Gwar Behind the Masks

Gwar Behind the Masks
On March 23, 2014, Gwar front-man Dave Brockie — aka Oderus Urungus — was found dead in his home. Below, you'll find our exclusive chat with the charismatic Canadian, conducted in October 2013. Our thoughts are with Brockie and his family.

It's always a blast to catch up with Gwar's lead singer Oderus Urungus, he of the huge, grotesque latex penis and endless entertaining yelling about various intergalactic controversies and current Earth-based events. But it's even more interesting to catch up with Dave Brockie, the man who plays Urungus.

With Gwar releasing their 13th album, Battle Maximus, it's worth taking a moment to sit back and consider that these guys have made a career out of playing fun metal backed with an outrageous stage show. But it's not all goofy humour and crazy cocks, as this album was the first the band have written since the death of guitarist Cory Smoot, who played the character of Flattus Maximus since 2002; on November 3, 2011, Smoot died of a heart attack, and with him, the character of Flattus Maximus left this mortal plane. Pustulus Maximus (Brent Purgason of Cannabis Corpse) has stepped in to help take the band to the next level.

It's also the first album to feature bassist Jamison Land, who plays bass and the role of Beefcake the Mighty. All this sound intriguing? Read on as we get behind the shock and cheap laughs of Gwar and talk mortality, avoiding self-parody, and paying tribute to fallen brothers.

Let's cut right to the chase: I understand you're Canadian. Is this true?
Yes, it's very true. I was born in Ottawa. Ottawa General Hospital, then dragged by my parents to the United States, where I've languished in splendour ever since.

I was thrilled to hear you're one of us.
A lot of ridiculously funny people come from Canada for some reason. There's always been an extremely excellent response from the fans up there. Canadian people support music definitely more so than the United States. I've always found the shows to be more consistently packed in Canada than anywhere else. We started doing bigger shows faster in Canada than in the United States. It took us a while to get up to a good 1,000 people a night market that we enjoyed in Canada almost from the very beginning.

Maybe we just enjoy the raping-dead-dog humour more than Americans.
Well, it's so fucking cold outside you need to do things inside a lot.

So, congrats on the new album, Dave. How are you feeling about it?
I'm feeling pretty good about it. It was a real adventure making this record, there was certainly a lot on the line regarding how it turned out. So far, so good. First and foremost the fans seem to be very excited about the new direction of the band and with a nod to the past and a face to the future, Gwar continue to step lively. And certainly as a musician, every time you finish a record — and that's a relief in itself — you never really know what it sounds like until other people hear it. There've only been two tracks publicly released so far. I can't wait for the enormity of it all to hit everybody when we finally get the whole thing out there.

Was it difficult not having Cory around for this album? What was that like?
It was huge. Cory had been a major force in our songwriting process. When he joined the band and took over the Flattus character, around the Violence Has Arrived era, his talent as a metal musician affected everybody else in a huge way, and drove the band, almost single-handedly at times, in a heavier direction. In doing so, he really saved Gwar from becoming an act of self-parody and nostalgia to a force to be reckoned with on all levels. I thought we had the ultimate lineup, so when you take away something like that, you're basically starting all over again. I'm just amazed that we did it. I don't think a band can go through something more difficult. There was nothing less than the whole future of Gwar on the line. To think that we could arrive at such a positive place after receiving such a negative just makes me think I'm a very lucky musician and work with some of the most talented motherfuckers in the business. It just says a lot about how great of an idea Gwar is: you can throw the worst at us, and we're not going to go out without a fight. I couldn't be prouder of these dudes.

You say Cory helped Gwar avoid self-parody. Do you worry that that is more of a threat without him there?
No, not at all. Now the whole reason this record is as awesome as it is, is because we were able to find someone to follow in the footsteps of Flattus that is every bit as awesome, and Brent is in his own way every bit as amazingly talented and incredible as Cory was. He brings everything to the table that Cory did, and in a different way. Flattus was always the gentle giant character, the most sensitive member of the band, the quiet brooding armoured clown that still made this hideous noise, whereas Pustulus is louder, more abrasive, more spiteful and vicious, and much more active on stage.

It's brought a new dynamic to the band and maybe brought us back more to our thrash metal roots rather than the technical metal that we were moving towards with Cory at the songwriting helm. We wanted the band to grow organically in the correct direction. Gwar steer our own course, and the course is totally chosen by all the artists and musicians who make up Gwar. So you assemble the crew and at that point chaos takes over. And whether fate smiles or not is dependent on how hard you work and how inspired your work is. And I'm 100 percent convinced that somehow we found a way to actually thrive, not just survive, on the adversity that we were faced with. We've always enjoyed feeding off of the negative energy that's projected towards us. Every time somebody told us our band sucks, that it was stupid, that we were retards, we just laughed and said, "You know what? You need a sense of humour," and went forward, firmly convinced in our worth. The results speak for themselves. Gwar remain a potent force in music, and not just in music, in culture. We've touched people in a lot of levels beyond the musical world, for sure.

Which is insane.
Somehow the idea still has legs and integrity. I know, because I'm lucky enough to be a part of it, and the creative energy is nothing short of phenomenal, and the dedication of the fans is nothing short of amazing.

Did you ever think that 13 albums in this would still be going this strong?
No. No way. No fucking way. When we started doing Gwar, it was for all the best reasons. We wanted to do something that was fun, would entertain ourselves, and entertain our friends. I was amazed when we made our first album. That was way more than I thought we would ever do, and it was never really the idea. What started as a joke, turned into a band, and then a career, and then a cultural icon. Every step of the way, and every time we do something new, and every time Gwar takes me to a place I haven't been before, it's another step on the great journey of Gwar. It's an epic quest that few bands can match, and to think that it will continue on with such vigour… We don't possess laurels to rest upon. We burn our laurels in order to feed Gwar. What the future holds for us has yet to be seen. But will Gwar ever truly get the success the members deserve on a personal level? We still don't have fucking health insurance (laughs), but that will never be a goal for us. Some people make rock'n'roll for the fame, some people make rock'n'roll for the money, and we make it so Gwar won't kill us.

It's interesting that you mention the journey. I got into you guys when Scumdogs [of the Universe, 1990] came out. I was a young teenager, so I thought it was the greatest thing in the world. Then as I got a bit older, into my 20s, I thought, "Oh, Gwar, that's just silly humour, I'm more intelligent than that…"

No offense. Then I got older and began to appreciate it again. Is that something you see at your shows, maybe a lack of guys in their 20s? What do you see out there?
The average Gwar fan is probably going to be between 14 and 32 years old, and you're also going to have a lot of guys who are older than that, all the way up into their 50s, who have been following Gwar since the beginning, in some cases, like yourself, they were into it, they got out of it, then got back into it. Some people have been in and out several times. Some guys have been there from the beginning, some guys teach their children, "This is what is right."

Do you ever have days as you get older when you wake up and think, I just can't sing about raping a dead dog today?
Well, there are so many other things to do then. In Gwar, as an artist, you can express yourself in so many different levels in so many different ways. The subject matter never gets old for me, because I just think it's the most colourful band that's ever been created. I mean, it's such a joy to play Oderus. He's hilarious, ridiculous, bloody, horrible, humorous, opulent, and he's just the perfect rock'n'roll train wreck. As a performer, as someone who's played many different roles and someone who's been in theatre and has been lucky enough to be in all kinds of different bands and movies and TV, and playing things away from Oderus, he's by far the most fun character I've ever played. Now, sure, everyone has bad days. But I still get so excited when I do it. On the worst days, when you can finally pull that fucking rubber head on and you're waiting backstage in the darkness and you can hear the crowd screaming, chanting, anybody who is into performing is going to get excited by that. The energy of our fans… they get the joke, you know? They're in on it. Gwar's like a big joke that everybody is in on, and when we play live, and our fans are in our presence, they're as much a part of the story as the band is. It's like an act of mass theatre. Suspension of disbelief.

So is the new album a tribute to Cory?
Oh, certainly. We wanted to make sure that was a central theme. [In the lyrics,] Mr. Perfect and our struggle against him, it's a metaphor for surviving. Mr. Perfect becomes death and Gwar become Cory, and it's about that struggle about whether you're going to succeed or fail in the face of the greatest of odds against you. The never say die attitude. So the life of Flattus and the death of Cory is central to the whole writing process on the record. The Mr. Perfect songs are a metaphor for it, but then there's other songs on the record that are more aimed right at Flattus, like "Fly Now," and some deal with the more darker and somehow inspiring or liberating aspects of death, songs like "Bloodbath." I tried to go at it with both of those angles. So I was trying to pay tribute to Cory and tell the story of Flattus as well, and honour both of them at the same time.

The album also introduces Pustulus...
We're opening up the door for the creature that has come in the wake of the great one, Pustulus Maximus. Even the fact that it's a member of the Maximus family is another nod in that direction, and the mythos being that the Maximuses all are shred-tastic guitar players and they came from all over the galaxy after the departure of Flattus to battle each other for the right to follow in his footsteps. That's what "Battle Maximus" is all about. We had all these guitarists come in, like Mark Morton of Lamb of God, and Ol' Drake from Evile, Zach Blair from Rise Against (who actually was Flattus for a while), they all came in and created their Maximus characters, and we wrote the song "Battle Maximus" and recorded them all playing solos and put that together… that's a fucking amazing thing to do. That's yet another side note to this whole record. It's definitely the deepest, most conceptual record we've ever done.

You mentioned fan reaction was good so far?
I know that Gwar fans are heaving a huge sigh of relief after they hear these new tracks, like, thank God Gwar don't suck now. We were getting very silly and self-indulgent, and the records were getting sillier and sillier and Cory came along and kinda saved the day. I'm sure there were a lot of Gwar fans out there concerned that that was what was going to happen, we were going to go back to that, even though there are tons of Gwar fans out there that wished we played nothing but songs about fucking an animal every day, these old school Gwar classics that are kind of ridiculous. We've mutated, but we love songs like that and still play them every now and then, but Cory pushed us as musicians to be a better band, and we were not going to let that level degrade one bit.

And you have a new Beefcake?
This album is the first album for Gwar for both Brent and Jamison, and I think they both stepped up and did marvellous jobs, considering that Jamison wasn't even a bass player. We were in kind of a hard spot, but I knew that Jamison could do the job even though he was a guitar player. When you are getting a new guy to play Beefcake, let's be blunt, you have to find someone who was fat. Although Beefcake would insist that the word is "large."

One final question: could you yell at me as Oderus?
[As Oderus]: What, about anything? I'm going to yell at you, sure. I'll yell at you about this: fucking human scum, get ready for Battle Maximus! Hail Flattus, hail Gwar!