It’s been 20 years since the emergence of neo-psych band The Warlocks. In 1998, the brief implosion of The Brian Jonestown Massacre in Los Angeles allowed bassist Bobby Hecksher to join the band and, in turn, find his own sound through the friendship of Anton Newcombe, Rob Cervera and a plethora of close-by local musicians. They became his band, as well as his support system, in a time where labels, budgets and music production were accessible and plentiful.
Hecksher talked to us and reminisced about the beginning of The Warlocks with typical honesty. The story of that band begins where infamous rock documentary DIG!, which followed The Brian Jonestown Massacre and friends/rivals The Dandy Warhols, leaves off and a fateful but positive rejection from Weezer.
“In 1998, a couple of things happened. I tried out for Weezer on bass, and I didn’t get that gig, but the whole experience was really positive for me. At the same time, where the end of DIG! happened, I met Anton [Newcombe], and I thought [Brian Jonestown Massacre] was the best band ever at the time, despite all the chaos. I decided to help him, and play bass in the band,” Hecksher remembers.
"I really didn’t think I was a great songwriter at the time, I have always been a bass player, even as a kid, and helping getting the Jonestown Massacre back together was really exciting stuff for me. I thought, 'Hey, I already got in the best band in the world.' I was pretty happy.”
A short while after he was invited to play in the band, Hecksher got a new roommate in the then-troubled genius songwriter and leader of The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Anton Newcombe.
“So, Anton got evicted from his house and all of his stuff was in pawn. ... This really is after everything implodes at the end of DIG!, and everything is in pawn tickets, and he basically moved into my house at the time. We had Jonestown Massacre rehearsals at my house. He didn’t pay any rent, I had a good job at the time — I was working at DreamWorks testing and designing video games. A lot of people lived at my house, and were just kind of in and out. His room was next door to mine and I was in my room writing songs. He heard me writing songs and said, 'Bobby, these songs are really good. Why don’t we try to rehearse some of your songs?' So, I have to say it was Anton being really supportive. I was just cranking songs out one after the other, but I thought songs like 'Caveman Rock' and 'Angry Demons' were like the stupidest thing ever for so long.”
With Newcombe's encouragement and connections, The Warlocks were on their way to success, signing to several labels, one after the other, which in turn allowed him to meet his producer and longtime friend, Rob Cervera, through his then-girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba.
“It’s so funny, it all happened so suddenly because all of my friends lived on the same block in the same neighborhood. We immediately got signed to Bomp!, again, because of Anton. After Bomp!, we got signed right away to EMI, then Mute, then Birdman — and everything happened to us in a very short amount of time. We were really fortunate. In those days, there was money, so everything could be facilitated, like going on tour, and it was a really exciting time.”
Hecksher continues, "I had immaculate timing when Rod Cervera walked into my life through my bass player, Jennifer Chiba, who was also coincidentally my girlfriend, who ended up being Elliott Smith’s girlfriend until he died. It was really complicated, but Rod Cervera turned out to be and still is one of my best friends. It just so turned out that Rod’s dad had one of the best recording studios ever built. We had complete access to the best recording equipment — Beatles-esque equipment at all times. That’s unheard of now.”
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The Warlocks' murky, entrancing and eerie albums, Rise and Fall, Phoenix and Surgery came out through Mute, Birdman and Bomp!, while their midcareer albums, Heavy Deavy Skull Lovers and The Mirror Explodes, were released through L.A.-based label Tee Pee Records. While Hecksher owed the great sounds of his early work to Cervera and his father's great equipment, he struggled to find the quality later in his career.
“Pale Eclipse was a rush job and it was very disappointing for me. In comparison to those days where you had an infinite amount of time, and now everything’s so hard, it’s like, 'OK! Hurry up!,' you know? I think [the rush job] is a product of our times. It’s a product of Spotify, it’s a product of YouTube, it’s a product of all these entities that use artists to the core, so they have nothing to work with [no budget, no time].
Hecksher, unsure of the future of The Warlocks because of the changing times, now books shows and supports emerging artists in L.A. at Highland Park Bowl on North Figueroa Street. Along with his longtime friend and bandmate, Jason “Plucky” Anchondo, who is the general manager of Harvard & Stone, Hecksher makes sure he creates a safe space so local and traveling artists to have a place to perform and work on their live performance.
Bobby Hecksher is performing with Matt Hollywood and The Bad Feelings, alongside Imaad Wasif and Fake News, at 9 p.m. on Thursday, April 5, at the Highland Bowl.