Space Oddity 

The Warlocks kick out the psychedelic jams—just don’t call ’em a jam-band.

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Bobby Hecksher’s grandfather was a bit obsessive. Worried that something would break or go wrong, he made sure there was always a backup. He had three of everything. If he liked a record, he’d make sure there were three copies sitting around his Fort Myers, Florida, radio station. If a couch was comfortable, there would be three sitting in the living room. He even had three cars, all Lincoln Crown Victorias, packed into the garage.

He managed to keep his triplicate life from his family for a long time. Only when he was on his deathbed several years ago did anyone discover his quirk, Hecksher and his parents finally getting a glimpse inside Grandpa’s house. Looking around, Hecksher realized something: That urge for redundancy was in him.

The evidence: His band, The Warlocks. While most groups are more than happy with a couple of guys plugged in onstage, Hecksher had gathered four guitarists. There were even two drummers in the group, beating out simultaneous rhythms.

“I see a lot of elements in my grandfather that are in me,” the frontman says. “He knew what he wanted and he never gave up, no matter what it was. I don’t know if that’s really obsessive. Maybe all the stuff was. But maybe that was just dedication.”

Most people wouldn’t call Hecksher’s tendency for sonic overkill dedication, but for him, it is. He’s been trying to find the perfect balance of clarity and fuzz for the last four years. Before that, he was just another SoCal folkie playing small coffeehouses, trying to find an audience. Sure, it lead to him working on Beck’s 1994 album Stereopathetic Soul Manure, but nothing much became of it. He hopped from band to band, even trying out to be Weezer’s bassist at one point before landing in with the Brian Jonestown Massacre.

That’s where he got his first taste. Yes, Jonestown tends to sit on the jangly side of psychedelia, mixing Brain Wilson pop with some of the Fillmore’s more spacey moments, but it was enough to send Hecksher on his quest. He started diving into his old Spacemen 3 and 13th Floor Elevators records. He began writing songs that required a wall of sound thicker than Hoover Dam to feel complete. He found a gaggle of people that could pull it off, dubbing the band The Warlocks, the same name two psychedelic heavy weights, the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead, once sported. Suddenly, things started make sense.

“All those psychedelic bands I grew up with still get me,” he says. “They have color to me, a warmth, but they can still be dark. I love all those old bands, and that’s what I wanted to do with this group. The mix of electricity and sound, it’s just magnetic. When something’s right, you just go, ‘Yes, that’s it. That’s what I want.’ Sure, you have to be fresh and new. You can take only so much from your influences. But for me, this just feels right.”

So much so Hecksher wasn’t afraid to open the band’s debut full-length Rise and Fall (Bomp) with the 14-minute live psychedelic suite “Jam of the Witches.” Lacking much in the way of traditional structure, the track jumps for the thick fuzz of Spacemen to the raw power of MC5. By the time it’s over, your brain feels like it’s been dunked in fur. The rest of the album isn’t much different. Rhythms thud and moan. Guitars wash over in bursts of distortion. Hecksher moans like the captain of his own space cruiser. The resulting effect is almost a trance-like drone that makes the perfect launch pad for a new era of acid tests.

Yet despite Hecksher’s love of the tripped-out tones of that era, he doesn’t want The Warlocks to get lumped in with the modern-hippie hordes. Sure, the band has more of the New York swagger of Lou Reed than the humble love of Jerry Garcia, but Hecksher also loves to just cut loose and jam. Granted, it’s not like The Warlocks couldn’t go off on an hour-long odyssey of improv, diving in and out of guitar solos like kids hitting the pool—but Hechsker just won’t have it.

“I hate being called a jam-band. I really like being able to do it, to just jam for awhile. But it’s not jamming in the sense of noodling. That shit is so bad. I hate it,” he says adamantly. “I hate groups like Phish that just go on for hours just noodling. It’s boring. I think there are more ways to jam that that, to make movements of music without having rehearsed them. You just find something and you ride it for a while. That’s what’s interesting to me.”

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Jeff Inman

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