On October 30th, GWAR's 30th Anniversary Remix of Scumdogs of the Universe will be unleashed upon the world in CD, LP, cassette, and digital formats. There's also a Limited Edition 30th Anniversary Remix Box Set that's been up for pre-order from the band.
The seminal album has been fully remastered and elements of the original editing have been "fixed" to be more in keeping with the band's original intentions for the album, also delivering a sound that the band feels is closer to an experience of their live performances at the time. All in all, the release is set to bring us a more authentic experience of an important myth-building period for GWAR, and also firmly touches base with the band's identity and goals right now. You might want to check out what Pustulus had to say about the upcoming release when he was a guest on our Tower Instagram Live show, which you can still watch here.
However, the Berserker Blothar, who is "lead howler" for GWAR, also took a break from reading the future in the entrails of his victims to join Tower's PULSE for a big breakdown of just what this remastering of their early album entailed, and how the band is holding up during pandemic shut-downs amid the furor of the upcoming US election.
Hannah Means-Shannon: It’s very exciting that Scumdogs of the Universe has reached its 30th anniversary and is coming out remastered in several formats. It occurs to me that Scumdogs would have been a title that people could’ve bought at Tower Records upon release. Did you have any overlap with Tower?
Blothar: Well, of course, yes. I’m not a young guy. I went to Tower many times. We did in-store appearances at Tower. Only a couple were at the level of Spinal Tap appearances, but some were quite good. We played music in a Tower Records, I believe!
HMS: That’s so awesome. So many Tower locations found a way to act as venues, even in a small capacity, and I’ve been hearing stories of record stores starting to do that again, because venues may be shutting. It could be helpful.
Blothar: Yes, although my memory of in-store appearances were incredibly crowded! But they were fun. We’ve done tiny GWAR performances, and other bands that I’ve been with have played little venues. I’ve been worried that record stores themselves might phase out of existence, but those were fun. It would be interesting if the pandemic might bring back some of that old-school interaction.
HMS: It’s possible. I think the resurgence of vinyl has helped record stores pop up and other stay open.
Blothar: I like my music scratchy and difficult to move!
HMS: [Laughs] Well, on that note, I notice that the anniversary album is being released in just about every format possible: cassette, double LP, CD, digitally. How do you feel about these different formats and why is GWAR embracing so many of them?
Blothar: Oh, you only mentioned a few! There are stone tablets, VHS, we’ve got Betamax, Laser Disc, 8-track…
HMS: I was going to say “8-track”!
Blothar: My favorite thing about 8-tracks was when you had the song that had to be continued on the back. That was the best. We want the majesty of Scumdogs to be available in every format imaginable.
HMS: That is admirable. Whenever I see someone actually going for cassettes, I know they are all in. There is a resurgence in cassettes, but it’s more recent than vinyl.
Blothar: I appreciate the limited frequency response. It matches my limited attention span. I don’t want to have to listen to too many frequencies at one time. Cassettes are easy! They have the added bonus of occasionally changing how they sound. You’ll spill a little Coke on there and you’ll get a “rwwwwooooooowwwwr” section. Plus, if it breaks, you can wind it up with a pencil and do your own edits to the music. It’s wonderful.
HMS: That is so true! I don’t know about you, but I’ve actually tried to repair broken tape before.
Blothar: Many times! Especially back in the day where you had a cassette version you got from a friend and couldn’t afford to buy the import at Tower Records. There was no way I was going to allow my boombox to eat that!
HMS: It was definitely a cosmic struggle to get that music.
Regarding the sound on the new Scumdogs, I heard that it was remastered by Ronan Chris Murphy, and I wondered if there were specific goals or needs on the remastering. Were you involved in that process?
Blothar: Of course we were. We told him what we wanted and really just kind of let him loose. Ronan is someone that the Slaves of GWAR have known, in their human instantiation, for some time. He’s from Richmond, Virginia. He shared a studio space, in the very early days of GWAR. We all worked in the same place. He had an adjacent apartment and studio space. So this is someone who has known the music of GWAR for a very long time.
He went on to build a career as a top-notch Producer. He was brought in to “fix” things and do think it needed fixing. There were a lot of things about Scumdogs that we were not happy with when we first got this recording back. It really went through the ringer of the remnants of the 80s, even though it was in the 90s. Sort of jacked-up, cocaine-fuelled, fried chicken Production. I don’t know what you would call it.
When we got it back, we were less than enthused with some of the edits and the things that had been changed. Especially even the guitar tones. There wasn’t a lot that Ronan could do with the guitar tones, but if there was anything good there to tape when we tracked it, he really brought that out. You can really hear the strength and the power of those songs and essentially, he got rid of a lot of the old production aspects. So what it sounds like, to me, was the way that Rock bands sounded when you stood in a room listening to those songs. And that’s pretty much what we wanted.
HMS: Amazing. So it now sounds more like a live experience?
Blothar: Yes, or just an uncooked, unprocessed experience. It also dials back some of the edits, so there’s stuff on there that people haven’t really heard before. Especially back then, when you’re dealing with tape, there’s a decision-making process that’s built in that’s really not built into recordings now. Now you can put everything in, then go back and edit, but back then, if you put it to tape, the chances were there was a good reason for it. We didn’t have a bunch of meaningless stuff that then got edited down. These are things that we wanted in there. Then, when they got edited out, we were not thrilled about it. Having the ability to put that stuff back means we’re really happy about it.
HMS: Presumably you were able to go back to the masters to grab stuff?
Blothar: Yes, we went back to the two-inch masters.
HMS: This all sounds wonderful. How long ago did you all start planning and working towards this?
Blothar: We’ve been thinking about it for a couple years, knowing the anniversary was coming up. Once we came out the other side of recording The Blood of Gods, we knew that we wanted Ronan to work on it.
HMS: What are some of the extras that come with the collector’s edition that you’re particularly happy about?
Blothar: I like the cassette of the demo recording that we did. That’s a nice touch. I remember going in to do that recording. I’m pretty sure that we did it at a studio called Glass Hand with a fellow called Mark Miley. These were small Richmond studios shared with a woodshop. It was tracked over near the bandsaw! It was fun stuff and good to listen to. I remember the equipment we used to make it, a very old but great-sounding Panasonic Ramsa board. There were some good sounding smoky preamps. A better sounding one would be interesting to me, too, but finding those master tapes is a little more challenging.
HMS: Oh, man, yes. But that’s really cool that this has been released. People always want to know about the demos. It adds to the mythology to have it around.
How important is it for people who pick this anniversary edition up to listen to the tracks in order and consider it as a unit? Or are the tracks, in your mind, more standalone experiences?
Blothar: For Scumdogs, we were viewing it as our chance to really put out there what GWAR was. Even the name of, Scumdogs of the Universe, means it almost could have been a self-titled album. But there weren’t a lot of narrative songs it. We did have character songs, a few really good ones. The band was blessed in a lot of ways with some surprisingly good singers. And there was reason that this should have happened other than the gods smiling on GWAR. We had Sleazy P. Martini, who is a fine vocalist, and he did a really great job on “Slaughterama”.
It doesn’t have a sequential order that you should listen to, but it does have songs on it that define what it was like seeing GWAR at the time. “Slaughterama” was a skit that we would always put on. The “Sexecutioner” song was always a big moment in the show, and that’s there. This stuff was fun, and it’s captured on this recording. There are elements of GWAR show, but not a big narrative. It’s more like GWAR trying to write some Rock songs. There are narrative songs, “Death Pod” would be one. “A Cool Place to Park” was always a “story song”, I guess you’d call it.
HMS: And I bet some of those really planted the seeds of narrative that would come back later on.
Blothar: That’s definitely true. For “Death Pod”, that particular song was based on a character that Oderus would play. We were really just a bunch of comic book geeks, so we were playing a space melee game, sort of like World of Warcraft. The Death Pod was Oderus’ character and he had a vehicle that Dr. Mechano had. Mechano never really even made an appearance in GWAR, other than in the notebooks of Oderus Urungus. But there was this song on the first record.
HMS: That’s amazing. There’s such a multi-media aspect to the band, I’m wondering why does music still come first? Why create the music first rather than going to make films or games?
Blothar: The actual narrative behind GWAR being a band of aliens from outer space who come to this planet and wind up being distracted. Instead of following directions and conquering the planet, they wind up being distracted by all the aspects of human life, like drugs, and Rock music, and sex. GWAR started as an effort to make a science fiction film with music involved, but in the narrative, GWAR becomes a Rock band instead. In real life, that’s also what happened.
HMS: Yeah. [Laughs]
Blothar: It was more compelling to put this on stage and have a performative aspect. Yes, films are performance, but the idea of transforming the Rock stage into a venue for narrative performance, that’s something that was always more interesting to us. I don’t really think of anything in GWAR as having primacy. I don’t think of GWAR as being primarily a Rock band, but then there are these costumes. People always want to create this hierarchy. But in our minds, those things were never really separated out. One thing was not more important than the other. They are the same thing. It’s all just the same thing.
HMS: Thank you, that’s a great answer. I really appreciate that.
Talking about live performance and how important that’s been to the band, how are you all doing? Presumably this summer you would have been on the road if possible.
Blothar: Oh, yeah. It’s given us lots of time to explore ourselves and our bodies. What are you going to do? Nothing. There isn’t anything to do.
We’ve been making some music, we’ve been doing some singles. We’ve been working on an EP, doing some acoustic music.
Blothar: We’ve been exploring things. We’ve never really liked to be in the same room with each other anyway, so this kind of fits the moment. Of course, we would be out playing and doing big, fun, Rock shows, but this has definitely given us some more time around the old Antartican Fortress. We’ve just been collecting toilet paper, mostly.
HMS: Yes. I have so much toilet paper now that I probably won’t run out for the rest of my life. Is that wrong? I’m not sure.
Has this time of quiet brought any revelations about what you’d like to do in future as a band?
Blothar: It has definitely allowed us to focus and think more about the narratives of GWAR and less about the immediate concerns of getting out on the road and touring. It’s forced us to explore other avenues of disseminating the story of GWAR. Some of which we focused on early on, like making films, and doing things like that. Over time, due to the realities of the business, we got away from it. When we started, it looked like longform videos were the way of the future. But that didn’t really pan out. Those Lazer Discs didn’t work out!
This allows us to get back to film work. And it allows us to create a more constant stream of content. And it moves things away from the realm of the super-genius. That’s probably been a key to GWAR succeeding, even during a pandemic, the ability to recognize that you shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, right? GWAR continued to make stuff. And that’s what we want to do: make stuff. We aren’t trying to make our version of the perfect performance, but we are going to keep telling stories and do what we do, which is making stuff.
HMS: That’s so great. This whole experience is so disruptive, but there are some opportunities in disruption to evaluate how and why we do things the way we do them.
HMS: That’s a good example to set for other bands, too, just saying.
Blothar: Well, you know, GWAR likes to set a good example.
HMS: I know it’s one of your primary motivations, always.
Blothar: We’ve certainly been made an example of many times.
HMS: [Laughs] That relates to one of my questions for you: How is GWAR feeling about the upcoming election and the global situation? You are the Lords and Masters, so we really should hold you accountable for a lot of this.
Blothar: No, this is not in our purview. This is yet another thing that humans are doing to themselves. Talking about setting an example, and the theme of our last record, it was that GWAR have done their work a bit too well. Humans simply can’t get rid of this impulse for self-destruction that really has always been there, but it seems to have reached a fever pitch. Really, during the pandemic, we’ve got a lot of time on our hands, because there’s not a lot for us to do. Why should Covid-19 have all the fun? We’d like to kill some people, too.
GWAR isn’t behind any of this, as much as we like to see humans suffering, we prefer to be the cause of it.
HMS: Do you have any views on the election and its outcome? Do you have any vested interest in its results?
Blothar: From a career standpoint, having someone like Donald Trump in office….Let’s just face it, people aren’t going to go bananas if we waltz Biden across that stage.
Blothar: But you bring Trump out there, and people are losing their minds. They either want to throttle him or they get angry about the way that we treat him. What’s hilarious to me, too, is that Americans, true to form, don’t really have a problem with us cutting his stomach open and pulling the contents out, or smacking him around. Even his supporters. They don’t like it when he gives me a blow job, that’s what they don’t like. That’s crossing the line, apparently. Who knows?
GWAR is on the side of chaos, and it certainly looks like there’s a lot of chaos to be had. No matter who wins, there’s a lot of chaos to be had. There are too many people and too many voices in this band to have a firm political side, other than that GWAR favors chaos. But it’s certainly interesting to me that Trump’s supporters have gotten so upset. It really wasn’t until after his election that people started looking at GWAR and saying, “You guys are biased!” Really? Even, as in the same show, we would kill someone who looked like Hillary Clinton, we’d get those charges. I don’t think that GWAR has changed. I think that the world has changed.
HMS: The world has definitely changed. If you take your eye off the ball, it’s easy to lose track of it, but there have been changes.
I’ll ask you about our Tower Records motto, written “No Music, No Life” and “Know Music, Know Life”. Which of those do you prefer and how do you feel that it applies in your life?
Blothar: I like “No Music” and I have no life. No, that’s not true. I think it’s definitely true that without music, life is boring. I actually don’t even know if it’s possible not to have it. Even animals have music. Certainly, there are people who have no knowledge of music and don’t pay attention, but music enters peoples’ minds, and it enters their brains, and it shapes their identity, whether they know it or not. I would actually agree with both angles there.