By David E. Gehlke
"The New Dark Ages" marks the second GWAR studio album since Dave Brockie's untimely passing in 2014. The reconfigured unit — now fronted by bassist-turned-vocalist Mike "Blothar" Bishop — has maintained a business as usual pace that included 2017's "The Blood Of Gods", as well as a recent 30th-anniversary tour for 1990's "Scumdogs Of The Universe". The band has also further consolidated business under their own record company, The Pit Records and will launch a comic book to pair with "The New Dark Ages". It shows that GWAR, now, more than ever, is a self-sustaining entity with a shelf life longer than anyone could have predicted when it broke out of Richmond, Virginia, in the early '90s.
Telling a story of a "timeless evil" emerging from GWAR's distant past to "threaten mankind's pathetic attempts at evolution, twisting and perverting the modern world and using technology to polarize mankind," "The New Dark Age" is GWAR has found a topical matter that is right up their alley. Here to talk with BLABBERMOUTH.NET about their new opus and GWAR's legacy was Bishop, who did the video chat decked out in full Blothar regalia.
Blabbermouth: You originally played bass on "Scumdogs Of The Universe". GWAR just did a tour a celebrate its 30th anniversary. What was that experience like for you?
Blothar: "It was fun. It was nice to have a chance to play those songs. It was nice to do them on tour — it was a good reminder that everything you play doesn't have to be at breakneck speed, too. Our drummer has just…I don't know [Laughs], we used to have a lot of arguments. I would say, 'Look. People have the patience to sit through a really good song whether it's 100 beats-per-minute or 250.' 'Scumdogs' is a good example of that. It has a lot of mid-tempo or down-tempo tunes that people really love and go over really well. In a way, it was fun to do because the record isn't as strenuous as later GWAR records to play. You got songs like 'Maggots', but for the most part, it's pretty manageable for the musicians. For me, that's the time period when Oderus [Urungus, Brockie's GWAR character] was singing with a lot more — I don't want to say 'range' because it's not pitch-range, but a lot more emotional range toward the middle years. It got really narrow right before he passed. The fans always ask me, 'What period is hard to sing?' It's like, 'Well, 'Hell-o!' is hard to sing.' After that, he gets a little more predictable."
Blabbermouth: To that end, what motivates GWAR to write and record new music when you have such a deep back catalog?
Blothar: "I don't think that we would still do this if what we were doing was playing the catalog. I also don't think GWAR was finished writing songs. I think a lot of bands get to a point where they are and there certainly have been times in GWAR's career when we were finished writing songs and we had to force some things out. But, this wasn't one of those times. One thing is there's a lot of turnover in GWAR as far as musicians go. Well, not a lot. The guitar position has definitely changed a lot. For us, it was a chance for me to play bass again and bring back that lineup that felt, in some ways, we were finishing what we had started with 'This Toilet Earth'. That was a motivation to keep writing and even right now, we're writing stuff because all of the bands that I really love are still putting out albums that are great. The festivals seem to have changed things and bands don't break up as much. I think the festival circuit gave way to the idea of the 'legacy band', but a band like THE DAMNED, that band is still putting out great records. Bands like DISCHARGE, they're putting out albums that sound very well-produced. It was funny because when we were on tour with VOIVOD, which is another band that could be a legacy band. We sat around and Michel [Langevin], the drummer, all he would do was smoke weed and listen to new records by old bands. It was interesting because that's what we did. We listened to the new THE DAMNED. GANG OF FOUR, what an example. That's a band that gets back together and are better when they broke up. [Laughs] That's exciting stuff. Those are the models we have. GWAR has always been rooted in punk rock and I guess punk bands, the idea of doing a legacy record isn't that exciting. Or they don't do them at all. That's what being a rock band is about. We need to have shows, we need to have content and a story to tell. Otherwise, it's already about as repetitive of an episode of 'Law & Order', so you might as well have some new story to tell."
Blabbermouth: A lot has happened since you put out "The Blood Of Gods" in 2017. How did that impact the creation of the album?
Blothar: "Half of it was written around the time the pandemic hit. There was definitely a period where we had some stuff in the can and we had to focus on some other stuff because we couldn't get in the same room. I think the last half of it was written close to the time of recording it. That was about the time we were able to get together. There are some things about the record that are different. It was partly written apart. We weren't in the same room. Doing it this 'new way' and I feel very sorry for younger musicians if that's the way they have to work. I think it sucks looking at a grid and making music."
Blabbermouth: It's unnatural.
Blothar: "It is! Recording digitally is bad enough. It's nothing to do with sound; it's the workflow, the idea that you have to prepare because you don't have a lot of choice of what you put down. A lot of that seems like it's lost. In some ways, I was very skeptical about the way we were writing the record. I didn't like it at all. There are songs that weren't written that way. I made sure. I said, 'Look, at least four of these tunes have to grow out of improv.' And they did. I feel good out of what came out of it."
Blabbermouth: "The New Dark Ages" lends to the idea that we are in a state compared to the Dark Ages. How much of "The New Dark Ages" concept was influenced by the last five years?
Blothar: "It's not difficult to look at the current state of the world and say, 'Wow. What a pile of shit.' People can't tell what's true anymore. Like the Middle Ages, there were advances in technology, but it was the real advent of the printing press back then. [Laughs] Now, it's the Information Age. The real thing that inspired me was when I was reading about QAnon and the idea that adrenochrome is this substance they get from essentially torturing children. The idea is that a whole group of Hollywood elites is molesting kids and their life depends on killing children. Wow, this sounds an awful lot like something GWAR should be a part of. It's very familiar. It's like blood libel, just bringing to bear against the Hollywood elite, which is coded language for Jews. It's pretty clear that's what it is. These are very old things that had been inspiring pogroms in the Middle Ages and it's the same thought process. We wanted to bring that to light. All of this technology — and that's the ironic thing. It's an attractive subject in that a lot of driving this return to barbarism is technology. Like, somehow, it's not elevating us to this level of body-less, ethereal and peacefulness. That's not what we're getting. We're getting more blood and guts. It's unsurprising in some ways. There was a lot there to talk about and unpack."
Blabbermouth: What do you think Dave would have thought of the current era of American politics?
Blothar: "It's tough. I know there are an awful lot of fans who confidently think they know the answer to that question, but as somebody who knew him, it's hard to think about. There are two eras and probably many more of Dave as a person. Would the extremely smart, right on top of his game, making up funny stuff, million miles an hour brain, brilliant witticist, comedian, performer, what would that person think of it? Versus what would the person that was struggling with mental illness and some difficult things that were driving into some dark places toward the end of his life? Those are two separate questions. I almost don't know how to answer it. The Dave Brockie that I knew and loved and want to remember would have been anything other than horrified by everything that has happened in the country. But, at the same time, Brockie was very given to falling on the side of street protests. He was active in that way. Not to make too much of this, but one reason it's so hard to say is that he came up with some pretty elaborate beliefs during the time period before he died. [Laughs] He wanted to launch this thing called 'Blackstar' that was basically kind of exactly where they go into the Capital Building with a bunch of zip ties. But his idea was very peaceful, like, 'I want to go up there with enough people where we could put zip ties on these representatives and make a public arrest of them and it's more symbolic and about taking power back for people than Donald Trump.'"
Blabbermouth: You did a TED Talk a few years ago. Was it something you enjoyed?
Blothar: "I like TED Talks because I like to teach at a university. It's performance. I like things that I can bullshit my way through. [Laughs] It's almost like a special skillset: Can you walk on stage in front of several thousand people when you don't know the words to the song? Yes, I can! But, yes, I like speaking. I didn't like the experience of the culture of TED."
Blabbermouth: Why is that? It's fairly corporate.
Blothar: "It's corporate and at the same time, smug. It's so far divorced from what it's championing in some way. The thing that pissed me off the most was that there was a waterman who gave a talk at the same time. Watermen are traditional fishermen who make their living harvesting oysters on the eastern shore of Virginia. These guys have Elizabethan English accents. This is a guy who has been working his whole life standing in saltwater. He was going to talk about his experiences and these kids were bossing him around. Watching that and knowing how much this person knew compared to the little shits telling him what to do was very difficult for me to watch."
Blabbermouth: How did they treat you knowing what your subject matter was?
Blothar: "They didn't know. They had a rough idea, but I'll tell you a story: Mark Twain said one time, 'If you had given me more time, I'd written you a shorter letter.' That's exactly what happened. They told me, 'You have 18 minutes.' I said, 'That's cool.' If you speak in front of a collegiate audience, I'm familiar with that audience. When I got there, they said, 'No, we included that in your performance, so you actually have nine minutes.' I had to make it very short. It's not as good as it would have been if I didn't have to edit before I did the talk. I told them I was really pissed off. They came up to me and had someone from the corporate branch of TED and it's this lady and she touched me. She comes up to me and touches my stomach and I'm wearing this [his Blothar outfit]. 'You are an academic, so you think from here.' And she touches my Blothar head. She then says, 'You need to think from here,' and touches my stomach. I thought, 'I'm going to rip this lady's arm off.' It's not a question of me lacking visceral knowledge and inspiration. It's a question of people being fucking dumbshits. I can turn any happy thing into misery."