GWAR is best described as the the cast of Warhammer 40k, reimagined by the phallic-obsessive minds of Beavis and Butthead, and handed guitars; a mixture of punk-like aggression, dick jokes, and science fiction role playing. Their live show, in which they soak the audience with the wide array of blood and viscera that spews for from their ghoulish props, is a total blast. Their party-punk-thrash is the perfect soundtrack to getting black out drunk and breaking your nose. Thus, the prospect of a GWAR show backed by cheap barbecue and 13 other loud, drunk, and belligerent punk and metal acts was irresistible.
Saturday, August 18, was the third annual GWAR-B-Q, an all-out punk and metal extravaganza hosted by GWAR themselves, featuring 14 bands and a smattering of delicious food trucks. Of course, the worst part of the GWAR-B-Q was getting there. If you've ever suddenly found yourself in a strange cosmic limbo where the concept of forward momentum has ceased to exist, you have driven on I-95 between Washington, DC and Richmond, VA. It's a motionless black hole where DC radio stations suddenly cut out and get replaced by Jesus songs and earnest Creed ticket giveaways.
I arrived delirious from shouting nonsense insults (“YOU FUCKING GHOST WHALE!”) at other cars, but from the moment I pulled into the Mad-Max-Goes-to-Disneyland scene unfolding at the dilapidated 70s-style water park that is Haddad's Lake, I remembered that today was going to be about one thing and one thing only: Fun. Not “fun” in the obvious “yes, everyone probably likes having fun, you idiot” sense. More like “fun” in the shamelessly-flying-your-freak-flag-regardless-of-age-or-cultural-creed sense.
And high did those flags fly. The crowd at Haddad's was an exotic menagerie of fringes that included punks, skaters, metal heads, bikers, and even whole families, toddlers included, all basking together in the eerily green waters of the lake, their ample pale flab hanging out with abandon. Noticeably absent were the Easter Island-types, those unaffected back row culture critics who stand with their arms crossed, that are such a fixture of any metal show you attend in New York these days. The GWAR-B-Q was a free zone with crusty punks wrestling playfully in the dirt next to a family of four with a stroller.
When I asked GWAR frontman Oderus Urungus what all of the festival's myriad bands had in common, he told me, “Loud and obnoxious.” He should have also said “fun.” My five-hour stint on I-95 cost me the most of the early bands, but I arrived in time to catch Ghoul, the Casualties, and Valient Thorr.
California's Ghoul took the stage with bloody burlap sacks over their heads (guitarist Dissector, in the spirit of the festival, also sported a life preserver and inner tube) and proceeded to hammer out their patented punk-and-grind-inflected horror thrash, complete with old movie samples and Monster Mash-style stage moves. Watching the Casualties, a group of hardcore NYC punks approaching middle age, their hair still greased up into outrageous spines, was an encouraging reminder never to give up the fight against maturity.
North Carolina's Valient Thorr nearly stole the entire festival (for me, anyway) with their barrage of upbeat, southern-fried metal. Even looking like a heavily bearded biker gang, they radiated sheer positivity and unbridled energy that had people climbing the rafters of the second stage gazebo and forming a kind of square-dance-on-meth moshpit. In a particularly touching moment, they dedicated a song (I was almost deaf at this point so I missed the name) to “kissing who you want to kiss and loving who you want to love.”
Just a short barbecue break later, it was time for GWAR!
After an introduction by comically coiffed lounge lizard Sleazy P. Martini, it took about 30 seconds before the front rows of fans, all clad in fresh white tees for their intergalactic masters to desecrate, were completely soaked in blood. Gallagher made a career out of covering people with sticky, chunky red stuff (and some people will go absolutely ape shit when they get splashed by Shamu), but GWAR have perfected the art form.
The fans want blood and they give it to them. After a few zombies and giant skinless horse-creatures expended their crimson fluids onto the audience, it was time to roll out the celebrity guest. This year's headliner was an uber-tanned and pregnant Snooki. This version was even complete with a detachable uterus (complete with fetus) that sprayed even more blood onto the crowd. Other highlights included Oderus dismembering a baby with an egregious phallus, and a giant alien robot that spewed forth a viscous black fluid.
The show is a testament to metal's inherent immaturity and its futile, petulant swipes at the mainstream. Metal is supposed to have grown up. The New York Times writes articles about Cannibal Corpse and Behemoth, and Sasha Frere-Jones is writing treatises on black metal in The New Yorker, trying to tack some existential meaning onto a bunch of 15-year-old Norwegian teens running around in the woods wearing witch hats. GWAR have been around for 28 years and they're having none of it. Their music remains almost deliberately atavistic. Their formula is unchanging. They simply eviscerate anything they come into contact with because they know it's more fun to be hated by the mainstream than accepted by it. But more than that they're a reminder not to take yourself too seriously. Try to remember that next time you're holding a sword in your bands backwoods evil grimace photo shoot or you're going to give yourself a stroke trying to hold your laughter in.
Special bonus interview with Oderus:
Oderus Urungus, aka Dave Brockie, has been the heart and soul of GWAR since their inception 28 years ago. Amidst the sunny gazebos of the water park, Dave sat down with me, visibly sweating to death inside his rubber suit, to talk about role playing, the effect of dual personalities, and how he was censored on the set of Empire Records.
VICE: How's the festival going?
Oderus: I really can't tell from over here... but it looks like people are here. It looks like people are enjoying themselves... and others, and their friend's girlfriends.
Let me ask you, you are now Oderus?
You're not Dave [Brockie]?
So I should ask you questions as Oderus?
Yes, but if you wanna ask me questions as Dave I'll just pretend I'm not in this costume.
What percentage of your existence do you think you've spent as Oderus?
I don't know. A very small amount. But I'd like to think that in a sense, I'm always Oderus, because it is really based on my personality. I just take everything that I know about me and just multiply it by a thousand. I also have the advantage of going through a lot of bands over the years, playing with a lot of different bands, seeing different rock n' roll lead singers and then basically taking that whole archetype and just making it the most fucked up version of itself that I could possibly ever come up with.
But as Oderus, time spent “in the bucket,” as we call it, when you're wearing the suit, maybe one percent of my life. But am I Oderus every minute? You bet.
When you were growing up, were you ever into role playing games, D&D?
Oh certainly, but I never could just be the player. I had to be the Dungeon Master, and soon my worlds were legendary. I ran worlds and campaigns for the guys in GWAR for years but finally I just got over it. I felt like I'd done everything that could be done; played out every atrocity, done every evil act, summoned every demon, tortured and raped to death every fucking hobbit that we could possibly could get out troll dicks into. At one point I had characters wandering through a series of pointlessly violent, meaningless adventures for two years until they finally realized they were in hell. They were begging me, “We're in Hell, aren't we?” But I wouldn't tell them and I still havent.
Did you ever play Warhammer? I always decribe GWAR to my friends as Warhammer 40k as imagined by Beavis and Butthead, with dicks everywhere.
Yeah the look definitely has a lot to do with it. When I was getting into Warhammer, that's when I was making the switch from someone who appreciated art, to someone who tried to make it for a living. So when I did that, I didn't have quite the time I used to pursue things like Warhammer. That's when I stopped playing D&D as well.
Do you think that having an alter ego has any effect on your psyche, positive or negative?
Oh it has a huge positive effect. I get to live this completely over-the-top character's lifestyle and people kind of expect me to act as obnoxious and stupid as possible and if it's done well and it's done carefully it can be quite a cathartic release. It can be a hell of a good time. When it's done poorly, when it's executed without care and precision, it can be a fucking nightmare. But generally speaking, playing Oderus is about the funnest thing I get to do. When I pull on what they call “the Feed Bag,” it truly does transform me into a different kind of world and people expect more from me and expect different things from me and they're willing to let me get away with murder. So it's kind of a fun place to be.
You guys have been based in Richmond your whole career. What is it about this place?
I don't have any idea what it is about this place that's kept us attached to it for so long except for maybe the low rent. I mean this place has been so cheap to live at for so long. I've stayed here primarily because of that. There's nowhere else that we can have all the production facility that we have for dirt cheap. It's a cheap-ass place to live. It's also centrally located to a lot of big scenes. We're right astride I-95. We're an two hours from DC, four hours from Philly, six hours from New York City. There's a lot of shit going on very close by here. Also, people come in for the VCU art school and we just kinda pluck them off that little boat all the time and get them to intern for us.
GWAR has interns?
Oh yeah, we definitely have interns.
What do you make them do?
Oh, slush molds, fight trolls, all that crap.
GWAR's costumes were originally intended for a film that never got made right?
It was originally for a film that was gonna be called Scumdogs of the Universe, but the film didn't get made, the costumes did, and after that we just kind of went ahead and started a band rather than a movie.
Have you ever wanted to do anything with that? Maybe get the movie made one day?
Well sure, we'd love to do a movie, but films cost lots of money to make and we'd love to get back on board and do something like that but it's just impossible to get that kind of money together. People are making ridiculous, idiotic computer graphic things for the science fiction channel, with these CG monsters everywhere when you've got the real rubber thing right here goddamnit! So yeah, we'd do movies if people gave us money, these people like Rob Zombie and all these other contemporaries of ours that made millions of dollars ripping off GWAR. Maybe if they had half a nut, not even an entire nut, and fucking backed a GWAR movie project we would get some work done but they're probably not very likely to back a GWAR project when all I ever do is bash them in the press every time I get a chance to.
Well, you know what they say about the cheeks, turning them and such... So there's a whole universe around GWAR. Do people ever write fan fiction?
Sure, the kids come up with their own stuff, but we don't really take it seriously. There's the unofficial version of GWAR and the official version of GWAR. Even the individual people in GWAR probably have got their own idea about how GWAR developed themselves. So I'm not so sure there even is an official history though. The origin story at least is fairly well-clad. Everyone knows that GWAR is stuck on Earth right now and we're from outer space. So pretty much the basics are there at least for some good storytelling. The building blocks are there and then people can lay in bed, completely out of their mind on mushrooms and make up whatever distorted shit they want.
You've got a lot of different bands at this thing; punk, metal, reggae even. What do you feel like is the common thread?
Loud and obnoxious, yes. Doesn't matter if it's a punk band or a metal band, as long as they can crank the amps we are good to go.
Do you feel like GWAR is really a metal band?
I'd say GWAR is kind of a mixture of metal and punk. It's totally a crossover band. Thrash metal maybe, I don't know. It's kind of pointless to label music after a while. It's loud. That's one thing for sure. It's fucking loud.
Metal heads are really strict about labels. Has that ever been an obstacle for GWAR?
A lot of people in metal think that GWAR is just silly. They think that it's even making fun of them a little bit and it kind of is. I know a lot of metal people take it very seriously and GWAR will never appeal to them and that's fine. There's plenty of people out there that have a sense of humor.
What are some of the better fan tributes you've seen?
Oh I've seen the people carve the word GWAR into their bodies a hundred times, tattoos, all kinds of idiotic things. For god sakes a guy in here earlier drank Jizmac's urine and that was about one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen in my life. It's almost really wrong. I mean, here's the guy who blows cuttlefish load all over everyone but when the drummer starts giving urine he gets grossed out.
You throw a lot of shit on fans. What do they throw back at you?
Oh we've had everything thrown back at us from dead cats to pales of rotten dog vomit, but we've played through it all and we will continue to.
Can I do some word association with you?
Politics: Worthless sack of shit.
Metallica: Greatest band ever.
Black metal: Hilarious.
Death metal: Confusion.
Dream Theater: No idea.
New York City: Sucks.
Most of my friends, when I told them I was going to see GWAR, their reaction was: “Oh, that bands that was in Empire Records.” Do people ask you about that a lot?
It's weird. That's such a strange little movie but people do ask us about Empire Records.
Did Mark ever join the band?
No, in fact it's funny. I didn't even want to do that dialogue. There's no way Oderus would say, “Join the band,” and the director was like “Well OK, great, that's no problem. Say whatever you want.” I went ahead and said whatever I wanted and then years later when I happened to see the film, I realized they just bleeped out my words and replaced with another actor's voice.
“Hey Mark, you love GWAR! Why don't you JOIN the BAND!”
Oh yeah, I refused to do any of that dialogue. I said something just completely the opposite like “Fuck you, you worthless piece of shit. You'll never be in this band. I'd fucking kill you before you got close to the stage.”