If you're among the dedicated Gwar
fans (lovingly called Bohabs, Slaves, or Gwarriors, depending who you ask), then you have likely witnessed the band's grandiose stage show that features everything from Muppet-like dinosaurs to buckets of fake blood.
Even if you're not quite ready to identify yourself as a Bohab, the name Gwar probably still brings a familiar image to mind: grotesque alien beings putting on one hell of a good show. The music has taken a backseat to the humorous onstage antics for quite some time, but a few years back the band decided to shock critics and even some fans by composing an album full of well-written metal tracks.
Guitarist Cory Smoot
, a.k.a. Flattus Maximus
, joined the band about 5 years ago, right around the time the band began to change its focus. Smoot has been an integral part of bringing metal to the equation and even acted as co-producer on the band's latest album Beyond Hell, a concept record chronicling the band's journey into hell. The shock rockers were about to headline this year's Sounds Of The Underground tour in support of Beyond Hell, and Smoot
took a moment from rehearsal to chat with UG writer Amy Kelly
about what's in store this year for Flattus and the gang.
UG: I recently read that the band decided to opt for a pure metal sound about 5 years ago, which is right around the time you joined. Could you sense there was a change occurring within the band at that time?
When I joined the band, I was really surprised. At that time, we were on Metal Blade and kind of in limbo with the label. I was just shocked at how big of an underground following Gwar had. We were just taking it back to the roots of America Must Be Destroyed and Scumdogs, where a lot of people would consider those more of the metal-punk Gwar. When me and Todd (Evans, bass) joined the band, we were definitely more metal, thrash, hardcore punk. We're just trying to help put Gwar in the genre that we think it deserves. The comedy-punk thing was cool for a little while, which was kind of the direction Gwar was going in. I just kind of had a vision, and so did everybody else in the band. We kind of collaborated and made it a little heavier.
When the band was creating the concept album Beyond Hell, did the lyrics and basic storyline come first?
Sort of. It's kind of weird how we do it. Even though we're all one, we're kind of divided into 2 parts. There is the music part and, of course, the theatric part. I own a recording studio by the name of Karma Productions, where we do a lot of our rehearsing and writing music and recording. As far as what came first, it's kind of like we'd just jam out and write some pretty cool stuff. The music we would pretty much write first, then Brockie (Dave, vocals) would come and write his lyrics after the music is written. Then we would kind of create the show around the music.
Since I've joined Gwar, that's kind of what my thing has always been, to try and get the music a little more to the front. The show is so hard to beat. The show is definitely the major attraction of Gwar. I just always felt the music never really got the attention that it deserved. Of course, as a musician, that's one of the things that I'm trying to bring more up front. Like, Wow, not only do they make cool costumes and make killer shows, but the music is pretty good!
Do you have free reign creatively?
Yeah, we're all artistically creative and free to do whatever we want. That's one really cool thing about the band. When I joined I didn't know what I was getting into. Newer members, older members, whatever, we all collaborate on everything. I don't feel artistically stuck in a box. I can definitely take the ball and run.
There is some incredible guitar work on the Beyond Hell. How do you and Mike Derks (guitar) usually decide on which parts to take?
Derks is like me. He can adapt. Gwar has been through probably more Flattuses than it has any member! I'm even surprised that I've kept my job as Flattus longer than anybody has kept the job as Flattus. Writing with Mike it's cool because he's been able to adapt to all these different guitarists, just as crazy as it was for me having to adapt to 3 other guys' writing techniques and lead styles. Writing with Derks, he picks things right up and is badass. He's written the majority of, to me, one of the most metal albums that Gwar has, which is America Must Be Destroyed. They didn't even have a Flattus for that album. He respects and loves music in all its forms. Even though he might not admit it, he's a huge metal man! Me and Derks work really well together, and even Todd helps write music. He's originally a guitarist. He just fit the Beefcake profile so well! He converted to the bass, but he's a shredder.
Considering there have been 4 other guitarists who have taken on the role of Flattus Maximus, did you feel pressure to stick to what others had done with the character in the past?
Sort of. I tried to step Flattus up a notch with his appearance. He's got the longer hair now and more features in the costume. He's probably the least popular of the band for a while. It's just cool getting emails from kids. Hopefully that character can get a little more of the popularity that he deserves.
Describe a typical day in the life of Flattus Maximus.
|"We're just trying to help put Gwar in the genre that we think it deserves."|
It's pretty diverse. A day in the life of a Flattus on the road would definitely be staying up all night, waking up late, and getting yelled at by everybody. He's the one that sleeps a lot. Then kind of waking up, doing his thing, eating, taking a couple of Jager bombs, and he's ready to rock. He gets up there, does his thing, kicks some ass onstage, and then hopefully that makes up for him sleeping late!
Was it difficult to play in the costume in that first year with the band?
It was. Even to this day, you can't even see past 12th fret. It's one thing to write Gwar songs when you're out of costumes, but then as soon as you get into that costume it's like, Oh, shit - what did I just get myself into?
You're totally restrained and it's hard for sure.
Are you able to tackle the songs fairly accurately onstage despite not being able to se past the 12th fret?
Oh, yeah. It's just a difference of putting your foot up on a monitor to raise the guitar a little bit. You know, noodle it to death!
You're playing ESP exclusively now, but has that always been your choice of guitar?
Actually I was a Hamer guy before ESP. We're a messy band. We go through guitars like crazy. So we were putting out feelers out there to see what kind of endorsements we could catch. ESP has been excellent. They're our bros and they're a part of our family. It's beyond just endorsements. They're really cool people and they love having us on board. It's cool because the last time we were in Hollywood, they actually threw an ESP Gwar BBQ at the A&R rep's house of ESP. So yeah, I love ESP and love being part of the family. Before it was mainly Hamer, but I believe we were with Washburn briefly and Jackson there for a while. But we're with ESP now. Actually, Beefcake just went with Dean basses now.
In terms of the tone and the quality, was it that big of a jump from Hamer to ESP?
Yeah. It's one thing to get a guitar because it's free and you're endorsed. It's another to get something because you like it, even if you have to pay for it. I wouldn't have left Hamer just for something because it was free or just to be cool. It would have to meet the proper criteria to be a kick-ass instrument. ESP is very cool and they cater to all of our needs. Right now we're even going over some custom body designs, like our guitars in the shape of Balsac's teeth or in the shape of Flattus' horns. So we're in the talks of that right now, which should be pretty cool!
Will it be a while before we seen those designs?
Yeah. We submitted the designs and so far they think it's cool. It will probably be even a year before we even get a prototype. But yeah, we'll see what the future holds.
Are you still using the Marshall Valvestate amps?
I did, and I still have the VS 120/120 Pro and the JMP-1. I just converted to a Mesa Boogie rectal pre and the 2 100 power. Those are working out pretty good. Of course, I'll probably convert the old Marshall to a backup system in case the Mesa poops out on me.
A lot of your fans are debating whether or not most of Gwar's songs are tuned to E flat. Is that usually the tuning you use?
Yes. We are E flat or D sharp, depending on how you consider it. But yeah, that's pretty much every song.
Have you used an alternate tuning for any song you can think of?
Not yet. We've have some cool ideas about maybe taking a baritone and counteracting tuning, like really low with D sharp or E flat. It's some crazy stuffand I forgot what I was going to say! It's hot here. We just got done with practice. It's like 100 degrees and we're in Richmond. That's where we're based and we're rehearsing in this warehouse downtown and it's just so fucking hot!
I take it there's no air conditioning in the facility.
Hell, no! (Laughs) We needed to get a warehouse big enough to set up for the size of the Sounds Of The Underground. On a whim, we found a place, but it didn't have AC. But hey, we've got to get used to it before we play the hottest time of the year on Sounds Of The Underground.
How many years have you been doing Sound Of The Underground?
This will be our 3rd. This year we're actually headlining, whereas the last 2 years we were more like the halftime band or the special guest. We always like to say we're the redheaded stepchild of the tour!
Talk a little bit about some of the fans you see at Gwar shows.
|"My studio has proven itself and hopefully the next album will be completely produced by Gwar and me."|
It's pretty crazy. It's definitely diverse. I've seen everything. I've had a financial advisor from Merrill Lynch to a 3-year-old on his dad's shoulders wanting blood all over his face. Black, white, purple, green, they're all going to be red by the end of the night!
Does anyone ever show up in costume?
Sometimes they'll paint their faces. There have been some companies that would make little Gwar masks and sell them on Ebay. Sometimes you'll see kids in the crowd wearing an Oderus or a Flattus. I remember one show we had a girl dressed up as Slymenstra in the crowd. We see, of course, all the corpse paint makeup, the black-and-white King Diamond-looking shit. It's cool.
Do you get an opportunity to write while you're on the road?
For me personally, that's when I do a lot of writing. Other than just playing the show, we're just sitting around, scratching our asses all day, waiting to rock out. So most of the time that's when I'll kind of come up with my ideas. I have this little cool preamp that I plug into a computer and set up some dummy drum tracks to template a song. When I come home, I'm so busy in the studio producing other bands. We'll basically say, Okay, for the next 2 months we're going to be writing and recording an album.
I don't want to rush the writing process because of that. I try to stay a step ahead with the writing process so we don't end up in the conveyor belt of writing a kick-ass album, tour our asses off, then have 2 weeks to write another album. It ends up sucking and it's a rush job.
Is it likely that you'll act as co-producer on the follow-up to Beyond Hell?
Yeah, probably. We've already kind of been in the talks. My studio has proven itself and hopefully the next album will be completely produced by Gwar and/or me and Gwar. I'm part of Gwar, so I can't really single myself out. It's a team effort. We brought in kick-ass people like Devin Townsend and Glen Robinson and tons of people in the past. All of them are my mentors on the studio side of it, so I've taken a lot of cool stuff that they've taught me and applied it to the studio. I think we're going to be able to do a kick-ass job ourselves next time. If we do bring somebody in, I'm sure it would be somebody like Devin, just because he was so kick-ass, easy to work with, and a hard worker. Just imagine locking Dave Brockie and Devin Townsend in a room for a week! It's great!
What other projects do you currently have in the works?
Me and Balsac (a.k.a. Mike Derks, guitar) have been talking about maybe doing a best-of-Gwar instructional DVD. We get so many emails and go on YouTube and see so many people saying, How do you do this?
or This is how it's done.
It's like, no. That ain't how it's done. Just from all the emails that say, Can you send me tabs on this song?
We were like, Maybe we should put together something pretty cool with all the heavy-hitters.
Of course, it's another thing thrown into the to-do box right now!
Would you say that you enjoy doing the theatrical stage show just as much as working in the studio?
I do. That's what I tell everybody. The whole touring thing, I'm all about the show. I'm all about that hour-and-a-half onstage, rocking out, jamming out with the kids. It's just the whole, Wow! Look at this! We're a bunch of goof balls!
But then you have to stick around and wait for 8 hours to play. That's how you become an alcoholic and a drug addict. I guess you pick your poison. I wish I could just email myself out to fans to play the shows. Then I could go back home so I could work on my deck or fix a window or something.
But it's great. We're a huge production and it's cool to see the longevity. I'm just proud to be part of it and feel like I might be helping make this a better thing. It's definitely honorable. I love it.