Bluefat Archive October 2009

Share on: Share on facebook Tweet this

What the Warlocks saw

Behind the Mirror

Photo: Aaron Giesel

The Warlocks Comes right down to it, that hairy hoary term psychedelic is getting to be a pretty tired one, at least when attempting to do arty justice to the plethora of new bands mining the weird gold of the great mind-bender bands of the '60s and '70s, such as, say, the Dead or Jefferson Airplane or Chocolate Watchband, etc., etc. And anyway, for L.A.'s veteran dark freaks the Warlocks, among the first of the second wave of "psychedelic" bands to make the scene in the '90s, all such terminology is way beside the point.

"I didn't live through that era," says Warlocks main man Bobby Hecksher. "We're in 2009 and the term psychedelic is very broad, a massive umbrella. Neo-psychedelia, third wave, so many bands have the same inspirational things."

Hecksher started his Warlocks in the late '90s after doing stints with a load of the underground L.A. bands like Charles Brown Superstar and the Magic Pacer, as well as collaborative stuff with Beck and Brian Jonestown Massacre. Hecksher decided that his Warlocks, in lineups that grew to number up to 10 or more players over the years, would emphasize that decidedly threatening, garage-y side of the psychedelic experience, the bad trip side, and for that drew inspiration from the creepy old Velvet Underground, most obviously, while soaking in the trance-inducing trips of Krautrock kingpins Neu! and greasy space bikers Hawkwind. Albums like Rise And Fall (Bomp! 2001) and the 65-minute Phoenix EP (Birdman/Mute 2003), along with the band's messily transcendent live shows, gained them loud critical huzzas as the best and most authentically gnarly of the neo-psychedelic herd.

The band's new The Mirror Explodes on the ultra-righteous Teepee label comes after a sort of shitty period businesswise and personally for the band, owing to their former label Mute's increasing pressure on the Warlocks, of all bands, to cheese up their sound to boost its commercial appeal.

"The band had been through a lot, touring for three years straight," says Hecksher. "It got more complex, and more money was involved, and things entered an orbit that was kind of crazy. After years of that, everything gets rubbed down, you get screwed up."

"Worse than asking us to write hits," says mustachio'd drummer Bob Mustachio, "the label wanted to change what we'd already written. But whatever you've done, you've done it 行 make dinner, write a song. It's worse than saying, `Can you cook this?' If I'd known you wanted something else to eat I'd have made that; now you're trying to fuck up my dinner."

But the band refused to die, taking its own sweet time to get its records made and playing live whenever the mood struck them, since their previous incessant touring had wreaked wrath on the band's interpersonal affairs and, basically, because they were tired of being told what to do. After cutting down to a small core unit to record the very pop-market-accessible Surgery (Mute 2005), Hecksher changed labels to Teepee and layed out 2007's ectoplasmic stoner epic Heavy Deavy Skull Lover.

The Mirror Cracked is a superb return to formlessness, drenched in that losing-control menace that you know you crave, for whatever obscure reasons. "Red Camera"'s drawn-out, ominous peals of dissonance are, why yes, much like an acid flashback, a real, real bad one. "The Midnight Sun" is dreamy, windswept, with a lovely melody buried beneath an echoed-out descent into a very personalized hell.

Massive layering of guitars in every shard and scope 行 now performed live by Hecksher and returning original member John Christian Rees 行 give Mirror its Warlocks trademarked sound that's equal parts wicked and innocent. In "Slowly Disappearing," one feels 行 as maracas shift-shift and bass drum boom-booms, and a shivering, shimmering guitar army prepares for war 行 this characteristically Warlockian yearning wisp through...of what can be, can never be. In fact, with "There Is a Formula to Your Despair" and "Frequency Meltdown," there is something beyond a sense of fear...we're semi-existing together in a very grim afterlife. I see hooded figures...

Meanwhile, the oddly cheering Mirror's grainily loose aggregate of all the frightening, disastrous, dismal and generally messed-up sounds that Hecksher has had rolling around in his otherwise cheerful head lo these past 10 or so years is, he says, a sound custom-made for our bleak new world.

"Maybe it's a bad attitude to have," says Hecksher, "but it's really hard for musicians to make music and put records out now. I just wanted to make sure that I've done everything I wanted to do, to make sure that we finished a period. And now that we've finished a period, we're really excited about moving forward."