Inside Michael “Blöthar the Berserker” Bishop, there are two wolves: the foul-mouthed ringleader of intergalactic juggernauts GWAR, and a jovial academic tapped into the cultural meaning of American music.
Currently, the former identity has taken hold of the musician as he sports his axe, shield, and utters on a 42-date headlining tour with raucous contemporaries Napalm Death and Eyehategod. While he has taken a hiatus from professorship, Bishop continues to integrate his social insights into the wacky world of GWAR, who has famously shed the blood of politicians, preachers, and provincials on stage to the delight of loyal audiences.
“Things have gotten so ridiculous that it’s a little bit easier to take the piss out of reality when reality is so absurd,” he says as he reflects on new GWAR material that’s currently in preproduction. “It’s like a return to the dark ages – a real struggle between science and magic, truth and conspiracy.”
Bishop has been ingrained in the history of the Richmond-based/Antarctica-harvested rock troupe, performing periodically as bassist Beefcake the Mighty beginning in 1987. It was after the sudden death of former vocalist Dave Brockie in 2014 that Bishop became Blothar, inducting GWAR into a new era that yielded their 2017 release The Blood of Gods.
While GWAR’s present tour celebrating the 30th anniversary of their seminal record Scumdogs of the Universe is one year belated due to COVID-19, Bishop explains that they have not been at a standstill. In addition to writing a new record, they premiered their documentary This is Gwar and have begun production on a comic book. While lovingly crafting GWAR-branded media filled the void during human pestilence, spilling guts on stage alongside his longtime friends and foes is undoubtedly where Mr. Blothar belongs.
What’s it like to be back touring, especially for a band like GWAR where the theatrics are such a big part of the experience?
Obviously, this is GWAR’s element. It was interesting because during the pandemic we could work on other aspects of GWAR. We certainly got back more into filmmaking, doing other stuff. It was definitely fun, but this is where we belong. It definitely feels good to be back on the road.
How do you put on these electric shows day after day?
Well, we’re the living dead. That’s part of it. We don’t really have emotional batteries. We’re locked into the cycles of the mood. It’s fun. It’s difficult. But it’s basically a good time. We’ve definitely been reinvigorated by the presence of one of GWAR’s founders and one of GWAR’s most ancient enemies, Techno Destructo. He is following us around on this tour, although presently he is recovering from COVID-19. Well, his version of it. He will be rejoining us shortly. But having him back has been a real kick in the ass, both literally and figuratively.
What is that dynamic like?
He’s an old, gnarled son of a bitch, but he’s the king of the ring so to speak. He’s a guy who has a lot of experience at professional wrestling and even more experience with GWAR. Having him back in the camp has been like regaining an arm.
Throwing things back 30 years, can you paint a picture of what the punk scene was like in Richmond?
30 years ago, we were in a recording studio, which had been, interestingly enough, an RCA recording studio back in the day. The labels used to have studios around the country in different radio markets. They were almost like development studios. In the Richmond area, they had recorded the band Climax and a bunch of different song writers who were writing different songs for people like Hall & Oats. Richmond was a soul town, believe it or not. Then there was the punk scene.
Once GWAR rose out of the art community of Richmond, Virginia and we had to make a serious record, it was interesting because we ended up with the most serious people in town. They were the guys who had been recording all of this crazy funk and soul. So, that was an interesting time. That’s where we recorded Scumdogs. There was a punk rock music scene that had risen around Virginia Commonwealth University. Although they like to take credit for it, and they do take credit for it, even in their official literature, GWAR existed despite that university and not because of it. Back then, there was a considerable difference between a graphic artist and an artiste. Comic books were looked at askance. GWAR was never interested in high art. I mean, we were certainly high when we were making art, but that’s about it.
What is it about Richmond that made it a hub for creatives?
I think the school had a lot to do with it – the fact that it was an art school. I don’t know a single rock band or punk band or even jazz band that came out of the music school at VCU. I know there were some good players. It was the art school that drew people there, a lot of young people. I think that was compounded by the fact that it was a city that especially in the ’80s was experiencing a lot of urban decay. It was very cheap. The entire downtown had emptied of white people. There was that white flight, which led to really inexpensive places where a lot of artists could live and have studios. Now, the idea of living in Richmond and having a studio is almost absurd. I mean, GWAR manages it, but that’s because we’re fabulously wealthy. The idea of dirt-poor art students doing it just wouldn’t happen right now.
But GWAR is from outer space and Antarctica – as far as we could get from Richmond, Virginia, and I think there’s a reason for that, too. Who wanted to be from the capital of the Confederacy in the early ’80s?
Do you think GWAR’s mythology is a way of putting those affiliations at a distance?
I think it was a way of incorporating it into meaning. In general, GWAR had the same thing in common with punk rock at the time: the need to be citizens of the world, the universe. That was the cool thing about punk rock at the time. We knew what was going on in London and San Francisco and Japan. We really didn’t want to be thought of as local yokels from Richmond.
Your TED Talk explores this social landscape. You make a point about how violence begets violence. GWAR gets a hard time for being perceived as violent when much of the history of the Confederacy is written in blood.
For sure. Later on, GWAR became known for killing celebrities. Back in the day, the people we were killing were the more dangerous citizens of Richmond – the redneck from hell. They were these archetypes and these religious figures, like the priest and the televangelist. It was all pretty regional, really.
Are you still teaching college classes?
I haven’t taught for a long time. Even before I was doing GWAR, I had kind of stopped teaching because it had gotten to the point where I was going to have to go to another school. I was in the process of looking, and that’s a pretty onerous thing – looking for a job in academia. I had gotten a couple of postdoc offers. I was supposed to go to The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, but then the singer of GWAR died. Then my plans changed. I just sort of walked away from William & Mary. GWAR isn’t the kind of thing you can do and teach. The times that GWAR’s the busiest are the times that the students are in school. I wound up moving to Sarasota, Florida. That’s where I am now, so I fly back and forth and do GWAR
I’m trying to picture you in Colonial Williamsburg...or Florida!
In either case, I would be wearing a thong and roller blades. Include that in your imagery. Just Blothar skating around with a bunch of people dressed like Thomas Jefferson.
What is it like to stand up in front of a classroom versus performing on stage?
I’ve thought about that. The experience isn’t very similar, but the skill set that allows you to stand up in front of people and do something that you don’t actually understand is similar. There is an element of entertaining in teaching for sure. That’s probably what I like about it the most. Although, I think it’s probably one of the least effective methods of teaching – getting up there and spellbinding them with bullshit. But in some ways even GWAR tries to reach off the stage and get people to respond back. That’s really what you’re trying to do with teaching. There’s the opportunity to present meaning. I really enjoy having a room full of young people that are interested in something and destroying their hopes and dreams. That’s what GWAR does, right? The hopeful light disappears from their eyes.
On the topic of characters, GWAR famously disemboweled a Paris Hilton-like figure on stage in the past. Her image has changed considerably since those days. Have you heard about her campaign to hold the troubled youth industry accountable for its abuse of children?
No, the last time I heard about her was when she was doing vagina bedazzling. That campaign registers with me because my own parents sent me to a behavior modification camp. I went because I was a weed smoker. I still am. I’m smoking it right now. I can’t stop. So, they caught me behind the 7-Eleven with a stack of Playboys and a homemade bong and it was all over from there. Well, I didn’t really have a stack of Playboys. Although porn was a lot more exciting back in those days. That’s where it was primarily consumed: on milk crates behind 7-Eleven. But I had weed and I think I was huffing gasoline, so they sent me away. It was rough, man. So, if Paris is taking that on, I think that’s a good thing. Even at that time, my parents had actually made a financial sacrifice for this. They were doing it because they loved me. The insurance industry and the
Another thing that struck me about that experience was that there were several kids who were being treated like shit or like objects by the adults in their lives. They were abused sexually and physically. Then those adults stuck them in there because they couldn’t deal with the fact that the people in their lives were pieces of shit. I’ll never forget that. So, it sounds like a good cause to be had, to be honest with you.
GWAR has entered the crypto market. Would you say Blothar is a crypto bro?
Yeah, man. I’ve got an imaginary wallet. All of my assets are imaginary. I wish my ass was imaginary, but it’s not. The crypto market seems perfect for GWAR – it’s confusing, it’s murky, it’s undefined, it’s meaningless. This is the kind of stock market that’s built on Magic: The Gathering. It’s the kind of market I want to participate in. GWAR has embraced it because our fans, like most ding-dongs worldwide, are eager to spend their money on something they don’t actually own. So, we’ve been making non-fungible tokens. One of the reasons I’ve become intrigued with it is maybe this is how you travel through different universes. You build these objects that only exist in our imagination. I do love the nakedness of it. This is what all currency really is; it’s just a face. So, that’s a cool aspect, and so is the aspect of making NFTs that would grant you real estate in the world of GWAR. You can own a piece of this place that we all imagine. Maybe that’s how those things become real. It’s an interesting thought.
Your NFTs sold quickly. Are you planning on putting out more tokens?
We are. We’ll never stop—well, we will stop once people realize how outrageously ridiculous they are. It’s a really good way to make both meaning and money. I kind of like the direct relationship that it has, too. The meaning is the money. The money is the meaning. It’s exciting. We actually have a plan like what I described. We’d like to build out this universe. Let’s say we develop a village in Antarctica where all the GWAR characters live and you can buy a house there. You can buy a piece of that. That’s exciting to me. We’re going to keep developing it and see where it goes.
Absolutely. It also may be handy to have a universal currency when Antarctica melts and we have to move to Mars.
Oh, definitely. I’m ready to get on the big dildo rocket.