Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Wizard Smoke: Done, but not burned out

Posted By on Wed, May 15, 2013 at 8:37 AM

Wizard Smoke, circa 2011
  • Ryan James
  • Wizard Smoke, circa 2011

Although Wizard Smoke is in the process of recording a new album, the group's show this Fri., May 17 at 529 will be its last as a regularly performing local band. The stoner metal outfit has been prolific since its live debut in 2009, releasing two albums and an E.P., and sharing the stage with such heavy hitters as Harvey Milk and Big Business. Before the show, bass player Matt Cherry (Maserati) and singer James Halcrow, sat down to discuss the band's story, songwriting technique, and more.

When and why did you guys start the band?
Matt Cherry: I think we started playing together in 2008, but we did not start playing shows until the summer of 2009.

At Corndogorama, I think?
MC: Yeah, that was the first show. It started as a joke. We were at some bar talking about Spinal Tap one night. We were trying to come up with our own Spinal Tap songs. Our second or third practice after James came in, I was like, 'This isn't really funny. It's just good!'

James Halcrow: Yeah, good enough to be Wizard Smoke.

So the band name is the only joke left from the original concept?
MC: I don't think we ever took ourselves seriously. There was always a level of comedy to everything.

JH: I guess it's a lot easier to be tongue-in-cheek than it is to be earnest about stuff, especially if you're just trying to have fun with it. We're not trying to be Bob Dylan or something. We're not trying to write meaningful music. We are just writing stuff that sounds good and are trying to have fun playing it. To come at that in an earnest way, you can seem kind of pretentious. Not that there's anything wrong with earnestness. If you're actually trying to be a career musician, I respect that, but if you're just playing in a local band and having fun, why are you so serious about it?

Did you guys initially set out to have a stoner metal sound?
MC: We were all in other bands that weren't quite so heavy, so some of us wanted to do something heavier.

When you write these longer songs, are you purposefully going for six or seven minute songs, or is it a matter of jamming and seeing what works?
JH: It seems like we're physically incapable of writing shorter songs. It's probably because we play a little bit slower. Dan (Nadolny) usually writes a riff, records it at his house, and then emails it to everyone else. Everyone else is, like, 'Cool, that sounds great, but we're going to play it at three-quarters that speed.' That makes a two or three minute song into a five minute song, and then we'll add a super spaced-out part that adds another three minutes and an intro that adds another minute. Did I just reveal the formula of bullshit?

With Matt being in Maserati and others in the band having other projects, were practices scarce?
MC: We went through phases where we were practicing a lot.

JH: I feel like it was every week for almost two years.

MC: We did the first record pretty fast. We recorded and mixed it in one weekend, and we were done. We wrote the next record and recorded it less than a year after that, and at that point, we were practicing a lot.

JH: When we did the second album, it was two practices a week, unless we were doing a show, and then it was maybe three practices a week.

MC: Maserati mainly just tours, basically, so I'd go four or maybe six months without seeing them. So we (Wizard Smoke) were able to focus on our music for a long time.

You guys have gotten some media attention lately for a couple of different things. First, there's a song of yours in a movie (At Any Price). How did that come about?
JH: My friend Hallie Newton. I met her at the Local one night. She went to high school with a friend of mine and was writing for Huffington Post at the time. She was a music reviewer, so I had been in contact with her about the band for that. Then one afternoon, she called me up and said, 'I wrote this movie that just got done filming. Do you want to have a song in it?' I started asking her about it, and she said Zac Efron is in it. I was like, 'Fuck yeah, we're going to be in High School Musical 4!'

And it's a Hollywood production. It's not like Blood Car or something that was filmed around here and was low budget.
JH: It's Sony Pictures Classics. It's coming out May 17. Hopefully it does well, not really for our sake, but for her sake.

MC: Dan was sort of romanticizing the idea that our last show, which is on Friday, is the same day the movie comes out. It's like our own little equinox, or something.

On top of that, there's the whole Spin Doctors thing on Kickstarter that was hilarious, and raised, what, $12,000?

JH: I think it was $25,000? It basically was two people putting down $10,000. What's the risk? It was an empty gesture, because you know you're not going to have to pay it. Though, you never know, it could have gone through and those people would have been fucked.

It ended up on Spin and got a lot of attention. Did it start as an inside joke?
MC: That had nothing to do with anyone but Dan.

JH: Dan makes these stupid videos and puts them on YouTube, and I sometimes hound him to make more. I thought I was the only one who watches them.

MC: I'm a little envious of Dan, because he's better than most at entertaining himself.

JH: The same reason he does that is the same reason he records 20 demos a year. Every few weeks, he sends us a snippet of some song.

MC: The band could never keep up with the long, rich jukebox of songs that Dan was writing in his head.

So the band isn't breaking up or going on hiatus due to a lack of ideas?
JH: Barring other responsibilities and wanting to do other things, this band could go on a million years due to Dan alone. But Matt had a baby, Dan had a baby ...

You mean their wives had them ...

JH: That's what you think. This is the modern age, my friend.

It's like Junior. That can be Dan's next film project. A Junior sequel...

James: Inject a baby in Dan's abdomen and have him speak in an Austrian accent for nine months.

So basically it's a matter of some members having to focus on family responsibilities.
JH: With most bands, the most responsibility anyone has is a kitchen job or a boyfriend or girlfriend to deal with. It's not a big deal to reschedule a practice. For us, that could mean finding a babysitter or cancelling on one or any of the things that come along with having a kid.

MC: The overarching theme for the band when we started was to not give a fuck. But that's hard when life just gets in the way. When the point is to not give a fuck and you suddenly have to give a fuck about things, that's hard to reconcile.

Do you still stand by your openness to future reunion shows down the line?
JH: We'll still have a practice space, and it's not like we're selling our gear, or anything. I can't imagine we wouldn't be ready to go after three weeks of practicing. But I think it'll be a while, at least a year, before we entertain the thought of playing again.

Wizard Smoke, the Liverhearts, and the Powder Room play 529 on Fri., May 17. $8.

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