A Monster Comeback for Gwar

I was more than a little nervous when I descended the stairs of the Vogue Theatre to meet with monster metal vocalist Dave Brockie aka Oderus Urungus. Gwar is a band that looks like they eat babies for breakfast and spray unspeakable fluids at their adoring fans just for kicks. Luckily for me, Dave was not in full Oderus costume and turned out to be an affable gentleman from Virginia. I met with him before the show at the Vogue on Monday, November 12. I found out how their Fate or Chaos tour is going and how Gwar has prevailed through their toughest year so far.

Vancouver Weekly: So how is the tour going?

Dave Brockie: Great, it’s our first tour with our new guitar player Brent (Purgason), who plays Pustulus. So this was an important tour for the band to establish that we had moved on since losing Flatus last year. Even though we don’t have a new album out quite yet, we wanted to introduce the new member to the fans. Unbelievably, the fans have been really supportive and the shows have been packed every night. This is the first time we haven’t played the Commodore in Vancouver. We always play at the Commodore ’round the corner and always sell it out. We were saying,  “why aren’t we playing a bigger place?” and here we are at the Vogue for the first time.

Vancouver Weekly: Can you tell me about the new member Pustulus?

DB: He is one of the Maximus’s. When we lost Flatus, we wanted to retire the character, we didn’t just want someone else to wear the feedbag, as we call it. We didn’t just want to throw someone else in because Cory was so special. So we wanted to retire the character but at the same time I didn’t want to start all over again and rebuild a new character. So I thought, what if Flatus is a member of the Maximus tribe and there are Maximuses all over the place and they have the same look. They all have dreadlocks and for some weird reason their face is a different colour from the rest of their body and they have huge dinosaur skulls shoulder pads. So we kept that motif and changed the personality a little bit. The old school Gwar fans know what happened and they understand that the character changed but more peripheral Gwar fans won’t even know, so it was a way of having something that was reminiscent of Flatus but that went in a new place with it. We didn’t know if it was going to go over well or not and it really has. Even more surprising is Brent who plays the character is a maniac! He just runs around all over the stage. It is really weird we have always attracted low key personalities, everyone who has ever played lead guitar for Gwar don’t jump around a lot and Brent is all over the fucking stage. All of a sudden the band is running around like a bunch of punk rockers I don’t know what to do with them!

Vancouver Weekly: Did you already know Brent or did you audition a lot of people?

DB: We actually knew Brent, and we also auditioned some people. Brent was one of the first people we played with. After that, we played with a whole bunch of different people. We felt that Cory was one of the greatest guitar players we played with and a lot of heavy weight people stepped up to throw down with Gwar and fill this position. We felt like we really owed it to Cory and the fans to really work hard and listen to a lot of different sounds but at the end of the day we came back to Brent. He was one of the first people we auditioned and for a lot of different reasons was perfect. He is a Richmond local guy, was a good friend of Cory and was the only guitar player of all that we auditioned who could literally play Cory’s shit note for note but also took it to a new place. I was telling people I want you to be able to play this exactly as Cory played it but what I was really listening for was someone who could do what I asked them to do but could also take it a little further and be a little cheeky if you well. And Brent is certainly cheeky; he’s done a great job and fits well into the band.

Vancouver Weekly: Obviously, you have had a tough year losing your friend and band member. Did Gwar ever consider taking a break?

DB: No we didn’t, we just went straight at it. When the tragedy occurred right in the middle of the tour, it was like, we either suck it up and go home and blow the whole year and potentially the whole business goes down the drain. We had months of touring planned and this band eats money, Gwar’s overhead is very high. We could have just said fuck it, but we had to stay busy and focused and as much as we wanted to go home and curl up in a ball and die, we absolutely couldn’t do that for a lot of reasons. We owed it to the fans and gave everyone a chance to pay their respect to Flatus. We kept the business going and then after that we did another six week tour. We could have gotten another guitar player to fill in but we felt we needed to give the fans a chance to say goodbye as we were retiring Flatus’ guitar every night. So really, that’s what saved us, really; that we stayed so busy, and the fact that our fans are so awesome, they really love us.

Vancouver Weekly: You guys seem to have really loyal fans.

DB: Yeah, because Gwar takes a level of commitment, a lot more than a regular band. You might get covered in shit from head to toe; you are going to have to brave the slings and arrows. Being a Gwar fan [is hard because of] metal purists being all like “you know Gwar are not a real band”. I really think that we have bonded with our fans in a way that few bands do, so we wanted to give them a chance to say goodbye to Flatus. We just kept it going. Anytime it got too hairy, we just had to work harder. We had to see Gwar through this incredible crisis, the most intense thing that has ever happened to any of us. It’s a year later and somehow we have come through this dark land into the Promised Land, hopefully, and we’ll see what happens.

Vancouver Weekly: You are in the middle of writing a new album right?

DB: Yeah, on top of everything else, we are writing a new album and I can’t believe we have 13 songs already.

Vancouver Weekly: When will the album be coming out?

DB: Soon as this tour is over we will go home to work on the album for three months. It should be out in the summer then we will be ready to tour next fall.

Vancouver Weekly: Will Pustulus bring a new sound to Gwar?

DB: Oh yeah, definitely, he is every bit as technically skilled as Cory but he’s definitely his own player. It’s going to have a big impact on how we write songs. We are still primarily a hard rock / heavy metal band but we will see what kind of nuances Brent brings to the music. We are playing one of his songs tonight live. I know it’s going to be awesome. I know people have a fondness for Flatus and that Gwar era, but I don’t think we will have any problems evolving the sound of the band because everyone in this band is so fucking talented.

Vancouver Weekly: I have never been to a Gwar show before. Some friends have told me about their experiences! What can people expect from your live show?

DB: It’s the greatest show in rock in roll! These artists, even with their small budgets, make all our props and costume. I put this show up against the highest budgeted shows in rock and roll. You are going to get one of the most hilarious, disturbing, loud and fun experiences in rock and roll and it’s going to be delivered with a sense of humour. We know full well we are mocking ourselves just as much as everyone else and that really endears people towards Gwar. You are going to get the greatest show in rock and roll – period.

Vancouver Weekly: You seem to have a unique niche in the metal world.

DB: Certainly we have always been there as the court jesters of the metal world in a way. We try to get people to not take themselves so seriously; that’s one thing I would have against heavy metal. It’s like, god, some of these guys are so serious about their work, especially some of the European heavy metal bands. To me, nothing is so sacred that we can’t make fun of it, even stuff that we really like. In fact, stuff we really like should be just as subject to criticism as anything else. We have to police ourselves into never sucking.  That’s Gwar’s role in everything, the humorous bouncers of metal, if you act stupid, Oderus is going to call you out. We have always been the social commentators and it’s strange that the weird costumed monster band from Richmond, Virginia became the conscience of metal.

Vancouver Weekly: Someone has to do it!

DB: It’s a dirty job but someone has to do it for sure.

Vancouver Weekly: Do you feel like it’s looked down upon when the word comedy is attached to music?

DB: Oh constantly, same thing with comedy in film. You never see a comedy win best picture for some reason. It’s seen as less of an art form. Comedy is really difficult. It’s all timing and you have to have good material. It’s not an easy thing to do at all. I don’t understand why it’s denigrated. Humour and metal have a great tradition anyway, everything from Cheech and Chong to Spinal Tap to Bad News to Gwar. Metal and comedy go great together. Anyone who says otherwise just needs to lighten up a little bit. That why Gwar is here, to lighten you up with a broadsword across your head.

Vancouver Weekly: What is there left for Gwar to conquer?

DB: There is so much, we haven’t done a videogame yet; we would have the greatest, sickest, most disgusting videogame ever created. We’ve never done a proper full-length film; we’ve never been to Japan; we should have our own TV show. There are a million things we haven’t done yet that you might have expected we already accomplished. We have just never gotten around to them. Especially a videogame! It would be the most violent, sexually perverse hilarious videogame that you can’t sell it in Wal-Mart.

Vancouver Weekly: I can definitely see you with your own TV show.

DB: Oh yeah, why not? I’m actually staring in a show called Holliston as Oderus back in the States. I play the lead character’s conscience so I live in this guy’s closet and give him terrible advice. At least Oderus is on TV, but we want the Gwar show.

Vancouver Weekly: You could have your own talk show!

DB: I show up on a lot of talk shows, but usually they are like, “you smell too bad”. Honestly, the costume is so stinky people have basically banned me from their show because of it. To the point we had to make an entirely extra Oderus suit that we keep on the bus that we call the Hollywood suit just so I don’t stink up the place. There was a certain man tang to my costume but I can’t be Oderus if I don’t stink!

Vancouver Weekly: Would you ever consider doing a performance on your home turf Antarctica?

DB: I don’t think there’s much of an audience there, just some penguins and scientists. Scientists need their metal too, I guess. Maybe one of those metal cruise tours will go down to Antarctica. We would love to perform there. You would be amazed how many of our fans think we are from there. “You really from Antarctica? What’s it like there? Is there much of a scene?” We let them go ahead and live in their fantasy world. If they think Gwar is really from outer space, then more power to them!

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien

Jessica O'Brien fills many the happy hour as contributing editor and writer for the Vancouver Weekly. She can be found eating all the nibbles at book launches or getting lost in tiny secondhand book stores. Follow her on twitter @jesso_brien