Red Light Fever: Solid State Wizards

Published  October 2014

Antigravity October 2014_Page_08_Image_0002It’s a beautiful fall afternoon, but I’m standing in the dank, dark hallway of Fountainbleau Storage—8th floor, OG level—posted up outside of Mountain of Wizard’s practice room. I’m waiting for a pause in the jam so I don’t break the spell. I might be here a minute. Mountain of Wizard has been known for their prolific, seemingly endless capacity for churning out riff after riff. A slow, tasty groove can suddenly give way to a blaster or mid-tempo headbanger. With no vocalist, the guitars lead the way like a pair of hungry dogs. Where the trail ends, only the Wizards know.

I hear a sliver of silence, so I head in. Their practice room is even darker than the hall, the sole window covered. It could be 2 a.m. in here. On the wall behind the drums, a portrait of Guitar  Lightnin’ Lee watches over the room. He looks amused. Mountain of Wizard started six years ago when drummer Aaron Hill and original bassist “Tony” Bennett Bartley approached Paul Webb about jamming together. They soon added Grant Tom on second guitar and embarked on a faster, more technical take on the NOLA hardcore sound, which has traditionally been looser and sludgier. The current lineup (with Isidore Grisoli on bass) reveals how complex the turning of the NOLA hardcore/metal gears really are. Drummer Aaron Hill is shared  with Eyehategod, Gasmiasma, and the Missing Monuments; Grisoli comes from Dummy Dumpster and HiGH; Tom is in Classhole (with Webb) and was also the guitarist in haarp; Webb spent many years with the equally technical and instrumental Spickle. It’s an insane juggling scheme but somehow they pull off a practice every week, riding out the wave of other bands and day jobs. If they’re missing Hill, Webb and Tom will keep writing, or Webb will jump on drums to work something out with the remaining members.

Antigravity October 2014_Page_08_Image_0003Today, Mountain of Wizard prepares for the release show for their first 7” record, a two song burner comprised of “Instant Winner” and “Snow Plasma.” Snow Plasma is all muscle and dueling guitars, while “Instant Winner” starts off like a Zeppelin track circa 2014: a coffee-and-weed buzzed acoustic intro  gives way to more ADHD -inspired riffs. Hill explains that “Snow Plasma” and “Instant Winter” were the two newest songs the band had when they decided to put out a 7”, and the most representative of their current sound.

The 7” was recorded at the Fountainbleau by longtime friend and fifth Wizard Steve “Prick Rubin” Berrigan, who has also engineered for Eyehategod and Down. In addition to producing the 7”, Berrigan  records the band’s rehearsals—on 16 tracks and a full Pro-Tools setup, no less. According to the band, it’s a comfortable relationship, as Berrigan  brings a simple, laid back demeanor to the process. Says Hill: “Our approach to playing is we should sound very tight, loud, and powerful. Real, not perfect… He’s not going to color it or get in the way.” Webb adds that Berrigan is quick on the computer, being able to trim, edit, and organize as they’re listening to playback. When asked about the acoustic nightmare that is the Fountainbleau (lots of noise bleed, thin wall treatment, low ceilings, square walls, etc.), Berrigan shrugs it off. “Rooms at Fountainbleau are what they are. Can’t do much; some acoustic foam on the ceiling helps a little. Crank the hell out of the headphone amps.” Berrigan’s go-to mic is the Sennheiser 421, which he uses on guitars and toms.

Both songs were recorded in a week, says Webb: one day for drums, one for bass, and two for guitars, with minimal punch-ins. That’s surprising, considering the complexity of each song. But more surprising is the basic setup Tom and Webb use for their guitar sounds. You’d think a technical band like Mountain of Wizard would utilize a range of pedals and tube amps exclusively—especially since Webb runs  his own music equipment shop. Instead, the carpet is pretty bare as I look around for the usual assortment of pedals (and not only is it bare, it’s clean. “Fuck a dirty practice space,” says Webb. “For me, it has to be clean.”) Instead, Webb and Tom use only channel selectors, with Webb indulging a little with a Small Stone phase shifter. Regarding the amps, Webb is adamant: “We all use Ampeg solid state heads because  they always work, they don’t break, they’re really cheap, and they sound  awesome.” Webb notes from his own repair experience: “I work on 20 tube amps a day. I don’t see too many solid states.” Webb has also suffered through the whole cycle of adding pedals to the signal chain, only to have them complicate things at the most crucial moments. “It never fails. I always get to a show, hook everything up, and when we start our first song, all of a sudden I can’t hear shit, so I end up unplugging it and going direct. Every time.”

Like Webb’s earlier band Spickle, Mountain of Wizard foregoes vocals and lets the music do all the talking, but when I ask if that’s a hard and fast rule, Webb isn’t too rigid and admits they might one day entertain the idea of a singer, adding “We just haven’t found Freddie Mercury yet.”

Mountain of Wizard will release “Snow Plasma/Instant Winner” at Siberia on October 17, with Ossacrux and Heavy Lids opening. (It’s also Siberia’s 4 year anniversary party.)

Antigravity October 2014_Page_08_Image_0001

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