WASP 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 autumn tour in the USA. The Blackie Lawless-fronted quartet will kick off their stateside trek on Oct. 28 in Las Vegas, marks their first show on US 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 selected dates.
UCR caught up with Lawless in late April to discuss WASPs “meteoric” rise to fametheir long-awaited US tour, the key to career longevity and his thoughts on reintroducing the rude, raw classic”Fuck Like a Beast” into the band’s live set to mark the occasion.
How did the decision to embark on this 40th anniversary walk come about?
For any artist, to reach a point where you put an exclamation point on four decades, that’s something you really have to acknowledge – not just from the artist’s perspective, [but] also for the fans. I always believed that the proof 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 to go beyond it, and then it’s time to scratch your head. It is a testament to the relationship between any artist and their fan base because all artists must be willing to take that fan base on a lifelong journey. And to do that, you have to effectively open your skull and allow that audience to come in and walk around barefoot inside your head. Because if you don’t, they will never feel comfortable with you. And if they don’t feel comfortable with you, they’ll never really know who you are. And that’s the only real way to communicate with them, to have that connection. And I think that’s something that all the artists that have been able to span that period or any longer period, 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 week and then disappear. They wanted to make this a career, and like you just said, I think it takes a whole different mindset than just having your 15 minutes.
Yes, because you know what you have to say? I mean, what makes you different? What makes you so cool that you can actually verbalize something in texts? So what are you trying to say? Do you have a unique perspective? Because there are many people who can play instruments out there. What sets them apart? What are they saying? When [Pete] Townsend say, “I hope I die before I’m old,” when you make a statement like that, it’s significant. And either it will love people or it will repel them. But you want to stand for something, so what do you say that everyone is thinking but has never really figured out a way to put into words yet? Is there something you’re really moved by that you can say that other people will identify with? “I want to be somebody.” That’s a pretty sweeping statement. I always thought the song was quite frankly mediocre. But I get the vibe because the vibe is what touched me in the first place. And I think that’s a pretty fair example of what a fan base would stick with and say, “That’s something I can relate to.”
Watch WASP’s ‘I Wanna Be Somebody’ video
I think it’s cool – and I’m sure it’s not lost on you guys – that you’re coming back and hitting the road in the US now for the first time in a decade, when a lot of your contemporaries are starting to stop. and they go on their farewell tours. I think it creates even more excitement and urgency among fans to see this tour.
You may be right. I don’t think of age as a number. I guess that’s how you feel and I still feel like I’m in my 20s. I feel really good, I can do most things I’ve ever done, so I feel pretty good about where I’m at. The thought of retirement just doesn’t appeal to me. I see some people use it as a marketing tool and I always thought it was some kind of cheap stunt. I mean, if they’re sincere about it, you probably — I probably shouldn’t say — you owe it to a fanbase to tell them if you really want to stop. I mean, my natural reaction, I’m the kind of person that I want to just do it until I can’t do it anymore. And then I just wanted to stop. You know, one day you just don’t go into the office anymore. I don’t want a gold watch from anyone for my years of servitude. It’s not my thing. But I think you would have an obligation to let people know if you really wanted to stop. But it’s just not my thing. That’s not the way I would do it. Because what do you do when you retire? You know, we were lucky enough – and I say we [as in] someone who does this for a living – you did it because you would have done it for free anyway, so what’s there to stop? If you physically can’t do it anymore, I understand. But you have been blessed to make a living from your hobby, this thing that has been your passion. So why do you want to stop? I mean, I don’t.
Are there any particular songs – maybe even some from the last few days – that you’re particularly excited to play on this tour?
There is, but I won’t mention you right now because we haven’t gone into practice yet. And I know from past experience that you know, you think you might do this, or you think you might do that. You start practicing and some songs will just fall flat on your face. They sound great on recordings, but they don’t translate live, unlike any band’s first record. They played that record live so many times that they know the reaction it will get to people. But by the time you get to your second record, you no longer have that ability to go out and, you know, beta test that material on the audience. Those days are over. So you just kind of go on a wing and a prayer.
Watch WASP’s ‘Wild Child’ video
When the tour was announced, you said you had begun to soften your stance on playing “Animal” live. I just wanted to see if you’ve thought about it more, if you’ve made any decision yet on whether or not you want to bring that song back into the set list on this tour.
Not yet, because again, we have yet to practice. What we are working on more than anything else right now is the actual staging, the production. And we spent a lot of time on this in terms of what it’s going to look like. And from what I’m seeing right now, it’s going to look like an old carnival, you know, like a spooky type of carnival, some old sideshow you would have seen. And I don’t mean like a state fair. I’m talking about, you know, it’s right on the scary side, shall we say. But from what I’ve seen so far, we’ve built a few models of it and it looks pretty cool. So like I said, first things first, we do it, because once the models are done and the decisions are made, then you have to make it happen. Then the music starts after that. Plus we’re working on a new record right now as we speak, so I’ve got my hands full.
How’s the record going? How far along are you in that process?
Well, I could tell you that it’s pretty far, but I’ve learned in the past that it doesn’t necessarily matter. … I was confident in where I thought this record was going before us [started], and now I’m not so sure. This does not mean that the material will change; it’s the way you process the material. Do you know how you want the mix to sound? There are a number of factors that come into play. So these things, many times, I’ve learned that you have to get out of the way and let it take its own course. I mean, you can force anything if you want, but if you let it go where it wants to go, that’s a big part of the beauty of the discovery process.
Can fans expect to see a return of The Elvis microphone stand on this run?
He will be there.
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