Sunday, 20 October 2013

Witch

It's pretty lazy to call any loud, bass-driven psychedelic rock 'Stoner Metal', but it happens all the time. Sometimes, I suppose the bands are happy with it. Weedeater and Sleep, you'd imagine, probably don't go out their way to distance themselves from the label. Queens of the Stone Age got called it for a while, but they didn't like it. Witch get called it quite a lot, just because they play that riff-heavy, bass-driven, propulsive, noisy rock music. They do tick a lot of the boxes that qualify a band as Stoner Metal, but there's so much more going on with them than that label would suggest. Formed in 2005 by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr and his friend Dave Sweetapple, Witch have their roots as much in U.S. hardcore as they do in metal - two genres that don't often see eye to eye - and while these influences are definitely identifiable in their music, the sound they make is simultaneously incomparable to either. We spoke to Dave just after he returned to the States following a trip to Europe.


How was Europe?
Europe was a lot of fun. I went along to tour manage part of the Earthless tour and launch the first round of decks the French and I doing on 1939, which included an Earthless board, but the plant never got them finished in time. The only item we had along with us was a 1939 collaboration t-shirt with Alan Forbes art on it. But yeah man, record shopping, good eats, and late night tourist shite made it all worth it.

Did you have a favourite town, or show?
I'd have to say London was my favourite town. I knew quite a few people that came out to the show and it was kinda like a party rather than a show where you pull into a town, play, pack up and leave. And of course, French and his wife Chrissie came out which was awesome. When he gets a few beers in him, he blossoms into a wonderful arsehole. He pretty much emptied the the backstage fridges of beer. Stood by me at the merch booth all night and yelled at people buying things. It was great fun, especially when the prospective buyer would ask for a deal on two or more items... He would swoop in and start berating them, "What the fuck do you think this is mate, a fucking bazaar in Marrakesh? You see the price. Fucking pay the man". I was laughing my ass off all night.


How did you meet French, and how did 1939 come about? I don't think too many people over here know much about that.
French and I met at a think-tank in Wyoming. I have no idea why we were there, except it was good food and beverage with a really nice outdoor pool. After a few more times of hanging out and having a mutual interest in skating and music, we decided to start this new company. Of course, he has been putting out boards for a long time through his Witchcraft Hardware brand, and I've been involved with releasing music for many years, so we thought... "Hey let's mix the two!" So we decided to start doing skateboard decks with band graphics on them, mostly in old school shapes. The first three decks were kind of a no-brainer... Witch, because I play in it, and the Earthless and Graveyard ones because it's like doing stuff for family. Coming up are boards for Doomriders and High On Fire, with a few more in the pipeline. It's not like this is a new concept, as there have been sick board designs in the 80s for bands like Metallica and Gang Green, The Big Boys and so on, but for me, those boards always meant something a little more than just a simple generic graphic. it was like wearing your favourite band on your t-shirt.


Do you like being called a Stoner band? I've always thought that term was kind of marginalising.
That's true. I have never liked that term. At first I was completely against it and to drive that point home, our label Tee Pee put some disclaimer in the press kit. It was sent around stating something to the effect of "Not to be pigeonholed in the Stoner rock category". But these days I don't really care. It's easier to call it that than say, "It sounds like Sabbath mixed with...".

What records made you want to form Witch, and make this music?
It wasn't so much listening to records that made us want to start Witch as it was a reaction to what was going on in our area (southern Vermont/western Massachusetts) in the mid 2000s. Mascis and I more or less came from the same musical background, classic hard rock into punk followed by hardcore. We'd been going to these shows in our area, more as a social thing than even for the music itself. There was a whole thing going on in these hill towns, which at the time hadn't yet been called Free Folk or Freak Folk or whatever you want to call it. There were tons of bands and they were playing this mellow, folky, falsetto vocal, clanging, folk music... Not that it was bad but it just had so little energy. One day, J and I were talking to Kyle (Witch singer/guitarist) who at the time was playing in an eight-piece folk band called Feathers, making fun of the 'scene', and J starts talking shit about how when we were his age, we listened to and played music that had balls. Kyle more or less dared us to start playing with him and after a few practices, we decided to record the first LP.


Just after you formed Witch, Dinosaur Jr reformed. Were you worried that your drummer might end up being too busy with his old band?
No, I was psyched for him and the fact that his second wind swept in. It did mean not doing certain things at times but none of us had that 'do or die' mentality about the Witch 'making it'. We just pick and choose things that make sense these days.

Were you a fan of the Californian band Witch? Have you met those guys?
No, truthfully we'd never heard of them before. same goes for the African band called Witch. 'Witch' is a tough thing to Google or whatever because it's such a basic, common word. Upon first looking into the name, nothing else had appeared relating to a band using that moniker.

Do you listen to any music that might surprise people? Did your listening habits change over the first couple of years of the band? It sounds like they might have.
I used to be a partner in a music distribution company, and we carried anywhere between 300 to 400 labels at any given time, so it meant exposure to a lot of different bands and a lot of different types of music. If anything I've reverted back to rudimentary shit from my childhood and followed some of that lineage to find new things to listen to. Before the punk/hardcore days, it was all classic rock from me. When I got out of the distro racket, i pretty much stopped listening to new music, mostly because it had been a job. Then I got back into enjoying music.

What do you think of the hardcore scene these days?
I don't really follow the hardcore scene much these days. Like every genre, it has splintered so much that it's hard to keep track of what's out there. Like metal, it's become really watered down with tons of derivative bands. I'm not saying I don't still buy hardcore records, I'm just a lot more selective of what I do buy. Check out Obliterations. They're from Los Angeles and have that '82 style thing going on.


Did you know your Roadburn set was going to be released?
The German cassette?

Yeah.
Yes. Chris from the label asked about releasing a live Witch recording and I didn't really have much other than the Roadburn thing to give him.

What appeals to you about cassettes? It's quite an impractical medium.
Truthfully, nothing appeals to me about cassettes. I hate them as much as I hate CDs. I gave away almost everything I owned on cassette and CD, except for a few nostalgic things, like the first Bad Brains tape, and some other stuff form the early skate days... There's Raw Power- the Italian band- 'Live', the Toronto Hardcore '83 compilation, Direct Action, etc. These days I only have a basic stereo amp and a turntable at home. I got rid of the cassette and CD players. 

Witch isn't as full-time a project as it could be. Does that make it easier to make music, knowing everything's on your own terms?
Yes, the pressure isn't there to bang out a record every year and try to stay at the top of the heap. We do shows or whatever for fun and if we happen to record then cool, and if not, same thing. 

Witch isn't your day-job, is it?
No, I do a bunch of stuff. I work for a couple of record labels and do the 1939 skate thing as well. Witch is just one of the bands I play with. I just got the test pressings for a new project I'm doing with a few friends. There is no name attached to it yet, but it's it's more doomy that than the others. A drummer friend and I recorded the basics riffs, sent it to California where another friend added layers of guitar, and then the whole thing was sent to Bergen in Norway where vocals and Moog parts were woven into it. It all came back to Vermont where it was mixed and that'll come out later this year.


Can you tell us who's involved?
Sure, I play bass and the drummer is Terri Christopher from 27, who are on Relapse. The guitar was added by Tim Lehi. He's co-owner of Black Heart Tattoo in San Francsico and records solo stuff under the name Draugar. He's a sick artist as well. He did the last High On Fire album cover. The singer is Grutle, who is the frontman for the Norwegian black metal band The Enslaved.

Is that hard work? It sounds a lot more complicated than jamming with your friends in a studio.
No, it was quite easy and stress free actually, because you can do it on your own time without doing multiple takes as a band. The problem is that those freedoms eat time like nothing else. It took us months and months to end up with the recently finished masters, but it's just a project, so it's not a big deal.

What's it like at Tee-Pee? They seem like a pretty good label.
Tee Pee has gone through many phases since I have been involved with it. It's a fine label with much recognition, but a book could be written about the label itself based on all the drama surrounding it. 

Have you got the nicest name in metal?
You know what they say about apples...


How do you know the Earthless guys, and how did the Volcom split EP come about?
Getting to know the Earthless guys came from being signed to Tee Pee around the same time. Witch and Earthless did a few shows in Europe together around the time that we both played our first Roadburn sets. Then we did some east and west coast U.S. tours to follow. (Earthless drummer and former pro skateboarder) Mario Rubalcaba actually filled in as the Witch drummer on a tour or two when Dinosaur first started its reunion shows. Tee Pee used to be like a real family back then, with all the bands touring together and hanging out in each others towns. Bands like Witch, Earthless, Graveyard, Assemble head in Sunburst Sound, Annihilation Time... It was one big family. Things got a little divided in years to follow with newer bands being signed, but I have to say that from that original group of mid 2000s bands, we are all still very tight. I see the same kind of vibe starting these days with a bunch of newer bands, bands like The Shrine, Hot Lunch, Lecherous Gaze, Carousel and so on... With regards to the Volcom split, Kurt, who runs the music division over there, just asked us to do it and we said "Definitely".

What do you think of the new Black Sabbath album? And the new Black Flag line-up..?
I haven't heard the new Sabbath. I'm not sure why, but I haven't had the desire to even check it out. I did, however, buy the new Deep Purple and it fucking rules. I haven't paid much attention to the Black Flag drama. Two bands playing the same songs with different line ups. Pick your kings.  

What are your musical plans for this year? A third Witch LP?
Hopefully, one of these days, we, Witch, will all be in the same room and bang out another record. If it doesn't happen, well... Once this U.S./Norwegian thing comes out, I'm planning on working on another one of those long distance recordings. Time is tough with that one though, as the singer plays in a touring metal band who are rarely home. Another band I started a while back is called Dusty Skull. We released a single earlier this year on Outer Battery Records. It features, me and the drummer from 27, and Graham from Witch and Lecherous Gaze, with Isaiah from Earthless on vocals. I really want to do a full length of that stuff. I guess I just need to book a ticket to Oakland and get it started.

 


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