This Is GWAR Director Scott Barber On Making A Documentarian's Dream [Exclusive Interview]

Scott Barber could've made a television show about GWAR. Considering the amount of footage and stories he had to work with, it's quite a feat that he gently packed so much of the band's life into a clean and fast two hours. The metal band, which was founded in Richmond, Virginia, has a long history and list of members. Barber talks about the band with glee and respect, which also rings loud and clear in his documentary, "This is GWAR."

GWAR goes beyond music, and as a result, the documentary has more to say than rehashing the highs and lows of a rock and roll lifestyle. "This is GWAR" also celebrates different kinds of artists coming together to build a world, not just tunes. Recently, Barber told us why GWAR's artistry and story made for a documentarian's dream.

'Jean-Luc Picard, as I live and breathe!'

You have some amazing archival footage in this documentary. When you started working on it, was it just an embarrassment of riches of footage use?

Yeah, and we didn't know that when we started. Bob Gorman considers himself the archivalist, the historian of GWAR, and he's just kept everything. He has everything, all the flyers, all the stuff. He's got a great book called "Let There Be GWAR." You can see he started with that, where it's a lot of photos and all sorts of stuff.

So yeah, we started doing the interviews. And then Bob was like, "Come to the Slave Pit, and let's go through all of our DVDs and VHS." It was every single type of the little mini-DVs back in the day, actual DVDs, VHS, all sorts of stuff. It was just boxes and boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff and all these pictures. I just went down there and stayed the weekend just with my little VCR plugged into my computer, just transferring all that stuff.

It was insane because we had already started editing the documentary. We were like, "Oh my gosh. Every single thing that they talk about, we've got the B-roll now to back it up." Because that's the one thing that you always struggle with as a documentarian. When someone is talking about something, how do you visualize it? Do you do animation? Do you do recreation? What do you do?

And we're like, "Almost everything, we have video. There's a video of them doing it." And that's the beauty of GWAR. Because they've never been just a band. They're a multimedia project: Comics, movies, music, toys, all sorts of stuff. Especially in the early days, they were filming nonstop. Nonstop. So we had all sorts of great stuff. And it really was, like you said, an embarrassment of riches. It was just a documentarian's dream to have.

You have all these great stories, but for you, what was the story they needed to help tell?

When I was hearing the GWAR story through them, and I was like, "This is really a movie already." Every time they got to a breaking point, something would go wrong. And then they'd come back up, and then something would go wrong. It was two steps forward, two steps back. But then they always — spoiler — they came out on top and are awesome and are triumphant.

All the stories that we did went towards making the bigger story compelling. "Okay, this is the sad part. This is the triumphant part. This is whenever they're on their way up. This is whenever this horrible thing happened." And also, there's other little stories that we just wanted to show different sides of GWAR, like the Grammys. That's just a whole crazy story, that GWAR got nominated for a Grammy. We knew that part was going to be a favorite of people. Because just when you say GWAR at the Grammys, you're automatically laughing before you even hear or see anything.

The Chaka Khan bit, I was just like, "Wow."

Yeah, yeah. I think it was either there, or it was later, they saw Patrick Stewart and were like, "Jean-Luc Picard, as I live and breathe!" They don't care. They'll say crazy stuff to anybody, which is pretty crazy.

Was the joke well-received by Patrick Stewart?

It was not. No, it wasn't. When they got nominated for a Grammy, they put out a press release where they said they don't care. "This is a meaningless accolade." And the Grammys got mad at them. They're like, "We nominated you for the Grammy, and you're talking crap about us?" They're like, "Dude, it's just who we are in character."

Maybe they were ahead of the curve, because now so many artists talk crap about the Grammys.

I think they were ahead of the curve on a lot of things. Rock and roll bands, there are so many that are salty now because it is harder to make money as a band. And rock and roll isn't the biggest thing anymore. All these bands you're seeing today, they have to become a brand. They can't be a band. They have to do other things. You're not just selling records anymore, because you don't sell records anymore.

Well, GWAR never made money off of their records. I mean, they've made money off their records, but they've always done other things. They've always had comics. They've always had movies. They've always had shirts and paraphernalia and little action figures. They've always done that, so they were more suited for this modern era than a lot of other rock bands.

'There are two different GWARs that are in different universes'

I talked to Michael about this, too, but all the stuff they were into, it's all the mainstream now.

That was one thing we wanted to show through the movie, that there are a lot of different entry points from GWAR. A lot of people maybe who don't know that much about them, like, "Ah, I'm not into metal. I don't really want to learn much about GWAR." But it's like, "Yeah, but are you into comic books? Are you into Dungeons and Dragons? Are you into fantasy? Are you into performative theater, like 'Rocky Horror Picture Show?' Because if you're into any of that stuff, that's every bit as much an entry point as being into heavy metal, because they're all of that stuff." Look at comic books now. GWAR had written a story about the multiverse, how there are two different GWARs that are in different universes. That's been something they've talked about forever.

It's funny, too, there's such careful and thoughtful craftsmanship put into these often crass ideas.

Yeah, that's a really great point. It's something really smart and intelligent and important disguised as something childish and boneheaded. They are talking about all the problems that we still face today with corporations and the morality police. It's all stuff that you still see today that they've always lampooned. War. They've always talked about the war machine that is our government.

The craftsmanship is really cool. That's another thing: They use a lot of the same tricks that magicians use to make that stuff look real. One thing is I got to see how the Balsac legs work. So for anybody who doesn't know Balsac the Jaws of Death, he has these goat legs. And if you look at a picture of him, you're like, "What is that? It's got to be some weird contraption." Because his legs are bending backwards like a goat leg. And you're like, "How? There's got to be some weird suspension with some counterweights," but it's shockingly simple how they work.

How was your first live GWAR experience?

It was awesome. I didn't know to wear a white shirt, though. I wish I had. I wish I had worn it. You wear a white shirt so it gets just covered, and people keep them forever. I knew a good amount about GWAR because of Beavis and Butt-head. I was into that kind of punk and metal and stuff, but I didn't quite understand that it was a whole show — a play almost. There's a storyline. Every single concert has a storyline, and I think that's really cool that they not only write an album, but they have to write a story that goes along with it. You're seeing a little mini-play unfold in front of you.

How do you think their narratives have evolved over time?

Their stories are very similar. I think America still has a lot of the same problems it had in the '80s, and the world, to an extent. Racism and sexism and glorification of violence. And like I said, war and some of the dangers that organized religion can sometimes present. Corporatism. All that stuff is still alive and well today. That's one thing, as well, that was difficult with the documentary, is GWAR is somewhat offensive in an era that, luckily, we're looking at things that are offensive and taking a second look at them.

But one thing that we wanted to get across in the documentary, the analogy that I would use is Cartman from "South Park," maybe Michael Scott from "The Office." Or the character that Steven Colbert portrayed on "The Colbert Report," they're bad people, essentially. Or at least misguided people that do bad things. They're not saying that it's cool. GWAR are monsters that want to destroy the world. They're not saying that's a good thing. When Michael Scott says these sexist things, you're not supposed to go, "Wow, he's awesome for doing that." You're supposed to go, "What a dumb***." And that's what they are. The way that they say is they're holding up a mirror to society, and saying, "This is what you are. Stop." They hate humans because humans are going to destroy the world faster than they can. So they are offensive, but it's all in a parity way, a satirical way, where they're saying this stuff is not cool.

'Half of what you consider GWAR is not musicians'

Do you think their early fans were hip to the satire?

I think their fans have always known that. Their hardcore fans have always known that there's element of satire. I think even a lot of people that are into rock and roll don't necessarily know that there is that. I'm not knocking these bands, but bands like Slipknot or ICP, they're a little different than that. 

They always say, "We're not a band that wears costumes." Because the people that make the costumes are part of the band. They're an art collective. Half of what you consider GWAR is not musicians. There's comic book artists. There's the sculptors, welders. All of those people are members of GWAR, whether you play an instrument or not. So they're not quite the same as those other bands. It's like, "We're a band that just has somebody make costumes for us, and we wear them." They're an artist collective.

Also, some people are like, "Oh, it's that tough guy stuff. I'm not into that tough guy, heavy metal." It's like, "That's not what it is. It's not that." It's hilarious, actually.

It's the opposite of that, that's what surprised me. They're artsy VCU kids.

Yeah, that's what they are. That was one thing, too, that we wanted to show. I don't think a lot of people understand that GWAR has always been cool in a heavy metal way, but they're actually cool in a hipster way, too. Like you said, they're all art students. They were into art, and they were nerds.

Chuck Varga, the Sexecutioner, said, "When people would meet me, they expected me to look like Glenn Danzig or Peter Steele from Type O Negative." And they're like, "You're just a regular-looking dude? That's weird." It's like, "Yeah, I am. I wear this costume with this weird guy that chops people's heads off. I'm just an artist that likes sculpting things."

Any stories you loved you didn't have time to include in the doc?

A lot, because it's 40 years. Really, technically, GWAR started in '83, and then by '85, they were GWAR. And then they put out their first record, "Hell-O," shortly thereafter. So that's a long time. A long time with people living their life to the max. So yeah, there are going to be a lot of stories that you can't fit into just under two hours.

[A lot of people told us it had to be 90 minutes or under.] And we're like, "There's just no way it's going to be 90 minutes. It can't." And when we tell people this is almost two hours, they're like, "Oh, God. Two hours. There's no way."

It flies by.

I love hearing that. Because there's so much stuff that happens. People die. People get shot. They make two movies. They got nominated for a Grammy. They build all this stuff. And also, there's just more characters than in a regular band. A regular band has, what, four or five people? There are 10, 15 people that are in the doc, and that's not even nearly all the people that have been in GWAR. So yeah, there's a lot that I wish we could have put in there. Hopefully, someday we will be able to put it out in a different capacity.

Plus, these are characters you want to spend more time with.

That was another thing: You have to get to know these guys. All of them. You have to at least feel like them a little bit for you to really care. It's one thing when you hear about somebody going through tragedy. It's another thing when it's somebody that you know went through tragedy. That's way more sad. If it's your friend's mother who passed away versus you see on the news somebody passed away. They're both sad, but one hits you a lot differently.

We were like, "If we edit it shorter, it's actually going to feel longer." The Pete Lee story, he's just the sweetest. We interview him, and he's the first guy that's not from Richmond. He's from Texas. So at that point, the story gets bigger. It's not a Richmond band anymore. Now, they're nationwide.

Pete Lee comes in, and in my opinion, you fall in love with him. He's got that Texas accent, and he's just like, "I went down there, and I had a bag of weed in my car. I said, 'I'm going to audition. I'm going to be your new guitar player.'" He is just this fascinating guy. And then when you see what happens to him, you're like, "Oh man. Not that guy. That guy is so sweet. Why is this happening to him?"

Or Michael Derks. Something happens to him later on in the doc. And you're like, "No, not Michael Derks. He's the sweetest man I've ever met." We knew that you needed to know that they were sweet, beautiful people to care about them later on.

"This is GWAR" is now available on VOD, Digital, DVD, and Blu-ray, and it's currently streaming on Shudder.