Featured guest is the section of my website where I interview artists, musicians, actors and various cool people from all walks of life I have crossed paths with. Tonight I had the chance to catch up with the righteously cool, one and only Erik Caplan. Known to many for his group the mighty Wizard Eye, Erik is a soulful rock journeyman who has always been super cool to me. Coming out of the gates with his new band  called Thunderbird Divine, Erik lays down the info on his past, the present and living life and enjoying music. We talked about his life history, top films, books and more in this in depth interview. Check it out and get the low down on the Thunderbird Divine.- G

1. Hey Erik and how have you been? Always cool to catch up with you bro.

ERIK: Hey Gid! It's great to have the opportunity to talk to you as well.

2.I always felt like you and me relate and have a lot in common. Tell me about your life, where did you grow up and what was your life like before being in bands?

ERIK:I agree. Aside from favoring each other visually, you and I seem to travel similar spiritual paths, and we also maintain the same love for music and joy in creating it.

Yeah for sure brother.

ERIK: I was born in 1970 and raised here in Philadelphia. I went to school at Temple University, and I've been working as a writer and editor for various industries since the early '90s. I have a young son, and I now live just outside of the city. I've been in bands for most of my life, and I've always loved music. My parents tell me that, as an infant, I used to cry and point at the radio in the car until they figured out I wanted to hear music. Before I started playing in bands, I guess I was just kind of weird kid who spent a lot of time alone, listening to music, reading and daydreaming.

3.What inspired you to begin playing in bands and what continues to inspire you today?

ERIK: When I was in grade school, I fooled around with various orchestral instruments like violin, cello and hand bells. I don't think I was very good at any of these things, but I always enjoyed the musical process and the feeling of hearing arrangements come together. I think that's still true for me today.

I started playing music in much the same way that a lot of other young people did--at around 14 years old, my friends and I decided we were going to be musicians and be in a band together. We didn't have instruments, talent, songs or any idea of how to do anything related to music. But we were going to be a band, so we decided to pick instruments. I wound up on guitar by default because I was too shy to sing, and the guy who originally was supposed to play guitar got a girlfriend and stopped hanging around. I guess this is where I deviated from my friends, because I actually got into guitars and playing. None of the other kids pursued music. In those days, I was all over the place musically. I loved Devo and Queen, but I was also a big hip-hop fan, and hardcore music started to filter into my peer group. Also, being the child of parents who grew up during the British Invasion, I always enjoyed The Beatles. I thought Kiss was cool, but I mostly liked the way they looked more than the music.

I have an inquisitive nature, so I just followed musical threads around, listened to stuff and learned. That still inspires me today. I'll listen to anything. 

4.Yeah man me too. Music is music, I listen to all kinds. Were there any concerts or stand out albums that really influenced you and in what ways?

ERIK: My best friend during high school was a guy named Bob. Bob had a great a pile of old records. I was musically both naive and weird, so I didn't know bands like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin at the time. He was the first person to introduce me to that stuff. Once I heard Zeppelin II, I knew I had to play in a band like that. I started reading everything I could about music of that era, and I discovered that all of the guitarists I liked were inspired by the old bluesmen, so I got into Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, Albert King, etc.

My mom had the Hendrix Band of Gypsies album on tape, and I stole that from her. I thought I was the only person who knew that album at the time. I fell into that album as a kid. It was on my Walkman nonstop. I loved (and still love) the way Hendrix could make the guitar sound like it was some kind of fluid machine full of mercury and bolts staggering across a sonic landscape of blues and space noises. Wah and Rotovibe pedals were the lasting consequences of my dalliance with that album, and I don't regret it.

Right on.

ERIK: I saw the Live Aid concerts on TV as a teenager, and, as a kid from Philly, that giant event seemed somehow almost attainable to me. And, of course, I saw a bunch of my friends' shitty punk rock and Cure wannabe bands play in garages and basements. Those moments inspired me to play and perform live.

5. Yeah man when Live Aid was on tv back in the day it was an event for real. I remember watching it on a real small tv so vividly. I can totally relate to all that man. What are some of your favorite concerts you played in your personal history, shows and stand outs in your own music?

ERIK: I really enjoy playing for other people, so almost every gig has been pretty memorable for me in some capacity. However, I will never forget playing some very full shows in large venues as well as ridiculously sweaty basement shows for 10 people. When I was with Wizard Eye, we were fortunate enough to play a couple of Stoner Hands of Doom fests, Moving the Earth fest, Eye of the Stoned Goat, Sludgement Day, Vultures of Volume and a few others. Those kinds of shows are great for both the musical experience as well as the opportunity to hang with other artists who are truly kindred spirits and wonderful people.

6.Yeah for sure. I really enjoyed Wizard Eye man, that was some cool stuff. How did the band come together and what was the history? Did you guys break up?

ERIK: Thank you. I loved Wizard Eye as well. I'm proud of that band and what we accomplished together. I joined Wizard Eye in the Summer of 2007 after seeing a Craigslist ad looking for a guitarist influenced by Motorhead, Black Sabbath, Sleep, Hawkwind and Led Zeppelin. The ad ended with something like, "No small wattage amps." I had just stopped playing bass in a band I liked a great deal, and I was hoping to get back to guitar again.

I went to jam with those guys (Dave, bass; Paul, guitar; Errol, drums), and even though they were a little rough around the edges, I thought the vibe was good, and the essence of what they were doing was very solid. There were some great riffs in the mix, and I thought I could potentially bring something useful to the band. They agreed, and I started playing with the band. Errol didn't last very long as simply because we weren't really on the same page musically. We eventually found a drummer named Jerry, and we started doing three rehearsals per week, which was rather extreme, but we gelled together quickly, and all of those riffs floating around in the ether began to coalesce into songs. I think my biggest contribution to the band in those days was knowledge of song structure and little arrangement tricks. I started doing vocals by default because I was the only member with prior experience.

As time went by, we cycled through a few drummers and lost a guitarist. We became a trio, which was both exciting and terrifying for me because I felt very exposed. I eventually grew to love that arrangement, and we remained a trio until just a few months before the band ended.

We recorded our first album, Orbital Rites (https://wizardeye.bandcamp.com/album/orbital-rites), in 2010, and the band comprised Dave on bass, me on guitar/vocals and theremin and Richie on drums. We tracked that album on my Zoom digital 16-track recorder. It was a real labor of love and feat of penny pinching. Richie had a few cracked cymbals and slightly dead heads, and we didn't have particularly nice microphones or preamps, but I feel the end result was a pretty good album. We got some nice reviews, and I'm still proud that we managed to make a good album on such a shoestring budget.

Richie had to stop playing music as his employment situation changed in an inconvenient way, and Dave and I took a hiatus from working together for almost a year before we decided to resurrect Wizard Eye with a new drummer, Scott. Scott lasted a bit more than a year before we found Mike, and we made a lot of progress with him. We released a live album, Riff Occult: Live (https://wizardeye.bandcamp.com/album/riff-occult-live) in 2014, and we recorded our self-titled second album (https://wizardeye.bandcamp.com/album/wizard-eye) at Gradwell House Studios (http://www.gradwellhouse.com/), releasing that in 2015 on vinyl through Black Monk Records (https://www.facebook.com/BlackMonkRecords/). That was a very proud moment for us, and we worked our asses off to make that album. Even the vinyl looks awesome. (https://www.discogs.com/sell/item/377252701).

We began working with 313 INC Artist Management (https://www.facebook.com/Three-Thirteen-Inc-Artist-Management-170772042774/) around this time, and we were flattered to receive a bunch of great press on the album. We played a lot of shows and worked on some inspiring new material. However, there were some internal tensions within our circle, and we decided to dissolve our musical partnership. We don't speak to each other at this point, but I don't hold any resentment towards my former band mates. It was a sad situation for me, and I miss those guys in a big way. In fact, Dave's voice is the one in my head when I'm writing music now, pushing me to come up with more interesting things. I have great respect for the music we created together. I have a lot of love for those guys.

7.You have an all new band called Thunderbird Divine, what a cool name bro. How did the new band come together? How is the sound different from Wizard Eye?

ERIK: Thank you. The origin of the name is a story of its own. Thunderbird Divine was the self-applied street name of a homeless Nam vet who lived in my neighborhood as a kid. He used to get very drunk and go on long rants about himself, always emphasizing that he was Thunderbird Divine and the baddest dude around. I wrote lyrics about him on the second Wizard Eye album (https://wizardeye.bandcamp.com/track/thunderbird-divine), and it was very nearly the title of the second album. The name just stuck with me.

After Wizard Eye split, I was feeling kind of lousy about myself and music in general, but I knew I had to be in a band if I wanted to be happy again. I placed some ads and jammed with a few good people, but nothing totally gelled. At some point I remembered another band from the area, Skeleton Hands (https://www.facebook.com/skeletonhandsband/) was not playing out anymore, and I was initially planning to poach the drummer, Mike, because I had always liked his style. I contacted him and discovered the band was still writing songs without a singer. The obvious move for us was to combine our forces and build a new project together. That's how I wound up playing with Mike, Flynn (guitar) and Adam (bass). They liked Thunderbird Divine as a band name, so we made a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thunderbirddivine/), and we started writing material right away. They're great guys. We have a lot of fun together, and I am excited to see what we can do together over time.

I think Thunderbird Divine's material is much in the same neighborhood as Wizard Eye, but it's probably a bit less experimental with time signatures and riff ideas. It's more rootsy and blues-based but we are still operating from a '70s rock and psychedelia point of view. It's still riff-heavy, and I'm still the vocalist, so there are some obvious similarities.Time will tell what we do next, and I'm enjoying the process.

 

8.Right on man I look forward to hearing it. Very cool band name. That is way cool how you were inspired by that guy. What are some of your favorite films?

ERIK: I’m big fan of the Coen brothers, so films like The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona and Fargo are favorites of mine, but I also love films like Jaws and The Godfather, and I’ve followed virtually everything made by Kurosawa. I really enjoy films in general, so I’ll watch almost anything just to see a good story.

9.Yeah man I enjoy all kinds of films and I always say the same, a good story is a good story. Those are great films to name. I am surprised, though not really from you, but because it is rare to hear anyone say Akira Kurosawa just casually. Truly a brilliant film maker. I studied some of his camera techniques when we were working on projects here several years ago. I remember seeing “Dreams” when it played at the Manor in Charlotte, NC and that was a cool memory. Raising Arizona and Fargo, Lebowski, yeah all too cool. What about some of your favorite books?

ERIK: I'm a huge Stephen King buff, and I've read virtually everything he's written. I enjoy books in much the same way as I enjoy movies, so I will read almost anything. Lately I've been reading a lot of autobiographies, so I have read Tommy James' book, the book by the Wilson sisters of Heart and several others of that nature.

Autobiographies are interesting, even people you may not neccesarily be a fan of because you can learn from their life story in some way for sure. I read a lot of them too. I will check out the Wilson sisters book.

10. What inspires you as a songwriter and lyricist?

ERIK: I like to do research in order to write lyrics. Odd bits of arcane information or phrases get stuck in my head, and I find I have to explore those phrases or stories in order to resolve my feelings on those subjects. So, for example, a song like "On the Banks of a River" (https://wizardeye.bandcamp.com/track/on-the-banks-of-a-river) stems from an old saying, "Wait on the banks of a river long enough, and your enemy's corpse will float by." Not only is that a pretty bad-ass expression, it's also good advice. Sun Tzu said, "Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting." The idea of letting one's enemy's mistakes be their downfall is a good mindset for life. I tossed that idea around inside my head for a while before I wrote the lyrics to that song, and I'm still happy with the way they solidified.

Excellent, very cool to hear. I remember you mentioned that quote to me once in the past.

ERIK: As for writing songs, I like to do that collaboratively, so I often come to rehearsal these days with what I call "Erik's Stupid Riff of the Week," and I play something goofy for the other guys. It's not always genius stuff on my end, but it starts a conversation, and we frequently find ways to make those germs of music into actual songs when we work together.

11.So tell me what are your top favorite guitarists and influences?

ERIK: As I mentioned earlier, I've always been a Hendrix and Page fan, but I've grown to love a lot of seemingly disparate players over the years--Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Angus Young, Tony Iommi, Neil Young, Jimi California, the guys from Fu Manchu, Matt Pike, Buck Dharma and so many others. I really enjoy guitar overall, so I think there is always something to gain from another guitarist. I've become quite fond of Leslie West lately, he's a brilliant player and vocalist. Also I am a huge Monster Magnet fan.

12.I am with you on all of those and have to give a big approval on the Buck Dharma mention. I always thought he was so under appreciated. He is so, so good. No flash, all soul and just burning on those lead solos. I once saw Buck Dharma in a studio clip going over a lead and he was just killin' it. Robbie Robertson and Joni Mitchell definitely great. Also with Tony Iommi people don’t often realise how much blues was in his playing, sure it’s the father of doom but he had a blues feel to it that is not 'metal ' at all, people tend to downplay his influences. Lesley West yeah one of the greats. What advice would you give young artists just starting out?

ERIK: Things are very different for young musicians these days, and I certainly don't have any of the answers for creating a successful career, but I think the key elements are always the same: Listen things you like, and analyze the elements involved in that music. Try to come up with something equivalent but not the same. Practice a lot, learn to make the sounds you hear in your head with your instrument or voice. Learn to compromise with your collaborators. Do it because you love it.

 

13.What is the scene like in your area?

ERIK: Philadelphia has always been full of great music.There are always fine bands playing around. I think some of the mid-level touring acts have a hard time getting booked here, but we certainly get a lot of tours. However, I think most cities this size have similar music environments--some great bands, some good ones, lots of average ones, even more crummy ones. We have our punks, our stoners, our EBM types, our folkies. There's a nice representation of every style.

14.If you did not play music, what else are you interested in with your time?

ERIK: I can't picture a time when I won't be playing music in some capacity, even if I'm not in a band. I work on albums for friends, I plunk along to music online. Of course, I'm also a father, so hanging out with my son is essential for me. I am a glutton for information, so I'm always looking things up or researching a topic for some reason or other.

15.I can dig it man. Thanks again Erik, any last words for your fans or news?

ERIK: You are very welcome. Last words--please do check out and "like" the Thunderbird Divine Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/thunderbirddivine/) and be on the lookout for new music from us. Thank you all for the continued support.

Thanks to you man and great talking with you. Will look forward to your new stuff and please keep me updated. Rock on brother. - G

 

 

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Cemetery Crows

C.Crows Gideon's side project doom metal, sludge, gothic blues band. You can check out a few songs from the early demo on the reverbnation page. Doom On.

https://www.reverbnation.com/cemeterycrows