LA collective The Warlocks have been plying their opulent brand of psychedelic rock for almost decades. Since forming in 1998 they've gone on to release six albums, the most recent of which Skull Worship came out at the tail end of 2013.
In March the band signed a three album deal with LA imprint Cleopatra Records, the first of which is expected some time next year. This month sees them return to UK shores for a handful of dates while later on this summer they'll hit the European festival trail.
In a couple of hours, they'll play a blistering set at Nottingham's Bodega venue that's gratefully received by the hearty contingent. Beforehand, DiS gets down to business for a catch-up with songwriter-in-chief, guitarist and founder member Bobby Hecksher.
DiS: How's the tour gone so far? I believe a couple of shows were cancelled in Bristol and Cardiff?
Bobby Hecksher: One was double booked for a dance night and the other claimed he hadn't sold enough advance tickets for the show to go ahead. He wanted to pull it because it was a Monday night. We had problems with the same promoter this time last year. It's really frustrating because we had so many other places we could have played. This kind of thing would never happen in the States. It looks bad on us because we didn't even get a chance to go ahead with the show. Last night in Brighton was packed and that was a Tuesday. I don't know what else to say other than it's really irritating that these people can just sabotage us like that with no recourse at all. There's no consideration whatsoever. It's an unfortunate way to have to start the war but word's gonna get around. It will come back on them. We know lots of people in other bands. The psychedelic rock scene is huge and we'll be telling all our friends not to play those places. Don't play for these promoters. Don't work with these agents. It's just lame. We ended up hanging around for a few days when we could have been anywhere else in the fucking world playing for people that wanted us to be there.
DiS: Of the shows you have played so far, how were Birmingham and Brighton?
Bobby Hecksher: They were both great. Really fun. There was a really great energy last night. All the bands were great. I don't know what else to say? Everywhere in the world on a Monday night is going to be tough unless you're Led Zeppelin or have all the NME hype in the world. We could have changed venues and played somewhere else. As you can see, I'm still pissed off about it. It's the first time in eighteen years I've ever had shows cancelled on me.
DiS: You have quite a loyal fanbase over here. Is it similar back home in the States?
Bobby Hecksher: Again, it depends where we play. In LA we're just another band among thousands of bands that have to struggle and earn their crowds. You have to do so much work to achieve the same thing. When we play in the UK people know all the songs and we feel really wanted. It's a really great feeling and we're so grateful which is why we keep coming back.
DiS: You've taken Black Market Karma and Enemies Eyes with you on this tour. Were you a fan of both bands before these shows?
Bobby Hecksher: They were recommended for this tour, so I listened to their music and really liked it. I tend to go with the new when we're on tour. And they're all really great people too which helps.
DiS: Are there any other new bands you're particularly excited about at the moment?
Bobby Hecksher: I've got a whole list of bands. Blood Candy, Dream Boys, Mystic Braves, Gun/Her, Terminal A and Slow White. They're all from LA. Then there's Jacco Gardner, Uncle Acid & The Dead Beats and Melody's Echo Chamber, who all have records out.
DiS: This coming August marks the tenth anniversary of the band's third album, Surgery. Are you planning anything to commemorate it? At the time you were fairly critical of the record's production. Do you still have the same view?
Bobby Hecksher: Really? I didn't realise it was ten years old! We played 'Come Save Us' last night in Brighton, and there's a couple of other songs off that record we'll probably play on this tour. Aside from that, there aren't any plans to do anything else. But you never know... I listen to Surgery now and look at it like this. As far as songwriting goes over the course of making an album you're always aiming to get every song right. With this record I feel 'It's Just Like Surgery' is a good song, 'Come Save Us' is a good song. Some of the other songs on there are OK. The rest? I don't know, maybe I'm just overly critical. I thought we had this amazing mix of the record. It was really dreamy, but Mute went back in and remixed it all. I guess when you're on a label like that you sign up to this kind of thing. I don't know. I don't really hate it or anything like that, but in my head I still hear a dreamier version of it.
DiS: If you were to look back through the band's back catalogue and pick out either one record or a period that encapsulates The Warlocks at their best what would it be?
Bobby Hecksher: That's a really difficult question to answer. I don't think there's any one record that stands out as such. But I do believe we have a whole collection of songs that stand the test of time. 'Hurricane Heart Attack' is really good, 'Shake The Dope Out' is really good, 'The Dope Feels Good', 'Jam Of The Witches', 'Song For Nico', 'Isolation', 'Red Camera'. I'm just trying to go the ones I think are really good in themselves. Maybe I should put them all on one record? I might do that and call it 'Bobby's Picks' or 'Best Of' or something like that.
DiS: With such a vast back catalogue to choose from, how difficult is it picking a setlist for the live shows?
Bobby Hecksher: I usually go with how I'm feeling on the night and play the most genuine set that I can. Sometimes I'm in the mood where I want to play the same set for a couple of days. Other days the set could be completely different from what we've been practicing. Last night someone said to us after the show, "You guys were so great, I'm coming to see you in London!" And my response was don't count on it being like tonight. The Warlocks are notoriously very hit and miss, which is what I love about it. You see some bands like Weezer or Queens Of The Stone Age and they're perfect every single time. Whereas we're all over the place and I'm proud of that.
DiS: The last time I saw The Warlocks would be at Cosmosis last March. Do you choose a different kind of setlist to play at festivals from what you would for your own headline shows?
Bobby Hecksher: Sometimes I'll choose a set purely based on the monitors. If you can hear the vocals through the monitors it broadens the scope for what we can do, whereas if the monitors are fucked up it limits us. So we end up playing songs that are easier and don't really require the monitors being clear. With Cosmosis, we were finished by 10pm and I said to the organisers, "That's it? Let's go back on!" so we did! I thought the second set was just as much if not more fun than the first one.
DiS: Are you playing any festivals this summer?
Bobby Hecksher: We are on the festival circuit in Spain around August and September. We're playing Reverence in Portugal which I'm really looking forward to. There's new ones being added every day.
DiS: Your line-up has changed significantly over the years, with only yourself and JC Rees (guitars) being the constant mainstays. Has it been beneficial when developing new sounds and ideas to work with fresh personnel, even as far as honing the live show?
Bobby Hecksher: I just go with what works. If we're all getting along and I feel something's there I'll make every effort to try and hold it all together. People usually end up leaving the band for a reason. Like they want to go to college, or need to go to rehab, or are just plain sick of touring. There's very few people I've hated who've got fired, maybe one or two. Even then it's been because they can't handle the pressure.
DiS: Do you consider the current line-up to be the strongest you've worked with to date?
Bobby Hecksher: Yeah, I would. I can really work with them and give and take criticism. For example in soundchecks we're comfortable enough with each other to point out stuff like turning the sound up or down if we think someone's too loud or quiet. Stuff like that, so it's great.
DiS: Most of the current band didn't play on your first three records (Rise & Fall, Phoenix, Surgery). Bearing that in mind, are the live arrangements of the songs from those albums any different to the recorded versions?
Bobby Hecksher: No. We play them in pretty much the same way, even with less people. I'm always doing the rhythm parts and Earl (Miller, guitars) does all the solos same as Corey (Lee Granet, former guitarist) or Ryan (McBride, former guitarist) used to. There's always one guitarist who's technically a better player. Earl is very technical and can adapt to deliver some very complicated solos. JC is just gifted in his own right. It would be difficult to define what he does. It's like a feedback art piece. He changes stuff around every night. The basslines are the same whoever's playing them, so there you go!
DiS: Psychedelic rock has undergone something of a resurgence over the past few years, with some artists even crossing over to the mainstream. Why do you think it has suddenly become so popular?
Bobby Hecksher: I went to see Tame Impala recently and there were 3000 people at the show. I was like, "Holy shit!" Last time we played Austin Psych Fest there were thousands of people. I guess when you cross examine everything that fits under the psychedelic umbrella, all that stuff started in the 1960s. The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were the originators of this form, and so many people throughout the past few decades have tapped into that and taken strands of what the originators were doing but making it new, different and original. It's very similar to the metal scene. Everyone loves Black Sabbath but then there's all these different sub-genres that have sprung up since. Totally different scenes musically but both share a similar pattern. Like metal, the psychedelic scene has so many different branches. There's drum and bass psych, rave psych, punk psych, surf psych. Bands like The Black Angels are all over the television, Temples are all over the radio, BRMC have been all over everything. The Brian Jonestown Massacre are finally getting widespread recognition. Anton (Newcombe) worked really hard for that. He's been consistent for over two decades and deserves all the success he's getting. I was in that band before 'Dig!' and it was scatterbrained every night! You didn't know what the fuck was gonna happen. There were guns on amps, all this paranoia. We had to have money to bail out people. It was crazy. Everything was like that pretty much until 'Dig!' happened. Even if 'Dig!' hadn't have happened I think they would have got there anyway, but luckily that helped it get there faster. He'll probably hate me for saying that but it got a lot of people into the music, and that's what's important. Whether the whole Psych movement will last forever we don't really know, so we're just gonna enjoy it.
DiS: Tomorrow is the General Election in the UK. Do you think politics and music mix well together?
Bobby Hecksher: I don't know UK politics that well, but in America the music that we listen to and associate with usually has nothing to do with politics. Some bands have messages that are political but for the most part it doesn't enter our radar that much. Even though as individuals we're very concerned about the future of the countries that we live in and therefore vote accordingly for what we believe will be the lesser evil of those standing for election. It's very difficult to have the band stand for any one political party at this moment in time. Punk rock had a very different political thing. It was very clear which side they stood on. Nowadays I think it's more of an individual choice. What is it that most people are really upset about? Equality seems to be the most common theme. People are tired of being walked all over and abused. Everyone wants a stable job and stable life so tend to pick what will affect them as individuals rather than society as a whole. It's so fake. In America anyway. I often feel we've been duped no matter who ends up in power. You don't have all the information. You never will have all the information. You just have whatever information is presented and have to make a decision based on who's been the cleverest about their whole political shebang. If you think about it too much the whole thing can make you really mad. I get so upset. In the States there's a real housing shortage and very few jobs to be able to afford a house anyway. So you end up being squeezed from both sides. Trapped into a wage bracket that will only keep you forever poor. It feels like some kind of pyramid scheme, and once you sign up for it there's no way back. You sign up for the credit to buy the house, to get the car. And then you have the job that doesn't pay that well. It's a big trap. One continuous swirl of debt.
DiS: Finally, what advice would you give to new bands just starting out?
Bobby Hecksher: The best advice I could give to a new band is just focus on one thing that you're really passionate about and do the one thing really well. The mistake I see with so many new bands is that they try to be all over the place, cover all sorts of different genres and try to be all these things all at once wrapped into one thing and ending up sounding a mess. The best bands are always the ones that concentrate on being a singular kind of entity. They're always the most focused. Also, making music and being in a band is going to be a labour of love for a very long time. For most bands, nothing will ever happen and they'll end up touring and making records forever with little reward. It's really sad. When kids ask me whether they should take up music I always tell them to finish school first or something very mature in that "Dad" kinda way. You can't help who you are and if you want to play music that's fine but always remember to keep one responsible thing in your life. It's so fucking hard and goes back to the same thing. Everyone steals music. So what are we going to do about that? I really don't know.
For more information on The Warlocks visit their official website.
Photo by Leslie Kalohi.