W.A.S.P. frontman BLACKIE LAWLESS proud of not using backing tapes for his lead vocals
In a new interview with Canada’s The Metal Voice, W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless was once again asked about complaints from some of the band’s fans about the use of backing tracks during the group’s live performances. He responded: “The conclusion that I came to was this. Up until about five years ago, we did everything — it was literally a four-piece band; what you heard is what you got. And I came to the conclusion that we did the anniversary tour for ‘The Crimson Idol’. We then brought in all that orchestration. And I stood in the middle of the room and I listened to that in rehearsal for the first time. It was like an out-of-body experience. I mean, it was unbelievable. And I remember thinking, ‘I’ve never heard this sound like this other than the record.’ And I thought, ‘this is what I wanna do from now on. I want it to sound exactly like the record.'”
He continued: “When you listen to a record like ‘Live At Leeds’ from THE WHO, that’s a rock band doing a three-piece musical version of ‘Tommy’ or some of the other earlier songs. It’s great for what it is, but it doesn’t sound like ‘Tommy’. What they do now with all the pieces that they take out, those performances sound like the record. And so you have to make a decision as an artist: what do you want that performance to sound like?”
Lawless added: “Now as a singer, I take a lot of pride in what I do. When you’ve been given a gift like I’ve been given, most singers I know wanna show that thing off, and I’m no different. So, yeah, that’s me singing out there. But as far as any other orchestra tracks or backing vocal tracks, I’m sorry, there’s just not enough of us on stage to make it sound like that record — it’s impossible. So, again, the artist, the individual artist has to make the decision of what do they wanna sound like when they go out. And from that first time, like I said, I stood in the middle of the room, and I listened to that orchestration, it blew me away. And I thought, ‘This is what I’m doing from here on out. Now I know why THE WHO do it, or other bands like that. They want them to sound like the record.”
Blackie previously addressed W.A.S.P.‘s alleged reliance on backing tracks during a May 2023 appearance on SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”. At the time, he said: “About 10, 12 years ago, we did ‘The Crimson Idol’ the first time in its entirety with orchestration. Now, prior to that, we had just done — I call it the ‘Live At Leeds’ version… Because if you look at what THE WHO did with the ‘Live At Leeds’, which we all thought was live at the time, and we now realize there are overdubs on those as well, like most live records. We would take the bare-bones approach to doing it. Well, we decided to take an approach where we tried to make it sound exactly like the record. And we had never used orchestration or anything like that. So we went in the studio, we took all the tracks off the record as far as the orchestration, we took the background vocal tracks, we took doubles on leads — we did everything. And we took it and we tried to make it sound as much like the record as we could. I stood in the middle of the room that first night in rehearsal, and I swear to you it was like an out-of-body experience. I had never heard anything sound like that before. I had never played with a live orchestra before. And so this was the closest thing you would get to doing something like that.
“Listen, I understand both sides of the argument on it,” he continued. “For me personally, when I’m up there, I’m singing my ass off. But what’s wrong with having enhancement to make something sound exactly like the record? Because you’re not gonna get a band like QUEEN or any other band that does big productions like that… Four guys cannot go out there and reproduce that record. It’s impossible. It won’t happen. So do you want it to sound like the record or do you want it to be just a general live performance? And that’s a question of taste.
“If you’re gonna start making records where you have a lot of orchestration and things like that going, it is impossible to make it sound like that record unless you have that,” Lawless added. “And you can also make the argument, which has been going on Broadway for the last 20 years, the musicians’ union has been fighting this fiercely but technology rolls on and it’s not gonna stop, where they no longer have live music in Broadway productions. And the musicians’ union has had a fit over that. Well, even before that happened, when you had keyboards introduced that had entire orchestras in them, you’ve got one guy now replacing a hundred and twenty different people. So where do you draw the line?
“Like I said, I understand if somebody wants a true, organic experience, but from my perspective, I looked at it and I said… Once I heard it sound exactly like the record, I thought, ‘I cannot go back to this again.’ I mentioned THE WHO a second ago, the ‘Live At Leeds’ approach. THE WHO used tapes for years until they started hiring all these other guys to go out with them. But even still, a lot of the keyboard stuff — ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, things like that — that’s all on tape.”
“When I go out on that stage, I take a lot of pride in this gift that God’s given me,” Blackie added. “And I like to show it off; I’ll just be flat-out honest with you. But I think people wanna see that or they wanna hear it. So I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. If you’ve got a guitar player that is really, really good, people are going there to see that. But again, when I went into rehearsals that one night and I heard what it sounded like when it sounded like the record, I thought, ‘I can never go back.’ Like I said, it was a flat-out out-of-body experience.”
Asked what percentage of the vocals during W.A.S.P.‘s live concerts are on tape, Blackie said: “You mean from my lead vocals? For my lead vocals, I would encourage people to go… We did five shows where I was sitting. Go look at those last couple. You’re gonna hear it loud and clear. ‘Cause when we were in Sofia, I cracked a couple of times, which I normally don’t do. But it was getting towards the end of the tour. I mean, it wasn’t anything catastrophic, but for me, I don’t normally crack. But it happens. It’s part of the live experience. But when we start doing the choruses and things like that, myself and Mike Duda and Doug Blair, we’re all out there singing, but we’re using backups behind that too. Because when we did it in the studio, we were using three and four tracks at a time to create that. You cannot make those choruses sound huge like that with just individual vocals creating that, because when you’re doing it in the studio, you double and triple tracks. I mentioned QUEEN a while ago — they were using 24 tracks of vocals to create those sounds. You cannot create those chorus sounds by two or three guys doing that. It is impossible… Unless there’s 20 guys in that room doing that, it ain’t gonna sound like that… If you’re doing 24 tracks of vocals to create that chorus effect, a handful of guys cannot do that, even with electronic doublers. And then you can get into that argument — okay, you’re using mechanical effects to enhance one guy out there. I mean, where do we draw the line with this now?”
Blackie underwent back surgery last August. He was suffering from a herniated disc in his lower back for a long time, before undergoing the procedure.
I just got out my back surgery earlier today and all is good, the surgery was a big success! The Dr. said he was very pleased and the results were great. Now to get some rest. Thank you to everyone for all the support. - Blackie Lawless#waspnation #wasp #blackielawless #hardroc pic.twitter.com/7uF8q7SuGK— W.A.S.P. Nation (@WASPOfficial) August 11, 2023
Because of the extensive back injuries Blackie suffered during the European leg of W.A.S.P.‘s 40th-anniversary tour, the band’s previously announced 2023 U.S. tour was canceled and will be rescheduled for spring 2024. Tickets and VIP packages can be refunded at the point of purchase.
When the U.S. tour cancelation was announced last month, Lawless said in a statement: “The extent of the trauma I endured on the 2023 European tour was far greater than originally diagnosed and surgery will now be needed to correct the problem. In addition to the original herniated disc, as that tour continued, a second disc became herniated. Upon returning home, a second MRI also revealed a broken vertebrae to my lower back.
“I’ve been fortunate to work with the best specialists in the U.S. and I’ve been in intensive rehab since we got home. It’s going well but the damage was pretty extensive and all the doctors agree moving the tour a few months back will be the safest thing. It’s all been as the result of an injury that happened several years ago. I’m working my butt off to get ready and I’ll be up riding on (my mic stand nicknamed) Elvis… bigger and badder than ever. If the Torture Never Stops, then the 40th Never Stops!”
During a May 25 appearance on SiriusXM‘s “Trunk Nation With Eddie Trunk”, Lawless spoke about completing W.A.S.P.‘s recent European tour while seated after suffering a herniated disc in his back. He said: “This past Monday was my 10-year anniversary from when I broke my right femur. And it’s a long, complicated story, but what’s been going on with my back is a direct reflection of what happened with that femur being broken. Because I wore a lift for nine years, and come to find out I did not need that lift. And that was only determined last summer, so the lift was taken out. But the spine had adjusted to me walking with that lift. And when we took it out, then that’s when the problems started. And it actually started at the beginning of the U.S. tour. And I was able to get through the U.S. tour okay, and we thought it had settled into place, but when we got to Europe, we quickly discovered, about two weeks into the tour, that was not the case. And what was happening is that the vertebrae were compressing some of the disks. I ended up rupturing a disk, and then that starts leaking out a gelatin that then wraps itself around the nerves coming out of the spinal cord. And that then creates this thing called nerve pain. And I don’t know if people understand what that is, because I had heard of it but I had never experienced it before. And it is pain that you cannot imagine. It is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.”
The 66-year-old guitarist/vocalist, whose real name is Steven Duren, continued: “I had to go to Berlin four times to get treatment. I received eight epidurals throughout the tour. That was the only way I was getting through it, because the pain is literally off the charts. And the doctors there told me, they said, ‘This thing can become so intense, people commit suicide from it.’ And I can see why people would do that.
“The first time I had to go in, you have to go into a surgical center because it’s not something that can be done in a regular doctor’s office. So we were in a hospital in Berlin. So they take me into the surgical room, or the operating room. And he told me, he said, ‘Now I’m gonna inject this needle or insert this needle into you and I’m gonna touch your spinal cord with it.’ He said, ‘I want you to get ready for this.’ Now, I didn’t know what that meant — until he did it. And when he did it — I really don’t have accurate words to describe what that feels like. The closest way I can explain it is it felt like an explosion, like a bomb went off inside my legs. And he said, ‘I’m gonna have to do this one more time.’ And I swear to you, I grabbed the table with both hands.
“You see these movies about mafia and things like that, where they’re pulling guys’ fingernails off with pliers. You don’t need that,” Lawless added. “You just show somebody a needle — they’ll give up their kids. I’m here to tell you — there’s nothing like it. I mean, you cannot fathom it unless you’ve been through it.
“So, anyway, they were able to keep me running, but they were afraid that I was gonna do further damage. So the deal was halfway during the tour that I would pull back about 50 percent of the movement that I was doing. But it started getting worse and worse. And we got to Zurich about two and a half weeks ago, and something happened during the show, and I knew something wasn’t right. And that’s when we went to sitting after that.
“We got home this past Saturday, and I went straight to the doctor’s office. And they looked at me, and we said, ‘Okay, let’s do new pictures.’ So we did new pictures this past Monday.
“I have a thing, and they determined this in Berlin — it’s called mechanical compression,” Blackie revealed. “And what that means is you get vertebrae that start pushing against each other, but they grind against each other at the same time because they start to cramp. Well, when we were doing the show in Zurich, it was cramping really bad and I couldn’t get it to stop. And I was literally, literally hanging on to (my mic stand) Elvis while I was trying to sing and play at the same time.
“So we did the new pictures on Monday, and I have a cracked vertebra now in my spine. But as bad as that sounds, it’s not the first time it happened,” Lawless said. “It happened the first time in ’92 on ‘The Crimson Idol’ tour. I got a little too close to the edge of the stage one night and some of the fans pulled me off the stage into the audience, and I ended up upside down in the crowd and they fell on top of me, and I broke a vertebra then. So this is the second time I’ve been through this. So it’ll heal on its own. I start therapy tomorrow — it’s a swimming pool thing that I’m gonna have to do to start first. But they say they’re gonna have me up to speed in eight weeks to start the tour. So I’ll be ready to go.”
W.A.S.P.‘s massive European leg of the 40th-anniversary world tour wrapped on May 18 in Sofia, Bulgaria at Universidada Sports Hall.
Produced by Live Nation, the North American leg of W.A.S.P.‘s “The 40th Never Stops World Tour 2023” was scheduled to kick off on August 4 at the Fremont Theatre in San Luis Obispo, California, making stops across North America in Vancouver, British Columbia; Omaha, Nebraska; New York City; Memphis, Tennessee and more before wrapping up on September 16 at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles, California. Special guest ARMORED SAINT was supposed join the band across all 33 dates of the tour.
W.A.S.P. wrapped up its first U.S. tour in 10 years with a sold-out show on December 11, 2022 at The Wiltern in Los Angeles. This marked the 18th sold-out shows for the U.S. tour, which kicked off in late October 2022. W.A.S.P.‘s performances included the return of the band’s classic song “Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)”, which hadn’t been played live in over 15 years.
Lawless has led W.A.S.P. as its lead vocalist and primary songwriter since its beginning. His unique brand of visual, social and political comment took the group to worldwide heights and sold millions of records alongside a legacy of sold-out shows across the globe for four decades. He is joined by bassist Mike Duda and guitarist Doug Blair, whose tenures in the band span 28 and 17 years respectively, along with drummer extraordinaire Aquiles Priester.
W.A.S.P.‘s latest release was “ReIdolized (The Soundtrack To The Crimson Idol)”, which came out in February 2018. It was a new version of the band’s classic 1992 album “The Crimson Idol”, which was re-recorded to accompany the movie of the same name to mark the 25th anniversary of the original LP’s release. The re-recorded version also features four songs missing from the original album.
W.A.S.P.‘s most recent studio album of all-new original material was 2015’s “Golgotha”.
W.A.S.P.‘s first live performance since December 2019 took place on July 23, 2022 at Skansen in Stockholm, Sweden.