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Bad Wizard | 1 Tonight | interview | Curtis Brown | rock | Lollipop
#1 Tonight (Howler)
An interview with singer Curtis Brown
By Brian Varney
photos by Bruce Bettis
Where did you get the name Bad Wizard?
A friend of mine and another guy were in downtown Brooklyn where you can always get some fucked-up beer like Night Flight or Laser, all these weird 40s for 79 cents. He went into one of the stores where an Arab guy was working and said, "Hey, what's your most fucked-up beer?" The guy told him "Bad Wizard." He wasn't really paying attention and he said, "Yeah, I'll take some Bad Wizard." Once he got outside, he looked in the bag and was like, "This is fucking Budweiser!" When he went back inside, he said, "Hey, this is Budweiser," and the guy said, "Yeah, Bad Wizard!" At the time, we were called Black Power, and I thought it was a funny story, so we changed the name to Bad Wizard. I wasn't really into stoner rock at the time, and I'm still not, so I'd never even heard of Electric Wizard.
Are you originally from New York City?
No, I'm from North Carolina.
That's right, I remember reading something about you guys being Southerners originally.
Our drummer, Scott, is from Georgia.
How long have you been in New York?
Was the band formed in New York?
Yes. Scott and I moved up here from Georgia together.
Did you move to New York with the intention of forming a band?
Yeah, that was the idea, to move to a city. Are you in Boston?
No, I'm in Columbus, Ohio.
I like Columbus. New Bomb Turks. Cheater Slicks. Our old bass player was in Gaunt.
You guys just played here last month, but with the way shows are booked and promoted around here, I didn't find out about it until afterwards.
It's a weird town for rock. You'd think it would be a lot better than it is.
It used to be, back in the '70s, but not so much anymore.
Right, The Godz (the Columbus biker-rock band, not the NYC art-rock ESP label band) and all that.
It's a great town for buying '70s rock records for that reason. For instance, that Bob Seger tune ("Teachin' Blues") you guys cover is from Mongrel (an early Seger album, the original home of "Teachin' Blues," and a much better album than you'd expect). That's probably a pretty rare record in New York, but here it's a $4 record. Not many people in Columbus care about those records anymore, and things are generally pretty inexpensive here.
That's a $50 record in New York. The first band I ever went on the road with toured with that band Fuck – this was about ten years ago – and we played at Bernie's (Columbus rock hovel). We stayed with this junkie who had a three-story house with not one stick of furniture in it. I remember thinking, "This guy is a fucked-up junkie but he has a huge house. I guess this is why people live in Columbus, Ohio."
Yeah, it's cheap to live here. It would definitely be easier to support yourself in a band here than in New York.
Yup, but we make due. There are some benefits, and you get to do some weird shit.
Plus, everybody plays there. Nobody plays here, and when they do, shows don't get promoted so the bands don't come back.
Columbus should be good because it's a college town with a huge rock history.
A buddy of mine was roommates with Eric Davidson from New Bomb Turks. He roadied for them on one tour and he said they'd go from selling out shows in other cities to playing to 10 people when they came home.
Yeah, Jim (Weber, New Bomb Turks guitarist) would tell me that, at their height, they'd get 25 people to come see them in Columbus while they were selling out clubs everywhere else. I'd go see them in Athens, Georgia and there'd be 300 people there.
I was wondering, the Bad Wizard albums are pretty basic rock and roll records. Are you into other kinds of music?
Yeah, I'm into noise stuff. One of my favorite bands now is The Sightings on Load Records. I like the older stuff like Nurse With Wound and Death In June. I don't really listen to hard rock that much, to be honest. I listen to My Bloody Valentine a lot, that's my favorite shit. I listen to Isn't Anything at least once a day.
That last song on the new album ("Wizard of Shackels") is kind of a departure for you guys.
Yeah, that's kind of a little ambient idea. I wanted that to sort of be a cool-down tune after all the rock.
I know you guys tour a lot, so when you go to other cities, are you able to hit up the record stores?
I try to.
It's probably pretty tough to travel with vinyl.
It is, especially if you're in the middle of the tour. You know, it's hot, it's cold, everyone's drunk and the records are just laying around.
Plus, if your tour van is like some of the others I've seen, you probably don't have much space to spare.
We don't. But I still buy a fair amount stuff on the road, especially now that we're doing a little better and I can actually afford to buy records. There was a long time when I couldn't afford to buy a donut.
You guys landed the opening spot on the Turbonegro tour, which got you in front of bigger audiences
That and the Melvins tour. Plus we have bands in every town that we're friends with and that we play with.
Touring as much as you guys do, are you able to keep regular jobs in New York?
No. We live off the band.
I remember hearing a rumor that you guys were signed to a major label. Did you have major label interest?
We were contacted by pretty much every one of those labels, and Capitol actually printed somewhere that they'd signed us. We never wanted to be on a major. We wanted to be on Howler, which is the label we're on.
I'd never heard of Howler before I got the record. What's the story with the label?
There are only two bands, it's in New York, and it's run by the two coolest guys in the world. It's the absolute optimum situation for us. They have money, relative to the amount a major label would have.
Really? Are they independently wealthy?
Yes. The one guy was a really famous model in the '70s, and the other guy writes Constitutions for Third World countries or some shit. (laughs) He's the guitar player in Alice Donut, too.
Everyone we know who signed to a major seemed to get snakebitten. I'm not ruling it out forever, because it would be nice to get that big fucking payday, but it seems a better idea to raise our stock and become a better band, which is what we wanna do.
Ever read that Steve Albini piece about being on a major label?
"The Problem With Music." It's the one with the tagline "Some of your friends are already this fucked."
That's true. Our friends, Rye Coalition, who we've done a zillion tours with, had been a band for 10 years and signed to Dreamworks about a year and a half ago. They spent three months in L.A. making the record and all that shit the label wants you to do, and when they delivered the record, the label turned it down.
But there are ways to do it without spending a lot of money. Royal Trux is a perfect example of what you should do with a major. They got a zillion dollars when they got signed, turned in their record and no one liked it, turned in their second record and the label refused to put it out, so they kept all the advances and put the record out on Drag City and bought houses and cars.
That sounds like the way to do it.
Yeah, if I could buy a house out of this
It took my parents their whole life to be able to buy a house, so I'd be pretty stoked if I could buy a house from playing rock and roll for five or six years.
One thing I wanted to ask: The three Bad Wizard albums I have are all under 30 minutes long, is that done intentionally?
Yeah. All my favorite records are short.
Well, you're a vinyl geek, and records can't be much longer than 40 minutes
Without the sound starting to get weird, right. I like short records, our producer likes short records, everyone in the band likes short records. At some point, maybe on the next record, since it'll be the biggest budget we've ever had, we were talking about maybe making a longer, better record.
Some people think they have to fill the whole CD, which isn't always the best idea.
Because we're so busy, we don't write constantly. We start writing when it's time to make the record. We basically write three or four more songs than we're going to use, and pull the three or four that we like the least.
When I talk to fellow music geeks or read the discussion boards at stonerrock.com or something, there's always a percentage of people who'll trash bands like you or RPG or The Brought Low saying "it's just rock and roll" or "it's not original enough" or something. What are your thoughts on that sort of attitude?
I think the fact that in every town we play, without the benefit of a media blitz or any bullshit like that, there are 150 people who want to come see us and know the words and get wasted speaks to the fact that people just want to see a dumb rock show and have fun and talk shit to the girls and all that. I think there's a place for everything, and there's certainly a place for fucking rock music. People love rock music. I love rock music. When somebody does it well, it's pretty cool, because a lot of people don't do it well. As simple as it is, it's easy to fuck up.
I remember being an 8th grade kid totally obsessed with AC/DC and reading about them in Rolling Stone or something and the writer complained about their songs only having three chords, and I thought "So? Why aren't there more bands this good if it's so simple?"
Same with the Ramones, and they're one of the greatest rock bands of all time. People used to talk shit about the Stones being too simple in their day, and who would talk shit about the Stones now? People used to talk shit about Zeppelin, how they were just blues ripoffs. Some people thought Black Sabbath were ridiculous.
Until recently, they were completely disrespected.
Kinda goes to show that you can't please everybody. That's why we don't deviate too much. The 5,000 people in the world who like us and buy our records and t-shirts and shit want to hear what we do. They don't want to see us come out and make a Dead C record. I want the band to be huge and I want a ton of people to be into it. That's why we try to write hooky songs that people can remember and sing. Anthems. It's supposed to be fun, man. There's too much bullshit going on in the world to not have fun playing music.