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Interviewed by Mike Korn
Interview with Blackie Lawless of WASP From 2001
MSJ: After listening to "Unholy Terror", I heard a lot of similarities to your classic album "Headless Children".
We were trying to make a classic 70's sounding album. For whatever reason, "Unholy Terror" sounded like a cross between "Headless" and our very first record. You know, sometimes things in the writing, recording and mixing processes don't reveal themselves until you get further into it. I'd like to tell you that we knew what it was going to be before we started. Sometimes you do know, sometimes you don't.
MSJ: It slowly unfolds.
Yeah, it reveals itself the closer you get to the end. For example, the second track on "Unholy Terror" is "Hate to Love Me". As we were first performing it, I thought, well, it's OK. It's probably the weakest track on the record, but it's still OK. Then, about two-thirds of the way through mixing it, it started to pop out. I went "Oh, boy", I was ecstatic over it, I wound up putting it second on the record. It's funny how things like that happen sometimes.
MSJ: Your previous record "Helldorado" was pretty basic and not especially deep. "Unholy Terror" seems to be going back to a bigger concept. What created the spark for "Unholy Terror"?
I had a pretty strict religious upbringing. I just looked at the hypocrisy that surrounds a lot of organized religion. Not all of it, I'm not trying to attack religion per se, not on an individual basis. I'm referring to organized religions that get people to do things in the name of that religion. Things like fighting wars. Basically, the moral of the story with "Unholy Terror" is not to accept prepackaged thinking. Think for yourself; seek out ideas for yourself. Get your own answers; don't let somebody sell you their indoctrination. Like they did to me, when I was younger and coming up through the church.
MSJ: What was the worst example of religious hypocrisy that you have seen or experienced?
I was brought up as a fundamentalist Baptist and if you know anything about that, you know they'll be the first to tell you they're the only ones going to Heaven. They'll sit right there in church and tell you "Not even y'all are gonna get in here!"(laughter). I mean, the arrogance of it is pretty unbelievable. When you look at other devout religious people like Orthodox Jews, Orthodox Catholics, Buddhists, Muslims, I'm talking about anybody who's a true can't tell me those people aren't going to Heaven. I just can't buy that.
MSJ: So you're more against the fundamentalist, conservative view of religion as opposed to just religion in general?
I wouldn't say that. It doesn't matter if it's fundamentalist or not, it's still important for people to think and seek out things for themselves. Again, I'm not here to attack any one religion. People are going to look at the album cover and I'm sure a lot of them will be offended and think it's blasphemy. It was not intended to be blasphemous in any way. The things portrayed on that cover are a result of what happens when things are done in the name of religion. I'm being very specific about what I'm against and again, it's back to the idea of "think for yourself".
MSJ: What's the idea behind the song "Charisma"?
There's good charisma and bad charisma. When we think of charisma, we usually think of entertainers or athletes that we like but there's also a darker underside. There's the morbid curiosity that a car accident might have. You don't want to watch but you do. Did you get the liner notes on the CD?
MSJ: Oh yeah.
When you look at the lyrics, you see bracketed the names of people I was thinking about when I was writing them. But more importantly than that, charisma is not just about those people I was talking about in the song. The song is written as if charisma itself is a living being, a real entity.
MSJ: Have you ever felt that dark pull yourself, that dark charisma?
I don't know, that's not for me to say. You'd have to ask other people about that because I'm on the inside and I can't see what other people are seeing. When you look at a performer and you say that guy has "it", well, what is "it"? We don't know exactly what "it" is; they just have that certain something that is magnetic. Some people have it, some don't. What I was trying to get at it in the song was, if charisma is a living thing, a being, it's like it's using people, the people next to the lyrics in the song, as a vessel. It flows through these people and when those people pass on, it moves to the next person. And then the next person after that - It's perpetual.
MSJ: If this is not too personal a question, are you yourself an atheist?
No! Not in any way. I believe in God. I was in the church until I was 18. When I left the church, I left radically. I studied the occult for 3 years and practiced it. Then I realized I'd swapped one organized religion for another. I realized then that I had been under the indoctrination of men for my whole life. I was mad at God for a long time. Why did He do this? Why did He do that? Why did He put us here? And then it dawned on me that I was not mad at God, I was mad at Man. When I figured that out, everything became radically different.
MSJ: I read that you were dismayed when you found out that the people that were trying to censor your music the most were not conservative Republicans but instead liberal Democrats like Joe Lieberman and Tipper Gore.
That's just a new wolf in sheep's gear.
MSJ: It's all people who think they know what is best for you.
Yeah but they didn't get what they wanted, did they? It's like John Lennon's old "Instant Karma". All those people basically built their platforms on lies, just to get where they wanted to get. They have their agendas. Rock people like you and me, we don't have agendas, we just listen to it, we just feel the music. What better way for people who want attention than to go after the attention-getters themselves?
MSJ: Was there any one track on "Unholy Terror" that you felt especially strongly about?
I was very drawn to the whole concept behind the song "Charisma", but I think equally important is the song "Locomotive Man". That whole track is a real social comment about parents paying attention to their kids. In the lyrics, you have a kid writing an open letter about what he is about to do and why (the song is about a youthful mass murderer who commits suicide). The why is because he didn't get enough attention at home. If you've got more parents paying attention at home to their kids, stuff like this wouldn't happen so much.
MSJ: Oh, I didn't know Junior was building bombs in the garage!
Whether it's building a bomb or taking guns to school, it's all the same thing. It's all a destructive force to get attention. We were talking about this on our earlier albums like "Headless Children" and "Crimson Idol" and now on "Unholy Terror". It all boils down to: give me some attention, show me some love. You do that and most of these bad things will go away. If you look at the common thread that's been in at least half the work we've done, that's really it.
MSJ: There's always been a profound, thoughtful aspect to your music and then there's just plain hell-raising rock and roll, like on "Helldorado".
Yeah but you gotta have some contrast, too. "Helldorado" was a fun record to make and you have to do that now and then. "Helldorado" was a record that was made to get out on the highway, cruise and have fun. Go out and beat somebody's ass or get your ass beat. You don't have to try and say something with every record. If you do, you get accused of preaching.
MSJ: You've always been known for a huge stage show. What can we expect this time on tour?
Well, we've always been bombastic. Big and loud, that's just who we are and what we do. That's the fun end of playing live. We like to make people's jaws drop open. Once you've got their mouths open, you can fill them up with some thought.
MSJ: What sort of things are you cooking up to make our jaws drop this time?
That's a secret.
MSJ: Oh, like a magician, you're not going to reveal your tricks.
Right! Well, we're going to go out in the beginning of May, I'm not sure whether we'll start here or in Europe, but we don't aim to disappoint anyone, I'll put it that way.
MSJ: Most bands have what they call a Spinal Tap moment. (Blackie starts giggling). What was your Spinal Tap moment?
Oh Gawd! There's been a few of them. When we were touring for "Inside the Electric Circus", we had this cannon that would shoot T-shirts. The T-shirts were all wrapped up in a ball and taped. You could shoot them across the audience; the thing could go a hundred yards. It was powered by compressed air. We went out on the opening night of the tour and pulled the trigger on this thing. I looked across the room to see what had happened and I saw Chris (Holmes, guitarist) in hysterics. It wound up shooting the shirts about 2 or 3 inches past the lip of the cannon. I just went, "Oh Gawd!" This was opening night, to boot..
MSJ: What was the last CD you got?
It was a collection of Native American chanting music. Part of my heritage is being an American Indian; I'm pretty interested in that culture.
MSJ: What was the last concert you attended, just for your own enjoyment?
I saw Iron Maiden about 4 or 5 months ago, when they were out there with Queensryche and Halford.
MSJ: How do you see WASP progressing?
We just put one foot in front of the oother and try to make the best records we can make. The most honest records we can. Either you are true to yourself or you lie. There's no gray area in music. If you are true, your career will take on a life of its own; your music itself will dictate your path. At this point, I don't dictate the music, it dictates me.
MSJ: Any statements to wrap things up, Blackie?
Well, we're definitely going to be around this summer. Bring your raincoats and overcoats to our show, it usually gets pretty messy. If you're too close to the stage, you've got a guy with an exploding codpiece that's gonna fry your eyebrows off!
MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2001 Year Book Volume 4 at
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