Welcome to the Slave Pit… Interview With GWAR’S Michael Derks AKA BälSäc The Jaws Of Death

There’s a brand new documentary on coming out this summer on the outrageous shock rock band, GWAR, called This Is GWAR (our review). This magnificence is directed by Scott Barber (The Orange Years: The Nickelodeon Story) and features live and behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with many of the members and artists of GWAR. It also includes discussions and comments from Ethan Embry (Empire Records, The Devil’s Candy), Bam Margera (Jackass TV series), “Weird Al” Yankovic, Alex Winter (Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, The Lost Boys), and many more.

To celebrate this momentous event, PopHorror was offered the chance to interview one of the band’s most long-standing members… Michael Derks, or, as we fans know him, BälSäc The Jaws Of Death.

After self-flagellating and willingly crawling on my knees through broken glass, I humbly accepted the offer. But could I get past the greatness before me and not fanboy all over the place?

I first saw GWAR on Beavis and Butthead in sixth grade and instantly fell in love with the music and the aesthetics. Somehow I convinced my parents to buy me their album, Scumdogs of the Universe, which I then hid from them so they wouldn’t see what was actually on it. I finally saw them live on their Beyond Hell tour and still have my fluid-stained shirt as a souvenir. I also made my own Scumdogs of the Universe Hawaiian shirt which is the crown jewel of my closet:

I am a biased GWAR fan

Here’s the trailer for This Is GWAR. Give it a watch and then read on to find out if I survived the interview.

 

Michael Derks has worn many hats in his time with the band but is mostly known as the guitar player BälSäc The Jaws Of Death and one of the main songwriters of GWAR. I interviewed him to get some of his thoughts on the upcoming documentary, This Is GWAR, and his three decades playing in the band.

PopHorror: Thanks for taking the time to do this. I appreciate it.

Michael Derks: No problem.

PopHorror: How did the documentary come about?

Michael Derks: Scott [Barber], the director, contacted us. He’s from Austin, Texas, where GWAR’s always had a large contingent of Texans dating back to Pete Lee, and then after that, we had Casey and Zach Claire. We also toured with a bunch of Texan bands. One of them was The American Sharks. They had done some film stuff with Scott before, and I think Mike from The American Sharks may have been one of the ones who convinced him that we would be a good subject for a documentary, after Scott had done the Nickelodeon documentary that he did.

PopHorror: The documentary highlighted the human side of GWAR. Watching it, I went through a whole range of emotions. There were spots where I was laughing and others in tears. How do you feel about the finished product?

Michael Derks: He did an amazing job. It’s hard for us to watch and relive all these memories we’ve gone through in the past three-plus decades. We’ve been telling this whole made up story for 35 years, but there’s actually a pretty fascinating real story behind the whole thing that’s never really been told before.

BälSäc The Jaws Of Death, Michael Derks, GWAR
BälSäc The Jaws Of Death

PopHorror: I didn’t realize how many lineup shifts GWAR went through. Did you have to adjust your style frequently with the new members?

Michael Derks: That’s the nature of music. It’s a collaborative art, and we’ve actually turned being in a band into a collaborative visual art. Most visual artists are loners. They paint their stuff and are usually known for not getting along well with others. The fact that we’ve been able to have what’s ranged from six to twenty people at times, working on the same piece of art, which is GWAR, for this long, is amazing. But yeah, with music and with art, the people you work with will have an effect on the product. The way I create music depends on who I’m creating it with, but it’s pretty much a seamless thing. The fun of creating music and art is taking inspiration from the people you’re working with.

PopHorror: I’m sure you’ve probably been asked this question a lot, and they did mention the difficulty of playing in the costumes in the documentary, but yours looks especially difficult. It doesn’t look like you can see your guitar at all.

Michael Derks: I’ve gotten used to it, but it keeps getting worse and worse as the years go on. We added in-ear monitors, so now I’m cut off, and I can’t even hear people if they’re talking right next to me. Also, my eyes have gotten really bad, and I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t wear contact lenses on stage, so I’m almost completely blind. And I can’t hear anybody around me, and I’m in eight inch platforms, so it’s definitely a different experience.

GWAR’S Michael Derks

PopHorror: Is it difficult to stand in the platforms? It looks like your knees are bent in a weird angle.

Michael Derks: I know the platforms look awkward because they got the knees bent that way, but you just stand normal in them. They are pretty much a really good illusion. My feet are actually about eight inches off the ground. I usually stand with a little bit of a bend in my leg, but it’s not at all exaggerated like how it looks. I’m standing up straight, but it still looks like my legs are bent. It’s an illusion of the costume.

PopHorror: Towards the end of This Is GWAR, the GWARbar was mentioned. I think you’re primarily in charge for most of that. How is that going?

Michael Derks: We made it through the pandemic, and it looks like things are picking back up. It was a difficult two years, and we went down to a point where it was just me, the cook, and the general manager working there. There was no dining room; we were just trying to survive on takeout food. It’s the joys of being a restaurant owner.

PopHorror: GWAR has been embraced by the horror community. Are you a horror fan?

BälSäc The Jaws Of Death artwork created by MjolnirMahkie on DeviantArt

Michael Derks: I’m probably not as big of one as some of the other guys in the band, but it’s definitely one of my favorite genres of film, especially ones that mix horror with humor, which is what GWAR has always done. I like movies like Evil Dead and Dead Alive; the ones that are just over the top with gore but not doing it just for shock. They realize they’re entertaining people and being funny, which is what we tried to do.

PopHorror: That’s funny because I’ve always felt that GWAR was the Evil Dead of music.

Michael Derks: We’ve definitely taken a lot of inspiration from that movie. It’s definitely on the top.

PopHorror: What’s coming up for GWAR?

Michael Derks: We have the new album that just came out called The New Dark Ages, and we did kind of a tour that wasn’t really as focused on the album, but we’re going to be coming back this fall with a tour for The New Dark Ages that delves more into some of the songs and issues covered on there. Also, we’re going to Europe in about two weeks for the summer tour. And we have a graphic novel coming out this week that’s the companion piece for the album. And then, of course, the documentary on Shudder.

We want to thank Michael Derks for taking the time to chat with us. This Is Gwar premieres on Shudder on July 21, 2022.

BälSäc The Jaws Of Death, Michael Derks, GWAR
BälSäc The Jaws Of Death

About Lance Dale

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