Are you ready for rude yet psychedelic doom stoner rock? Do you believe in the power of almighty riff? I bet that Wizard Eye is staring straight into. Yes, into you! That’s right. Heavy and bulky as some ugly cosmic whale this power trio flows on massive waves of thick riffs and elegant solos, their captain Erik Caplan (guitars, vocals) lead the crew forward despite all obstacles and unknown dangers. He chants and roars conjuring space winds and it seems that Wizard Eye are busy most of the time with promoting their songs as far as they can. I’ve got in touch with Erik on his rest day in Philadelphia.
Hi Erik! How are you? What’s new in Philadelphia?
Hi Aleksey! I’m well, thanks. Philadelphia is its usual historical, loud, vibrant, obnoxious self.
Wizard Eye started in 2007, and it took about three years to compose and record your first full length “Orbital Rites”, what are some strongest sides of this record?
Orbital Rites has a lot of enjoyable tracks from my perspective. I have a great time playing “Say No More,” “C.O.C.” and “Dying Earth” – these three have been regular inclusions in our set lists for ages because we’re very confident with them, and playing them makes us feel like giants.
What was the idea behind Wizard Eye formation? What kind of musical ideas and emotional content did you want to put into it?
I was not around at the band’s inception. Dave (bass, vocals) started the band with some other guys, and when one of the guitarists left in 2007, they placed an ad looking for someone to step in, play leads and possibly sing. I came by, and things just clicked.
I don’t think the musical ideas or content changed much when I got involved–I think they just came into focus because we were motivated and energized by the music we were creating. We never limited ourselves to any particular lyrical themes or content. It’s always been a very free environment for expression. Consequently, we have written lyrics about mythical quests, viking swords and ancient Mongolian proverbs. I think the only things we will probably never address lyrically would be the typical “party time” rock fare or lovey-dovey emotional topics. And I probably should never say never about those things.
Erik, you have a damned long dreadlocks but I didn’t find anything about your musical background… so here we have a question – how long ago did you step onto rock scene?
I’m no spring chicken. I’ve been playing in bands for a long time. It’s almost creepy to say how long. Twenty-five years or so. You’d think I would have learned something by now or at least gotten good at it, but you’d be wrong.
The way from “Orbital Rites” to second full length took five more years, what have you done all this time?
It’s been a bit of a journey. The version of Wizard Eye that recorded Orbital Rites broke up right after the album was released. The drummer on that album, Richie, had work obligations that kept him from pursuing music, and Dave and I were not in a place where we felt like continuing. We both considered other musical projects for almost a year, but nothing clicked with anyone else, so we wound up together again. The drummer search was grueling, and it took a bit more than a year before we landed with our present drummer, Mike. Once he was in place, we started writing new material, and we tracked the present album with him in 2014. It took a while for us to find the right label for it, but Black Monk Records made us a wonderful offer to release the album on vinyl this year. And here we are.
And what’s about “Riff Occult: Live” album? What’s its role in Wizard Eye discography?
Riff Occult: Live was almost a coincidental recording. We were on a bill with some friends, and the sound engineer (Chris Post) randomly decided to record our set in a multi-track format. We didn’t know he was recording us until after we played. A few weeks later, he sent us the files, and I remember listening and thinking the performances sounded pretty good. We listened as a band and asked Chris to make some minor mix changes, and that was it–basically an unexpected, free record. We hadn’t released anything in a while at that point, so we thought it would be cool to offer up something live and let people pay whatever they wanted for it on Bandcamp.
So finally you’ve released second album two months ago… What’s current status of Wizard Eye? Do you play gig after gig spreading Wizard Eye’s word as far as you can?
We like to book gigs for maximum value rather than spreading our gospel through repetition, so we look for opportunities to play with bands where we mesh well overall. Those situations arise often enough to allow us a fairly sensible schedule without wearing out our welcome with folks.
Can you name a few best gigs you played? And where do you usually play with Wizard Eye?
I have a hard time rating shows–should I determine a good show by the size of the crowd, the pedigree of the other bands involved, the size of the venue, the quality of the sound mix? I usually think our best shows are the ones where we’re really connected as a band, feeling a common vibe and having a good time. I mean, certainly we prefer to play for a lot of responsive people in a nice place with great sound alongside great artists, but our most important criteria is always how well we play. We’ve played amazing shows in dumpy places for five people, and we’ve also given what I would consider not-so-great performances in big rooms full of people. I think this is true for most bands.
We don’t have a standard venue. We’ve played most of the available, usual places in Philadelphia.
Your music is labeled like “psychedelic doom / stoner metal”, but I bet that you don’t care about labels. Yet, dare I ask your opinion about stoner scene – what’s its core? From where did it start? What can you say about your local “stoner” scene?
You’re right–we generally don’t concern ourselves with labels like that. I think it’s fine if people want to use them to describe music, but we just think of ourselves as a rock band in the tradition of other rock bands before us.
Certainly, from a purely market-identifying perspective, it makes sense to embrace some of these genre descriptions in order to reach the people who might like what we do, but, to me, the essence of the so-called “stoner” scene is just a bunch of good rock bands playing good songs. Black Sabbath, Kyuss, Motorhead, Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience–the big commonality here is good rock music played by talented, passionate artists. That’s the core. The rest is sort of an attempt at marketing something classic as something new and different.
I think the Philadelphia music environment is a microcosm of the greater music world. There are a lot of really excellent bands and artists mixed in with the less-impressive ones, but I don’t think there’s anything endemically unique about any region’s music these days. Everything is global. There are bands in the middle of Africa playing heavy metal and trust-fund kids in Brooklyn playing baliliakas and banjos.
The album was released only on vinyl by Black Monk Records, why did you choose it instead of CD?
We really wanted to make this album into something special, and, as fast and affordable as it is to make CDs, we felt the impact of a high-quality vinyl release would be greater than that of a CD. Of course, we offer the album as a download via iTunes and all of the other usual sources, and most people seem to rip their CDs to MP3 for convenience, so we still reach the people who want the music that way. The vinyl format is obviously more attractive to collectors, and the damn record just looks bad-ass.
Sounds earnestly! What were most difficult parts of new album during record session? Can you estimate your progress as musician since you done “Orbital Rites”?
We recorded Orbital Rites ourselves in our old rehearsal space. In some ways that was an ideal situation. We set up the microphones and did take after take of the songs, and, if something wasn’t working, we could just do something else for a while. There was no pressure. Consequently, it was a very relaxed process, and we had a lot of fun. A lot of the material was recorded essentially as we had been playing it live.
However, we had limited recording gear, and none of us were particularly gifted at the technical aspects of recording, so parts of the process were out of our reach. That’s why Orbital Rites sounds a little dull and sort of old-school. I still love that album, but I am keenly aware of its limitations.
Musically, I think we were a pretty good band at the time when we recorded Orbital Rites, but I think we’re a bit older and wiser in some ways now, and I know there are technical elements on the new album that we couldn’t have achieved back in those days.
For example, we never used a metronome or thought too much about tempos back in the Orbital Rites era, so our meter probably drifted around more back then. That also made overdubs a bit more complicated.
On the present album, we recorded at Gradwell House Studios, so we had to book recording time and get he job done within time constraints. Consequently, there was a lot more pressure to get the right take for each song and play things perfectly. We spent a lot of advance time at our rehearsal space working on tempos, practicing with a metronome and making sure we knew exactly what we were going to do before setting foot in the studio. I think that process made us a strong band, and the recording quality is obviously higher. Even the looser moments were played with a lot of confidence because we were so heavily rehearsed.
Your music is diverse; it has solid stoner riffs, really dreamy solos and overall tight psychedelic vibe. But artworks of your both albums are minimalistic, why didn’t you choose something more fascinating?
The artwork for Orbital Rites was something I threw together quickly in order to have a cover image available for the Bandcamp site. If you look at the individual images for each song, they’re all kind of random and silly. I wanted to capture the way it felt to be in the band at that time as a sort of time capsule.
As I mentioned previously, the band split up shortly after Orbital Rites was released, so I just wanted to have basic visual images to go with it. I didn’t want the other guys to have to think about it too much or get annoyed if I created something too complicated, so I kept it simple and spacey.
For the current album, we actually went through a lot of art concepts before arriving at the final design. We considered a more complex illustration of some sort, but we thought the album might wind up lost among the releases of many other bands in our circle if we chose that option. Our designer, Paul Haupt III, was once a member of the band, and he was involved in the earliest conception of the music, so we trusted him to create an engaging visual, and his idea of using the close-up image of Saturn’s surface appealed to us.
As a visual element, I think it is simultaneously simple and complex. You could gloss over it and spend very little time looking at it, and that’s fine with us. However, you could also choose to get lost in all of those swirls and colors. It all depends on your perspective and state of mind. It can be whatever you want. To us, that was a more interesting option than choosing a more defined image.
Can you tell a story behind a certain song from this album? Maybe a song which represents best of Wizard Eye?
I think about “Thunderbird Divine” quite often as a strong example of our current work. “Thunderbird Divine” was actually almost the name of the album. Musically, the song has an interesting main riff. It’s in standard 4/4 time, but it’s broken up into differing segments, so it seems to float around while maintaining a solid groove. That’s the kind of thing we love to do–make giant riffs that don’t always land in predictable ways. Dave plays bass wah all over this song, and he could never play enough bass wah for me. I love the way it sounds, and I think he’s great at it. The middle section opens up and lets Mike do some of his most swinging playing, and I do some noodling around in there as well. I feel like the song hangs together without being boring or one-dimensional, and I think it swings.
Lyrically, the song is about a homeless Vietnam veteran I knew as a teenager. He was a fixture at the local convenience store, and my friends and I used to talk to him a lot. He had various addictions, and when he was high, he would go off on long flights of fancy about himself as a character he called Thunderbird Divine. That stayed with me. I sort of identified with him at the time because, being a dramatic teenager, I felt disenfranchised and stuck in a weird social space. My teenage girlfriend and I had no place of our own away from adults, so we spent a lot of time outside in order to avoid prying eyes, so we crossed paths with “Thunderbird Divine” a lot.
I’m kind of proud that I was able to get that character into a song, and I like the vocal performance I did on it.
That’s a damned good story!
I have a kind of standard question… Do you remember a book that had most influence upon you during school years?
I read so much. I always have. I loved so many books as a kid–Of Mice and Men, everything by Stephen King, biographies about criminals, mythology–you name it, I read it. I don’t think I could point at any one book as the most influential.
Do you like filming of Stephen King books? And what do you think about filming of Ancient Greece myths?
I think some of the attempts to make King’s books into films have been successful. I like Kubrick’s version of The Shining, and the TV version of ‘Salem’s Lot scared the crap out of me as a kid. The Shawshank Redemption was a lot of fun, as was Stand By Me. Carrie was cool, and I thought Firestarter was a little cheesy but fun. Misery was a winner, too. There have been some pretty bad flops, too–Cujo was kind of pitiful, and Maximum Overdrive and Children of the Corn were nowhere near as interesting as the written stories. I know I would love to see a movie version of The Dark Tower, but I can’t imagine it will live up to the books, and it would be amazing if someone would do a decent film treatment of Gerald’s Game.
Most of the modern movie versions of my favorite Greek myths have been kind of pitiful, in my opinion. There have been too many Hercules movies, and none of them floated my boat at all. I liked the 1963 film about Jason and Argonauts, but the remake of Clash of the Titans left a lot to be desired. I’d really like to see some of the more wild stories brought to life, like the story of Icarus or Theseus. I don’t imagine too many other folks would want to see those.
What were your most intensive and impressive experience connecting with psychedelic music?
I’m probably the wrong person to ask about connecting with psychedelic music. I appreciate it as a listener for its textural, musically free aspects, but I can’t say it is a huge passion for me. I enjoy the usual suspects, like Monster Magnet, Hawkwind, etc., but I find a lot of psychedelia to be sort of needlessly and pointlessly meandering and somewhat boring. I’m sure I just lost cool points with some people.
Do you have some bands with which you prefer to play gigs? How often do you play usually?
We are privileged to be friends with a lot of excellent acts, and shows with those bands are always a good time. I could name-drop and gush for paragraphs about our favorite people, but I don’t know if anyone would want to read a list of band names. Chances are good that if we are playing a show, at least one of the other bands on the bill will be our friends. When we play a regional festival, it’s like visiting a big party full of our favorite people. We’re very lucky to have so many great friends.
We usually play three or more shows per month, but that varies based on our personal lives and work schedules. Sometimes we play more often. Sometimes we play less often.
Okay Erik, let’s finish our interview with one last questions about Wizard Eye future plans – what’s about it?
I think we’ll probably remain on the course we have set for ourselves. More riffs, more songs, more shows, more recording, more albums. We just finished up three more songs in the studio, and we can’t wait to get those into everyone’s ears as soon as we can. I imagine we will have an announcement about the release information for those songs shortly. We have a bunch of great stuff percolating right now.
Interview made by Aleksey Evdokimov/2015
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