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Pure Jam 

Wednesday, Mar 14 2001
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Photo by Jack Gould

“My grandfather was a fuckin’ loony tune,” says Warlocks leader Bobby Hecksher. “He owned the first radio station in Fort Myers, Florida, and the only thing that mattered to him was that station. He was really weird, too; if he bought something he liked, he’d have to buy three of them, just in case. I never went to his house until after he died, because he was so self-conscious about it. So it’s like, I finally go to Grandpa’s house, and there’s just all this shit there — three binoculars, three radios, three couches, three white Lincoln Crown Victorias! It was fuckin’ rad, man!”

Hecksher laughs, then pauses to take a drag off his cigarette. “And then I started to think, ‘Oh, shit! Is that inside of me, too?’”

If it’s true that madness (like baldness and musical talent) tends to skip a generation, then Hecksher is a likely candidate indeed for the wig-out room. But where his grandfather’s mania led him to amass household items in triplicate, Hecksher’s obsessiveness seems to manifest itself in the accumulation of guitarists — there are four in the Warlocks’ current lineup, along with two drummers, a bassist and a dancer/percussionist — as well as the burning desire to achieve what he describes as the perfect “folk-psychedelic wall-of-sound jam.”

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The Warlocks, a six-song EP released late last year on Burbank’s storied Bomp label, shows Hecksher drawing a bead on his goal. The first two songs, “Cocaine Blues” and “Song for Nico,” throb with the opiated radiance of vintage Spacemen 3, while “Caveman Rock” and “Angry Demons” reveal a facility for aggressive garage rock. But it’s on “Jam of the Zombies” and “Jam of the Warlocks,” the record’s two live cuts, that Hecksher’s vision really begins to coalesce. Free of any pesky song structures, the players confidently set their controls for the heart of the sun, creating aural thrill rides that at times recall the two other bands once known as the Warlocks — the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead.

“Even though I wasn’t a big fan of the Grateful Dead, I’m starting to listen to them now, and I’m like, ‘Wow!’” Hecksher says. “I don’t get the whole fanatical side of it, but I can tell that their stuff from like 1970 to the early ’80s is really good.” Newfound appreciation for the Dead aside, Hecksher takes pains to point out that the Warlocks want no part of the “jam band” movement that’s currently taking the country by storm.

“We’re not like fuckin’ Phish, man,” he laughs. “What the hell’s that crap? We were doing songs for a while, structured songs with jams in them, but I want to be able to get the band to a jamming point where we don’t have to think about it anymore. It’s kind of like reaching into your head and trying to fuck with the controls a little, doing something without thinking about it or saying that we’re doing something. Now I’m just trying to focus on doing a whole set with songs optional, jams first, and keep it entertaining. That’s hard to do, but I’m working on it. It takes a lot of rehearsal!”

Hecksher’s new focus and drive are a little surprising, at least in light of his previous band, the fabulously untogether Magic Pacer. Like their two CDs, 1995’s White Room and 1997’s Dig This Dig That, Magic Pacer’s performances were wildly inconsistent. On a good night, they’d come off like the Stooges fronted by a synth-wielding fourth-grader; on a bad night, well, they just plain stunk.

“The time that Magic Pacer was going on was probably the lowest point in my life,” Hecksher says. “I was doing drugs nonstop, just getting loaded and not really giving a shit about anything. There was just a point where I was like, ‘It’s time to clean the slate and start over.’” After several months of vegging at his mom’s house, Hecksher auditioned for the vacant bass slot in Weezer; he didn’t get the gig, but the experience finally motivated him to form a new band. Now, nearly three years and numerous personnel changes later, the Warlocks are preparing to undertake their first national tour, opening for punk rock troubadour (and Bomp labelmate) Nikki Sudden.

“It’s pretty exciting,” Hecksher says. “We’re taking our new light show along, too. I just bought 150 3-D glasses from the ’80s; if you set the color tones a certain way, you can get this really bad approximation of 3-D on your TV, and I’m trying to dial in the right tones for the light show to get 3-D effects. But then I think, ‘Man, do I really want to play while looking out at a bunch of people in 3-D glasses? This is a stupid idea!’” He laughs. “But I already bought ’em, so . . .”

The Warlocks and Nikki Sudden perform at Spaceland on Thursday, March 22.

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