The Warlocks’ droning, dark rock is the perfect soundtrack for the wee small hours in which the night slips slightly from celebration to creepiness. Add to that the fitting setting of the skuzzier side of Hollywood, and the band couldn’t have taken a more fitting stage than the one at Safari Sam’s on a recent Saturday night in October. Shrouded in the output of a very active smoke machine, the band ripped into the opening tunes off its new album, Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, stretching the already sinewy songs out even longer live, before dipping into its back catalog.
The Warlocks played until they simply couldn’t anymore, because the club was closing down. Afterward, lead man Bobby Hecksher and the musician who’s been with him in the band the longest, drummer Jason Anchondo, took turns chatting with me while helping load up their van in the parking lot Safari Sam’s shares with a 99 Cent store and various ethnic eateries. The two, exhausted not only from performing but also from jetting back across the continent after New York’s CMJ, held forth on that festival, So Cal psych rock, and what classic shoegaze records the kids should listen to.
How was your CMJ experience?
Jason Anchondo: It was really fast. We landed in New York City on Wednesday and got settled in. On Thursday we played a Tee Pee Records party, then another evening party in Brooklyn. On Friday we played the official Tee Pee showcase at Luna Lounge. That place has a great sound, and we played with a lot of other great Tee Pee bands. And now we’re back here. It was just so quick. But we have a week off now before we set out on some more touring.
I know the band has gone through a lot of lineup changes over the years. Is this incarnation that played tonight the one that will be touring?
JA: Yeah, this is the band. Bobby and I have been together for years now, and for the album and the tour we brought some friends of ours in on guitars.
Do you find the band getting a different reception in Europe than here in the States?
JA: Well, it’s been a couple of years since we’ve been over there. But yeah, I think people in Europe have a different conception of music. It seems like they totally engulf themselves in the music over there. And as far as playing shows, clubs in Europe are definitely more punctual.
What was behind the band’s move from Mute to Tee Pee?
JA: The Mute thing just ended. I’ve been friends with the guys from Tee Pee for years. The opportunity was open, and it just seemed like a good deal. We wanted to go with a true indie label that would be better at the whole grassroots feel, whereas Mute was more of a mid-major. I think labels that size expect more out of bands, expect them to make hits. But look at a band like the Velvet Underground; they never really had a big chart-topping hit.
And Tee Pee seems like a better fit for the Warlocks’ sound. When I think Mute, I think more electronic acts.
JA: True, they have those, but they also have stuff like Nick Cave. And Tee Pee isn’t all heavy bands like us. They also have milder bands with more of a songwriting base, like Hopewell.
Tee Pee is based here in L.A., no?
JA: No, the label is actually based in New York. They’re going to open an office out here, but the headquarters are going to stay in New York.
I guess I thought the label was based here because of so many L.A. bands that are on it — you guys, Entrance, Brian Jonestown Massacre. Why do you think so much psych rock is coming out of Southern California right now? Is it just a holdover from the sound staring up in the Bay Area in the ’60s?
JA: No, I think the influences on the current sound come from more than just that. I was watching a documentary about Rocky Erickson lately. That guy coined the phrase “psych rock,” and he was from Texas. Then you had British bands like Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine doing that sound really well in the ’80s. And then later American bands picked up on that. So I think the roots of the sound come from all over.
This album seems like much more of a whole, singular construction, like the individual songs are just pieces of one long, patterned composition. Did you intentionally set out in the studio to craft something like that?
Bobby Hecksher: The first few songs on the album, which we played tonight, were definitely written like that, with long, drawn-out chord changes. But creating songs like that in the studio got tough on the budget that we had to make the record, and on the time constraints. So we started filling out the later part of the album with older material we had.
Is the song “Interlude in Reverse” exactly as it sounds — a song you recorded and on the album it just runs backward?
BH: [Laughs.] Yeah, that one didn’t come out too well in the studio. So we just decided to put it on the album in reverse. Again, it was a budgeting thing. That was cheaper than putting down another song. We’re like a lot of bands in that we don’t work with much money, but we do what we can.
Before the Warlocks, you played with Anton Newcombe in Brian Jonestown Massacre. How did that come about, and how was the experience? Is he as crazy as he’s been depicted?
BH: It came about at a time when he had fired everyone who had been playing with him. And he’d pawned all of his equipment. I visited him and helped him get his stuff together. I was a fan and loved his music, so I wanted to help him get back to making more of it. I had heard some stories about him, but I never witnessed any crazy stuff happen when I was around him.
You’ve also worked with Beck in the past. Do you work or keep in touch with him any more?
BH: No, Beck is in his own little world now. His own little Scientology world.
The band has tended to garner some real critical extremes — either ecstatic praise or really nasty derision. Do either of those two poles ever get to you?
BH: Look, we’re an experimental band. So not everything we do is going to work out. I’m just going to continue to write and not care what people think about it. Like tonight, we came on after some much more straight-ahead rock bands. But we just came out and did what we do. We came out and did some art.
So if both of you were to tell a young kid who really likes your music to go back and listen to one key shoegaze album, what would it be?
BH: Well, that’s hard, because I don’t think we’re just a shoegaze band, and it would be hard to pick just one. I would have to go with the classics from My Bloody Valentine, Loop, the Cocteau Twins. I think Serena Maneesh is a good new one. And A Place to Bury Strangers.
JA: Yeah, that A Place to Bury Strangers album is amazing. My two classics would have to be Ride’s Nowhere and My Bloody Valentine’s Isn’t Anything.