it. I think the one thing I hear more than anything and have heard over the years from a fanbase is, “You put into words what I’ve been thinking.” Honestly, I don’t know if there could be a better compliment than that.
CrypticRock.com – That is a tremendous compliment. People relate to what they know. Behind the sound and imagery of the band is the lyrical content. The lyrics have always been more in-depth than some critics have given at times. That has always assisted with the longevity of the band, would you agree?
Blackie Lawless – I think it depends on the critic to be honest with you. We are looking at the 25th anniversary of Crimson Idol. When it first came out in 1992, there was a professor at the University of Toronto who taught a 6 months course, did a whole semester just on this record as English literature. That’s not too bad. (Laughs) I remember studying other Contemporary writers when I was in school studying English Lit, and to turn around and have one of my pieces of work done the same way, that is a pretty high compliment. Again, I think it would depend on the critic you are looking at. For the most part, as far as the lyrics go, and the way our lyrics have been perceived, I would think it has certainly been one of the strongest things we have been able to do.
I try in a way that I refer to as multi-dimensional. What I mean by that is I try and write where you look at it today and it is going to mean one thing to you, but you look at it a few years down the road and it is going to mean something else to you. In other words, it is purposely leaving holes to let you interpret. I am also using words that have double meanings and such, that is purposeful, it is not by accident. The two greatest influences in Western literature I thought were The Bible and Shakespeare. I have always tried to emulate those two things as far as the way I write. You leave things where it can speak to the person reading it. Ultimately, when you boil it all down, and what you are doing right now, we are both doing the same thing. We are reporters, I am just a musical reporter. I write down what I see, I make it rhyme and put a beat to it. That’s really the secret. As I said before, you try to be conversational, you try to relate to people as if you were talking to them. At the same time, I am going to use words that are going to get you to think, and hopefully they will have more than one meaning. It’s no more complicated than that. Even though it’s an art form, that’s how you do it.
CrypticRock.com – You have done an exceptional job through the years. Speaking of which, 1992’s Crimson Idol is a masterful concept record. Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017, on February 2nd you released Re-Idolized, which is a cool set featuring the film being released for the first time ever. What inspired the decision to put it all out now together?
Blackie Lawless – I think, more than anything, just the sheer fact that it’s the 25th anniversary, those are milestone numbers. I always knew the story was not finished. I knew there were songs that were originally supposed to be recorded, but because I spent about 2 1/2 years putting it together the first time, I can understand the angst of wanting me to deliver something. I gave them what I had at the time and it was enough of a complete idea to tell the story well enough. In mind, the story was never finished. I always wanted to do this. Quite honestly, about 5 years ago, I knew the 25th anniversary was coming up. I started looking at it, one way or another, I started putting one foot in front of the other to start making plans to do this. Ultimately, at the end of the day, I did this for myself. I knew if I didn’t do it now, it’s probably never going to get done. Not only was there a mountain of work that went into doing this, but there was a considerable expense to put this together.
I haven’t read too many critical reviews of it yet, but there was one guy who made a comment who said I should never have done it, should have left the original the way it was, and I did it for the cash grab. I just started laughing, thinking, “You idiot, this took us a half of million dollars to put this together! Nobody sells records anymore, are you kidding me? What planet do you live on?” It is so funny, people live in their little world, get in their little dark cubicles and write whatever comes to their head in the concept of what they are talking about. Again, I did this for me, hopefully the fans will benefit by it and enjoy it. I can finally put this story to bed.
CrypticRock.com – It is great that you were able to put it all together. You are right, some people have negative things to say, but there will always be naysayers. Truth be told, often a risky move to re-record such an album, Re-Idolized sounds fantastic! Giving new depth and quality to the songs, what was the recording process like?
Blackie Lawless – Well it took over a year to do the music. It’s funny too because I was asked many times over the years if I had to do this record again, because it took so long to do it the first time, knowing what you know now, how long would it take to do it if you did it again? My standard reply was 6 months. I generally believed that to be true. It wasn’t until I got in and started doing it, Mike Duda (bass player) and myself took the old 2 inch tapes, put them up and started listening. I hadn’t heard those original tapes since the original record was done, it was pretty interesting.
Needless to say, it was a trip down memory lane, but after a few minutes it became very apparent to me I forgot how much work was on that stuff. A lot of time goes by and the only thing you hear is the finished product like everybody else. The memories of the pain and anguish that it took to get those things the way they were in the first place kind of fades away when you are not doing it. Again, I put those tapes up, listened to them, and I will be honest, I got a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach listening. I felt, “Oh boy, what have I gotten myself into?” I thought I could do it in 6 months but it ended up being over a year to get it right.
Equally as big was putting that film together. I had never done anything like that before. I found at any given time I’d have 5 guys around the world working on different things – one guy doing rough editing, another guy doing special effects, another one doing final editing. I am trying to juggle all these guys and I have never done this before.
The obvious question would be why didn’t you get somebody to do it? Well, because when you are the one who has the vision, you have to do it yourself. When it was finished I was delirious and I thought, “I am never doing anything like this again.” (Laughs) It’s a mountain of work and now that it’s over, am I glad it’s over? I think so, but you might be better off asking me that question a year from now. (Laughs) I could give you a more definitive answer then. The pain and anguish of doing it this time is still pretty fresh in my head.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was a massive undertaking.
Blackie Lawless – I will tell you what though, and normally I don’t say things like this when records first come out, because I am so close to them, it takes me a year or two to get away from them so I can look at them objectively. But I know these songs, so it is not a question whether the songs are any good, so I could listen to this objectively. The guy who mixes our records is Logan Mader. He lives down in Las Vegas, so I went out there and I mixed the record with them. I remember when we were finished I took a copy and drove down the Vegas strip for about 2 hours one night listening to it. I realized that going from the original record sounded like 2D compared to what this was, which sounded like 3D. That is not to say anything bad about the original record, that thing has a charm all its own that you can never replace. This is just different. I don’t want to use the word modernized, it didn’t do that. There is just a clarity and depth. There is a depth that is sonically more three dimensional than the original was. For that, me as the person working on it, that makes it worth it.
Could I do it better than the original one? No. But could you create something that is a little different, but as good in its own way? That was what we were trying to do and in my mind we got it. I can tell you that now, I don’t have to wait a year or two to tell you. I know how because that is a mechanical and technical thing I can hear in the mixes. In other words, I don’t need to remove myself from the songwriting process, we already knew what that was. This is truly technically speaking now. I can absolutely make that determination now that it is pretty cool for what it is.
It is almost, if you set up speakers, you are listening, you can look into it depth wise. The technology didn’t exist when we did the first one to be able to do that. We were able to get everything out that I thought we could. I am pretty pleased with it.
CrypticRock.com – As you should be. It came out well and it is a good way to close a chapter.
Blackie Lawless – I remember when this record first came out, I don’t really pay attention to reviews a lot, but I was curious with Crimson Idol to see how people would react. Their reactions to this one are about the same when it first came out – there were a lot of people who couldn’t wrap their heads around it when it first came out. I am seeing the same thing happen now, but for different reasons. The reason being they are so entrenched in what the original was, they can’t let it go. They don’t want it to be different. My response to them is, then don’t listen to the new one. Stay where you are, you can have that, that old record is still there, it’s not going away. But if somebody wants to try to hear something a little different, this new one might be for them.
CrypticRock.com – That is very true. No one is taking the old record away. As mentioned earlier, W.A.S.P. has done their share of touring over the years. Particularly in Europe, the band is extremely respected. Do you find the fan support is stronger in Europe to the USA?
Blackie Lawless – America is my home and I love it, but the rest of the world was able to turn over Rock audiences. America has not been able to do that the same. The presentations we have done in the rest of the world, they are big and expensive. If you can’t do those same presentations in another place, then it makes it difficult. It has been a while since we have been to America. Can we play America again? Yes, I’m sure we can, but I think those dates would have to be selectively looked at. That is really the biggest difference.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, and it is true. The other thing is European audiences respect artists who have longevity. In America, as a whole, in the mainstream, we have very disposable attitudes. Would you agree?
Blackie Lawless – Yup. Here is the irony of it all, Americans influence. Let’s be honest, America is the birthplace of Rock-n-Roll. Yet the rest of the world has been able to take it and run with it because of the disposability you are referring to here. That is not to say everybody here does that, because they don’t, there is fanbases for everybody here. When I say turn audiences over, what I mean by that, if we are in Argentina, Australia, or Germany, we are looking in the audience, we are looking at 20 year olds. In America, the audience has aged and was not able to turn those audiences over because the media, whether it was radio or television, did not continue to farm an audience like they had in the rest of the world. We are not the only ones who face this problem. I really wish it wasn’t that way.
CrypticRock.com – It is true. What would make it stop? What would make people have better attention spans? It is a hard nut to crack. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of Horror and/or Sci-Fi, what are some of your favorites?
Blackie Lawless – I am going to tell you something that is probably going to shock you, I have never been a fan of Horror movies to be honest. Science Fiction? Yea, if it stimulates me. When I was a kid, the stuff that I grew up with was different than say Freddy Krueger. It is not that I hated them, they just didn’t do anything for me. I know, especially the early show we used to do, people would hear me say something like that and scratch their head. Like I said, I guess it is the way I see, and I have probably always been this way, for me, there was always enough bad stuff in the world when it came to pure horror. I saw it on the news everyday and I am the kind of person who doesn’t like to see people hurt. I really don’t, it makes me then in turn and go hurt the person who did it to them, it’s that sense of justice. That’s me. But from a Science Fiction perspective, if it is mentally stimulating, I can get behind it.