W.A.S.P. Mainman On Songwriting And The State Of Music Industry

Greg Olma of 69 Faces Of Rock recently conducted an interview with W.A.S.P. mainman Blackie Lawless. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow below.

69 Faces Of Rock: You've been writing songs for a while now. How do you know when a song is done? When does a song tell you it's finished?

Lawless: Oh, it talks to you. When you're writing, one of the things you learn after you've been doing it for a while is once it starts to take shape, get out of the way of it. You see, it will start talking back to you after a while. All songwriters who have been doing this for a while will tell you this; that they [the songs] will talk back to you and the trick is to get yourself out of the way. Stop blocking it. Let it say what it wants to say and let it take you in the direction that it wants to go. Now, when it's done, and here is the torturous part that all creative people will tell you, it's then once you believe it's done, of then at looking at what are the alternative possibilities. That can be a torturous process because it's a lot of work for maybe a miniscule change. One of the things I learned from [Muhammad] Ali is the difference between good and great is the attention to detail. A lot of that, that last 10%as far as man hours goes, ends up being a lot more than the other 90% that got it going in the first place. So you have to go back, even when you think it's done, and say "are there anymore possibilities of where we could go here or go there?" I think that at the end of the day, when you look at it and whether it's done or not, you ask yourself "does this thing move me?" You can always tinker with something to death and it's not necessarily going to make it better. Sometimes it can make it worse. Like I said, it's really just a question of learning to listen to it.

69 Faces Of Rock: I read recently that you were not going to play "Animal (Fuck Like A Beast)" live anymore. Are there any other songs that you feel don't represent the W.A.S.P. of today?

Lawless: I haven't played "Animal" for quite a few years now but I would have to give it some thought. That was really the first one that came to my mind. A lot of times, the silence is louder than the actual thing itself. By not doing it sometimes speaks volumes than actually doing it. The absence of something screams at times. I think that is a positive.

69 Faces Of Rock: Are there any plans on filming this tour for a possible CD or DVD release?

Lawless: I don't know. We just finished three months in Europe and we did a lot of stuff over there. Some of it is actually really, really impressive looking. This show that we're doing now has a movie screen behind us. We're running a lot of the old promo videos from the past and when you see "Wild Child" or something like that, you see the old video behind us and it's in sync. You see me singing in the video from 20 years ago but you also see it in 3-D as I'm standing there singing in real time. It's got kind of a neat effect. When you see the presentation, it's pretty impressive and there is some really good stuff that we have but I just don't know. The world has changed as far as the way bands approach making studio records and live records. I think live records are something you are going to see less and less of because labels aren't really interested in doing that anymore. Historically, a live record would have represented ½ of what a new studio release would have done. It's not just what bands want to do. You have a whole retail world that you have to take into consideration. Is Best Buy going to want to take that thing? There are all kinds of considerations that the people never think about. They think the artists make the sole decision and it's not always like that.

69 Faces Of Rock: What was the last CD you purchased as a download or physical CD?

Lawless: I can't even remember. I don't listen to as much stuff as people might think. My first reaction is to say John Lee Hooker but I don't know it that is accurate or not. People say "what are you listening to?" but you know, I'm doing it all the time. It's kind of like a mechanic who works on cars all day; he may work on brakes. The last thing he wants to do is go home and work on his own brakes. It's a little bit like that with what we do. I certainly don't listen to anything in my own genre. When I listen to music, it's usually going to be something related to what we do.

69 Faces Of Rock: My last question is, if you had a record label, how would you do things differently?

Lawless: The situation that I have right now is very much a partnership with the label that I'm involved with right now. In a lot of ways, it's like that even now. But for myself, I'm doing what I would want to do. The big question is, "Would you or could you do it for somebody else?" and that's where the problem lies. 15 years ago when we started Sanctuary Records, that was the whole dream, to start our own record company and so we did and that's no longer a situation that functions, number one but secondly, even if it did [function], you can't do what we did before. When we did that with Sanctuary, we were the last of it's kind. You will never see anything like that again, not in our lifetime, because the model that we used to create that was the same model that everybody had used before which was effectively Ahmet Ertegun's model that he had created with Atlantic Records. We all used that for 50 years and then when the Internet came along, it literally destroyed that working model. Until somebody finds out a new working model of how to sell records, you'll never see that again. It's a brave new world out there right now of how things are done. The drag is we started Sanctuary because we hated the idea of what the majors had become. We referred to them as the "evil empire" and as bad as they were, the one thing that they did really well was get us new material. We were with EMI for, I think, 13 years. When they decided if you had a single that they believed in, to watch them put that machinery to work was a thing of beauty. On a global level, you talk about bringing the hammer down. It was a beautiful thing to watch that machinery work. But that doesn't exist anymore so that was one of the things we lost of not having those "evil empires," as I refer to them. The single biggest thing that you're going to lose is new music because there is no vehicle now to bring that stuff to people the way that it used to be. There's certainly not going to be artists given the opportunity to grow and develop. I mean, a band like AC/DC would never have had the chance to make "Back In Black". They would never have been allowed three or four records to develop. Somebody was asking me the other day, "Where are all the great frontmen coming from?" and I said, "There aren't anymore". This is it. What you see right now is what it is. When any band capable of headlining a festival or filling a stadium; when those guys are gone, they ain't coming back. It's over because there is no factory to recruit that anymore; where that factory will allow that talent to develop, to become that great frontman. If you want to see Lemmy, you have to buy a ticket to go see MOTÖRHEAD. If you want to see Geoff Tate, you're going to have to buy a ticket to see QUEENSRŸCHE. When all those great frontmen are gone, they are gone. They are not coming back. They are an endangered species.

Read the entire interview from 69 Faces Of Rock.

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