Dave Brockie – a.k.a. Oderus Urungus – took time out from his work on the new GWAR album in the new Slave Pit to talk to QRO. The masked face of the massive, singular “heavy metal-humor-burlesque-gore-spatter-rock” band/art piece/performing company talked to QRO about working on their next record, working on despite the loss of long-time GWAR guitarist Cory Smoot (a.k.a. Flattus Maximus), finding a new guitarist amongst the scumdogs of the Maximus tribe scattered across the universe, GWAR-B-Q 2012, having more in common with Taps than Ozzy Ozbourne, the democratic Monday meetings that have kept the whole thing going, their new all-in-one art & music studio production facility, tripping while seeing Butthole Surfers there twenty-plus years ago, and much more…
QRO: Are you working in the studio/writing right now?
Dave Brockie: Yes, we are.
About a year-and-a-half ago, we moved into a brand-new place. Finally, for the first time in the many years, in many years, we managed to get all the different tentacles of our operation under one roof. Of course, one of the parts of that was getting our recording studio up and running.
I’m proud to say, for the first time in many years – indeed, for the first time ever – GWAR is now functioning out of a full production facility, with full video, fabrication, offices, art, and recording studio, all in one building. It’s a little demonic artist from hell dream come true…
QRO: This upcoming record will be the first time working in the full studio?
DB: Yes, this will be the first time.
We used to record all of our stuff out in Cory’s house, ‘cause Cory would have his studio all the way out in Chesterfield, and we had a fabrication shop here in town, and we’d have the drive twenty miles down the road to record. So we spent a lot of time and a lot of gas getting back and forth between there, but now we have everything under one roof.
This will be the first full-length album that we’ve completed in this place. We’re very excited about it.
QRO: How is it different, working in the one studio?
DB: Well, the best thing about it is that it’s right here, right next to all the other parts of what the Slave Pit’s doing. We have a fabrication department, and now four-to-six artists that are constantly working on our costumes, and our monsters, and all this various other stuff that goes into making a GWAR show work.
It’s gonna have a huge impact because we’re all very dependent on what the other parts of the organization are doing. We don’t just go and write an album, and then show it to the artists and go, ‘This is what it’s all about.’ We work hand-in-hand – we work on these concepts as a group, and then we give out assignments. Once we’ve got a plan that we all agree on, from the art department to the musicians, once we’ve come up with that plan, then we all working on it together.
This is great because we can record songs here, and go, ‘Hey guys, what do you think of this?,’ and play the stuff for ‘em, and they have a reaction to it right there. We’ve done things before where we’ve left for another state, the band disappeared for two months, and then we come back, ‘Hey, what do you think of this?…’ Now, we can all really contribute to the record, and do it all at the same time.
It’s really led to a great synchronicity in the way that we create our art. We always thought that once we found ourselves back under one roof, it was gonna have a huge impact on our operation. If for no other reason than we just go to one place to go to work in the morning – you don’t have to drive across town to get things happening. The Slave Pit has become our little bastion of bad taste, and I think that we’re going to do our greatest work yet.
QRO: What brought about putting everything under one roof?
DB: Basically, it was just ‘cause we didn’t either have the money or couldn’t find the correct facility. For a long time, we tried to save up enough money to buy a place, but that wasn’t happening. GWAR just takes a lot of overhead, you know? The way that GWAR eats, there’s a large hole in the floor, and we shovel money into it. And it actually does seem to work that way, a lot.
Having everybody in one spot – the only thing that really held us back was finding the correct location, and it turned out that a friend of ours had this building he was using as a furniture factory, and ended up having to rent it out; he rented it to us – it’s a perfect size for us.
And what’s really funny about it is that it’s an old gay bar called ‘The Pyramid Club’ – it’s still got its rainbow stripe painted all the way around the inside of it. And it’s really funny because we always used to see shows here all the time. I remember one of the first really big shows I saw here was Butthole Surfers back in like 1980, 1985 – forever ago.
When I saw that show, oh my God! That show really did a lot to help us take GWAR from being the local art school joke-rock band to becoming a real… a real serious cult hit. And it’s just so funny that it’s gone full circle, in the place where all of us, tripping our minds out on mushrooms, saw the Butthole Surfers. ‘Oh my God! We need smoke machines, we need fire!’ And it’s very funny, twenty years later, to be back in that very same facility where we came to that conclusion, some twenty years earlier.
QRO: [laughs] So it brings about flashbacks?
DB: Oh, totally, dude! I can’t ever walk through the fabrication shop without looking up and seeing that pipe that goes across the room, where I was hanging upside-down, tripping my brains out on mushrooms, watching Gibby Haynes set fire to his drum kit…
This place brings back a lot of old memories…
QRO: You’ve been making records for decades now. How has the process changed (other than this recent move)?
DB: Well, we really pretty much stuck with the same way that we always have. We’ve always made a big effort that all the artists, not just the musicians, have a chance to get their opinion in, as far as the record is concerned.
People are always like, ‘What’s more important: the music or the show?’ To us, it’s kinda like the same thing. We’re a lot more like a Broadway musical than we are a regular thing. We have a lot more to do with Taps than with Ozzy Ozbourne. It’s super-important for the art department and for the musicians to work hand-in-hand, coming up with ideas. And having everyone under one roof makes that a lot easier to do.
And we’ve always had that kind of way of going after – we have a meeting on Monday night, where everybody gets everything out there that they want to get out there; we come to an agreement, group-wise. Monday night meeting is your chance to get everything off your chest in an environment where you don’t have to worry about people taking things personally. That’s where we come up with our battle plan.
And the battle plan remains the same until perhaps we have another meeting and change it up a little bit. We use our Monday meetings as a way to set our policy, to give everybody their jobs, and then we don’t change that policy unless we vote on it.
We can’t have ten artists working in ten different directions. Somehow, the boat has to be rowed in one direction, and that takes the coordination to get ten guys all rowing their boat the same way. And when you have a bunch of free-willed, talented artists, who are all committed that their idea is the best, it can be quite an undertaking to get everybody on the same page… [laughs]
Somehow we’ve done it. And our new space is the best way we possibly could have to do it.
And the only bummer about it is that we don’t have our buddy Cory here to experience it with us. We’re doing our best in everything to honor him in everything that we do. No doubt he would absolutely love this stuff.
QRO: Was this transition underway before Cory passed away?
DB: Oh, yeah, it was totally underway. Cory was going to go ahead and keep his studio at his house, and then we were going to move a bunch of the equipment out here to replace it. So we were going to have two fully functional studios.
Pretty much what’s happened now is that we’ve just concentrated on making this one everything that we need. The studio that’s out at Cory’s house, we’ve pretty much left it – for now, anyway – as a time capsule. We’re not ready to put any kind of work in there. We’re thinking we’re probably going to leave it like it is for now. As we do this next record, I really doubt that we’ll have anything going on in there. That’s up to Jamie, his widow. For right now, that studio’s gonna stay the way it is, and we’re gonna concentrate on making this studio here as great as possible.
As soon as we’ve got the first GWAR record done here, we’re gonna be- we already are doing demos for other bands. We’re gonna be bring other bands in here.
That’s one of the real awesome ideas about this place – it’s gonna be a full, all of your production wants. Any band can come in here and record an album, have a video shot for them. Hell, we can even design their entire merchandise line.
On those few down periods where we are not working on GWAR, it would be good to produce and get any bands ready for their shot at the big time.
QRO: How has the process of finding a new guitarist been?
DB: We started the process a few months ago. We’re not holding open auditions or anything like that – we’ve played with lots of people over the years, and we have really good idea who we think it gonna have the chops, but we want to go about it slowly.
We decided to finish up the touring on our books as a four-piece just because it seemed to be the best way to honor Cory, and to give the fans a chance to say goodbye. We retired his guitar at the end of the show throughout the tour, and since the last show at the Grog Shop in Pennsylvania, that was the last show we officially retired his guitar. Now we feel like we’ve done our job, we feel like we’ve honored Cory – and now we’re well into the process of finding a new guitar player.
Fans don’t have to worry; it’s not going to be some totally insane character that they would ever have believed that we would do. But we’re also not going to get somebody to play Flattus Maximus – that’s been retired, and no one will ever wear that costume again.
But, people seem to forget that the Maximus tribe – there are scumdogs scattered across the entire universe, and just about now, they’re starting to hear the rumors that Flattus has left the galaxy. So basically, we’re getting scumdogs from all over the fuckin’ universe showing up here at the Slave Pit, demanding their chance to audition for GWAR. Some of the guys are pretty gnarly – we’re pretty sure that, when we make our decision, it will one of the members of the Maximus tribe.
So it won’t be a completely, brand-new, shocking experience for the fans. It will be somebody they’re halfway familiar with, some of the brethren of Flattus, but beyond that I cannot say…
QRO: So you are working on a new Maximus tribe member?
QRO: Will you be in the studio this summer, save for these dates and the GWAR-B-Q?
DB: Some cool shows came up this summer, a chance to be away from the production of the new album, go out there and have some fun, play some shows, but we’re not going to be doing any serious touring until October.
QRO: How hard is it, designing your stage show, trying to top yourselves time after time?
DB: Well, we don’t really worry about topping ourselves, because nobody out there is doing anything like GWAR has done. Nobody even tries. I mean, sure there’s bands like Slipknot and stuff, but no one does the ‘heavy metal-humor-burlesque-spatter-rock’ that GWAR has done.
No one has ever attempted to do it, because they know if they did, they would suck at it. Nobody has the ability to pull it off like GWAR does, so we just do it ourselves.
The only people that we’re trying to outdo is us. When we write a show, we’re gonna try to write something that’ll crack us up, knowing full well that if we can do that, then we can make our fans happy as well.
We pretty much go to out-gross each other, and if we can do that, we know that we have a good show.
QRO: How much on a tour do you change a show night-to-night?
DB: No, it’s a script. Sure, there’s gonna be ad-libs – Oderus is going to throw in his ridiculous comments every now and then, but the basic action in the show is the same. It reads just like if it’s out of a Broadway musical script, and we pretty much roll with that.
There’s a little bit of room for improve, we always have to have a little bit of room for improve, to add something to the show, but pretty much, it rolls the same every night.
QRO: What about at the GWAR-B-Q – do you try to do something new at that?
DB: The GWAR-B-Q is an exception. We totally go for something a little different for that; it’s such a special occasion. It’s a little bit looser than your regular GWAR show. We’re gonna be bringing back the Sexecutioner, so obviously that’s gonna be something different.
Of all the shows that we do in a year, I would say yeah, the GWAR-B-Q kind of gets a little bit different treatment. It’s gonna need a little bit more ad-lib – at the GWAR-B-Q, everyone’s so drunk, they don’t give a damn anyway…
QRO: With so many records, so much material, how difficult is it to make a set list?
DB: The hardest part is remembering what songs you have to choose from. Basically, we have to go back and look at the albums.
You know what songs are fan favorites, but you never know – there’s so many freakin’ songs out there that we’ve played, that I can’t even remember at this point.
We just go back, look through all the albums, look through all the song titles. We know the basic ten-to-twenty songs that we’ll always be featuring, the favorites, and we’ll to build around there. We’ll through so extra weird ones in there, but the set list stays pretty much the same.
We’re not the type of band who says, ‘Hey! Let’s play “Sugar Magnolia”!’ There’s so much crazy shit going on in a GWAR show, we pretty much have to stick to the script. Stick with the same way every night.
Sometimes, in the encores, we’ll get pretty crazy. You never know – we might whip out a song you might not recognize, or you might not have heard, and you might not have ever expected GWAR to play.
Generally speaking, it’s set up like a script. We stick to that set list pretty much exclusively.
QRO: Before a tour, do you ever have to relearn a song?
DB: Oh, constantly, dude!
We’ve got, I believe, thirteen albums out now, and a lot of those songs are extremely complicated.
A lot of people will come in here, because they want to audition for the job, and they’re totally blown away. They might have heard stories about GWAR, ‘Oh, you know, those creepy, theatrical rock band…’ – they have no fuckin’ clue just how difficult some of these songs are to play. And then you fuckin’ put fifty pounds of bloody latex on ‘em, and send a dinosaur after them to chew their nuts off – I defy fuckin’ anybody to be able to do that.
That’s why I really think the musicians we have in our band, they have to be absolutely top-notch, or they’re just not going to make it.
QRO: Do you test their ability to play under GWAR show conditions in an audition?
DB: Yeah, sure – we’ll make ‘em wear a set of shoulder pads when they’re doing their audition, then we’ll walk right into the practice space and throw a five gallon bucket of blood on ‘em, just to make sure they can handle that…
No – we don’t really do that…
There’s no way you can approximate what’s going on in a GWAR show in an audition.
We go for people that have seen GWAR, and they pretty much know what the deal is. They’re not about to audition for GWAR unless they know it’s gonna be quite a different experience than being in a regular band.
QRO: When making the set list and setting up a show, is the difficulty of stage changes a big factor?
DB: Yes, certainly. We run all that stuff together. We totally have to take into account what’s going on with the slaves backstage. Sometimes costumes will take an extra song or two.
That’s a total big factor in how we make our set lists. ‘Are you gonna be able to get out of the Bone Stamper costume and into the Bikini Lights Shooter in the amount of time that it takes to play “Penguin Attack”?’
If a normal person from a band walked into a GWAR meeting, and listened to the kind of stuff we talk about, and figure out what song we’re playing next, they would probably call the police…
‘We’re gonna have lasers, and three babies have sex with this dog – there’s no way we can have that done before we play that song…’
QRO: [laughs] And all done in this matter-of-fact manner…
DB: Completely matter-of-fact.
‘Yeah, I’ll stick my dick in the dead dog’s butt, and then you leave the butt, then we’ll squirt about thirty gallons of semen. Then we should be ready for the next song, “I’m In Love With a Dick”…’
If you didn’t know what the hell we were talking about, you’d probably be pretty sure that you’d stumbled into some kind of satanic coven meeting.
Satanists don’t necessarily meet in covens – I don’t want the Wiccans to get all mad at me…
QRO: You talked about people who do art contributing to the music, and vice-versa. Do you all do both, or do some do just one or the other?
DB: We’ve got two or three guys that pretty much do all the costumes, but the band members will definitely help.
I’m unfortunately one the people who came from art school – I can do a lot of the stuff in the Slave Pit, as far as working on my own costumes and stuff. I’m a lot happier when I have the artists keying on that.
I pretty much do all the publicity and the lead singer stuff, and that’s a big enough job for any man, especially now that GWAR, in the last couple of years, has just been getting tons of hype. There’s always publicity, there’s always – for instance, we’re gonna do the Zombie Prom, totally busy getting that together, go up to New York City. Then spend the whole day doing a video shoot with Alex Skolnick of Testament. We’re doing this crazy thing where a band of kids from high school have learned a GWAR song, and Alex Skolnick & I – Alex being the lead guitar player from Testament and me being singer of GWAR – we’re gonna do a video with this high school marching band.
QRO: A marching band?!?
DB: That’s gonna be insane…
As soon as that’s over, I go to New York, do the show, and then right after the show, I pack up all my crap, it goes into an airplane, and I fly into L.A. to be on-set for a photo-shoot the next day.
To build my own costume on top of all of that, I would be dead. We do our best to regulate it all.
Everybody wants to do everything, but we do the best job we can to make sure that people do what they do best.
QRO: Is it tough to sit back and say, ‘Okay, I can’t do this, because I have to do publicity stuff,’ or say to someone else, ‘I love your art, but we need your music’ or ‘I love your music, but we need your art’ – to tell someone, not that they’re not good at this, but they need to focus on this other thing?
DB: Actually, that is really one of the hardest parts about it. As much as you would like to be able to totally subtract all personal feelings from it, that’s impossible. There’s no way to tell somebody, ‘We think this other person would do a better job at it, and that’s the reason why you’re not getting this job – you’re gonna do something else.’
People get really attached to ideas that they have, and of course they want to do them themselves, so sometimes we just have to intersect and say, ‘Well, you know, that’s the way it is.’
We have very much a democratic kind of way of making art. We vote on stuff. The thorny stuff, we can’t figure out what to do, we’re gonna vote on it. And sometimes, it works, and sometimes, it doesn’t, but that’s really the only way to keep people happy. It’s hard for you to argue that you should be doing something when you’re out-voted nine-to-one.
It must work, because here we are, twenty-seven years later, still going strong.
QRO: Have you always had the democratic process, the Monday meetings, stuff like that?
DB: It’s always been like that. The Monday meetings have been a part of GWAR since I can remember. Our chance to get everything out on the table, give everybody a chance to debate about it. But when we render that decision, that’s what we’re gonna do. And it’s not gonna change unless we have another meeting, and vote to change it.
QRO: Do you think that’s been a big factor in your longevity?
DB: Oh yeah, totally.
QRO: Do you think you’ll have a new guitarist by the tour in the fall, or by the GWAR-B-Q?
DB: The plan is to try to get it together for the GWAR-B-Q, but we’re not gonna rush. We have that event, and that’s great, but definitely I would say, by the fall tour, that we’ll have our new guy in place.
Mike [Derks] did an amazing job playing off as a four-piece, but GWAR is a two-guitar band. Every single album has been written with two guitars in mind, and that’s the way we’re gonna stick with it.
I would hope, by the fall tour, we would have the new guitar player in place.
QRO: How tough was it, not just emotionally but physically, doing it as a four-piece?
DB: Somehow we did it. Mike is an amazing guitar player. He’ll probably never get the credit he deserves. He’s been Balsac [The Jaws of Death] since Scumdogs of the Universe. He’s one of my favorite guitar players, and I’m not just talking about the other guys I’ve worked with in GWAR – I’m talking period.
He was able to take Cory’s parts and his parts, and somehow merge them together. And pull it off for the rest of the tour, and the second part of the tour that we did in the fall.
Of course, the fans understood, and they were cutting us a lot of slack. But I would like to think the band sounded just as good as it ever did. Of course we miss Cory’s leads, but they did an amazing, amazingly commendable job pulling it off. But now it is time to get GWAR back to that two-guitar attack that the fans love so much, so that’s basically what we’re spending the summer doing.
The GWAR-B-Q takes place on Saturday, August 18th at Hadad’s Lake in Richmond, VA.