W.A.S.P. frontman Blackie Lawless has been honest about using backing tracks in the band's concerts. Still, questions have persisted -- with some even suggesting that the group isn't performing live at all.

"Well, if they’re crazy enough to believe it, that’s their business," he tells UCR. "But if they genuinely feel like that, then don’t go."

For Lawless, there's a definite line in the sand, as he explained in 2022, telling fans at a VIP experience Q & A that it's "not fair" to rely completely on backing tracks. But, as he detailed then, they are beneficial when it comes to helping to properly recreate the listening experience fans first experienced when they heard the original albums.

The '80s hard rock group is getting set to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their self-titled debut album with a tour this fall that will feature a full performance of the entire record. Controversy struck before the album was even in stores, when one of its songs, "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" was removed to avoid a potential ban by record stores. It was still issued independently as a single by Music for Nations and earned a slot on the "Filthy Fifteen", a list of "morally objectionable" songs compiled by the Parents Music Resource Center.

Eventually, it was added back into the track listing in its intended place on W.A.S.P. when the album was reissued in the '90s -- and the singer has no apologies, for the song or their overall image. "You're talking about guys who were pissed off at the world," Lawless says now. "That's what made our live show so convincing." During the below conversation, he spoke with Ultimate Classic Rock Nights host Matt Wardlaw to look back at the "Animal" controversy, while also addressing the continuing backing tracks questions. He offers an update as well on the band's next album.

"Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" was supposed to be on the debut W.A.S.P. album. When did you find out it was going to be a problem?
When the label called and said that the three heads of EMI over in London got a letter from what’s called the Queen’s Council, which would be the equivalent of our Congress here. [The letter said] if they released that record, they were going to jail for 28 days each. [Laughs] You gotta remember, this is the label that has the Beatles. These guys are not going to jail for a rock band. An odd thing happened, they stepped aside and let Music for Nations [release the song as a single] I don’t know if there’s ever been a case where once a group or an artist was signed to a major label, that label stepped aside and let someone else come in and release a record they had the rights to. I don’t know if that’s ever happened. I don’t think it has.

Listen to W.A.S.P.'s 'Animal (Fuck LIke a Beast)'

It seems like that would have been pretty devastating, having to rethink the sequence of the album.
Well, we were also at that time still playing around with running orders and things, so we didn’t have anything written in stone, so to speak, about how the set would be put together. Quite honestly, “Animal” was not part of our original set when we were still playing clubs and things like that. We debuted “Animal” when we played the Santa Monica Civic. I remember thinking to myself, when we played it, the audience had no reaction to it. They just stood there. I thought the song was pretty good and I got no reaction -- and I thought, “This is a dud.” What I didn’t realize was, they’d already heard “L.O.V.E. Machine” and “I Wanna Be Somebody” and all of those things for a year.

The fans we had knew those songs already. Even though they didn’t have them on record. They knew them enough from coming to the shows. So we’re playing a song that they don’t know and we got no reaction. A funny thing happened: When we did The Headless Children [in 1989], we were playing a charity benefit and it was at the Santa Monica Civic [again]. We did three songs that night and one of ‘em was “The Real Me.” Headless had not been released and the same exact thing happened. When we played it, stone cold nothing. I remember thinking, “Alright, don’t get bent out of shape. You remember what happened when you played ‘Animal’ here the first time.” It was the same thing because “The Real Me” ends up being a big hit for us. But that’s a strange reaction when you’re used to getting a reaction from an audience and then you get nothing. You think, “Oh man, have we seriously missed the boat here?"

READ MORE: Watch W.A.S.P. Play "Animal (Fuck Like a Beast)" For the First Time Since 2006

It's conflicting too, because you could sometimes play an unfamiliar song that did get a good reaction.
Well, we were also in a period where bands didn’t do that. I really started going to shows about ‘73 and that was at the tail end of when bands would come out and do extended versions of whatever song they had. They’d do a 20 minute version of it. But also, they’d do material that a lot of times, hadn’t even been released yet. That was common. Bands could play things that hadn’t yet been released, because there was no bootleg. Not to speak of. I mean, cassette tapes weren’t really even in vogue yet. So bands had a lot of freedom to basically test songs out to see what kind of reaction they got.

I remember specifically, it was 1972 and I went to see Alice Cooper on the Killer tour. They did the main part of the show and came back for the encore and started out with this song. I thought, “Wow, this song is pretty cool.” I’d never heard it before. I mean, I knew the first two records well. They’re playing this new song and when it got to the middle of the song, it goes, “No more teachers / No more books / No more teachers / Dirty looks.” You know, that’s an old kid’s rhyme, when you’re in school. I thought, okay, this is a joke song. Then they release it a week later and it’s “School’s Out.” That’s the thing that bands could do in those days. By the time the ‘80s came along, audiences just weren’t used to that anymore. So if they didn’t know it, it was hard to get a reaction.

Listen to W.A.S.P.'s 'L.O.V.E. Machine'

You've addressed how you use backing tracks in the live setting with W.A.S.P., but there's still some people who think that none of it is live at all.
Well, if they’re crazy enough to believe it, that’s their business. But if they genuinely feel like that, then don’t go. Listen, God blessed me with this foghorn in my throat. LIke anybody who’s got one, we like showing ‘em off -- and I’m no different. I’m sorry if this sounds arrogant, but there will be times where I’m up there and I hear what’s coming out of me, when I’m sustaining a note or something. I’m thinking to myself, “Wow, that’s pretty cool. I’m not sure most people would have the opportunity to experience something like that in their lives. So from my perspective, I’m pretty appreciative of it. As I said, when you’ve got this thing that really not a lot of people can do, you like to show it. [Laughs] Let me add one more thing. I grew up listening to Live at Leeds [by the Who]. Even though I didn’t realize it at the time, there are overdubs on it.

But it’s pretty raw. It sounds like it was done by a three-piece band. For the most part, it’s pretty realistic. But they don’t do it like that anymore. What they were doing was giving you a reflection of 1970. They were giving you a snapshot of that timeframe. And that’s what bands did. But when technology changed and we had the ability to make it sound bigger and better, who’s not going to do that? I mean, you can do the Live at Leeds version. We used to. Was it good? It was okay for what it was. But you know, if I’m going to see a show -- and this is my personal opinion -- I want that thing to sound like the record. I don’t care what Queen says, or any of these other bands, “Oh, we’re doing that live.” No, you don’t have 20 guys behind that stage singing. [Laughs] You just don’t. They’re all getting help out there. The bottom line is to give the audience a good show. Who cares how it gets there?

There’s the argument that some of these girl singers out here now, they don’t sing a note and they probably don’t. Hey, listen, if I’m going to go see Yngwie [Malmsteen], I want to see Yngwie play. But there are some guys in some rock bands that if they didn’t play and it was recorded, it wouldn’t bother me one iota. Because I’m not going there to see that. I would be going to see the songs. But if somebody’s got a dangerous instrument that they’re really good at and can do something that few people can do? Yeah, I wanna hear ‘em do it. So in my opinion, I’m giving them that, but I’m also giving them the best of both worlds.

READ MORE: Blackie Lawless Admits to Using Backing Tracks Live

Watch W.A.S.P.'s Video For 'I Wanna Be Somebody'

What are you looking forward to the most about this upcoming tour?
[Lawless takes a long pause] My head is so deep into the show right now, I don’t know if I can honestly answer that. I just got off the phone with somebody that’s building something for us right now. That’s where my head is right now, putting this show together. If this thing ends up being what we hope it’s going to be, it’s going to be pretty cool. You know, once everything is set up and ready to go, ask me that question and I might give you a different answer.

There's also a new album from W.A.S.P. that's been in the works. What's the latest update there?
[Lawless sighs] We worked on it a lot. We went and did the tour last year. As you know, I was having problems with my back and stuff. So I had a lot of time in between the surgeries just to sit and twiddle my thumbs. I did a lot of listening to what we’d done already and I’m just not that thrilled with it. I think there’s moments where it’s really good, but it’s not consistent. I think I was trying to steer it in a direction it didn’t want to go. It turns around and bites you because of it. So I’m going to have to back to the drawing board on that. But I’m not going to pour it down the drain. There’s stuff there that’s definitely good, but it’s not a cohesive package yet.

Tickets for the Album One Alive World Tour are available at WASPnation.com.

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Gallery Credit: Matt Wardlaw

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