Blackie Lawless: ‘Thoughts of Retirement Just Don’t Appeal to Me’
W.A.S.P. played their first shows since 2019 over the past two weekends, performing in Stockholm and Rejmyre, Sweden, as a warm-up for their upcoming 40th-anniversary fall U.S. tour. The Blackie Lawless-fronted quartet will kick off their stateside trek on Oct. 28 in Las Vegas, marking their first show on U.S. soil since 2013 and their first proper tour of the country since 2010. Armored Saint will open for them, and Michael Schenker will provide additional support on select dates.
UCR caught up with Lawless in late April to discuss W.A.S.P.'s "meteoric" rise to fame, their highly anticipated U.S. tour, the key to career longevity and his thoughts on reintroducing the rude, crude classic "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" into the band's live set to mark the occasion.
How did the decision to embark on this 40th-anniversary trek come about?
For any artist, to reach a point where you put an exclamation point on four decades, that's something to be really acknowledged — not just from the artist's perspective, [but] for the fans too. I've always thought the testament of a real career was not if an artist could do it for five years or for 10 years. It was more like, could you do it for 20? Could you do it for 30? And then you start going beyond that, and it's head-scratching time then. It's a testament to the relationship between any artist and their fan base because all artists have to be willing to take that fan base on a lifelong journey. And to do that, you need to effectively crack open your skull and allow that audience to come in and walk around barefooted inside your head. Because if you don't do that, they're never gonna feel intimate with you. And if they don't feel intimate with you, they're never really gonna know who you are. And that's the only real way of communicating with them, to have that connection. And I think that's something that all the artists that have been able to span that period of time or any lengthy period of time, I think that's what we all have in common.
If you look at any of the biggest rock acts throughout history, I think they understood from a very early stage that they had to play the long game, and they weren't interested in scoring one or two hits, or being the flavor of the week and then disappearing. They wanted to turn this into a career, and as you just said, I think that takes a completely different mindset than just having your 15 minutes.
Yeah, because you know, what is it you have to say? I mean, what makes you different? What makes you so cool that you can actually verbalize something in lyrics? So what is it you're trying to say? Do you have some unique perspective? Because there's a lot of people that can play instruments out there. What sets them apart? What is it that they're saying? When [Pete] Townsend says, "I hope I die before I get old," when you make a statement like that, that's substantial. And it's either going to endear people or it's going to repel them. But you want to stand for something, so what are you saying that everybody's thinking but has never really figured out a way to put into words yet? Is there something that you're really moved about that you can say, that other people are going to identify with? "I wanna be somebody." That's a pretty comprehensive statement. I always thought the song was quite honestly mediocre. But I get the sentiment because the sentiment is what moved me in the first place. And I think that's a pretty fair example of what a fan base would latch on to and say, "That's something I can identify with."
Watch W.A.S.P.'s 'I Wanna Be Somebody' Video
I think it's cool — and I'm sure this is not lost on you — that you guys are coming back and hitting the road in the U.S. now for the first time in a decade as a lot of your contemporaries are starting to call it quits and they're going on their farewell tours. I think that creates even more excitement and urgency among fans to go see this tour.
You may be right. I don't think of age as a number. I think it's how you feel, and I still feel like I'm in my 20s. I feel really good, I can do most everything I've ever done, so I feel pretty good about where I'm at. The thoughts of retirement just don't appeal to me. I see some people use it as a marketing tool, and I've always thought that was kind of a cheap stunt. I mean, if they're sincere about it, then you probably do — I shouldn't say probably — you do owe it to a fan base to tell them if you're indeed gonna stop. I mean, my natural reaction, I'm the kind of person that I would want to just do it till I can't do it anymore. And then I'd just stop. You know, one day you just don't go into the office anymore. I don't want a gold watch from anybody for my years of servitude. That's not my thing. But I do think that you would have an obligation to let people know if you were indeed gonna stop. But that's just not my thing. That’s not the way I would go about it. Because what do you do when you retire? You know, we were fortunate enough — and I say we [as in] anybody who does this for a living — you did it because you would've done it for free anyway, so what's there to stop? If you physically cannot do it anymore, I get that. But you've been blessed to make a living at your hobby, this thing that's been your passion. So why do you want to stop? I mean, I don't.
Are there any songs in particular — perhaps even some latter-day ones — that you're especially excited to play on this tour?
There are, but I'm not gonna name you any right now because we haven't gone into rehearsals yet. And I know from past experience that, you know, you think you might do this or you think you might do that. You get into rehearsal, and some songs will just fall flat on their faces. They sound great on recordings, but they don't translate live, as opposed to any band's first record. They played that record live so many times, they know the reaction it's gonna have on people. But by the time you get to your second record, you don't have that ability anymore to go out and, you know, beta test on audiences that material. Those days are gone. So you have to just kind of go on a wing and a prayer.
Watch W.A.S.P.'s 'Wild Child' Video
When the tour was announced, you had said that you had started to soften your stance on playing "Animal" live. I just wanted to see if you've thought any more about that, if you've made any decision yet as to whether you want to bring that song back into the set list on this tour.
Not yet because, again, we've yet to go into rehearsal. The thing we're working on more than anything right now is the actual stage setup, the production. And we put a lot of time into this as to what it's gonna look like. And from what I'm seeing right now, it's gonna look like an old carnival, you know, like a spooky type of carnival, some old sideshow you would've seen. And I don't mean like a state fair. I'm talking about, you know, it's rather on the frightening side, shall we say. But from what I'm seeing so far, we've got a couple of models of it built, and it looks pretty cool. So like I said, first thing's first, we're doing that because once the models are done and the decisions are made, then you have to put that into reality. Then the music starts after that. Plus we're working on a new record right now as we speak anyway, so I've kind of got my hands full.
How's the record going? How far along are you in that process?
Well, I could tell you it's pretty far, but I've learned in the past that that doesn't necessarily mean anything. … I was convinced where I thought this record was going before we [started], and now I'm not so sure. It doesn't mean that the material is gonna change; it's the way you treat the material. You know, how do you want the mix to sound? There's a number of factors that go into it. So these things, a lot of times, I've learned you've got to get out of the way and let it take its own direction. I mean, you can force anything if you want to, but if you let it go where it wants to go, then that's a big part of the beauty of the discovery process.
Can fans expect to see a return of Elvis the microphone stand on this run?
He'll be there.