When Douglas Blair isn’t onstage with W.A.S.P. or traveling around holding lectures and seminars, he can sometimes be found lurking the dark streets of the Swedish capitol Stockholm. Armed with nothing more than a notebook and a couple of decades worth of rock history under my belt, I set out to find the renowned musician during Stockholm’s fourth annual H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival. Our conversation came to shine some eldritch light upon both the past and future of the Lovecraftian project “Dreams in the Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera”, and on Blair’s own history with horror as well.
For the interview in Swedish, please click here.
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It’s been a year since Frombeyond.se last met you at the premiere of the Lovecraftian rock opera, but we’ve never really heard the story behind how you first got involved in the project. Tell us about how it all started for you.
** I had asked Chris Laney(Laney’s Legion/Shotgun) to ’keep an eye open for me’ in regards to cool musical projects to possibly get involved in. At a W.A.S.P. show that he visited in Sundsvall, he told me about a new rock opera record he was working on, and I was instantly very interested! During our rehearsals in LA, I was able to sneak into one of the eerie Witch House studios with executive producer Mike Dalager, and cut a bunch of leads in one session! These leads ended up being edited by Mr. Laney into two tracks on the record. Splendid: the door had certainly opened to a new dimension for me!!
And what about the future?
**This project’s future can go in a number of different directions — from live performances at festivals and theaters, to full-length movie features. We’re gauging interest from various markets, and the producers are planning several new avenues of growth. I am really proud to be on a project that also includes the amazing talents of Bruce Kulick(ex-KISS), and I think as his involvement slowly increases, there will be much more visibility for the project, and it will grow faster. And much more evil as well…
Tell us more about the possibility of a full stage production of Dreams in The Witch House: A Lovecraftian Rock Opera. Would we get to see you in full nightmarish costume up on the stage?
** This was always an eventual intention as the project grows. My experience with acting is very limited, so I’d be content to just play the music, which is challenging enough! We could perform the record as it is, in its entirety, with core musicians(Chris Laney, Anders Ringman(DK), a drummer and myself), and three main actors/singers, for example. But for a full production, everything would likely expand, from more dialog and music, to a larger band and group of actors. And yes, we’d likely all be in full ghoul make-up!
Were you familiar with the works of Lovecraft before you became a part of the project? Or, with other writers?
** No, I was not very familiar with the actual books or stories of his. I was more familiar with Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac (Who are American ’Beat’-style writers) because of their links to the Boston and Merrimac Valley, Massachusetts areas — locales where I’ve lived most recently in the US. I actually had the pleasure of visiting an old bar, the Old Worthen House Tavern, in a notorious literary town called Lowell, MA, where Kerouac wrote, drank and lived. He was broke, so legend says the bar owners let him use the billiard room on the second floor as bedroom, and it’s still actually there. It hasn’t changed much, and neither has the bar itself. It’s a really interesting place with quite a lot of atmosphere — you can sense its past, and even imagine him coming down from working, to drink. It even has the same type of fan system that Harry B. James here in Stockholm has — they’re all hooked up to a single motor that drives them all.
But to get back to Lovecraft, in the past, my former band played in central Rhode Island for years, which is where HPL based many of his stories. I was not surprised to learn about his history there, and I’ve always felt a strange, unexplainable ’vibe’ in that area. Even though Providence (RI) has been very nicely restored and shined up, it still retains a certain element of mystery and darkness, which I love. Now, I can revisit in a whole new way, experiencing it via Lovecraft. This was his stomping ground, and his spirit still floats around there in the breezes.
I’ll try now to read more of Lovecraft’s stories. It was great watching some of the shorts during the Film Festival, because they really do tease your interest. You could say that the other guys in the Witch House-project are almost dragging me into the author’s demented world, and it’s amazing to discover! But, that’s what’s going to happen right there(Doug points to the torn and twisted face on the cover of the Witch House-album, and makes a smiling grimace)!
Please do tell our readers about any other relations to horror. Are you a fan of horror movies for instance, or anything like that?
** No, unfortunately — being a full-on guitar geek, very little could get me away from it. So most of my experience with true horror has primarily been from dealing with women!(laughs) And if you’ve survived that, all this other stuff is pretty easy and tame! I’ve been so isolated with music that I’ve been in sort of a bubble really, and that whole little world has been recording, playing and touring for such a long time now. And while the bubble isn’t that big, the walls of it are quite thick. But I’m getting more and more exposed to horror with these cool events we are involved in. I do dig Anime comics, fantasy comics which do contain an element of horror and violence at times, and some graphic novels. But, I just don’t find enough time to read.
Lovecraft aside, it would be hard to argue that there isn’t a connection between rock and roll and horror. We’ve seen it on album covers, in the lyrics, and of course on stage. Where do you think this all began? Playing with a band as, shall we say, notorious as W.A.S.P., you’re in quite a unique position for this question, being able to give us an inside perspective.
** Well, theatrics have made their way into music performance on stage for decades, and my formative group Run 21(whose line-up which included myself and Stet Howland, coincidentally played our debut show the same month[10.1982] as W.A.S.P.’s — in the opposite corner of the US) was heavily steeped in theatrical performance, running around the venue with early wireless guitars, wrapping the drummer in ’Saran Wrap’, and ’fucking up the whole song’ mid-song, among many other things. These elements were mainly entertainment, not horror. Of course, many bands include horror as another form of entertainment in their stage performances. In my opinion, this can make the songs secondary, which of course may be the intention.
Obviously, horror themes and stories also make for great foundations for lyrics and artwork. It is a genre all its own, and perfectly suited for aggressive or moody music of many types. Witness Ghost, King Diamond, Type O Negative, The Cure and countless other groups. Think of all the amazing music videos that are based upon horror themes!
My personal connection with W.A.S.P. is strangely and almost completely music-based. I did not connect with their infamous theatrics, personalities and reputations, or those of the other LA-wave bands of the 80’s: I was totally connected to a lot of the ground-breaking guitar playing and music coming from that same scene, like Van Halen, Ratt and Dokken. A lot of it is timeless, and a lot of it was total shit, as time has proven. What I now appreciate most about W.A.S.P. from that era, is how much better the songwriting was than from these other bands. The old songs we perform are truly timeless in their attitude and message: every generation can relate, and they do.
I feel a deep connection to The Crimson Idol record, which I was first hired to tour for, but did not record on. Its concept story and strong themes have really stood the test of time. I feel that work, and the work of the current line-up(since 2006) constitute the group’s strongest work since the debut records. Personally, I don’t connect with the ’notoriety’ side of the history of the group, because I wasn’t there then, and because it hasn’t really been part of the group at any time that I was a member. Records like Kill Fuck Die certainly returned to a quasi-horror theme in some regards, or at least to a more theatrical approach.
Speaking of W.A.S.P. and horror, back in the 80’s there was Swedish television program called “Svar direkt” where W.A.S.P. got heralded as one of our time’s worst corruptors of the youth. Along with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (which was totally banned here for quite some time) W.A.S.P. came to symbolize a new and dangerous movement amongst teens and kids, where it was actually believed that kids that got in contact with the wrong sort of music or films automatically turned into crazed maniacs. These days, those segments seem quite laughable of course, but it’s hard to not notice the irony in how it only added to W.A.S.P.’s popularity. But that was almost thirty years ago now, how do feel about shock rock-scene these days? Is there still as close of a connection between horror and metal, or has it changed over the years? Why is this, do you think?
** My experience back then in the US was so very different, making it difficult to relate to what happened here in SE. I can’t really comment on the current shock-rock scene, as to me it seems to consist of ’masked’ bands like Slipknot or Ghost, Gwar or Lordi. I could be completely wrong, as everyone has their opinion, but to me each one tries to ’up the ante’ of the band before it, trying to be more ’shocking’ or ’dangerous’ … And the pioneers like Alice Cooper or KISS still can go and easily show that the real thing is still the best.
However, I do love groups that definitely utilize elements of darkness, mystery, power, and violence in their lyrics and musical imagery, so I suppose that these could be looked at as modern versions of ’shock’: Type O Negative(US), Deathstars(SE), Rammstein(DE), for example. I think the internet generation has allowed genres and sub-genres of art and music to explode in every direction, which is awesome! So, you can find many more groups that may never get ’famous’, yet that do what they love. They are respectable in many ways, existing on their own terms — not at the mercy of the typical industry mechanism(which of course still exists) that brings to the publics’ attention only what IT decides is worthy.
Getting back to Type O Negative, they’re probably my all-time favorite group that could be connected to the horror aspect. Because when you start to really see the visuals of what he’s singing about, it can be anyone of these scenarios(he gestures towards a tome of Lovecraft stories). I don’t know if Peter Steel(RIP) was into it personally, but that’s the vibe I get from his songs. If he was still with us, perhaps we could have gotten him onboard with the DITWH-project! I would’ve loved for him to be one of the deep voices on the album! The needle would never have been able to stay in the grooves, that’s for sure!
You’re here in Stockholm for the festival of course, but as I’ve understood it you’ve been spending quite some time up here in the frigid north. What are you up to at the moment? Is there maybe even something here in the land of the midnight sun that has won the heart of the American rocker?
** As happens in healthy artistic scenes, one cool project usually begets others. Through an expanding web of great people and growing contacts, W.A.S.P. provided the initial DITWH link, which has now grown into work with SE actor Stefan Sauk, for whom I recorded a song for his upcoming tour. Other links have led to press and work related
with Sweden Rock Magazine. There are also great instrument builders like Crimson Oath, and talented painters that I can work with as well, and there will be exciting things coming from them in the future, so I’m very fortunate to have found these people here. They keep me quite busy. As far as the weather, it’s actually quite a bit better than where I came from in New England where we get much more frigid and snowy winters, frequent massive storms where everything comes to a screeching halt, and high-humidity in the summers. I think the constant gray gloom and darkness of winter is super-productive for focusing and making art and music. Sunny days are nice, but I get tired of them quickly, and for that reason would kill myself if I had to live in a sunny place like LA(laughs). I always thought I’d go to the UK, but the scene for W.A.S.P. is better here, and I know more people. The environment is positive and healthy.
Will we continue to see you here at the Stockholm Festival in the future as well, since the opera seems to have opened up your eyes and heart to the author?
** I certainly hope to be back in Stockholm for the HPLFF in the future, and if so, I’d be focusing on trying to help arrange some sort of live performance(s) for around that time. Of course, it is dependent on W.A.S.P.’s touring schedule. My interest in HPL is growing, and I’ll be delving deeper into his history and links to my home area in the US. The period of time in which he lived is also a very volatile time for the US, and forced much important growth and many changes. For now, I’ll keep having those dreams of something evil lurking in the closet…
And with that we let Doug Blair loose to haunt the streets of Stockholm once again. We here at Frombeyond.se will of course try and follow his descent into Lovecraftian madness as the proverbial rats in the wall now chip away at his previously so music-centered world. For once the stories of old H.P Lovecraft has gotten a hold of you, escape is often impossible. Will this newly acquired taste for the macabre and strange lead to even more albums in the vein of Dreams in The Witch House, or will it give birth to completely new dreams and ideas? Only time will tell, so remember to keep an eye out for ancient symbols and those telltale eldritch lights when W.A.S.P. comes to town in this spring.
Pictures courtesey of WieGlas Photografie and Doug Blair
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Johan Axell; Redaktör