Over the last four decades, a lot of bands have followed the dark, forbidden journey Black Sabbath first blazed. Today’s doom/stoner metal scene is as vibrant as it’s ever been, due in large part to the impressive legacy that Electric Wizard has carefully assembled as a direct descendant to the Sabbath birthright. Hailing from a sleepy, bucolic village in Dorset, England, the band members peel back the veneer of everyday life to expose the fear and foreboding that gnaws at humans everywhere. Thick, oppressive, enveloping: Welcome to the paranoia and harrowing scenes that are at the essence of the Electric Wizard experience. Here, Jus Oborn explains what is at the core of his art, and how he got there.
You have evolved over the seven records you've done. How does Black Masses fit within the vision of what you're trying to do with Electric Wizard? It’s a continuation of Witchcult Today in many respects. Really, it's a continuation from Come My Fanatics, Supercoven, Dopethrone, and then to Witchcult Today and into Black Masses. Things went a bit wayward conceptually, but I think it's a steady progression. This one is a violent, aggressive record. Witchcult Today is a mellow and alluring sort of record designed to drag people in and hypnotize them, but this one is full on.
The sound of the new record is certainly cleaner, especially with your vocals. Was that a conscious decision? Not really. I think we just wanted to have clarity in the lyrics. Mainly we have strong choruses on this album, and I wanted clarity in the words. I think it unconsciously happened because of that.
Sometimes on the early records the vocals are trapped under a few layers of distortion and fuzz. I think we were listening to Reign In Blood particularly and thinking the coolest thing about it when it came out was that I understood every word of it. And my parents could understand it, too, like "Praise hell! Satan!" I go, "Yeah, I wanna hear that shit!"
The second song on the new record is called “Venus in Furs.” Is that a reference to The Velvet Underground or the Sacher-Masoch book? It’s more in relation to the book than with The Velvet Underground, really, except that they obviously used the same inspiration. Mainly it’s an archetype of a very strong female, a female that crushes men. I thought it was a theme of evil I wanted to cover on the album. Each song has a different angle on evil. But I think that’s the allure, the beautiful side of evil.
This is the second record in a row with a reference to Drugula. Can we expect another visit from the Hammer Horror movies on the next record? Oh, definitely. The Drugula video is in process at the moment. We are trying to make Drugula happen.
What are the details around that? I’ve started filming principal stuff, and I don’t want to go too much into it because I don’t wanna spoil it, but "The Crypt of Drugula" is part of the soundtrack. We are also doing videos for Black Masses right now, as well.
It’s clear that both the occult and horror in book and film format are a big influence on you. How did you first get interested in that genre? Ever since my earliest memories, to be honest. My first memory ever is watching [a horror film] with my mum when I was 4 years old, and then I was into horror comics, horror books, Frankenstein, Dracula. I discovered the occult and black magic through reading H.P. Lovecraft when I was quite young. I had some books on the occult from the school library. It was sort of a progressive school. There wasn’t any religious doctrine at all, so you could read about anything. I was interested in the occult and horror movies way before I was interested in heavy metal. Sort of a perfect answer to it all.
Was there one pivotal book or movie that kind of made it click for you?: Probably Devil Rides Out on Hammer Films. I think it's called Devil’s Bride in the States.
A lot of those things are out of print or not on DVD. How did you track down a lot of that stuff? Is there an active community for trading tapes? There’s a trading scene for movies and I guess for music as well. I have been collecting stuff for years. We use to trade video cassettes and bootlegs of late-night TV and cable stuff. But it’s a real obsessive subculture. I’ve got cheap recordings of movies that were only shown on TV once in like 1983. Someone taped it.
Another side of the band that I think plays a heavy role in defining the essence is drugs. When I hear Electric Wizard I think of a thick, claustrophobic blanket being tossed over me. Do you think it's possible for you to make that sort of music being completely sober, or are drugs really an integral part of that? It’s a good part of my life to a certain degree, so it's hard to separate them. I think our sound is steeped in it to a certain degree, and improvisation is quite a lot based on drugs. Early jazz and blues, I think it swung and it evolved because people were wasted to a certain degree. They were high and fucking freaking out.
Thinking differently and watching other peoples queues and moving in different directions. You gotta be slightly telepathic and drugs can help that definitely. You can write brilliant music when you're not on drugs, but you don’t have that connection with other musicians, that telepathy. I think that’s the important thing for a band, for the musicians.
Kind of the whole is greater than the sum of the parts? Yeah, definitely, especially with this band. We’re all shit. Put us together and something happens.
My knowledge of England geography is not great, but it would seem that where you are from, Wimborne, is a sleepy little town. Did that have any direct influence on how you evolved the band? Oh, definitely. I think it’s pretty much a major influence on the band. We never played any gigs when we started. We never had any influence -- people hated us, you know. People would bang on the door waiting for us to fuck off and die. They thought that we were Satanists. So that made our music very loud and we went heavier and louder and slower to piss them off even more. When it was really fast they thought it was just a buzz, but when it was slow and really heavy people were getting really upset.
I guess it probably also had the benefit of having you isolated a bit from the trend of the day, or whatever fads might be blowing through. Definitely. Playing a lot of concerts here in London could really influence your sound when you start playing with other bands. and you want to crowd please as well. You want to make people happy and applaud you, but that wasn’t our intention at all. We wanted people to throw bricks at us.
Were you successful in that? Well, yeah, I guess so. Scars.
Some songs on some of the records, like "Ivixor B / Phase Inducer" or “Raptus,” and even the closer, “Crypt of Drugula,” on the new record, are a bit of a departure from the other material in that they are more spaced-out, atmospheric. When you put those in your records, do you do it as sort of a palette cleanser or to help with the flow? What is the thinking behind those decisions? Those are elements certainly, a palette cleanser definitely. Especially when you are doing very heavy slow music, you can just create a different atmosphere so everything can get more intense afterward. I like to listen to an album as a whole piece rather than individual songs. A lot of my favorite records from the '70s were geared toward the album as an experience, as a whole piece, so I like the way it works within music, when Sabbath would have “Planet Caravan” or “Solitude” or something. For me it really works with in the framework of an LP.
The era of the MP3 has done a grave disservice to album sequencing. It’s fucked it. I actually spend a lot of time sequencing songs. We still put our records out on vinyl in the hopes that they will be appreciated in the way they were intended, by somebody.
Would you ever consider doing an entire recording in that style of spacier, more ambient sound? Definitely.You do feel, when doing an album, compelled to do all the ideas you've had over the last sort of two years. It’s hard to concentrate on one style. I have a billion ideas, just trying to get them all squeezed into the record. I definitely go that way. I feel it is kind of easy to do that music [laughs]. I hear bands that do that for the whole album and I think, "That’s one take, right?"
One other follow-up on this particular theme: The song “Night Of The Shape” sounds quite different than anything I have heard you do. What’s the back story on that? The drummer had a loop he had been working on. He kind of played the exorcist theme at one rpm and he did a loop, and I was like, "Yeah, that really works, man," so we added guitar and saxophone on it 'cause we have a friend who plays sax. Then we started mixing stuff, taking stuff off and kind of recreating the atmosphere.
It’s a pretty cool little song. It worked out really cool. I don’t like to be restricted by any kind of rules. If something sounds cool we'll go with it. I am not gonna start being experimental for the sake of it, but if things happen and they work then we are not narrow minded. We are gonna draw any sound that we think would work within the framework of Electric Wizard.
You don’t want to pigeonhole yourself. Definitely not. That’s why we called ourselves Electric Wizard from the start. We thought we could do any style we wanted, you know? We could start doing funk or dance [laughs].
You've undergone some lineup changes over the past few years. Do you think this current lineup is stable for the near term? Yeah. The band’s been going for 17 years. Things happen, people get tired of it, tired of each other. It’s a long process. You just try and keep the best people in the band and try and keep everyone not killing each other. At least on tour.
What changes did some of the others, specifically Liz Buckingham, bring to the band’s sound? Liz was the most important element, because after the first lineup, the band just kind of half stood up after the American tour, because Tim had left the band and we were writing partners so to speak. So when Liz came aboard we were writing partners again. Our styles were very similar. We have the same sort of down-stroke pattern. And since we were writing together, Electric Wizard was happening again. I have to have a writing partner. Taz and Shaun Rutter have added their own influences. Every musician is important to creating the sound. What you hear is what you get.
Was it much different for you writing for and playing with another guitarist rather than being the sole guitarist in the band? More competitiveness, I think, so that’s cool. I would write something and she would be, "Ah, write something better." "Nah, fuck that, this is better." It’s helped in that way definitely.
Have you kept in touch with any of your ex-bandmates? On and off. Neither of us were very good with communication even when we were in the band together. Tim Bagshaw and Mark Greening [now both in Ramesses] I still speak to. Some of the people that have been in the band since have gotten a little upset with their sudden sackings, but you know, shit happens.
Would Justin Greaves fall in that group? Definitely. We fell out big time with that loser. You know, I would piss on his grave.
Difference of opinion musically or was it a personality clash? Oh, I shouldn’t go into it, the lawyers may call [laughs].
On some of the songs you've used you started with snippets and bits of dialog from movies: ”Vinum Sabbathi,” “Wizard In Black,” “We Live.” What movies are those from? Some are from horror flicks, and I used to collect a lot of documentaries that were sort of anti-heavy metal, saying heavy metal was from Satan and all this kind of shit. I’ve gotta lot of old crap around. I have to pick things from the public domain as well or else the record company starts freaking out about paying royalties. When we did our rehearsal tapes when we first started, I used to mix up each song with different samples from horror movies and I think just the start of that’s been hard to give up. For me it sets a little bit of atmosphere. Puts people in the right head space for the song that’s coming up. Some of the things we’ve used have become almost comic in themselves. The "drugs, sex, every sort of filth” line, particularly [from “Wizard in Black” off Come My Fanatics].
So you have a little treasure trove of stuff that could pop up on future songs as well? Definitely. Sometimes I been left with a bunch at the end because I didn’t get them all on, but we're not gonna tell them to White Zombie or anything.
Earlier you mentioned that you are working on a short film. Have you ever been approached by a movie producer or anybody to use Electric Wizard material as part of a soundtrack? Yeah, I think a lot of these projects never seem to reach completion. We have been involved in few soundtracks, and I think two films have been released actually that have Electric Wizard soundtracks. Let Us Prey was on the soundtrack to a horror film called The Holy Terror, an American one. It’s fairly good. It’s about some Electric Wizard fans and one of them becomes possessed. It’s pretty brutal. And then there’s a short film by an MTV chick, like an arty kind of thing she was showing at film festivals about redneck kids killing turtles or something. But it had Electric Wizard on the soundtrack for some reason.
You don’t condone the killing of turtles, do you? No, not really [laughs]. Not unless I’m hungry.
I want to put you on the spot a little with movies: Name five horror movies that are among your favorites. Usually it’s the same old list every time. I will say Devil Rides Out, anything by Jess Franco,especially Wicked Memoirs Of Eugenie or Venus In Furs. God, it’s a hard list. Definitely a [Mario] Bava film, Blood And Black Lace, Vampyres by Jose Lerraz, and -- fuck I could list a thousand. Oh! Hunchback Of The Morgue, a Paul Naschy film.
I don’t think I have heard of that one. It’s pretty hard to get, actually, but definitely worth it. It’s got everything. It’s even got inter-dimensional slime beings at the end that cut people’s heads off. It’s just something else.
You’ve been with Rise Above since the start of the band, so obviously you've got a good relationship with Lee Dorrian. Did you know him before he started the label or did you consider any other labels? That’s basically the story. I knew him from the Napalm Death days. I was just a kid who hung around at shows. I used to know Mickey the drummer quite well, used to crash at his flat sometimes after gigs. So I kind of knew Lee from back then and then when I got the Wizard together he was like “Oh let’s hear your band. What’s it sound like?” I mean that’s basically the relationship. I’ve known him 25, 30 years.
Rise Above has a pretty solid roster and they do a great job on their releases, but one thing that can be a little frustrating is that the LP pressings are pretty limited. How do you guys strike the balance between reasonable upfront costs and not frustrating people who want to get the stuff before it sells out. I consider this a bone of contention. I definitely want there to be more vinyl pressed than there is, but record companies are in the business of making money I suppose. I am in the business of getting fans and keeping fans, so we've got a slightly different agenda there. I would like an Electric Wizard fan to be able to buy an Electric Wizard LP whenever they want.
I think when you look at the artwork, when you look at the full package, the LP is a much greater aesthetic statement than the CD. That’s what I grew up on and that’s what I want from my band. I want an LP!
Regarding the artwork: You’ve contributed to some of those sleeves. Do you have an art background? Not professionally, but as a youngster that was definitely where I wanted to go. I was more interested in art as a child than I was in music. I have always had a sad ambition to do a comic book someday. Twelve copies when I do [laughs].
Sounds like it could be an insert in the next LP. That would be the only way I could force people to buy it [laughs].
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of seeing Sleep play. Obviously Sabbath is influence on you, but did Sleep or any bands of that era influence you guys?
Oh, yeah, definitely. That’s the era we started. There seemed to be a kind of swelling of that genre right back in that era: Sleep, Eyehategod was coming up, Liz was in 13, Revelation, Penance. For me, I was young and tape trading and I was listening to all these bands and they were all having a big influence on me. When you are young and starting a band you really are just trying to impress your peers and trying to keep up with everyone else and that’s how we started.
You were pretty active in the tape-trading community. In the pre-internet days it was pretty hard to track down some of that stuff. It was the only way you could do it. The good old days, I’ll say, but that just shows that I am getting old. There used to be an interesting community back then as well. You pretty much knew everyone. I was tape trading with Max Cavalier and Fenriz and Euronymous, and there were just a few handful of the people that were around.
A couple questions on live shows. Have you ever been asked by the ATP people to do one of their events? We actually played one in Minehead. We were voted on by the fans. That was, for me, more of an honor than just being asked to play. I think they find us a bit Neanderthal for their taste. They are quite artsy, those people. We’re a pretty heavy band, but we're all sweet people.
They had Neurosis play, and Sleep played at the one in the U.S. that I saw, so they do manage to have a fairly broad stretch at times. Yeah, yeah. They were gonna ask us to play this year again, but, ah, it's a long story.
Are there any plans for your guys to tour the U.S.? There’s always plans but they never seem to happen. We’re being approached by a few people now, but I can’t really say much, but I would hope to be there by the end of next year. The problem being, the last time we came to the States was pre-9/11 and getting the visas back then was really easy. You just paid your money, ticked "no" in all the right boxes and that was the end of it. These days it’s a lot more hassle, and it’s just because we've got police records and stuff you gotta get a lawyer and it's a pain in the ass. Before it was piss easy.
The last U.S. tour you did was the 2000 tour? I think 2003 was the last one. We did one in 2000, toured with Enslaved in 2002, and did one more tour with Sons of Otis in 2003, I think. I might be wrong, it’s hard to remember these things [laughs].
What do you feel are the biggest misconception about you or the band in general? Probably that we don’t turn up to gigs. It’s a curse that people think we never turn up to gigs. It’s all bullshit. I mean, we missed like one gig, ever. And you get this "Will they turn up or won't they?" Yeah, we will unless the plane gets canceled or something abnormal happens.
Electric Wizard is a huge riff machine. How do you come up with the catchy riffs without repeating yourself or others? How do you keep it fresh? Oh, I feel that I have repeated myself possibly [laughs]. I was listening to a riff off the first album and realizing it was remarkable similar to one of our new riffs. But you have a style and you have an integrity. I don’t want to copy someone else; I don’t want to be unoriginal. It’s hard work. I work really hard at the songs. It sounds simple, but I spend a lot of time coming up with the three perfect chords [laughs].
One thing I read recently in an interview was that you save your lyric writing to the very end. Does that help you focus on getting down a clear idea of the words to match the music? Is it self-imposed pressure that helps you?
Yeah, I don’t work very well without pressure. I like to do it in a hotel room too, so I don’t have any influence either. Everything is in my head. I don’t need to have books and movies around me; otherwise they are going to start influencing. I really enjoy reading my lyrics knowing that they are subconscious to a certain degree and then finding out they make a lot of sense as well.
You don’t want to have overt influence, subtle is good, but copying obvious touch points is probably not so desirable. And it can happen quite easily, especially if you are surrounding yourselves with a lot of influences, which I do. You know, there’s crap everywhere here. I need to be away because I know it's all here. It's all in my brain somewhere.
Is there anything else we should know? Just that the album is coming out in January, and we’re just ready for it. I think this is our best album. I think the world is ready for fuckin’ heavy doom. The place is fucked.