“Playing Guitar And Plumbing”: Gwar’s Pustulus Maximus Talks To Stereo Embers

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(Photos by Mark Abell)

I spoke to GWAR’s Pustulus Maximus a few days before his band’s performance at Buffalo’s Town Ballroom.

The performance itself, which included impressive elaborate costumes and gratuitous blood bursts from an udder cannon and prosthetic genitals, was vintage GWAR. But it didn’t stop there. Other highlights included internet jokes about apps including Tinder re-named “Kinder” and Instagram, dubbed Insta(gram) which found the monsters throwing an Rx pill back and forth to one another, and a gigantic syringe on-stage, which was a symbol highlighting the problems of child-sex abuse, pharmaceutical proliferation and drug-abuse in America.

Security had their hands full that night. They caught four people coming over the barricade during one song alone-but none of these head-bangers were booted and all were returned back to the pit, albeit with a stern, convicting nod.

This was performance art at it’s most vulgar, revolting, and memorable.

Stereo Embers: What’s the message GWAR is trying to broadcast?

Pustulus Maximus: The elites–they don’t know what’s best for the majority. When you rise to power and have money, you don’t share the same ideas and you don’t have the same morals as people that got to work for a living to take care of their families without unlimited budgets. You know America’s fucked, we’re just pointing it out.

SE: Have you had any exposure to a new recording medium called high-res?

PM: Yeah, I don’t quite understand the question. We’ve recorded records in 44.1k for CDs, 88.2 digital, is that kind of what you are talking about?

SE: Yeah. Pick up the December issue of Recording Magazine–I have a piece in there. I’m trying to urge the recording industry to release more content in 24-bit, 192kHz. Slayer and Keith Richards just released albums in 24-bit so it’s exciting and there is an infrastructure there–there’s new receivers from Sony and Onkyo and Yamaha that support it, there’s music players similar to smartphones that you can play it back on, and there’s now wireless speakers that you can play through your house. So there is an infrastructure but artists haven’t really embraced it. Are there some reasons artists aren’t embracing it?

PM: Well, yeah I don’t think it’s the artist that makes that call, really–it’s all up to the record label. There’s no point in them trying to put out a product that has a limited medium to it as of right now. I mean, as far as bigger artists, of course, like Lady Gaga, Beyonce, Jay Z–I guarantee they’re recording stuff in 88.2 or 96k. I did my last punk rock record in 88.2 which is a little overkill for something that will only go to vinyl anyway, but if you have the ability to do it, then why not?

SE: Exactly…

PM: Everything that we’ve released digitally as of last year has been hi-res but, of course, once stuff goes to CD, it has gotta be 44.1, that’s it.

SE: I wanted to talk a bit about some of your musical influences.

PM: Sure. Personally for me, I really like Turbonegro, Motorhead–more or less punk rock than anything else. As far as metal goes, everything on the darker side, so Dark Funeral, Marduk, Immortal, pretty much black metal and punk rock. I guess the polar opposites of the blues-rock spectrum. That’s it, that’s what get’s me goin’.

SE: And did you ever have any interest in reggae or rap?

PM: No, no, no, absolutely not. No, I cannot stand rap music. I mean there’s some shit that’s more tolerable than others. It’s not really that I dislike the music so much as I dislike the culture behind certain things. There’s a lot of rock music that I don’t like and it’s because of the message it pushes, especially the contrived crap that is on the radio–and the same thing goes with rap music. There’s some shit out there that’s genuine but the majority to me is just bullshit. Reggae, country–NO! Rap, reggae, country–none of those! Except maybe Wailers, I’d say a little bit of those is alright every now and again. And country today is more or less “redneck pop”–it’s not even country. What’s on the radio today is not Johnny Cash. I couldn’t even name a star. It’s not good, it’s not good.

SE: Do you still get butterflies before you go on-stage?

PM: No, no, no, no. I wish! That went away a long time ago.

SE: You aren’t a part of the original line-up. The original line-up was ’84. How long have you been on?

PM: 2012, I believe. I think it was around July of 2012.

SE: Have you witnessed your bandmates struggling with addiction?

PM: Yeah, it’s pretty fucked up. It’s happened to more people in my life than just band-mates and I’m sure a lot of people can relate. It’s just one of those things where people got demons, and people need help. You got to do everything you can to get in the way and get in between that stuff. It’s hard man, and it’s hard for everybody. You know, alcohol is hard to quit, cigarettes…you know. Forget about things like heroin or cocaine or whatever other rock stars choose to do. It gets the best of ’em and it sucks that it took away some of my best friends, especially some of my bandmates. All you can do is keep on livin’, you can’t dwell on things, that’s for sure.

SE: Any commentary on the cuttlefish?

PM: The cuttlefish is still alive and well, thankfully. I think that when Oderus was sucked away in a time-warp, the cuttlefish didn’t go away with him.  We are keeping it in safe storage and hoping that  one day we can breed it, and grow it into something else. So you’ll definitely see more of the cuttlefish in the future.

SE: Where did the GWAR narrative come from originally?

PM: As far as I understand it, it was a collaboration between like, Hunter Jackson and Dave Brockie. You know, Dave had a band, and Hunter had an idea for this road-warrior-esque troupe, a band of miscreants but he didn’t play in the band or anything. He threw the costumes on Death Piggy, and Death Piggy became GWAR. I would say the story originated with Hunter but as far as the whole narrative, it’s basically been like a living story that evolved over the years. The original was definitely Dave and Hunter together who kinda put new ideas forth. People in the characters kinda write a little bit of their own backstory–it just becomes a part of the mythos. It’s pretty cool man, it has a lot of history to it.

SE: Are there producers or other bands that would be your dream to collaborate with?

PM: No, I’m not too interested with working with anyone outside the group. It’s more important than ever for the band to get back to some of the records from the 90’s that really shaped the sound for the genre and for the band–that was the definitive sound. Later on, with some of our metal records there was a sort of pandering to a metal audience. Sometimes it felt like you’re trying to hard. There’s tracks on every GWAR record that I like; the later material is too much of a departure from our origins. I’d like to see a “meet-in-the-middle” between the two–thrash, punk, and metal all rolled into one. I don’t have an interest on collaborating for an album, per se. We’ve been talking to Ouiwey Collins, we’ve been bouncing ideas back and forth, that should be really fucking wild.

SE: How does the rock and roll life affect your personal relationships?

PM: Touring definitely puts a strain on it. If you’re a blue collar man, you aren’t coming home until its dark or it’s dinner-time. There’s no way you can spend enough time with your kids. I don’t know anyone who works 40 hours per week, it’s 50, 60, 70, or 80.

SE: Any dangerous hobbies?

PM: Playing guitar and plumbing.

SE: No barricades in the early days of GWAR?

PM: The band used to get into some pretty violent altercations. Fans would storm the stage. Now, if you mention GWAR to a music fan, they know exactly what it is–guys with big dicks on stage. If you go back to 1991, 1989, nobody had a clue what that was! When we were spraying people with fake blood, people were rushing the stage, trying to take props. The props not only take a long time to make, they aren’t cheap, a lot of them are irreplaceable, especially on tour. The guys didn’t take it lighty. Balzach was standing on 12 or 16″ platforms…we don’t allow people on stage, it’s pretty easy for somebody to get hurt when they are wearing 50 pounds on their shoulders and standing on 15″ platforms. They protected each other pretty well.

SE: Some ways to stay healthy on tour?

PM: Not really. I took a bicycle on tour once–somebody didn’t like that I was having fun and they slashed my tires and that was the end of that experiment. Don’t share joints with everybody, fist bumps over hand shakes.

SE: How does the band want to be viewed in the history of metal?

PM: The recognition from the metal community isn’t as high a priority as acceptance by the art community. There was a time in GWAR where we were searching from validation from the music community. People thought it was a gimmick, a bunch of idiots running around in costumes. It’s easy to discount things that you do not like. It’s a show. It’s a theater troupe. It’s an art collective. Some of the opinions that hit the mainstream are contrived and narrow views such as metal fans criticizing the band Ghost, which isn’t a metal band. It’s not even the same genre. Ghost is more like Crooked Vultures than Mercyful Fate. It’s a band with dark and satanic themes that gets lumped into the metal genre.

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SE: Will Ghost’s Pope costume have an impact on people’s perception of metal?

PM: I like the songwriting. They are definitely progressing. I like that satanic stuff. I am down with the devil, Joe! I’d like to see the hem of the anti-Christian hit the mainstream. One of the best things that could happen in this country is for the citizens of the United States to turn away from God. Religion is ruining people’s lives on the daily. I want to make that go away.

SE: How is religion ruining people’s lives?

PM: It’s this whole big guilt trip for having urges, and having human fucking needs. The Seven Deadly Sins were listed to be completely unavoidable things: Greed is wanting more than you have, Sloth is hitting the snooze button for five minutes. These were systematically devised over many years of study of the human experience to trap, push, and herd individuals into a corral that does nothing but pay homage and cash money to the people up top. The Pope, and that whole system are designed for those people to have absolute power. When you had societies such as the Holy Roman Empire, and Christianity moving into England, they took over everything. Torture devices were invented to determine if people were witches or not, by sawing them in half or throwing them in a river in a barrel, or lighting them on fire. These are extremely barbaric things that were devised because of people’s belief in God. These are twisted, sadistic views which you still see today in Islamic extremism such as cutting people’s heads off. You have people fighting over little pieces of land because of each of their little make believe men that they believe in say they are entitled to it. These are problems that wouldn’t exist without religion. There will always be fighting in human nature because humans have not evolved to be detatched from their animal counterparts. Humans are violent creatures, survival is violent. A step in the right direction would be to abolish religion. You can have a good moral character and standing, and look out for your fellow man without having a belief in a deity.

Life is dark and pretty fucking meaningless, and the only thing you can do is have fun. Even things like love, happiness, anger, sadness, despair, anger-it’s all chemical reactions in the brain, these concepts don’t really exist. When you pass away, those things are gone, memories and all. Most people would think that is cynical and a dark view of the way things are but as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t make me dislike being alive. It gives me more motivation to try and have a good time without fucking anybody over. That should be the mantra of any human being: have a good time, don’t fuck anybody over.

SE: Would you consider yourself apolitical?

PM: I don’t have much faith in politics, in the justice system, in the government. If voting could change things, they wouldn’t allow it. Everything’s about money. In the end with socialism, communism, Nazism, fascism, capitalism-it is all the same. Everything is driven by money, you can’t do anything without money. People aren’t motivated to make products that are the best, or will last-the motivation is to make something that will yield the most capital. It isn’t good business to make things that won’t ever break. It isn’t good business to make ethical decisions 100% of the time. That’s the inherent problem with money and a system driven to acquire as much of it as possible. If you want to make spinning tops, you don’t want to pay an American $15 an hour when you can send it to China and have them do it in little shops on dirt floors for like $0.13/day. That is not ethical but it yields the most profit. People want to forget that that is the way things are really happening in this world. Wars, oil-it’s just to amass money. We don’t even need fossil fuels anymore. I think we are past that point, technologically. There’s no incentive to make that push now when there’s still fossil fuels available, and there’s still cash-money to be made. If you’re an oil tycoon, and there’s alternative energy sources available, why on earth would you want to push something you don’t have stock in?! It’s not ethical and if you did make the ethical choice, it’s not going to be good for your business. That’s another part of society–you aren’t going to remove violence from human beings until you also take apart the need for money. I know it sounds far-fetched to be thinking in utopian terms. I highly doubt if there is alien civilizations roaming the galaxy in spaceships; there’s no way on earth that these guys rely on a monetary system to support their endeavors. Until you get a society that values knowledge over cash.

SE: Do people with higher IQ’s gravitate toward certain forms of music?

PM: Music is about entertainment and it depends upon what you find entertaining. It would be pretentious to say that somebody with a higher IQ would like a certain type of music because most people would say “smart people are going to listen to the same type of music that I listen to.” Some people think vulgarity is funny, some people think sweet love songs are entertaining. Life is short, you need to have a good time. Take something that is fun to do, and go for it.