Since the early 90s, England's Electric Wizard has stood out as one of the defining bands of the doom/stoner metal scene, blending the low grooves of Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer with horror movie imagery, taking heavy music to new thunderous, gut-punching levels. Albums like Dopethrone and Come My Fanatics have become stalwarts of the genre, and the band has continued soldiering through its third decade, fronted by founding member Jus Oborn, who sees himself as the band's "holder of the keys."
This week the band released Wizard Bloody Wizard, its ninth album, which finds the band firmly planting its feet in its core sound, keeping things strong, primal and downtuned. Oborn shared with us his belief in the power of spontaneity, picking the brains of his musical heroes, and his love of classic and underground horror cinema.
AllMusic: You've come up with some great compound word song titles in your career, from "Dopethrone" to "Funeralopolis" to "Necromania" on the new album. Is there a notebook filled with bad titles that didn't make the cut?
Jus Oborn: They usually come in kind of a brainstorm, the ones that we come up with are the ones that we use, there aren’t many unused ones. It just happens in a flash of inspiration. The lyrics go through a few phases, but I generally believe in spontaneity and that your first idea is your best idea. So everything’s much more spontaneous now, I don’t really keep a lot of notes about ideas for songs or lyrics, I just jump in and get them done.
AllMusic: Have you always allowed yourself to be spontaneous?
Oborn: I think I’ve always been like that musically. I was drawn to playing music through jamming, and the idea that you could just get out there and play. I was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, who was a very spontaneous player, and I like the idea that music can be spontaneous like that, I think that’s where a lot of energy is. I can do more thought-out music, but it’s a different feel then, it’s less rock and roll. Some of the songs like, “See You in Hell,” that was a spontaneously-written song, I just picked up the guitar, I was jamming with a drummer, and the song came out whole in one go, like some sort of horrible birth.
AllMusic: Is it important to be playing with other people for you to write?
Oborn: Liz [Buckingham, guitarist] and I will come up with ideas for riffs, the basic note patterns and chord sequences, but you have to have a band, I think, at least to create this type of music, heavy rock stuff, there’s a certain chemistry that goes with any band, and everyone brings something to the table. I at least play with a drummer, so you’ve got something going, and then build it up from there. I think a good rock band is the sum of its parts. Once everyone brings something to the table, then it becomes a real song, a real piece of music.
AllMusic: When you listen to other people's music, can you tell if it's off the cuff or more labored?
Oborn: Sometimes you can tell, definitely, you can tell when things are spontaneous and when things are orchestrated. Sometimes you find out that you were completely wrong, like they totally planned that spontaneous jam, and the extreme orchestrated prog music was played off the cuff, sometimes you can be wrong. But I think music that I tend to be drawn to is very spontaneous, like the Stooges, Blue Cheer, it doesn’t feel like they really planned out what they were doing, they were going for more of a feeling, more of a vibe, trying to capture lightning in a bottle.
AllMusic: Do you look into the stories behind the music you like?
Oborn: I tend to obsess, definitely. I pick up any information I can, usually biographies, buying old magazines, press cuttings, posters. I get pretty heavily into it, I like trying to recreate the atmosphere that they had in my mind and try to bring that to the table with the band.
AllMusic: Have you had the opportunity to directly ask any of your heroes about how they made their music?
Oborn: A few. It doesn’t happen too often, but yeah, after our last American tour we got to hang out with Jimmy Recca, who played bass in the Stooges before Raw Power, so that was pretty cool, and he told us stories about hanging out with Alice Cooper and Ron Asheton. And we had the honor of him telling us that we had the same sort of power and feedback and aggression as the Stooges, which was an honorable moment. I’ve met a lot of other musicians that I was really inspired by, like Dave Chandler from Saint Vitus, or Dave Depraved from the Blood Farmers, which is a pretty underground band, but a pretty influential guitarist for myself.
AllMusic: Musicians aren't always great at articulating their creative process, have you run into that with these conversations?
Oborn: Yeah, that happens quite often, and I feel the same. It’s hard when people think that there’s a mindset, a lot of thought that’s gone into something, and often it’s just a reflection of those people’s personalities, their lifestyle and their environment, and it just comes out. If it wasn’t the life they had, they probably wouldn’t have created the music. But I find that cool, as well, I like the idea that music can be a product of your environment. The bands I enjoy the most definitely reflect who they are and where they’re from.
AllMusic: There's some organ on the new record, but used pretty sparingly. How do you know to lightly sprinkle that on instead of putting it on everything?
Oborn: On some of our earlier albums, I don’t think we knew when to stop. There’s a few songs on our records that have ended pretty much because the tape ended, that ended the song for us. That’s happened a few times. So I think this album was an exercise from us in trying to put a cap on it, to find where a song should end and forcing ourselves into that situation. We set out to record a single vinyl, 22 minutes per side in the classic album vein, so this one was definitely an attempt to do that. The song you’re thinking of, “The Reaper,” it came from a 12, 13-minute jam, so we decided, “This is all that can fit on the record, this is all that there’s going to be.”
AllMusic: The record has been described as "funeral boogie." Do you take the "boogie" part literally? Do you want people to dance?
Oborn: Yeah, definitely. That’s something Electric Wizard has always tried to do, we’ve always tried to get people moving. I don’t want the gig to be too much like a recital with everyone sitting there with crossed arms, scratching their chins. It’s supposed to be a rock and roll show, I want that feeling. That’s our intention, but I wouldn’t say it’s a boogie in a traditional sense, but I want people to move, that’s important, I think that’s what’s lacking in rock and roll sometimes. Some other forms of music have got people moving instead, and rock needs to get that back again, that communal feeling, everyone getting wasted and moving to music, losing their senses, their inhibitions, and forgetting about their lives for an hour.
AllMusic: When you're attending a show, is it easy to get you moving, or are you one of the guys with your arms folded?
Oborn: I really like to enjoy a show. If I’m not moving, then I’m not digging it. I want to get down in the front, I want to feel it, I like getting my head in the speakers, I’m still a teenager like that. I like loud gigs, I like a heavy rhythm to get you going.
AllMusic: You mentioned that other forms of music that make people move. Do you have broad tastes?
Oborn: Yeah, I’m still a big fan and consumer of music, I like a lot of stuff. I don’t think my taste is just based around heavy metal or rock or whatever. I can enjoy a lot of different styles. These days I’ve concentrated more on soundtrack stuff, and Liz listens to a lot of avant-garde jazz and shit, which I’ve never really appreciated, but I’m slowly coming to understand it. I grew up listening to a lot of different music, because I came from a small town, I didn’t have a lot of buddies who liked the same music, everyone liked different music. So I heard a lot of electronic stuff, more indie-ish type music, I used to hear My Bloody Valentine, Aphex Twin, that kind of stuff.
I dig music, I dig people that have a vision and are trying to create something, it doesn’t have to be exactly what I play. It must influence in some way, everything seeps through your subconscious. There’s a lot of music out there. When I was 16 or 17, it was death metal all the way, I didn’t want to listen to anything but Celtic Frost and Possessed, but if you’re going to limit yourself your whole life, it’s going to get pretty boring.
AllMusic: You're a big horror fan, and we just finished up Halloween over here in the States. Do people care about Halloween in the UK?
Oborn: No, not really, it’s never been as big as a deal as it is in the States. I don’t think people really did Halloween here until E.T. or something. I remember when I was a teenager, trick or treating kind of got out of hand and the police would patrol the streets, arresting teenagers. It never had the same deal. It’s kind of weird, you’d think it would. I think it’s growing more popular with the infiltration of world culture and the internet, people have taken to it more.
AllMusic: People here will binge on horror movies in October, and then be sick of them for a while. It sounds like you might never get sick of them.
Oborn: There’s the inevitable thing where Halloween is on on Halloween, you can see it on six channels. There’s an element of that. I think watching horror movies is the most effort they do in England, really. They have trick or treating for the kids, but it’s just a small thing. I don’t get burned out on horror movies, myself. I like to watch the more Gothic ones around Halloween, it has to have a castle or something.
AllMusic: Maybe some of the Vincent Price/Roger Corman movies, then.
Oborn: Yeah, that’s perfect, The Pit and the Pendulum, Masque of the Red Death, something like that, that’s perfect. I’d take that over Michael Myers or whatever any day.
AllMusic: Do you enjoy the campy bad ones or do you need them to be a bit more serious?
Oborn: I used to see those at the cinema, they were playing when I was a teenager, so I caught up on those when they happened, Nightmare on Elm Street 5 or whatever. But I don’t have a lot of nostalgia for them now, they were kind of silly.
AllMusic: Are there enough new movies to keep you interested or do you stick with the classics?
Oborn: I tend to dig into the stuff from the 50s, 60s and 70s, that’s the golden era for me. I recently started going back to the 30s stuff, Island of Lost Souls and Mad Love and stuff like that, and they’re pretty wild if you get into the story rather than the visual aspects. Something like The Black Cat, it’s a pretty heavy movie, actually. The final scene is pretty nasty.
AllMusic: This is out of the blue, but have you seen Night of the Death Cult? That movie comes to mind when I hear your music.
Oborn: Yeah, the last Blind Dead movie. The crabs all over the corpses is pretty creepy, that one. I like Ghost Galleon, as well, the one before it. Everyone thinks it’s the worst one, but I’ve always had a thing about ghost ships. I guess it’s similar to where I was born in Dorset; it's a very foggy, creepy sea, and then imagine seeing a ghost ship!