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To this day, there are four puncture-mark scars on Blackie Lawless’ left leg. They’re from the sawblade codpiece that Lawless, one of the ’80s’ most memorable front men, wore onstage with W.A.S.P. back then, during the Los Angeles band’s jaw-dropping spectacle of a live show. Lawless has also worn sawblade armbands as part of his sinister onstage look.

“I've cut myself and other people a few times,” Lawless recalls now. “You know, because we first made those, we were using real sawblades and those blades are sharpened. It doesn't really cut so much as it tears and what it did it tore out hunks of skin about a quarter of an inch around.”

Lawless says he’ll have those sawblade scars for the rest of his life. Or, as he put it, “for the duration.” Similarly, W.A.S.P.’s full-tilt hard-rock and heavy-metal and over-the-top imagery is forever cut into fans’ memories.

This fall, W.A.S.P. will launch a hotly anticipated tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the band’s formation. Tour dates and ticket info available at The band’s 1984 self-titled debut album is now a stone-cold classic. Ditto, yearning anthem “I Wanna Be Somebody,” powered by Lawless’ urgent howl and pummeling bass (he switched back to guitar, his natural instrument, for W.A.S.P.’s third LP, Inside the Electric Circus). The dangerous ruckus of W.A.S.P.’s vintage lineup also featured guitarists Chris Holmes and Randy Piper and drummer Tony Richards. Steve Riley, later of L.A. Guns, took over on drums soon after the debut’s release.

The many W.A.S.P. essential tracks also include “Wild Child,” “Blind in Texas” and controversial single “Animal (Fuck Like A Beast).” Like the debut, their 1985 sophomore album The Last Command went gold and remains a vital sonic document of the Sunset Strip era.

The band’s 1989 socio-politically charged fourth LP, The Headless Children, contained a scorching cover of The Who’s “The Real Me,” which became an MTV hit. To date, W.A.S.P. has released at least 15 studio albums. The band’s current lineup features Lawless on vocals/guitar, drummer Aquiles Priester, bassist Mike Duda and guitarist Doug Blair. Duda and Blair have worked with the band since the ’90s.

In addition to Lawless’ sawblades, the legendary ’80s W.A.S.P. live show featured raw meat, an axe, drinking (presumably faux) blood from a skull, a medieval-style torture rack and scantily clad females.

Fans are stoked for whatever version of W.A.S.P.’s retina-searing show Lawless has planned. Still, video clips from the band’s recent two shows in Sweden, with bare production, prove the band’s classic material holds up sans gonzo visuals.

On a recent afternoon, Lawless checked in with Metal Edge for an extensive phone interview. For those who only know him from his madman onstage look and antics, the guy’s a thoughtful and fascinating chat. Edited excerpts below.

Blackie, I watched footage from the one of the recent Sweden shows. Sounded great. How did it feel playing these W.A.S.P. songs again for the first time in a while?

Blackie Lawless: Well, it was two-and-a-half years since last time we were onstage. It was November of ’19. So yeah, it was a little bizarre, you know, because we had done a thing back in the ’90s, where we had gone for three years, where we hadn't been on stage. And I remember going through that first time like that, I went into rehearsal and it was like I’d never done it before. The first day in rehearsal I was clumsy. It was like being a fish out of water.

But this time was different. And don't ask me why, I can't tell you, all I know is that when we got in there we had a great time being in rehearsal, and it was something I hadn't felt in really a long, long time. And I don't know if it was just my state of mind. I don't think it was.

But when we got out onstage at the first show in Sweden, I could see it on the faces of the people in the audience. And I think this pandemic has had a lot to do with the way people are viewing things, you know, at least for a while now, as to how they're able to get out and resume normal life again. So, it was fun, but it was unique and a bit unlike anything I've ever experienced, that's for sure.

Do you ever wish more people appreciated how good these W.A.S.P. songs are, even without the stage show?

Lawless: Well, we learned early on that when you're doing something that's really heavy visually, like we did in the beginning, the audience has a tendency to listen with their eyes and not their ears. I mean, when we did the first album, we thought it was pretty good. We didn't know that it would go on to be viewed as it is today. But I remember telling people, “Listen, forget the show for a moment. This music must stand on its own. Because if you're driving down the street in your car, and we come on the radio, we can't jump out of the speakers onto the dash and start doing that show right there, you know? [laughs]

And they go, “Uh huh, un huh, un huh.” But it went in one ear and out the other. They weren't listening because they were so heavily bombarded by the visuals, it took a while for people to really, you know, for the music to settle into them. But, you know what? That's also a tribute to how good we were doing it visually. Because if the music would have just been horrible, then no one would have ever paid attention to us. So it just goes to show if you have a great visual then you have got to have great music to support it.

You haven’t revealed much about the production for the 40th anniversary tour. In 2022, with the existence of cancel culture and woke culture, how do you do a real-deal W.A.S.P. stage show?

Lawless: That’s a complicated question you just asked. Because first of all, I'm not gonna even consider a woke culture. That has nothing to do with my world. You know, if that's what somebody wants to do that’s their privilege. Free country. But our fan base is our fan base. So, one of the things I learned a long time ago is that if you're going to have a genuine career… And when I say a real career, I'm talking about somebody that does it for a lifetime, I'm not talking about somebody that just makes records. And that's okay, too. In the pop world, that's fine. You know, that's what people want. But if you're going to have a genuine career, I'm not talking about somebody that's around for five years, or 10 years. I'm talking about somebody who's around 20 years, 30 years, longer. What you're saying, in effect, is you're going to take that fan base on a lifelong ride. And if you're going to do that, you have to have an intimate relationship with them. And if you don't have that intimate relationship, they will never feel like they know you.

You’ve got to be willing to crack your skull open, and let them come inside and walk around barefoot, inside your head. You really do. And the only way you can do this is with lyrics. We can do interviews like this, and it helps considerably. I mean, people get to know you a lot that way. But the lyrics are where they're really gonna get to know you. Because that's what they're listening to most of the time. And so to do that, you’ve got to be willing to share parts of yourself that a lot of artists just aren't willing to do. Let them get in there, into the nooks and crannies, and find the good and the not so good.

So, to get into a culture that is doing that, that would do me no good, because I'm talking to specific people out there. First of all, our type of music, whether it's us or anybody else in our genre, we are a subculture. We’re not mainstream. We’re not the pop world, which is 50 percent of the market. We’re a smaller market, like, you know, 25 to 30 percent of that potential pie that's out there.

It's not going to do me any good to try to talk to people that aren't going to listen anyway. My whole thing is to try to identify what it is I'm thinking and feeling at the moment. Because I, too, like everybody else, my opinions are gonna change from time to time.

And so the idea is, when you take people on that lifelong ride, they look at what you wrote 30 years ago, and they go, “Oh, wow, look what he was thinking.” And they listen to something, whatever the last thing was that came out, and they go, “Oh, wow, look at how he's thinking now.”

So this is that intimacy, where you take people and you're literally communicating with them over the course of this journey. So, trying to do anything from a standpoint of being influenced socially would do me no good. Or anybody like me that does this. You have to be true to yourself. I mean, we got into this not giving a damn about what people thought so why should it be any different now?

You understandably want to keep it somewhat of a surprise with the stage show. But how much of the classic elements will be in there?

Lawless: Lots. But it’s going to be done it in a way that you can imagine. Oh, I could tell you how it's going to be done, but we’re having to … I can't tell you too much right now. It’s just something you're gonna have to see. And I know everybody, in interviews, they give the same hype to everybody, “Oh, it's the best thing we've ever done. It’s going to be the greatest.”

No, I'm telling you for real right now, I see what this is. I'm looking at a sketch right now of what the stage is going to look like and it ended up being better than what we had originally thought. So, we're pretty excited about it. And that's the reason we've been keeping it really, really close to the vest.

Back in the day, costuming and props like the saw blade codpiece, the rack, the saw blade armbands, did you did you make all that stuff? If not, who did?

Lawless: Oh yeah, we did all that. One of the guys that worked on our road crew, his dad had a workshop in Pasadena, because we’re in the L.A. area, and it was a combination wood shop/metal shop. You could literally build anything in there. It was a pretty good-sized place. And he gave us free rein to do whatever we wanted to in there. I mean, we bought the materials. But that's how the saw blades came about.

Because we were doing something on a table saw one day, you know, with a 12-inch blade. The blade was getting dull and there was a spare blade that was leaning up against the window. And I looked over at the blade and I saw it propped up against that glass, this light bulb went off in my head and I just started laughing.

The crew guy that I was with goes, “What's so funny?” And I said, “I just had the most insane idea.” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, let's get a piece of cardboard and make a template. We'll trace the sawblade.” And so, you know, we traced this stuff out and we cut it and got it ready to go.

And when went we did the first show, I remember walking out with it, and I thought, “This is gonna be the coolest thing or I'm gonna get laughed out of town.” And I really did not know what it was going to be. We walked out and I could tell within the first 30 seconds, we had a major monster on our hands. So, it's like, nothing ventured, nothing gained, you’ve got to take some risks sometimes. There's a fine line between doing something that's really good, and something that's really bad. And sometimes you don't know what that is until you do it.

I know, it's easy to look back now, especially specifically on something like the sawblades and say, “Well, Okay, that’s what your logo has been forever.” But you’ve got to remember, we didn't know that at the time. You feel like you're rolling the dice sometimes when you do that, so you have to take chances, and you follow your instincts.

And this kind of goes back to what we were talking about with the show just a second ago. You do what's right for you. Because, believe it or not, I have fairly general tastes when it comes to most everything that everybody else likes. I like the same movies and the same food, and I don’t really have exotic tastes.

But I do have a sense of humor. It can be a little dark from time to time. We thought a lot of what we were doing was hysterical. There as a lot of fun built into what we were doing, and if some folks wanted to take it seriously, I could understand where they would have been put off by it. Because I remember it was about five years after we did our first record, I went to a club and they had the video from [1984 W.A.S.P. concert VHS] Live at the Lyceum playing. Now, we were recording Headless [Children] at the time and my head was in a totally different headspace, because we were doing something I thought was making a real social statement. So, I too, five years later, back to what we were talking about before, I was in a totally different place.

I remember walking in, I sit down at the bar and I’m looking up at the screen and it was like I was watching somebody else. And I remember thinking to myself, “I don't even know who these guys are.” And I saw it for the first time, how other people could interpret it, and it was frightening to watch it. It’s like, “Oh, shit, no wonder we were freaking people out.”

Because it was the authenticity in the way we were doing it. Although we saw a great deal of humor in what we were doing, the attitude that we had, the hostility that we had, that's what was bleeding out more than anything. And so you take these ideas that could have been taken tongue-in-cheek, but give them to a bunch of guys that are pissed off at the world and see what happens. Because when it's put through that filter of anger, whoa, you have a potent combination then.

So that pretty much brings you up to speed with the idea of where the show got started, how it got started, all of that, and brings us to today. And without really going into detail about what the show is going to be, it was a very ticklish thing to try to approach. How could we do this show today and still do some of the other socially relevant things that we thought we would do later on down the line, like Headless, Crimson Idol, stuff like that. How do you put it all in the same pot and mix it up and get it to work? We talked about this for two years, how we were going to do this. We’ve come to a conclusion that we believe is going to work, so I'll leave it at that for now.

When fans are leaving the venue after these 40th anniversary tour W.A.S.P. shows, what do you hope is running through their mind?

Lawless: That's an interesting question you asked, because in the beginning, what we wanted, we had a very specific goal in mind. We wanted people to walk out of the venues in a way unlike anything they had seen before. Because when people walk out of a rock show, normally they're upbeat, they're loud, their spirits are high. They've just seen a great show. They're really happy.

That's not what we wanted. When people walked out, we wanted you to be able to hear a pin drop. Because we wanted people to be running the tape back in their heads, asking themselves, “What the hell did I just see?”

Because I remember the first time I saw Apocalypse Now, when I left the theater, it was like that. Same thing when I saw Road Warrior for the first time. We patterned our early show after that movie. I remember the psychological effect that it had on me. And I thought, you know, if we could capture that with a stage presentation, that would be a unique experience for people.

I'm giving you a long-protracted preface here to say I'm not really sure what it's going to be this time. We have time on our side now because the songs have been romanticized in people's heads for a long time. That’s a distinct advantage that you have when you're a band that's been doing it a while. You have that material on your side.

But then also can be a double-edged sword. And I'm gonna get off subject for just a second, but any band that's been doing it for a long time, when they do a new album, that new album always becomes your opening act. Because the same way an opening act is judged against the headliner, a headliner has the same problem because his new stuff is now being compared to the old stuff. And that's not a fair comparison. So if you want that new stuff to stand up against the old stuff, it usually has to be better than the old stuff, just to survive, to be given a chance to be considered into the catalog.

We all do it, all of us do it. I do it, everybody does it. Everybody says, “Oh, when's the new stuff coming out?” They say that. But they want to hold on to the familiarity of what they know. And it's natural. It's just the way we are. So you understand the quandary of what I'm talking about here.

So going back to your question, how's it going to be viewed … Well, when we get done we’ll know, won’t we? Because, like I said, I understand we have things working with us. I don't know if there's things that are going to be working against us, in the sense of it being like a new record. I really don't know.

I do know this: The only way any band is able to survive a long period of time is you’ve gotta be true to yourself, and you’ve got to do what you believe is real. Now what we're doing with the show, in the way we're doing it and the way we're trying to put these four decades together, I believe is the truest way of doing it that we can. And I feel really good about it. And again, I’ve got pretty general tastes when it comes to this, and so if I like it there's probably a fair chance that most of the people are gonna like it, too. So I think it's going to work. I certainly hope so. I mean, I'm betting the ranch on it, let's put it that way.