Late night at Siberia, sweat trickles down my face. I can’t help but fiercely shake my head back and forth, entranced by the solid state sounds rushing from Mountain of Wizard’s amps. The instrumental four-piece shifts in and out of speedy, technical riffs with ease. On stage, they are a tank that just crushes everything in its path. Formed in 2008, their life has indeed been a slow but unstoppable roll: after almost eight years as a band, Mountain of Wizard is self-releasing its first full-length album, Major Waves of Minor Resolve, tentatively due out this month.
Mountain of Wizard combines some of the best known musicians in the city’s long-established metal and punk scene. Guitarists Paul Webb and Grant Tom also collaborate in hardcore band Classhole, switching guitars for drums and bass respectively. Previously, Paul spent years playing guitar for instrumental and groove-heavy bands Mystick Krewe of Clearlight and Spickle. Grant also works with black metal group Abysmal Lord and used to play in haarp. Bassist Isidore Grisoli holds down the low end with punk weirdos Dummy Dumpster and indie fuzz rockers HiGH. Drummer Aaron Hill is probably the busiest of the bunch; after Joey LaCaze’s passing in 2013, Aaron took over the drums for sludge legends Eyehategod and heavily tours the globe with them.
With hectic work, practice, and tour schedules, it isn’t always easy to get all four members in the same room. Even scheduling an interview can be a process. Meeting outside of Mid City Pizza late at night, Paul, Grant, and I wait on Izzy and Aaron. Izzy rushes down after work. Aaron is wrapping up a recording session at Spellcaster Lodge with Weather Warlock, a rotating cast based around Quintron’s weather-controlled synthesizer. Aaron zips from the Bywater to Banks Street in a flash and sits down. We’re ready to start. Over pizza and beer, we discuss the upcoming album, the changing city, and of course, the joys of not having to tolerate the egos of singers.
I don’t like background music. I like riffs. I like changes. I like chaos, tension and release. All that stuff. – Paul Webb
You recorded your last album at Phil Anselmo’s studio, Nodferatu’s Lair. Did you record there again for the new album?
Paul Webb: We did most of it up there. We did some of the drums on the second side [of the record] up in our practice room on a little digital 16-track thing and then transferred it all up there and did the rest.
How long did it take to record that?
PW: The first four songs we recorded a year ago or something like that.
Aaron Hill: From the beginning in January.
PW: January, February. It took about seven months.
Isidore Grisoli: We recorded half in one session and half in another session basically… three songs in one session and then the other five in another. Both times, it took about three days worth for each session. You do all the drums one day, [and then follow that with] one guitar, the next guitar, and bass overdubs. It doesn’t take that long.
Did you guys walk in there with solid arrangements? Did you experiment with stuff in the studio?
IG: Everything was ironed out.
Grant Tom: No funny business.
IG: Except for maybe some of what they [Tom and Webb] call sweeties. [To Webb] I don’t know if you figured out some of the lead shit on the fly.
PW: A little bit but, for the most part, it was all written.
Could you describe this release in relation to your past releases?
PW: To me personally, this record is the best representation of us four as a unit now. The last thing we put out was kind of like a collection of different songs that we wrote at different times. Some of the songs we wrote before Grant was even in the band, and some of the songs we wrote after Izzy joined. This is the first one where we all had it going on.
What took so long to go from starting the band to putting stuff out?
PW: Just laziness, and we didn’t feel the need to. We’re just having fun doing it and then one day it was kind of like, “Why don’t we have anything out?” and then did a [self-titled] 7”.
IG: It’s funny, when I joined, Paul was like “Hey dude. We don’t do much. We just get here and jam and have fun. Maybe we’ll go eat some Mexican food before practice. We don’t need a lot of your time.” And then, boom! We had a High On Fire tour the next year and a Down tour and all these releases. Once I joined, all this stuff starts coming out.
PW: He thinks it’s because of him. [laughs]
IG: No. It’s not because of me. It’s because you lie! [laughs]
It sounds like you didn’t take it so seriously in the beginning. Has that changed?
PW: No, because we’re really more worried about just writing songs and having fun doing that. Everything else comes after that.
Everyone in this band has been on tour with different groups besides Mountain of Wizard in the last few months. How do you manage to practice and write songs when everybody is always on the road?
PW: I don’t know. We just practice when we can. We don’t approach it as this big we have to jam thing. We just do it when we can and when it’s fun. We just write when we can.
AH: We still always meet once a week.
PW: We always write and we’re always texting each other riffs on our phones and stuff like that. At this point, we’ve been jamming so long that loose ideas turn into songs pretty quick.
IG: I’m sure if all these riff writers just write shit, even on the road with somebody else, they will probably come up with something.
PW: I think the tours help because they allow us to have breaks to kind of relax, instead of being burnt out on it. It seems like we’re always stoked to be jamming because it’s always after a little break.
New Orleans has changed a lot in the last few years. How do you feel that change has affected the music scene?
PW: I think it’s better.
AH: There’s a lot more bands now.
IG: More people in more bands and more people to come to shows.
PW: There’s more clubs to play at.
IG: Tuesday turnout is better now. It’s more hopeful probably… Then there are longer lines at the coffee shop—
AH: Price of candy’s going up.
PW: What’s the price of candy? Do you know that? Well, ever since Bywater Music [Webb’s instrument shop] opened it’s—
GT: Everybody’s coming here from someplace else and saying “This candy’s a lot more where I’m from. I’m pretty sure y’all should charge more.” And they’re letting it out.
PW: Candy gentrifiers.
GT: Candy baggers. [everyone laughs]
Aaron, you were working on a Weather Warlock session earlier today. How does that compare with working with Mountain of Wizard?
AH: That’s Quintron’s project. When he calls and asks me to do it, I do it. He’s always rotating who’s a part of it. It’s loosely improvisational. It’s kind of half written and half improv so it’s really different. It’s usually just one big piece that a rotating cast of people play in, whereas Mountain of Wizard writes songs.
Does everyone being in so many other bands affect the focus of Mountain of Wizard?
PW: No. I think it helps it. For me, everything I do is coming from a different area and it’s more of a well-rounded thing.
AH: It’s just a lot more fun to play with people than by yourself. We do this because we have fun doing it.
PW: I think it all helps each other because you learn so many different things playing with different people… I think it just keeps different parts of your brain fresh. You’re always playing music and you just get better when you do that. If you just sat on your ass, not doing anything for six months, and went to band practice, it might suck. But we’re playing with this band while Aaron’s on the road with Eyehategod or he’s with Weather Warlock and Grant and I are with Classhole. Izzy’s with HiGH. We’re always doing music so once we all get back together it’s “Oh yeah! This is awesome!”
A few years ago, Aaron took over drums for Eyehategod but Mountain of Wizard was already a band. Do you feel that affected Mountain of Wizard at all?
AH: It made me better.
IG: It affected it. I joined the band right after that. I could tell that you were super focused.
PW: You were a mess before.
AH: It forced me to step up in a lot of ways and that just bled over to the band. It also helped get a little attention on this band. Now people are curious so it’s helped us get out.
Now is the part of the interview where I address that the band doesn’t have a singer.
IG: We do. We just don’t know where the fuck he is. [laughs] Dude. I’m a singer. I sing all the time, just not while we’re playing.
You’ve mentioned in the past that you were potentially open to having a singer. Has that changed?
PW: I wouldn’t turn it away if it was awesome but we’re not actively looking for it. Freddie Mercury’s dead.
We play a fucking awesome show out of town, sell a bunch of merch, meet a bunch of people, and everybody has fun—we did all that without a singer.
Any other top choices?
IG: I know a dude that acts like Freddie Mercury and a dude that looks like Freddie Mercury. Do you want me to get them both in and see what they do?
PW: Yes, Izzy.
GT: That would be glorious.
PW: I don’t think we really write songs to that point… I don’t know. It’s a different mindset.
AH: It’s been this long now and it works this way.
PW: We’re not gonna get a singer. To me, when we play a fucking awesome show out of town, sell a bunch of merch, meet a bunch of people, and everybody has fun—we did all that without a singer. To me, it’s kind of like “Yeah. We didn’t need it anyway.”
IG: Plus I used to go see Spickle all the time. [Webb’s] been in a lot of instrumental bands. You might walk into a place like Checkpoint Charlie’s or something and see an instrumental band like this in New Orleans. Maybe you wouldn’t see that kind of band in a lot of cities but we’ll do it. This is the sound.
PW: I’ve always liked instrumental bands because, when I’m listening to music, I’m listening to what the band’s doing. People look at me like I’m alien because I don’t like a lot of vocalists’ bands that they really like. It’s because if you listen to the music without the vocals, it’s background music. I don’t like background music. I like riffs. I like changes. I like chaos, tension and release. All that stuff.
IG: There are a lot of awesome bands that have a shitty singer. Like, “Y’all are awesome but the singer I could take or leave.”
PW: Plus that whole ego thing that comes along with someone standing with a microphone.
IG: You have someone who doesn’t even help move the shit. “This is my job, to be the singer.” What a jerk.
GT: Yeah. Fuck that dude.
Do crowds react differently at out of town shows?
IG: Yeah. I feel like they definitely do. The tours we’ve been on have huge crowds. In New Orleans, people know what to expect and so they’re super stoked already before you start playing. When we play for these other crowds that are energetic and waiting for the bands we’re supporting, we don’t know what to expect. They’re half with it, just listening to the riffs for the first time. It is different. We’ve really had a lot of good luck touring so we’ve gotten to play in front of big-ass crowds… But every time we play locally, we still have a big crowd of people that are all super into it. The local crowd’s really receptive. When we play out, we’re feeling them out while we’re playing.
AH: It’s really cool to see people hear the stuff for the first time as opposed to people who have [already] heard it.
IG: I think we still get positive reactions as a band that’s touring for the first time in a place, but always the most love you get is at home. We get a good crowd here. Everybody’s into it.
Do y’all have anything else you want to say?
PW: Grant, what you got? What do you see in the future?
GT: Better riffs.
Mountain of Wizard plays Siberia on Saturday, October 22nd with Guitar Lightnin’ Lee and Cauche Mar. For more information, check out Mountain of Wizard’s Facebook page.