Mike Derks & Matt Maguire on the Band’s Ethos

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Mike Derks and Matt Maguire of the band Gwar. The two discussed the ongoing story that the band has created and how the internet has changed things. The film will be released digitally, on DVD and Blu-ray, and through video-on-demand on October 25.

“The powerful story of the most iconic heavy metal/art collective/monster band in the universe, as told by the humans who have fought to keep it alive for over thirty years,” reads the doc’s synopsis. “The feature documentary includes interviews with members of Gwar, both past and present, as well as other artists, including Weird Al Yankovic, Thomas Lennon, Alex Winter, Bam Margera, and Ethan Embry, also including never before seen footage of legendary Gwar frontman Dave Brockie.”

Tyler Treese: What impressed you the most about working with Scott Barber and how he captured the whole band’s history and feel throughout the documentary?

Mike Derks: Scott was great. It was such a monumental task to try to take this band that’s been around for over three decades, going on four now, and find a thread and a narrative to the whole thing. And he made it interesting to people who don’t know who we are [or] what we’re about. He did a great job of actually distilling it down and telling a cohesive story out of this big mess of what really is a cast that could have been hundreds.

He did something we never could have either, because he’s an outsider in the sense that he’s not part of the band, but he’s an insider in that he’s a fan. He loves the work and he just told the story in a way that we couldn’t have, being too close to it.

Matt, you had to work your way up in the band. So this documentary is a look back at those early years. How was it, paying your dues and then becoming a bigger member?

Matt Maguire: It was definitely an experience. The band started when I was in high school, so I met some of these guys, like Hunter and Don, when I was a teenager, so I’ve known a lot of these guys most of my life. It was an experience because it was learning how to do … because it’s not really a normal band, you know, we’re, we’re, we’re definitely more of an art collective than a band at some points. So it’s really difficult to try to say, “Hey, you’re going to try to move all your stuff into this club.” And they’re so used to guys just setting up their cabs. They don’t have to move or make space for a giant monster to come in and do a show.

So it’s definitely a unique experience. As far as getting to a position where there are more responsibilities and stuff, I learned a lot from my predecessors and I definitely try to apply all that stuff that I’ve learned from some of their mistakes or some of the things that we’ve learned from doing this for 30 some odd years at this point. It’s still an amazing trip.

Mike, the group just had a graphic novel come out. What has it meant that not only have your fans supported and followed the band since the 80s, but they’re also down for whatever you guys do? Whether it’s crazy films or comics, how much does that support of the art collective mean to you?

Mike Derks: I mean, it’s weird. We’re not a band. Even from that side of it, of the performance, it’s a theatrical performance that’s gone on for over three decades. We’ve been telling this one story that’s got so many branches and every time we go out on the road, we add to the mythos and the storyline gets longer and longer. Having the comics and the movies and things like that have allowed us to tell all these other stories, but it’s more like a comic book history, you know? We have these characters and there are so many stories we can tell with them and so many things we can do through the songs and through the films and the comics and all of it.

Matt Maguire: It’s a lot of stuff you just couldn’t possibly do on stage. You can’t convey the scope of this story completely on stage. So you need to have that avenue with comics and movies and other things like that.

You guys do a lot on stage and Matt, you even have celebrity executions sometimes, throughout the ages. I saw a great video of you guys killing Hitler. Who currently is on the chopping block in terms of a celebrity executions?

Matt Maguire: Well, it’s mostly politicians at the moment. We have Putin, we’ve got Biden, and we’ve pulled Trump back into it. So we’ve got those three in the current show. Yeah, we always are game for people in the spotlight and especially people who the crowd wants to see taken down a notch or two, or at least bring light to.

The way I heard of the band the first time was through Beavis and Butt-Head. I had the Sega Genesis game and the whole game was about going to a Gwar concert. So I was curious, Mike, of the importance of the Beavis and Butt-head co-sign and MTV really getting behind the band. Can you speak to what that meant at the time?

Mike Derks: Yeah, I mean that was one of our first nationwide [things] where people were hearing about us. Before that, we were in fanzines and that kind of culture, but getting the recognition of a show that was being shown —

Matt Maguire: It was worldwide. I remember going to Europe and people knowing us from Beavis and Butt-Head. It was crazy. [It was a] very important time and very important thing to have had happen. Mike Judge being a fan of ours, to just be like, “okay, we’re going to make Beavis and Butt-Head‘s favorite band Gwar.” That was very fortunate for the band for sure.

Mike Derks: For a band that doesn’t get songs on the radio, that was kind of like our hit single at the time.

Matt Maguire: Yeah.

Matt, I was curious, you talked about Mike Judge being a fan. What sort of celebrities have surprised you over the years through revealing that they’re Gwar fans?

Matt Maguire: Watching the documentary, I didn’t know Thomas Lennon was a fan. It would make sense, but I mean, you don’t know unless you meet him or talk to him. It’s funny to see how many people know about us, because a lot of times it’s like, “oh yeah, I’ve been doing it for a while, but I really don’t think we have gotten to the household name.”

Mike, I was curious what your reaction was when Phallus in Wonderland was nominated for Grammy? Obviously you take your art seriously, but to be nominated at that stage with all these very traditional acts, that had to be very surreal.

Mike Derks: It was definitely strange to see who we were up against. Being up against Annie Lennox …

Matt Maguire: And M.C. Hammer!

Mike Derks: Yeah, M.C. Hammer. We never have really seemed to fit into the music industry. It was entertaining that they would give us that nod.

Matt, censorship has always been a major theme in your art and the stuff you’ve faced over time. How incredible is it now that you have the internet and you’re able to reach out to fans directly? How has that changed over the years?

Matt Maguire: You’re more accessible to your fans now than you were before. Like what Dirks was saying earlier, you’d be in fanzines and having Beavis and Butt-Head exposure helped, but now with the internet, you get to be accessible to your fans every single day, every single night. That’s definitely different. It’s kind of a double-edged sword. You get more feedback immediately and quicker than you would ever in the past. Me personally, I’ve never been beholden to it. I always say I’d be doing Gwar or something like Gwar if nobody was watching. I’m very fortunate that we have a good fan base and we got a lot of people who are into Gwar and we appreciate them.

In the same sense, you get the haters, the people that want to take you down a notch or whatever. I never really paid attention to any of that crap, but it’s an amazing thing to have this platform because, yeah, Gwar’s — for lack of a better word — mission statement a lot of times is to stick it to the man and be like, “we don’t need to sit here and conform or sit there and have these social constructs, like get in line,” all that kind of crap. So it’s more like we want people to feel like, yeah, you should be able to speak your mind or speak your piece and people should be able to listen to you and do that kind of stuff. That’s why Gwar is mostly biased about what they do on stage and how they approach politically, theologically, all that kind of stuff. So we try to keep it very across the board.

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