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Electric Wizard: an interview with guitarist/vocalist Justin Oborn

Electric Wizard

Dopethrone (TMC)

An interview with guitarist/vocalist Justin Oborn
by Brian Varney

Electric Wizard. Allow the name to roll around in your mouth for a couple of minutes. Feeling high yet? If not, you’re doing something wrong.

If you’ve never had the majestic experience that is recorded Electric Wizard, imagine smoking a bunch of dope, drinking a bunch of beer, and listening to Hawkwind’s Space Ritual way, way too slow. It’s slow, heavy and lumbering, and all of the songs go on for about an hour or so. Not really, but that’s the feeling you get. When Electric Wizard are in the house, time stops.

I talked to Justin Oborn, who sings and plays guitar. I must admit that the prospect of talking to the mind behind songs such as “We Hate You” and “Doom-Mantia” had me a bit nervous, but he’s actually quite pleasant and very funny. And, yes, he smokes as much dope as you’d think. But I’m getting ahead of myself... Read on as we talk about the band’s social philosophy and, uh, dope.

Hey man, what’s going on?

Nothing. Just drinking some beer and smoking some dope.

Do you guys really smoke as much dope as your image would suggest?

We can’t live without it. I’ve gotta smoke weed all day or I’ll go fucking mad.

It seems to provide inspiration.

Yeah, it works for us.

How long has Dopethrone been out over there?

It’s been out in England since the middle of October. It was supposed to come out in September, but it got all fucked up.

When was it recorded?

May and June 2000.

Why such a long wait between full-lengths (their second album, Come My Fanatics, came out in 1996)?

Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. It started off with all of us going to court for different reasons. I got arrested for having some pot and Mark (Greening, drums) got arrested for beating up a copper and Tim (Bagshaw, bass) got arrested (pause, sound of massive intake of air) for robbery, so we were all in court for about a year. Then I got ill... I had a problem with my ear and had to have a few operations.

What happened?

One of my eardrums collapsed.

Was it from playing too loud?

Probably. It was at a gig where we were supporting Goatsnake and I was right down front and all of a sudden my eardrum felt really weird. It was pretty harsh. And then I slit the end off my finger, which was fucking arse. And then our drummer broke his collarbone in a fucking bike accident.

How did you cut off the end of your finger?

I was cutting some hardboard, working on some flooring, and I slipped and the knife just slit the end off.

Wow, just like Tony Iommi.

Yeah. We had to tour with Goatsnake the next week, so I figured, what the hell, if Tony Iommi can do it, I can do it. So I stuck it back on.

Have you done any dates for the new album yet?

We’ve played some in England and some in Holland and one in Belgium.

How’s the response been?

It’s been pretty varied. People think we’re too heavy sometimes. It happened in Holland in a couple places. We’re pretty heavy live, pretty aggressive.

It’s pretty extreme stuff. My neighbors might not like it, but I sure do.

Yeah, there’s a lot of sub-bass frequencies to fuck the neighbors up.

How do you guys come up with your stuff? Do you actually sit around and write and arrange the songs, or do you just turn on the tape machine and let it happen?

Well, we try to write them. We sort of come up with a plan before we record, but we pretty much do it live. There’s a lot of improvisation and jamming going on as we do it. We just get fucked and put it together. But we sit at home and spend a lot of time writing the riffs, and then we bring that to rehearsal and jam it out from there. It’s hard to say because the songs are all different. A song like “Supercoven” was a real incantation. We took a lot of drugs, drank a lot, and wrote almost the whole thing off the top of our heads. And a lot of the stuff on the new album was written beforehand, but we kinda jammed out as well.

Isn’t it hard to play when you’re that, uh, altered?

It used to be. When we started, back in ’93 or ’94, we all smoked together in the rehearsal room. I was growing weed in my house at the time, so I had, you know, ounces... So it just became very natural, jamming and smoking the weed I had. You can’t turn back from there.

Do you have problems crossing borders when you’re “carrying”?

When we’re on tour, we don’t carry across borders.

I guess it’s not hard to find when you get to where you’re going.

In some countries it is... When we went to Holland this time, we couldn’t score the first day. We were pretty fucked off: “This is Holland, we should be able to score!” But luckily, it was sorted out the second day. You’ve just gotta be careful. We’ve been lucky so far. I’m not going to try and bring anything into America. I’ll wait ’til we get there. Hopefully there’ll be some generous souls (massive inhalation followed by a spastic coughing fit).

Where in England do you live?

We’re right on the south coast, in the countryside. It’s a little seaside town in the middle of nowhere.

Is there any place to play around there?

Not really. There’s a couple of venues, but they’re really small and we decided right from the start that we were never gonna play in them because no one turns up but the people we went to school with. And when we play, everyone leaves anyway. We played recently and everyone but two people left.

Were you in any other bands before Electric Wizard?

I was in a band called Eternal and a death metal band before that called The Lord of Putrefaction.

Really, a death metal band?

Yeah, we had the full leather and nails thing. That was a long time ago, ’89 or ’90. It was fun.

How’d you go from death metal to what you’re doing now?

I don’t know... I still listen to death metal. I just want to play the heaviest music ever. That’s the ultimate goal of the band. We listen to Autopsy, Bathory, stuff like that. Those are bands we call influences.

Do you like the Melvins?

Yeah. They’re a big inspiration for the band. That’s one we all like. We all like different stuff, but we all agree on the Melvins, Sabbath, Vitus, Black Flag, Blue Cheer, Sleep, and shit like that.

Do you listen to music that isn’t heavy? Anything weird that might surprise people?

I’m into some krautrock like Can, Amon Duul II, and Faust. And I like electronic stuff like Aphex Twin.

Any techno?

Not too techno... Only if it’s really weird and fucked up. I like something that’s original. I can get behind anything that’s original.

Did you ever get into Spacemen 3?

Yeah, they’re cool. I was around when a lot of those weird ’80s English psychedelic bands came out, so I was into them and bands like Loop as well. I used to love Loop when I was a kid.

    (I don’t know what happened at this point. Maybe I got a contact high from being on the phone with Justin, but the tape shut off and I missed a minute or two. We resume while he’s in mid-sentence).

...Eternal, the band I was in before Electric Wizard, was sort of stoner rock-y. But that all fell apart because they wanted to do grunge and shit. Trend-following fucks.

I don’t see Electric Wizard jumping many bandwagons.

That’s what we’re against all the way – being boring and conservative. Everyone just copies one another. There’s a thousand bands out there right now that sound like Kyuss. Fucking whoopee... And now you’ve got all kinds of bands in this country that think they’re Southern rock, with confederate flags on their guitars and shit. It’s like, “What the fuck? You’re from London!” I just can’t stand shit like that. We don’t want to be false and try to sound like someone else. We just play whatever comes out.

Who finds the horror movie clips you use between a lot of your songs?

I find most of them.

Do you guys watch a lot of horror movies?

Yeah, we watch horror movies together. That’s one thing of major interest in the band. We’re all really into horror movies and comic books and shit like that.

You can hear the horror movie influence in your sound.

We just love it. It’s a bit Trainspotting-y, but I like to listen to the samples and try to guess which film it’s from. And usually if you can guess the film, it links into the song in some way as well. It’s just an added bonus for anyone who’s really fanatical about horror movies.

Are you guys really as sick and hateful as the image you portray, printing things like “Legalize drugs and murder” inside your albums?

Yeah, we just wanna kill everyone and get stoned. We’re just rednecks from a shitheap country town. We’ve got bad attitudes. Everyone wants to make it and be a pop star, we just wanna stand on stage and kill people with volume. We’ve got a bad image.

I can see how some of your songs might scare the uninitiated.

It’s happened... People have come to see us and been unpleasantly surprised.

The first time I heard Dopethrone, I almost wrecked my car.

It’s pretty heavy. It’s gonna get heavier, though. I don’t think it’s heavy enough yet.

Do you guys use vintage gear?

We’ve got prehistoric amplification. It’s pretty disgusting. It started off that way because we wanted to get the band started and that stuff was cheap. So we started with cheap amps, but we noticed that they made us sound louder than everyone else and their expensive, posh-ass shit. Plus, we were really into a lot of ’60s and ’70s bands, so we figured playing on the original equipment would make us sound older, more like those bands.

What kind of guitar do you play?

An SG.

An old one?

No, it’s just a shitty one. It was cheap, and I like that because I don’t have to be really careful with it. Besides, I don’t have the money to have a collection of guitars. I’ve just got the one utility piece.

No backup?

No. I can change a string in about a minute, though. And when the song’s ten minutes long, you don’t lose too much.

Are the songs going to keep getting longer and longer?

I don’t know. We don’t plan them to be long... We write them to be three or four minutes long, but we end up jamming them out. The Supercoven EP (two songs, 30 minutes) was supposed to be a single, but it ended up being way too long.

During the recording of Dopethrone, I hear you had problems with the producer...

From now on, we’re 100% self-produced. That’s the only way, really, because no one else understands what we do.

You record live anyway, right?

Yeah, it just feels right when you’re playing together. You need eye contact. Nothing’s ever planned, we just kinda look at each other like, “OK, change NOW!” It’s just got a nice vibe. I don’t want it to be too sterile or commercial.

So far, I’d say there’s no danger of that.

And it’s gonna get worse.

I can’t wait.

I can’t wait to go to America... We’re gonna get fucked up everywhere we go. Tell people to bring drugs ’cause we have no money.
(PO Box 629 Port Washington, NY 11050)  

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