W.A.S.P.'s BLACKIE LAWLESS Admits To Using Backing Tracks During Live Performances
November 27, 2022
During a "VIP Experience" question-and-answer session before W.A.S.P.'s November 26 concert at The Plaza Live in Orlando, Florida, frontman Blackie Lawless was asked about complaints from some of the band's fans about the use of backing tracks during the group's live performances. "To answer your question, yes, we are using backing tracks," he responded (as transcribed by BLABBERMOUTH.NET). "You wanna know why?
"When we go into a studio — and let me clarify that statement; that's me singing — but when we go in a studio, we do choruses, we double, triple, quadruple the vocals," he continued. "So my feelings were when I listened to live YouTube [recordings of our shows] and we weren't doing that, it sounded thin. When we started supplementing it, it sounded better.
"If I'm a fan and I'm coming to a show, I want that thing to sound as good as it can. There are other bands — the QUEENs of the world — they cannot duplicate 24 vocals at one time. That's what they do on those records. If you want it to sound like those records, you've gotta have some help.
"Now, in defense, I guess maybe what you're asking, is it fair for a band to go out and use only those? No, that is not fair.
"Like I said, I take a lot of pride in what I do, for the lead vocals that I do, but when it comes to vocals or when it comes to orchestration…
"We went out and we did 'The Crimson Idol' the first time without orchestration. It was okay. It sounded all right. It was kind of like THE WHO doing 'Live At Leeds', what they did with 'Tommy'.
"When we did the 20th anniversary of the tour, we took the orchestration with us and we went into production rehearsals," Lawless added. "And I had never heard it like that before, because the only time I ever heard it with orchestration was the albums. And I went in there and I stood in the middle of that room and I heard that orchestration with the live band, and it made the hair stand on the back of neck. And I [went], 'Good God. I've never heard this like this before.' To me, that was a treat. And I don't give a shit what anybody says; if I'm a fan, that's what I wanna hear.
"So, again, if somebody's trying to bullshit an audience, no, I don't go along with that at all. You're out there to do a job; do your job. But to supplement it? Absolutely not. I'd wanna hear it."
W.A.S.P. has been criticized for the group's supposed use of backing tracks, including for Blackie's lead vocals, for at least several years, as Metal Sludge pointed out in 2019 after Lawless and his bandmates performed at the Helgeåfestivalen in Sweden.
In recent years, more and more artists have been given a pass for relying on pre-recorded tracks, drum triggers and other assorted technology that makes concerts more synthetic but also more consistent. For better or worse, pre-recorded tracks are becoming increasingly common for touring artists of all levels and genres and they're not just used in pop music — many rock artists utilize playback tracks to varying degrees.
In March 2020, SHINEDOWN guitarist Zach Myers said that "90 percent" of rock artists use at least some pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. He told Rock Feed: "It bothers me that it bothers people. I'm, like, 'Why does this bother you?' It's the way it is. People have been doing this since the '80s. And we want the sound to be the best it can be. Could we go up there, just the four of us, and put on the best rock show ever? Of course. But that's not how we wanna do it."
Former SKID ROW singer Sebastian Bach has previously said that he is "one of the last people" who are still not using pre-recorded tracks at their live shows. "I don't know how much longer I can say to you that I don't use tapes onstage, because I don't, and I never have," he told Consequence Of Sound. "And I still don't. When I have opening bands, and they're using tapes, and then I come out and I don't use tapes… sometimes, it makes me feel stupid, because I'm like, 'What am I doing, when all these kids half my age can come onstage and do all of my moves, but they don't have to warm up for an hour before the show, or weeks, before the first show?' Sometimes, I'm like, 'Why do I even bother, if the public is so used to this other way?' It's becoming very rare to come see a good band that's actually a real band — that's not miming or doing silly moves while a tape is running. It just becomes more rare as the years go on."
In 2019, IRON MAIDEN guitarist Adrian Smith said that he doesn't "agree" with certain rock artists relying on pre-recorded tracks during their live performances. "I tell you what, I see it with a lot of younger bands, and I don't think it's a good thing at all," he told the New York Post. "I mean, the music is getting too technical now. You have computerized recording systems, which we use, but I think we use them more for convenience than because we need to. We've toured with a couple bands that use tapes — it's not real. You're supposed to play live; it should be live. I don't agree with using tapes … I think it's a real shame."
One musician who has been open about his band's used of taped vocals during live performances is MÖTLEY CRÜE bassist Nikki Sixx, who said: "We've used technology since '87." He added the group employed "sequencers, sub tones, background vox tracks, plus background singers and us. [MÖTLEY CRÜE also taped] stuff we can't tour with, like cello parts in ballads, etc.... We love it and don't hide it. It's a great tool to fill out the sound."
In a 2014 interview, MÖTLEY CRÜE guitarist Mick Mars admitted that he wasn't comfortable with the fact that his band used pre-recorded backing vocals in its live shows, claiming that he preferred to watch groups whose performances are delivered entirely live. "I don't like it," he said. "I think a band like ours… I have to say '60s bands were my favorite — '60s and '70s bands — because they were real, like, three-piece bands or four-piece bands, and they just got up there and kicked it up. Made a mistake? So what? Sounded a little bit empty here or there? So what? It's the bigness and the rawness and the people that developed and wrote the songs and made them and presented them. To me, that's what I really like. I mean, I could put on a MÖTLEY CD and play with it all day long. I don't wanna do that."
KISS lead singer Paul Stanley, who has been struggling to hit the high notes in many of the band's classic songs for a number of years, has been accused of singing to a backing tape on KISS's ongoing "End Of The Road" tour.
Back in 2015, KISS bassist/vocalist Gene Simmons slammed bands who used backing tapes for not being honest enough to include that fact on their concert tickets.
"I have a problem when you charge $100 to see a live show and the artist uses backing tracks," Simmons said. "It's like the ingredients in food. If the first ingredient on the label is sugar, that's at least honest. It should be on every ticket — you're paying $100, 30 to 50 percent of the show is [on] backing tracks and they'll sing sometimes, sometimes they'll lip sync. At least be honest. It's not about backing tracks, it's about dishonesty.
"There's nobody with a synthesizer on our stage, there's no samples on the drums, there's nothing," Gene continued. "There's very few bands who do that now — AC/DC, METALLICA, us. I can't even say that about U2 or THE [ROLLING] STONES. There's very few bands who don't use [backing] tracks."
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