Bobby Hecksher of the Warlocks on playing with Beck and the Brian Jonestown Massacre
The Warlocks, one of the earlier bands in the new wave of psychedelic rock, formed in 1999 when founder, singer and sole continuous member, guitarist Bobby Hecksher got some encouragement from Anton Newcombe of the Brian Jonestown Massacre to start writing his own songs. The Warlocks took a fairly different path from its peers, though, by issuing albums that sound radically different from each other, each informed by Hecksher's colorful imagination.
We recently spoke with Hecksher about making the transition from small town Florida life to living in Los Angeles. He also chatted with us about his time with Beck, working with Newcombe and maintaining personal artistic integrity in the current era.
Westword: You grew up in Florida and moved to Los Angeles at sixteen. What were some of your most vivid memories of first living there and exploring the city some?
Bobby Hecksher: It was quite a gear shift to move from a small town in Florida. Basically I grew up on a little beach and an avocado farm. So it was like being in the middle of nowhere. There wasn't anything going on, and all we could do to get any kind of music was hoping whatever chain store would have something listenable in there, and we would just buy blind. We didn't have anything to go on at those times pre-internet.
At the time, I think we were all kicking and screaming because it seemed very random. But it turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. When we got there, everything was exciting. It was like a switch flipped on. Even though I was just finishing high school, there were all these bands playing all at the same time. It was great.
Right off the bat, me and my brother were going to any show that we could see, visiting all the record stores and getting all the latest Butthole Surfers and Sonic Youth and pretty much any band that was coming out at that time, like '89, '90, '91. It went from zero to seeing Sonic Youth play at the Palladium the next year.
Was that for Daydream Nation or Goo?
Yeah, that would be Goo. I felt asleep in Florida. I just loved music. But you didn't know anything.It was boring. Just go to school and that's it. When we got here, it was exciting from day one. From there, it was a succession of amazing things. There was this little club called the Mad Hatter, where I met Beck, and he asked me to play with him. Then this club Jabberjaw opened up. I saw tons of bands there, like Bikini Kill, Slug and Spectrum when they first played the States. Unwound, that whole Portland indie scene.
How did you meet Beck back then?
Not too many people knew who he was, and the Mad Hatter was a place where if you went there and signed up, they would let anyone play. They were really cool about that. They just wanted their base to be the stranger, the better, and they would line up all these people and play. I met him waiting in line to play at this club. That's how we became friends. A few weeks later, we were jamming, and I ended up living with him for about a year, and then his whole world went upside down when "Loser" happened, and the rest is history.
You played on Stereopathetic Soulmanure, right?
Did you tour with him for that record?
No, I didn't tour with him. Everything went just so crazy, he couldn't have told you what's what, I'm sure, at that time.
When did you start playing music in general?
I started playing cello in probably the fourth grade. That was the time I remember hearing music and playing music. I got cello by random by taking the basic music class. But I remember even at that early age the sound of playing a few chords together or a few notes together really meant a lot to me.
From there, I switched to bass guitar because there were no more cello spots the next year if I recall correctly. Then I switched to stand-up bass and then bass. I didn't start playing guitar until fifteen or sixteen, and I wasn't really that good. I guess I considered myself a bass player more than anything else.
Was there a style or a sound that inspired you to go more toward guitar?
I would say I really loved the way Paul Leary from Butthole Surfers played. So when I was turning on records, I would try to play like him because I always liked the way his guitar sounded. It's weird because I got into the originators pretty much reverse. I got into the Stones and Dylan later at, like, 26 or 27. I'd heard them, sure, everybody's heard them, but I didn't dive into every single record and every single song from the Byrds, Dylan, the Stones until much later.
What was the first Butthole Surfers record you heard, and what was it about Paul Leary's playing that you found interesting?
I think it was Hairway to Steven. I don't know. Something about it was so weird and different from anything I'd heard. I mean I loved Sonic Youth at that time, and also like Minutemen and Pavement and whatever else was really happening. I saw an early Flaming Lips show opening for 7 Seconds.
When did you become familiar with the Brian Jonestown Massacre?
That would be probably early, '94, '95, somewhere around there. I was working at Aaron's Record Store in Hollywood. I remember seeing some of their music come in as singles, and I think I was really into the name at first and didn't really know anything about the band. I put it on, and it was really everything that I was just starting to get into, except a new band doing it. Then they started playing in L.A. They were based in San Francisco at the time. I went to pretty much everything without knowing Anton or the band that well at that time.
They played these weird shows called Big Bang that Greg Shaw was in charge of. They played lots of underground stuff. I remember first meeting them at Al's Bar, one of their first before Al's Bar closed down. Basically I said to their tour manager, who is our tour manager now, David Deresinski, "This is the best band I've ever seen. Here's my number if they need a guitar player or a keyboard player or anything." Anton called a few days later and said, "Yes, we need a keyboard player. Come on down."
When I went to audition for them, it was the most depressing time in their whole thing. Basically the part in Dig where everything falls apart. That's when I walked in. I don't know how to say this, but it was such a gnarly vibe or whatever, with a lot of things not really working out for them at the time.
It didn't seem like it was a good time for me to play with them. Hard to explain unless you were there. It really sucked, too, because it was the best band ever. It didn't really seem like they needed much of anything to hold it together. That's when I met Peter [Hayes], too, who went on to form Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at the same rehearsal.
Basically everything did fall apart. We became friends, and he asked me to come up to the house to listen to some songs that he was working on. When I heard them, I just thought they were -- and still are -- the best music I'd ever heard. That was "Open Heart Surgery." He played it for me as a demo as he wrote it that day.
I decided then and there that I was going to try to help this guy get back on his feet. He had all these pawn tickets -- he'd pawned all the gear that he got on TVT. I just helped them set up shows, and we made sure to get all his gear out of pawn first and whatever was left we gave to the band to get by. He was living with me for a little while.
Basically, Anton encouraged me to start singing. Like I said, I was really just a bass player up to that point. I was really content being a bass player, and I probably would have stayed with that band forever, but Anton insisted that I should start writing songs and singing, and so I did. He was playing drums, but he admits he's not a very good drummer. So I started writing a lot, and the Warlocks started having shows. He got his band back together and here we are.
When you were starting the Warlocks, did you have a specific musical vision for what you wanted to do with that band?
I like the sound of a lot of guitars in unison, and I really like the sound of drums in unison, like Butthole Surfers and Adam and the Ants. I guess I just wanted that sound. I didn't really know how it was going to work. We just kept experimenting with stuff. It didn't end up like that. When it started, it was just basically whoever would show up for rehearsal was in the band. That's how I met most of my friends, who are still my friends today.
For your two most recent records, you pared back the line-up a bit. What musical interests do you feel you were able to better reflect with a smaller line-up?
You have to be more rehearsed. You have to be tighter as a musician. I guess I don't really look at it like that. I look at it as a set of ideas moving along, and I work with what I can at that particular time. I try not to put a whole lot of stress or thought into that particular situation. You can't control if people want to change their lives or do other things. I just try to be me and keep writing.
Basically, I would try to adapt mentally and musically, writing with a four piece in mind. Really that's it. There's not super focused plan or anything like that. The songs I would work on for a while, but as far as what I'm given to make them happen, it just happens to be tiny. Those were different times, you know? We went from a period where bands would get signed and have money and could do tours and pay people with a salary to absolutely zero. When that happens, people just split on your ass.
They need money to survive, and I can't say I blame them. That's the world we're in now. Everything is expected for free and people are going to take all of their music and you have to decide as an artist what is it you're going to do. You're still going to write even though people are going take everything and you're not going to get anything? That's my decision. I'm going to keep writing and be me. A lot of musicians around me and played with me went and did other things because of their situations.
Your music has been lumped in with garage rock, psychedelia and recently shoegaze. Do you feel there is a common musical or artistic interest or idea or notion that runs into everything you've tried to do as a musician?
Well, you, know, I wasn't really there in the '60s. But a lot of it is inspired by, when we look back in time at what the '60s and '70s represented, a lot of those things are still true today. Just the stream of consciousness, positive thinking, the power of doing, saying something put into music, these kinds of themes. Yes, you can put a blanket and say psychedelia has something to do with drugs, but that isn't necessarily so. It's really how you look at things and what you want to say as a musician.
What's been inspiring you lately as you've been writing music?
I'm always writing and always messing with guitars and coming up with chords and trying to get new sounds. I haven't exactly been in any kind of hurry or rush. Like I said before, I'm not going to get anything for this. People are going to take my music. That said, I just work on it for me, and we've been tracking for the last couple of years. People are like, "What's going on? Hurry up, hurry up! Can we have a record?"
I just have to really feel that it's truly something great that's worth putting out and what's in tune with what I'm thinking now. Like trying to do something new that's not the same of what I've already put out or what's out there. And I finally feel getting really close to that with the a lot of the recordings we've been doing the last few months.
So we're really close to a new album, but that's the hold-up, really. I feel no real pressure other than what entities want you to do. Of course people want you to put out three records a year or whatever. They want as much as they can from you, but that isn't necessarily authentic or me.
It's when I feel that song is really great and the idea is great, that qualifies for it to be on the new record. Otherwise we just dump it and get rid of it and waste a lot of studio time. A lot of bands are so systematic. I applaud them for it, but I can't do that.
The Warlocks, with Wovenhand, Emerald Siam, Pale Sun, Dragondeer, DJ boyhollow, DJ Tyler Jacobson and DJ Jake Ryan, 7 p.m. Saturday, March 9, The Walnut Room, 3131 Walnut Street, $17-$20, 303-292-1700, 21+
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