The Cult of Electric Wizard
The despair-fueled doom troupe Electric Wizard done hated a lot of shit just to live this here lifestyle.
“I hope people listen to it and fucking cringe in terror.” That’s what Electric Wizard mastermind Jus Oborn says about his band’s latest album, Time To Die. It’s this kind of attitude that has permeated the Wizard’s detuned dropout doom since the mid-90s, when they were just a trio of bell-bottomed, dead-eyed stoners from Dorset, England. Today, the band is a four-piece rounded out by drummer Simon Poole, bassist Clayton Burgess (also of American doom-punk outfit Satan’s Satyrs) and Oborn’s wife, guitar sorceress Liz Buckingham. Taking musical cues from Black Sabbath and atmospheric inspiration from b-movie kult klassics like Psychomania, Witchfinder General and The Dunwich Horror, the Wizard’s slogan has always been “Legalize Drugs & Murder.” It’s a sentiment that probably lands them as many fans as their records do. We recently tracked Oborn down at his home in the British hinterlands to discuss the cult of the Wizard.
Noisey: Electric Wizard have been going against the grain of popular tastes, even in heavy metal, from the beginning. But interest in the band didn’t really peak until Dopethrone came out in 2000 and then again with Witchcult Today in 2007. What do you think it is about those two albums that struck a chord with people?
Jus Osborn: I’ve thought about it myself, and it’s hard to say. I think they’re creative highs, definitely. They’ve both got a similar vibe. They even look similar, physically. [Laughs] Maybe we were just on it. You know sometimes when you’re on it. When you’re making an album, you can go in with the best intentions but it may not always turn out like you hoped. But it’s not like you can say, “Fuck it,” and give up. You’ve got to finish your album. There’s nothing you can do about it. But those records always felt good to me and I’m glad that everyone else picked up on it as well. I’ve got the same feeling about this new record, so I think it’s gonna be cool.
The only common denominator between those two records is you. It’s an entirely different lineup, different studio, different producer, everything.
Yeah. I had the concept of the band way before the band existed. I had it set in stone since I was about 13, so nothing’s ever really changed that much.
So Electric Wizard is going to sound like Electric Wizard regardless of who else is involved?
To a certain degree, yeah. I think it may even sound like Electric Wizard if I leave as well. That’s the idea.
You mean like a Kiss thing, where they replace themselves and keep the band going forever?
Yeah, yeah! That was my idea, but Gene [Simmons] ripped it off. We saw this band from Poland that covered a couple of our songs. I saw a video of it online. They were so badass I thought, “We should send them on tour instead!” I can’t remember their name, they were called Vinum Sabbathi or Funeralopolis [after Electric Wizard songs] or something, but I thought, “Let’s just teach them all the songs and send them on tour.” They were spot-on, the leads and everything. They were playing it better than I can.
I realize you’re sort of joking right now, but is that something you’d seriously contemplate when you get older?
Why not? [Laughs] Especially if they do it well. I’m always looking for cover versions, especially the ones that are bizarre. We’re going to do an album of people doing weird, dreadful covers of Electric Wizard. I haven’t got all the versions together yet, but I’ve got some dubstep and dance versions. What I really want is a horrible reggae version, a reggae “Funeralopolis” or something.
Electric Wizard could last forever…
The band’s just steadily growing the whole time because the legacy is there, I think. The whole history of the band is there and it’s not going anywhere. People pick up on that, I think. I’m really proud of what we achieved with the band. When I started doing it, I wanted to have some sort of rebellion against normal life and normal living. When I left school, if you had long hair and a tattoo or something, you weren’t going to get a regular job. You were an outcast. The world has changed now, and I’m pretty out of date with that shit, but I still remember that. [Laughs] It was like Easy Rider—the rednecks might beat the living shit out of you if they didn’t like the looks of you.
Do you wish the world was still like that?
It might sound sadistic or masochistic, but in the end, yes. Back then, at least you knew what you were against. Metal was a “fuck you” world. It wasn’t just entertainment.
When do you think it started to change?
The Internet. Everyone’s just trying to please each other now. Nobody wants to be not liked. In the old days, if a magazine didn’t like your band, you’d just chuck the magazine in the trash. Nowadays bands are in tears because no one likes them. [Laughs] At our first gigs, we’d try to make people leave. You’d be proud if you could clear the room. It was a mission statement in itself. If you can’t please everyone, then try to upset everyone instead. Maybe that’s too punk rock, but that’s always been my attitude.
How do you feel about the Internet now? I mean, you guys have a Facebook page and stuff like that.
It’s an inevitability. I have a laptop. I have a telephone. Otherwise I can’t even exist. I tried my best to get away from it, living out here, but the world is making it difficult. I have to earn a crust of bread, so I have to do the Internet to sell my band. It’s sick, man. It’s no fun anymore. I mean, why do people start bands anymore? I really wonder. Just to give some sort of self-gratification.
Have your goals or motivations changed since the first Electric Wizard record?
Yeah, definitely. Originally it was probably to go out and get laid and play some gigs in another country. That was the only goal. Things have moved on, but ideologically the only thing that’s grown as I’ve got older is that we can say something. We don’t have to just wallow in misery.
One of the things that’s appealing about Electric Wizard beyond the music is the fuck-you philosophy—“Legalize drugs and murder”—the extreme statement.
Yeah, definitely. I think people like to experience it vicariously through Electric Wizard. And we’re prepared to take it on for people that don’t really wanna do it. I think that is part of the appeal.
When you meet fans, do you get the sense that they understand where you’re coming from, or do they just like the songs?
The fans come in different camps. There’re serious fans that fucking get it—right on-the-edge types. [Laughs] They fucking scare me sometimes. There are people who just like the riffs, but I think most people do get the message. I think there’s a depth to the band where I don’t think you can just get into it on a riff level. People dismiss us as being not as technical as other bands, but I think there’s more depth to us than just the music. It’s a lifestyle thing, and we’re expanding a philosophy as well. It’s not just something to do on the weekend, you know?
I think “lifestyle” is a good way to describe it. But does that ever translate into a burden for you, like you’re expected to be a certain way when you just want to kick back and have a drink after the show?
Yeah, I feel like we have to live up to it. We have to put it on a bit. With this album, I feel like I almost killed myself trying to do it. But I wanted to be that honest with myself. I didn’t want to pretend. The album is fucking hateful. It’s really negative. It’s got no hope at all. For me to sit there and say that to somebody, that’s hard. But I have to put myself in that frame of mind. I had to be that fucking negative. I had to be that fucked off with it. And to put yourself in that shitty mood all the time, that isn’t fucking good. I can come offstage shouting at the band, like, “What the fuck was that shit?” because I’m so pissed off because the lyrics have put me in this anger. I have to calm down a bit and go, “Okay, it wasn’t that bad.” [Laughs] You can’t listen to those lyrics and not feel it. I can’t.
On past records, you’ve waited until the last minute to write lyrics. Then you’ll lock yourself in a room and watch old movies and smoke dope and write everything like two days before you go into the studio. Is that what you did this time?
Yeah, but there was less movies and a bit more psychotic internal dementia this time. [Laughs] That’s where I wanted to go. I didn’t want to have any outside influences. I wanted an album that didn’t use many metaphors and pretty much just said it outright. Black Masses and a lot of the early Wizard stuff dresses things up in metaphors because I just found it more interesting. But this one is a more brutal, direct statement. It just says everything we think.
One of your biggest influences has always been Black Sabbath. What did you think of the new Sabbath album?
Well, I would say no comment, but I kinda liked it. [Laughs] I’m not gonna talk about it a lot, though. I think people would’ve been disappointed if they hadn’t done anything. But I guess you have to be careful what you wish for.
A lot of older bands that split up years or even decades ago are getting back together to record new albums these days. What do you make of that?
I don’t want to put anyone down, but it’s kinda weird. You go to gigs and the average age of the musicians is seriously getting disturbing. We’re gonna have to have respirators and wheelchairs handy for everyone. I’m wondering where the youngsters are. Where’s the kids playing really heavy shit? I’m not seeing it, and it’s a bit worrying in a way.
I think that ties into what we were talking about earlier—the idea of rock n’ roll being neutered by the Internet. But Clayton, your new bass player, is the perfect example of someone from the younger generation who kinda gets it. He’s only 21 years old but his own band, Satan’s Satyrs, have a genuine old-school vibe.
Totally. He completely despises his own generation in some ways. I was like that at his age as well so I can totally relate to that. But there’s a shift in the whole way rock 'n’ roll music is. It isn’t about getting out there and hell-raising. It’s more about almost like midlife crisis metal, like, “I was in a band when I was a teenager and then I went out and got myself a regular job. Now I’m 45 and have some disposable income, so let’s do the band again.” That’s a worry.
You’ve stuck it out with Electric Wizard since the early 90s, when this kind of music wasn’t particularly profitable.
We did it when people weren’t listening to this music. We did it because we liked it, not because we could sell a fucking 12-inch for 300 quid with a poster in it or some shit.
Electric Wizard’s type of music is fashionable at the moment. Are you bracing yourself for a possible future when it will fall out of favour again and there won’t be all these festivals that you can go play?
No, I’m not preparing for the possibility of Electric Wizard losing its popularity. I think maybe the music scene won’t be as big and metal might lose its popularity and there won’t be the big fucking festivals, but I don’t see the band disappearing that fast. [Laughs] And our audience isn’t made up of that type of person. Other bands might get fucked, but I think we’ll weather the storm. We’ve weathered them all before. I’ve seen every style of so-called “doom” come and go and come back ’round again, and we haven’t changed yet.
J. Bennett also wrote a cover story on Electric Wizard for the latest issue of Decibel magazine that the band is not happy about.