Masked Bands’ Survival Guide to Your New Masked Life
Today, there are two types of people walking around: Those willing to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of a deadly virus in COVID-19, and the unconscionable, who, either citing their natural-born freedoms or their political fealties, refuse to don any sort of a face covering, even during a pandemic that — let’s face it — was preventable.
Yet, there’s still widespread mask resistance all across America — something that boggles the minds of masked musicians everywhere.
When you consider there are several bands whose members spend hours on sun-drenched stages, performing in stifling latex, suppressing silicone, repressive nylon, and restricting mesh masks that typically envelop their entire faces, sporting a soft surgical mask for a few lousy minutes while pumping gas or getting groceries really doesn’t seem like a lot to ask. In short: They don’t wanna hear your whining. The collective consensus is summed up by Homer Flynn, one of the founders and primary composers for the Residents.
“What advice would I offer people who don’t wanna wear masks? Take your head out of your ass. These people who don’t want to wear masks, they need to examine themselves and their motives, and ask themselves, what are they thinking? What’s the problem?” he says.
For nearly five decades, the Residents have been performing live in a variety of elaborate costumes and masks, comprised mostly of neoprene rubber and mesh. Of course, the large eyeballs beneath top hats remain the band’s most iconic and identifiable masks. Flynn says that the original concept was simply silver globes with top hats — but mask makers advised against that.
“Ultimately, those things were impossible to perform in,” Flynn recalls. “It really wasn’t until they made the third version of them for their Wormwood tour in 1999 and 2000 that we went in and had ‘em made out of mesh, and the mesh eyeball solved most of the problems — although, the hat wasn’t made out of mesh and they wound up being a little too top-heavy, so people would complain about neck fatigue.”
Flynn concedes that masks can get sweaty sometimes but says he can’t wrap his mind around the ongoing anti-mask movement. “It’s not that bad,” Flynn says. “Just tell yourself how much better it is that you’re not wearing a giant eyeball over your head.”
“The main thing is to find a mask that fits,” Taylor says. “I know a lot of people complain about it, like, hurting their ears and shit, but that’s because your mask is too small. Or your head’s too big. Whichever is the case, I’m not too sure. But think about it this way: you’re talking about a few moments of discomfort against the possibility of being dead. It sells itself.”
To those against masking, Taylor — who has spent upwards of eight straight hours in his trademark visage, enduring long photoshoots and never-ending press days — says he does feel your pain. “But, suck it, man,” he continues. “Put on a fucking mask and help people. If you want things to get back to normal, do things the right way. Don’t do things because you think ‘Murica.’ Do things the right fucking way, you asshats.”
As the drummer for Mushroomhead the last 27 years, Steve “Skinny” Felton says he usually spends an average of 70 sweltering minutes behind the kit in a latex mask that basically covers his entire head. At times, he’s even got two masks on.
“You take one mask off halfway through a song, and there’s the big reveal,” he says. “So, if I can wear two masks for three songs, you can wear one for 10 minutes at the grocery store.”
Felton encourages mask use and suggests carrying multiple masks (and even stocking some in your glove box) to ensure compliance with local mandates. “No one really knows with this virus, so, why not be safe, and air on the side of caution?” he asks. “Is it really that big a deal? I mean, it’s the smart thing to do. I think personally, and for humanity, everyone’s got their job to do here.”
According to Felton, he’d much rather rock a surgical mask than the oppressive one he wears when he plays live with Mushroomhead.
“When I put the cloth ones on, it’s funny because it’s like, ‘Wow, these are easy to breathe out of — I could do this all day,’” he says before urging tolerance during these trying times. “If anything, this whole thing’s taught me to be a little more patient.”
Justin Pearson, frontman for the Locust, says that he doesn’t understand why anyone would be unwilling to wear face coverings during a pandemic. After all, he’s spent many years “sweating, screaming, avoiding objects being hurled at me” in a mask, while “trying to play semi-complicated music, and all the while, watching Gabe Serbian from my peripheral view rip on his drums, puke on the floor, and continue playing sick beats — also wearing a mask.”
Pearson says he wholeheartedly endorses mask use, adding it has saved him from a beatdown or two.
“As most of us know, punk and hardcore attracts a decent amount of buttholes,” he says. “Anyone from an overly vocal person in the audience spouting something unintelligible, or a douche throwing out racist or homophobic dialogue to people just being a bit too aggressive has been a common issue we have faced over the years. Unfortunately for them, I have a mic, and there is an audience who is generally on the same level as us. So, the banter that happens eventually leads to them being berated, intellectually crushed, and eventually, them wanting to kick my ass as soon as we are off stage.”
More than once, Pearson admits he has removed his mask after a show “and ‘pretended’ to be a roadie,” something, he says, “is fairly easy to pull off, especially since I’m also the roadie. If I hear people complaining about wearing a mask now, how it’s uncomfortable, or even unconstitutional, I can’t help but think they are just as lame as the buttholes of punk and hardcore that I encounter.”
The refusal of some to wear masks in order to stem the spread of COVID-19 has GWAR’s Blöthar the Berserker utterly perplexed as well. “How have these people allowed this to become a civil liberties issue when it is clearly a public health issue,” Blöthar says. “I have only recently been wearing these special masks you put on in order to prevent you from infecting others with this bullcrap disease, and it never occurred to me that this would be something people would object to.”
The pandemic has put all of GWAR’s touring plans on hold, so Blöthar is hoping more Americans will do their duty so that his band can get back to slaughtering its fans as soon as possible.
“It’s hard to convince the government you’re an essential worker when what you do is stand onstage and play music and shoot a bunch of blood everywhere and strangle people to death,” Blöthar says. “As much as I appreciate the vacation time, I would love to be able to throttle some humans. But no, they can’t even agree on things long enough to get their shit together and wear masks, so they don’t kill each other.”
Blöthar says wearing his has its advantages.
“For one thing, people won’t really know what you look like, and that’s a great advantage, especially when you’re trying to commit armed robbery at your local convenience store,” Blöthar says. “The other thing, especially if you’re really ugly, which most humans are … at least you get to walk around and not be as ugly as you usually are. There’s a big plus to that. Another big plus is other people don’t have to look at your ugly mug. And their days are not ruined.”
GWAR’s frontman had but one bit of advice for those adapting to masking: “Just wear a mask. Just do it. Stop kicking and screaming about it. For GWAR, looking at all this stuff happen, it’s just reconfirmation that people need to wear masks so we can get out there and give you the well-deserved ass-kicking you all are in line for.”
When he’s not slapping the bass for Long Island metallers Kissing Candice, Mike Grippo works part-time in health care. He says that those who won’t wear masks, because they think COVID isn’t “real” or a “left-wing hoax,” need to think again.
“I have seen people be heavily affected and die from this,” Grippo says. “It is also causing insane amounts of stress and anxiety on others who are stuck working from home, are out of a job, or have a loved one who is sick. If you aren’t wearing a mask and social distancing for yourself, do it for others. Coming from someone who wears a mask all the time everywhere my band is, I will say there are many more things I would rather not do. Wearing a face mask is simple, cheap, and easy. As I tell people in the medical field, think of a mask kind of like a hat. Most people like hats, except this is a hat for your mouth!”
Grippo, who sometimes walks into walls while wearing his bulky stage mask, says his tip for newfangled maskers is to “take time and find something you love wearing. Search the internet and find a mask that is an extension of your personality. Once you find one you love, it just becomes a part of you.”
When he takes the stage with avant-garage spelunkers Clinic, Adrian Blackburn performs in head-to-toe surgical scrubs, including the very kind of mask the CDC recommends folks wear. Over the years, he has had to adjust in his own way, and at this stage, hardly notices when he’s got one on.
“I’m a seasoned wearer,” Blackburn jokes. “When you’re performing in a mask like that, you’re so absorbed in it, what you’re doing, that you’re not really thinking about it. I know, with daily use, people have said they hate wearing them, but, it’s a bit like second nature for us.”
He had another handy suggestion for those living in the masking age — one that only could have come from years of mask-wearing experience. “One of the key things, if people aren’t doing it already, is to pinch the mask on the bridge of your nose,” Blackburn says. Not only does it make the mask more effective, but “that really gives it a bit of shape and stops it from puffing up as much.”
Blue, frontman for Wisconsin punks Masked Intruder, says there’s only a couple of downsides to donning a ski mask year-round: It gets hot during summer shows.
“Otherwise, the only negative is that Instagram or Facebook filters don’t always work well … or maybe the debilitating impact these masks have had on our social and dating lives,” he explains.
Blue’s advice to people trying to acclimate to masked living is, don’t try to be comfortable. “That ship has sailed,” Blue says. “Accept that it sucks now compared to how it used to be and just be happy with that little bit of peanut butter you have tucked away under your mask. That’s your own secret peanut butter treat and it’s how you’re going to make it through this. And remember, it could be worse. In fact, it probably will be, so, enjoy the new normal before the new, new normal gets here.”
For Bloody Beetroots leader Bob Rifo, masked life has had its ups and downs. At one sold-out show in Toronto, his mask made it difficult for him to see where he was going, and he ended up walking into the audience.
“The fans were right on top of me while I was performing,” Rifo says. “As I’m walking down the stage, out into the crowd, I’m having some trouble seeing. Next thing I know, a woman had grabbed my balls right at the exact moment I was to begin singing. Needless to say, she changed the pitch of my performance.”
Once, the mask prevented him from seeing a thrown bottle that was hurtling his way. “I was in Australia and I was hit by a glass bottle,” he says. “Fortunately, it didn’t break but it did leave a bump on my head the size of a peach. I had to stop the show and call an ambulance. I kept the mask on the entire ambulance ride.”
Rifo wants you to wear a mask and thinks you have no excuse. “Listen, I’ve been wearing the mask for 15 years … sometimes, longer than four consecutive hours at a time,” he explains. “I don’t think it should be a huge problem to put one on for group gatherings or entering a store so you can be smart, protect yourself and protect your loved ones because there is no turning back from death.”