INTERVIEW: Oderus Urungus of GWAR
by Paul T
Believe it or not, these barbaric musicians from Antarctica have been around for over 25 years. I caught up with Oderus Urungus (Dave Brockie), GWAR’s lead singer, as he was waiting for his doctor’s appointment.
I asked Oderus about the evolution of their shows over the last 25 years. “Well, it started out very crude,” he said, “we made our costumes out of paper mache, cloth, and glue, and we didn’t care if it lasted just one performance.” “For the first few years, we were just focused on being local sensations, so we would build everything for one show, and then, had to go back to rebuild everything for the next show.” Oderus continued, “Later, we build costumes that lasted, and when we discovered latex rubber, our costumes, shows, and sets became more elaborate and more and more people showed up.” “Some people thought it was stupid, but later most people thought it was really cool.” He described some of their antics to me. “For the next 10 to 15 years, we would do three decapitations in the first few songs, giant meat grinders, all kinds of crazy shit.”
But GWAR is not just a stage show with crazy antics. Oderus explained to me that the band has focused more on their music and sonic production in the last decade and a half. “Near the turn of the century, we decided to pull it back a little bit, now that we have done all we could do,” Oderus said. “At first, our music was an afterthought, but around that time, we decided to listen to some of the critics and concentrate on the music.” “We have got rid of some characters, but the show sounds better, and it is not any less spectacular,” he concluded, “we are just making less into more.”
Oderus and I continued our conversation discussion GWAR’s musical sound and style. “We are still experimenting,” he said, “but once you put out 12 records, you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, you don’t need to have brand new take on it.” “Right now, we can just write songs, and see where the chips fall.” I inquired about various music styles that GWAR had experimented with on previous records. “When GWAR woke up from their Antarctic slumber, they like to try on different musical styles and experiment, like trying on different coats,” Oderus explained. “So, we have tried jazz, pop rock,” he continued, “but we will always be strongest at hard rock/heavy metal/trash – whatever you want to call it.” Oderus told me that with their personnel, they are going to always be a hard rock band, no matter what they try to do. “Now, the focus is on heavy metal writing, it is what we play the best,” he said.
Oderus mentioned his musical influences. “As a kid living in the DC area, I was there and witnessed the birth of Hardcore on the East Coast,” he said, “but I also like Ted Nugent, Black Sabbath, and all that late 70s crap.” “I got into Punk, and I really liked the Ramones, later in college, I threw away all my metal albums – I burned them all, fucking metal was getting so bad at the time.” He continued, “And I know people are now lauding and re-listening to hair bands and saying they were good, they were not.” “Bands like Poison, they were terrible, I hated those fucking bands.” I can hear the rueful smile through his voice, as he told me. “But later on, as Slayer, Testament, D.R.I., and Metallica came around as a reaction to those hair bands, metal got better, and I really liked these bands,” Oderus said. “Basically, I like all kinds of stuff, Black Sabbath, Black Flag, bands that start with the letter ‘B.’” he said. “B-52s?” I asked. “Actually, I saw them in ’79, while I was in high school.” “ ‘Love Shack’ was not until some years later, those were the ‘Rock Lobster’ years.” Oderus liked the B-52s‘ early music.
GWAR‘s themes and sense of humor have always intrigued me, so I inquired about some of his literary or feature film influences. “As a little kid, I liked J.R.R. Tolkien before he got super popular,” he said, “I read the Lord of the Rings when I was 10 years old.” “I was into Dungeons and Dragons, and wanted to combined it with metal and punk rock. “Monty Python’s The Holy Grail was a huge influence,” he informed me, “I wanted to put the Holy Grail into a metal backdrop; I thought that would be fucking great.” Oderus talked about his love for the film, Dawn of the Dead. “We were camped out in the front of the theater,” he said, “we were kids then, and not sure if they would let us see it, because when it came out, it had an X rating because of the violence.” “We had our fake college IDs, fake college sweatshirts, and we got in,” he continued, “I went back to see that movie every Friday night.” There is one last major influence on GWAR. “Throw on some weed on top of all that, and you got GWAR,” Oderus said and laughed. “We were a merry band of potheads, and even now, we still have something called ‘Stoned Vision.’” I asked him what that was about. “When we need an idea for a show, we would smoke a joint, and eventually someone will say something funny,” he answered, “and then we would all decide that we got to have that in a show.”
I asked Oderus what was the most interesting experience touring or performing on stage. “The single greatest thing has been my ability to travel all over the world – Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and all over the U.S., over 30 times,” he said, “seeing all the different places and understanding the world, and being able to see more than just the singular American viewpoint.” Oderus explained that through his travel, he has embraced the world and came to understand all viewpoints. “The most intense thing I have gone through was performing in East Germany right after the wall had come down,” he said, “people were just blown away.”
I am always amazed by a band or artists’ longevity, so I wondered what has been the most challenging aspect of a long running group like GWAR. “Just keeping it going,” Oderus told me. “We are internationally known, so travel is a hard thing to do as well,” he continued, “it is very rewarding, but it can be difficult as well, we will perform 14 or 15 nights in a row, and we are in a band that is a lot tougher physically than other bands, so we are fighting it physically at times.” “But now, after being on the road for so long, there are very few situations life can throw at me,” Oderus concluded, “that I have not seen or am not prepared for.”
“The hardest thing emotionally was that we lost a member, Cory Smoot,” Oderus said, “he passed away from a heart attack when we were on the road.” “But we finished the tour as a four piece; we just said that nothing can stop us.” We talked about die-hard GWAR fans. “They are known as ‘bohabs,’” he explained, “we coined the terms ourselves, it stands for habitually boring.” “They always talk to us about the details of GWAR history, some of which I have forgotten,” he continued, “they are all over the slave pit, they are annoying, all of them, but we love them, we love them all.”
Oderus graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond with a degree in Painting and Print Making, and minors in English and Art History. “I studied and got degrees in things that I liked or interested me rather than degrees that I could get a job with,” he said, “I just had faith that it would work and it did.” “I would like to be a professional illustrator or painter if I was not a musician,” he said and laughed, “but I probably won’t, I probably would be working construction, that’s what I did to pay the bills.” He concluded, “So, I would have liked to be a political cartoonist, but probably end up a construction worker if I had not made it as a musician.”
Lastly, I asked him what should a GWAR rookie expect from a GWAR show. Oderus said, “Say goodbye to the rest of your life, it will never be the same again.” “You will either never go see it (GWAR concert) again, or nothing else, no other show will do.” “It is definitely a rite of passage, something you have to do at least once in your life.” Oderus offers some advice for first time GWAR attendees. “Wear a white t-shirt, bring a towel and a change of clothes, and prepare to have your mind blown, the rest of your life will be meaningless – except for your mindless devotion to GWAR, there will be nothing left.”
Oderus informed me that this is the end of the tour, and GWAR will be working on a new album early next year.
For more information, visit Gwar’s site.