Electric Wizard interview – The Camden Underworld, 2000
First published in Vincebus Eruptum magazine
By the time you read this, out of the deep, dark woods of Dorset, England, the mighty Electric Wizard will have released their third, full length album Dopethrone through Rise Above. I first saw the band supporting Cathedral and Anathema at London’s LA2 shortly after the release of their Bad Acid EP, Supercoven. Not long after that, I saw them headline an Org promoted gig at the Barfly in Camden, supported by Hangnail and Goatsnake. Talking to the band and their then long time collaborator, Rolf Startin, the band certainly didn’t appear to be using any stoner tag as a pose. Gasping down huge lungfuls of weed, eyes like piss holes in the snow, bong in hand, Jus Oborn (guitar and vox), didn’t say very much. Cramped in the tiny backstage area of Camden’s Falcon, Mark Greening (drums) and Tim Bagshaw (lead bass) were friendly but quiet, waiting their turn for a re- freshed pipe or a suck on the weed, currently bogarted by their singer. To all intents and purposes, they walked it like they talked it. The Barfly gig almost didn’t happen. They, quite unfairly, have developed a reputation for not showing up at gigs, making them look arrogant or just too damned slack. The truth is, based in Dorset in the West of England, and with a touring budget of zero, just getting together a lift to London sometimes proved impossible. So when Jus sliced the top of a finger on his fretting hand, rather than blow the gig, he gaffer taped it back on, and played a fantastic hour of pure doom. This was just one of a number of pitfalls that befell the band. Shortly after the success of these gigs, the band were celebrating in the customary fashion when on the way home, under the influence of a bottle of vodka, drummer Mark cycled into a tree, breaking his collar bone, thus setting the band back a further six months. The bone grew back incorrectly and had to be snapped and put back. Still in some pain, but well enough to record their new album, Dopethrone, the band had another huge setback when after another huge vodka binge, guitarist Jus was admitted to hospital with liver failure. Luckily, by the end of July, the band had completed the fantastic Dopethrone , and celebrated with a marvellous performance at The Garage, in London’s Islington. Having smoked themselves into oblivion in the Garage’s rather oppressive, grim backstage area, I chatted to that night’s opening act, avant-garde multi-instrumentalist and Warp Records recording artist Jimi Tenor, as he polished his saxophone. Jimi’s set worked really well with the headliners, giving the evening more of an eclectic, almost 70s feel. After one of the longest sets I’ve seen Wizard perform, keen to air as much of their new album as possible, Mark took to trashing his drum kit in one of the laziest (possibly too stoned) displays of onstage destruction.
So, to the new album. I’ve listened to it virtually every day since I got hold of a copy, two months ago. It’s the heaviest, evilest, fucked-up, extreme, Altamont-friendly drug-rock you’ll hear this century, at least until Monster Magnet give us the sequel to Spine Of God. An album that is era-defining and important as Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion, it develops and builds on the sound defined on Come My Fanatics. I met up with Jus, Mark and Tim on behalf of Vincebus Eruptum, shortly after they soundchecked at the Camden Underworld, at the end of September. It wasn’t the best situation, as they were the third date into a European tour that had been cut down from 28 gigs to just 8. Keen to get out and play their new record, with Tim and Mark in Slipknot-mocking masks for the first few numbers, the Wizard played another blinding show to a packed Underworld crowd.
I mentioned to the band that the last time I saw Electric Wizard was at the Garage in London, with Jimi Tenor supporting. Although this initially seemed like a very strange line-up, it worked surprisingly well. How did this come about?
Jus: “Just through mutual friends, really. Jules knows Jimi, and some friends of Jimi’s are friends with Lee Dorrian, as well. We didn’t want to play with another band, as we were originally going to play on our own. Then we said, fuck it, we’ll have something different.”
Last year, Rise Above re-released your first two albums (1995’s Electric Wizard and 1996’s Come My Fanatics) together as a double album. Only a year divides the recording of those albums, but there is a huge jump in sound and style. What do you think accounts for this?
Jus: “When we did the first album, we didn’t like the studio, and it was using a lot of old Eternal (Jus Oborn’s pre-Wizard band) songs as well. We didn’t know what we were doing at all. It’s just like a kind of demo. We didn’t get the sound we wanted at all, out of it.”
Mark: “I was a bit young, anyway. I was only 16, something like that.”
Tim “We weren’t that involved. The production was done for us.”
There’s definitely more of a connection between Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone.
Jus: “We knew what we wanted, by then. By Come My Fanatics, we know what sound we wanted, definitely. We didn’t have enough drugs on the first album, I thought, anyway. Because we were miles away from home, we just had shit weed. You got to get fucked to make fucked up music.”
How important are drugs to creativity? Do you believe you have to stoned or high to make good music?
Jus: “We don’t seem to make any music unless we’re fucked-up…out of our heads.”
Tim: “All good musicians are fucked-up on drugs.”
Is that partly to do with nerves, or just the preferred state to play in?
Mark: “I think it works both ways. Some bands don’t do a lot (of drugs), and they’re straight and they sound all right. It’s just a way to categorise different bands. I don’t think it matters that much. It helps us because we’ve gone along those lines for quite a while.”
Jus: “It helps you get into a hypnotic state, as well.”
Mark: “I don’t think every musician needs to.”
To experience the band properly, do you think your audience should be in the same stoned state?
Jus: “I think you’d need to be or you’d fucking hate it!”
You credit characters such as H.P. Lovecraft and Aleister Crowley. Are these purely for lyrical inspiration, or do they reveal more deeply held occult beliefs?
Jus: Crowley I’m definitely into the occult. I collect books on the occult, all the time. H.P. Lovecraft is my favourite writer of all time, mainly because of the way he writes, like a drug addict. He probably wasn’t, but you read his stories and you start tripping out.”
I think he’s had a big influence on modern horror writers, like Stephen King.
Jus: Crowley Yeah, but I don’t like Stephen King. Stephen King is just a horror writer. H.P. Lovecraft plays with my fucking mind. Heavy shit.”
I lived in Cornwall for four years. Do you feel that the West Country, generally, is a hotbed of satanism, ritual abuse and drug use? Is it because there’s nothing else to do?
Jus: Crowley Yes, but there’s the history there, as well. There’s all the old sites, like ancient druid sites, ancient celtic sites, burial minds. Fuckin’ everything. It’s just something you grew up in, when I was young, anyway. In the hippy culture, everyone’s into lay lines, shit like that. You associate it with the area. And there’s always been a big drugs thing down there, with Hawkwind festivals or whatever, in the south of England. There’s the Stonehenge festivals in the 80s. It’s hippy shit. There’s a lot of hippies down there, anyway. In South Wales as well.”
Occult and Satanism are easier to keep under wraps in a small village than it is in a city.
Jus: “I think in any small village, that sort of shit can happen. Anywhere. It’s just the fact that some of those villages have been there for a thousand years. There’s old traditions and old cults that probably still go on.”
The village of Royston Vasey on (BBC TV’s) The League Of Gentleman makes more sense if you’re familiar with the West Country.
Jus: “Yeah, definitely. Anyone that’s lived in a small town, in the middle of the country, can relate to that.”
Doom and gloom rock, whether it’s from Sabbath, Cathedral or even a band like Joy Division, traditionally come from the British industrial Midlands. What influence has Dorset and the West Country had on your sound, if any?
Jus: “Just, being fuckin’ separate from people. We wanna be louder, want to be heard.”
Electric Wizard don’t play very often, so a gig does tend to be an event. The Garage gig was your first in over a year. Does it concern you that regular gigging may make the band too polished?
Jus: “Probably. We all fucking hate each other. We don’t like even hanging out with each other on the bus. All we’re doing is fighting over the last two days. We don’t talk much or we’ll kill each other.”
Do you play many gigs at home?
Jus: “No, never. Everyone hates us there. The last time we played there, everyone walked out.”
You wouldn’t want to make a live album in Bournemouth, then?
Jus: “I think Prague, or somewhere.”
‘Weird Tales’ is probably the longest track on the new album, is divided into three parts, reminiscent of early Rush, like ‘By-Tor And The Snow Dog’ or ‘The Necromancer’. The last 5 minutes fall into just ambient noise. Would you foresee Wizard experimenting more, maybe using remixers?
Jus: “We definitely want to experiment. That’s what we always wanted to do. I mean, we hoped the (Dopethrone) album would be more experimental, but the producer we had was a twat, so we didn’t do everything we wanted to do.”
Who produced the new album?
Jus: “Rolf Fartsin.”
Did you fall out during the recording of the album?
Jus: “He wouldn’t let us do any experimental shit at all.”
Tim: “He didn’t let us do anything. After it was recorded, he wouldn’t let us into the studio. He told us to go home, not letting us put any creativity into the album, on the production side of it.”
As it has been four years since the last album, do you intend to be more prolific? You have mentioned an EP for future release.
Jus: “We’d liked to do everything we could, if nothing went wrong. We plan a lot more than what happens, but something goes wrong at the last minute.”
You are going to do something with Bristol based Rocket Records?
Jus: “Yes, that’s still going to go ahead, actually.”
A single or an EP?
Jus: “A seven inch with two jams on it. Left-overs from the album. We’ve recorded three hours of material, and three hours won’t fit on a compact disc.”
Would you consider covering somebody else’s material, maybe to sound more commercial, such as Celtic Frost attempting radio friendliness with their version of ‘Mexican Radio’.
Jus: “We’d do a pop single, I reckon, just for the hell of it. You can have one hit single and sell a fuckin’ load of records. Then you can tell everybody it’s only a fuckin’ single, we did it for the money. Wouldn’t you? The albums would still be heavy.”
You wouldn’t be concerned about damaging your career?
Jus: “No, because everyone would take it in the spirit of what it is. I don’t have a problem with things like that. If people do it for the wrongs reasons, like they’re really honest and they really want to be a pop band, then fuck ’em. But if you just want to make one pop record, to stick two fingers up to the music business, and the way the whole system works, and exploit the whole media bullshit, then fair enough, you should go for it. We’d do it. I’d sign a major deal for three million quid, or whatever. Tell ’em I’m gonna record pop music, and do a Sleep.”
Many bands in this scene dislike the term “stoner rock”, finding it derivative of California, and bands like Kyuss or Fu Manchu, which is a million miles away from a yourselves in Dorset. How would you define Electric Wizard’s music?
Is that because you do what you like? I find it refreshing that a band like Orange Goblin aren’t afraid to say they’re heavy metal.
Tim: “We don’t like it (heavy metal).”
Jus: “When people say stoner, it’s just getting stoned, I guess. I mean, we get stoned. I hate stoners anyway, man. Most stoner bands we know don’t smoke pot, so what the fuck does it mean? Most black metal bands don’t worship Satan.”
Do Electric Wizard worship satan?
Jus: “Electric Wizard worships Satan and we smoke pot, but we’re not black metal, we’re not stoner rock.”
Do you see the band growing more progressive, maybe doing a conceptual album?
Jus: “I wanna do one with an orchestra. Electric Wizard with a philharmonic orchestra.”
Jimi Tenor could sort it out.
Jus: “Yeah, he could arrange the strings, we’d do the guitars. I love shit like that, anything experimental.”
Some of the greatest bands, be it Motörhead, Rush, Angel Witch, and even back to Hendrix and Blue Cheer, have been power trios. Do you find this format liberating or limiting?
Jus: “It’s the best format ever. We wouldn’t want another guitarist, would we?”
Mark: “We wouldn’t want a guitarist. Maybe just a Hammond organ. It gets too messy otherwise.”
Spiritual Beggars added a keyboard player to their line up recently.
Mark: “Not a keyboard. An actual Hammond organ.”
Jus: “He’s (pointing at Mark) into the late sixties, he’s (pointing at Tim) into anything with bass, dub reggae, whatever, and I’m into fucking heavy riffs. So we all do what we want to do. So it’s his (Mark’s) 60’s drumming, his (Tim’s) 70’s, dub bass, and I do my metal guitar, and that’s how our sound has evolved.”
All brought together by drugs.
Jus: “Yeah, cemented.”
Mark: “We wouldn’t get as much money either if we had another person in the band. There’d be more arguments as well. It would be more hassle.”
One thing that comes across very much live is that it’s like three lead instruments, a lead bass, a lead guitar and lead drums.
Tim: “Not on the new one. I’m (credited as) fuzz bass.”
Jus: “Yeah, well, you gotta keep evolving. There’s lead bass as well. I dunno, everybody in the band has an ego problem, and they’re all trying to be the leader of the band. Everybody’s playing what they want. There’s no rules in the band at all.”
Mark: “We just try to put on a good show. If it gels together, we get away with it, if it doesn’t, it’s a fucking complete disaster.”
What is the concept behind the new album, Dopethrone?
Jus: “The concept of Dopethrone is that we’re the kings of the fucking dope-scene, and hopefully we’ll control all the dope in the world one day. If you mean musically, then fuck knows…”