Electric Wizard | Saturn’s children

This interview has been published on Radio Metal the 29/10/2014.

“We believe in tradition over novelty”: when many bands deny trying to sound deliberately retro, Jus Oborn tells it loud and clear: with Time To Die, Electric Wizard sticks to its guns. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Black Masses, the band’s previous record—line-up changes, departure from long-time label Rise Above—but the core formed by Liz Buckingham (guitar) and Jus Oborn (guitar, vocals) appears stronger than ever: ending the other’s sentences and looking for the other’s agreement; their complicity is obvious.

Hearty, hiding neither enthusiasm nor disappointment, they answer our questions with the honesty they’re claiming and a pinch of self-deprecation. In between two puffs from a makeshift pipe made of a can of 1664, they talk DIY, solitude, disillusions, and plans for the future.

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© Ester Segarra

Mark Greening came back in the band to record the album, but he’s now gone again already [he’s been replaced by Simon Poole]. In the press kit, the volatility of your relationship with him was mentioned. Is this the reason why he ended up leaving once again?

Liz Buckingham (guitar): Well, it wasn’t at the time. He just quit. Everything was fine while we were doing stuff…

Jus Oborn (guitar, vocals): Things were inevitable. The band split up 10 years ago for some arguments. We decided to bury them, but they come back…

Liz: It just resurfaces.

Jus: …Like in a bad relationship [laughs].

Did it disappoint you? You said he was the best drummer for this band…

Jus: Oh, of course, it’s disappointing; things didn’t go right, you know? We wanna make good music. We wanna keep the band going and be totally honest to ourselves. When things don’t work out, then it’s not good. What can we do? We don’t want it to cause any more arguments because this thing’s getting ugly.

Liz [to Jus]: You were really disappointed…

Jus: Yeah. I thought we could at least bring back the friendship we used to have, but maybe too much has happened in ten years…

Since 2012, Electric Wizard has been through many changes on the bass and drums spots. What happened with Tas Danazoglou, Glenn Charman, and Shaun Rutter? How can you explain this instability?

Jus: I don’t think it’s entirely relevant to the band. Electric Wizard’s been going on for twenty years, and it’s not easy to keep the enthusiasm of youth. When we started the band, we were in our early twenties and we were thinking: “OK, I can give my whole life to this!” But then when people get in their thirties or forties, they can’t give their whole life anymore. They have children, families… Shit happens and we have to be reasonable: we can’t imprison everyone in the band! Things have evolved and yet we have to make good decisions to keep our music going and keep it honest to the original cause. Liz and I make sure at least there’s some core, there’s some stability there. I don’t think we deviate so far from the path. We’re still Electric Wizard.

You have a new, young bass player called Clayton Burgess. Do you think he brought in some new blood to the band?

Jus: Oh yeah, definitely. It’s good to hear young musicians who are very enthusiastic and not affected by any bullshit, fashions and things, who’re really into music, really honest… We just pick that up. We don’t want anyone who’s corrupted by the music scene because it can [laughs], it can corrupt you!

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For a long time, Electric Wizard was basically just you [Jus], and now it’s both of you. You always say that you’re very complementary. What are your differences and what are your common grounds, would you say?

Liz: Well, our personalities are quite different. But our common grounds most definitely are musical influences, aesthetics, and everything that we see as Electric Wizard.

Jus: And our visions as well…

Liz: They’re the same…

Jus: We come from similar backgrounds, as people. We met knowing we were very similar, we really understood each other on a lot of levels. And I like a writing partner. Tim [Bagshaw] was my writing partner earlier in the band and when our friendship broke apart, I didn’t want to be the only one. Liz was already almost in the band before everything went wrong. We played a few gigs with Sourvein, we were always very impressed with her style. With Tim, we discussed having a second guitarist in the band and how that would work. Everything was a natural evolution. From the outside, you can draw a lot of opinions and ideas about what you think happens in Electric Wizard, but for us, it’s just naturally evolving and trying to push the music forward. We gotta make the decisions we have to make to move on.

And is this also the reason why the line-up changes are always quite discreet?

Jus: Yes! No one is disgraced, there were no big arguments. A lot of the time it’s just: “I can’t do it anymore, I need to get on with my life…”

Liz: And we’ve always used to say that we sort of avoid it being a personality band. It’s supposed to be about the music, it’s not supposed to be about the individuals. To the extent that Jus says he’s gonna replace himself [laughs], even though that would be impossible. But that’s how it should be, hoping that he’s created Electric Wizard as a musical entity so it doesn’t matter who’s in it.

Jus: Yeah! Even a living creature! Electric Wizard is here. I’m just a part of it. I think it’s hard to get away from it now.

Liz: We live in a culture where everyone wants personalities, everyone wants gossips, they want reality and all the shit and we really don’t want to enter that modern world, you know? It’s not about that. We’re not a reality TV show [laughs]. That’s music.

Time To Die is obviously about death. You said you felt the band had to be killed in order for it to be reborn. What made you feel that way? Why did you think it had to be killed?

Jus: I always take a dramatic view on things anyway, Liz would tell you [laughs]. It’s always gotta be white or black. Either we’re finished or everything’s fantastic… We’re bound to make really heavy albums. We didn’t want to pander to anyone or be wimpy about it.

Liz: We didn’t let anybody in the process. We didn’t make it saying like: “Is this gonna be OK?” We were like: “NO! This is it!” And that might be killing it, that might… I don’t know what’s gonna happen but it was just a no-holds-barred sort of attitude.

Jus: Yeah. The attitude was: “This is it! We’ll never record another record. This is the end.” But I think we have that attitude a lot [laughs]. That way, we have to put all our energy into it, like this is our last statement.

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You’re often talking about mind-destruction when you talk about your music. Is this a way for you to kill a corrupted part of the mind for it to get reborn, in a way?

Jus: Yeah. I personally believe that a lot of us have a lot of conditioning from birth, we’re taught to live in a certain way and how we should behave… I think some of us don’t even really believe in our true selves and who we really are. That’s always kind of our message in many ways: “Be you, be free, break your conditioning!” As a youngster, with my friends we thought we would possibly evolve and move into another realm of understanding and humanity. That’s what I believe. Maybe people think I’m fuckin’ mad [laughs]!

We can hear water flowing at the beginning and the end of the record, which gives a feeling of closure of course, but also a “countryside” feel. You said: “We needed to get out into the country to finish [the record].” What do you find there that you don’t find in the city?

Liz: Less human beings [laughs]!

Jus: Solitude, isolation… It’s very easy to be influenced by your peers, and I think that’s the worst thing Electric Wizard could do. We create music that’s very individual, whether people would like it or not. We don’t have to try and make music that people would like, but when you’re surrounded with people it’s very easy to become socially involved. You want positive reactions from people… So we need to isolate ourselves from everyone to be at least honest with ourselves, I think, as musicians. It’s just our philosophy and maybe we’re stupid [laughs], but it’s working for us!

Liz: And the stream takes you to our house…

Jus: Yeah, the whole idea with the stream is to take you to our world.

Liz: If you come to our house, you would hear the exact same thing.

Jus: It’s the sound in the garden… That was the point of the sound because water itself is very primordial, it’s a return to the roots of life…

Liz: And it has something to do with the gatefold…

Jus: …The gatefold refers to it as well… But we don’t want to give away too much because the artwork is as important as the record, I think. Everything will make sense when you’ll get hold of the package.

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You both seem to be very attracted by isolation and solitude, so how do you deal with the paradox of seeking isolation and at the same time touring the world and playing concerts, being surrounded with people all the time?

Jus: Well, it’s been very difficult, really [laughs].

Liz: We don’t do it as much as most people do. So it’s not too bad. It’s not like we fanatically don’t wanna be around people. You just do what you do. There is a lot of solitude on the road in a way. You’re in front of all of these people but you spend a lot of time just sitting around…

Jus: No one ever speaks to us or anything.

Liz: [Laughs] Yeah, nobody talks to us!

Jus: [Laughs] We’re very alone. We’d be in the dressing room and hundreds of people are having a party while Electric Wizard is just silent!

Actually, an Electric Wizard concert is a unique experience. This goes way beyond music—it’s like a full-body experience. You’ve got the psychedelic visuals, the smoke, the smell and the floor vibrating… What does it feel like for you, to be the center of this almost religious atmosphere?

Jus: These concerts are everything we want to create! It’s definitely gonna be in the music. We don’t wanna be entertainers, we’re not pop musicians. I like creating a cult, I like the feeling of the audience… When you play good rock music, you’re feeding off the audience. The more they love it, the harder you play. That very generation is exciting, and the audience can really enjoy that too. If you’re honest to yourself, you don’t wanna end up seeing people sitting there like: “Oh that’s clever”, so we have to bring these elements to force people to really get into it and give it up. You don’t have to be sophisticated to understand us and get inside our world. That’s the real way to experience Electric Wizard, I mean.

The artwork has been made by you [Jus]

Jus: Yes, I did the drawing. We’re both very involved in the artwork. Liz for the photography….

Liz: Yes, we’re like a team as designers. He’s a good graphic artist.

It has a stripped-down, do-it-yourself, anti-modern artworks feel to it. And the album was recorded in a total analog studio. Do you want to keep the human aspect as close as possible to your music?

Liz: Yeah, we’ve always been like that, even to the point where we hand-made all our T-shirts. You just get a piece of the essence of Electric Wizard, and we fully believe that it makes a difference.

Jus: For many years there were thousands of people wearing our T-shirts and we made it, with my hands! I think there’s spirituality to that: you’re wearing what I made.

Liz: We like everything to be like that. That’s why we like working in an analog studio where he’s cutting the tape by hand, everything is more physical…

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Is this also a way to make your music sound timeless, maybe?

Jus: I don’t know [laughs].

Liz: Time will tell!

Jus: I think the history will tell that. If I read a book in twenty years about the history of rock and there’ll be a chapter about Electric Wizard, then yeah, OK, we did it [laughs]! But yeah, it’s making us a bit unique I guess.

Liz: We’re not following trends.

Jus: Be honest to yourself. Trends come and go, everyone knows that. Music doesn’t. Music lasts thousands years, so why listen to fashions, that’s just stupid! People still listen to Black Sabbath, people still listen to the Beatles… That’s more important than being of the moment.

You created your own Witchfinder Records. Is this a way to go further into that do-it-yourself philosophy?

Jus: Yeah. The idea is to maintain one hundred percent control within a major record label situation. I think we don’t want anyone to be frightened that we’re gonna become engulfed in a bigger organization like that. We want to create. Witchfinder is Electric Wizard’s world and bounds will be set. And hopefully we can bring new bands into it and maybe produce films and stuff. The idea is just to create our world.

About that, last year you said that Rise Above Records and their lawyer were trying to prevent you from releasing a new album or even using the name Electric Wizard. At that time we contacted Lee Dorian, the boss of the label, and…

[Together]: … And you’ve been lied to!

We’ve been lied to?

Liz: Yes, you’ve been lied to. We had a lawyer look at it and it’s just a lie.

Jus: It’s a lie, we have no contract with this company. It’s over, and they don’t want to accept it.

Liz: They’ve been threatening us for years…

Jus: Threatening us and bullying us in the nastiest ways possible. We’re just musicians and we try to create music. We don’t try to fuck up anyone!

Liz: We have nothing to gain from starting problems with them, you know… At all [laughs]! So why would we lie? It’s just ridiculous…

Jus: I don’t want to talk about that a lot, but I think Rise Above is not the same label that the one we signed to. It’s a different organization and different people; it isn’t who we worked with two years ago… I don’t know what to say. If you’re gonna be sued by your label for every time you open your mouth, how could you continue as an artist? It’s ridiculous, and we’re not the only band. A number of bands have left Rise Above as well.

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You once said that Electric Wizard was a “perfect example of arrested development”…

Jus: [Laughs]

Are you actually afraid of evolution or of what you may become? How do you manage to keep on challenging yourselves musically?

Liz: I think it’s because we genuinely know what we like. We know who we are, we know what we’re into, we don’t feel like there’s a need to progress. We found who we are, we’re not lost, and that’s fine. And I think it’s harder for people to actually stay true to themselves. People get influenced by a lot of things, especially as they get more successful: they’re around people who tell them so many things… We’re strongly against—or I certainly am—adapting, being influenced by outer influences. Maybe you don’t really feel it but when people tell you you should do something…

Jus: We believe in tradition over novelty and stuff. We love tradition. Just because some things have been done over and over again doesn’t mean they’re bad, you know? We like very traditional art and things that never get changed.

Liz: If it’s what you believe in, why would you have to change? Maybe someone wants to find different things they haven’t found, it’s their prerogative, but it’s none of us.

About tradition: a Sadiowitch music video has been released a few days ago. It is the perfect illustration of your music, and of course evokes many directors from the 60s-70s—Kenneth Anger for instance, Jean Rollin or Jess Franco of course. Since your music is heavily movie-inspired, was this the next logical step for you, to kind of do the other way around by making movies inspired by your music?

Liz: Yeah! And that video, we are so happy with how it came out! It really inspired us to proceed with maybe a bigger project, total visual, a movie with music… That’s what we’ve always wanted to do, because we’re very visual, and that would be great to just create the whole thing.

Jus: Yeah. I’ve been working on animation for a few years now and working on some film stuff. This is how we wanna progress, really, as a band. We have to take it to the next level. This is what we’re looking forward doing.

Liz: That’s what we find exciting and inspiring.

And was it also an homage to what have been inspiring you?

Jus: Oh yeah, definitely! We wanted to reference Jess Franco, Kenneth Anger, all these people right away, this is meant to be the first Electric Wizard video officially financed and created…

Liz: It’s gonna be our first video, it’s got to be an encapsulation of what we’re all about.

Jus: We didn’t want to come in left-field or to be clever. This is Electric Wizard, you know, this is everything. The video captures a lot of the feelings you get from Electric Wizard, the idea that you can be—have to be—sinful, be slightly hedonistic, but it’s not bad things, we can enjoy life and not become weird about anything [laughs]

You said that you’ve “always attempted to create an uncertain and ambiguous morality”. Is it all aesthetics or are you trying to make a point?

Jus: Obviously we do have a message with this band. I think people will discover the message; we aren’t opening it or making it very obvious. We’re really about being free and thinking for ourselves, more than anything. [To Liz:] Yeah?

Liz: Yeah.

Jus: I want people to enjoy music on their level, and not to think they have to wear the right clothes and to do some things to be into Electric Wizard. It’s just music. It’s just meant to inspire you on a much deeper level than just how I live my life.

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The occult has always been a recurring theme in your records. I’d like to talk about one specific figure: Saturn. He symbolizes a lot of things, including time, death, and doom. You wrote “Saturn’s Children” for We live, and this time you chose a song called “Saturn Dethroned” as the closer of the album. Could you elaborate on that title?

Jus: It’s a very negative ending to the album, it’s like: “Screw it. We’re all fucked.” “Saturn Dethroned” means: “The Electric Wizard that offered Dopethrone? We don’t care about the shit from Dopethrone anymore [laughs]! Fuck it!”

Liz [to Jus]: You were always obsessed with Saturn…

Jus: Yeah. It’s Electric Wizard’s planet.

Liz: And it’s always shining through our window, in our house, constantly sparkling… When we first went into this house and I saw it for the first time, I said: “What the fuck is that?!” It was Saturn just there, always in the same spot. Wherever you are, sitting downstairs or going upstairs, there’s Saturn.

I’ve got an old astrology plate about Saturn where it says it’s always been related to pain, bad omen, and doom…

Liz: Oh God! [Laughs]

Jus: There’s a lot of introversion and occult stuff involved with Saturn as well. It’s not all that negative, I don’t think so. Saturn is also a protection against black magic if you take it as your talisman…

Do you have a tour planned?

Liz: There’s a lot of things in the works but nothing is set definitely and ready to be announced yet.

Jus: We’re gonna announce a US tour first, and a European tour after. Only because if we announce the European tour first, I think the Americans may kill us [laughs]! They’re like: “You must fuckin’ tour!” We haven’t been there for over ten years, just one gig. We have a huge fanbase there, so we have to get to our fans. That’s the main thing.

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