Dave Brockie Talks GWAR’s ‘Battle Maximus,’ Moving on Without Cory Smoot + More
Dave Brockie, better known to music fans as GWAR frontman Oderus Urungus, was the guest on Full Metal Jackie’s radio show this past weekend. The singer, making a rare appearance as himself, spoke about Gwar’s ‘Battle Maximus’ effort, continuing without late guitarist Cory Smoot and more. If you missed Full Metal Jackie’s show, check out her full interview with Gwar’s Dave Brockie:
Full Metal Jackie coming at you. On the show we’ve got a good friend and someone who we haven’t had on the show theoretically, Dave Brockie, AKA Oderus Urungus from GWAR. Dave, it’s weird, never called you Dave before.
I know, I almost choked up a little bit hearing that because it was like, ‘Wow it’s like there’s this whole other person inside of me that most people don’t even know about but uh, I actually have a lot of similar characteristics to?’ It probably won’t be that much different than our regular interviews which are always completely awesome.
Of course, we’re here to talk about a lot of things. Of course, the brand new GWAR album ‘Battle Maximus’ is out now.
Yeah, um, and we are really delighted with the impact that it is getting and the reviews that it’s getting and the reaction the fans are having to it. I mean we’ve kind of been on a bit of a musical roll ever since like bouncers arrived in 2000. You know any band that enjoys a career as long as us you’re going to go through ebbs and valleys and its going to be stuff happening and um, I think there towards the late ’90s GWAR was definitely, we’d gone through a lot of different lineup changes and um, you know and we were kind of adrift I thought musically. I mean I always knew in my heart that GWAR was a metal band. It was best at being a metal band but I, as a songwriter, really like great metal songs I can write metal lyrics you know till the cows come home.
And I can arrange those lyrics in kick-ass ways but I needed a musician that could come along and just really just get the band back on track and that guy was a guy named Cory Smoot who in 2000 stepped in and took over the role of Flattus Maximus. And for the next four albums GWAR steadily you know we got on the sounds of the underground and we started getting back on peoples’ radar and we just put out devastating album after devastating album and you know I know not everyone is going to agree with that you know, assessment, but for the most part even people that have kind of written, a lot of people had written GWAR off kind of gave us another listen and once they listen I think they liked what they heard. And so you know, everybody knows we lost Cory in the most tragic of ways and the last couple of years it’s like its became so important for me to put out another really great album.
I absolutely could not have the band put out an album that people will go, ‘Ah that was okay but boy we sure miss Cory.’ I just couldn’t have that happen and that’s really been the whole focus of my energy for the last almost two years and it’s this huge sigh of relief to see that it seems to be going over pretty well. So. I’m not saying we’re going to get a gold record or a Grammy nomination and but I think in the hearts of GWAR fans I think they’re satisfied and happy with the new direction that Pustulus (aka Brent Purgason) brought to the band.
The story of ‘Battle Maximus’ is that of Pustulus Maximus winning the right to join the band after his cousin Flattus Maximus, Cory Smoot departed Earth. How did the facetiousness of GWAR cope with the loss of Cory for the sessions on this album?
Wow, that’s a good question. It definitely helps if you know that GWAR is at its heart a joke. And I’m not afraid to say that. I’ve always said that comedy never got the respect it deserved you know, from the critics because comedy is one of the hardest things to pull off you know. It’s making people laugh unless your just like falling down a flight of stairs is not really the easiest thing to do in the world. And there is a reason why standup comics generally live to about the age of 45; it can be pretty tough. But with GWAR it helped us because we were able to write. Basically I was able to write songs that are kind of serious like ‘Blood Bath,’ like the song that’s kind of really about the unexpected mind blowing nature of sudden death when you don’t see it coming. And all of a sudden it’s right there.
But at the same time the power of GWAR gave me the gumption as a songwriter to somehow put something into it that made it an inspirational experience as well, a liberating experience. Even in those horrible few minutes after we realized that we had lost Cory, we knew that we were going to have the power of GWAR to draw upon in order to make it happen. I had all these characters where I could create Pustulus Maximus and he’s going to come to Earth and waves the “Battle Maximus” and all the Maximuses from all over the universe, we have some kick ass guitar players. We haven’t made a big deal out of it, but Mark [Morton] from Lamb of God, Zach [Blair] from Rise Against, Ol’ Drake from Evile, they’re all Maximus’s incognito on that song. We had also the support from the whole community.
As a songwriter, I felt I had a lot of guns I could draw upon and at the same time, I had to keep it facetious and lighthearted. It doesn’t mean I couldn’t make it melancholy at times, didn’t mean we couldn’t mourn and grieve but at the end of the day I wanted it to be a hopeful and inspiring message to anyone who listened to the record. At the same time, it was our personal attempt to deal and grieve for our loss, but prime the pump for the next chapter of GWAR.
For the last year and a half I’ve been trying to pass this turd and wondering the whole time what it would look like when it came out of me. I think it’s a success. At this point, I’ll say it’s a success. I haven’t read a bad review yet. That’s not usually how a GWAR album goes down. When a GWAR album comes out, there are usually about five horrible reviews and then finally one good one. It’s been completely different on this one; people really seem to like it. Mission accomplished as far as that is concerned. We’ll never, ever get over that feeling of losing someone like that. But godd—it I wasn’t going to let it destroy the freaking coolest shock-rock band that has ever been invented. That was down to us, and the great guys I work with.
Would playing music be nearly as much fun without the fantasy and satirical elements?
If you’re asking me if it would be as much fun without wearing that giant costume, I’d say yeah, it would be. I’ve played in a ton of bands before I was in GWAR. I’ve always enjoyed the act of playing music, very very much. But, where GWAR kind of takes it to a different level is that, what you get off the audience is just like unlike anything else. Because GWAR is such a spectacle and so many people love GWAR and because when you play at a GWAR show you’re playing in front of 1200 people whereas if I was doing some weird Dave Brockie side project, there might be 80. Even though I love both experiences intently, yeah, that GWAR. Especially like venues of LA House of Blues. Where you come out, the place is packed, the audience is right in your face, everyone is in on the joke, everyone is there, I am a worthless pee-on. “I am a worthless pee-on and I’m about to be in the presence of my masters” anyone who doesn’t feel that way who got dragged into the show anyway is backed way against the far wall. You go out there and you feel that rush that comes off the crowd when they first see you.
As a performer, it’s what Freddie Mercury lived for, it’s what Kurt Cobain never could understand and it’s what’s been driving GWAR for almost 30 years now. Lack of both in different ways but there’s no comparison with the brutal rush of power that you get when you add those elements. I had been in so many bands before GWAR. I had tried every single band. Then I tried doing bands that started adding light theatrical elements and I could see immediately that it was having an impact. There weren’t a lot of bands that were doing that stuff 30 years ago. Green Jelly was the only other ones, except for guys like Alice Cooper who had been doing it forever. The more we seemed to turn up the theatrical elements, the more success it seemed to bring us. I’m not going to shoot the horse I rode in on but at the same time, I really love performing out of character, out of costume. I do spoken word, I do standup. I love it all. I’m a natural ham. I was the kid in show and tell who would just make stuff up.
What’s the starting point for a GWAR album — specifically ‘Battle Maximus’? Is it a musical idea? Riff? Lyric? Or is it more thematic in terms of the on stage presentation?
I think it’s an idea; the very first thing is an idea. The idea was, OK how are we going to do this? I think within 5 minutes of us realizing we had lost Cory, we had that idea. We were out in the middle of nowhere parking lot in North Dakota and I just leaned up against the bumper of the bus and thought really hard about everything that I was going — that was going to be expected of me and how we could possibly segue this into a new chapter. Immediately I knew that it was going to be another Maximus.
That was the only way it could not come off cheesy. Let’s make a whole new character, but make the new character have the elements of the old character. Like it’s his crazy cousin, Pustulus who lives halfway across the galaxy. I don’t know if we all settled on that immediately but the very first thing it was, was an idea. Then after the idea was there, we had to go through the whole process of finding the guitar player. That was exhaustive. Right from the get-go, we wanted a local guy. We wanted a guy that absolutely shreds. The first guy we tried out was Brent who was a local guy who completely shredded, also a good friend of Cory’s but the next thing we knew we were trying out everyone else. The next thing I knew, we were flying people in and we really went all the way around on that. We really did things we said we weren’t going to do and we worked on that for months and month. That’s kind of where we got the idea of, well maybe the album should be about this process to a certain extent.
All of these different guys we’re bringing in are different Maximus’ and the tracks they leave behind us are their salvos in the battle Maximus. Whoever leaves the baddest barrage; he’s the one that’ll get the job. That’s exactly what happened. I was really happy that after we tried out everybody, we went back to where we started and gave Brent the job. It was about 2 weeks after he got the job, I was at his house doing the obligatory, getting to know ya by hanging out until 5AM getting wasted with you. He’s like, ‘You gotta check this out,’ and he pulls out this Marshall out of the wall. ‘Me and Cory were building this together.’ It’s this tricked out Marshall, where they had basically tried to wire in every transistor ever into this thing and create this amplifier that would explode if you ever plugged it in. At that moment I knew, we definitely got the right guy. Here we are in this basement and work on amps with Cory that are obviously about to explode anyway, well, he’s got to be our guy.
What is the most fun aspect of being in the studio and what about recording ‘Battle Maximus’ will you most fondly remember in 20 years?
I guess my favorite time in the studio is when you’ve recorded everything, when you’ve got it all together and you’ve heard rough mixes. What we did this time is, this is the first time we recorded the whole album in our own studio, Slave Pit studio. It was designed by Cory; he was going to be presiding over the knob twiddling. In fact, I’m just dating myself when I say “knob twiddling.” Not so much knob twiddling anymore as much mouse clicking involved with making records. But, once we had recorded all the basic tracks and had a good idea of what was going on, recorded all the leads, all the recording was done.
I remember we had this big piece of paper on the wall, a giant bar graph. It had everyone’s name, everyone’s song list and then all the things that needed to go into each song. Soon there was this incredibly complicated code system going up. Certain things were getting slashes through them, certain things were getting check marks, half colored pink, half colored purple so you couldn’t even understand what the damn thing meant anymore, unless you’re Mike Derks who plays Balsac who’s been with us since ‘Scumdogs.’ We went through this incredibly laborious process and then we sent it off to Glenn Robinson, who had produced so many great records but for us, he produced ‘America Must Be Destroyed’ and ‘War Party.’
Then when it comes back from him and we all sit around, we looked at each other, hit play and you hear that first final mix and our jaws just hit the floor. We couldn’t believe what he had done with our song(s) in a good way. In the first song he mixed, ‘Mr. Perfect’ is one of the more complicated songs on the record. It’s got three-minute noise intro and then a weird spoken word outro. It’s all over the place. I was just wondering how he was going to pull that together, when I heard it, I was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I have never heard Gwar sound like this before. I can’t wait to get to the rest of the album. I knew at that point, we really had something special we were working with.
Obviously always a pleasure to have you on the show. We love having the mad minutes, wish you the best of luck with the record and the touring. I know I’ll see you very soon.
I love you Jackie so much! Oderus Urungus would say the same thing but he would be talking about how much he would love to eat your spleen. I’m sure he likes you and everything, can’t thank you enough for all the support you’ve given our band and all the mad minutes. We’ve got a lot of those now. Now that the record is all done and out there, we’ll pick up the pace on the mad minutes and keep them coming. We got to turn those things into an incredible comedy album one of these days.
This coming weekend, Full Metal Jackie will welcome Slayer guitarist Kerry King on her show. Full Metal Jackie can be heard on radio stations around the country — for a full list of stations, go to fullmetaljackieradio.com.