FOREWORD: When I interviewed the Warlocks inside their tour van parked outside Mercury Lounge in 2002, reticent mastermind Bobby Hecksher was nowhere to be found. I caught up with the reclusive Californian thereafter on the sidewalk and got some quotes I tossed into a piece supporting their Phoenix album. Since then, I saw them at the Merc again when ‘05s psych-skulking dirge, Surgery, came out (its review is at bottom). Two years later, the equally analgesic Heavy Deavy Skull Lover appeared. ‘09s The Mirror Explodes was right in line with past endeavors. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Verging on the edge of garage, goth, and slowcore without specificity, the Los Angeles-based Warlocks take Spiritualized post-psychedelic rock on a Codeine-induced acid trip through the mind’s deepest recesses. As bewitching as their sorcerer-inspired pre-Velvet Underground moniker implies, this large conglomerate cast a magic spell with mind-numbing mantras like the 14-minute meditational epilogue “Jam Of The Witches” from ‘01s invigorating Rise And Fall. In the same dark, dense, narcotic mode as fellow West Coast denizens Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, but never as calamitous as ‘70s post-punk schizoids Suicide, the Warlocks hauntingly eerie oeuvre usually evoke thoughts of fear, desperation, and desolation.
On ‘02 follow-up, Phoenix, the echo-drenched “Cosmic Letdown” simulates a heroin binge gone awry while the hazy ordeal, “Hurricane Heart Attack,” gets lost in whirlwind psychodrama. Singer Bobby Hecksher’s creamy utterance of “it’s nothing at all” on the open-hearted, harmonica-doused “Stone Hearts” seems plucked directly from the Velvets’ “Sunday Morning.” Yet there’s also life-affirming positivity to be found on two nearly upbeat opiates entitled “Shake The Dope Out” (a vibrant organ-grooved track hedging close to ? & the Mysterians) and “The Dope Feels Good” (a climactic fuzz-toned phantasm). But nothing beats the insular beauty of “Baby Blue,” a glistening shimmy hanging on a narcotic T. Rex groove.
The Warlocks continue to gain exposure from ceaseless stimulating live performances. The present touring crew includes Hecksher (guitar-bass-keys), Jeff Levitz (guitar-lap steel-sitar), J.C. Rees (guitar), Corey Lee Granet (guitar), Bobby Martine (bass), Danny Hole (drums), and Jason Anchondo (percussion). Guitarist Sonic Boom, organist Laura Grisby, and drummer Mike Mc Hugh provided extra studio support for Phoenix.
Here’s our question and answer session.
Some people have compared the Warlocks to the Rain Parade minus the pesky Paisley Generation tag.
JEFF: I was friends with people in that band and enjoyed them as people, but I wouldn’t say we were influenced by their music. I’d say we’re influenced by the same music they were influenced by. But this isn’t the third coming of the Paisley Underground.
How do your lengthy, drawn out compositions usually get initiated?
JASON: Bobby comes out with an idea, sometimes very simple ones, and brings it to the studio and we work on it.
JEFF: The cool thing is everybody in the band is so creative on their own, they write their own parts.
JASON: It’s like being married to six other people.
J.C.: There are far reaching, wide ranging influences that affect our music.
BOBBY HECKSHER: I bring a basic idea to the table and these guys either like it or they don’t. If they like it, they put their magic into it and it sounds as bitchin’ as it does because of them. I just bring the basic starting platform and they tell me if it sucks or not. I don’t have any ego or feelings about ditching an idea for something else. We try some new stuff instead.
What are some of the lyrical inspirations?
B.H.: It comes from people I meet. They’re very simple, straightforward, honest lyrics.
Phoenix doesn’t seem as downcast as last years’ Rise And Fall.
B.H.: It’s a little more upbeat, I guess.
BOBBY MARTINE: We’re a very spirited, happy group right now.
Did you need to be stoned to compose the uplifting “The Dope Feels Good”?
B.H.: (laughter) No. Again, that’s about a person. It’s not about drugs. I’m not being ironic. I didn’t need many words for the person that song is about.
Does your band draw influences from slowcore bands like Low and Codeine.
J.C.: Sure. We do like them. We like that kind of repetitive groove to take you someplace else.
“Baby Blue” has the most accessible feel, but happily never drifts into formulaic pop pabulum.
B.H.: That’s the way it came out. It started with some chords. All my songs are written about people, or groups of people. It could be about a girl and a boy or just girls.
(The interview moves from in front of Mercury Lounge to nearby Katz’s delicatessen to the bands’ tour van.)
What’s the difference between Greg Shaw’s Bomp recording sessions for Rise And Fall and Birdman’s sessions for Phoenix?
J.C.: Phoenix was recorded at four different places and mixed by three guys while Rise And Fall was done in just one place.
DANNY: You don’t always get the perfect mix and you still may not be satisfied after.
J.C.: That’s why on this record we shopped around to get a different style and sound. It may all sound the same after awhile, but the songs stand out.
Were you guys into King Crimson, Soft Machine, and ‘70s prog-rock?
JASON: It’s not like any of us sit around and listen to a whole King Crimson record. But when you hear those good cuts, you’re feeling them. But I don’t think they’re a conscious influence. Even with the same instrumentation going on, there’s so much difference between each song we do because we all try to get a different feel, texture, or sound.
Following “Minneapolis Madman” on the Phoenix EP is an intoxicating 25-minute mantra that put my kids to sleep before I could say good night.
J.C.: That’s our aural asphyxiation. Pure studio shenanigans. (fits of laughter)
JASON: Someone called it VU (i.e.: Velvet Underground) malarkey.
For a stormy summer afternoon at the beach, L.A.’s Warlocks sure do make the perfect haunting moodscape. Led by neurotic front man Bobby Hecksher and a revolving cast of psych folk, their latest, Surgery (Mute), aims to create “some new rock ‘n roll hybrid: sonic space age doo wop.” If ‘03s stultifying Phoenix grabbed at the gut, then the irrepressible Surgery will melt your insides out, as sheets of distorted guitar noise crash down upon stony heads, reverberating straight down to their toes. Several narcotic jams re-create the post-midnight gloom pervading ’01 debut Rise & Fall.