“You all want this in character, right?”
Brent Purgason is the most recent addition to GWAR, the world’s greatest alien-themed, comedy-heavy metal band. His onstage alias, Pustulus Maximus, is a fearsome and, as the name suggests, disgusting-looking creature. We start our conversation by deciding on whether to do the interview straight or with Purgason assuming his space-warrior voice. Ultimately, we go with peeking behind the curtain. In this case, the curtain is covered in fake blood and bodily fluids.
During its 30-year existence, GWAR has released 13 studio albums, but it’s the band's famously absurd and crude live shows that have inspired a cult following of fans who call themselves Bohabs.
Praise and admiration go far beyond just their loyal followers, however. On a recent episode of A.V. Undercover, soft-crooning folk singer/songwriter Sam Beam (better-known as Iron & Wine) covered GWAR's “Sick of You,” a track that includes the lines, “Your face is gross, you eat white toast/You don't know what to do/And just your luck, you really suck/That's all. I’m sick of you.” Purgason and company were invited to critique the performance, and they were over-the-top in guttural approval.
Though Purgason says he's not typically a big fan of covers, he did think Beam's take on the track was “pretty cool.” GWAR has even contributed some covers of its own to the inventive web series. “The first year that we did it, we got stuck with Kansas,” he laments. His less-than-enthusiastic comment belies the fact that, despite being saddled with “Carry On Wayward Son,” that didn't stop the band from making the bar-jukebox favorite its own; GWAR quickened the pace, then slowed it down, giving it both the speed-metal and sludge-rock treatments before capping it all off with the declaration, “Sheer brilliance!”
This speaks to GWAR's unique style that's equal parts goofy, satirical humor, sick rock 'n' roll virtuosity, and deliberate attempts to offend its audience, the latter being a feat GWAR is finding more and more difficult to do these days — but not from a lack of trying. “If there's something in the group where people are saying 'No, we shouldn't touch on this' or we're nervous about it, that's usually the first thing where probably we'll stand up and say, 'No, let's go for it.' Because if it's something that's making us uncomfortable, then that's something that's going to make other people uncomfortable.”
Purgason feels there's something larger at stake than just knocking around a few naughty jokes in a rock club. “Part of GWAR's satirical legacy is that we really, really try and point out things that make people uncomfortable, something that people don't want to talk about. Too much stuff is just swept up under the rug. Especially today, society, with social media, is moving towards this ridiculously tight, politically correct way of speaking and way of acting, and quite frankly, it's getting in the way — and I'm all about being good to each other, and people shouldn't be racist and homophobic — but now it's gotten to the point that what you say is so censored that it almost gets in the way of real discussion and real progress.”
And yes, that absolutely includes those four letters currently gripping the world in a state of fear: ISIS.
“We got them in the show right now,” he laughs, explaining that they mock the jihadists as part of their performance. How they plan on maiming/killing/disposing of the terrorists is a surprise better left for those attending their show Friday night at Revolution Live. Speaking of which, Purgason has some simple and straightforward advice for any first-timers in the audience: “If you're close to the front, expect to be covered head to toe in blood. Put your cell phone in a Ziploc bag. Everything you don't want soaked, put it in a plastic bag. Expect to do that and expect lots of genitals onstage and rape, violence, and murder.”
It seems that nothing is off-limits and nothing fazes the GWAR guitarist because, ultimately, he says, it's all in good fun. “Every show is pretty gross," he laughs. "Nothing really grosses me out. I think someone at GWAR B-Q drank Jizmak's pee. Then again, I don't think that's gross; I think that's more funny."
A urine cocktail may not be everyone's cup of tea, but then, these shows aren't for the mild-mannered, a fact made all the more obvious when Purgason explains the GWAR recipe for a successful show.
“Of course you want to see some smiles at the end of it," he says, and offers it this way: "In the service industry, you want to sell three things: You want to sell alcohol, you want to sell an entrée, and you want to sell dessert. That way, your bill is complete. I wanna hit the stage and kind of, not impress, but just get everyone excited right off the bat. I wanna offend the shit out of them right in the middle of it. I really do want people to be truly offended by at least something in the show. Our fans are pretty resilient, man... It's getting harder and harder to push those buttons. And then of course, have everyone walk away feeling like they saw a really good act.”
It's a formula concocted originally by GWAR's founder, longtime bassist, vocalist, and frontman Dave Brockie, who passed away suddenly in 2014 from a heroin overdose. The 50-year-old musician was the last original member of GWAR, leading his merry band of galactic perverts as the character Oderus Urungus.
Up until this point, Purgason has been nothing but forthright, honest, and very candid for a man who makes a living dressed in a latex and foam alien monster suit. When Brockie's name comes up (by his own cue), he's even more so, expressing both what made Brockie special and how the band honors him.
“Dave was good about that, especially about making sure he could find what button to push to make the whole crowd go silent. He would feel them out; he could tell, steering the conversation in a certain direction with hot-button topics. Like back in the day, when JonBenét Ramsey was murdered, he'd just go on a tirade about that shit. That was just something people didn't want to think about... and that's how we keep our spirit alive. And of course, Dave was more than just someone offending people and pushing buttons. He was really an artist; [he was] a great musician, a great frontman, great singer, great friend. We all got our own little special way of keeping his memory alive.”
7 p.m. Friday, November 27 at Revolution Live, 100 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale. Tickets cost $20 plus fees. Call 954-449-1025, or ticketmaster.com.
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