By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the leading lights of the Bay Area hard-rock scene, Oakland-based heavyweights Lecherous Gaze have been making a compelling noise with their mix of garage punk, psychedelia and ’70s riff rock for the better part of the past decade.
Rising from the ashes of the late, lamented punk-metal outfit Annihilation Time, Lecherous Gaze came together in 2010. Featuring guitar hero Graham Clise as well as AT’s potent rhythm section of bassist Chris Grande and drummer Noel Sullivan, the group cycled through a couple of lead singers before teaming with frontman Zaryan Zaidi for its bracing first full-length album on Tee Pee Records, On the Skids, in 2012.
Anchored by Zaidi’s gruff Wolfman-Jack style growl and Clise’s blazing arsenal of riffs, the album touched on heavy sounds from all eras. The urgent opening track “Scorpion” alone simultaneously echoed Jimi Hendrix’s “Stepping Stone,” Love’s “Seven and Seven Is” and Devo’s “Gut Feeling.” Regular performances at Bay Area clubs and house parties as well as regular stretches of national and international touring (not to mention Zaidi’s bizarre costumes and freaky onstage antics) helped Lecherous Gaze build a solid global reputation as a formidable live act.
Two years later, Lecherous Gaze issued Zeta Reticuli Blues, garnering another round of glowing reviews for the psychedelic punk savagery and fractured Chuck Berry riffs heard on “End Rising” and “Animal Brain.” A ripping version of the oft-covered rock chestnut “Baby Please Don’t Go” stands toe-to-toe with earlier takes on the tune by such legends as Van Morrison and Them, Budgie, Ted Nugent’s early band the Amboy Dukes and AC/DC.
This week, the band celebrated the release of its third album, the epic sci-fi concept album One Fifteen, also on Tee Pee Records. Delving into ambitious sonic territory, the recording adds swirling synthesizers and more complex arrangements to the unhinged caveman stomp of the Lecherous Gaze template. It is also the first recording to feature the band’s second guitarist, Zach Dellorto-Blackwell.
Though Clise has been busy since relocating late last year to Australia and touring extensively working as guitar tech for Dinosaur Jr. leader and six-string maestro J. Mascis (who Clise has also played with in the stoner-rock band Witch and on the one-off live album project Heavy Blanket, a collaboration with fellow psych outfit Earthless), he took to answer some questions via email about the latest record, touring plans and the possibility of a full-blown Annihilation Time reunion.
CBS SF: This album has a few distinctive qualities that set it apart from the first two Lecherous Gaze recordings. Between the Frank Frazetta cover and some other things about the sleeve art, you can sense there is an interstellar theme going on with One Fifteen. A closer reading of the lyrics gave more hints, with the apocalyptic subject matter of some of the songs “Reptile Mind” and “The Day the Earth Caught Fire.”
So is there a concept or story line you had in mind? And what the hell is “Ununpentium,” aka Element 115?
Graham Clise: The record has a sci-fi theme throughout the whole thing, like the last couple albums. Basically, the story line of the record is about a life form from some distant galaxy that takes a wrong turn, runs out of gas and gets stuck on our sh*tty planet. “Element 115” is the fuel that powers its craft. 115 represents its atomic structure; an element with 115 atoms per molecule, making it an extremely heavy element that would be very unstable and radioactive, like uranium.
Humans are abducted and sent to this slave colony that’s been set up on Mars to mine for 115. Everyone is forced into a lifetime of hard labor to satisfy this greedy assh*le alien. After getting enough fuel to bail home, he’s so disgusted by how much of a dump Earth is, he nukes the planet on the way out of town. That’s the basic story line in a nutshell.
It’s based on what’s actually going on these days regarding our dependence on petroleum-based energy and nuclear weapons. Everyone is stuck doing slave labor, ruining the environment and killing each other, which will probably lead to the destruction of our planet. Sad isn’t it?
CBS SF: Did you have the concept going into the making of the album before the songs were written, or did it emerge as the songs took shape?
GC: It sort of evolved and took on a life of its own as the songs were getting thrown together. That’s what has happened with all three albums we’ve put out. They always end up accidentally turning into these ridiculous sci-fi concept records somehow.
CBS SF: I can still hear some characteristic elements of balls-out Detroit rock and occasional shades of Chuck Berry on DMT, but these songs seem a little more sophisticated and nuanced in the arrangements. Were you aiming for something a bit more complex or a broader sonic palette this time around?
Graham Clise: I guess it’s normal for a band’s third album to branch out a little more. We definitely wouldn’t be content just putting out the same album over and over, because that would be boring as hell to play. After all, we’ve always been more concerned on keeping ourselves happy than the listener. But still, every song written has some Chuck Berry in it.
CBS SF: There were a couple of influences on this album — Blue Öyster Cult and Hawkwind — that I don’t think I’ve associated with Lecherous Gaze in the past. Do you think that was an outgrowth of the sci-fi concept? Or maybe it’s just introducing synths to the band’s sound?
Graham Clise: BÖC has always been a big influence. I’ve been inspired by Buck Dharma’s guitar work and the overall BÖC themes for years and continue to get inspired to this day. Really, the old sci-fi movies like “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “War of the Worlds,” as well as general UFO lore, is where we originate some of the concepts.
CBS SF: The vibe on “Thing Within” and “Malevolent Shroud” gets a little darker than the more party hearty psychedelic punk of your past albums. Any thoughts on what put that edge on those songs?
Graham Clise: It wasn’t intentional really. That’s just sort of what came out when it was time to write a song. We were really pleased how that one came out! It was fun for me coming up with the guitar parts and tweaking out for hours on the tune.
CBS SF: I initially figured the acoustic on “Dark Nebula” and “Blind Swordsman” was your handiwork, but saw in the credits that your singer Zaryan Zaidi played acoustic guitar on the album. Was this his first instrumental contribution to an album beyond singing?
Graham Clise: Yeah, this was the first time. He actually played guitar on parts of the record, which was killer! He’s such a great musician; it all comes very natural to the guy. He’s one of those assh*les than never practices and can just randomly pick up an axe and bust out something amazing off-the-cuff like it’s nothing. In the past, he’s always contributed whole songs and lyrics, so it was cool seeing him do some tracking. He’s got a seriously kick-ass band he plays guitar in called Char Man.
CBS SF: What was Zach’s impact on the writing and recording process? I’m assuming on earlier albums, you’d generally be adding additional guitar parts yourself?
Graham Clise: Yeah, it was cool having Zach on second guitar. He added some cool parts. It sounds better than just using one guy to do all the tracks.
CBS SF: I imagine your relocation to Australia late last year has complicated the logistics of rehearsal and touring to some extent. How are you working around the challenges presented by the new address?
Graham Clise: It’s very difficult for the time being. Because it’s complicated moving here and getting the proper visa and right to stay, I’m pretty much off the touring circuit for a little over a year until the Australian government comes to their senses and lets me live here! Hopefully, they won’t take Trump’s stance on immigration and send me packing!
CBS SF: How are the touring plans shaping up for the coming year? Do you know how much of the new album you’ll be playing once you hit the road?
Graham Clise: We’ve got a couple dates in Australia planned for March, and hopefully some select dates in America. There’s not a whole ton of touring for the time being, but we’d be eager to play a ton of new material.
CBS SF: Last year, you mentioned the possibility of a full-blown Annihilation Time reunion tour after the handful of shows you did in Melbourne and Austin (I don’t count the couple of songs you played at the El Rio, because I’m an idiot and I missed it). Is that still in the cards given that your Lecherous Gaze band mates must be chomping at the bit to play the new album live?
Graham Clise: We’ve got a full Japanese tour planned for Annihilation Time in late April/early May, but that’s it. Unless we get something really tempting, we’ve got no other plans. Annihilation Time will probably never be a full-on touring band again, but playing once or twice a year is really fun. Both bands tour because we have fun doing it. We’ve never treated it like a job and never will. That’s a big reason why we’ve never done these silly package tours or opened up for weak bands.
The new Lecherous Gaze album One Fifteen is available now from Tee Pee Records