A Conversation with Matt Maguire of Gwar

Matt Maguire

Coming exclusively to Shudder on July 21st, the release of the documentary This is GWAR is just around the corner. As such, I recently enjoyed the pleasure of interviewing Matt Maguire of Gwar. He kindly gave up some time to talk about the forthcoming film as well as the band and his own background.

For those unfamiliar, Maguire joined the group back in the early ’90s. Over the years, he’s worked his way up from small-time assistant to a full-fledged character called Sawborg Destructo. Whether producing props, crafting comics, or making videos, Matt wears every hat imaginable and is as much a part of Gwar as anyone can be. In other words, he knows where the carcasses are kept.

Not wanting to waste time, we dove right in. One thing I didn’t get a full sense of in the documentary was how some of the music gets made. Mainly, I wondered if folks like Matt, who tend to be more backstage, ever influence songs with production designs; does concept art sometimes shape a tune?

He said, “It’s gone both ways…it cross-pollinates all the time. And a lot of the time I think some of the stronger stuff is that way because it’s fleshed out.”

Praising the dearly departed Dave Brockie, but also lauding current lead singer Matt Bishop, Maguire reiterated how ideas constantly cross-pollinate. For instance, the latest album The New Dark Ages was conceived in tandem with a graphic novel In the Duoverse of Absurdity. All of this intermingling creativity enriches songs and the show.

Hoping to get to know Maguire better as an individual, I asked a bit about his past. Back in the teenage wasteland, he drew portraits in a nursing home. Matt couldn’t help chuckling, amused by the depth of my research. However, what I wanted to know is how the experience influenced him.

He said, “The underlying sentiment there was life is too short. Do the things you need to do while you’re here…and it was also a fun way to give back to the community, and have some interactions with people, ya know, I wouldn’t normally—ya know, besides my grandparents, I wouldn’t’ve, as a teenager hung out with.”

Concept art for a Gwar live show sketched into a notebook
Design sketches for the Gwar live show

That led to me inquiring about his parents. It’s always interesting to find out how family feels about an artist’s career. So, I asked if his was proud, just happy it wasn’t porn…or given the nature of Gwar, maybe they would’ve preferred porn.

“It flip-flops,” Matt said. “When the band gets some more notoriety or infamy it’s kinda like back and forth where it’s like [Mom’ll] mention us where it’s a little bit like we’re on this show or that, or if it’s like we get a little infamy it’s like, ‘Oh, I don’t really know what he does. He does something with art.’”

Laughing, he’s quick to add they are happy he’s been able to make a career out of his creativity. After all, besides being proud parents, they also helped cultivate his ability to make art. Though he did mention with a chuckle his mom is still waiting for him to get a “real job.”

Still, the importance of their influence came up again later, when Matt mentioned his father served in the marines. His dad instilled a mindset necessary to handle the multifaceted demands of wrangling the chaos of Gwar productions. Mainly, the idea of adapting to situations as they come up.

Matt Maguire in Zoom chat interview
“There were so many creative, powerful people in this band.”

Gwar then further fortified this mentality. Consequently, working with the band, expanded Matt’s already versatile skill set considerably. As such, he advises most folks to explore the myriad aspects of any art form. It can only make the artist, the individual, more well-rounded.

“You never are complete,” Matt said. “You always are this unfinished math equation.”

Gwar has been in existence since the 1980s. And unfortunately, enough accumulated years can crush anyone. However, I wondered if being in Gwar provided a way of staying young. Matt expounded on the rejuvenating thrill of putting on costumes and portraying epically ancient characters.

“You can feel your age, but you don’t really look it,” he said. “Yeah, I do think we all have that sort of playfulness that you don’t really lose when you’re a kid…it’s that part where when are you kids gonna grow up? Well, not any time soon.”

This segued nicely into the fact Gwar isn’t known for taking things seriously, although they have tackled some serious topics. That’s the beauty of quality satire. So, I asked if it’s ever difficult to maintain that vibe, and if the catharsis of being less serious is something they try to share with the audience.

“That’s one of my big attractions to Gwar,” Matt said. “Everything can have that light shined on it. Nothing is above reproach. It’s like, yes, you can deal with these hard subjects, or these hard ideas, in a way that’s not so serious, or glum, and you can also enlighten with these ideas…I’ve always loved that. It’s a license to do what you need to do…’cause you can’t take yourself too seriously. This life is too short.”

Hunter Jackson in costume as the Gwar character Techno Destructo, a cybernetic barbarian with metal limbs and little clothing.
Hunter Jackson as Techno Destructo

In a way, we spun back around to that later when I asked about the vilification of Gwar. Certain self-righteous groups have, in the past, targeted the group. I wanted to know what it’s like being on the receiving end of that vitriol.

“Those people don’t get it,” he said. “They’re only seeing the cover. They’re not reading the book… it’s always going to be there. People are going to be closed-minded when they don’t understand something, but if we keep being true to our art, being true to what we’re doing, eventually people will go that was really freakin’ cool. They had so much substance. They just weren’t cutting off heads, shooting cum all over everybody on stage. They had a message.”

Getting back to the documentary, I asked if this gave everyone in the group a chance to finally tell their story. Typically, members of Gwar are in character for most interviews. So, it seemed like This is GWAR provided the opportunity to talk, for instance, not as Balsac the Jaws of Death but as Mike Derks.

Gwar live on stage in costume as the barbarian alien scumdogs of the universe
Gwar live on stage

“It’s a beginning because there’s still so much to say,” Matt said. “And I also feel like it did give people time to say something that they hadn’t been able to…it was really cool to be able to hear like Danielle’s perspective and everybody’s perspectives on what we were doing at the time.”

The upside being that when these things happened in real time, folks never really got a chance to get into such things. It was just history unfolding for Gwar. But now, partly through the documentary, members have gotten to tell their stories. What they shared also sounds like it was good to hear, and as such Matt expressed a desire to learn more from some members who weren’t featured as much in the film—get all the shining stars in the jar, so to speak.

Matt added, “We all took it as a time to be honest about the situations and about our life and our experiences as a band.”

Though Gwar shows no signs of stopping, I investigated the idea of a potential passing of the torch. Given the fact new characters can and have been incorporated into the group, I asked if that’s revealed a route for some to retire. Matt said the band has always considered various such options. They’ve even said as much in past interviews. Gwar is a malleable concept able to fold in new incarnations as well as birth potential spin-offs who could carry the mantle of the scumdogs of the universe.

Matt Maguire of Gwar elaborating a Zoom chat interview
Elaborating on an answer.

“We’ve all mentioned it…because we have the costumes you can always sub people in, create new characters…the concept is there so we can keep doing the same thing. I mean, yeah, Gwar could be a band that lasts forever.”

I, for one, consider that an appealing prospect. After that, we fell into some mundane territory because I asked a predictable question about the future of Gwar. The band is currently on tour, but Matt suggested seeds have already been planted through various media (e.g. graphic novels, music, etc.) hinting at future storylines. The point being: another milepost behind, Gwar isn’t done yet.

To get every aspect of this interview feel free to watch the full video below. Matt is a wonderful, effusive individual who provided some big answers to my questions. Meanwhile, be sure to check out This is GWAR premiering exclusively on Shudder July 21st.

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Written by Jay Rohr

J. Rohr is a Chicago native with a taste for history and wandering the city at odd hours. In order to deal with the more corrosive aspects of everyday life he writes the blog and makes music in the band Beerfinger. His Twitter babble can be found @JackBlankHSH.

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