There are several arresting tracks on The Warlocks’ new CD, “Heavy Deavy Skull Lover,” perhaps none more so than an 11-minute head-trip called “Moving Mountains.”
“It’s Pink Floyd colossal,” says Jenny Fraser, bassist for the L.A.-based neo-psychedelic indie-rock group, who is noshing on guacamole during a lunch with friends in Denver, Colo. “Yes, there are three parts to that song, and there are two more parts to it that we didn’t record. But that’s how we are. We challenge everything.”
Including, apparently, their fans, who are accustomed to hearing more Velvet Underground/Jesus & Mary Chain melodicism in The Warlocks’ music.
Reaction to “Heavy Deavy Skull Lover” CD, which was released Oct. 23, has been somewhat reserved, with critics remarking mostly about how dark a record it is. Although each of the eight tracks has a lyric, words are few and far between - and buried deep in the murk of epic sonic expeditions, leading at least one reviewer to conclude that “Heavy Deavy Skull Lover” is essentially an instrumental album.
Such conclusions irritate Fraser. “This is an experimental album, not an instrumental album,” she insists. “The production is different from our other records. It’s absolutely instrumentally based, but we’re doing a lot more with different chords.”
And, she adds, the words to the songs function as more than just another layer of sound. A key line in “Moving Mountains,” which possesses a harrowing vibe worthy of Portishead, is “Just look at yourself,” according to Fraser. The song is meant to reflect the difficulty frontman Bobby Hecksher had keeping The Warlocks together, she adds.
“The idea behind the song is `getting you to talk to me is like moving a mountain.’ You know, an impossibility,” says Fraser. “You have to make your own interpretation, but the last few years have been a real effort on Bobby’s part to get everyone in the band back together.”
Besides Fraser and vocalist-guitarist-keyboardist Hecksher, the latest edition of the eight-year-old band includes drummers Bob Mustachio and Jason Anchondo. Guitarist Ryan McBride has been added to the lineup for the fall tour.
That’s a small grouping, considering guitarists JC Rees and Corey Lee Granit and organ player Laura Grigsby were on hand for 2005’s “Surgery,” and that The Warlocks numbered nine members for 2001’s “Rise and Fall” debut and eight for 2002’s “The Phoenix Album” (arguably the band’s best).
Although “Surgery” was Fraser’s first recording with The Warlocks, the Southern California native has been in the band for four years. Hecksher approached her about joining at a party “and everything worked out,” she says. “I had finished getting my degree in creative writing and literature at Long Beach City College and was going to get my master’s, but I chose to play with the Warlocks instead.”
Fraser, 27, says she has been in bands since she was 14 or 15. “I played in a live hip-hop band - I was the only Caucasian woman playing with three wonderful African-American men,” she recalls. “I was also in a country-style band, and an all-girl punk-rock band.”
Growing up, when Fraser first expressed an interest in music, “it was no problem for me to get encouragement,” she says. “My mother, a stable girl who raised and rode horses all her life, bought me my first guitar and showed me my first chords. And my dad, who gives seminars on meditation, his father was a sitar player.”
In The Warlocks, Hecksher “writes the skeleton of the songs and everyone writes their own parts,” says Fraser. “He always draws the picture and we paint it in. He’s usually very open to letting everyone in the band be as creative as they want to be.”
Although the song “So Paranoid” is “Heavy Deavy’s” most accessible, Fraser’s favorite is “Slip Beneath.” The track is full of oscillating keyboard and craggy, echoey, ringing guitar sounds submerged by thunderous (underwater) drumming and a roiling bass line. A whispery vocal lurks in the background.
“We all worked really hard at the explosion of sounds and textural atmospherics,” says Fraser. And that mysterious vocal? “I like the part that goes: `all your friends, they don’t like you, and me, I don’t like you either.’ “
And what about the thundering “Zombie Like Lovers,” which has a Sonic Youth-like guitar clang?
“We call that our Adam and the Ants song,” she answers. “It’s very rhythm based when we break into the drums and bass. It’s intention is to be warbly and conflicting.”
And is that Fraser singing in the background?
“No, that’s not me,” she laughs. “There’s no woman singing on this record. It’s all Bobby. His register’s really high.”