Atlas Obscura recently risked life and limb to venture into the Richmond, Virginia studio where GWAR’s current array of artistic thralls toil to create their splendid costumes and props. Somehow, despite the odds, writer Eric J. Wallace returned intact and has now shared a report on the space aliens’ headquarters.
Once inside a location where items like “spike-studded battle armor, wearable satyr hooves and haunches ... and cybernetic steel mandibles” line the walls, Wallace found that the band’s props and costumes are managed by an art collective headed up by two co-directors and “a few dozen contract contributors” who largely come from Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU’s) art program.
The look of a GWAR show is obviously just as important as the music, so it’s no surprise that members of the Richmond collective are “considered band members.” This has been true since the early days of the alien invasion, which began with co-founder Hunter Jackson (AKA Techno Destructo) and the late singer/writer/illustrator Dave Brockie (AKA Oderus Urungus) leasing an old dairy warehouse near VCU along with a group of other young artists who used the space as a studio and venue for big parties in the mid-’80s.
While Jackson was working on “an indie horror-comedy about space pirates” called Scumdogs Of The Universe, Brockie ended up borrowing some of the outfits created for the movie to use in a metal show. Happy with the crowd reception, Jackson and Brockie decided to use Scumdogs’ premise as the fictional background for a band whose live shows “would be like an opera, wrestling match, horror movie, and immersive theater production rolled into one.” GWAR was born. (Though, unfortunately, without Dave Grohl as drummer.)
Current co-director Bob Gorman joined up with the collective in 1988 and soon started working on more complex prosthetics, elaborate make-up designs, and “recipes for realistic body fluids and [the] elaborate systems for expelling them from everything from beheaded human dummies, to phallic codpieces, to guitar headstocks.”
By the time Gorman’s fellow co-director Matt Macguire came on in 1991, GWAR’s “operations had ballooned from about 12 full-time musicians and artists to a sprawling crew that often included more than 100.”
Gormon says people look at the studio—which includes attractions like “a leather codpiece from which hangs a two-foot-long, fish-lipped phallus with dangly bright red testicles for a chin” and “a station for mixing no-stain, water-soluble blood and bodily fluids”—and think “they’ve stumbled into some Silence Of The Lambs-type shit.” But, he adds, the collective is really just a bunch of artists “lucky enough to land a gig making crazy, off-the-wall stuff for a rock band.”
For his part, Macguire calls working with GWAR an experience that’s “like my wildest dreams had suddenly come true.”
Read more about the little shop of horrors where GWAR is born—and check out some photos—over at Atlas Obscura.
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