Anto Loserdom interviews DIY metal punk stoner rockers The Wizards Of Firetop Mountain.
The Wizards of Firetop Mountain aren’t just a band. They’re a phenomenon, a force sweeping across the land with their otherworldly message of rock n’roll revolution!
Although a relatively new band, all members have been involved in the Irish D.I.Y. punk scene for many years, in such bands as Puget Sound, Nappyrash, XKnifedX, Mongolia, Realistic Train, Bastard Youth, DeNovissimis, and Dobhnach Dubh among others.
There is already quite a buzz sourrounding their gigs and the local gig enthusiasts eagerly await a debut release. The Wizards’ are: Tob (guitar), Karen (bass), Dunchee (vocals), Ror (drums), Hooly (guitar; he was busy organising the gig so couldn’t take part in the interview).
Whats the name all about? You’ve also got a theme song, please elaborate… Tob: Well basically we are Wizards from a Firetop mountain, it’s merely a statement of who we are.
Ror: We’re surprised you have to ask, to be honest. We thought the name said it all.
Tob: We’re from a firetop mountain and we are Wizards so… we’ve travelled across space and time to sort out this shit rock, Earth.
What emotions do you want your bands music to express? Karen: Is rock emotion?
Ror: Fire and stone are the two emotions I think we were going for
Karen: Can they be emotions?
Ror: They are in an esoteric Wizard way.
Over the years in Dublin we’ve had instrumental bands, bands with hardcore vocals, screamy vocals, crusty and metally vocals; in Wizards you’ve returned to a more traditional rock- style vocals, as well as very definite rock song structures; is the time just right? Tob: It’s always been the music that I’ve been into. I’ve never appreciated the more screamy vocals, I prefer singing. I’m into rock, I grew up on rock. I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band and eventhough the gigs I’ve always been going to were more punk and crust, I’ve always wanted to be in a rock band. Over the years more and more of my friends were getting into the likes of Thin Lizzy and Black Sabbath, those type of bands. Myself and Dunchee were already playing in a band that wasn’t that far from that anyway – Realistic Train had some proper singing going on. It was about the rock really. We’re trying to introduce the punks to a bit of rock is the goal.
Karen: And it’s fun music to play.
Ror: To be totally honest we just got in a room and started playing music and that’s what it ended up as.
Karen: We still haven’t figured out what it’s supposed to be.
Ror: There was no written law that we were going in to do a rock band.
Tob: Having said that though, out of all the bands I’ve done, they’ve all been leaning this way. The first one was instrumental – Mongolia – because we weren’t willing to go down the screamy shouty vocal route…
Dunchee: Putting vocals on a band is always a danger because so many bands, especially when you try to do proper singing are ruined by the vocals. There’s a lot of bands I won’t listen to because I love the music but the vocals don’t cut it for me. There is a lot of reluctance in the scene for doing that (singing), also I think a lot of people are a little bit afraid or under-confident about doing that. I reckon there would be loads more people who would be able to sing properly and hold a note, but they just don’t do it. It’s pretty scarey doing it.
Tob: It wasn’t popular for awhile, it went out of popularity. It became cheesy. People forgot that it’s good, they just saw it as cheesy. That’s the way I saw it anyway. But it can be good and cheesy, which is fine, I’m totally comfortable with that.
Karen: I knew Dunchee was the man for the sound when I heard him at Roadburn [Festival] on the bus on the way back, belting out AC/DC entertaining the entire busload of applauding fans.
Tob: I always knew Dunchee could sing because even in Mongolia we did covers. Even when he was drumming he would sing the covers, – classic rock like Black Sabbath, Rory Gallagher stuff that we were doing. He sang some trad over the years too, if we’re on a car trip and there’s a good tune on he’ll belt out a few notes. He’s well able to sing, I always knew that!
How does the Wizards fit in with the Dublin punk and rock n roll traditions? Karen: Ireland has always had great rock music, from Gallagher to Thin Lizzy and more; then as far as punk traditions go, the punk, rock and metal scene have blended together a lot over the last few years, especially with the influence of stoner metal/rock – a lot of the punk crowd have been getting into that stuff, and likewise people in other gig scenes have started to cross over. A lot of people from gigs that you never would have seen before are now starting bands with people who have been on the punk scene for years. So I think it’s fitting in at the natural point now, where people are deciding what genre they want to do rather than what genre they’re already in.
Ror: People listen to a lot of rock though, there has always been a lot of rock going around in the punk scene it’s just that no one ever really grabbed the incentive to do a rock band.
Dunchee: I think we’re very lucky in Ireland in that the punk scene is really eclectic. When you go to other countries that aren’t an island and are connected to other countries, like on the continent with their bigger populations and there are more touring bands, you can really get more into a scene and stay in that. I guess that is a bit boring. I’m glad that I grew up in this scene because there is a lot more influences. It’s pretty eclectic – you could be playing a gig with loads of different types of bands playing.
Ror: It’s amazing for that, it’s a one off!
Karen: We’re too small to be specific.
Tob: Yeh we are too small, gigs have always been good for that. You always get a mixed bill at an Irish D.I.Y. gig. We are an Irish D.I.Y. band, maybe not in the classic soundings – it’s broadening out all the time. You can sound anyway really at this stage and still be D.I.Y.
Ror: It’s more about how you conduct yourself!
Karen: Even at the gig tonight there’s us, there’s hardcore, there’s hip hop. Tonights’ bill is mixed completely.
Tob: It’s always been fairly mixed, maybe now more so than it was.
Tell us about the formation of the band, were you practising before Dunchee came back from Australia or were you inspired by the return of the man! Tob: We were practising before. The band actually started as a three piece in 2008. It was a summer thing. We did a few practices and some of the bones of the first tune or two were actually written back then. Everyone got distracted with other projects as happens, Hooly joined as an extra guitarist in the spring of ’09. From that point on the songs started really taking shape. We were cracking away writing, by the end of the winter 2010 we had the bones of the four songs that we are demoing at the moment but no real idea what we would do for vocals. A few ideas floating around but no. At that point I went away to do a bit of travelling with Dunchee in Australia with Mongolia. When I came back we had lost momentum, I was away for 3 months, we were inactive for 9 months, that’s what happens. By the end of the year Dunchee was back and we had gigs booked for December not knowing whether we would have vocals or not and he jumped in and he was a good fit straight away.
Karen: It was written in the skies!
Ror: It was a stoner band, it’s always good to get stoner bands off the ground. It was hard to write songs even, initially. It was like a bogey football team between mates that never really gets out to play.
Tob: We were trying to get the buzz of playing together, we were doing a lot of vibing for awhile. I’m normally a bassist – I’m playing guitar, and Karen normally plays guitar and she’s playing bass. Dunchee is usually a drummer and of course he’s singing for the first time in a rock band. There’s a lot of first timers going on here!
Whats that like Dunchee? Dunchee: Singing for the first time in a rock band? It was pretty nerve shattering. It was cool the way it came together because I came back [from Australia], Tob said it to me not long after I was back. He was like: “if you wanna do it” and everybody was pretty keen “you’ve got four weeks to write lyrics to these four songs because we have this gig coming up in Belfast”. As it happened we ended up gettting a gig before that in Dublin. It just came together.
Karen: It was too fast to think about it!
Dunchee: I was looking for something new to do, I’d been thinking about the singing for a while myself, I’d been learning different songs myself when I was on the road because you don’t get to play with people so much so it was to keep musical and keep doing stuff. You end up learning songs in whatever way you can, eventhough you’re not in bands. There was no expectations from the guys, they just said whatever you can do, you can do. So I was like: Ok I’ll see what I can get together. Four songs came together lyrically and the vocal melodies were there, I was pretty happy because the songs are all pretty solid, pretty good, I was stoked to put vocal melodies over the top of them. Then we played two gigs and it’s just built momentum week after week and month after month.
Karen: Dunchee would be like: “Is this too cheesy?” and we were like “No, it’s perfect!“. [laughs]
Dunchee: It’s a lot easier to write cheesy lyrics [laughs].
What inspired you to start playing rock n roll? Tob: I’ve always been into rock, I have four older brothers. By the time I was 4 or 5 I remember being into Ozzy Osborne and Motley Crue, then it grew onto Metallica Ride The Lightning. That was the first album I got on original cassette, then Black Sabbath, that kind of stuff – a lot of classic 70’s and 80’s metal, thrash metal, classic rock. I even started going to metal gigs in Dublin when I was about 14 in the Rock Garden. Metallers in Dublin at that time, they weren’t the most friendly, they weren’t the most welcoming.
Karen: You’re gonna start a rift man!
Tob: That was the impression I got at the time. My brother Nev was hanging out with people in bands that were a lot more punk leaning, kind of grunge punk. He was hanging around with people like that, like Ror from Puget Sound. The first punk gig I went to Ror strolled by me on Wicklow Street and told me about it, it was in the Olde Chinaman pub, they were having the Y.I.D. Fest. That was my first proper punk gig, I’d seen Skint before but that was it. I was suprised at the standard of the bands in the Irish punk scene. Striknien DC were playing that gig, they were particularly good, The Fucking Eejits which was basically Puget Sound on a summer break were decent. The Gougers, Stagnation were playing – they were all good bands. For me punk was the Sex Pistols, I liked rock so I could take bits from those gigs and relate them to what I’d grown up on. I always wanted to play in a band, I never got to grips with it until I was 22-23 by the time anyone asked me to start a band. I’d been trying a few basslines with a brother of mine back in the house. Dunchee asked me if I’d play bass in Mongolia and that’s how I started playing rock n’ roll, broadly speaking!
Karen: My only inspiration would probably be beer, weed, big amps and wanting to get into gigs for free!
Dunchee: I grew up in Kilkenny as a teenager and there was loads of shit going on there. There wasn’t very many gigs in Kilkenny but it was very active, lots of people organised gigs outside of Kilkenny – New Ross, Carlow – mad towns in the middle of nowhere; they’d organise buses to go to them. I guess it was mainly from older brothers that were playing music beforehand, we got into a lot of punk from Alternative Tentacles like No Means No, Dead Kennedys, that kind of stuff. That’s where it started. I got a practise room together in me Ma’s house because down the country you can make loads of noise and not be bothered by neighbours. We just started jamming shit out, got into a band [Nappyrash] and started from there. It was later on that I got into rock and metal. It made a lot of sense to me. Stuff like that progresses and your tastes expand, you get into different things. I listen to a lot of Prog and 70’s rock now that’s a lot of the mainstay of what I listen to.
Ror: I was young and growing up in a posh town. My friends wanted to start a band, at the time the type of music that there was was the Prodigy and Oasis, it was about 15 years ago. I was into Nirvana and the sound of distortion guitar, it’s where the fun is at when you’re young. I chose to have balls as opposed to not have balls. That’s led me to rock’n’roll. It’s enjoyable.
You’ve all played together in various Dublin bands, how has the Dublin scene influenced your path and what other bands stand out? Tob: There have been a lot of bands over the years. I mentioned Striknien DC already. Kidd Blunt spring to mind. They were a great band that were playing around for 10 years, they really came into their own in their last five years of existence. Puget Sound would have been a big band, growing up I was friends with all the lads in that. I saw a lot of their gigs.
Karen: I’m really looking forward to seeing MoT who are playing tonight.
Tob: Brains who are playing tonight, I’ve been listening to the demo during the week and been digging it. Sea Dog springs to mind as a fantastic instrumental rock band.
Karen: Drainland are a good heavy band.
Tob: I’ve been going to gigs for a good 15 years now. It’s tough to pick out bands.
Karen: Slomatics from Belfast.
Ror: There’s been a lot of benchmarks along the way.
Tob: Some of the best bands haven’t even lasted long, they’ve only been around for 12 months and in that time you’d only have seen them half of the times and then it’s over. That’s the nature of it because people go away.
Dunchee: The great thing about the Dublin scene, sometimes to the detriment of some country towns, is that when you turn 18 and you’re mad into music, a lot of people move to Dublin. So it’s this meeting point for all these people who are into underground music. It’s by far the major city in the country.
Ror: As far as it goes in Ireland it’s the melting pot of music.
Tob: You’ll always get a good handfull of bands from other counties like Gout from Kilkenny. There is about 5 or 6 counties where bands come from, but Dublin definitely has a lot and every year it seems like there are more bands than there was.
Ror: The scene has always gone through styles and waves come along, there is always bands that jump out from that style. It’s like an era of music. Jackbeast would have really sprung out in the 90’s along with Striknien’ which would have been a counter part. Then it moved along and a crusty thing came along and the Dagda were the big band. There has been some amazing bands that the world will never know.
It’s very incestuous as well… Tob: Everyone is in 2 or 3 bands and if you’re a drummer there’s a good chance you’re in 5 or 6 bands.
Do you have a ritual before each gig or live performance? Karen: We have to get back to the Firetop Mountain and communicate with our elders, the best way to do that is through smoke.
Tob: Fire and stone basically sees us through. A bit of skidding on some ice, dosen’t hurt in the winter.
Karen: Smoke is ritualistic for us as if we don’t have the power of the Firetop Mountain it’s just not going to be a good performance.
Dunchee: I’m definitely a fan of warm ups.
Tob: We’re all friends anyway so the chances are we’re going to be hanging out together. We’ve been friends much longer than we’ve been playing together. We do enjoy a good session.
Ror: Bit of a doob, all of us call back to the Firetop Mountain make sure mom and dad are alright and then no stress, just rip into it!
What other than music inspires you in your lives? Karen: I do a lot of drawing. I’m trying to do a lot more stuff at the moment because I’m finished college. I’ve done album covers, gig posters. I’m hoping to do a lot more of that. Since that is how I spend my time it would be good if I could earn some money doing what I do every day.
Ror: Most of my time is music, music and zen and pool.
Tob: If I have free time a lot of it is devoted to music, it’s probably where I’m happiest. If I’m not feeling happy it will usually lift the cloud. A bit of riffing and jamming that’s how I spend a lot of my free time.
Karen: I’m a mad cat lady as well. I have 3 cats they take a lot of my time.
Dunchee: I play a lot of pool in the lads gaf. I’m working on renovating a house at the moment. I like to do lots of different shit. I love travelling, meeting new people, getting new ideas into my head.
Tob: Travelling is essential.
Dunchee: You always come back a little bit different.
Tob: It gives me a new perspective, I can’t find a simpler safer way of getting that. Acid is a way but I wouldn’t recommend it [laughs]. So travelling is a safer option eventhough it costs a lot more.
What venue or where in the world would you most like to play? Karen: Roadburn.
Tob: Roadburn would be pretty sweet. In Ireland I’d love to play the National Concert Hall just with the regular crowd. Normally they have classical stuff on but I think the sound would be awesome in there. They’d give you good time for a soundcheck. They always start their gigs on time and the bar is pretty good. You’d have a good time there. Roadburn would definitely be up on the list if Walter is listening. We’re probably going to be there anyway, most of us are there every year and we’re fully available.
Karen: It is the ultimate festival.
Any countries stand out? Ror: Japan. Touring when it’s a culture shock as well is a big thing. Japan always seems like it would be one of the biggest culture shocks I could get. You really feel like it’s a holiday musically and from normal life.
Tob: Any opportunity to get out of Ireland to play gigs is exciting.
Karen: It’s one of the biggest pros to being in a band having the opportunity to do things like that.
Tob: You get to meet a lot of cool people and get to see a lot of cool bands, you have some great times with your mates and with people you’ve just met.
Ror: A tour is something that gives you a new lease of life as a musician, it keeps you alive.
Tob: It’s different from everything else, it’s not travelling it’s something else altogether, it’s not work which is obviously good.
Ror: Meeting people and making acquaintences is handed to you on a plate when you’re on a tour.
Dunchee: Myself and Tob did a tour in Australia with Mongolia and that was a crazy experience. It’s definitely up there with some of my greatest experiences of travelling. The distances are so vast between cities, that we would play a gig and then we’d spend a few days getting to the next town. We’d go and see an awesome national park, drive down the great ocean road or go camping in these amazing mountains, seeing all this crazy shit, having the craic.
Tob: That was a big one, I was travelling anyway. In the middle of your travel suddenly you’re touring. It became two things you love merged. With the distances he mentioned, it was travelling one day and touring the next. You do a weekend of touring with travelling inbetween. It’s a lot better because on other tours if you have a few down days, it can give you a downer. In Australia you’re travelling such vast distances there is a lot to see, a lot of people to meet.
Dunchee: There is always car trouble.
Tob: Every tour has car or van trouble, it’s part of the journey. Obviously you’re not making big bucks so you’re lucky if you’re covering fuel so nevermind big expenses and hoping that some of the sound lads in the other band are going to put you up and sort you out with a bit of doob, somewhere to stash some beer in the fridge, hopefully you don’t make a fool of yourself by pissing in someones room…
Any plans for the the future, tours or recordings? Ror: The plan is to get a recording out soon, we’ve already demoed it.
Tob: We need to get in and mix it. It should be coming out in the next few weeks.
Ror: We’re on the road this weekend around Ireland, once we have a record out we’ll plan further.
Tob: We’re gonna be looking to what our next moves are after we finish this weekender. Touring is definitely something that everyone enjoys so we assume that’s something that’s going to happen.
Dunchee: It’d be great to get over to Europe for some gigs towards the end of the summer.
Tob: It’d be nice to get a vinyl out, we have songs in the works so it’s something we’re aiming for.
Dunchee: Putting out a vinyl you need to be going on tour to get the record out there, you need to sell the records and get the money back. You don’t want a label with a lot of vinyl under their bed in boxes.