Jus Oborn of Electric Wizard

Monday, 28 January 2008

From my experience the first thing any respectable journalist should do before a phone interview is to test the equipment. I say this because I didn't and it almost bit me in the ass. It was 10:50 and I knew Jus Oborn would be calling me at 11. I set up my mic and recorder then hit go on the speakerphone to set my audio level. All was good to go. The phone rang a second later and with it came the huge kick in the balls that while my phone has a speaker feature it does not have a built-in mic. So, I could hear the other person but they couldn't hear me. My heart started beating like a rabbit. Quickly now, what to do? I scrambled for a pair of headphones, which I ran out of the recorder. I put a shotgun mic to the earpiece of the telephone then had to contort myself Quasimodo-style in order to utilize the phone's mic to speak through. I didn't have a chance to test before the phone started ringing again. Here goes nothing. I said "hello," Jus replied the same. I felt like I had popped a beta blocker. A deep calm spread through me and I launched headfirst into what would be a twenty-minute conversation about their new record Witchcult Today, drugs, Jose Larraz movies, trend followers, and why it has been so long since Electric Wizard have come to America.

GC: How’s it going?

JO: Good man.

GC: So how’s the response been to the new record?

JO: It’s really killer. I’m glad too, because we’re happy with the record.

GC: I’ve been following you guys forever. I saw you guys when you came here in L.A. with Goatsnake and Warhorse.

JO: Oh, yeah, that was a good time.

GC: Are you going to be coming to the United States any time soon?

JO: Well, we got nothing planned right now.

GC: How come it’s been so long?

JO: [laughs] It’s a bit difficult to get into America with visas and immigration. And it’s even harder now.

GC: I remember hearing that your San Francisco show was a lot better than your L.A. show because you were actually allowed to smoke in the venue.

JO: That always helps, definitely. I like to get stoned to play.

GC: Since 2001, the fanbase for Doom has seen to have grown. How do you think it would be like to play here now compared to say, 2001?

JO: I hope it’s gonna be really crazy. It was pretty good last time but there were gaps between. I hope it’s killer because we’ve gotten a lot of response already.

GC: I was actually curious, on Come My Fanatics and Dopethrone your vocals are pretty affected and distorted. And they seem to be getting cleaner and cleaner, which I like, but I was wondering why you were going in that direction?

JO: Probably just not hating my vocals as much. Sometimes as the singer I’m like, ‘Just fucking bury it, I don’t want to hear it,’ ya know? But, I like the vocals, so now I don’t mind.

GC: On ‘The Chosen Few’ it’s really clean and you’re just belting it out.

JO: Yeah, I was really pleased with that.

GC: Originally being a three-piece, and now having Liz [Buckingham] in the band, has your writing process changed at all?

JO: It was always team. It was me and Tim and now it’s me and Liz. We just come up with the riffs ya know? We would just smoke at home and come up with ideas. You know when you have a killer riff and just take it to the jam room and get it together with the rest of the band. The whole album is based on riffs and we just try to make the most of it.

GC: I was curious about that because the sound hasn’t changed much, but if anything it’s much tighter.

JO: Yeah, definitely. It’s more focused. The old band kinda fell apart because of the different directions, but now it’s more focused—everyone’s into the same shit. It’s working.

GC: Speaking of the sound. A lot of the bands around 2000/2001 were playing that slow doomy stuff, but now they’re picking up the torch and all want to be Thrash-metal bands. But you guys seem to just be getting more evil. How do you avoid following the trends?

JO: I don't know what the trends are, that’s basically it [laughs]. I don’t get involved in anything really…I don’t know any of these bands really. We do what we do, ya know? I like slow shit. I think slow is heavy. I like the weight of music, the tense shit.

GC: I agree with you. It’s the weight, and not about the speed or screaming about hating your mom.

JO: Yeah, it’s about getting a vibe across. It’s like fucking horror movies with whacked, trippy music.

GC: I’m a big horror movie fan, so your songs, considering a lot of them are really horror-movie referential…

JO: They are inspired by it. It’s a lot of different fucked-up ideas coming together, but inspiration is definitely from watching horror movies day and night. That and bong hits.

GC: What are some of your favorite horror movie directors?

JO: Probably Jess Franco, Pete Walker, Jose Larraz, Argento…

GC: Nice. What Jose Larraz movies? I’ve only seen Whirlpool.

JO: Oh yeah, that’s a good one to see. He did Vampyres as well, Scream… and Die!, Black Candles is pretty sick.

GC: I’m a big Jess Franco fan, too. I love Dr. Orloff.

JO: I love Franco. He’s a great character.

GC: I just love that he can do arty Euro horror to porno to just complete trash and it’s all completely acceptable and fun [laughs].

JO: [Laughs] I think he’s just fucking crazy, ya know, ‘Ahh, this’ll work!’

GC: Did you know he had a jazz band?

JO: Actually more like a jazz movie in some ways.

GC: You know what’s funny, I made a horror movie in 2002 [The Holy Terror] and contacted Rise Above and they let me use a bunch of songs from Let Us Prey. I sent you some copies, but never heard back.

JO: Oh yeah, I thought I recognized your name! That was awesome actually. I lost your contact, thinking ‘I’m never gonna hear from this guy again’ [laughs]. It was really awesome.

GC: Thanks.

JO: I mean, a lot of people have asked to use our music, but they don't always turn out the way I hope, but that was one I wanted people to check out. Thank you for that.

GC: Ahh, let’s get back on you now [laughs]. What would think is the biggest influence on Witchcult Today? Your influence on songwriting…was it more of the same because this album sounds a little different?

JO: I’ve kind of gotten back my roots. Everything I wanted it to be when I started it. It’s gone from where I started to way off tangent. Fucking bring in what it was originally about. It’s kind of like a fantastical concept, an early-70s horror music band—with influences of Black Sabbath, horror comics were around then, the occult was big back then. People still feared shit. People feared the longhaired kid with he Sabbath t-shirt. I’m trying to bring that back, that fear [laughs].

GC: I think we see eye to eye on a lot of things. I see what you’re saying about how people used to fear because the way people dress, it’s like a costume with nothing behind it. But with your record, it’s really deep.

JO: I hoped we’d be a band that someone would be afraid of or worried about, because they went to some store and bought the regulation costume…

GC: With your lyrics, what I really respect is that one line can tell a story and launch a thousand horror movies. Like on ‘Dunwich,’ just the line Child of Dunwich rise/You have your father’s eyes. With the evil tone and mood coming across, it sets my imagination on fire.

JO: I try to conjure up imagery to go along with the song. I’m inspired by a lot writers like Lovecraft and really try to squeeze every ounce of fucking meaning out of every word. I want to put those images in your head you know? That’s what I want you to see. And people will pick up on it, which is fucking crazy. They will come up to me at the show and say, ‘Third line on the second song, I know exactly what you meant,’ and will explain it and I’ll be like, ‘Fuck, that’s exactly what I meant.’ People see the same visions in their head and that’s cool. Like I’m projecting some magic shit…

GC: There’s been plenty of times where one line from a song will jump out and I have an entire movie to think about.

JO: Please don’t make Count Drugula, that’s my movie [laughs].

GC: No, no, I won’t make Count Drugula, but I did appreciate the title because it brought video-store memories of me renting The Satanic Rites of Dracula.

JO: I thought the Satanic sequences in that movie were wicked.

GC: Did you ever check out the movie The Devil Rides Out?

JO: Oh, that’s definitely one of my all-time favorite movies. I’ve seen it well over a hundred times.

GC: I love the Satanic sequences in that movie.

JO: Yeah, they’re awesome! They had intended to film them totally nude but they were forbidden to do it by the censors. They really tried to emulate a Satanic ceremony pretty ambitiously. And it’s the best on-screen Satan, I think, ever. It still gives you the chills—there aren’t that many movies that have done it that well.

GC: It usually ends up being pretty hokey, but it’s funny, a lot of that movie can come across as campy, but when he comes on, he means business. I feel that’s what happens with an Electric Wizard record compared to a lot of other heavy records. Like, this is heavy and it’s cool, but here’s the real evil. It has nothing to do with speed—it’s just fucking weight.

JO: We troll the depths of fuckin’ weird culture, ya know?

GC: So you’re not planning on changing the formula?

JO: No, nothing’s broken so we ain’t gonna fix it.

GC: I know you’ve had some lineup problems in the past, so this one’s pretty stable?

JO: Oh, yeah, definitely, this is the shit. Everyone is working together well. It takes a long time to find a formula that really works. As soon as Liz joined the band I knew that was a partnership that was gonna work. And with the other guys, it’s really come together.

GC: How did Liz actually join the band?

JO: We’ve been friends for a few years, since we first went on tour, and have the same inspirations and concepts about playing heavy music—same playing style. It was just a natural evolution I think.

GC: Usually when you hear about people from other bands coming in, you get a little nervous that’s there’s gonna be a change. But when I heard Liz had joined Electric Wizard—I had seen her in previous bands—I got really excited.

JO: Yeah, I just knew it was gonna work. I saw her playing style and was like, ‘That could work in my band for sure.’ I even wanted to join her band at that point!

GC: I think her look is great, too. She looks like a 70s horror movie star. She could be a blonde chick that could stand next to 'Barbara Steele' any day—only tougher!

JO: [laughing] She would definitely take that as a compliment.

GC: I remember seeing her on stage with Sourvein and she was the showstopper. So when I heard the news I was like, ‘Good work, nice choice!”

JO: Cheers!

GC: Your music style lends itself to cinematics so much, why don’t you guys do music videos?

JO: Well, we made one, and it kind of almost came out ok [laughs]. But it’s like perfectionism. If for one minute a bit of a sequence doesn’t work I can’t have it out. This time it’s definitely going to be planned. We did some filming for our last album out in California. We had filmed a Satanic ceremony down on the beach—carried a coffin down there and shit—but it only amounted to about two-and-a-half minutes, ya know?

GC: Yeah, your songs definitely don’t lend themselves to being short.

JO: Our songs are a hell of a lot longer than two-and-a-half minutes!

GC: I read a while back, when you were recording Dopethrone, that an Electric Wizard recording session was basically a lot of acid, weed, vodka and speed. Is that still true today?

JO: Yeah, pretty much [laughs]. Well you gotta have different things for different parts of the recording.

GC: Fuel for the fire.

JO: There’s a sequence of events and the drugs fit what you’re doing, ya know? It’s mostly weed-fueled now. I don’t do much acid…it’s rare. Mushrooms are slightly easier to deal with.

GC: I think you can hold down your sanity longer with mushrooms.

JO: Oh, yeah.

GC: So with the second guitarist in the live shows, the Electric Wizard in my mind had always been a power trio, so with Liz in the band, has it freed you up more to do vocals?

JO: We trade off stuff actually. It doesn’t feel any different to me. The old lineup had all the problems…to much fucking abuse, going on. This is a little bit more stable now.

GC: Do you still believe you’re still a ‘Doom’ band? That’s been thrown around a lot, and bands are being considered that style when they’re not really playing that kind of music. How do you feel about that?

JO: I kinda ignore it in some ways. I mean, I consider us a Doom band. When we first started playing this music we were a Doom band. Everyone sounded different, ya know? These days it’s become more of this style and I’m like, ‘Fuck that, we play Doom metal. Doom fucking occult heavy shit.’ It all extends from Black Sabbath. They created that sound.

GC: OK Jus, I think that’s it. Please come to the United States!

JO: Cool man, keep in touch. Cheers!

Witchcult Today is out now on Rise Above.

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