INTERVIEW: Electric Wizard Talk New LP
, January 20th, 2014 08:41
Dan Franklin talks to Jus Oborn about isolationism, individuality, the concentration camp-like qualities of Butlins, Minehead and the importance of standing "outside of space and time"
Electric Wizard are one of Britain’s most uncompromising heavy bands, and one of its very best. Notorious for their apocalyptic explorations of human nature, occult ritual and 70s horror, their catalogue represents the dirty bong water of the British underground. After several line-up changes original drummer Mark Greening has returned to the fold and the group is working on new material.
Does the return of Mark Greening to the band mean that we can expect more of the vibe of Come My Fanatics... and/or Dopethrone on the new album?
Jus Oborn: I think we can expect total fuckin’ destruction. We have needed Mark back, he's definitely the best drummer for the Wizard. The whole feud had gone on so fuckin’ long that we forgot what it was. As soon as we jammed it was over. Liz was like, "This is meant to be." We have this connection I guess from those early jams: my riffs and Mark’s style is perfect. Liz is my mirror image so it all makes sense; everything is more volatile and destructive now but I feel happier. Everyone is [playing] a lead instrument again, that’s the old way. We kept getting these bloody 'followers'. We need 'leaders' in the band: lead drums, lead bass, lead guitars, lead vocals!
Also the vibe on those albums was total pissed-off hatred and frustration, which believe me is back, but that has nothing to do with Mark. There has been a lot of betrayal and lies. We are ready to fuckin’ kill again. Come My Fanatics... was sorta positive anyway. We were still doing a lot of acid, but by Dopethrone we were paranoid speed freaks living with our drug dealers.
Picking up on this idea of everyone taking the lead, do you see this as akin to more of a 'classic rock' approach to music − the raw and exploratory attitude of bands in 1968-1973 − than 'traditional doom' of twin guitars?
JO: Yeah exactly, we knew we had that raw jamming edge anyway. We always record hours of jams and we were always after that vibe because it was missing from doom in the early 90s. Of course we wanted the trad doom guitars too! There was a point where it mixes perfectly: like the first Wishbone Ash LP or 70s Priest. Heavy metal from that period is the best. Everyone is still distinctive and original: Sabbath, Budgie, Rooster, Purple, MC5, Amboy Dukes, Alice Cooper etc., the classics basically. But we aren't just trying to recreate it. Heavy metal is a tradition from blues onwards, it doesn't really change but it has to get 'heavier', that's the rule, otherwise you're just 'metal'.
Electric Wizard has been going for twenty years now: how would you describe the development of the band's sound over that period?
JO: I don't think we've developed at all! We are a perfect example of arrested development. I think we have taken some sidesteps and detours, but what the fuck, we have to challenge ourselves without keeping an eye on sales and our 'media presence'.
But it has probably been our goal all along; we never wanted to sound dated. We should stand outside of space and time.
Has the new material been influenced by anything − musically or culturally − that may surprise long-standing fans of the band?
JO: I don't think anything surprises our long-standing fans because we have always been influenced by the bizarre and outré. We have always attempted to create an uncertain and ambiguous morality and worldview by obsessing on these things, what some may call 'negative' or 'evil'. But that's fuckin’ art.
Aren't we supposed to confront life and death? Surely heavy music isn't just 'entertainment'?
Also explaining the references ruins it, it’s supposed to be a riddle, it’s supposed to lead you on. Our fans understand us perfectly anyway, sometimes too much, there are a few freaks who take it too far or too seriously but who am I to judge?
It's fuckin’ heavy man − it mostly concerns death. I think there is some momentary respite while we meditate on hate and drugs! I'm not quite sure why, I guess things have come full circle with Mark coming back.
It’s sent us through a time warp or something. Loads of old influences have bubbled to the surface again: Cream, the biker movies and all those primary influences. The isolationism and the mysticism and the pop culture stuff from our childhood: Ricky Kasso, the Night Stalker, horror comics... Everyone hated us in town, we were the dirty freaks. Now everyone is bloody weird or freaky, it’s a lot more acceptable now. Wimborne was pretty anti-individuality when we were growing up. You got beaten up and bullied. But y'know, 'that which does not kill you...'
Picking up on your point of deliberately portraying 'uncertain and ambiguous morality', do you find it personally challenging to occupy nihilistic or dangerous points of view, or do you think it's a honest appraisal of the extreme edges of human nature?
JO: To be honest when I was quite young I had been exposed to some pretty disturbing scenes that illustrated the depths of vile human behaviour. So yeah maybe I am qualified enough to comment on these things. Somebody has to and obviously it is challenging and personally dangerous sometimes but that's what we believe. It doesn't mean we condone them or promote them. That would be taking a pretty narrow-minded view of a musician as an artist. Electric Wizard is heavy man, we don't sing about love and flowers.
Do you think Electric Wizard would be possible without originating in the West Country: a more pagan and ancient place than most, with a certain rural and uncanny vibe to it?
JO: I think isolationism and environment are the most important. All good heavy music is cultural: a reaction. Also coming from an area with a rich history creates a sense of identity with your environment. We are proud to be from Dorset. We weren't trying to be NYHC or something like that. We are Dorset doom.
Our music resonates with our surroundings, which is rural and the old forts and ancient woods are creepy and are haunted. I don't think Electric Wizard would have existed in a larger urban environment. We needed to be isolated to create this sound.
When Electric Wizard weren't able to perform at the High Voltage Festival in 2011 it was because you were stuck in Norway after the Breivik murders. Is it wrong for listeners to songs like 'We Hate You' particularly to assume that you have an understanding of how a mentality like that might come about better than others?
JO: All the stupid flights were cancelled then it was all backed up for hours − we started the morning in Finland. Obviously I am not qualified to comment on the shootings in Norway. But I am fascinated by individuals who vent their frustration at the world through random mass executions. And Norway too: it was tempting to imagine he had Isengard in his headphones.
'We Hate You' was written directly after the Columbine killings and inspired by them, but the lyrics reflected my own experiences (my school/town had a similar shitty attitude to 'freaks' and the 'physically inadequate') and long hours practice during school holidays with various illegal weaponry stolen from my grandad's shed. I had a sawn-off, a pistol, a long-barrelled ratgun and various incendiary devices I had created that rarely worked! Some of the ammo was years old. I couldn't believe someone actually did it.
Looking back at the band's performance at ATP: The Fans Strike Back II in Minehead in 2009, do you think that marked a broader awareness of what you are doing and is increasing exposure of the band something you want to encourage?
JO: I guess it did but we've always had that wider appeal anyway. I mean we were voted onto the bill at ATP in a free vote. Traditionally our gigs have always been a sort of rally for any kind of freak culture or underground movement. We had punks, skaters, wasters, metalheads, whatever. Which I guess is what has pushed us forward over the years: we are Electric Wizard, we don't really fit in anywhere. We are outsiders and freaks, like you.
Obviously we want to encourage a wider exposure because we are pretty much interested in total world domination through drugs and heavy metal! We always strived to be regarded as a classic British band, like Sabbath or Motorhead or Hawkwind y'know? We have never fitted into any scene or ever really been embraced by one anyway.
As for looking back at the weekend, I don't really remember the weekend. We got there late, we got wasted, it was outta control. We had a jam in the chalet at five in the morning on the Sunday. You could hear "…the wizard…" being shouted out all over the camp. It is kinda weird there, like a concentration camp. I thought we were in The Great Escape!
Electric Wizard is associated with total lack of compromise and non-conformity, as well as a bleak worldview − has this created problems (with line-up changes, etc.) that you regret?
JO: Problems: Yes. Regrets: No.