Creative Trippiness

The Warlocks and their droning, psychedelic rock hit Plush

Among the most common questions a novice rock critic might ask an artist during an interview is, "What are your influences?" In fact, the query has become as much of a cliché, albeit often used ironically, among music cognoscenti as is shouting "Freebird" at a concert.

But very quickly into a brief phone interview, and without prompting, Bobby Hecksher readily volunteered his band's influences: "We're inspired by all the music I love, all the great rock bands of the '60s, '70s, and the first, second and third wave of the psychedelic revival of the 1980s. We don't discriminate."

The Warlocks will bring their lovely, droning, psychedelic rock back to Tucson for a concert on Tuesday, July 22, at Plush. The Vandelles will open the show.

Hecksher, who plays guitar, sings and writes The Warlocks' songs, moved from Florida to Southern California in the late 1980s. There, he played with several bands such as Charles Brown Superstar and Magic Pacer, and appeared on Beck's 1994 album, Stereopathetic Soulmanure.

Hecksher formed The Warlocks in 1998, choosing a name that happened to have been used by early incarnations of both the Velvet Underground and the Grateful Dead. It is also shared by a few other, less illustrious bands today.

Concerns about other acts calling themselves The Warlocks bore Hecksher. "That is the No. 1 question I get. People have asked me that like 50 or 60 times. If you want to know more about that subject, you can check out the band's Web site or our MySpace page. I'll wait if you want to."

No, thanks. It's more interesting discussing this band.

The Warlocks have been compared to acts such as Spacemen 3, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spiritualized, Black Mountain, The Velvet Underground, Can, Hawkwind, Kraftwerk, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Brian Jonestown Massacre.

Hecksher said he counts the last group to be close friends, and the feeling must be mutual since Brian Jonestown Massacre convinced their label, the maverick independent Tee Pee Records, to sign the The Warlocks after it was dropped by Mute Records following the poor-selling though critically acclaimed Surgery in 2005

Tee Pee--home to such fascinating, dark and heavy bands as Witch, Graveyard, Entrance and Sleep--reportedly gave the band all the time it needed to record its fourth album, Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, which was released last fall.

It's an enticing record, if your gray matter appreciates a little creative trippiness. The Warlocks on earlier recordings sounded like tinkerers in a monumental garage-rock paradise; now they sound delicately spacey or frighteningly ominous.

Several of the songs address death, such as the opening "The Valley of Death," "Zombie Like Lovers" and "Death, I Hear You Walking." One gets the feeling that such allusions are intended to be metaphorical or symbolic.

Hecksher said he's not obsessed with life's end, but at the time he was writing the songs on Heavy Deavy Skull Lover, "I guess I was in a pretty dark place in terms of a lot of things going on in my life, and writing about those subjects gave me a sense of relief."

The album's centerpiece actually comes early, with its second track, the 11-minute "Moving Mountains." It begins with the band twisting together a heavy, dark chord progression, a wall of fuzz-drone guitar, indecipherable moaning vocals and a snail's-pace rhythm. With a gothic echo booming in the empty spaces where dreams and nightmares collide, the track gathers momentum as the wash of guitar harmonics becomes more articulate, resolving into a slightly Latin solo, followed by a white-noise guitar freakout worthy of the Velvets or Sonic Youth.

The Warlocks lineup has evolved over the years, with at least 20 musicians rotating in and out of the band. The group's ranks also have swelled to eight people at one time. It's now down to a manageable quintet, he said.

"I never fired anybody," Hecksher said, unprompted and clearly responding to allegations from other camps. "People just go their own ways after a while, such as a bass player finding a boyfriend and wanting to settle down and get away from the hassle of being on the road all the time."

Hecksher admitted life on the road, playing 100 or so dates a year, can be grueling--but he wouldn't have it any other way.

An hour on stage per day, "providing a genuine and intense and, I hope, interesting experience," makes the other 23 hours of hassle worth it, he said.