Guitar player Rob Wrong is a busy man. In addition to performing six-string duties alongside bassist Ron Holzner of The Skull, he has also been playing with Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain for over 20 years, no small feat for a band in the doom metal genre, where bands come and go faster than anyone can keep up with it.
Wrong founded the group in 1997 with drummer Nathan Carson, and the pair have weathered many bumps in the road along the way. Indeed, the band boasts a turnover rate high enough to make any McDonald’s franchise proud. But while so many of their contemporaries have fallen to the wayside to be forgotten by the unforgiving passage of time, Witch Mountain is still here, still recording and still touring, which one assumes will be the case for the foreseeable future.
We submitted Wrong to our standard grilling and he offered thoughtful and substantive discourse in exchange. He was also kind enough to put together a playlist of songs that came up on shuffle on his phone while he was driving the van on this last tour. It appears at the bottom of this interview and it’s darn good if we do say so ourselves.
TZR: When did you first start playing music and who were your earliest influences?
RW: I started playing music around the age of nine when my Dad — the guy that I called my father for most of my life, that is — brought home an electric guitar and a small amp for me to start tinkering on. I started out playing right handed like the way he taught me, but found it difficult to play since I was naturally a lefty. Around the time I was in the 7th grade, I took trumpet in the school band with a hand-me-down trumpet that my uncle gave me. I took to it quick and ended up doing that though my senior year in high school, but knew deep inside that it wasn’t going to help me get where I needed to be, as rock and roll had always been something I was highly interested in.
It wasn’t until my parents divorced and moved to Portland when was about 14 years old in 1985 that I got another guitar, this time a gold top Les Paul knockoff that I bought off of a friend for $50 with lawn mowing money that I had saved up. I switched it and strung it left handed and it immediately felt way more natural and I progressed quickly, teaching myself everything by ear from the radio, records, 8-track tapes, cassettes and MTV videos. It was then that I started treating it like a second job to schoolwork. I played every chance I had and it helped me escape from my home life at the time with a miserable step-dad.
I’ve always had a thing for rock and roll since as far back as I can remember like Buddy Holly and the Beatles, Stones and the Kinks. A couple years before I started taking guitar seriously is when I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd and those were without a doubt my early influences as far as guitar is concerned that I believe have carried with me through life and my career as a musician.
TZR: Did you ever see Witch Mountain lasting this long, and what do you think has kept it going this whole time?
RW: When I started Witch Mountain in 1997, it was more of an extension of the music of a band I was working with before called Iommi Stubbs. I had grown disinterested in playing with those guys because it felt like the party was coming before the music and it became really self-destructive. I called up Nathan Carson because he had his shit together by comparison to most people in our small humble heavy rock scene at the time in Portland circa 1997.
To be honest we had no idea it would last this long, and we had our share of misunderstanding, life getting in the way in general, breakups and reuniting over the course. We always had this attitude that if we stuck it out long enough that people couldn’t ignore us forever, and I’m glad we did. He we are, 21 years later this month, and we’ve put out five albums, many singles, EPs and songs on compilations and video games. We’ve been more active in the last 10 years and most of the material is a reflection of the roads we’ve traveled. It’s been a wild journey and I’m glad we stuck it out.
TZR: What are you working on now?
RW: Right now I just got off tour with my band from Chicago, the Skull, and I am playing the record release party for Witch Mountain. Our fifth and best album of material to date was released on May 25th, and the Skull’s new album comes out September 7th, so it’s tour tour tour and promote both releases for me. It’s going to be a heavy couple of years of touring and promoting both albums and playing festivals starting next spring here in the USA and overseas.
I embark on my next tour on July 10 for five weeks with Witch Mountain, and when I get back home from that, I leave three weeks later for another five weeks of touring Europe again with the Skull. After that it’s more back-to-back touring, and writing new demos for both bands in between and recording in my home studio. In between music I spend most of my time with my wife, my lovely two kids, friends, family and of course work. I work with bands consulting and guiding them to not make the same mistakes I’ve made throughout my 25 year span of recording and touring with various bands.
TZR: If you could stop touring and only record, or stop recording and only tour, which would you choose and why?
RW: This is really tough to say because honestly, I enjoy both! But in the end, if I did have to chose one over the other, I would say that recording is what I would have to decide in the end. The last few years I’ve been messing around with various DAW programs and gone through a bunch of different recording gear, learning and watching people like Billy Anderson work and really enjoying it.
I have a humble small studio here in Portland at home that I’ve actually tracked guitar parts for the Skull that ended up on the upcoming release, which I’m proud of. This will be the second time I’ve done home recordings that will end up on an official release for one of my bands. Someday I see myself being a producer and engineer for other bands, and I have a dream of buying a huge house with my wife someday, building a nice professional recording studio and tracking for bands that I really like that I want to help.
TZR: Are there any musical genres you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to try?
RW: Yes, definitely and I’ll tell you what, I spent a good chunk of my formative years living in south metro Atlanta in the 70s on a cattle farm where I worked for my family in the summer, and where I first picked up guitar. The Allman Brothers were local heroes, and I’ve always had a thing for southern rock, like ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet. More recently in the last 20 years or so I’ve also gotten into bands like Raging Slab, Cry of Love and very recently Point Blank.
There’s a ton of great southern rock bands out there still and someday I hope to do something along those lines. I’m thinking my first solo record will be along those lines, where I write tunes and have some great players come in and help me out. Some of those southern rock guitar riffs and leads are so good that they will spin your head right off. Raging Slab aren’t technically from the south, but they were so great that I don’t think anyone would deny that.
I’ve also been obsessed with old R&B/Soul from the 70s and can see myself going down that road as well, but first, southern rock is what I would love to tackle, if I can ever find the time. Heavy rock/metal is my main passion, but I’m genuinely just a fan of great music.