“I like isolation. I’m not a big fan of the modern world…”
Electric Wizard have moved house, seemingly to get as far away from the rest of us as possible. Since the release of the band’s eighth album, 2014’s Time To Die, singer/guitarist Jus Oborn and co-guitarist (and Jus’s wife) Liz Buckingham have relocated to Devon and are now living in a remote farmhouse somewhere near Exmoor. As they prepare to release their ninth album, Wizard Bloody Wizard, Jus explains to Hammer how Electric Wizard are steadily achieving their dreams of shunning humanity altogether.
“We ended up getting evicted from where we were living after having an argument with the neighbours… as usual, ha ha ha!” he chuckles wearily. “Where we are now, it’s a long white farmhouse on the edge of a valley. It’s exposed and pretty bleak, and green all around… there’s a farmhouse on the other side of the valley, but that’s about it. It’s quite inspiring to not be inspired by anything other than the music and our surroundings. We’re quite private people and we’re not into social interaction, so it’s definitely a lifestyle choice. I don’t know if it affects the band that much. It might be more useful if we didn’t live in the middle of fucking nowhere! I’d like to live further and further away from civilisation, but it can be a bit of a pain in the arse sometimes.”
In truth, part of Electric Wizard’s enduring and increasing appeal has been their dogged adherence to their own unique musical world. Ever since the release of 1997’s seminal Come My Fanatics… album they have been widely regarded as the most important and iconic doom metal band of the modern age, but Jus has never masked his disdain for a sizeable majority of everything else that’s going on in heavy music and, more pertinently, the world in general. As a result, the band’s new headquarters make perfect sense: in the wilds of Devon, no one can hear you rehearse at excruciating volume.
“Yeah, now we can make noise 24⁄7, so that was a positive change,” Jus concurs. “Then I had the idea that I could maybe start thinking about building a studio. I’ve wanted to do that for a long time but we’ve never had anywhere to do it. So this place has a jam room and we just set up the recording equipment in there. Part of the house is Victorian and it was giving me that feeling of Led Zeppelin recording at [legendary Hampshire studio] Headley Grange. I thought it might have a good atmosphere and it’s turned out all right, I think. We had a few little teething problems with some shitty old analogue crap that I bought off eBay, so it took a whole year of pissing around and things going wrong before we got the album finished. But anything’s a learning curve and hopefully, fingers crossed, things should run smoothly from now on.”
The first results of Jus and Liz’s purposeful withdrawal from the wider world can be heard on the new Electric Wizard album, Wizard Bloody Wizard. The first to be recorded with the band’s now settled line-up of Jus, Liz, bassist Clayton Burgess and drummer Simon Poole, it showcases a pointed and unapologetic change of sonic tack that promises to surprise a lot of people. Where earlier albums like 2000’s Dopethrone and 2010’s Black Masses offered a monstrous wall of tar-thick, psyched-out and densely atmospheric psychedelic doom, Wizard Bloody Wizard is a brutally stripped- down and raw affair that eschews the band’s trademark woozy, amorphous onslaught, favouring instead the crackle of real amps, the thud of sticks on skins, the sound of a kick-arse rock band, plugged in and cranked up. The songs themselves are immediately recognisable as Jus Oborn’s work, but the brittle, exposed sound of the record feels oddly shocking. As far as Jus is concerned, it’s all just rock’n’roll…
“I got really into the idea of primitivism,” he explains. “I’ve been listening to old blues and rock’n’roll records, like [rockabilly pioneer] Gene Vincent. I’ve been going back to the originals, and you can still get a rush from that kind of sound. People like Gene were dangerous at the time. He was wearing leather and even that was too much for some people. I grew up in an era when rock’n’roll was supposed to be provocative, so we’re trying to keep that flame alive. But having a new line-up brings a whole new dynamic to the band, too. With all the live gigs we’ve done, we’ve really locked in together, particularly the rhythm section, and that’s brought a whole new element to the band. Me and Liz can do a lot more textural stuff and a lot more weird shit.”
Although never a man to pay much attention to what metal’s chattering classes are saying about his music, Jus clearly knows how different his new album sounds from previous efforts. He does, however, express mild surprise at the notion that Wizard Bloody Wizard is about to polarise opinion in a way that no previous Electric Wizard album has done.
“You never really hope for that, but I suppose these days it happens anyway,” he sighs. “I just think it’s Electric Wizard music, you know? I don’t want to be churning out trademark Electric Wizard riffs for the rest of my life. I’d like to think we’re more than that, really. I honestly don’t know what people will think of this album. Maybe we’ve been pigeonholed as something we never were anyway. When we started off we were totally into Saint Vitus and Trouble, but then we started getting into the whole space rock thing and weird noisy shit like Loop and My Bloody Valentine. You just develop. We never set out to be this or that type of band.”
But as if to reassure worried fans, he adds that certain things have remained very much the same on the new album.
“The lyrics cover the same sort of subjects as usual,” he grins. “It’s all necrophilia, drug abuse and Satanism. I like to tick all the boxes, ha ha! But it’s more of a Satanic party album than a miserable riffs album. I don’t know… it’s a bit more sexy, maybe?”
The last time Electric Wizard released an album, Hammer visited them at home. This time round we were politely, and not unreasonably, told to fuck off. Luckily, we found a compromise position and Jus and his bandmates selected a new location for our photoshoot. Notorious in rock’n’roll folklore, The Hellfire Caves can be found in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, and became legendary for The Hellfire Club, an epicentre for debauchery and occultism among the rich and powerful in the 18th century. No further explanation required, then…
“I’ve always wanted to go there, so this was a good excuse!” Jus laughs. “The whole idea for me is to reflect on what we want to achieve as Electric Wizard, as far as atmosphere goes. That’s what gigs should be like. The Hellfire Club was a total bacchanal, and that’s what we dream of doing one day. Led Zeppelin used to have parties there. There were nuns handing out acid! It was a bacchanal of music and drugs, which was also considered a way to pass over to the dark side. That says it all really. That’s what heavy metal should be about.”
And you know he means it. Despite countless line-up changes and a fair amount of behind-the-scenes turmoil, Jus has been incredibly consistent over the years, making albums that have continually refreshed the original Electric Wizard blueprint, while always delivering a coherent splurge of Satanic imagery, psychedelic horror and a persistent, stubborn hatred of shiny modernity. Newly revitalised by his recent change of circumstances, what he really wants to achieve is to push Wizard World to its logical conclusion.
“I still like the idea of playing in front of a lot of people in the open air, like the [1974 festival] California Jam or something like that,” he says, audibly excited. “I’d love to have our own festival. We did the Electric Acid Orgy at Roadburn a few years ago and we want to bring that back. We want to have something where people really let go. More drug and alcohol abuse, more people going crazy!”
Jus begins to warm to his theme and sounds genuinely irritated by what he describes as “a lack of danger” in the modern metal scene. Let’s face it, you don’t often hear musicians being cheerfully pro-drugs or fully in favour of total chaos anymore, do you?
“When I was growing up, it was part and parcel of rock’n’roll that you’d be provocative in any way possible, to fuck with the system and the status quo,” he says. “But it doesn’t seem to be like that very much anymore. We’d like people to become immersed in the music and to not be thinking about taking a fucking selfie. People need to feel music again. It would have to be the full sensorial experience. It’s about those moments when you reach some state of spiritual transcendence… and yeah, that does sound like hippie bullshit, ha ha ha! But I think you can do it with darker imagery, the whole sex and violence angle. Those things are primal and people are affected by them instantly.”
Anyone who has ever seen Electric Wizard live will know that Jus is a man of his word when it comes to making people feel music. Reliably devastating and loud as all hell, despite ongoing battles with the modern PAs that Jus curses for their “stupid fucking decibel limits”, they continue to be one of the heaviest bands on the planet, regardless of the new album’s potentially divisive production values. Having played their biggest ever shows in recent times, not least a much-hailed conquering of the Roundhouse in London in May 2015, Jus avows that his band are eager to keep that momentum going and 2018 promises to be a busy year.
In between the live shows, of course, Jus and Liz will retreat to their new headquarters in the wilds of Devon, where mobile reception is sketchy at best but inspiration is in plentiful supply, just the way they like it.
“When I was younger, television was the thing that always dragged you in, like social media is today,” Jus concludes. “But when I stopped watching TV, it was a really freeing thing, to not be on the same wavelength as everybody else, with the same news, the same thoughts, the same reference points. Things have only got worse now, so being completely out of the loop will either be distressing or entertaining, depending on your point of view. I must admit, we are really digging it.”
Wizard Bloody Wizard is out on November 10 via Witchfinder/Spinefarm