Here's the whole band in their human disguises. From the Live Wire Unmasked article.
Bottom Row: Dave Brockie (Oderus), Matt Maquire, Danyell Stampe (Slymenstra), Brad Roberts (Jizmak), Mike Bonner, Dog, Casey Orr (Beefcake), Chuck Varga (Sexecutioner)
From Live Wire magazine
by Brian O'Neill
Photos by Anelli Adolfsson
No, they're not from Antarctica, they're from Pennsylvania. Slymenstra Hymen is really a nice girl, and Balsac the Jaws Of Death drinks Diet Pepsi.
Every GWAR interview you read usually revolves around why they want to kill us, the many different things they hate about this planet, and their battles against "all things good." It makes good reading, but inside the costumes and behind the gory theatrics, there is a group of artists with keen minds, and extraordinary talent. Instead of Antarctica, let's venture instead to Richmond, Virginia, the true home for the many members of GWAR, and let's see what they're hiding behind the masks...
SLAVE PIT, INC. AND THE GWAR FACTORY
The first thing you notice outside the GWAR factory, home of the band and its many creations, is the low-key atmosphere. A few auto dealerships over there, and 7-11's as far as the eye can see. Inside the building, it's a different story.
The GWAR factory is huge, expanding back and up to second floor. It is probably the size of a medium airplane hanger, or maybe a small airport. Upstairs, there are offices and rooms that pass as bedrooms. The side of the building has a yard where their two dogs are kept. Downstairs there is a huge area which doubles as a studio for when photographers come to call. The coolest place, however is all the way in the back, up an entirely too small set of stairs. This is where GWAR keeps all of their props.
Clothing hangs from racks like meat in a butcher shop, and the shelves that line the walls are filled with implements of GWAR's destructive past. You can see the giant milk carton used when the band did "Have You Seen Me" on it's last tour. Balsac's jaw-piece, or at least one of several incarnations of it, rests in one corner, and another is filled with swords, hammers, and other weapons, all with hints of the fake blood GWAR uses so much of smearing and discoloring the material.
"We use latex rubber, poly-foams, urethane foams, and other kinds of room temperature foams," explains Chuck Varga, though most know him as Sexecutioner. "We want to get a vacuform here really soon, and then we'll really take off. That's like a pizza oven in a vacuum. You heat sheets of plastic, and drape them over a posititve molded form, and the vacuum part sucks it through. You can make suits that Robo-Cop has!"
Chuck is one of the 15 or so members of GWAR. Though each one of is quick to point out that everyone helps out in all artistic endeavors, each person does have his or her specialty, and his or her main responsibilities lie with that. Chucks is the prosthetics.
"I went to college, I went the fine art route, and it really turned me off," says Chuck. "I was really creative, but at the same time, I wasn't into fine or commercial art. It seemed like art was really a dead end thing to get into.
"I was hanging around with Hunter (Jackson, Techno Destructo when he's around, "a lowly slave" when he's not) Dave (Brockie, Oderus Urungus, the vocalist), who were totally crazy, much like myself. They totally reviled in comic books and movies, and II kind of looked at myself and said, 'I've always been into that! I don't need a bunch of goddamned museum bullshit!' So I had a rebirth in a way, forget everything I learned in college, and I started to learn about a totally different science of special effects and props."
Looking at the workshop he uses, the many diverse props they all worked on, you can see the professionalism that Chuck and the others strive for. Even without the huge budgets that Hollywood movies get, GWAR does just fine, thank you very much.
"We really can't compete with the execution a loot of the times," he admits, "but the flavor and sense of humor that would go into an effect would be very odd and imaginative. There's a certain absurd flavor to it. I would say that I'm as good as Rick Baker (a special effects legend) in terms of doing effects."
Hunter Jackson helped start the madness almost a decade ago, when he and several others in the GWAR family were students at Virginia Commonwealth University's prestigious art school. They started at a warehouse, probably similar to the one they're in right now, working with Dave's band Death Piggy, who rehearsed in that same warehouse. They originally received praise at local comic book convention contests, which they did well in several years in a row.
They also started movie-making "because it was a way to make money," he says, and started the mythos that would become GWAR. His main responsibilities today lie in the comics that GWAR does. "It's mostly doing the newsletter (Mind Control Monthly), helping to write shows and videos, creating new characters, and designing stuff I'm one of the graphic artists of the group. I also do the mail order department with Mind Control, and I've been trying to do some outside comics as well."
A sampling of the GWAR mail-bag proves to be almost as interesting as the warehouse itself. A typed letter from a fan in West Liverpool, Ohio begins. "I am but a mere human and insignificant to ones as powerful and mighty as yourselves," and ends, "A human who knows his place." A girl in Yorkville, Illinois wants to know if "the shitty security guards let anyone go back stage to get sucked. fucked, and to smoke some crack if it's o.k. with Oderus."
One guy wrote them a song called "Psychodelic," though occasional poignant prose gets to the band. Indicative of this is from a dude in Bengalem, Pennsylvania, who laments the suicide death of his good friend, a friend who was happiest at GWAR shows.
"We get all kinds of letters, and just send out catalogs," one GWAR-rior admits. "We got this letter from a 14 year old girl who thought she was pregnant, was expelled from school, and she was going to kill herself." What did they do? "We sent her a catalog," he smiles.
DON'T YOU GET IT?!?
Another writer, this one from Galesburg, Illinois notes that he's supportive of GWAR "because I saw the humor and wisdom in your parody of how decadent and basically fucked up our society has become..." GWAR does have a very serious method to their madness, and it takes just a glimpse beneath the slap-stick and blood to realize this. A glimpse that too many, fans and foes alike, don't seem to take, as they dismiss the group as mindless entertainment for a disposable generation.
"I think back to High School," remembers Don Drakulich (Sleazy P. Martini, the sleazy manager). "My friends were into Kiss, and they were about two grades lower than me. They asked me if I was going to the Kiss show, and I said Kiss was for babies. Already at 16, 1 was too cool! Now, I kick myself because I blew a really good opportunity to see them in their hey-day.
"I think a lot of people out there are doing the same thing when it comes to GWAR," he continues. "They're too old to want to take any part of it seriously, or even to look for content and anything worthwhile, and they're not young enough to just enjoy it as it is."
Danielle (Slymenstra Hymen) admits, "Sometimes it bothers me, because being a humanist like I am, I want the world to get better. I have battles with myself about whether or not this is truly helping things, or if it's just creating sensationalist bullshit. But GWAR is a satire. We try to hit on some political issues. Whether people get them, or whether we perform them correctly so that people can get them, I don't know. But deep down, I feel like we're doing a social justice."
DON'T FUCK WITH SLYMENSTRA
Danielle is probably the most noticeable performer in GWAR simply because she's the most visible female in the crew. Just don't call her the only woman in GWAR.
"There's Melanie Mandal, who directed the last movie, and she was the assistant director of Phallus In Wonderland, the thing we got nominated for a Grammy for. And there's Liz, our manager, our Mom! There's a lot of other women involved if you get right down to it; the photographers who take pictures of us, and there were a lot of female staff members on the film."
While Danielle is in charge of a lot of the painting and wardrobe in GWAR, she is best-known as Slymenstra. It's a role she relishes. "In a way it's kind of funny," she exclaims, "because I'm really not that violent. People have all these different ideas about who I am because of the character I play, so it's really interesting when I meet people, because they don't know what to think. I'm a mystery, I love it!"
So exactly how much of Danielle is in Slymenstra? "Well, I mean, there must be tons of it, right?" she laughs. "I can't go out at 26 years old and get drunk on tequila anymore and beat men's faces in, so I had to find a new outlet! There's no social restraint there. I can go out there and run around naked and not really attach myself to it. I can't run around at a club the way I do when I'm her, you know?"
Slymenstra has become a sex symbol to some, something Danielle sees as natural. Says the dreadlocked fire-twirler, "What I see in the media right now is a lot of Kali imagery, which is the mother-destroyer character. There's a lot of imagery about powerful, ass-kicking women, women who have all these Goddess-like qualities. Strong female characters are in."
This also perturbs the feminist stand Danielle takes in her life. "About the sado-masochistic elements in a strong element, is it for the men, or is it for the women? Women obviously feel stronger, like, oh, I'm so ass-kicking! And then, the other argument is that men want to be beaten, so therefore you are submitting again. I go through all kinds of head-trips about what I'm doing."
As we speak, Danielle is unpacking from time spent in New York. Included is a rubber dress, and a strange thing designed to lock a persons arms behind his or her back. Worthy of note because these are not for Slymenstra. They're for Danielle.
WELCOME TO THE MACHINE
In GWAR's quest for fame, the creativity of it's members aren't the only things they rely on. There's the comic books, the videos and a feature-length film they just shot. There's also computers, an area GWAR is expanding into as quickly as possible, first and foremost with those culture mavens Beavis & Butt-head.
"It's an arcade game," details Hunter. "It involves Beavis & Butt-head getting tickets to a GWAR show, but their neighbor's dog eats it, so they have to go around and collect all of the chewed-up pieces of the tickets to make it to the show. At the end of the game, there's a scene where they're at a GWAR show." Hunter did all of the artwork for it, and the band provided new, original music for the game.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg, nothing more than a rest-stop on the touted "Information Superhighway" which threatens us all. Did you ever have Beefcake The Mighty give you bass instruction in your kitchen? You will! Especially if Scott Craw (Slave) has anything to do with it.
Scott is the resident computer expert in GWAR, "because everyone else is a techno-phobe and they don't want to get their hands dirty," he explains. "It seems that the next thing should be the GWAR show itself, played out in an infinite variety of variations. Either as a person in the pit, or attempting to be as cool as Sexecutioner, Slymenstra, or Oderus, According to Scott, the main obstacle isn't technology ("Most of that is either in place, or will be very soon"), but money. "First and foremost," he says, "looking to have control over content and our ownership is priority one. It's definitely financial capitol against intellectual capitol out there. The intellectual capitol needs to be protected."
WHO NEEDS MONEY ANYWAY?
"Money helps a lot," says Chuck. "But dollar for dollar, we're pretty good! We pay ourselves less than minimum wage; there's such a vast amount of overhead that goes into our organization."
Danielle admitted ire in a Spin Magazine review that called GWAR "'The tired heavy metal band!' I mean, tired, yeah, I am tired because I don't get paid and I work all of the time to give people entertainment. Fuck you! I am tired, I'm tired of eating peanut butter and Top Ramen noodles.
SUCCESS AND THE MODERN GWARRIOR
No sell outs here, even if GWAR has been at it for almost a decade and still struggles for their art, with few even getting it all. Don feels that GWAR will have a page in the history book one way or another.
Says Don, "I have a feeling that what would be more likely to happen is that we'll all go down as this cool, cult phenomenon, and maybe 20 years down the road, people will look back and go, 'Wow, that was really cool.'
"But then again," he continues, "I can't think of another rock band that's more compatible with interactive technology than GWAR is. Who gives a shit what Bon Jovi does at home? I don't want to walk around Bon Jovi's house, I want to walk around a cool castle! And kill demons!"
He laughs, "And that's where GWAR is coming from."