When I was 17, I decided that GWAR was the greatest band that had ever lived. They were dope-sick outer space thrash monsters and I was a kid fresh out of high school, driving around late at night and watching a bootleg dub of Peter Jackson‘s Meet the Feebles. A chunk of my adolescence was pretty well steeped in the Repo Man soundtrack and Joe Bob Briggs, so GWAR was everything that I wanted — a gross, slippery, hollering troupe of larger-than-life characters, each with elaborate demon barbarian costumes, yard-long penises, and names like the Sexecutioner or Slymenstra Hymen. They had great heavy metal songs about bestiality and disease, and their onstage banter was comprised of cheap jokes and decapitations of celebrities crafted out of foam rubber and surgical tubing. The first time that I ever saw the band, they played songs about radioactive penguins and cosmic toilets, and sprayed so much fake blood into the audience that I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I’m not gonna lie, in the few years after that, I was straight-up obsessed with GWAR. I talked about them to anyone who would listen (and many people who wouldn’t), and in the dead of winter, I drove across three states to see them on New Year’s Eve. If they were only just funny that’d be one thing, and if they were simply brutal, that’d be another, but GWAR was this perfect storm of both: sculpture artists with a tour bus full of DIY props and sardonic heshers with a circle-pit friendly setlist.
Since the band’s 1984 inception in Richmond, Virginia (when Dave Brockie‘s punk rock band, Death Piggy donned the costumes that Hunter Jackson and Chuck Varga had created for their in-progess horror/sci-fi movie Scumdogs of the Universe), GWAR has taken their heavy metal spectacle across the US, Europe, and Canada, and are poised to return to Australia early this year. In their nearly thirty years as a band, they’ve released tour videos and comic books, shot a feature-length film, created a role playing game and even a barbeque sauce They’ve also been arrestest on obscenity charges, honored with Grammy nominations, appeared on Jerry Springer, and covered a Billy Ocean track for the AV Club. Recently, they became the subject of a petition to book them as the featured entertainment for the 2015 Super Bowl Halftime Show and, this past September, GWAR was the focus of Richmond art gallery, Black Iris‘ Let There Be GWAR retrospective — an exhibit of the band’s original sketches and artwork, which also included master tapes, letters from fans, and genitalia molds. This fall also saw the release of Battle Maximus, GWAR‘s thirteenth album and their first recording since the 2011 passing of longtime member Cory Smoot, who, for nearly a decade, had taken the stage as the triceratops-shouldered lead guitarist, Flattus Maximus.
Back in November, I was able to get Dave Brockie (a/k/a GWAR frontman, Oderus Urungus) on the phone to ask him a few questions about the new record, his upcoming projects, and the legions of fans that have continued to live and die for GWAR since the Reagan administration.
Dave, hey I have an interview scheduled with you for… now… I guess.
Yes, yes you do.
So how you doing? Where you guys playing tonight?
I’m doing good; hanging in there. I need to take a shit, but… ah, yeah, we are in Joliet, Illinois. We’re getting pretty close to the end of it now. I think we have about nine shows left on this tour.
Are you going out on another leg next year?
We’re working on it. It all kinda depends on what’s up with Europe. We [plan] to go to Europe in spring, and the second leg will probably have to wait until the summer. I know we’re going to Australia in February, so somehow, I have to shove another American leg and a European leg in in like, a five month period. I think we can do it. I can’t say for sure yet; the only thing I know for sure is we’re going to Australia in February.
Have you guys played Australia before?
Yeah, we played there on the No Sleep Til festival, which was really good, but this one’s even huger. This one’s the Soundwave festival. We’re playing with Green Day and Rob Zombie and about a zillion other gigantic bands, so it should be really cool.
Do you ever have to scale down the stage show at all, when you tour internationally like that?
Oh hell no! No. We scale it up. We go big everywhere. I got a whole set of shit that’s sitting in Europe. I got a whole other set of shit that’s sitting in Asia. So, the basic characters are already there waiting for us, and then we just bring in the victims and the monsters, and we go as big as we fucking can. Yeah, chances are the US shows probably are a little more “spectacular,” but also US crowds just get it a little better, y’know? We try to make a few people — a few victims — that have some kind of relation to the people of the country we’re actually playing. We found that helps a lot, but Americans, they understand a little bit. It’s our home and they get it better.GWAR’s new album, Battle Maximus – it’s a lot more thrash-oriented, a little more of a classic [GWAR] sound than your last couple records were. I really dig it. Was it a conscious decision to make it more of a classic sound, or did it just happen that way?
Nah, it just kinda happened that way. When we got Brent in the band (Cannabis Corpse guitarist, Brent Purgason joined GWAR as lead guitarist, Pustulus Maximus, last year), those were the first songs we started writing. We’ve never gone into any GWAR album with a preconceived notion of how it was gonna sound, we just go in there and do it. And when Brent came in with “Madness at the Core of Time,” it kinda set the whole thing off on the right track. It was a total avalanche of a fucking song, you know? It was unbelievable. We just rallied behind that and let the rest of the album write itself. We had a lot of help from Zach Blair — he used to play Flattus Maximus [from 1999-2002], and he’s in Rise Against now. He started sending us riffs, started putting together songs, and, yeah, it just turned into a real, kind of, collision of a lot of earlier GWAR-style death and throwback thrash metal. But I think [it was] produced a lot better, because we really know what we’re doing in the studio, a hell of a lot better now than we used to.
I know [former GWAR bassist] Todd Evans wrote another song, “Nothing Left Alive,” right?
Yeah, Todd wrote one as well, which was kick-ass. [Battle Maximus] was really an amalgamation of a lot of people that have been close with GWAR for a long time. That’s why it took us so much longer. It took us like a year-and-a-half to do that record, ‘cause we had to work with all of our old Maximuses [Blair and Evans are credited on Battle Maximus as Splattus and Skookum Maximus, respectively]. We had to find our new Maximus, and that took a while. We auditioned a lot of guitar players and I’m very happy to have Brent. Brent’s a Richmond native, he’s a great guy, and he’s becoming a better friend every day. We were at a crossroads, you know? Cory was our principle songwriter. If we put out an album, after his death, that was construed by the music press or our fans as one iota weaker than anything we’d ever done before, this band could have been over, and I wasn’t going to let that happen. So, thrash metal saved GWAR’s life.
There’s an interview that Cory did a few years ago with Ultimate Guitar and he talked a lot about the gear he was using, and what Balsac the Jaws of Death was using in the studio, and songwriting, and some of the MIDI stuff you guys do, and just a lot of the musical work that you do onstage. I really like the interview a lot and I really feel like GWAR is underrated by the music press, and even how a lot of fans relate to the music. It’s really one of the best things I’d read from you guys.
I mean, the visual of GWAR is so overwhelming and so overpowering, it’s very difficult to write music that’s good enough to keep up with it. We could be up there playing fucking Tchaikovsky and people wouldn’t give us any credit! So, I would throw these guys up against any metal band IN THE WORLD. We are the hardest working, most consistent… we don’t take fucking three year breaks. We always have albums coming out, we always have projects we’re working on, we always have the most crazy, revolutionary, fucked-up show in rock and roll fucking history, and I think it terrifies the fuck out of a lot of our peers, who are in rock and roll to get their egos massaged, get their dicks sucked, and get their bank accounts full of money. Those people can all go fuck themselves. GWAR’s about revolution, GWAR’s about rebellion, and that’s what motherfucking rock and roll is supposed to be about.
It’s pretty amazing to think you’ve been a band for nearly thirty years. When did GWAR first feel real to you?
Death Piggy was a punk rock band back in Richmond, Virginia. GWAR was, like, kind of the opening act for Death Piggy. We’d come out in these barbarian costumes, stand around and let the guitars feed back, make some obnoxious comments, clear out of there, and then come back as Death Piggy. One night we were doing that, we came out as GWAR – there were five hundred fucking people in the club. Then, we took off the costumes, we came back as Death Piggy and nobody was there. That was when I realized GWAR was gonna be the rest of my life. And that was in about ’85-’86.
You played bass in Death Piggy and you’ve also been the bassist in [GWAR side project] X-Cops and Dave Brockie Experience. How much of the songwriting do you do in GWAR?
None. *laughs* I used to do my fair share. My GWAR songs tend to be the more punk rock silly classics like, “Sick of You” and “Vlad the Impaler,” “Fishfuck” and “Fucking an Animal.” I know a lot of people love those songs, but I wanted to stop playing them, because I wanted GWAR to be a metal band again. I still do all the lyrical arrangements and that’s still a huge part of the songwriting process; I just don’t write the music because I’m not very good at writing metal riffs.
Do you miss it, playing bass on stage?
Oh, I still play bass. I don’t get to as often as I’d like to, so yeah, I guess I do miss it. I love to play bass — I really, really love to play bass — and I’m actually a pretty decent [player], so… But, when I miss it that much, I’ll pick it up and do a show.
Are you going to do anything else with Dave Brockie Experience?
Yeah, we’ll probably do some more stuff. I’m thinking about more a straight-up solo project; I’m not sure exactly what it’s going to be. I was going to do the Oderus Spoken Turd comedy album, but all the sudden Cory passed away… but I think I’m ready to do that again. I think Oderus is going to do a standup album and then, maybe after that, we’ll start getting into some real, real crazed-out Dave Brockie weirdness.
Yeah, I read some stuff on your Tumblr page about doing that acoustic-bass, spoken word type of project.
I’ve messed around with it a bit in Richmond. Still haven’t quite got my groove with it yet, but I will get there. Definitely, the future’s wide open, but right now, for the foreseeable future, we’re just gonna be rocking Battle Maximus.
I know you guys did an X-Cops reunion at this year’s GWARBQ.
Yeah, it was fun. It was really great. It’s something we wanted to do for a long time. I can’t believe 17 years had gone by and we played really well, but that’s probably where it’s gonna stay. I don’t see a reunion; I don’t see another album. It’s possible, I just don’t really have the time for it. I got GWAR to do; I got a lot of other solo projects I’m working on. Honestly, it doesn’t really interest me as much anymore. It’s great while it lasted, and it’s wonderful that people reacted so hard to it and had such a fun time with X-Cops, but it’s just not something I’m really into. [When we started X-Cops], we actually opened up for GWAR, if you can believe that — all over America and then, all over Europe for, like, six months straight. When it was over, I was like, “How the fuck did we do that?”
Had you written any of those songs for GWAR?
No, no. Those songs were all written for X-Cops.
Over the years, you guys have released a lot of small-run CDs, like DBX’s Live from Ground Zero, the Death Piggy 7”s and early GWAR demos, and the Slave Pit Singles. Do you think any of that stuff will ever be available again?
I don’t know. All that stuff was like bootleg shit we put out ourselves. I’d like to see an ultimate box set of, like, everything we ever did. That would be amazing, but it just takes time to put those things together, so I’m not gonna say “no,” but I can’t say “yes” either.
Also, there’s been talk over the years of a documentary, or a coffee table book of some of the early days.
Yeah, we’ve been working on that forever. Still don’t have a publisher that’s willing to put it out, for some fucking stupid reason, but we do have everything together and it’s going to be awesome.
Yeah, it’ll be great. The documentary is pretty much made, it just needs all the after effects and everything to finish it up, so maybe we’ll crowd-fund that or something.
Are you going to do any more columns for the Richmond news site, the RVA News?
Yeah, I’m gonna get back into that. I’ve been writing my football column [for Metalsucks] and I’ve been so busy getting the GWAR album together, but I’m gonna start rapping that shit out again.
I only started reading the football column recently. I don’t know anything about the NFL and I think it’s really good.
Yeah, I write it to try and make it so people who don’t know anything about sports can actually enjoy it. That’s why I did it. It was good practice writing.
You’ve had a lot of artists in the Slave Pit [GWAR’s fabrication studio and “creature shop”] that have been there forever — guys like Scott Krahl and Bob Gorman– are they involved in the musical side?
No, not so much. Bob did a song on the new album, “I, Bonesnapper,” so we do occasionally give the extra characters songs, and he did a really good job on the song. I think we should be playing it live. They tell us what they think of the music, and we do play songs for ‘em, so we get ‘em involved as much as we possibly can. I mean, we comment on the art that they’re making, so why shouldn’t they be able to comment on the music that we’re making? We try to make it as much of a democracy as possible, but at the end of the day, the band has the last say on how the band is gonna sound.
I was really happy on this last tour — or this tour you’re doing now — [that] you played “Pre-Skool Prostitute” (from 1996’s Carnival of Chaos) and I know, in the past couple years, there’s been a few songs I hadn’t heard live — [1992’s] “Rock N Roll Never Felt So Good,” especially. Is it tough finding deep album cuts to play live like that?
The hardest part about it is deciding which one to do, because there’s so many fucking songs that are on the radar. I mean, everything from “Let’s Blame the Lightman” to “First Rule Is” to “Baby Dick Fuck” to “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7.” I mean, these are all songs we talked about doing on this tour and finally we were like, “You know, alright, we’re gonna do these ones,” and they were the perfect choices: “Jack the World” and “Pre-Skool Prostitute.” People have been freaking out when we play “Pre-Skool Prostitute;” they love that song.
So, after being a band for 30 years, you obviously have generations of fans. What’s that feel like to know that you have a whole family that came to see you?
It’s very complimenting. Sometimes we’ll get like, old ladies with their kids, and their kids, all covered in blood from head to toe. It lets me know that what we’re doing is not just something that one generation is gonna get, that GWAR’s got real staying power, that it’s got a real thought, force, and intellect behind it, and it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful thing, it’s a great feeling, and I’m always very humbled and grateful to our fans. And it’s always great to see old ladies in the slam pit.
Do you feel like the fans have changed at all in the last ten or twenty years?
Well, changed in that there’s new fans. I mean, we’ve still got the same guys that were coming to see us in 1988, still coming to see us, and now their kids so, no, I think the average GWAR fan is the same type of person – they’re open-minded, they have a good sense of humor, they like heavy music, they like spectacle, they’re not particularly worried about whether people think they’re cool or not. I think GWAR gets the best and the brightest fans in metal, period. They’re not a bunch of dumb jocks, you know? They’re not trying to make a fashion statement. They’re well aware they’re about to get covered in shit and they’ll have to spend the next two weeks explaining why their ears are blue. And everyone from kids from high school to absolutely the most beautiful women you’ve ever seen in your life love GWAR more than anything.
When you guys are designing the stage show and costumes and everything, how much different is it from when it’s conceived until it’s finally executed?
Well, we write a script and we try and stick to it. You never really know how it’s going to turn out until you do it, but we write a script just like it’s a script to a Broadway play, with lines and characters, and we just stick the songs in there. And, generally, how good the show is, is how closely it [follows] the script, and this show has been running [the] script brilliantly every night, except for the nights I’m a little too wasted and I forget my lines!
Speaking of, any big tour disasters on this tour?
No. No. Maybe last night, when I had to beat the living shit out of some kid for jumping up on stage. We’ve got thirteen-foot tall monsters out there, live electricity — a lot of things you can hurt yourself with. I don’t need some stupid-ass motherfucking kid jumping up on there like it’s a fucking hardcore show, and fucking running around, standing around Oderus, so he fucking got cracked the fuck hard and, after that, fucking stopped the whole show. I told fucking 1,500 of the rowdiest, most hardcore motherfuckers from Detroit city, “Fucking come up here on this fucking stage and I will fucking pound your fucking head flat,” and you could have heard a pin drop, and we did not have a single problem for the rest of the night.
That happen often?
No. Thank God. I really do not enjoy doing things like that. But, when I do that, I’m doing that to protect people; really, to protect my guys and to protect people from hurting themselves onstage, and, also, to protect people from Oderus kicking the living shit out of them.
I know that, kinda the internet scuttlebutt, over the years, has been that there’s a bit of a contentious relationship between you guys and [GWAR founding member] Hunter Jackson [who left the band in 2002]. I’m not trying to get gossipy or anything, but do you have any kind of relationship with him?
No, not really. He, kind of, has moved away from us, and there were never any hard feelings on our part. As far as how he feels about it, you’d have to ask him. From what I’ve heard, there are some hard feelings. I don’t really understand why. I love the man, I know we never could have done GWAR without him. If it wasn’t for his costumes, GWAR never fucking would have happened. I just think Hunter had a problem with the fact that, suddenly, it wasn’t his baby anymore, it was a collective. When it was just him making the costumes and sorting out that sort of stuff, it was his baby and he could control how it went. But, when it became a band and all these people started getting involved, you know, the control slipped away, and I think that was really hard for him to deal with. I have nothing but respect for him and I really wish — I really wish — he felt the same way about me. I’ll never say a bad word about him and I’ll always kinda look up to him like my big brother, who hates my guts for some reason.
Hey bro, I got an interview starting in another, like, two minutes.
Oh, okay. I’ll let ya go. Great talking to you.
Right on, man. I appreciate the support and HAIL GWAR.
Check out the Sean Taylor Photography Facebook page for more great GWAR-related images.