Even with all the unsettling news we’re currently being bombarded with, it’s still a little disconcerting to learn that Bobby Hecksher recently considered calling time on his long-running LA psych-rock outfit The Warlocks, who have been reliably (and brilliantly) carving their own spacey niche onstage and in the studio since 1998.
“I was just kind of all out of ideas, as far as this band,” admits Hecksher. “I don’t even know what ‘psych’ means anymore, once you get into your forties; it doesn’t even feel true. I don’t sit there and take drugs all the time,” he laughs. “I still love the music—but context-wise, what am I going to talk about?”
That question was thankfully answered earlier this year, when Hecksher’s newfound obsession with podcasts, documentaries and TV shows about the American criminal justice system morphed into The Chain, The Warlocks’ ninth and latest studio album. The ten-song record follows a pair of star-crossed lovers as they rob a bank, get arrested, and experience vastly different outcomes based upon their respective backgrounds. While there are lysergic echoes of the band’s previous work audible in The Chain, there’s more of a cinematic, almost krautrock-ish sound and feel to the album overall, which meshes perfectly with the story and the desperation of its characters.
We spoke with Hecksher about the album and the band’s video for its closing track, “I’m Not Good Enough/Party Like We Used To,” which makes its world premiere here—and which turns out to be far more relevant now than it was when Hecksher originally wrote the song.
Where did the idea for The Chain come from?
I was watching all of these justice-type shows, fictional and non-fictional. I started thinking about things like, “What really is justice?” The people who have the fancy lawyers and the connections, they get off easy; and the person with the public defender is totally fucked, and their life goes down the drain. Sometimes justice is fair, and the appropriate punishment is given for the crime. But sometimes, it just totally does not work, and these peoples’ lives are completely ruined.
I’m no expert on the justice system. But watching all these things—and listening to podcasts like Ear Hustle, Snap Judgement, or Criminal—really affected me. Even fictional shows like Orange Is the New Black touch upon really important topics that aren’t usually addressed, things like how the government looks at inmates as cash cows who they can put to work. Prisons for profit, basically.
It’s not possible to encapsulate all of these things in an album. But the story is basically that there’s this fantasy couple who robs a bank, and there’s different consequences for each one. One is a normal person on the street with a criminal history, and the other person comes from a rich background, has well-connected parents… I was hoping to make a little mini-movie explaining it, but that’s basically what it’s about.
Your first video from the album, for “Dear Son,” covers part of the album’s story, but your new video for “I’m Not Good Enough/Party Like We Used To” is a straight-up performance piece with psychedelic backgrounds. What’s the story there?
“Dear Son” is basically the first part of that movie—the robbery and the trial. It was supposed to be like Queen’s “Flash Gordon” video, where they’re playing live as the movie is showing behind them. That was sort of the loose concept behind it—that we were playing a soundtrack for this fantasy movie. [Laughs.] And then, in the new video, we were supposed to see what happens to the guy who got arrested. What happens in the song is, the guy gets out of jail, and he just fucks everything up with all of his friends. He gets a job at a bar, and he tries to mend all his friendships; then his friends do a kind of surprise party for him, where they all come back and see him at the bar, and they all celebrate. And that’s basically what the song is—you’ve been a fuck-up, and now you’re trying to make it right.
So we were going to shoot the video for “I’m Not Good Enough/Party Like We Used To” with Vicente Cordero, the same director who did “Dear Son,” but the bar we were going to shoot it at flaked on us at the last minute. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big deal—we’d have just found another bar and booked another shoot. But then this pandemic hit, and it was like, “Uh, I guess there’s no movie now!” [Laughs.] But even without the context of the story or the album, the song definitely applies to a lot of what’s going on right now—you know, just wanting to do simple things like hang out and grab a beer with your friend, to party like we used to. You didn’t realize how precious that was. “Oh, you’re going to miss that show? Oh, they’ll play again.” And now it’s like, “Fuck! I missed all kinds of shit I wish I’d went to!” The song feels especially poignant right now. My wife and I were listening back to it the other night, and we were like, “Whoa, this has a whole other meaning!”
Speaking of which, it must be pretty frustrating to have this great record come out, and then not be able to play any shows to promote it.
We can’t really do anything. Luckily, it was just a few shows that were canceled. We do have a tour scheduled in June; as far as I know, it’s still a go, but that could change. I hope not, because my wife is pregnant and due in August, and I can’t really risk rescheduling the tour then! [Laughs.]
But it’s just one of those things. One the one hand, it’s ill-fated timing; on the other hand, people have been taking the time—because they have the time now—to really listen to this album. I’ve been getting the best feedback on this album than I’ve gotten in a really long time. It’s been incredible—all these emails from people saying, “Bobby! This is really, really good!”