Devon is a little over two hours on the train from London, but feels further. As you roll west, car parks and factories give way to livestock grazing in green meadows and anglers casting their lines out across glittering lakes. In the beer garden of a 15th-century inn a couple of miles outside the old charter town of Bampton, Electric Wizard‘s frontman Jus Oborn and his wife, guitarist Liz Buckingham, shade their lunchtime pints from the late summer sun, watch the occasional tractor chug past, and ponder all the fearful things the afternoon has in store. The grounds of their nearby abode, an old converted farmhouse, are currently being dug up to replace an ailing septic tank that may have remained untouched for a good century or so. “Rivers of shit,” warns Liz, darkly.
Devon has been home to Electric Wizard for the last couple of years, when rising house prices in Oborn’s native Dorset necessitated a move deeper into the English countryside. Isolation, though, has always been Electric Wizard’s way. Now eight albums old, their take on heavy metal feels both individual and quintessentially English, a toxic home brew of Black Sabbath and Hawkwind, B-movie gore, the eldritch visions of HP Lovecraft and the mind-expanding effects of strong marijuana. “When we formed, we weren’t surrounded by other bands, groups we might be influenced by,” says Oborn. “No one even came to see us. We were left to our own devices. We created our own sound because there was nothing else to do.”
These have been a tumultuous few years for Electric Wizard. Following intensive touring around 2010′s Black Masses, bassist Tas Danazoglou and drummer Shaun Rutter quit the band. For a while, original drummer Mark Greening — who departed in 2003 to form Ramesses — returned to the fold, although his presence would be short-lived; Oborn fired him in the June of this year. In addition, litigation rumbles on between Electric Wizard and their former label Rise Above, run by Oborn’s now ex-friend Lee Dorian. It’s a long catalogue of acrimony that ended up in a lengthy Electric Wizard cover story published in Decibel magazine. “Which felt like a bit of a stitch up to me,” sighs Oborn. “A lot of bands have legal battles, and it doesn’t all end up out there in the public eye.”
New album Time to Die — their first in four years — brings with it a new label, Spinefarm, and a new line-up: Oborn and Buckingham joined by returning drummer Simon Poole and a new bassist Clayton Burgess of Virginia’s Satan’s Satyrs, who sits silently at a nearby table. I point out that, at 21 years old, he would have been born in 1993 — the year Electric Wizard formed. Some symbolism, perhaps? “He wasn’t actually born, he was created,” teases Buckingham. “He’s a homonculous,” laughs Oborn. And Burgess grins shyly from behind his shades.
If the last few years have been difficult for Electric Wizard, Oborn confirms that Time to Die is a record that thrives off such negativity: “It was hard work making the album. It was turbulent and it was aggressive. There was a lot of arguing, we were drinking a lot, and it was hard to even get in the studio, with all the legal bullshit going on. But we wanted to capture it. We didn’t want to back off. It’s easy to go — oh, eight albums in, let’s show a bit of caution, a bit of wisdom. But it’s more us to just say fuck it — open our hearts.”
Time to Die was recorded across a couple of studios. Why the move?
Jus Oborn: The initial tracks were done in Toe Rag, but we wanted to get out of London really. Toe Rag is awesome — it’s all original equipment, you get to record to two-inch tape. But the studio was being a bit of a pain in the arse — some financial details, which aren’t really relevant but became a bit of an annoyance. We moved onto Skyhammer, in Cheshire — a new studio, run by Chris Fielding who’d worked at Foal Studios before, with Dave [Anderson] who used to be in Hawkwind and Amon Düül 2. We’d known Chris for years actually — we’d always worked with him when we’ve done EPs and side project stuff. He’s reliable and he likes to stay up ’til the morning. [Laughs.] Toe Rag were a bit reluctant to let the project go — they want all the prestige themselves — but I think it’s ideal to mix up the studios a bit. The idea is to make good music, at the end of the day.
How long did it take to make?
Oborn: Six months from beginning to end. But the time spent in a studio was probably four weeks, in total. This time because we were paying for it ourselves, we were pretty stringent about how we came to the studio.
So this was before you signed to Spinefarm?
Oborn: Yeah. We originally started recording to get away from Rise Above — the idea was to finance it ourselves.
That must have felt unsettling.
Liz Buckingham: Absolutely. We were totally broke.
Oborn: We were getting these legal letters saying we’re going to get sued, a few days after we’ve paid out all this money for recording…
Whether you want it to or not, that’s going to feed into your headspace.
Oborn: Oh yeah, the album went very negative. But I remember saying, I’m going to take this on board, use it as a lyrical basis rather than using a lot of metaphors, fancy stuff. I definitely wanted to go in that direction. The imagery I’d been using had become very metaphorical, contemplative…quite sophisticated. I remember thinking I wanted to strip it back a bit, back to the core.
Are there any hexes being layed in the lyrics?
Buckingham: [Immediately] Yes. [Laughs] Oh yes.
Oborn: [to Buckinham] You think so, don’t you?
So where on the album might we be able to track them down?
Oborn: [Smiles] The people that they’re directed to are the only people who need to know, really.
I was listening to Time To Die back to back with [2000's] Dopethrone on the way down, and it struck me it’s got quite a gnarly sound. Those guitars have got a real growl to them.
Oborn: There wasn’t an intent to capture anything like that, but we decided to keep it quite simple. Liz’s guitar, my guitar, a couple of leads here and there — that’s pretty much it. We didn’t lay down 50 guitar tracks.
Buckingham: We wanted it to be really raw.
Oborn: You get that rawness, that fuzz and nastiness when you strip it back. Adding stuff smoothes things out. I don’t think we’re trying to approach any kind of linear progression. I feel like we could go in any direction from this point. I don’t want to feel like we’re moving in a direction of more technological, more sophisticated. We tried that route, and you end up eating your own ass. Sometimes you’ve got to shake yourself up.
I’ve been trying to pin down what makes Electric Wizard different from other doom bands, and it feels like something intangible — an atmosphere. How do you set about creating that?
Oborn: I don’t think we’re influenced by other bands, as such. We draw on our own world. We’re left of field to everyone else. A lot of bands in the genre are exactly that — within the genre, playing by rules, pleasing each other. As long as everyone sticks to the genre rules, makes the right sort of album covers, everyone gets to sell a few records. But that’s never been what we’re about. We superficially fit in with the style, but what you hear is the depth of how much we’re into it, and how much thought we put into the music.
You can hear there’s a deeper cultural universe that you’re drawing on.
Oborn: We’re a heavy band, so we’re into heavy stuff. Right now, the political situation is pretty influential. The world’s turned to shite. There’s a lot of things we draw on. I wouldn’t want to be like, we’re the movie band, [though] we’re into movies.
What are your politics?
Oborn: Well, the world is not a good place to be right now. I think there are a lot of people who would sympathize with our viewpoint.
And how would you define that viewpoint?
Oborn: Um… [laughs] the human race needs to be exterminated. Pretty much — the moral majority at least. I’ve always had a negative view of humanity, really, but that certainly hasn’t been shaped by the band.
There’s some interesting footage sampled on the record — a news report of a stabbing on “Incense For the Damned,” similar footage that crops up partway through “I Am Nothing.” Where is it from?
Oborn:It all comes from the original cassette I was taking stuff from back when we started Electric Wizard. The whole album has this sort of circular theme, like everything going back to the beginning, so I thought, “Why don’t I pull out that tape?” It’s recordings of a documentary on U.S. television about Satanism and the rise of the occult. In the early ’80s, that was really popular — the Satanic panic. Everyone thought heavy metal bands were going to take over the world, corrupt all the children…
Which is extremely exciting, for a teenager.
Oborn: Exactly. You thought that if your band had the right lyrics and the right attitude, you could mindwash millions to become your zombie slaves [laughs]. I don’t think I’ve ever given up on that idea. Mass hysteria is a known human trait, so it’s not outside the realms of possibility. It’s just that not many bands have tapped into that energy successfully.
The weird thing to me about the Satanic panic stuff — in the ’80s it was all tied into these tales of Satanic child abuse. There was a whole literature industry around it that at the time was regarded as the work of imaginative Christians…
Oborn: Exactly. No one believed it. But in the light of more modern events — you hear about the scandals at these children homes, being visited by Jimmy Savile [the UK children's television host accused of paedophilia] — and you think, maybe some of this shit did really happen. And there was a cover up back then, in the ’80s.
When you find yourself wondering, maybe [British conspiracy theorist] David Icke is onto something…
Oborn: Oh, I’ve been too far down this road already I’m afraid. I read The Truth Will Set You Free back when we were living in Bournemouth, when we were doing Come My Fanatics.
Pretty wild conspiracy stuff. What do you get out of that?
Oborn: The amount of information that he puts into his books is overwhelming, you can’t ignore it on any level. There is a conspiracy, and history is being manipulated. But why, and for what reason — it isn’t easy to work out or understand. But it has definitely happened. I remember my history teacher at school saying, history is basically detective work. I remember him basically saying, who are the lying cunts that won? Because the stuff you read in books, that’s written by the winners.
So how did you lay your hands on this tape in the first place?
Oborn: It was passed around in the old tape trading days. People used to record stuff off the TV — just for amusement purposes, really. You’d produce a list of what was available, an A-to-Z list of tapes and movies. You’d send the list to someone else, they’d send you what they had, and then you’d post four pre-recorded C90s. At the time if you wanted to listen to heavy metal in Brazil, you’d have to write to someone in Brazil, and they’d send you Sarcófago demos. That was how I heard their stuff. At the time, it was the only way.
So it was cassette culture that really shaped Electric Wizard, the vision that you persist with today.
Oborn: I suppose so, that obsession with having things underground. If we started in a much more commercial situation, we wouldn’t have had that connection to the underground.
Buckingham: Everything was harder to get, to find, to track down. You had to really be into what you were into.
Oborn: We probably based our whole band on a handful of records. Now, people listen to 100 records a week. There’s not that level of obsession. But how many times have we listened to Pentagram, or [St] Vitus? Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It wasn’t like this record, this record, this record. People are glutted.
Electric Wizard’s love of old horror films has been well documented, but I’m wondering if you’re into the newer British horror films — things like Kill List, or Borderlands?
Oborn: No, we’re woefully behind I’m afraid. I might have seen it but nothing new really sticks with me. Everything seems to be so quickly edited — it’s all of a same formula.
That slow build toward a shock…
Oborn: And all this shakey cam shit. It’s not the same. There isn’t the atmosphere. My taste in horror is really traditional. I like vampires and dungeons and werewolves and castles. That shit doesn’t exist anymore.
You’ve just put out a video for the song “Sadiowitch,” which seems quite elaborately shot.
Oborn: This time we didn’t want to make an edit of old clips. We’ve done that a hundred times. We wanted to make an actual piece of film. We’re actually moving towards making a movie. We’ve always wanted to do stuff ourselves, but we made the decision that we really needed to approach someone who knows about filmmaking, to get stuff moving on an ideas level. So we met up with this director, Shazzula, who made a film called Black Mass Rising.
Buckingham: We saw that and we thought, “Great, she gets it.”
How on board do you get? Are you involved in synopsis, storyboarding?
Oborn: We pretty much gave her the idea for what we wanted, but tried to give her some free reign because the budget was quite limited. It was about improvising within the budget. I wanted a young witch and an old witch, the juxtaposition between the two. And there had to be an orgy, some hedonism, because the lyrics are about killing yourself through overindulgence.
It’s quite a sexy video, which makes me wonder, is Electric Wizard music for lovers?
Is it sex music?
Buckingham: [Emphatically] Yes.
Oborn: [Thinks] I don’t know…
I’m more thinking of your fans — do you know if they listen to you in the bedroom?
Oborn: Yeah, maybe…we’re a fleshy band. We’re not cold, or electronic.
Buckingham: [Gestures at Oborn] He’s a Scorpio — he won’t do anything if it doesn’t involve sex.
Oborn: [Laughs] We believe in the pleasures of the flesh, in all ways.
So in the long run, you’d like to make your own films — become a production company, almost?
Oborn: That would be great. The band needs to progress on some level, rather than just becoming older and greyer. Why do we need to keep performing? It might be nice to withdraw, to make purely audio-visual work.
Would you score a film?
Oborn: I have already. It’s happened before. The film was called Holy Terror — it didn’t get much distribution, but you can get it on Amazon under the name Goregoyles, which is pretty dreadful. There’s a crummy framing story, but the actual film is really good — it’s predominantly got [2002 album] Let Us Prey as soundtrack. But it would be great to properly score something — we’ve got all these ideas for recording cues, these little shock cues for dramatic moments. Or you have the sad bit, the mysterious bit — different moods for different sections. That’s the next step for us, I think. Rock soundtracks are pretty much gone from cinema at the moment, but in the ’70s you used to hear a lot of that stuff. Or those crossover rock-classical soundtracks, like the Giallo stuff, where the bass and drums are really prominent. Modern cinema is boring for cues. Strings for the sad bits, stabs for the shock bits — so fucking predictable. It’s a rollercoaster technique. I watched Paranormal Activity the other night, and I’m like [gasps, jumps in his seat] all the way through. But at the end of the day, it’s a piece of crap.
So you’re off to Portugal at the weekend to play with Hawkwind — do you know those guys well?
Oborn: Coming from Winbourne, it was pretty much sacrilegious not to like Hawkwind. It was the second gig I ever went to, I’ve still got the patch on my jacket. But we’ve managed to upset them somehow.
Oborn: Well, we played a few gigs with them. Their lighting guy was doing a light show for us that was a bit extreme, in the opinion of some of the people in the band. And then we got pulled off stage by the local council. It was a bit of a debacle, if I’m honest.
Buckingham: There were children there. As soon as our videos started playing, the whole town was in uproar. They pulled us off stage in the second song.
Oborn: So now half of Hawkwind love us more than ever, and the other half think we’re depraved maniacs.
Seems like a vote of confidence to me.
Oborn: [laughs] I’m prepared to take it on the chin.