Finding A New Angle On Bad Boy
by Naughty Mickie
Blackie Lawless has led his band W.A.S.P. through nearly two decades of
being the "baddest of the bad." The group has raised the hackles of parents and
organizations around the globe with their onstage antics. W.A.S.P. concerts include party
anthems, innuendoes to sexual activities and openly displayed pornography. The band has
been shot at and received bomb and death threats. But they keep coming back offering their
metal fare to hungry fans. In the middle of the tornado of controversy a quiet, normal,
reclusive man speaks common sense- Lawless. I got to meet this mystery guy via telephone
from his home in New York. "I'm a creature of extremes," says Lawless.
"Most of the guys I know have extremes of personality." He explains that he
feels most performers are born introverts and this breed extroversion and artists, such as
Lawless, wish to seek a balance in their lives. Lawless grew up in Staten Island, New York
surrounded by music and religion. His grandfather was a deacon, his uncle was a preacher
and his parents had very deep beliefs. This upbringing may have contributed to his
rebellious ways, with his outlet being the music he so dearly loved.
Chuck Berry's "Sweet 16" remains ingrained on Lawless as his earliest musical
memory- at age two. It was around this same time that he showed his mother what he was to
become. "My mom took me to the grocery store," relates Lawless. "And left
me in the cart in one of the aisles when she went back to grab something. When she came
back, she found me on the floor doing 'Hound Dog'." By junior high school, Lawless
had earned the honor of obtaining the highest score on music in school achievement testing
for his age group in the history of the Northeastern United States. He went on to attend a
couple of years of college as a political science major and had a chance to pursue a
career in professional baseball. "I made the right decision," states Lawless.
"Half of my friends made it to the major league and all of them are retired now, but
I'm still working." He finally settled down working at a construction company
co-owned by his father.
Somewhere in the middle of all this growing up, Lawless managed to take up the drums
and played until his parents couldn't take it anymore-- all of two months. His brother had
been toying with a guitar which called out to Lawless and became his step into the music
industry. "The biz chooses you, you don't choose it," says Lawless. Lawless
latched onto the '70s in the bands New York Dolls and Killer Cain before forming W.A.S.P.
which unwittingly led to the biggest change in his life.
In 1985, W.A.S.P. was shooting a video on a movie set in Arizona. Lawless awed by the
Southwest, finally felt in touch with his roots- his mother is one-quarter Blackfoot. He
considers Arizona, Utah and New Mexico the only "true Southwest" and has
combined his love of culture with his passion for architecture.
"Architecture is the ultimate form of art, light, line and function," says
Lawless. "My second great love is architecture." He feels that it is important
to have a 3-D living space that functions. Lawless now lives in his own design, a Spanish
mission style home which took approximately five years to complete. He has decorated it in
a Southwestern motif with Native American art. He also attends architecture lectures,
honing his craft and plotting out his next building.
Even with this down-to-earth attitude, Lawless still has some rub with his parents.
They seem to have accepted his career choice even if they don't approve.
Lawless gently dances around the question about his family's blessing on his music
saying, "Success has a way of making things better." But then, he is very
realistic about the gift he has been given. Lawless says that kids should be told the
truth about the industry and if "they're not fazed," then parents should support
their goals. He starkly states that the chance of landing a record deal is one in a
million and less than 2 percent of those albums are successful. Lawless advises
prospective musicians to enter the industry with their eyes open and an understanding of
what they are getting themselves into and to figure out what they will do when they get
Lawless works hard on his musical endeavors. From writing to showmanship, he is a
one-percenter. He usually writes a song after coming up with a title, but sometimes he is
fortunate enough to have a tune, complete with music and lyrics, come to him in his
dreams. "I see myself as a musical reporter," Lawless says. "Writing a song
is like scoring a 'mini-movie;' they almost write themselves." Occasionally he comes
up with a riff first, which is a mixed blessing, as it can be great musically, but it
forces Lawless to write backwards. The next step, preparing for a performance, can be
just as involved. Lawless warms up his voice four hours prior to a show and holds back
during sound checks, sticking to his lower register as much as possible. Some may think
that Lawless is being overly cautious with his voice, but he has good reason. Fifteen
years ago, he ruptured his left vocal chord. He was fighting a bout of viral meningitis
and didn't warm up. Since then, he has been more prudent; he doesn't smoke and rarely
drinks. Lawless also feels that mental preparation is essential to a good performance.
Like a ballplayer, he practices a few pre-show superstitions, including putting the right
socks on the same way every night.
Onstage, Lawless gives his fans every ounce of himself. "It takes a lot of
strength to do the show," Lawless states. "Not too many bands compete with
As far as the venue, Lawless prefers to be close to his audience. He finds that
theaters are the best because the stage is big enough to allow you to give the
presentation you desire. Lawless doesn't care for barriers that keep the crowd back from
the stage, as they create the feeling of "two separate rooms" and he must work
even harder to project.
When it comes to marketing he notes that the Internet does have some impact, but
doesn't pose a threat to record stores. "It's a tool, a promotional tool, but it
won't replace retail because we are creatures of habit," says Lawless.
He equates the public's reception of Internet sales with "Smart Houses," the
homes that are ultra-modern and take care of themselves, saying that "people want
what they want right now; what they're comfortable with." Other than architecture and
the Yankees, I ask Lawless what other hobbies he pursues during his free time. "What
downtime?" he laughs. "The last 15-17 years I've worked my ass off."
True to form, W.A.S.P. is planning to go back into the studio in July and August.
Currently, they are about halfway done with a record which is slated for release about one
year from now. The Lawless gang are also still out on the road doing shows here, there and
everywhere, including a series of concerts in Southern California over the past two
months. Lawless proved to be a fascinating, intellectual and articulate gentleman, I could
have spoken with him for hours. In fact, I wouldn't mind inviting him over for tea,
that is, if he ever takes a break!