It’s been just over a year since final founding GWAR member Dave Brockie found dead of a heroin overdose in his Richmond, Virginia apartment. For nearly 30 years as the “personal slave” (the band’s coded way of acknowledging their outlandish alter egos) to Oderus Urungus, Brockie was also the lead vocalist.
As Michael Bishop broaches the topic of Brockie’s death, if for only a moment, he steps out of the character of new lead vocalist Blothar and hints at the uncertainty that his band faced. But only a moment; it isn’t completed with sincerity.
“To say there was no hesitation wasn’t exactly true,” Bishop says of the decision to forge ahead without Brockie. “There was a moment of realizing exactly what had happened and then deciding that what we wanted to do was to press on in honor of Brockie and his work as Oderus’s personal slave. Missing Oderus — he was the central piece around which GWAR was formed. But GWAR has a long history amongst humans. Oderus wasn’t the singer when the band started. So people around the little [expletive] town of Richmond remembered GWAR with its other singers. Oderus was always a part of it, but things have changed.”
It was simultaneously an ambitious, terrifying and hilarious project when it began. Ambitious as GWAR is a band with an entire mythology, a science-fiction themed band with each member posing as an interplanetary barbaric warrior — but also as GWAR was always delivering a message; terrifying as the message wasn’t always popular, and it wasn’t always delivered in an easily digestible fashion — it’s “shock rock,” it’s heavy metal, there’s fake blood; and hilarious when the audience realized that the band was in on the joke, which was a lot to take in when the band formed in the Reagan 80s. Over 30 members have served from the Slave Pit as GWAR’s musicians; none of the current lineup was originally in the band.
Bishop has been a part of GWAR for around 30 years himself. He served as the “personal slave” to Beefcake the Mighty on two occasions, contributing his bass talents. But upon Brockie’s death, and with the intentions of finding a way to carry on, Bishop found himself the “personal slave” to Blothar. Bishop’s voice lowers to a growl as he reminds me that I am talking to Blothar.
“For me, I didn’t know that Oderus was gone until I was sucked onto a stage through a time portal in front of a sea of chlamydia-ridden, acne-speckled teenage boys,” Blothar recalled. “My first reaction was, ‘Where the hell is Oderus?’ He still owes me a lot of money, and I think he’s probably hiding somewhere with a prostitute doing cocaine. That’s usually where he is when he disappears. They had a Viking funeral for him, but I don’t believe it. I suspect that he’s not really dead.”
It was some year for GWAR. After the devastation, the band experimented with a female vocalist, Kim Dylla, who served as the “personal slave” to Vulvatron. Her stay with the band lasted just through the fall tour, and rumors swirled that her own addiction problems became problematic. Earlier this year, the band released a statement confirming her departure. While Blothar would not confirm cause, he confirmed relief and left the door open for the character’s return.
“The departure of Vulvatron was a joyous occasion for many of us,” Blothar said. “First of all, she shared my proclivity for fat chicks, which meant I could barely get a seat at the table. We don’t know what is happening with her, but there was always a suspicion that she actually might be more of a ‘destructo.’ GWAR are barbarians — they’re not implicated in the use of technology. While they do make use of it at times, they don’t understand it; they’re victims of technology more often than not and the ‘destructos’ defined themselves through the power and promise of technology. So Vulvatron’s motives were suspect from the beginning. She may return. But for now, I’m just glad she’s not around because I’m finally [having success with women].”
Despite a tumultuous period, there’s never been a better time to be GWAR. Bishop was the host of a recent Ted Talk, boasting of his pride in the band’s native Richmond, and a broader audience seems to be getting what the band was doing all along: the theatrics, the commentary, the satire. And it’s just in time for an election.
“I hope [Trump] becomes president,” Blothar said. “It would seal the fate of the country. Finally, people would realize the true depths of ignorance; and they already realize that worldwide, but what better mouthpiece for the United States than this [expletive] nincompoop. He doesn’t need to think, he doesn’t need to weigh his words, he doesn’t need to consider what he’s saying at all – he doesn’t need to do any of that. He doesn’t need to worry about what people think. Because he can just buy his way into power and authority. And what better emblem of the United States than exactly that?”
It’s been a while since GWAR made a Birmingham stop, but Blothar is schooled in the state’s unofficial anthem.
“There’s like 40 people coming to that show,” he joked. “In Birmingham they love the governor. I think the last time we were in Birmingham was around 1954, [prior to] the desegregation era. Now, in Muscle Shoals – a lot of great music comes from that place. They had great musicians playing on that music who were themselves white, while the singers were black. [Alabama] is a place with a complicated racial history and a complicated social history and it’s just exactly the kind of mixed up, [expletive] up place that GWAR loves. So we haven’t been there in a while, but I’m glad that we’ll be there soon.”
GWAR comes to Iron City on September 4. Stoned Cobra, Battlecross and Butcher Babies open. Doors are at 7 p.m., while the show begins at 7:45 p.m. Tickets are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. For more information, visit ironcitybham.com.