By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1999
An interview with Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.
How has W.A.S.P. benefited from the internet?
“Well, that’s something that I’m enthusiastic about. Because what I like is the idea of being able to, as i refer to it, network people together. It gives you a better sense in trying to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s going on out there. Because, you know, everything has changed with the advent of media, not just web sites, even though that’s accelerated it. It’s like, to give you an example, in the old days I can remember going to shows that would have been the equivelent of say, W.A.S.P., Eagles, Sarah McLachlan all on the same bill. While nowadays, the subcultures are even more defined into specific niche packages. And what something like these websites do is, from the consumer’s point of view, it’s almost like they can pick and choose more precisely exactly what they’re looking for. It’s almost made to order nowadays.”
Do you like to keep track of what fans are saying about you?
“Yeah, I do. As far as the difference between if i’m looking for positive and negative responses … not like that. I’m just trying to get an idea of what people are thinking in general. Because, if somebody doesn’t like something, trying to convert them is a difficult thing. So I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m not looking at it from an egotistical point of view, trying to look for acceptance or rejection one way or the other. I just want an idea of what people say, what they’re really thinking. Because when you do an online chat or something like that, they ask different questions than journalists do. It’s more like taking it directly to the source. To be honest with you, I’d imagine that there’s some performers out there that would look at something like that, especially what I’ve been trying to create with this network situation, with the different web sites, and say well, why would I want to be bothered with something like that? But in reality, if you think about it, it’s the perfect way to have a sit down any time you want almost. How can you ask for better market surveys than that? It’s like a dream come true.”
You’ve had a fairly long career. Have you seen major changes in the way the music industry works?
“Major to the point of catastrophic. There are no musical people that run major labels anymore. They’re all lawyers. I’m continually … amazed is not the word …. dumfounded is more like the way I feel. How can someone run a business if they don’t know anything about the business? It’s the kind of thing that when someone gets fired from a job, they can go down the street and get a job doing the same thing they got fired for. I don’t get it. It makes no sense to me.”
What’s it like being on CMC? They seem to be focusing on older rocks bands who used to be on larger labels.
“That’s exactly what they do. They’re taking bands that either couldn’t be on major labels anymore, or in our particular case are having …. let’s just say difference of opinion with the label we were on and what we were going to do and how we were going to be marketed. Because the problem with a lot of the majors now is that they don’t know how to sell these kinds of records to the kids. They have this blanket sort of mentality as to where they’re going to go with it, and if it doesn’t fit into that particular vein of marketing, then they don’t know what to do with it. So what good does it do you to be in a situation like that? CMC has clout because of BMG, so it’s almost like it’s … maybe what like Chrysalis might have been to EMI a long time ago. I wouldn’t say its boutique oriented, but it’s smaller to the point where at least you get a better handle of how to direct things and you don’t get caught up in all the beurocracy that you do with a major.”
When you tour, what type of cross section do you get in terms of new fans and people who’ve been following the band all along?
“It’s been two years since we’ve been on the road, and I’ve learned in the last 6 or 7 years that it’s going to change from year to year. So I really couldn’t give you an accurate response as to what the ratio is.”
What can we expect from the upcoming tour?
“To be honest with you, we really don’t know until we get into rehearsals. A lot of times it’s like the best laid plans of mice and men .. you say you’re going to do something and you don’t and then there ends up being this misinformation. So, those kind of things we usually play pretty close to the vest.”
You’re touring Europe first – will you be doing US shows after that?
“We’re going to do all the open air festivals over there this summer, then come back here at the end of July and then we’ll go out and do North America in July and August.”
You’ve said that “Helldorado” is closer to what the band was like before getting signed than any other album has been. So what made the band change in the meantime?
“The word that i use is ‘relaxed’. I’m more relaxed now than i’ve been probably ever, even before we got a record deal. We were more relaxed before we got a record deal, and I think every band is because even though they vow they won’t succumb to the pressure, no matter how belligerent and adamant you are that you’re not going to let it affect you, it ends up reflecting in the work whether you want it to or not and after you’ve been doing it for a while, you get to the point where you say, ok, i’m secure financially, emotionally and spiritually, who am I? And when you can … it’s almost like …. you’ve got to get ….I wouldn’t say deep inside yourself with meditation or anything like that, it’s just relaxing to the point where the peripheral things that would have caused you to make decisions in the past are no longer there. And when you can clear all that away, the real you comes out at that moment. Because the real you could change from day to day, week to week, and we’ve always made records based on instinct and emotion and the moment that we’re in. So it’s pretty clear … if you go back and look through our career, you can see who we were and what we were thinking just by picking up any piece of work along the way.”
Were you able to try any of the material out live before recording the album?
“No. we’ve learned in the past that it’s helpfull, but that’s a luxury that once you get a record deal you just don’t have anymore. It’s just one of those occupational hazards.”
What are you feelings on censorship, and the “Parental Advisory” labels your music gets?
“Our record was the first one to get a sticker. We were a poster child for that thing a long time ago and we could probably make gospel records and still get those on our records. I think it’s just going to follow me forever.”
Do you thing the warning labels are necesary? I mean, should children not listen to W.A.S.P.?
Well, it’s like this whole Littleton situation. Those kids are about a hundred hooks short of being real people. It’s like if the parents gave them a little more attention, they wouldn’t be having these problems. Anytime anyone ever goes back …. and don’t I mean listening to 20/20 or ‘Nightline’ where they’re asking ‘why? why? why’ .. all you have to do is go interview their friends. The friends always say the same story every time, they were unwanted. There is your answer right there. It’s the whole scapegoat situation.”
You have a fanclub, W.A.S.P. Nation, and an extensive array of merchandise. What made you want to get into that?
“Well, what I was looking to do was create a unique situation, something to take it to a level that had never been done before and to try and create, for lack of a better word and i’m not ashamed to use it, a cult. I really like that situation, and back to the niche orientation, where if you know who your real fans are, and we’ve been really blessed because we’ve had an enourmously dedicated fan base for a long time that is not like a regular fan base. They’re unique in the sense that they’re unbelievebly dedicated. And I would say that making a statement like Gratefull Dead-esque isn’t too far off the mark. I’m interested in seeing if that can be taken to another level to create a global type of unity.”
“Now, as far as the merchanndising goes, we did a couple of conventions that were W.A.S.P conventions. We did them in New York over the last couple of years, it’s similar to what KISS did. And the merchandise we saw coming in there was pretty sobering. What we saw … I mean because of the nature of the band, because of who we are and the things that we’ve done, it’s not just t-shirts. I mean, I’ve seen people walk around with gold records and dolls and paintings. It’s just at a whole different level now. So we look at it, and a lot of it is pretty bad. So we said, ok, if there’s a market for this out there, and people are going to be walking around with this stuff …. it’s kind of like when people do bootleg t-shirts and stuff like that, they’re really bad quality and they fall apart 3 days after the people wash them. But for some reason those people think that the band’s in the back of the bus printing those shirts. Even though we’re not. We’re still going to get blamed for it if something goes wrong. So we said ok, if that’s the case, why don’ t we give them what they’re really looking for? Call it naivety if you want, but it wasn’t until we did those conventions that we realized that the fan base was at a whole different level. I collect sports memorabilia, and the stuff I look for is … i’m not particularly interested in baseball, I’m interested in taking a piece of whatever i can get from that athlete. And obviously the audiences are more sophisticated and are looking for the same things as well. So we thought instead of buying junk out there …. you know someone coming to me with a guitar that I’ve supposedly autographed and it looks more like Stevie Wonder did the signature, you know. And these people are just getting ripped off and you’ve got to look at them and say ‘I’m sorry, this ain’t real,’ It’s a funky situation, so hey, why not control it if you can? And I don’t know if we can. But a lot of this is just a big experiment at this point.”
Do you notice any major differences between American and European audiences?
“Well, i think when we’re at the shows, the audience reacts much the same. But I think the biggest difference is in the culture, in the sense that Europe, because it’s older is more traditional, while America is more trend-oriented. I mean American attention span ain’t that big.”See all interviews →