Heavy-Vinyl Presents: An Interview With Eric Wagner (Trouble, The Skull, Blackfinger)
Written By: David Locklear
We got to talk to one of doom metal’s legendary singers, Eric Wagner. You know, the singer of Trouble, The Skull, Blackfinger and Lid. To say it was awesome is an understatement. Our original interview time was delayed by the fact that these guys were having a great jam session and they gracefully and apologetically rescheduled with me. See what the great man had to say.
David Locklear: I was looking at the email that (Bassist) Ron (Holzner) sent me and he said you guys were having a heavy jam session last night that you got caught up in.
Eric Wagner: (Laughing) Yeah, this morning we were having coffee and I went: “Dude, we forgot about the interview!” (Laughing) We were all half-asleep going ‘Fuck!’ Yeah, we’ve been working on a new record and we totally spaced out.
DL: Oh, it’s no big deal. When you do this sort of thing for a living, you get used to unexpected things happening, because this is rock and roll. I mean, I understand that you guys have stuff to do.
EW: We’re just a band, you know? We’re not expected to be responsible adults or anything like that. That’s our out.” I’m in a band man!” “Oh that explains it!” (laughing)
DL: And you can say you work nights!
EW: Well, I sleep nights. Or try to anyway. I’m up at like 5 AM usually... I’m usually in bed by 10. I like getting up in the morning when it’s still dark out, because it is the most peaceful time and that’s when I get the most work done, as far as writing and stuff
DL: I’m like that, too, I’ve noticed in the last few years.
EW: For me it started way back when I had kids. I was Mr. Mom because I was working on album or something, so I started getting up earlier and I had to get as much done as I could before the kids got up, because then I have to feed them take him to school and all that. I just got used to it. And now they’re in their late 20s, I’m still getting up early.
DL: Do your kids look at you like the rock god so many people see you as? Or are you just dad?
EW: Well, they don’t really know me like that-I mean they’ve seen me play a few times back in the day with Trouble and all that; but when my son started going to high school, he’d come home with some of his friends and their parents used to come see me play all the time. So, they were like ‘Eric Wagner is your dad? My mom and dad watched them jam all the time!’ So he thought he was a big shot there for a while.
DL: Was he taking it to the street? I’m sure that helped him get a couple of girlfriends?
EW: Maybe! (laughing) It helped me!
DL: That’s one of the big reasons most guys get into rock’n roll, isn’t it? I’m glad to hear it wasn’t any different for you.
EW: Well, when I was a kid I would be jamming to my music and pretending that I was a rockstar until my dad pounded on the door and told me to turn that shit off. So that was one reason why got into it-I didn’t really think about the next thing, it just happened on its own. Being the singer didn’t hurt nine either. (Laughing)
DL: With you guys doing all this jamming, do you have songs set up for a new album?
EW: Since we all live in different places, from time to time we all fly in, we get together in a room and work it out, so everybody’s happy. This is what we did with the last album. We’ll get as many songs as we can done and then go home and we are almost there.
DL: Now is the next album going to have a very similar vibe and sound to the self-titled one? Or are you venturing into new territory with this new album?
EW: Well, I don’t know. Obviously it’s us and me in particular I’ve been writing the same way my whole life. So, I can’t change that. I mean we always want to move forward. I’ve had people ask me if were ever going to make an album like ‘The Skull’ album that we made as Trouble, and all I can think is: ‘Well, I hope not’. That was kind of a depressing time, so I don’t want to feel that way again. As artists we always want to explore new things, but we are who we are and we can’t help how we sound. It’s kind of like how you look and how you talk-it is what you are. It’ll be the same but different.
DL: Having been a band for so long, is it easier for all of you guys to collaborate than it was early in your career?
EW: Yeah, we’ve already been through everything 1 billion times, so all that little crap that you have to learn how to deal with early on, we already did. As far as getting into a room, we already know how to get along. And they all know me; I want to try everything possible before we decide this is the way the song or albums is going to be. I always want to try to make it better, so they’re already expecting to go around the block with it to make sure it’s great. You have to strive for that. If you try to strive for something good, it’s only going to be okay. If you want it to be great, you’ll know that at least it will be good. And if we’re all happy with it, then I’m sure some other people will be too. Because if we hate it, so will everyone else! And with me being the singer writing the lyrics, I look at the songs much differently than the guys who play the instruments do. I’m not a musician-I’m just a fan. I write songs in lyrics and I sing it and I go with the feeling of the song. Where musicians are thinking in notes. So they’re already expecting me to say, ‘Let’s figure it out and make it better.’ At first we had our wars...in the early days:
‘This is the way I wrote it!’
‘Well, I’m not feeling it!’
‘Well, that’s your opinion!’
I’m not the greatest singer on earth, but when I do open my big mouth people know who it is. I do what I do well, but I can’t do the things that Freddie Mercury did. Sometimes guitar players will write songs in certain keys and in certain ways that I don’t sound good doing it. So I’m not going to put myself out there like that. We have to make it so that I can also sound good. People need to accept the fact when you work on something together, to make something great, everyone has to be happy. It is always going to suck if you like it, this guy hates it and the other guy thinks it’s okay. That’s not going to be a good record, you know?
DL: There are a lot of people who don’t know how to collaborate well especially in a band scenario.
EW: Well, people need to realize that it’s not personal. Just because you wrote it and I don’t like it there’s no reason to take it personally. I got a whole big fucking dumpster full of lyrics and songs that I have gotten thrown out, and it was because they weren’t good, it wasn’t personal. If the song is good, it’s good. If it’s not, it’s not.
DL: No matter what you’re working on, you do have to whittle things down until they are good and not be bloated.
EW: And you know what? Nine out of ten times it’s making the song better.
DL: Do you like getting a little buzz when you go to rehearsals or before you go onstage?
EW: I like smoking a little weed. Me and alcohol don’t really get along...so yeah I like smoking a little joint with some music. I just think it’s fucking stupid that it’s illegal to begin with.
DL: Have you taken any breaks recently to just relax?
EW: No, I’ve been so busy trapped inside my mind to see what’s really going on in the real world. And when I do stop from time to time, I don’t know if I really like it, so I just go back into my room and keep on working on music.
DL: Sorry if I sound like a nerd here, but as a fan, I have to admit it was so cool listening to you say to me ‘Trapped Inside My Mind”!
EW: Well, that’s where that song came from. That’s what it is, I go into my room I’ve got my tools and I just try to write lyrics and music. It has nothing to do with reality, and when I do get done and I come back out into the world for a second, I find that it’s changed not to my liking. I think it’s sometimes easier to just go back into your room and just keep working, because that’s where I’m the happiest. The world gives me anxiety. I go onto Facebook and I see all the bullshit on there that is so out of control right now. It’s like, dude, why don’t you just go give it a break and go do something. Go read a book, go for a walk, do something! Instead of bitching about how shitty life is.
DL: When you really stand back and look at the state of the entire world, it does seem like we’ve got it pretty good compared to the way a lot of other places are.
EW: And with the stupid politics, I can’t stand it. Everyone is acting like Republicans and Democrats are mortal enemies and that we should kill each other or something. All they are to me is a political party with a little bit of a difference of opinion in policies, that’s all. So why don’t you guys shut the fuck up already and try to get together and do something good instead of constantly fighting with each other. Why don’t you fucking do something with your life instead? Try to make things better, if you’re not helping any, then you’re part of the problem. People just need to compromise a little bit. There are good things about both sides, and it’s never going to be in the middle; but maybe some good things can start happening instead of always negative! Okay, I’m done going on my little vent there. (laughing)
DL: I agree, but it took me a while for that to be the conclusion I’ve finally come to as I’ve gotten older.
EW: It’s giving me a stomachache.
DL: A lot of people on the political spectrum don’t seem to understand that if you try to compromise-instead of sticking your heels into the sand-you could succeed in accomplishing your goals.
EW: I’m afraid that might never happen. I mean, during the 60s, the focus was peace and love, but I don’t think the people in charge really want that. They want chaos, they want us fighting with each other, and it’s so that we won’t pay attention to what’s really going on. Which I’m sure it isn’t good and it has to do with greed.
DL: Yeah it’s very much like the film, Land of the Dead, where the zombies were being distracted with fireworks.
EW: Yeah, that’s it pretty much.
DL: Have you guys ever subtly addressed politics in any of your songs?
EW: No. Like I said, I hate it. My girlfriend, she’s in politics and I have to tell her I don’t want to hear it, because if we disagree then we’ll be getting into an argument. Like I said, I don’t agree with everything on either side and both sides do have some good things. I don’t get into it enough to want to sing about it. I’ll just stick to writing about how I feel. I write one and then I go on to the next one. And when I’m done, I just sit back and start listening to the songs instead of working on them. That’s when I start realizing what it’s about and I can kind of tweak it.
DL: That’s how a lot of my writing gets done: I write it down, then I let it marinate and when I return to it to, I figure out where to go.
EW: Yeah! Sometimes you just have to walk away first, clear your mind and just forget about it and then come back the next day to look at it and there’s always something you need to fix.
DL: Do you still enjoy writing the spiritual lyrics and music?
EW: Yeah, that’s what I’m doing for myself. I’m at a certain age and things are different now. I don’t want to call it ‘growing up’ or anything, because I never want to do that, but you have to sometimes. Things in life change and you start seeing things differently. People sometimes don’t realize that when you say you believe in God, that there’s a difference between God and religion...religion is man-made.
“You do this you’re going to hell! You do this you’re going to be punished! Don’t do this! Don’t do that!” That’s not how it is. I’ve always thought that God is love, so when people say ‘You’re going to hell!’, I’m like ‘I’m not so sure about that.’ I’ve asked those people ‘Do you have kids?’ When they say yes, I’m like ‘Well, what would your kid have to do in order for you to send them to hell?’ And I don’t know about everybody else, but my answer is nothing. They might have to pay a penalty here on earth if they do something really bad, but as far as me sending them to hell? There is nothing they could do. And I don’t care I don’t what it is. They could kill someone and eat their fucking heart on a grill and I still wouldn’t send them to hell. So I think people look at it wrong sometimes, it’s not about that.
DL: I’ve had that conversation with people many times about what could send a person to hell. And I’ve always been given a different answer. ‘If you kill somebody’, ‘If you’re gay’, ‘If you sin’. I’ve personally have never seen that in the Bible.
EW: Well, He gives us every opportunity to ask for forgiveness, if you’re sincere. You can’t just say ‘I’m sorry’ and not mean it. I can see through that, let alone God. He gives you every opportunity to do the right thing, and it doesn’t say in there that when you die you go to heaven or hell. It does not say that. I just don’t understand why everybody can’t just be cool... smoke a fucking joint and relax! It’s okay (laughing). We’re only here for a short time and everything was put here for us to enjoy. Have fun! Don’t worry so much, there’re only 10 rules! Besides, we’re all going back to the same place we came from, just be cool man.
DL: I think a lot of people would benefit from taking some of your advice.
EW: Well, I could probably stand to take my own advice from time to time also. (laughs)
DL: Eric, I have taken enough of your time today. Thanks again, it’s been an honor.
EW: No problem. I don’t know if I actually answered any your questions though!
DL: Well, if I’m having a good conversation I feel like it’s better to enjoy that instead of shoehorning in a bunch of other stuff.
EW: Well, I enjoyed it. Take care, brother.