The last time Foxy Digitalis interviewed Bob McCully it was so monumental it had to be spread over three instalments. That was in 2007, when McCully was busy tearing music a new one with Women In Tragedy, a project that eventually spawned one of my favourite records of 2011 in Diane Arbus. Since then Women In Tragedy has become a full-blown band and McCully has started up Wizard Of, a new solo project that finds its influences in big beats and on the dance floor. Always prolific, McCully has released four Wizard Of albums already, all available for free or on a pay-what-you-like basis on his Bandcamp page.
I spoke to Bob recently to find out what inspired him to begin Wizard Of and the way in which the project has developed over the year since its inception. I also asked him what the future holds for Women In Tragedy, the possibility of Wizard Of DJ sets and, erm, discussed what would happen if Gandalf had been as clumsy as Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Hi Bob. How’s it all going?
The music is going okay. It’s very much something that I can’t ever stop and [I] always find new ways of motivating myself and challenging myself despite whether the public is responding to any of it. I’ve just begun playing live shows with Wizard Of which has been surprisingly refreshing. Much more fun that I thought it would be. I’m just knocking on doors now, seeing who will let me play wherever. [I] want to start booking a Greyhound tour as soon as possible. It’s really awakened a personal need for this project, a deeper connection to it.
So Wizard Of is your ‘new’ project. Tell me how that got started.
Wizard Of is fairly new. I started the project around June of 2011. It was sort of born out of this fun idea that I’d make hip hop beats for a friend of mine who used to rap quite a bit. I had never really done anything like that before, nor did I have much of the gear or knowledge to do so, but I just assumed that with some keyboard loops and a borrowed drum machine I could make something. I think the initial failure of it all made me want to invest more into it and it slowly evolved from just a fun idea into something I felt was very rewarding and challenging. I eventually got the money together and bought a used MPC 1000 and a Microkorg XL at the beginning of this year. So by springtime, with this new gear and almost a year of experimenting with ideas, the project had evolved into a style that I had been trying yet failing at up till now.
I was listening to bits of Women In Tragedy’s Diane Arbus again the other night. That record is such a towering achievement…
I have been getting a lot of good feedback about Diane Arbus within the past year or so and it’s just so weird to me because it was very much a thing I did in 2007/2008
when I was a totally different person, in a different relationship, living in a different town, with a different job/school, etc. I tried to get those albums out for years and finally my friend Kevin put it out almost as a favour really because he had seen me try to get it out for so long and with no luck at all. I feel proud of it but it’s very much a product of blindly going to the extreme of something – some vision – without realizing so many [other] factors that would’ve made it so much more accessible… and yet not nearly as intimate and unique.
I think there were certain elements on Diane Arbus that hinted at a new beat-oriented direction. Was it something that was creeping in back then?
With Diane Arbus, I was definitely looking at Women In Tragedy as an “anything goes” project when it came to genre. I was incorporating beats then, from what I can remember, because I was listening to a lot more electronic dance music and art rock bands that incorporated electronic beats than I had when I first started WIT. It was never really out of a desire to create music you could dance to but more to keep the piece moving with elements I hadn’t incorporated yet. It always had to heighten the emotional value with building tension. How I am approaching Wizard Of is completely different. I am trying to make focused dance music. I want people to dance to it. I’m still trying to figure that part out though. It’s tough!
It’s interesting you mention emotional value because in my review of Grave Juice I mention the fact that the music does still have emotional resonance despite it being aimed more squarely at the dance floor. When you talk about ‘focused dance music’ are you trying to leave emotion behind?
Oh, hell no! Music without emotion? That’s like words without letters! All I meant by ‘focused dance music’ is that I’m trying to keep my genre-blending to a minimum. I’m trying to make music that is danceable [and] mixable etc. But it also has to appeal to me and satisfy my creative needs. I have weird tastes and so it’s been very non-’club’ material so far.
The Wizard Of sound has come on pretty quickly since Some Are Inside.
I’m glad you noticed that. There was really nothing too serious about that first EP. I started connecting more with the material on my 2nd EP and the full length. Grave Juice is the first album I’ve put up that I made heavily with the MPC1000. I’m just hoping that I can keep going up, what I’m working on next should be a bit of a step up but not vastly different, just even more focused and clearer. It’s essentially going to be an album of songs that I’ve been putting together for my live shows so I’ve had a lot more time to work them out, mix them well, etc, whereas everything on Grave Juice was not intended to be recreated and a lot of it was written through improvising – “jamming” – and then editing those jams and shaping them into actual songs.
Can you ever see yourself DJing the Wizard Of stuff?
Right now I’m just performing the songs live with my MPC1000 and Microkorg XL and they really let me interact much more with the material than what DJing the music would let me do. I can improvise with things quite a bit and if I really wanted to I could even make brand new parts as I went along. So I haven’t felt the need to DJ my material but I have been wanting to learn how to DJ. Ideally, I would like to do a set of material from other artists but incorporate some of my tunes in there too. That seems to be one of the more popular modes of performing live for electronic artists these days. I actually almost got kicked off a bill for a show I played in early august because the promoter thought I was a DJ and the headlining band had to explain that I wasn’t at all. It was kind of annoying but things worked out.
Oh, and why ‘Wizard Of’?
I just felt like I wanted a name with wizard in it. Not really sure why, but I liked the sound of it. I kept coming up with different combinations, but I often was going “Wizard Of… what?” and then I finally realized I had what I was looking for all along, haha. I could go into a really deep explanation about how it symbolizes the emptiness of our materialistic fast-paced society, but I really just like how most people have a hard time with it. At that same show I almost got booted from the bill, I left before they gave out the door money to the bands. So when I went back to claim the money a few days later, the guy at the venue kept asking “What’s your band called? What’s it called?” and it took about three or four times of saying it to him before he realized that that was the entire name.
Gandalf, Merlin, Potter, Of Oz, Ray Whitney and Roy Wood. All fine Wiz(z)ards, but who would win in a Wizard-off? Anything goes… and feel free to bring your own wizard to the ruckus.
Choose your own adventure answer time:
1) I found that movie The Wizard with Fred Savage and little Jenny Lewis to be somewhat over-rated when I was a kid. I was more into Radio Flyer with Elijah Wood and Joseph Mazzello. Which is kind of weird, thinking back now about Joseph Mazzello and how first he was in Radio Flyer where he was being abused by his mom (Lorraine Bracco)’s boyfriend and the only solution he and his brother came up with to deal with this traumatic issue is to build a Radio Flyer wagon that flies so he can just fly away. Then he did the Cure where he had AIDs and Brad Renfro who really liked microwaved Butterfingers for dinner took him on a road trip to find the cure for his AIDs which he had heard had been somewhere in the south from an issue of National Enquirer. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it doesn’t go over too well. They don’t find the cure!
2) The real answer is Mickey Mouse from Fantasia.
3) I saw the movies but did not read the books and Gandalf was great. I know very little about Merlin. I have never read any of the Harry Potters; I think I saw the first hour of the first movie and it was neither good nor bad. Wizard of Oz is a great film but Return to Oz is where it’s at. I had no clue who Ray and Roy were partly because I can’t stand sports and never really got into ELO. The fact of the matter is… I’m really not much of a wizard… Don’t tell anybody, it’s really just an act, there’s no real connection to the name and I have no idea what I am doing with it. I really don’t know who I am and sometimes I do things that don’t make sense but it’s like I’m stuck in this dark room peering out into the world and wondering when this maniac will let me go and be a part of that world. I wanna go where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancing! Walking around on those… what do you call them? Oh feet! Up where they walk, up where they run, I just want to stay all day in the sun. Wandering free, wish I could be, part of that world.
Damn, I forgot Mouse. But surely Mouse was not a qualified wizard in Fantasia? He was an apprentice. And a clumsy one at that. Imagine Lord
Of The Rings if Gandalf had been such a bumbling klutz. It’d be fucking mental.
If Mickey Mouse was not a qualified wizard, then he hadn’t became a wizard of [anything]. Am I right? So wouldn’t that [techincally] just make him a Wizard Of? Gandalf as a bumbling klutz? That would make Lord of the Rings slightly more entertaining. Now instead, imagine Waiting for Guffman with Gandalf (and not Ian McKellan (sorry, SIR Ian McKellan) but GANDALF) as Corky St. Clair. Still donning that oversized baglady-esque wizard costume but doing all the same lines and everything. However… that means we’d miss out on that amazing mushroom cut and it’s hard for one to imagine a mushroom cutted character without their mushroom cut. Is that the right way to say it? Mushroom cutted? Can I get that in the dictionary? What about the Urban Dictionary?
P.S. Is it okay that this interview is turning bonkers? Should we get back on topic?
This thing has gone pleasingly bonkers, but you’re right. We risk losing 75% of Foxy’s readership. Let me ask you a couple of questions about Women In Tragedy. First, what made you decide to form a band after you released Diane Arbus?
The order of events [is] a little weird because I recorded that as two albums and finished it up in 2008. During that time and when it finally came out in 2011 I released a few [other] things but mostly for free digitally through the label Plasticrane. If you listen to those recordings you can hear how my songwriting was just aching for a live band. I was also getting more and more into hardcore, metal, etc. and getting more acquainted with the local scene. I first took a stab at it as just a two piece with one of my oldest friends Mark Hays, and we did one long 20 minute song for one show. Mark left, but then other musicians trickled in and Medusa and Angel Breath/Moth EP were written.
I just wanted to clarify the order of which all this happened because I’ve noticed that I’ve confused people in the past with my music being so all over the place but I’ve always felt that if you were to listen to it all in order of when it was recorded it would make a lot more sense and you would even see how turning WIT into a full band made so much sense. Currently, we’ve written 5 songs as a trio and will be recording them soon and playing a few local shows before my drummer and bassist depart for their other projects. Then I will be looking for friends to play music with again. As for Wizard Of, that’s a whole new ball game, baby.
Disclaimer: The consumption of alcohol may have been a factor at certain points throughout this interview.
Grave Juice and all other Wizard Of releases are available from Bob’s bandcamp page.