Sleeping In The Fire: KNAC.COM Exclusive Interview with Blackie Lawless (Part II)
By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Wednesday, June 19, 2002 @ 6:52 PM
BLACKIE: No, the thing that bothered me was, you know, Nixon had done this to Alger Hiss in the Ď50s with the communist witch hunt. Joe McCarthy did it. When Bob Dole was running for President, he did the same thing, too. These guys are just interested in creating a political profile. They donít give a damn about what Iím saying in the lyrics -- me, Prince or Madonna, or any of them. They donít care. They are interested in creating a public profile on which they can stand -- a soapbox, if you like, where they can stand in the town square and beat on the drum and get people to listen to them. That makes them look like the saviors of the new generation and all that stuff, and there are a lot of people out there gullible enough to believe it. Thatís what itís about. Thatís what bothered me. KNAC.COM: So it bothered you to be more of an unwitting pawn or an instrument with which they could promote themselves?
BLACKIE: Yes, but you have to look at a bigger picture and see that this really isnít about me. This is about the First Amendment, and if you saw that movie on VH-1 a few weeks ago, where one of the characters, I think it was Baker said, ďIf I had the ability to create an amendment to do away with this, I would.Ē That man is telling you that he has tried and convicted you before the whole thing even started. Thatís whatís dangerous about this. I donít think it would ever happen where the First Amendment could ever be overturned -- at least I would hope not in our lifetime -- our Constitution starts hanging by a thread when you start fooling around with stuff like that. There are ways to manipulate or to create certain effects, and the stickering is certainly a way of manipulating the First Amendment. So that becomes dangerous. Does it bother me personally? No, you have to look beyond that and look at the big picture. KNAC.COM: In the subsequent albums, did you ever find yourself consciously going, ďyou know, if they thought that was bad, wait till they hear this,Ē and trying to make the lyrics more outrageous?
BLACKIE: No, because I write from a point of view of looking at words like colors. Certainly some words are weapons -- profanity is certainly a weapon. The difference between the right word and the wrong word is the difference between lightening and a lightening bug. I mean, theyíre close, but theyíre miles apart. If youíll recall when you were in school and you had the eight-pack of crayons and youíre trying to color your picture and that guy next to you has got that sixty-four pack with the sharpener, well, words are like colors. If that guy knows how to use those colors, he will rip you to ribbons. If he doesnít know how to use them, itís an unloaded gun. Words are like colors and there are varying degrees. Hate, dislike and loathe are three varying degrees of basically the same thought. When you dislike somebody, you donít much care for them. When you hate them, you really donít like them, and when you loathe them, you hope they get hit by a truck. As lyricists, we are trying to paint pictures in order to create a mood or a scenario to put you in the spot.
When I wrote ďTrail of TearsĒ on this record, thereís a line in the bridge that says, ďmy feet are raw from the trail I have been.Ē Think about that for a second and the misery that would go with it -- to just put you there and feel that hurt. Thatís what Iím trying to do. Iím trying to put you there. If Iím gonna use words as colors to create the landscape that Iím trying to paint, and then I use profanity, that changes the scene dramatically. In all honesty, WASP has used very little profanity. The reason people think weíve used it more than we have is because Iíve used it so effectively. Itís a weapon, and you donít go and pull it out very much. Itís like a hammer, you donít have to go and hit yourself in the knee very often for it to hurt. If you just keep tapping yourself over a period of time, and eventually your knee goes numb. It will lose its effectiveness if itís overused. At that point, your weapon has been castrated if you like. Profanity must be used strategically to create the right effect. KNAC.COM: Who are some of the lyricists that you look to as examples of those who have been able to utilize their words most effectively? I would assume that some are outside the metal genre. I know the Beatles were an influence.
BLACKIE: Lennon, Townsend, Taupin -- but Taupin for different reasons. Bernie Taupin taught me the value of vowels and how to use them. Within a metal context, vowels, because of their percussive ability, are very valuable, but to sing you need vowels, and you need to pull on the vowels. Chuck Berry, believe it or not is another one. I didnít realize this for years until I heard Keith Richards talking about what a great lyricist he was that I really sat down and listened to it. You have to remember the time and the era that the stuff was done, and Springsteen is also unbelievable. KNAC.COM: Who do you look at as being an example of a great wordsmith within the metal community?
BLACKIE: Geoff Tate comes to mind. Dio is good -- heís pretty animated. Probably Halford, too, but the first guy that comes to mind is Tate. KNAC.COM: Do you feel that the attention to the details and nuances of the lyric are lost today with the inclusion of rap and the melding together of different styles?
BLACKIE: Big time, but I also think there are a lot of guys in rap that are really good. I mean, I hear some really clever stuff coming out of it--- KNAC.COM: Do you think it makes the transition to metal effectively?
BLACKIE: Well, I donít know it thatís for me to judge. KNAC.COM: All Iím getting at is that you definitely understand the subtleties and the importance of individual words within the context of conveying a message through music, but Iím saying that as a listener, Iím not really hearing it these days as much.
BLACKIE: Well, thatís a whole different discussion because youíre getting into the criteria of what people or a station is looking at with regard to demographics and all that. Thatís all target audience. Thatís back to selling the Ivory soap again. KNAC.COM: You do see an element of that though---
BLACKIE: Of course, but youíve got other stations like the Tour Bus which is syndicated that plays all old stuff and doesnít want to play anything really new. Then you run up against the problem of having a new album out and even though they play the old stuff, theyíre not gonna play the new. KNAC.COM: There has to be a certain amount of frustration there too. You release a new record, you want to evolve as an artist and you could put out the best cd of your career and youíll still have those who wonít want to come out of the comfort zone of the first two albums.
BLACKIE: Headless [Children] was like that. Headless exploded in Europe immediately. We started the tour in Europe, and before we ever touched British soil, they presented us with a gold record. It was immediate -- America was very slow to respond. The rest of the world didnít quite know what to think, and it ended up being our best selling record. Crimson Idol was the same way. What happens is -- I look at it like this now -- Iím not necessarily looking for a record to explode out of the box anymore. If it happens, great. Everybody is saying this new record is the best thing weíve done in ten years. Maybe it is, maybe it isnít. I donít know, but if it explodes, great. All I know is that you try to create something for the long run. If you do that, an audience will eventually find it. KNAC.COM: And that of course would lend itself to longevity and an increased legacy of your music versus looking primarily at the short term.
BLACKIE: Yeah, some kidís gonna sell two million copies or something right now, and heís not going to be heard of two years from now. Mine will eventually sell two million -- it might take ten years to do it, but weíre still gonna be there and we will have done a lot more records in the meantime. KNAC.COM: Could you have imagined even having this conversation in í86 or í87? A discussion of a twenty year career and a future that promises to last even longer?
BLACKIE: No. No. It would have been presumptuous or even arrogant to even think that way. Youíre always just trying to put one foot in front of the other. KNAC.COM: Do you think that might be why youíve managed to have the career youíve had? I mean most every kid thatís ever sold two million records believes the next one is going to be even bigger. Theyíre blowing money all over the place, and those tend to be the ones who drop off. Did it make you work harder not taking that for granted?
BLACKIE: No, because in the Ď80s, man, we sold a shit lot of records and made a lot of money. Even when we got to the point of doing Headless Children, EMI and Capitol didnít want me making that album because we had done records before that, you know, with Doctor on it -- some commercial sounding stuff. They were like, ďyeah, this is what you should be doing.Ē I told them that it wasnít what Iím into, it was not who I am, and I donít believe in it. I always said that Inside the Electric Circus was a tired record done by a really tired band. We had been on the road for three or four years. In the end, we shut everyone up, and Headless ended up being the best selling record we ever had. What it did was, it took us out of the Ď80s and put us in a category that was uniquely our own, so when the Ď90s did roll around, we didnít get sucked into that vacuum and go down with that boat like most of the rest of the other bands. It made me look like a genius, but that wasnít my intention. I was just doing what I felt compelled to do -- it just happened to be the right choice. Again, thatís the truth though. As long as youíre doing the truth, thereís probably going to be a place for it. I canít see in rock and roll why there wouldnít be. KNAC.COM: Thereís got to be a lot of satisfaction knowing that when you to out on tour, youíre going to be playing new material -- whereas, a lot of those other bands who got their starts in the Ď80s are going out as well, but it is definitely more of a nostalgia trip with them.
BLACKIE: Thatís true. I think about that sometimes because I donít really have any other point of view. All I know is what I do, and sometimes when I think about those other bands, I think about them not really doing anything new and how strange that must feel. KNAC.COM: Basically playing the same two albums of material over and over---
BLACKIE: Exactly, and I donít know anything other than what Iím doing, so it feels normal for me. I just donít know what it feels like for someone else. KNAC.COM: As far as making up a new set list, whatís realistic as far as the ratio of new songs versus old songs?
BLACKIE: Iíll tell ya this -- like I said, I went to see McCartney a week ago, and he did something I had seriously been considering for a couple of tours now. He took basically the middle third of the show and just did acoustic stuff. Thatís something Iíve really been entertaining the idea of doing and playing for longer because historically, weíve always played about an hour and ten or an hour and fifteen minutes. We always did short sets. The reason being is that basically we just couldnít keep that pace up. I didnít want to go out there and basically give the people a watered-down two hours. Iíd rather go out there and hit them with a sledgehammer real quick and get out. Thatís always been the theory we had. People would moan and complain about it because they said they werenít hearing everything. I tried to figure out how to do this. Iím watching McCartney the other night and they werenít doing anything special, they were just doing the stuff, but it gave you the sense of being able to hear what you wanted to hear. I just thought that it would be great to take part of the show, do something from the Crimson Idol -- I chunk of it, a whole three or four songs maybe. Maybe a couple of other songs like ďSleeping in the FireĒ -- things that donít necessarily require the whole band. Iíd just go out and literally put the audience in my lap, so itís something Iím giving a lot of serious thought to. Letís put it this way: Iíll try it probably and see what happens and see how the audience reacts, and if itís good, Iíll keep it. It not, weíll go on to plan B. KNAC.COM: Trying to negotiate a set list that satisfies you and your desire to promote a new project versus trying to satiate the appetite of the fans has to be difficult. Many seem hell bent on playing their new material even though the majority of those in attendance came to hear their favorites. Does the new album always have to be the most prominently displayed portion of the set list?
BLACKIE: See, after watching McCartney the other night, I donít think I would agree with that. He did probably 85% old stuff. New stuff can wear out its welcome. Itís a really delicate thing. The thing youíve got to remember is that Iím fighting 15-20 years of memories -- McCartney is fighting 40. No matter how good your new album is, the thing youíre fighting are these fine lines that are etched in peoplesí minds. You cannot take that away. Iím thinking that at this time itís better to give them two or three from the new record, put your best foot forward, and if they like what they hear from that, then theyíll go out and buy the record. Then theyíll get into it, and if you want to go deeper into that material next time around, then do that. Give it a chance to become recognizable. KNAC.COM: So you do have an obligation to the audience that comes to see you---
BLACKIE: I really think you do. KNAC.COM: How many songs do you think are automatic components of the set list?
BLACKIE: I donít know. Thatís difficult to say because with that too, my thinking has changed. Is it necessary for me to play ďI Wanna Be SomebodyĒ in its entirety? Why canít I just string that stuff in a medley? This is our tenth studio record, and I certainly canít play something from all of them. Iíd be hard pressed to get one song off each of them. Iíve found that medleys work well for some that stuff, but Iíd also like to play some things that people wouldnít necessarily think of. I canít cite you any examples right now, but when I see someone do stuff like that, it just blows me away. As a fan, it opens my eyes in a pure way. Itís like being a twelve year old and seeing it through those eyes again. It really is a refreshing thing. You know, the Beatles rewrote the book 25-30-40 years ago, and McCartney is doing it again. It should be required viewing for all musicians to go and watch this guy do what heís doing. Itís amazing. It really puts you in your place. KNAC.COM: He is considered a master. If you were going to take something from someone, that would be a wise place to start.
BLACKIE: Exactly, as a band they influenced everyone thatís out there right now whether they realize it or not. KNAC.COM: So, is making Blackie Lawless a lifetime musician the ultimate goal? I mean, if you could plan the rest of your life, would it include playing music in front of an audience that comes to see you when you go on tour?
BLACKIE: Shit, itís cramming for finals. Then again, Iím such a control freak that I wonít give it to anyone until itís done. KNAC.COM: Deadline or not, if itís not ready to go, it doesnít go?
BLACKIE: No, they can scream and holler, and sometimes it costs a bundle to do it, but Iíve been pretty good about it in the sense that there may be a few things on records since Headless that I might look back on and maybe change a little bit here and there, but for the most part, I donít have those nagging torments. Thatís because I spend the time to do it, when I do it, so Iím not really tortured by that too much. Like I said, Iíll take the time. KNAC.COM: Are videos a different story for you though? Thatís an entirely different dynamic. Do you ever look back and go, ďwhat the hell did I do?Ē
BLACKIE: Yeah, but its not just W.A.S.P. -- itís almost like MTV shouldnít have happened. We were talking about the Beatles a little while ago, and I saw some stuff of theirs the other day, and it was absolutely horrible. You know, because when you take people out of their element of what they do, very few are going to be able to make that transition. Some guys will be good, but not many. KNAC.COM: Would you say that was a definite case of business imposing itself on music?
BLACKIE: Of course. KNAC.COM: So youíre saying that by telling the truth and holding records back when theyíre not ready that those are examples of you not putting the bottom line first?
BLACKIE: I always have. Itís cost me a lot of money over the years. A lot. KNAC.COM: Do you think youíd make the same decisions if you didnít have the same bank account?
BLACKIE: I think maybe it would be more of a question of ďcould youĒ? I can only speak for myself, but I look at it as if you do something really good, the reward is probably going to be there. Donít put the reward first. Make a good product. Make a good record. Even as we were discussing earlier and it doesnít explode right out of the blocks, itís ok because if itís good, ultimately people will find it. I have my own studio here, and Iím very hands-on. We made the mistake on Unholy Terror of doing it digitally, and I didnít like the way it sounded. These records sound expensive because they are. Itís the only way youíre gonna get that sound. KNAC.COM: Obviously many of the bands from the Ď80s donít have that luxury any more. Would you say that you were more prudent in your financial dealings because you didnít take the long-term career for granted?
BLACKIE: Well, thatís hard to say. I mean we went through twenty million bucks at one point and wondered how we spent it, but a lot of that money was spent doing business. For me personally, I never went as crazy as a lot of guys did. I had it rough for about the first four or five years that I came to L.A., and that scarred me really bad. I would piss away probably about seventy-five grand a year with nothing to show for it. That was pretty average for me. That was stuff like limousines, going to dinner, stuff like that. See, seventy-five grand when youíre making the kind of money we were making isnít much. Compared to my contemporary peers, I lived a fairly conservative standard. I like to look at it now like the three little pigs, they did theirs in straw and paper, and I did mine in brick. KNAC.COM: Are the early years worth suffering through to get to where youíre at now? I mean, at their worst, they had to be pretty bad.
BLACKIE: Well, I lived in a place that was $95 dollars a month. I didnít have electricity or hot water for about three years. I lived on about five bucks a week -- fill in the blanks. KNAC.COM: Did that make you scrutinize the people who suddenly became interested in you after the first album came out? How wary of them were you?
BLACKIE: No, because thatís just part of the territory. Then and even after we became successful, I have remained very selective about people. You know, ďwhat do they want?Ē KNAC.COM: That would be the first question youíd ask?
BLACKIE: Basically, the people I went up with who I was friends with then are the still the people I know now. There are a few exceptions. KNAC.COM: I know that you said before that the record is the most important thing, so given that, youíll soon be out on the road promoting Dying for the World -- how much of a grind does the road get to be?
BLACKIE: Well, the grind is making the record. TouringÖ well, some are worse than others. The hardest part, is the promotion of the record because Iíll do anywhere between 500 and 800 interviews supporting a record. Thatís a lot of talking. Thatís a grind, but all the rest of itís not too bad. You know, if you just surround yourself with a lot of good people and put one foot in front of the other, from there you just go out there and make it work the best you can. KNAC.COM: What percentage of interviewers would you say you just canít talk to because either they arenít informed or are just individuals that you donít connect with in some way?
BLACKIE: About ten percent. KNAC.COM: Do you go ahead and go through with it anyway?
BLACKIE: Well, Iíll get a little testy. If you get somebody who isnít good or who doesnít ask insightful questions, and Iíll have them off the line in ten minutes. You know, you have to remember that Iím not new to this -- Iíve probably done ten or eleven thousand of these things. What happens here is that here weíre speaking conversationally, and I can handle that. KNAC.COM: How long does it take to ascertain an undesirable situation with the press, the first couple of questions?
BLACKIE: The first thirty seconds. The reason is, is that they are gonna tell on themselves real quick. Man, this is a trade just like being a carpenter or a plumber or anything else. You watch someone work for five minutes and you can tell what they know or what they donít know. The worst guys are usually the newspaper guys because theyíre turning out about three or four things a week and theyíve been doing it for so long that it isnít that they donít know how to do it, itís just that theyíve got to fill up space. Theyíve got to give their editor 500 words or whatever. Theyíre so burnt out from doing it that they donít want to listen to the record. They may know who you are from a historical perspective because youíve been around for a while, so the first question they ask is about something that happened in í87. Then, they go, ďwhy donít you tell me about the new record?Ē Iím like ďno, mutherfucker -- you tell me about the record because you havenít listened to it yet. By asking me that question, youíre trying to get me to do your work for you.Ē You know, itís shit like that. KNAC.COM: Besides, the press -- interaction with the fans is another big part of the job. Iím not just referring to connecting with the audience while youíre onstage either. Iím talking about the ones that may hang out by the bus for an hour or two after the show. How hard is it if youíve just done a concert, youíve been traveling all day, and youíre tired as hell -- how hard is it to make them happy and meet their expectations? Are their expectations for your accessibility unrealistic?
BLACKIE: I guess that depends on who youíre asking. If youíre asking the artist they might say yes, if youíre asking them, they might say no. Itís a difficult thing -- especially if youíve been having a long day. Most of the days on the road arenít too bad. You are traveling at night and youíre sleeping on the bus or whatever. Actually, thatís the best place to be because thatís where you have the most solitude. After a show, especially if youíre putting it all into a performance, I used to get frustrated because Iíd go out and really leave it all on the stage until there was nothing else. Afterwards, I wouldnít talk to anybody, because you canít. People ask you, ďwhatís it like being out there?Ē Well, itís like running a race until you thought you were going to throw up. Thatís what I feel like after being out there for about three minutes. Iím giving it everything I have. Itís like when itís over, Iím physically in shock. The people donít always understand that, so what I find is the best thing to do is to just try to be as accommodating as I can. KNAC.COM: Of course, you canít take the human variable out of that -- itís going to change from day to day---
BLACKIE: Man, you act like youíve been doing this awhile -- thatís exactly the way it is. Every day is going to be different. KNAC.COM: Yet, out of that fanís life, that one night may be what they ultimately take with them.
BLACKIE: Hereís the hardest thing for me. Itís not that I donít want to talk to them -- if we can become conversational, thatís great, but thereís usually that wall between us. I mean, Iím at a disadvantage because for twenty years now almost, I have let people come into my life. If youíve been paying attention to this band since the beginning, I mean, really paying attention, you know who I am. Iím at a disadvantage when I meet them because I donít know who they are. I may have an idea, but I donít really know them intimately the way they know me. So, itís like they say, ďHi, how are you?Ē Then, I go, ďFine, how are you?Ē Then it stops for a second. They need to initiate the conversation because they know me, and I donít know them. The problem is -- because they get intimidated or whatever, they just kinda freeze. Unless the artist initiates the conversation real quick, they get labeled as being stuck up. KNAC.COM: How many times can you initiate individual conversations with people you donít know? If you have twenty people waiting, are you going to have to walk up to each and go, ďHey, great to meet you, what are your hobbies?Ē
BLACKIE: Exactly. Believe me -- that can become work. When youíre really tired and your brain isnít functioning properly and all that stuff, that really becomes tough. In the end though, you do have to try to remember the situation and your role, and hey, thatís the life I chose. The problem is, Iím pretty reserved, and especially over the years, Iíve become more and more of a recluse. I want to give as much as I can, but at the same time, Iím still the type of person that demands his own space. The best thing for me to do is to not make myself accessible if I need that time. That way, if you donít see anybody, you donít disappoint anybody. Thereíll be a time if you catch me, like now, where Iím just talking and being myself, and hey -- Iíll talk your ear off. Click HERE to check out Part I.
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