AT FIRST EXPOSURE, THE WARLOCKS' PSYCHEDELICIZED, morphine-tinged aural haze suggests they're slackers too stoned to get out of bed and do an honest day's work. Upon investigation, of course, the six turn out to be some of the hardest-workin' sombitches on the Los Angeles music scene. For the past 18 months, the group has been on tour more than not. Constant roadwork has caused player turnover; there've been up to nine Warlocks at a time. Guitarist J.C. Rees figures if they just stayed at home, they'd still have every original member.
Sharing adult refreshments, three Warlocks mull over what it takes to get over the top. “Some people are unrealistic,” says Bobby Hecksher, the leader and mesmeric baritone. “They don't understand that it's not all partying. We tour for six weeks solid, as many shows as we can. I don't like to have days off, 'cause I'm a freak workaholic. That can get really stressful on one's home life.” The stress hit directly on a succession of Warlocks bassists, causing Hecksher, who'd been a guitarist, to take over the four-string. But the recent addition of bassman Bobby Martine has returned the band to four-guitar splendor.
“We're looking to blow minds,” says Cory Lee Granet, a current soldier in the Warlocks guitar army along with Rees and Jeff Levitz. (The band is rounded out by a pair of left-handed drummers, Danny Hole and Jason Anchondo.) The mind-blow methodology: doubling or even tripling unison parts — an excesso aesthetic that also applies to the equipment and stage effects the guys pack for the road.
“We bring as much stuff as we can,” Hecksher says. “Every time we go, we try to improve all the lights, the fog machine, every sense of the performance. Strobe lights — we had projectors, but they all dropped dead.”
None of this is in effect as the Warlocks hit the stage for a sweltering midday performance at this year's Sunset Junction Street Fair. The band is backlit by a relentless sun that clashes with the band's dark, lingering drones — equal parts Spacemen 3, Spiritualized and Velvet Underground — but their modern psych-rock has a way of making the sun's blaze less oppressive. Many selections are from the new CD (out November 4) and the 1,000-copy limited-edition, vinyl-only EP (released in August) both titled Phoenix, on the local indie Birdman. There'd been two previous releases on Bomp beginning in 2000.
The new EP is actually longer than the CD, and that's the crux of the Warlocks' philosophy: Less is more when you're creating; more is more when you're presenting. For example, a simple 4/4 is the greatest rhythm there is (less); having two southpaws drum it side by side in exact unison — including every single roll — is an amazing way to present it (more, baby, way more). Likewise, the band keeps the songs simple, but allows the arrangements and jams to grow organically.
“I WAS LISTENING TO TOO MUCH GENE CLARK AND Gram Parsons, apparently,” says Granet of his early days with the group. “It didn't lend itself to the darkness.”
“It was hilarious,” Hecksher amplifies. “He'd come in and have 10 chords to a song. I was like, 'Can we just play A and E, man?' I said, 'Why don't you come back tomorrow?'”
“I think I came back 'tomorrow' and there was somebody standing in my spot,” concludes Granet. “Okay, I get it.” He returned a year later, having mastered the fractional chords-to-guitars ratio.
The Warlocks have no message. Like the psychedelia at the heart of their inspiration, their music should generate an unconscious response. Or, as Hecksher puts it, “get a reaction. Almost something dangerous, but not like you're gonna get killed. When you see a good band, there's that unexplainable pazam, man. You know, when you wake up the next day and go, 'Fuck, that was cool.'”