Artist Spotlight: Wizard Rifle (or; Purveyors of Art F_ck Scrap Metal and Psychic Trash)

What do you do when you start a band, but everyone you start a band with sucks? You just go without.

Hailing from Portland, OR, guitarist and vocalist Max Dameron had met up with drummer and vocalist Sam Ford. The duo had gone to college together and seen each other at shows, and were frustrated with trying to put bands together, only for them to fall apart due to opposing schedules and complete flaking out.

“Initially me and some buddies recruited Sam into a 4-piece incarnation of WR. Then we kicked Sam out of the band so that my friend’s friend could join on drums. Then it turned out that guy wasn’t a very good drummer,” Dameron laughs. “That ensemble fell apart because of too many cooks and too many schedules to coordinate. Then me and Sam ran into each other and decided to just go for it.”

The duo had decided that they weren’t really seeing the types of music they wanted to hear, so they set out to make their own. “Sam and I were going to a lot of shows in Portland and felt like there was something missing,” Dameron said. “We were seeing tons of bands just making highly redundant music and we wanted something that was high energy and something that was just a little different.”

Wizard Rifle counts many bands as their influences. Devo, High On Fire, Sonic Youth, Neil Young, Melvins, Karp, Lightning Bolt, T-Rex, King Crimson, The Stooges, and the almighty Black Sabbath. “Yes, Black Sabbath are the greatest band to exist probably,” Dameron said. “No, I don’t want to hear your direct Iommi rip off set.”

However, one other influence comes up again in again in interviews, and that band is… Roxy Music? “Roxy Music was a wild mutation, a true singularity of art-irradiated music,” Ford said. “Freaky and hilarious, sexy and mysterious, traditional and futurist, elegant, intelligent, trashy, scary, of the stars and of the earth.” Dameron added, “Though the musical style doesn’t define the sound of our band, it seeps in in some inexplicit way. The energy, the dramatic presentation, the large dynamic within songs: this is what really gets me with Roxy.”

When it comes to the songs, they are a mesh of a variety of styles. Although they are often categorized as doom, that singular description doesn’t do anyone any favors. The band exudes doom, thrash, noise, punk, ambient, psychedelia, and prog rock. “We never set a specific intention nor decided on a genre or sound when we started the band,” Dameron said. “Our friend Erin Jane Laroue said something along the lines of our music is like riding a bike downhill with no handlebars. Our songs are these 7-10 minute epics that jump between a lot of different sounds and moods, usually in three acts… People call us a doom band sometimes which I think is funny.”

The content of the albums lyrically aren’t quite as broad. “We both write lyrics and sing,” Dameron said. “Themes that reoccur throughout our albums are: 1.) environmental destruction / the follies of mankind, 2.) Ramblings on inner personal struggles and, 3.) sci-fi/fantasy musings courtesy of Sam.”

Ford does the artwork for the all the releases (except the original demo), and has done work artwork for other artists as well. “I don’t remember when I first started drawing, but I remember watching my mom draw things for me so I could see how she did it,” Ford said. “Me doodling the monsters I saw in the Ray Harryhausen movies we’d watch–Clash Of The Titans was my favorite. That probably explains some of the dorky shit I like writing lyrics about!”

The band became Wizard Rifle after Dameron was playing Super Mario World on SNES, and a wizard kept killing him. A friend remarked that he needed a wizard rifle to “take that fool out”, and the band name was born. I think it’s a perfectly cromulent origin story.

While there are some red flags here for some listeners, it’s worth looking past them. Yes, here is another band with “Wizard” in their name. Yes, they look like extras from Portlandia. If you can get past those things, explore further!

Kitties and Pie!!!!! (2010)

Five exclamation points, that’s important. You know why? Because this music challenges your patience like an irritating co-worker who ends every sentence in every email with 38 exclamation points.

There are only three songs here, and truthfully, this is better as a kind of roadmap they would follow later. It’s a little flat and lifeless sounding, and the vocals aren’t as good as they will be, but the playing is very good. I’m sure this is probably they best recording they could get when they were just starting out.

Speak Loud Say Nothing (2012)

Wizard Rifle’s debut, Speak Loud Say Nothing, is a blast of heavy psychedelic music. “Frazetta”, named after the famed sci-fi/fantasy artist, sounds sort of like Big Business vocally, but is musically much more frantic.

My favorite though is “Leathery Gentleman”. It starts with a jazzy interlude, but then shifts to strait up thrash for a few minutes, but at over 10 minutes long, it has places to go. Shifts from bluesy riff to crazy shredding. Howling vocals. Then it hits a brick wall to stop suddenly and do some weird string plucking. Before picking back up and just thrashing the hell out of you… coupled with some serious harmonic vocals, before heading into surf guitar territory and then getting into some sludge.

Here In the Deadlights (2014)

This time around, the band recruited bassist David Bow, who does add a new dimension to their music. They also brought in Billy Anderson as recorder/engineer/producer, they never clarify specifically what he does, but he is known for all three things. Anderson has worked in the studio with Melvins, Sleep, Consolidated, Jawbreaker, Clutch, Mr. Bungle, and countless others. He also played a tiny amount of shows with Melvins as bassist after Lori Black, but before Mark Deutrom.

Here In the Deadlights shows the band using the new color of bass on their palette. “Crystal Witch” has a long ambient bass fade-out, while “Buzzsaw Babies” is a noise-rock stomp, and “Paul the Sky Tyrant” revels in 70’s style rock boogie.

My favorite from the album, is “Psychodyamo”. It starts with a hypnotic, psychedelic riff that wouldn’t be out of place on an atmospheric horror movie soundtrack, then builds into a heavy rock workout with tortured vocals, but with some harmony as well.

Wizard Rifle (2019)

“We had a bass player and recorded our second album with him,” Dameron said. “Then he left and we were happy to have it back to just the two of us. We’ve had offers, sure. Only a couple of them would have had the chops to keep up, and those individuals were too busy in bigger bands to commit, so we are two. Makes it very easy to play one-offs and such, not having to buy five plane tickets, etc.”

The duo brought back Anderson to record, and released “Rocket To Hell” as a single ahead of the album. “We worked insanely hard getting this track out there so hopefully people hear it,” Dameron said. “It encompasses most of our styles in a concise package. I would say it’s one of the more straight-ahead crushers on the album, with some interesting psychedelic textures in places.”

“This album was a very long and meticulous process. We wrote most of the songs in New York, and that took us two-years. We were just pulling apart every detail endlessly and bickering over every note,” Dameron said. “We went into the studio… and knocked out the basic tracking in five days. The songs were very tightly arranged/rehearsed at that point and I knew precisely how I wanted it to sound so it wasn’t too much messing about… it’s exactly what we wanted.”

Wizard Rifle does really sound like the perfect distillation of everything the band had done up to this point. It’s constantly in your face, and only ever lets up to hit you with a weird psychedelic diversion. It sounds exactly what the band describes itself as: “Art-fuck scrap metal” and “psychic trash”.

As of now, that’s all there is. They don’t really update their Facebook, and Bandcamp is their only web presence. Naturally, they got sidelined with every other musical act in 2020, but they did donate all of their June 2020 proceeds to Black Lives Matter, but they’re been quiet since then. So, if you liked this, check ‘em out, and come back for whatever is on deck for next Sunday!