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Old Man Wizard

Old Man Wizard is a heavy rock band that started in San Diego in 2011. The band released their newest record Kill Your Servants Quietly on November 5th of 2021. We sat down with lead vocalist, guitarist, and songwriter Francis Roberts a few days before their January 8th show at San Diego’s Brick by Brick to talk about what inspired the creation of the project, his journey as a musician, and his advice to the next generation of musicians!

Photo: Courtesy of Old Man Wizard

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Interview

1.  I’m always curious how musicians choose their instruments. What was it about the guitar that drew you in?

I had a friend that got me interested in playing, and showed me how to read tabs. I knew there was a guitar at home and I found it. It was under some stuff in a closet. Essentially, having access to the instrument was the main thing that lead me to that.

2.  What was the biggest challenge about getting started, and how did you get past it?

I didn’t feel like there was a big challenge getting started. I would say that looking back, the big challenge was having time that I wanted to be practicing. I think I got passed it by getting started at a time when I didn’t have responsibilities. Like, getting started when I was in school, and had summer vacations, and before cellphones with fun and engaging stuff on them. I just had an enormous amount of time to be bored with my instrument, and I think that made it really easy to get started. I think the challenge now about that would be just time. Time to spend on it. The time that I want to spend on it.

3.  What was going on in your life personally or creatively when Old Man Wizard came to be? Did something inspire the creation of this project?

I’d been playing primarily acoustic music for a while, and wanted to get back into playing electric guitar. I had sort of recently gotten into recording, so I decided I would try to make a bunch of songs by myself for full-band electric guitar, bass guitar, drum kit, and started making demos. Those demos became the first Old Man Wizard songs. I started posting them online seeing if people wanted to join the project, and I think what happened was I was going on tour and decided I need to have the demos done before I leave for tour. That way I can be posting on my phone on tour so that I’ll have a band when I get back.

4.  Old Man Wizard released a new album in 2021. What feelings informed the songs on that record?

Different things inform different songs. Some of the songs are more personal I guess. Like, “here’s how I’m feeling today” kind of songs, and some songs are complete nonsense. There’s definitely at least like one or two songs on the album that aren’t really about anything. Just like, “here’s some lyrics. This will be fun.” I always do some fantasy themed lyrics, and when you put them in the context of songs that criticize something real, some people will dig in trying to find a parallel. There are two songs in particular, Falling Star and Solider’s Winter that aren’t really about anything. Just like, “here’s some cool words.” Sort of like a fantasy story, like an adventure. There are at least those two songs that aren’t really about anything real, and are very intentionally placed towards the end of the album because it lets people sort of choose what they’re about on their own.

5.  Old Man Wizard is a heavier band with dark instrumentation, but people often describe your music as “uplifting.” How do you feel about that?

I like that. I love it. That makes me really happy that people find it uplifting for any reason.

6.  What’s a musician or band that inspires your style that might surprise people?

I intentionally try to pick stuff that’s definitely not anything like our band for the songwriting influences, because you can take a set of chords that you think sounds cool, or a melodic idea you think is cool, and you can put it in your genre, and that’s basically what the band is. I think the most surprising one is a song on the album that’s very intentionally inspired by TWICE, and that’s probably the weirdest one. They’re a K Pop band. The song is I Want to Know. I felt like I was ripping them off, but it doesn’t sound anything like them. It almost ended up being like a punk song. It’s the chord progressions and the way the lyrics repeat, the type of approach to what makes the song catch, and the cadence of the lyrics.

7.  Of all the places music has taken you, what are a few of your favorites?

Quebec City. I think that’s probably the most obvious example that comes to mind. Showing up there and being like, “how is this place real, and how have I never heard of it?” I just thought Montreal is the place in Quebec that I would have imagined myself having gone to. Quebec City was so much cooler when I went there for the first time. I was like, “whoa. Why don’t people talk about this one instead?”

The other place is New Orleans. We hear about New Orleans as this like party Mardi Gras kind of thing, and it’s so much more than that. I thought I would hate it because of that. New Orleans feels like this weird little magic city. The live music in the small clubs there is so high level. Like in Nashville the way the random country bands in little bars are all incredible because it’s just like studio musicians on their days off. Nashville is like that with country music, and New Orleans is like that with New Orleans music. It’s like it’s own thing almost. It’s own category of blues and jazz.

8.  What advice do you have for people just getting started on their journey as artists?

Learn a DAW (digital audio workstation) if we’re talking about music. The quote that I see going around is that a laptop and Ableton is a better studio than a $10M studio was in the 80’s, and it’s not entirely false. It’s ridiculous to conflate those two things, but if you aren’t recording at least your own demos, you are decades behind everyone else. Being able to record your own music, even if it’s not the final product, is the most important thing right now if you’re trying to be a musician. You are going to waste so much money on studio time otherwise. Not that studio time is bad. Go to a nice studio for your finished album, but you want to record your songs before they’re finished because you want to get a feel for what they sound like.

9.  Would you rather play a show on the surface of the moon, or at the bottom of the sea?

Are we being realistic or fanciful? Because the moon, if we’re being realistic. I’m just thinking of like pressure concerns and stuff like that. To be honest, we saw Metallica do that with Antarctica. They did a bubble show in Antarctica. After seeing that, and seeing footage of that, if I were to do either of those things, I wouldn’t do it with music that I’ve written. I would try to come up with something specifically for that after having a lot of information about what the experience would be like. Cause I was kind of cringing when I was seeing [Metallica] because yeah, it’s a cool idea, but it’s excessive for the sake of being excessive. If you’re playing a show on the moon there’s probably stuff you can do with moon physics that would be musically interesting and yield new sounds. “Here’s this song I wrote on Earth. Let’s play it on the moon,” is kind of like putting a flag up on the top of a mountain. It reminds me of stacking rocks at the top of a hiking trial. You weren’t the first person here. I feel like you can do something actually interesting and forward thinking in that situation. But yeah, absolutely the moon.

 

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