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Interview – Dave Brockie, GWAR – December 2013

| 19 February 2014 | Reply

Interview – Dave Brockie, GWAR – December 2013

By Shane Pinnegar

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As 43 million year old space barbarian Oderus Ungerus, Dave Brockie traverses the planet clad in rubber prosthetics at the pointy end of shock metal band GWAR, and as he aims the rocket towards our shores as part of Soundwave Festival, SHANE PINNEGAR found fourth time’s a charm trying to pin him down for a chat.

“We’ve been on the road,” apologises Brockie for the previous missed calls, “and there’s been all this shit goin’ on – our bus exploded, and apparantly cell phones don’t work in the middle of the desert!! But ya got me now, you got my undivided atttention, so let’s do this thing!”

A suggestion that there’s no ‘normal’ day out on the road for a touring metal band is met with exasperated laughter.

“Oh hell no! Your legs can get cut out from you at any moment! You have no idea the kind of shit that we go through. Literally, today, in the dressing room, we’re sitting there, everything’s fine… and all of a sudden, raw human fecal matter starts bubbling up out of the drain in the bathroom!

“We had to take everything out of the room,” he continues, still amused at the ridiculousness of the event, “this is after we had a broken down tour bus and… it’s just insane. Anyone that thinks it’s a wonderful, glamorous lifestyle where you flit from place to place with magic wings, to be blown by hot women propelled by lines of cocaine, is a complete idiot! Unless of course you’re a band who makes a million dollars every day, then it might be like that – but certainly not GWAR, the hardest working band in show business!

“[But] I love it. I mean, we do. We really take pride in the hardships that we have to go through in order to bring the most outrageous show in rock n’ roll history to people all around the world. It is a gargantuan task, and if we didn’t enjoy doing it, we wouldn’t do it – and if we weren’t very good at it we wouldn’t fuck around with it either!”

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GWAR have proven themselves to be far more than a rubber-masked cabaret act or one-joke wonder, having released 13 albums over 25 years. Brockie agrees that when he started role playing scenes on stage with GWAR’s predecessor, Death Piggy, he never imagined he’d be here, now, with an obsessive worldwide following.

“Oh absolutely not – that was the last thing I was thinking about!” he exclaims. “I don’t think it ever occurred to me, I don’t think it ever occurred to any of us. We did what we did for fun. We all had other things that we were more serious about, and little by little those things came to matter less and less, and the power of GWAR just continued to grow and grow, and all of a sudden we were just like, ‘you know what – THIS is what we need to put all of our energy into.’ And that was almost 30 years ago. Unbelievable.”

Despite in excess of 30 million album sales, the band has never won the support of the mainstream media. Do they just not get it? Does Brockie even care?

“Well, ummm, a lot of people in the media just don’t get it,” he says. “A lot of people in the media, I think, DO get it – and that’s why they’re afraid of it. It’s very subversive! They don’t want to be associated with it – ‘cos they’re afraid it’s gonna hurt their career! And uhhh… it’s something I’m super proud of, that there’s people who are still so very, very afraid of GWAR. And they won’t admit it, of course, and they try to criticise us in the stupidest of ways – ‘oh they’re this stoopid costume band… the music is shit… etc etc’ That’s just idiocy you know, we’ve been getting better and better all the time.”

One thing Brockie isn’t so sure about is what GWAR’s stage set will include on their Australian jaunt.

“I wish I knew!” he laughs. “We’re not quite sure which one we’re bringing with us yet! But it will be amazing and it will be exciting, and we will be splattering lots of people – and in fact I’ve been taking suggestions from Australian people as to who we should kill. Who’s that guy who’s running your country right now? Tony Abbot…?

“How would that go over – if we chopped off Tony Abbot’s head?

“I think that’s where we’re gonna go,” he teases. “I don’t wanna blow it, but… We have this brand new show that we’re doing here in North America right now, which is based on the Battle Maximus album that we just put out. It’s an epic, epic show – I think it’s the greatest GWAR show that we’ve ever done. The artists and musicians just really, really outdid themselves.

Freeman promotions; Publicity photo of GWAR

“You know, we went through a very difficult time,” Brockie reflects, “we lost one of our most important memebers, Corey Smoot, he played Flattus for twelve years and he passed away, unfortunately. And we were just like, he’d kind of been the guy that kind of saved GWAR. We were kind of getting a little diddly there in the middle of our album career… and in spite what people might say about GWAR, it really is all about the music, and the music and the visual aspect put together form an element of musical theatre unlike anything that’s ever happened before.

“But it’s important for GWAR to stay focussed in the heavy music arena, because when GWAR starts playing … a lot of our albums we fucked around with our parents’ kind of music, you know. You’ll hear a country song, a lounge music song, a jazz song or whatever – and it was important for us to go through that, but Corey kind of got us going back in the metal direction. And the last five albums have been getting heavier and heavier, so when he passed we were like, ‘wow, we just lost the guy who was kind of our main songwriter’.

“But it really strengthened our resolve in a really amazing way,” he resolves, “in the way that we were not gonna let that stop us. We were gonna use that to show strength, and we really just threw ourselves into the new project. I HOPE to be able to bring the new show to Australia, so we just have to see how much that’s gonna cost. Otherwise we’ll just have to see what we can do!” He finishes with a laugh.

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Brockie is adamant that he never once felt that the band might have been over when Smoot died, on 3 November 2011.

“No, not for a second.” He says without hesitation. “I knew immediately that we were gonna make it and that we had to make it. Because there’s no way that we wanted to have the end point of GWAR’s career be that- that would have been so lame.

“In a lot of ways that would have justified a lot of the criticisms that we’ve received, you know, ‘the only guy in GWAR that had any talent, when he died the band broke up, so that proves our point’,” he says in a jokey dumbass voice. “Well, no, absolutely not, and all the guys in the band are incredibly talented and incredibly dedicated. It was just… well, this has happened. It happened in the middle of a tour, and not only did we… we didn’t miss a beat, we didn’t miss a show, and we went through with one guitar player.

“Then we kinda recast the line, rebaited the line, and we went out there and had exhaustive auditions and finally found Brent Ferguson, who has been playing with Cannabis Corpse for a while, who are amazing, and I think we came back more powerful than ever.”

Any band featuring rubber masked and appendeged space monsters cavorting around the stage and straffing the front rows of the audience with alleged bodily fluids of a risque and revolting manner will always run the risk of their visuals detracting from their music, lyrics and message. Brockie says it’s a fine line they walk.

“I think at first, yeah, I mean, people saw us and that visual was so powerful, and also at the beginning of GWAR, that first album, it was very difficult to get good musicians to stick with it, because it was very difficult to be in the band, difficult to play in those costumes, and GWAR was widely perceived to be just a joke. And most guys that were really good players didn’t wanna do that – even if they liked GWAR and got the joke, they wanted to be in a band that was more comfortable, where they maybe had more chance of getting laid.

“So we tended to attract more punk rock musicians, but gradually, as GWAR gained popularity, and we got that big tour bus and started playing in front of a thousand people a night, it got a little easier to find good people [laughs]. A few of those guys who go all the way back to Scumdogs […Of The Universe, GWAR’s second album, released in 1990] are still in the band – Mike Derks and Brad Roberts, the drummer – and we’ve still got the same audience that were there at the beginning. But it took a long time, and it took a lotta albums and it took a lot of shredding shows to really get through people’s heads – and I dunno if we really have yet – but I think GWAR has finally hit a level where we have more respect as musicians than we ever had before.”

Brockie is on record a couple of years ago as saying “I think one of the reasons that nobody else is doing what we’re doing is because nobody else wants to.” Brockie laughs when I quote this back to him, but I wonder aloud, is being so unique a lonely mission?

“It can be, but at the same time,” he says with steely resolve, “all I have to do, if I ever doubt the power of GWAR, just go look at what’s going on in social media [to see] how GWAR has touched so many people’s lives and inspired so many – not even artists and musicians, just regular people – to overcome things in their lives or express themselves as they saw fit. And I know we have really a worldwide, incredibly devoted cult following, and that was the sort of thing I was into when I was a kid, so we don’t feel lonely in that respect.

“As far as personally, individually, I’ve purposefully made my life to be as lonely as possible – I don’t have any kids, I don’t have a girlfriend, I don’t have a wife, and my family that I’d hang out with are all distantly related, they all live in England and Scotland, you know. It actually works out really well for me as, in my position in GWAR – lead singer and kind of the mouth piece of the band, if you will – I can dedicate everything that I have to the project – and that’s what I wanna do. And uhhh, no, that’s a choice I made, and if I felt bad about it I would change my mind.

“Here I am, you know, getting on with my life, and I still enjoy it every bit as much as I did – performing is the biggest rush in the world. That’s really the greatest – it keeps me going! I have no doubt I would be a big, fat, slovenly, sack of shit unless I did this for a living!”

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With a radical stage show so out there that it’s often protested against as being offensive, where is the line in terms of what Brockie would NOT do onstage?

“Well, I dunno if we’ve ever really got there,” he says with typical frankness and a pirate-like understatement. “We’ve done pretty much the grossest things we can think of on stage – I’ve even been thrown in jail for it, you know. But one of the biggest things about GWAR is, we like to take things in society that people are scared of, that are sacred or profane, and drag ’em out onstage and literally cut ’em to bits and kick the living shit out of them. And in doing so we hope that people will not be afraid of these things, that they will not be ashamed of these things. That we can get these sacred cows or blasphemies out in the public eye and not be so controlled by them. ‘Cos that’s one of the main things that GWAR’s about – pure and complete freedom. But no, I have no… there’s no subject matter that I’m afraid to take on, and we’ve proven it over and over again.”

With a notoriously messy, splattersome show, Brockie has some sage advice to Soundwave audiences who might want to get close to the stage.

“Well a lotta people here in The States,” he laughs, “the fans here bring a change of clothes with them actually, because they’re so soaked after the Gwar show that they don’t wanna drive home in their car and get the upholstery all messed up. And they’ll all wear white t-shirts, you know, so they can get different patterns of spew on them. We have to have different colours of what we’re doing, we’re spewing [out] a lot of stuff – so it’s almost like some kind of Grateful Dead kind of sweaty tie-die thing going on.

“So I guess I would say – well, Oderus would recommend everyone wearing tuxedos and the women wearing Victorian era hoop skirts, but Brockie would probably say ‘make sure you don’t wear clothes that you care too much about!’””

Talking of Oderus Ungerus, Brockie takes a moment to remind us that it’s him under all the rubber.

“Well, it’s just a character I play,” he says. “And people forget that sometimes, ‘cos Oderus will say outrageous, fucked up things – without provocation. But he’s also really smart and will sometimes be the voice of reason in the metal community – that’s why his twitter feed is so good. I speak of him in the third person because he is a character that I play, and he is a completely… sure, he is a persona that reflects a lot of my own opinions, definitely, but he’s definitely a character, and when people get really upset about things a character says… you know, it’s like getting upset at Homer Simpson for being a bad Dad or something.

“That’s why it’s particularly perplexing when people in the metal community get offended or upset by things that Oderus says – I mean, come on, GWAR is the clown princes of the metal scene, and the rock n’ roll scene in general. And if you say something or do something that’s really stupid, and you’re a member of that community, you’re a lead singer or whatever, and you offend others, he’s gonna skewer you! And he’s gonna do a really good job of it – he’s really a shield… for me. I’ve been trying to get away with saying whatever I want and just blaming it all on him,” he finally confesses, laughing.

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Alongside those thirteen studio albums have been – fittingly for such an over-the-top visual show – 23 video/DVD releases, not to mention a handful of cameos in Hollywood movies. The obvious question to me is, when are GWAR going to take it a step further and do a Kiss Meets The Phantom Of The Park, Tenacious D Pick Of Destiny, styled movie of their own?

“Well we would love to do that,” he laughs excitedly, “except for the money! I mean we do a lot of video releases because they’re easy to do and cheap to do, but to really do a great GWAR movie and to do it properly and have GWAR flying around in outer space on Scumdog Warbarges, and to have them lounging in our Antarctic Palace, and to have us battling the US army and chopping tanks in half with broadswords – that’s gonna cost some money! I don’t care how good computer graphics have got, that’s gonna cost some fuckin’ money!

“And so far nobody has stepped up to the plate really, and people, what they like to do, is borrow a bit of GWAR, to have us do a little cameo or maybe even go so far as to copy what we do and take out all the nasty parts. So until there is a director or another way of us getting our hands on that money, that’s never gonna happen. And that’s a real fuckin’ shame. That’s the reason there’s never been a GWAR video game – they cost a lot of money to put together. For some people, that’s not a lot of money, but they’re scared to invest all that cash if its something they’re probably not gonna get back – you know, you can’t sell GWAR at Walmart!

“You can’t mass distribute us like we’d like to – so the projects that call for that amount of money to be sunk into ’em, you can’t have any reasonable hope of getting it back because you can’t mass distribute the product so well. But I have a funny idea that it will happen some day, because it just seems like GWAR’s power is slowly growing and I have to believe that there’s somebody out there that will help get these projects made!

“What we need to do [is] get a good treatment together [on paper] and just try to get that happening, but honestly, the last couple of years… just getting this new show and new album together, it’s so much work. It’s unbelievable man, how much work it is, and what’s been really satisfying the amount of press we’ve been given recently – it really shows me that people all around the world are really more interested than ever in what GWAR is up to.

“We’ve been around for 28 years now, we’ve been through the worst things imaginable, we’ve always emerged triumphant, we’ve proven ourselves fearless, indefatigable, and consistent. We never took a five year break – we’ve always had albums coming out once every two years, and we tour relentlessly. So very slowly, GWAR is winning the hearts and minds… and you know, it IS a worldwide campaign of destruction, and GWAR IS immortal.

“So there is every reason to believe that it will get as big as it needs to be. My idea about GWAR changed considerably – we went from being a bunch of joke artist punk rockers, and now I really believe that GWAR is destined to go down in history as the craziest, most insane band ever.”

That immortality raises a fascinating point. The costumes are pretty much all-encompassing, so what’s to stop a future that will never be without a GWAR, with future generations of musicians stepping into those roles for decades to come?

“Exactly!” Brockie exclaims. “That’s exactly what’s gonna happen. Sooner or later everybody in this band will decide when their hand picked replacement will come into the character. And that might scare the hell out of people you know – ‘oh no!’ because it might be different, especially with Oderus, but I think we might be stuck with Oderus, you know. And I don’t really know for certain that this would happen but I think it would be really cool if it did. Westside Story is playing on Broadway tonight – why can’t GWAR, the musical theatre experience, last for EVER?”

 

Category: Interviews

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