STING IN THE TALE
By Jill Eckersly
Musician - June 1989 No longer the self appointed demon of Heavy Metal, Blackie Lawless as searched hard and found a conscience. But does this mean the W.A.S.P have lost its sting. Jill Eckersly swots up.
One of the first surprises when interviewing schlock-rockers is they're never as fierce as they look! Alice Cooper is articulate and charming, Ozzy is ahout us threatening as Paddington Bean..but Blackie Lawless? The scourge of feminists and worried parents everywhere, he of the exploding codpiece, the shower of raw meat, the subtle and inventive lyrics ("I Fuck Like A Beast") surely this time interviewing Blackie isn't exactly like interviewing Shirley Temple, right?
"Shirley Temple? Hey, that's funny, that's really funny," roared Blackie on the eve of his band W.A.S.P'S UK dates. "I tell ya, the only thing this band could do with Shirley Temple is drag her out on stage and beat hell out of her!.
That sounds like the Blackie Lawless we all know and love. No stranger to controversy during W.A.S.P's five~year career as a recording band, he has just spent well over a year producing the band's latest - and in his opinion his greatest album, The Headless Children. At first sight, it looks like another piece of W.A.S.P outrage, complete with suitably gory title and a sleeve that features well-known headbangers like Idi Amin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Rasputin. Rumour has it that the Ayatollah was also featured, but that proved too much even for W.A.S.P or, more like it, their record company!
Musically, too, there are no great surprises. Blasting vocals, pounding drums and lightning guitars make it a slice of superior Metal. Lyrically, though, it's a whole different ballgame, and this is where the surprises come in. I've always felt that on their previous vinyl outings, W.A.S.P haven't quite captured the pantomine-horror of their live shows. Perhaps it can't he done.
"I don't think this is the first time we've captured our live sound on record, but it's the first time we've actually said something," said Blackie. "This album was designed to make young people think!"
One thing W.A.S.P have never been accused of is making cerebral music! Until now, Blackie's inspiration has always come from, shall we say, lower down! He admits that he originally got into Rock 'n' Roll because he was looking for the attention of women. That is still a priority in my life but it isn't everything.
"Looking around me, though, and especially from talking to fans, I realised there were a lot of things to he said about the world we live in. There wasn't one specific moment when I decided to write songs that were about more than getting drunk and partying. It came from talking to fans over a period of time. One of the things I enjoy most is talking to fans. However many radio and Press interviews I do, it's always the fans who come up with the most interesting questions. Too many artists alienate themselves from record buyers. I like to keep my thumb on the pulse.
"A few years ago a girl came up to me at the Limelight Club in London and thanked me for saving her life! She'd picked up tlte words "bloody fix" from one or our early songs, which wasn't even about heroin abuse, and she said only then it dawned on her what she was doing to herself. At the time I thought, wow, that's too much responsibility! I just wanted to get on with my life, not have people lay that kind of heavy stuff on me. But looking back, I can see it was a signpost, even though I didn't recognise it at the time. If I could help someone like that girl without even thinking about it, what could I do if I really tried?'
Heavy stuff indeed. Several of the tracks on The Headless Children deal with the problem of drug abuse, which Blackie feels is by far the biggest issue facing America today and probably Britain tomorrow.
"I WAS NEVER INTO DRUGS, AND W.A.S.P..NEVER ADVOCATED THEIR USE," he says. "I came to realise it's not enough just to sit on the fence and say nothing. You have to come out for or against drugs."
One result of Blackie's newly-awakened social conscience is a track called Thunderhead, a genuinely chilling slice of anti-driig propoganda made all the more effective by coming from one of Rock's bad guys.
"Sure the reputation is an advantage," Blackie points out. "A song like that has a whole lot more impact coming from a band who have been where we have been! The song starts with some nice piano, a string arrangement, and then some mean 'n' nasty guitar comes in. It's supposed to show how a guy's personality changes when he starts using that stuff. To me, its the closest this band has come to perfection."
He's at pains to point out that this isn't a gimmick or a cheap attempt to get more attention and sell more records.
The role of the artist is to stir the minds of men. I don't mean to sound chauvinistic, I mean mankind in general," he says. 'These songs are written with total conviction. TItis is what I believe! Every band has to say something, musically and lyrically, that moves peoples' emotions. Without that, you just become a record-making factory
"To me the bottom line is, are you happy with what you're doing? Ninety-nine percent of the people on this earth are doing something they're not happy with, so I consider myself very fortunate. A lot of guys complain it's hard work being in a band. To me, a 15-hour day isn't drudgery if you enjoy it."
Blackie produced The Headless Children himself as he has three of W.A.S.P's four previous vinyl outings.
"Why? 'We are a hard band to work with in the studio, and I've never met an outside producer I felt totally confident about," he says. "Believe me, the others are temperamental. These guys know what they want. For W.A.S.P it works better this way.
"Audiences are much more sophisticated about production values these days, and they want a record that sounds good. To produce, you need both technical and musical knowledge.What I wanted to do this time was to bring out the motion in the songs. Rock started with R 'n' B and blues, then white guys turned it into Rock, but the feel should still be there, or there's no point.
"I lived that album, I really did. For six weeks I grew a beard in the studio until I looked like a terrorist!! I worked a 15-hour day, a 7-day week, just crawling onto a couch in the studio to sleep. It was fun, though, and the result is the most consistent album WA.S.P. have ever made. We've had our moment before, but this time I can drop the needle down anywhere and feel good about what I hear."
Perhaps this could also be the album chat gets W.A.S.P. some recognition as musicians, rather than as an archetypal, cartoon HM band.
"YOU don't even need to watch any more," Blackie boasts, "Just watch Johnny (Rod, W.A.S.P.'s bassman) and Frankie (Banali, the drummer they share with Quiet Riot). If they're not the best rhythm section in Rock 'n' Roll, they're almost there! There's a track on the album, a cover of Pete Townshend's The Real Me where those two guys practically have a war going on!"
Not that W.A.S.P. are neglecting the visual side. Their current stage set is an attempt to bring the album sleeve to life, with eight foot tall 3D figures and a levitating drum kit!
"It's not just done for sensationalism, it's a lesson in history," says Blackie, with all the zeal of a convert. "We run a disclaimer before the show, in the language of the country we're in telling the audience we're not trying to glorify these People, or what they did. Man must learn by his mistakes, or he's doomed to repeat them,"
Gulp. Can this really he Blackie Lawless? Anti-drugs, anti nuclear, anti-Fascist...
"That's right," he says. "I heard that in Germany they have a new Nazi party-getting 13 percent of the vote. How many times do you have to hit these people over the head? You have the Klan in the States, you have your National Front..."
I asked him if he didn't think he might make more impact as a politition than as a Rock star.
"Ask me in 20 years!" he said. "If I thought I could help people, I might consider a political career. But to help people you have to ruffle feathers, and they are feathers on some pretty big birds...' The Kennedys did it; they took on guys with armies when they only had briefcases, I don't wanna he a martyr!
"BESIDES, ROCK 'N' ROLL IS IN MY BLOOD. I'LL STILL GET DRUNK AND FALL OFF BAR STOOLS. Rock 'n Roll is like the ocean. You have to respect it, or it can take your life."
Blackie's problem is the classic dilemma of a man whose image is too often mistaken for the real person.
"Misunderstood is the word I would use to describe myself," he agreed. "The image is somewhat larger than life, but I hope people will realise these new songs were written by a real honest-to-God human being who cares about other people! W.A.S.P's music had to take a different turn, You need to lead, develop your own style, spur your own imagination and the audience's. I have no regret about anything we did. We were entertaining, and having fun. Most people took W.A.S.P. the way it was intended. WE did it to entertain ourselves, and never though it was that outrageous.
"'We used to use visuals for the sake of it. Now, they go hand-in-hand with the music. The reality of life today is more frightening than fantasy. We want people to walk out of our shows with their jaws on the floor, and we want the album to leave them with a disturbed feeling, hopefully for the rest of their lives."
So it looks as though we've seen the last of the exploding underwear, along withh Blackie Lawless' demon king, the man who helped to give HM a bad name! Enter Blackie Lawless, articulate, caring spokesman for a generation - the headless children is the album title.
Well, stranger things have happened. But not many!