Interview: Electric Wizard
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English, at least the English kind, can still be a second language to me. My conversation with Electric Wizard vocalist/guitarist Jus Oborn was a bit loopy, thanks to (a) his having undergone two straight days of interviews (mine was the last), (b) us sometimes not understanding each other's accents, and (c) a dodgy phone connection. Sometimes Oborn answered questions I didn't ask; sometimes he didn't realize I was even asking questions. It felt like an awkward first date. About heavy metal. As if first dates about heavy metal could be anything but awkward.
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How was your press day?
I think it's been OK (laughs).
Do you like doing these types of things?
It's hard work (laughs). I've done a lot of interviews today already.
Is there any question you wish people would ask you?
I wish people asked about "Venus in Furs".
It's one of my favorite songs on the album. What inspired it?
The song is about evil women. Every song on the album is a meditation on a different type of evil. When you say the term "Venus in furs", people get the image in their mind of a dominant female. So that's our "evil woman" song. It's a classic doom theme.
What does Liz [Buckingham, guitarist and Oborn's wife] have to say about this?
I think she's pretty down with it (laughs). She knows the power of evil women.
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"Venus in Furs"
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What did you want to create with Black Masses?
This album is a heads-down heavy metal album, sort of like headbanging speed. We wanted stuff we could play live. We've done a lot of gigs recently, and we just wanted some new shit that would translate well in a live situation.
It's interesting that you said that, because you've said that you don't want to tour.
Yeah (laughs). Well, I don't like touring. I like performing, though. You know what I mean?
Is Electric Wizard the type of band that rehearses several times a week?
No. We rehearse once a week. That's about as much as we can manage. I'd like to rehearse a few times a week. That'd be cool. I like smoking weed and jamming. You get a lot of ideas that way.
What's your practice space like?
It stinks (laughs). It smells rotten. We've always been forced out of everywhere we've rehearsed. We're too loud (laughs). It's never anywhere permanent. It would be cool if it was.
Do you have any good stories from the recording sessions for Black Masses?
It was pretty horrific most of the time (laughs). It was pretty sleazy, the part of town we were in. Hackney - it's pretty much like a Jack the Ripper sort of area. I was inspired to write some of the more hateful songs on the album, like "Scorpio Curse".
From interviews I've read, you seem to have an aversion to London. Where does this come from?
I have an aversion to big cities, I think.
They're probably not as good as they used to be. I know London's not as good as it used to be. Soho's shitty now.
When and how was London better?
In the '70s and early '80s, I think. It was a lot more sleazy. You could go to grindhouse cinemas and see sleazy movies.
So they cleaned up the city.
Yeah, yeah, totally.
Did Margaret Thatcher have something to do with that?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Fuckin' bitch!
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I know you guys are into movies. What films have you seen recently?
It's outrageous, what movies you can get now, thanks to DVDs and downloading. You can see everything you've ever dreamed of these days. In the past week, I've seen a few Blood Island movies, two of them, John Ashley movies. I saw [???] Vampire last night, which I quite enjoyed. I like black & white [???] trash.
If you could choose anyone to direct an Electric Wizard video, whom would it be?
Probably Jess Franco. The dream would be Mario Bava, but maybe it's not possible now (laughs).
What movies have helped define Electric Wizard's aesthetic?
The Jess Franco movies, some biker and sleaze exploitation stuff. God, there's so many movies! Jess Franco, some of the Euro-sleaze...
What is it about sleaze that appeals to you?
I enjoy certain elements of the world. The world's fucked, and the world's turned this way, but there used to be a time when you could enjoy this stuff. The really good movies still seem pretty disgusting.
I was wondering if '60s girl groups were an influence on Electric Wizard.
Geez, in a little way...
Obviously their sound was not heavy, but they had some of the same ghostly reverb.
Oh, yeah. And Screaming Lord Sutch and a bit of early Serge Gainsbourg, that sort of stuff as well. Liam [Watson, producer] is pretty much the aficionado of Joe Meek and stuff. He really likes the early horror rock 'n' roll stuff. So that was a big influence, it seems, to be honest. It's funny you picked up on that.
What is Liam like?
He's like a mad professor, a crazy professor from a '60s Munsters episode.
I know you're into analog media and analog recording. Are you an analog gearhead as well?
We're big amp freaks. We like Laneys and Sound Citys. I like cabs, big cabs (laughs). And certain solid-state stuff - Conqueror and things like that are pretty cool.
You like solid-state stuff more than tubes?
No, no, I prefer tubes, definitely. But there are some interesting sounds - some of the fuzzes from the solid-state ones are pretty cool from the '60s. And as far as guitars [go], me and Liz are obsessive about [Gibson] SG's, different versions of them.
Production-wise, what were you going for on Black Masses?
We were trying to make it sound like the '60s, like the heaviest band of the '60s ever. It was kind of a sick idea (laughs).
How do you feel about the result?
I like it. To me, it sounds right. We did what we set out to do. It sounds pretty fucking weird.
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Do you ever feel like you were born in the wrong time?
And if so, in what time would you have been preferred to have been born?
Medieval times (laughs). It seemed easier back then.
There was no electricity back then. You couldn't have played metal.
You wouldn't need it so much then (laughs). No, musically, a few years earlier would have been cooler. Who knows? At least we have the chance to be the heaviest band now. We try.
Is that your goal, to be the heaviest?
I think, yeah, in some ways. It's been the goal for a long time.
There are a lot of bands now that are heavier in a conventional sense. They tune down lower, or they play slower. What does "heavy" mean to you?
Now it's just an intensity, I guess, rather than sonically. We're prepared to meet that challenge, I think. There's an intensity to the music and an efficiency to the technique right now. We're going to try to marry that to advances in other ways, the heaviness. We're going to rise to the challenge. This album is very much meditating on heavy metal, on pure heavy metal.
What does "pure heavy metal" mean to you?
An attitude of trying to be heavy. There was a point when heavy metal bands tried to be heavier than each other, to be more extreme. Everything was a step up. And not just necessarily technically, just in attitude, from Black Sabbath to Motörhead to Venom to Slayer. We've just got a dedication to enhancing that artform to a certain degree, keeping the heaviness going, and trying to perfect and intensify what we do - to turn the screw, so to speak.
Is it weird to play with groups like Moss, who have that super-slow, time-stretched, almost avant-garde vibe?
Yeah. But it's fun. Plus, live, sonically we can match any one of those bands, to be honest. Anyone could sound good production-wise, but live, it's different. We can match any of those bands sonically if you put us on a stage together, easily.
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Do you follow modern metal?
Not necessarily, but only because I'm a bit behind the times myself. I certainly like extreme music when I hear it.
What are you listening to these days?
Nothing new, really. I haven't heard anything this year, because I've been doing the album shit. I've been listening to Alice Cooper, mostly.
His '70s stuff is fantastic.
Yeah, he's awesome. I'm just going through each album, one by one, like I just got it. I also had the Welcome to My Nightmare DVD as well, so that was pretty cool.
He's perhaps a precursor to some of Electric Wizard's vibe.
Oh, yeah, definitely. I was drawing parallels between the horror sort of element and the stuff he was doing in the '70s. You're getting into the same sort of veins.
Is Electric Wizard how you make your living?
Yeah, just about. You've got to work at it hard. We're playing a lot of shows, so that always pays off. But it's hard fucking work.
Because of downloading, is it harder these days to make money off of music?
Yeah. You gotta sell a lot now to make it. And selling a lot isn't easy because everyone's downloading. But then maybe that sorts out the men from the boys. There's going to be less bullshit now.
Are you the type to follow your band's sales numbers?
Only in the respect of impressing my parents around the Christmas table.
What do they think of Electric Wizard?
They like the idea that I've not compromised, I suppose. I don't think they like the music that much, but they listen to it. That's understandable. My mum was into AC/DC and Bad Company, Led Zeppelin. That's kind of how I got into heavy music.
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Jus on his mum
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You're the first musician I've ever talked to who got into heavy music through his mother.
(Laughs) It's weird. My dad was kind of poncey. He was into Pink Floyd and Genesis.
Do they go to your shows?
No, not since the first one. Which is embarrassing, because they pretty much don't really think it's progressed that much (laughs).
Do they give input?
Oh, yeah. My dad thinks that I should look at what sells a lot of records and emulate that as closely as possible (laughs).
He wants you to be on Top of the Pops.
Yeah. In some ways, I want to get there, just without compromising, just to piss him off (laughs).
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ELECTRIC WIZARD LINKS
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