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Members include Michael Bishop (Beefcake the Mighty; left band, 1994), bass; Dave Brockie (Oderus Urungus), vocals; Michael Dirks (Balsac the Jaws of Death), guitar; Pete Lee (Flattus Maximus), guitar; Casey Orr (replaced Bishop as Beefcake the Mighty), bass; and Brad Roberts (Jizmak da Gusha), drums. Addresses: Record company--Metal Blade, 2345 Erringer Rd., Suite 108, Simi Valley, CA 93065.
According to legend, Gwar was created over 100 billion years ago by the Master of All Reality. An ultra-elite group of warriors gathered from the lowest dregs of filth, the group raped and pillaged their way across the universe and finally arrived on Earth. Once on Earth they killed the dinosaurs, created Stonehenge to use as a croquet court, and sunk Atlantis. Displeased by their actions, the Master banished Gwar to Antarctica, where they lay entombed in ice for millions of years, until a hole in the ozone layer (caused by excessive use of hair spray by poofy-haired 1980s rock stars) released them from their icy prison in 1985. Free to roam the Earth once more, Gwar returned to their goal of world domination--this time as a rock band.
So reads the bizarre pseudo-biography of the band called Gwar. The true story of how the band came to be is less outrageous, but the end product lives up to the fantastic saga. The brain-child of vocalist Dave Brockie and film producers Hunter Jackson and Chuck Varga, Gwar lurched into existence in the early days of 1985. By combining a hybrid of heavy metal, punk, and hardcore music styles with outrageous, horror film-inspired costumes and scenery, high-tech special effects, and gory, Grand-Guignol stage antics, Brockie, Jackson, and Varga created a new genre of musical entertainment--part rock and roll, part cartoon, part vaudeville, and part social satire.
Brockie first met Varg and Jackson in an old dairy on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. Brockie's band, Death Piggy, practiced in the basement, while upstairs, Varga and Jackson's company, Slave Pit Productions, designed costumes and scenery for a horror film called Scumdogs of the Universe. After Brockie's band broke up and the film ran out of funds, the trio teamed up and created Gwar using costumes, scenery, and characters from the film.
Gwar's goal was to create not just a band, but a multimedia event that, as Brockie explained to Deidre Pearson in Underscope, "would encompass many different forms of communication and expression." But their intent was to do more than just provide a glitzy show. They wanted to create a living form of catharsis. Instead of merely playing songs, the band would act out the lyrics through outrageous fantasy performances that would include decapitations, battles with giant monsters, sodomy, ritual rape, and plenty of blood spewing.
As Brockie told Contemporary Musicians, "Gwar was designed to be as obnoxious as the world is obnoxious. We wanted to give people an escape from the crazy homogenization of the will caused by society by giving people the opportunity to live out their most bizarre fantasies. In a sick way, Gwar teaches people how to deal with reality. Like a paganistic ritual or a mad theme park ride, Gwar gives people a means of purging their pent-up desires and frustrations."
While Varga and Jackson worked on the costumes, scenery, and special effects, Brockie scoured the local Richmond music scene for young musicians to fill the ranks of his fledgling band. He found many performers willing to don the 50-pound latex costumes of Gwar's onstage characters Oderus Urungus, Balsac the Jaws of Death, Flattus Maximus, Jizmak da Gusha, and Beefcake the Mighty, but few stayed with the band long. Most complained that their musical talents were overshadowed by the band's outrageous stage shows. As a result, the band roster changed almost constantly over the next five years.
Another regular stage presence is Slymenstra Hymen, a female dancer whose primal movements, mask-like makeup, and skimpy leather attire lends yet more visual stimulus to the show. Although technically not a band member--she plays no instrument--Slymenstra has been a Gwar staple since their early days and is as integral to the gorefest as the rest of the band.
In 1988 Gwar received their first break. After seeing a homemade video of an early Gwar show, Shimmy Disc Records President Mark Kramer invited the band to record in his New York City studio. In a whirlwind, four-day studio session they recorded their debut album, Hell-o.
The album and subsequent club performances sparked the interest of British record company Master Records, which gave Gwar a verbal, one-album contract. Gwar recorded and released their second album, Scumdogs of the Universe, on the Master label in 1990. They supported the album with a tour of the United States, during which they filmed the concert video Live From Antarctica.
Scumdogs of the Universe marked a major turning point for Gwar. The album featured the first solidified Gwar line-up of Dave Brockie as Oderus Urungus on vocals, Pete Lee as Flattus Maximus on guitar, Michael Dirks as Balsac the Jaws of Death on guitar, Brad Roberts as Jizmak da Gusha on drums, and Michael Bishop as Beefcake the Mighty on bass. This line-up would remain intact for the next three years and four Gwar albums. Een though Scumdogs of the Universe sold several thousand copies and the tour garnered the band a large underground following, Master Records went bankrupt, leaving Gwar without a recording contract for nearly two years.
Then in 1992, Gwar signed with Brian Slagel's Metal Blade Records and released their third album, America Must Be Destroyed. It sold over 100,000 copies in the United States alone and enabled the band to finance their most elaborate stage show to date. The production included the five band members, eight auxiliary onstage characters known as the "Slave Pit," and a technician whose sole responsibility was to control a network of pressurized bottles and tubes that sprayed the audience with fake blood, a signature aspect of Gwar shows for many years.
The range and volume of the faux plasma spray steadily increased as the band progressed, and the antics of the Slave Pit became more outrageous. Simulated ejaculation of various body fluids and the catapulting of fake excrement into the audience was to be expected at Gwar concerts. The band "manager," Sleazy P. Martini, would traditionally call a Gwar "fan" on stage at each show for decapitation, causing gallons and gallons of blood to spew out of the neck. During a 1994 tour, Martini did choose five real-life devotees from the venue to display embarrassing or gruesome talents in a "Be a Geek for Gwar" contest, and one fan actually poured lighter fluid on his head and set it afire.
Riding high on the success of America Must Be Destroyed, Gwar followed up the album with the five-song EP The Road Behind later in 1992. The band also expanded their realm from the stage to the screen that year with the release of the mini-film Phallus in Wonderland. Part movie, part concert performance, Phallus in Wonderland tells the story of Oderus Urungus's penis on trial. The story was inspired by Brockie's arrest for obscenity during a show in Charlotte, North Carolina, where police confiscated the two-foot long rubber phallus Brockie wore on stage as part of his costume. The American Civil Liberties Union took up the band's cause and successfully plea bargained for the release of the phallus. It was not the first time, nor would it be the last time, Gwar would have to deal with censorship. Earlier on the same tour, Brockie had been arrested in Athens, Georgia, on similar charges. And the band would again confront censorship with their fourth album.
To the surprise of many, including the band, the film Phallus in Wonderland was nominated for a Grammy Award. Ironically, Gwar was asked not to attend the awards ceremony. When they defied the request and showed up in full costume, security guards asked them to leave.
In 1993, Gwar once again ventured into the film arena with their 35-millimeter production Skulhed ... Face. A science fiction/horror fantasy about the band's battles against the arch-villain Skulhed ... Face (a thinly disguised metaphor for censorship), the film featured band performances, skits, and cameo appearances by producer and ex-Dead Kennedys singer Jello Biafra and Skid Row vocalist Sebastian Bach
Gwar returned to the studio in 1994 to record their fourth album, This Toilet Earth, for Metal Blade. Before its release, Warner Bros., Metal Blade's distributor, requested the band remove a song that contained obscene lyrics from the album. Brockie explained in Underscope magazine that the song in question was about "the time-honored tradition of having sex with infants before they're born." The band refused and lost their distribution deal with Warner Bros., only to sign another deal with Priority Records four months later.
Shortly after the release of This Toilet Earth, Casey Orr replaced bassist Michael Bishop, who left to form his own band, Kepone. Brockie told Contemporary Musicians that Bishop left because "he felt musically unsatisfied with the band." So Orr donned the mantel of Beefcake the Mighty and accompanied the band on a brief European tour.
By the end of 1994, Gwar had succeeded in infiltrating virtually every form of the media. In addition to their music and films, they have appeared in their own comic book, were featured on MTV's popular animated series Beavis and Butt-Head, and even starred in a computer video game. Although Gwar has been repeatedly dismissed by some critics as nothing more than a gratuitous exploitation band, its creators insist that the group has a much deeper purpose. They acknowledge that that purpose may be lost on some of their fans, but the band is satisfied as long as the fans have a good time. As Hunter Jackson put it in Melody Maker, "The images we use are far older than Gwar and make serious artistic and cultural points. If you're intelligent and want an underlying meaning--fine, it's there. And, if you're stupid and just want to have blood splattered over you, that's fine, too."
by Thad Wawro
Band formed in Richmond, VA, 1985; self-released debut album, Hell-o, 1988; released second album, Scumdogs of the Universe, Master Records, 1990; signed with Metal Blade Records, 1992, and released one EP and three LPs, 1992-94; released videos Live From Antarctica, 1990, and Phallus in Wonderland, 1992; released film Skulhed ... Face, 1993.
- Selective Works
- Hell-o (self-released), 1988.
- Scumdogs of the Universe, Master, 1990.
- America Must Be Destroyed, Metal Blade, 1992.
- The Road Behind, Metal Blade, 1992.
- This Toilet Earth, Metal Blade, 1994.
- Axcess, volume 2, issue 2.
- Billboard, October 6, 1990; July 4, 1992; November 28, 1992.
- Hypno, April 1994.
- Los Angeles Times, October 24, 1993.
- Melody Maker, February 16, 1991; July 20, 1991; April 4, 1992; October 10, 1992; October 17, 1992.
- Pulse!, October 1992; September 1993.
- Reflex, issue 29.
- Spin, September 9, 1993.
- Underscope, March 1994.
- Washington Post, February 2, 1993.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Dave Brockie, July 28, 1994.
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