An Interview with Michael Bishop AKA Blothar of GWAR

GWAR: Extended Interview with Mike Bishop, the Man Behind the Blothar |  Decibel Magazine

Metal has its share of interesting an unique acts, but few are more unique than GWAR. The band itself is rooted in a love of Punk and Heavy Metal, combined with a fascination with fantasy, gore, macabre and outright political satire. To say that the band and it’s stage show are not for the faint of heart would be an understatement. That said, if you’ve got a sense of humor, and enjoy a little satire, as well as general mayhem, then perhaps GWAR is for you. The band itself has a rotating cast of characters, coupled with a core group of stable members. Is GWAR a band, or a collective? Is it an aesthetic? A lifestyle? Just a way to have fun and blow off steam? You decide. Music and art is what you make of it, and they’re always open to interpretation. Regardless, stage show and costumes aside, GWAR is making Heavy Metal music in the vein of what they love most.

Today, I’ve got Michael Bishop, AKA “Blothar” with us. These days, Michael is the lead vocalist for the band, but in the old days, he was the bassist, and portrayed “Beefcake the Mighty.” Michael is a very interesting guy, has spoken with TED talks (link below and here), has even earned his PHD in music from UVA, and has taught writing and topics in American music history at the university, specializing in popular music ethnography and performance studies. If you would like to learn more about the music of GWAR, you can head over to their website here. In these meantime, enjoy learning about the intergalactic warriors know as GWAR. Dig in.

Andrew:
Michael, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? What have you been doing to pass the time?

Michael:
I’ve been sitting around thinking about showering ever since the pandemic started. I just order food and groceries, and prostitutes, even weed. I may never leave the house again. Who wants to go outside?

Andrew:
Tell us a but about your backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Michael:
I got into music through Punk Rock. I watched a video of the Sex Pistols on the old show Night Flight. I went out and bought In God We Trust by the Dead Kennedys and listened to it on the wrong speed for three years. Eventually I started a band to enter a talent show at my high school. It was so terrible, But I loved the attention. Even if it’s abuse, at least it’s attention.

Andrew:
As an artist, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

Michael:
I just mentioned two of them, but I also liked UK Subs, Bad Brains, Minutemen, Husker Du, DEVO, and also metal like Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Speedmetal. And books; William Faulkner, Joyce Carol Oates, Alfred Bester, Michael Moorcock, so magical realism, gothic literature, science fiction, and fantasy. Of course trashy television, and also weird films; John Waters, David Lynch. I took in all the cultural influences of the 80s I suppose. And then filtered it all through my own southern gothic, fat kid, Punk Rock wanna-be, loner, ding dong soul.

Michael Bishop | Moshpits And Movies

Andrew:
Tell us about how GWAR got started. What’s the origin story?

Michael:
GWAR were an ancient race of intergalactic warriors who were banished to this planet and wound up forming a Rock band. OR, we are the product of the imagination of an artist’s collective from Richmond, Virginia, home of the state’s most popular art school and a thriving punk rock scene in the mid-80s. The collective formed in the old Richmond Dairy Building where a guy who wanted to make an ultra low-budget sci-fi movie and the world’s stupidest punk rock band both had studios. I guess that is the thing. GWAR happened when the band put on the costumes for the movie.

Andrew:
GWAR is known for its over-the-top stage show, distinct costumes and musical themes encompassing sexual and violent humor coupled with social and political satire. How did the band develop the concept?

Michael:
I don’t think it was a conscious development. It just arose out of the collective imagination and tastes of the people involved. We wanted to do something different, and interesting, because all the other rock bands were just standing there like a bunch of idiots, and at the time the idea of performance had been replaced by absurd, self-indulgent, and just plain stupid ideas of sincerity, authenticity, and humorless masculine posturing. Punk had turned toward some kind of orthodoxy, and it was gross and alienating. We wanted to do what we liked to do and promote the things we liked, underground comics, funny movies, splatter flicks, and ridiculous Rock and Roll.

Andrew:
GWAR has been labeled a “Shock Rock” band by the media and over the years the band has attracted both acclaim and controversy for its music and stage shows which can be pretty violent. What are your thoughts on the idea of being labeled a “Shock Rock” band?

Michael:
GWAR is a living cartoon. Most Shock Rock acts aren’t that. They lack humor. I am comfortable with the label “Shock Rock” though. The band doesn’t seek to be shocking, we just come up with stuff that makes us uncomfortable and make fun of it. We push each other to more and more ridiculous ideas and exaggerations. What is vital is that it always be rooted in satire and humor.

Dr. Michael Bishop Archives | Ghost Cult MagazineGhost Cult Magazine

Andrew:
GWAR began as more of a Hardcore Punk band, but quickly shifted more toward Metal and over the years has settled into Thrash and Groove Metal. What led to the shift from Punk to Metal?

Michael:
That change was fueled in part by the simple need to exist. It just started to make sense to have a more Metal sound even if we were making fun of Metal. And we were, and we are. But Punk had also taken a turn that we didn’t like. It was getting serious like I mentioned above, and we found the kids coming to the gigs were into Metal. Plus, along the way, we had all been Metal fans earlier in our lives, so we just brought that angle back in.

Andrew:
Over the years GWAR has had many members come in and out of the band. Why do you believe there has been so much turnover lineup wise?

Michael:
Because it is very hard band to be in without much personal glory. We are a working class band and we work hard. There has always been a lot of expense in producing the GWAR show, and the whole thing has only been able to exist because of a commitment to one another and self-sacrifice. It is hard to get people to commit to that.

Andrew:
Many people focus on the violence portrayed by the band and don’t move to far past the surface, but just under the surface, there is a message, right? What is the overarching through line within the music of GWAR? For those that don’t get it, what is the true message?

Michael:
Of course there is a message. GWAR mounts a serious critique of modernity. But we also do what we do. We leave these things open to interpretation for people. I think people should bring their own understanding to art.

Bloodstains, Booze, and Metal: Zumic's Trip to GWAR B-Q 2014 [Review +  Photos] | Zumic | Music News, Tour Dates, Ticket Presale Info, and More

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the state of music in general a bit. In your opinion, what’s the state of the music industry these days? What are some things that need to change?

Michael:
Music has become less profitable, and more difficult to break into, but a lot easier to produce. I think streaming services need to pay better. Metal has gotten way more vanilla. And people are rewarding mediocrity. On another level, the players are better than ever, it isn’t always the music, it is the lack of good ideas that stands out.

Andrew:
In the world we live in today, we are more or less dominated by the never-ending barrage of social media. How has this effected music as an artform? Is an artist’s ability to get their music out there hindered by all this, or helped?

Michael:
I think it is easier to reach fans, but I am uncertain this firehose of content has really helped the art. It seems like everything is more available but less impactive.

Andrew:
Who are a few artists, past or present that mean a lot to you?

Michael:
I really loved D. Boon. He made me feel like all this was possible. I love Rob Halford. He is just a gutsy, dedicated Rock guy, and he is an openly gay man who has seriously impacted Heavy Metal and I think gone a long way toward changing people’s attitudes in a positive way. Plus he loves cats. I also loved Dave Brockie as a performer and writer. I miss him all the time.

GWAR, Voivod, and Childrain at Masters Of Rock Café, Czechia on 10 Dec 2019  | Ticket Presale Code, Cheapest Tickets, Best Seats, Comparison Shopping  Zumic

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Michael:
Black Sabbath, Black Sabbath: because it is spooky and it sounded enough like a Halloween record to draw me into it when I was a kid. I love the way these Brits took American Blues and pulled out the supernatural elements, and amplified the alienation. Smart.

DEVO, Are We Not Men: A band with an idea. A great concept that takes itself just seriously enough to matter. I love their commitment to weirdness. I love their critique. 

Bad Brains, Bad Brains: Completely innovative and changed how I thought about what was possible when playing hardcore punk. The band innovated so much in tones, style, and in the way they put together songs. The mosh part, the thrashiness but with a groove. Our band wouldn’t exist the way we do without their influence.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Michael:
I like fishing. It is relaxing and it allows me to be in nature, and it is fraught with ethical concerns. I love it. It doesn’t really inspire my music. I think my scholarship has informed it though. I like understanding music, and I like making meaning with sound.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music?

Michael:
I used to be into vinyl. I am not now. I lost my collection over the years. I am all digital. Now, I use music as a tool mostly for inspiration. If I listen to music for pleasure, it isn’t hard music anymore. I like to shop at a used CD store, anywhere.

Andrew:
What’s next for GWAR once COVID-19 is done with us? The band’s last album was The Blood of Gods, released in 2017. Can we hope for some new music soon?

Michael:
We are working on a new graphic novel and a new album for 2021.

Andrew:
Last question. GWAR have been a polarizing band for over 30 years. What is your message to those that have supported you along the way and what would you say to the haters?

Michael:
I don’t care about what people think about GWAR. At this point, what keeps the band going is making things that we like. Why else do it anymore if that isn’t there? I would just say to our long time fans, and new fans; thanks! Thanks for having a sense of humor, thanks for paying attention. Thanks for giving us a steady stream of unimaginable riches.  
Michael Bishop, Ph.D.,
AKA: The Berserker Blothar of GWAR
Dr. Michael Bishop- TEDxRVA

Interested in learning more about Michael Bishop and the story of GWAR? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interviews

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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