Simply put: Old Man Wizard are one of the most interesting bands I’ve encountered in recent years. Based out of San Diego, CA, the trio made up of Francis Roberts (vocals and guitar), Andre Beller (bass), and Kris Calabio (drums) are hard to nail down stylistically, but that is precisely what makes them interesting. They play an amalgamation of hard rock and folk, processed through the rugged, dirt-coated lenses of Western outlaw music with progressive elements. With one album to their name and another one on the horizon, there was no better time to speak to Roberts about the band, their sound, influences and what to expect from Blame It All On Sorcery, coming out May 11.
Old Man Wizard, like many, is a band with humble beginnings. ‘I wrote some songs in 2009 or 2010 and was learning to use Pro Tools, so I made demos where I [sang], played guitar and bass, and programmed drums‘, Roberts reflects. ‘Some of my friends liked the songs enough to learn them, and after playing them with a few groups of people, Kris and Andre ended up actually making time to play shows‘. Eventually, the band recorded their efforts together in the form of their 2013 debut Unfavorable. Mixed and mastered by Brian Rumsey, the album is a riveting mix of hard rock and outlaw country/folk which may sound like something that’s been done before ten of hundreds of times, but not quite like this.
Roberts is a fan of bands like black metal extraordinaires Darkthrone, the great Ennio Morricone, 70s era Queen, and prog rock stalwarts Jethro Tull. They all bleed into various areas of his writing, a fact he doesn’t bother denying: ‘The musical influences should be pretty clear [and] obvious though, as I don’t really try to hide them‘. Although tracks like “Highwayman” and “Nightmare Rider” lean hard into the lawless Wild West aesthetic, there’s something more sinister at play as well. One particular thing that sets Old Man Wizard apart is the addition of fantastic and occult vibes. These vibes manifest lyrically, a move that was inspired by H.P. Lovecraft, George MacDonald, and Robert Howard. References to fiery figures mounted on horses, selling your soul, and pessimism about a dark future help flesh out the mood of their music.
The instrumentation is similarly multi-layered and diverse. The rock is cleanly aged and retro infused, taking the form of 70s proto-metal one moment and classic progressive rock from the school of Ian Anderson (sans flute) the next. This is to say nothing of their acoustic accouterments, weaving a prominent folk influence throughout their tracks. Check out the aforementioned “Traveller’s Lament” (embedded below) for a prime example of what Roberts, Calabio and Beller are capable of. Gently fold in some guitar from the arid, sun-baked plains of the west and you have the band’s collective sound in a very small, eclectic nutshell.
All of this and more seems to be the plan for their new album, Blame It All On Sorcery. This new album is the result of years of writing on Roberts’ behalf, starting before they even released their first record. A Kickstarter campaign launched late last year in September with the hopes of securing $3,000 of funding so fans could get the ‘the clearest representation of [their] vision‘. Professional mixing, mastering, and the production of CDs and LPs for an album are expensive, after all. Plus, this gave fans the opportunity to secure a physical copy at a discount for being an early backer, or a chance to become Old Man Wizard if you were to fund the entire campaign outright at $3,000. The reward entitles one person to have music of their own making translated into the sound and feel of the band. At the end of the description, the band added: ‘Don’t give us this much money, please‘. Fans obeyed – the top reward listing went unclaimed throughout the campaign’s 28 days, but their goal was met, surpassed even, finishing with $3,260. The risk paid off (literally?), Roberts saying in a statement: ‘We went out on a limb with the whole Kickstarter thing, but enough people came through that we got the money to finish putting the album out on our own, and I can’t thank everyone enough for that.’
By the time the campaign went live, a proof-of-concept double single for the album was up on Old Man Wizard‘s Bandcamp page. It offered a sneak peek at what the music would be like on the album and the direction they looked toward for Blame It All On Sorcery. The blazing metal fury of “Innocent Hands” was something the band hadn’t utilzed before, and proves that the band isn’t content with being boxed in or subordinate to one (or two) genre’s terms and tenets. It appears Old Man Wizard, understandably, only want to be one thing: themselves. This was already evident with the bevvy of styles that could be plucked from their low-key audacious debut, now turned up to eleven. The other single, “The Blind Prince”, has the fire and catchiness of the best retro doom has to offer. It’s more in line with the band’s past work, but still offers new flashes of brilliance yet unseen from Roberts and company. As it stands, it’s probably my favorite track by them. The third single out in the wild now, “Never Leave”, was just recently premiered through Antihero Magazine and sees the band return to a more reserved acoustic setting, but evoked with a whimsical feel.
I couldn’t help but inquire about the album’s art, which is quite unsettling despite its amateurish simplicity (or perhaps the unsettling feeling is amplified by that simplicity). ‘I sent Valin [Mattheis] an email with the tracklist, some lyrics, and a couple of demos from the album songs. It was a wall of text, and his reply said that his eyes glazed over it and the only words he actually read were ‘blame falls on innocent hands‘ from the lyrics of “Innocent Hands” which evoked the image of a witch trial/execution to both of us‘. Mattheis had done all of the artwork for the band’s official releases up until this point, so this was just another notch on their professional relationship. ‘I like pretty much everything Valin makes and I told him what the album layout would look like and basically let him do whatever he wanted with it‘.
After Blame It All On Sorcery drops in May, the band plans to tour. All three members stay quite busy with various other music projects, so a lot more writing will commence. Hopefully some of it will focus on Old Man Wizard‘s next move because this is a band that just can’t fizzle out after just two full-length releases. Given the creative juices that always seem to be flowing throughout the trio, that’s probably all but guaranteed. To put it lightly: this band simply deserves more attention. Our Weekly Featured Artists are always deserving of your time and, most importantly, your support, and I can’t think of another band in this moment that is more fitting.
Old Man Wizard is…
Francis Roberts – guitar/vocals
Andre Beller – bass/backing vocals
Kris Calabio – drums/backing vocals
Old Man Wizard can be found on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. The band has a Bandcamp page where you can find their upcoming album Blame It All On Sorcery ready for pre-order, as well as their debut Unfavorable.