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The mythology surrounding GWAR is that the extraterrestrial shock-metal punks have been kicking around the universe for, well, eons. Singer Michael Bishop, a.k.a. The Berserker Blothar, has been at the helm for a slightly shorter term — he was called to lead the crew after the 2014 passing of founder Dave Brockie a.k.a. Oderus Urungus.
GWAR's ancient history is shadowy at best (it's "carved across the history of this barren and hopeless planet"), but Bishop's is a bit more accessible. He holds a Ph.D. in music from the University of Virginia, teaches writing and gave the most metal TED talk ever. Growing up in the Eighties around Richmond, Virginia, he was also a fiend for punk, hardcore and metal. So when we started reaching out to musicians to discuss the legacy of old-school crossover icons Crumbsuckers, we knew we wanted to get his perspective.
Below, Bishop talks about discovering the band at a punk "party pad" listening session, arming himself with Crumbsuckers music for "tough guy" skate sessions, how the Long Island crew helped him find his "place in punk rock" and more.
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU HEARD CROSSOVER?
The first crossover-type band I became aware of was Void from D.C. The split they did with Faith was a new sound. A sort of hardcore version of Motörhead — who I suppose were also crossover in a way, maybe the earliest example, though really they were just ahead of their time. After that, it was Agnostic Front. They had the sonic elements and songwriting. Bad Brains perfected that sound though. They took hardcore and metal and reggae — and did them better than anyone else around. They also became more metal as time went on. But around the same time, in 1984 and 1985, I got into British bands like Broken Bones and English Dogs. After that, I think the Cro-Mags and others grew that crossover style into a more explicitly metal sound, but always punk-inflicted in a way that thrash metal wasn't.
TELL US THE STORY ABOUT HOW YOU FIRST DISCOVERED CRUMBSUCKERS.
I learned about them from liking Agnostic Front and the Cro-Mags. Our group of friends was into hardcore. Someone would buy a record, and we would all go to the group house that was like a party pad, and listen to it over and over. Crumbsuckers must have been purchased right around the time Cro-Mags and Agnostic came into our circle. We all made cassettes off of it and played it while we skateboarded — and otherwise posed around as tough guys in public.
WHAT WERE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF CRUMBSUCKERS' LIFE OF DREAMS?
That was the record we bought at the punk party house. I liked them a lot. It had the vocal style I liked from hardcore, and some song-structure elements that were familiar, but it was metal.
WHAT DOES THE ALBUM MEAN TO YOU NOW — AND WHERE DOES IT RANK FOR YOU AMONG THE 80S CROSSOVER CATALOG?
I think it is in the conversation: I wouldn't put it at the top of the heap, but that is a hell of a heap. [Cro-Mags] Age of Quarrel, [Bad Brains] Banned in D.C., Agnostic Front's Victim in Pain, C.O.C.'s Eye for an Eye — it's right up there with them.
HOW, IF AT ALL, DID CRUMBSUCKERS INFLUENCE YOUR OWN CREATIVE DEVELOPMENT, OR THE WAY YOU THOUGHT ABOUT WRITING MUSIC?
I think the main thing with all that stuff is that it sort of legitimized my leftover love of metal from before I found punk. It allowed me to find my place in punk rock. It helped that those guys could play, and that became a part of my understanding of punk and metal. It mattered how it sounded, and it was OK to use metal music, which I loved, as an influence.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE LIFE OF DREAMS TRACK, AND WHY?
I always liked "Trapped." I think you can really hear that in the work of Municipal Waste and other acts. It is just well-structured and has cool riffs. It was good live.
DO YOU REGULARLY GO BACK AND LISTEN TO CRUMBSUCKERS? OR DO THEY REPRESENT A CERTAIN PERIOD OF TIME IN YOUR HISTORY?
I don't listen to them much anymore. But I have reached for them to get some inspiration when thinking about structuring punkish metal tunes. They definitely represent that time when I was trying to organize myself and my place in the scene, to find a musical identity. I loved the riffs, the Maiden- and Priest-style stuff integrated with punk was me. They represent the time when we would hang out and have fun with one another as young punk rockers in Richmond. No one had a job or money, but we had music.