The whole L.A. metal explosion didn't happen overnight; it was at least ten years in the making. Ten years ago punk was the wave of the future, and CBGBs in New York was the Capitol. An 18-year old guitarist named Blackie Lawless played briefly in the most revered band of all, The New York Dolls, and when the group split he wandered to L.A. to find a new band. The City of Angels had been invaded flat out with a cheapened, soul-less version of the punk movement; good hard rock became as lame as a copy band at a Holiday Inn lounge.
But rock and roll can never die and the circuits were there for Blackie-- medium-sized bars where, for ten years Lawless played and jammed with Kevin Dubrow, Quiet Riot, and many of the recently famous metalists you'd give your pinkie finger just to party with for a weekend. They all Made It. . . and now Blackie Lawless has, too. Sands are always shifting.
Lawless, often hired for studio gigs (he sang backup vocals for Nikki Sixx, a good friend, on Shout At The Devil) two years ago got up a band of studio musicians--Steven Riley, Randy Piper and Chris Holmes and formed WASP. They used to come onstage and play with bloody hunks of raw intestines, an act and a sound Blackie calls "electric vaudeville-- rock as a basic black art form."
A few short, long years ago, down and tapped out, WASP, unable to afford boutiques, used to look in junkyards and hardware stores for their show-biz wardrobe. Blackie dug some "contraption" out of the heap, an old sawblade, a sartorial "find " of the first order-- he wore it onstage. Next, wanting to tip the scales of an 85% male audience in his favor, he cut out the seat of his pants to expose his buns; and now, watching him prance around the stage almost two years after his first tour, wearing the swordpiece and a codpiece, brandishing human skulls, waggling his bare arse like candy smack over the faces and outstretched palms of an army of delirious groupies-- Wham! An American dream of absolute Reagan proportions has unfolded. Two years ago they crawled out of a junkyard and now, as they appear before packed arenas, hawkers sell WASP baseball caps with sawblades stitched across them and, even more electrifying to our already sick minds- Sears & Roebuck, the bastions of whitebread banality, is planning on merchandising Blackie Lawless's outfit in time for next year's Halloween! Gads! Will Sears cut the asses out of the pants too? "That's up to them," Blackie says. ". . . It'll probably have little flaps like those Dr. Denton pajamas."
There were at least two factors responsible for jerking the ticket sales of WASP tours up: Touring first with Krokus and then Quiet Riot might have been enough to establish them as part of the jet-metal elite, and their videos, "Love Machine," "I Wanna Be Somebody," but there was something else... a single they released independently, before the first WASP LP-- a desperate lunge at the throat of common record execs a song called, "Animal. . . Fucks Like A Beast." Predictably, the record didn't get airplay; it was banned, of course, from every retail outlet and chain across the world, and yet... it sold almost 100, 000 copies. Insiders buying tickets for a Wasp concert were paying for what they hoped to hear played live.
Of course, this unmentionable song was not to be overlooked at the recent Congressional hearings on "pornographic" lyrics. You can be sure Tipper Gore "jumped" on this one-- Blackie feels positively persecuted. "I feel like I've had a bullseye on my forehead for the past six months," he says, while unable to stop conjecturing what Tipper's reaction would be if he came on to her.
Congress squashed the rating idea just in time for WASP's new album to be released, The Last Command-- what timing! There's a cut on it that could push Tipper right into menopause. As Blackie says, "Wait 'til she hears 'Ballcrusher.' She's gonna lose her mind."--Ed.
METAL MANIA: We might be the only ones know you used to have another drummer--Tony Richards, So wha....
BLACKIE: I shot him...he had bad breath.
MM: You're studio musicians-- how did you become WASP?
BLACKIE: We'd been cooped up so long it was time to try something else. I had some songs and one thing led to another. We wanted to try live. When you're in a studio you're In front of a machine, no immediate gratification. Live, you know whether you've passed or failed on a song in four minutes. You've got to get your feet out of the studio environment-- I'd done it originally-- but still, you have to get out of the studio environment after a while and get your feet wet again.
MM: Who are your musical influences?
BLACKIE: Ku Klux Klan, Hells Angels, Smirnoff, my pelvis...
MM: I said musical!
BLACKIE: Oh...musical! Well, you can listen to a 12000 CC Harley, and you can hear a lot of things in that. You can definitely hear Elvis and Little Richard in the purr of a well- tuned Harley.
MM: Do you live a so-called 'rock 'n roll lifestyle'?
BLACKIE: That's like saying, 'Are you rich!' And 'rich' has double meanings. We've got a song called 'The Flame,' and the second line goes, 'I live my life in the fast lane/ The only way to make it.' To me, I get as close to the edge as I can without falling off, but I know where that edge is. When I was in The Dolls, it was five guys all trying to be Jim Morrison, and succeeding. They were the only band I ever knew that sat in an airplane terminal, missing five flights in a row because one guy was getting a blowjob in the bathroom, and the other was passed out under a table, and shit like that. Rock is a great thing, I love it, it's my life. I don't mean to sound like Georgie Jessel, you know 'Show business is my life,' but it's a great thing, success, like the ocean-- you must respect it or it will take your life... if not, it will cause you to do other things that will make your life hell on earth.
MM: Are you blowing other bands offstage lately?
BLACKIE: I won't answer that question. Some of these guys are real good friends of mine. Do you know what blowing people off the stage is? You should never ask anyone that. Playing a live show is like running a race to beat the guy next to you at the best possible time. You try as hard if it's one band or a hundred. At the end of the day I've got to come into this dressing room and look into this mirror at myself. If I didn't perform at my best for the people, I can't sleep.
MM: Do you really feel that way?
BLACKIE: Do you think I'm sitting here giving you a load of bullshit? The fans in a way have elected me to be here by proxy, for them, to have fun and be real good. If I'm not they'll see through it... We're not doing anything particularly new or different. We're just wrapping up the same package that's been happening for the last hundred years. Nothing's new, and if I were to tell you that we were, I'd be a goddam awful liar. What we are doing is repackaging the boundless energy of the idea. 'Who cares? Do it anyway!' It's an idea, if sincere, that will translate in any language to any age barrier.
MM: How do you feel about all the hype around heavy metal lately?
BLACKIE: No hype. Just more of us. When the crunch hit the record industry in '79, the bottom fell out of everything. There were bands like ourselves and Quiet Riot, that have been doing what we do for eight years, and we stuck to our guns-- when we could not get work, when the New Wave and punk scene was going heavy in L. A. and no one would listen to us, we did not change our style of music, we did what we thought was right: we kept writing good material. So if you think you're hearing a glut of L.A. music now it's not because all the bands jumped on the bandwagon, this thing was going on the whole time. We all had a lot of time to perfect and hone a whole backlog of tunes we'd written when our Time Was Not. Hype? Motley Crue, Quiet Riot didn't sell on hype. There's an old Hollywood expression, 'You can't hype a bad product,' not for very long, because it will tell on itself, eventually. If the material is not strong, people will not buy the record.
MM: Don't you think your video is demoralizing to women?
BLACKIE: Whoa... hey!... Get specific! Don't point a gun at me, lady, without specific evidence. What is this anyway, hearsay?
MM: What about the woman who floats in a fishtank in a flimsy nightgown in your video, 'Love Machine?'
BLACKIE: She jumped at the chance to do it and she got three thousand dollars for it. She really enjoyed it and she would definitely do it again. And hey, listen, if anybody's a sexual object, it's me and Chris Holmes. We literally got the guts to let our asses hang out onstage. Do we make women get up there and do that? Do we? You saw our concert! I'll tell you what-- if you feel we're exploiting women I'll kiss your ass on Main Street, and I'll give ya half an hour to draw a crowd.
MM: To what do you attribute your notoriety, since it's surely not from radio or MTV?
BLACKIE: Good ink. We became darlings of the press because we were animated colorful characters for the paparazzi. We are four very colorful individuals who, together, make good ink.
MM: Like Motley Crue, for example? They're very colorful!
BLACKIE: Yeah, ha, ha, real colorful! I would just like to think that we conduct ourselves a little differently. I had a band called 'Sister' and we were the first band ever to use a pentagram...To tell you the truth, I can't see a whole lot of similarity between us and them... even though Nikki is one of my best friends, I really don't see it! I don't see any similarity between Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, WASP or Kiss. I see them all as being similar to themselves. They're three different genres-- if Waylon Jennings and Micky Gilley do something similar, they're the same, C&W style. Within certain subcultures you got categories, you got subcultures, and I guess my WASPs got put into that subculture for lack of nothing better: Dee Snider doesn't look like anybody I've ever seen, except for maybe Bette Midler.
MM: Let's talk about the new album, The Last Command. What's the theme behind it?
BLACKIE: On the first album-- I didn't realize it at the time-- there seemed to be a lot of things that dealt with pain-- and not in an S&M fashion.... What I mean by pain is frustration. 'The Torture Never Stops' is about working jobs 9 to 5. I think that a lot of people, because of its title, would assume that it was about something else. Now it's clear to me that was about frustration. Even "I Wanna Be Somebody" was about that.
I don't think anything on The Last Command can be compared with our last album, because there's such a diversity of ideas on it. 'Fistful Of Diamonds' is a real personal statement, 'cause that's where I am in my life right now. 'Widowmaker' is macabre art in its purest form-- it's very simple, similar to Edgar Allen Poe, or something like that, sorta like old radio. I like that kind of stuff, not devil-worshiping, or that kind of crap... that's so boring. I wrote 'Cries In The Night' ten years ago. It was right after the Dolls broke up, and I was very depressed at that time. 'Ballcrusher' was a personal experience. I used to live with a girl who was a Centerfold for Playboy, and she drove me berserk. It didn't work out.
MM: Is this album more commercial?
BLACKIE: I think 'commercial' is a label put on a product once it does well. There were people who made attempts to make a commercial album, but it didn't sell, so therefore it was deemed as junk. It's very odd that you asked this question, because when I came back to America after touring Europe and Japan last year I had a very bad attitude about American radio. I vowed that I would never make a record for radio ever again. We tried to put a couple of tracks like that on the first album [WASP], like 'Love Machine,' that we thought would get played. Now it's over a year later, we've sold over a million albums, and we got very little airplay. I said 'Screw 'em. I'm gonna make an album of things I wanna do,' and that's what I did on this. The odd thing is, we're getting more acceptance now than we ever dreamed of. We're even hearing from the radio people-- maybe they're loosening up right now.
MM: Will there be any controversy surrounding this album?
BLACKIE: Does a hobby horse have a wooden dick? I mean, of course there's gonna be. Just the lyrical content of these songs.... Hey, with everything else going on, don't you think they're gonna put this under a microscope?
MM: How do you feel about Tipper Gore's crusade to put ratings on records?
BLACKIE: I can't understand her. I don't know why she attacks me. It seems like I've had a bullseye on my forehead for the past six months. She tends to delight in it. I can't understand it. I was looking at Time magazine two days ago, and there was an article on her in there. I saw her picture, and I thought that she was very attractive. I thought to myself that I'd like to meet her one day, to tell her what I think. I'd just say to her, you know, 'I think you're very nice-looking, and I think about you a lot'-- just to see what her reaction would be to that. Maybe that's what she's looking for.
MM: What rating do you think your new album would've gotten?
BLACKIE: You could probably take the whole fucking alphabet and put it on the record and pick out whatever letters you want, and they'd probably all apply. Wait 'til they hear 'Ballcrusher.' They're gonna lose their minds.