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Interview with W.A.S.P.


Interview by Sonia Waterfield

W.A.S.P. The name stirs a notion of two dimensions. For some, the name recalls 80s Cock Rock, with the band's raunchy lyrics, on stage (and off stage) antics — and who could forget that flaming codpiece? Whilst in contrast, the 90s deliver a deeper, darker and a whole lot more serious vibe with the likes of 'K.F.D', 'Dying For the World' and Still Not Black Enough'. Along drifts year 2K and again the style of W.A.S.P has been reincarnated, with such recent albums like 'Unholy Terrors', 'Neon God' and 'Golgotha'.

Blackie Lawless Interview

Heading back to 1992, when there came a totally abrupt change to W.A.S.P's musical direction with the concept album 'The Crimson Idol'.

The album, written and produced by W.A.S.P's frontman, is their fifth offering and tells the brutal and sad story of Jonathan Steele, a twisted tale of a suicidal Rock & Roll icon and the perils that come with fame.

Not only was the tale presented musically, there was the hauntingly melancholic accompanying 'Story of Jonathan', narrated by Mr Lawless himself.

Years following, a split in the fans appeared. The dedication to W.A.S.P. and it's talented members was no less, but there were those who craved for the 80s style and those, who now had their hearts firmly lost to the the Idol.

'Arena of pleasure'

Moving forward to the year 2017, which celebrated 25th anniversary of the CI release.

A re-mastered version of the original album, truly 'Reidolized' the 'Crimson Idol'. The band embarked on a gruelling European tour in support of the new release and included a special presentation, an accompanying film which fans had been crying out for, showing the graphic story of Jonathan.

At 8am, on the magical day of the Supermoon, the last day of January and two days before the official 'Reidolized' release (February 2nd), I was blessed to be able to speak with the mastermind behind the album.

The three and a half month long 25th Anniversary tour had recently completed in December 2017 and so I wanted to hear how that went from the bands point of view.

Mega successful. I mean it was really super everywhere and it's the first time we really had a chance to do it like the way we did it where the movie was playing behind us in it's edited

form the way the audience will see it when they see the movie at home on DVD.

It's an interesting thing nobody's ever done that before where it was like taking a silent

movie and in the old days when you went to a movie theater before there was sound, you would have either a live piano player or some sort of a of a small Orchestra accompanying the film, as it was being shown to the audience. Well this was the kind of thing that had gone and come back again, so we went back to, effectively, the beginnings of that, to the way silent films were shown to the audience but this time you got an insanely loud rock band in front of it, but the theory is the same.

Talking of the film, I was eager to know how he felt the film reflected the lyrical content of the songs?

Pretty accurately. I spent a long time editing and doing the special effects on it and I think

I think it tells the story pretty well. I mean that this film is not for the faint of heart; it can be disturbing. If you're going to tell the story realistically you have to understand that when I was writing this originally, I kept getting asked one question by the fans more than any other — "How do I get from where I am to where you are? I wanna get in a band, I want to do something" and I would try to tell them what this business was really like and they would be, "Good,yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah." They had that glazed-over look in their eyes; it was going through one ear and out the other. So I thought well, I'm going to tell them a story and I'm going to show them the worst possible side of this business and then after they have seen this story, if they still think they want to do this, then okay, go for it but at least you've been warned.

Let me tell you something about...(sighs). Everybody thinks, and I underline the word thinks, everybody thinks they want to be famous, but there's a problem with that, because when, if you look at example after example; Elvis, Michael Jackson ... you have scenarios, well in those two scenarios, they all commit suicide. All of them! The difference is that some do it immediately while some take a more drawn-out approach, and I hate to sound insensitive but I'm being brutally honest here, because what happens ... in the film there's a line after the song, the title track 'The Idol', where the narration comes up and it says, "I had finally reached the top of the mountain, but when I got there, I looked around, there was nothing there."

What happens to most human beings is we're not built to handle that level of success. We're not built to handle a situation where we wake up one day and we discover that there is nothing there that could satisfy us any longer. In other words, you've experienced everything there is to experience; money no longer really holds the value anymore because there's nothing you want because you have everything you want. It's a really destitute place to be. Most people cannot handle that. There's only been a few examples of people that have achieved that level of success and been able to sustain themselves. I mean the Beatles are a good example of people that were constantly searching for something that would fill that void in them. Most people can't handle that.

I guess it can be quite lonely, with fame itself?

Well, if you look at Elvis or Michael Jackson, those were guys; The Beatles used to say they felt sorry for Elvis because he didn't have anybody. They had each other and when they would get out of line with each other, the other three had no problem with correcting the other one.
In other words, you walk in the room with a big head to these other three guys and they go, "Hey son, knock it off, we're one of you." There's not many people can do that. When you see performers that do that or have that level of success, it's like being in a fox hole in a combat situation. There is no one else around them that they can explain to what they're going through and that is a very lonely existence.

I guess this reflects in the lyrics where you state Jonathan is a 'Prisoner to your faith'?

Yeah, its based on a concept about what happens to people when there is nothing else that can satisfy them, or nothing else that could satisfy them, especially in an in an Earthly sense.

Now I said all that, I'll add this caveat to it as well. When I was writing the story, that was my whole direction that I was coming from. I knew that the story .. the way we refer to it in Hollywood or in the movie industry is 'fleshing out a character'. In other words, you build a personality around and answer questions like where did this guy come from? Who were his parents? All these things help to make it real. And although this is a complicated story, it depends on how you look at it because, I think for most people, although I was trying to tell a much more complicated story ,there are two parts to this story. The second one is very simple — it's a kid looking for love. I think that is the one that people gravitated to the most, and like I said, I was well aware when I was writing it what was taking shape. There was two simultaneous stories going on, but I'll admit to you right now, I did not think that the second one was as important as it was and in reality, I think it's probably the thing that made the record more successful.

I guess that's because it's something that fans can relate to in their lives.

I think that is the common denominator, more so than I even gave it credit for. Most people are never going to get to a point where they experience that sort of mega success, or even know anybody that has gotten to that level. I mean you can have acquaintances with people that are successful, but you don't really know what's going on with those people until you listen to them talk privately. That's where the truth really comes out. It can be really, really sad. So I think therefore, the part of the story that people latched onto more than anything, it's just a simple story of a boy looking for love, but in reality, it depends on who you are at the time you're listening to it, what is going on with your life, as to what you would see.

When I'm writing lyrics, I'm trying to write dimensionally like that because I'm trying to write, not ambiguously, but I'm trying to write a lot of times in riddles, but I'm opening questions to let the audience or the fans interpret for themselves, because who you are right now when you listen to album is not who you will be five years from now. You want to be able to leave, you want to be able to paint those pictures where people can see themselves into it no matter who they are or where they are in their life and I think, for any timeless record, that's one of the secrets that they have.

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After the recent celebration of the Crimson Idol's 25th Anniversary, did you think it would have stood the test of time for this long?

It was pretty good. I think every artist will tell you they've done stuff they thought was good and maybe the audience didn't embrace it as much and then at the same time, they'll do something that they think is maybe not that great, but all of the sudden the audience grabs onto it with both hands. I think everybody's got those stories that make records, but this one, I felt pretty good about it when I was done.

I'll tell ya a quick story. The day the record was originally released in '92, oddly enough I was in Toronto, and there was a music station That Much Music, and its kinda like MTV. When you did the show everything was live, so if you were doing a show and if people saw you, they knew you were there and they could come down and hang around, when you're leaving get an autograph. I was leaving the studio that afternoon and I walked out and there was maybe 20 people out there, so I was signing and I had my head down the whole time because I'm writing. I see this one guy in my peripheral vision standing off to the side and he's waiting patiently for everybody to leave and he just slides the copy of the Crimson Idol at me. Like I said, I got my head down coz I'm writing, and he slides this record in. That record was released about 10 o'clock that morning. This is about 3 o'clock in the afternoon I'm signing this stuff. I'm just writing, I don't look over at him, I'm just signing it and I said "Have you heard this yet?" and he goes "Mmmhm". I said "Do you like it?" and he goes "Mmhm" and when he said "Mmmhm" I heard his voice crack. I looked over at him and tears are running down his face and he said "You've written my life here." That was the first encounter I had ever had with anybody with that album and I knew from that moment, that at least there was going to be some people that could relate to it.

The arrival of Crimson Idol, brought a complete musical direction and with that, a noticeable divide in the WASP fan camp.

Yeah. Yeah it did. There becomes that line in the sand, between the early fans and something that might come later. One of the beauties of having a career that spans so long, that a generation that comes along later maybe wasn't even born when the record first came out, or any of those early records. Maybe they weren't around or they were too young to remember. By the time they come of age, they don't remember the first one from the fifth one, to the tenth one. To them it's just one complete piece of work. That's like, as an artist or writer, that's having your cake and eating it too, because that's really what you want. You don't want people to see records as individual pieces of work, you want them to see it as maybe a chapter in a bigger book. That's the way people look at it who weren't there in the beginning, because time and album releases, all these things mark definite spots in their lives. When you have a generation that comes along after it that doesn't have those records as markers in their life, they just see it is all one complete piece of work, so you don't get the differentiation between, say, maybe the first album and an album that you might have done five or six years down the road.

Following on from that comment, 'Still Not Black Enough', which even though is not a concept album, was billed as the successor to 'The Crimson Idol'...

Quote taken from – Still Not Black Enough liner notes: "Although I do not consider this a "Conceptual" record , there are some common threads that run throughout the piece," explains Blackie Lawless on STILL NOT BLACK ENOUGH's liner notes. "This record picks up where the "Crimson Idol" left off. "

I think it's a record that was overlooked. I think that there's some better stuff on it than people give credit for but you do a record like 'The Idol' and a lot of times, whatever you do after that it gets kind of lost in the shuffle.

I agree with Blackie on this, as there are some fantastic songs like 'I Can't', 'Scared To Death', 'Goodbye To America' ... well, the whole album to be honest. Speaking of track-listings, and returning to the subject of 'Reidolized', three new additions have been made and an appearance of 'Miss You', the track which had made its debut on 'Golgotha'. Why were these tracks were not on the original recording.

Because EMI in their infinite wisdom decided that I had taken too long to make the record [laughs] and was really putting the pressure on. I gave them what I had of what I thought was enough to complete the story at the time. I knew that the story wasn't complete but it was enough to put a record together. In my mind the story was always incomplete.

Were the songs had been written specifically for 'Reidolized' or earlier?

Well the very first song that was written for the entire album was 'Miss You'. That was never on the original version. If somebody says "Why wasn't it on it?" well, number one, it was written but the recording was never finished. There was an alternate recording for it that was done first, that one didn't make it on the record either. With any project that any band is going to do that spans the year or longer, you're going to have different versions of different songs, you are going to have a lot of things that are going on. So like I said, that was the very first song that was written for the entire album but yet it doesn't make it on the record.

Talking of the writing of 'The Crimson Idol', are there any songs that are the most meaningful to him as a writer?

Oo,. I don't have any kids, except for the band [laughs]. That's like somebody asking you which one's your favourite kid. Again I see it as a complete piece of work. I see it basically as one song.
That would be like somebody watching a movie and saying "Oh do you like the first third of the movie better than the other two-thirds?"

Reminiscing back to '92, WASP performed material from 'The Crimson Idol' at Monsters of Rock. "Was that the first time you had played CI in the UK?"

BL: Yeah, I hadnt thought about that but your right. It would have been because we had not played any UK shows prior to that, so yes, you are correct.

With the time pressure growing, and aware that Blackie was on a schedule, I wanted to know what the future now holds for WASP.

Well that ... [sighs] I don't really want to go into right now because, as a matter fact. we had a meeting today over what we're getting ready to do and we don't want to talk about any of that just yet. The tour just finished about 6 weeks ago. I went for a year-and-a-half in the studio where I had no days off and I'm pretty beat up right now to be honest with you, so I'd just kind of like to catch my breath and try to remember who I am for a little bit.

To be honest, you can see the tiredness is evident in the frontman's eyes in some of the photographs that were posted on Social Media during the tour. With this in mind, I wondered if retirement was on the horizon.

Well like I said, we just got home a few weeks ago. I'm just trying to digest everything that happened. We're kind of thinking about what we're going to do but, we just need some time to just get away from it for a little bit.

The statement was totally understandable, and I can only imagine the physical and emotional toll it takes on a performer to embark on a near to non-stop three and a half month tour.

Like I said, I went a year and a half in the studio even before the tour started. By the time the tour started, honestly I was fried. Before we even played the first show. I mean I was just so burnt.

Doing the record and doing the production. I mean, I never did anything like this before.

Doing a record is hard enough, but trying to put a film together... I had five different guys working in different places around the world; had one guy in London, couple of guys here in LA, another guy in Portugal. I'm coordinating these guys and I never made a movie before, I don't know how to do this. I'm kinda making it up as I go. So, I was keeping just insane hours, trying to coordinate all these guys and and get the whole production together because,
it's the kind of thing someone might say "Why don't you just have somebody else do it?"

Well, you can't do that, I mean when you're the one that has the vision in your head, it's what you want to do. By the time you could explain it to somebody else you'd be better off just doing it yourself. It would be the same as trying to make a record; "Why don't you just let somebody else do it?" Well if they could, they would. There's just a lot of things that are hands-on that you have to do yourself.

'Be careful for what you wish, it may come true'

I was left with a retrospective and sombre cloud hanging over my head for the rest of the day. A questioning of life in general and how I know many of us may never achieve the fame and fortune as 'Jonathan' did, but what lies ahead for when (and if) we achieve our own personal dreams. Questioning the direction of life's path and what true happiness is. Is it the dreams that we hope to achieve or is it being settled with love alone? Can we have both?

I guess I only time will tell but one thing I do know is that the album, the lyrics, the story and the band have a deep rooted place in fans' hearts for many years to come.

May the band enjoy their well- deserved rest.

'Long live the king of mercy'

'Reidolized' has been released via Napalm Records.

"2017 marks the 25th anniversary of "The Crimson Idol" - the legendary story of Jonathan Aaron Steele, originally intended to be accompanied by a movie. This release is still considered to be the best album of W.A.S.P.'s career, and one of the greatest concept albums of all times!

Napalm Records proudly presents "Re-Idolized (The Soundtrack to the Crimson Idol)", the 25th anniversary of the iconic hit album plus the original "The Crimson Idol" movie on DVD and Blu-ray! For the first time EVER as originally intended – film and soundtrack united - released as one product!"

Watch out for more info:

WASP - Reidolized - The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol

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