Friday, April 4, 2014

Interview: Swamp Witch

Hailing from The Bay Area, Californian act Swamp Witch play a hypnotic and absolutely crushing form of doom metal. Sluggish and horribly twisted riffs are complimented by a wall of textures and inhuman vocals on their debut EP Gnosis, which was released in 2011 by Gay Scientist Recordings. I recently sent their lead singer, James some questions regarding the bands formation, influences, and future plans among other topics. He also provided a massive list of Northern/Central Californian bands to check out, which I advise you do, every single one is killer. Information and updates regarding Swamp Witch can be found on their Facebook and their music can be streamed through bandcamp here. Support this band, support underground doom.

Horn of Woe: Hello James, thank you for taking time to do this interview. Can you outline the circumstances surrounding Swamp Witch’s formation?

Swamp Witch: We were drawn together originally because of our shared musical interests. We kicked around the idea for about a year and then picked a date to jam in a psychedelic haze and recorded the results on 09/09/09. We were pleased with how it came out and decided to keep going forward with the band and picked apart the ideas we came up with that night and made them into songs. You can stream the 09/09/09 recordings along with Gnosis through our bandcamp

HoW: Who or what are your largest influences either musically or otherwise?

SW: We draw influences from the darkside of existence and the psychosis of being. As a listener and fan, I/we appreciate bands that are able to transcend the normal listening experience, that reveal something deeper. We all really enjoy Flower Travellin' Band, Burning Witch, Noothgrush, Neurosis, Grief, Iron Monkey, Graves At Sea, Corrupted, Worship, The Angelic Process and Electric Wizard for Heaviness and Atmospheric bands like Nadja, Fell Voices, Arizmenda, Nyktalgia, Dispirit, Wedard, & Xasthur and some of the LLN bands from France. Outside of the spectrum of Metal, I am really inspired by two of the most incredibly prolific composers of the 20th Century - Brian Eno & Phillip Glass. Music has always played a hugely influential role in my existence, I am constantly inspired by the way other minds put things together that they hear inside of them. The conceptualized inner workings of other creative imaginations is an eternal wonder in all facets of art. 

HoW: What drives you to continuously make dark and heavy music?

SW: We are fans of Heavy/Dark Music and that is what we want to create and hear. It's cathartic to have outlets for frustrations and pent up energy that don't destroy things senselessly.

HoW: Gnosis is an extremely dark piece of work, how did you achieve the sound contained on the recording?

James thought this question would be best left in the hands of Lead Guitarist, Ben Flores, he kindly asked Ben a few questions about how they accomplished the sound captured on the recording.

James: What was your gear setup for the recording of Gnosis?

Ben: In short, it was a lot of different stuff. Gnosis took two separate lengthy trips to Earhammer Studios, and MANY hours/beers with the talented (and patient) Greg Wilkinson, before I got something I was satisfied with. The equipment we brought to the studio was pretty crappy stuff. Two $100 solid state Vox amps, a $200 multi-effects pedal (mostly for the delay), and a semi-decent Acoustic 6x10 guitar stack from the early 90's. This is actually the set up I use to this day when playing live. But the same live sound you get with something rarely translates to a recording. So we laid the tracks down with my equipment, and upon hearing the result I though the sound was dismal. The bass, however, was recorded on a ridiculously heavy 1x18, and came out perfect. But the guitar was less crush and Heavy, more thin and monotonous. Greg and I agreed that my little amps just didn't have enough huevos. Earhammer is an awesome studio, and Greg had an excellent understanding of what we were trying to achieve. While I enjoyed the beverage selection from the corner store across the street, I played the riffs on the album over and over while Greg tried several amp and mic combinations (more than I could ever list) and worked some magic. After lot's of experimenting and malt liquor, we had Gnosis.

J: Can you talk about the demoing process and the gradual evolution of the album and sound conjured on the recording?

B: One thing that definitely evolved on the recordings were the drums. A couple of days before we were going to head to Oakland to record Gnosis, our drummer split on us. When we found out, our friend Dirk happened to be hanging out at our pad. Dirk was (and is) a guitarist, and at the time was playing guitar in the band Vile, and had briefly played drums for a short lived but pretty rad power violence band called I Eat Your Skin while in high school. So we asked him. The drums on Gnosis were recorded by someone who has only been playing sludge/doom style drums for a couple of days. He tried to play the riffs as simple as possible, and the result is a sort of drum machine kind of sound, which in fact, all of us are self taught musicians, so a lot of how our sound evolved is simply through messing around as we went and trying to add "something cool" to the songs, rather than approaching it with anything resembling classroom music theory. Even once in the studio, we continued to sculpt and mess around with how we play things. Our music is certainly less method and more madness.

J: Sonically, what was the tone and atmosphere that you wanted to be captured on the recording?

B: The idea for the sound and general concept for Swamp Witch came from our bass player, Jacob, and was soon a shared vision between us. The riffs mostly just came out of Jacob's descriptions of "riffs he wished existed" more or less, and I tried my best to play them. Jacob has a gift for describing things, and the descriptions of riffs always included words like "slithering" and "torrential". We'd smoke and mess around on an acoustic guitar and acoustic bass and just arrive at riffs that would instantly click with us. We eventually worked them into the Gnosis songs, but even once were in the studio, we kept trying to get closer and closer to the sound we all had in our heads. Greg Wilkinson also clicked with the sound we described to him, and his talent and knowledge contributed immensely to helping us translate it to a recording. After a lot of re-recording, and backseat engineering from the studio couch, we finally made the Swamp Witch concept a reality. 

J: What is your "ideal" pedal setup?

B: I have always avoided big stop box set ups. My cheap multi-effects pedal has all the basic things I want: delay, some gain, some reverb, and a volume pedal, which is all i need. I like having a single pedal that I can just plug it and forget it, and I'd much rather not use my feet to manipulate the guitar sound all that much anyway. It's just more fun for me to manipulate the sound by how close I am to my amp, or playing with my fingers, or picking high up on the neck. Nothing against, large pedal set-ups, I'm just not a fan. I've been messing with the idea of eventually making a Swamp Witch album that is a bit more drone, and maybe then I'll start screwing around with pedals, but that'll be further down the road. For now, I prefer to just focus on what I can do with just the guitar itself. 

HoW: Through this darkness there is a permeating aspect of psychedelia, is this a conscious effort by the band?

SW: We are fans of Psychedelia, that is what brought us together in the first place. Our inception was ushered in with eating funguys and jamming. We are doing our best to balance our Psychedelic influences with our passion for Crushing. All of the psychedelic parts on Gnosis were recorded on subliminal frequencies at extremely low levels, if you are able to hear/pick up on those, great job for traveling along on a psychedelic wavelength. On some parts of Gnosis we stacked over 100 channels on a track to fill out and explode the sound to make it as murky and abysmal as possible.

HoW: You released a “Chopped and Screwed” version of Gnosis, remixed by DJ Dreamz. The result is warped and unlike anything else I’ve heard. How did this idea come about?

SW: I am a big fan of DJ Screw(((R.I.P))), he pioneered a new listening experience with his style of remixing music and slowing it down to intensify the message and delivery and he moved tapes like a madman while bringing recognition to all of his friends and that is very appreciable. Doom and Sludge is just Rock and Metal played slower and usually intensified by some sort of mind altering enhancement, which is a very similar element in Screwed music. It was a life goal of mine to have something that I was a part of given the proper slowwwed down treatment and I wanted to work with an actual Texas based producer. I was a fan of DJ Dreemz after I discovered him through his remixes of artist/entrepreneurs that were involved in this movie that one of my closest friends back in grade/middle school showed me in Madera(((California))), called "Veteranos". It was a gangster musical laced with vignettes and hood dramatizations with Central Valley artists collaborating with Bay Area artists. I grew up with an appreciation for rap and I lived in both areas so it was cool to me that these guys were all local and making movies like this because it was so creative and different. All of the rappers and the label behind the movie worked with this sound engineer from San Francisco named Justin Weis. This same producer worked with other local heavies Mac Dre, Too $hort, & Andre Nickatina, all of whom I am a fan of. When I found out that he was still active and doing work in San Francisco, I got in contact with him to see if he'd be willing to work with us and he responded and everything started to fall into place. When I had all of my connections solidified in The Bay Area, I contacted a few people and was put in touch with DJ Dreemz from Texas and I explained to him a general idea of what I wanted him to capture and he really brought it to life. He has an authentic touch and I am definitely pleased with the result. It is cool to hear that other people can get into it. I have my eye on a few more producers that I'd really like to work with for our next cassette release.

HoW: California currently has a huge regional metal scene, what are some artists you admire or are excited about coming from the area?

SW: The Northern California Metal community has long been seen as the pinnacle of Metal in the Country/World and for good reason - there is infinite amounts of incredibly inspiring musicians and artists living in this area. These are some of the bands that I would recommend getting into from a few different areas throughout Northern/Central California.

Rotten Funeral is a Blasphemous Black Metal band from Sacramento. I got to contribute some vocals on their debut record that they have been crafting over the last several years. Expect something to surface from them within the next year. (Members of Killgasm, Larry David, & The Witching Hour).

Black Fucking Cancer from San Jose are killer. They play putridly vile black metal and they have one of the most maniacal drummers in the business. (Members of Necrite & Cyanic).

Mortuous is a Death Metal band from San Jose. Old Skull Death Metal. They rule, I was fortunate enough to get to put out their demo on my label - Transylvanian Tapes. (Members of Bruxers, Repulsion, & Exhumed).

Cyanic from San Jose is an intricate Death Metal killing machine. Featuring the same drummer from Black Fucking Cancer. I released their debut, "Litanies Of Lust Unholy" on Transylvanian Tapes earlier this year. (Members of Casket Blaster & Plague Phalanx).

Noothgrush is currently active and living in Oakland. They are the best Sludge band on the West Coast. It is so fucking cool getting to see them perform and having the opportunity to play with them in present day - Fuck Yeah NOOTHGRUSH!

Brainoil from Oakland is one of the best Heavy bands in America. Greg Wilkinson from Earhammer Studios plays Bass and does vocals in the band and they are always the highlight at all shows they play. Highly recommended. (Members of DESTROY, Dead Language, & Grimple).

Dispirit from Oakland is enchanted doomed Black Metal. They have two demo tapes out so far - both rule. (Members of The Gault, Asunder, Weakling, & Serpents of Dawn).

Bädr Vogu from Oakland is super fucking heavy. They are one of the best Heavy bands currently in the Bay Area. (Members of World Eater, Hollow Mirrors, Hedersleben, Dolph Lundgren, Mid-Nightmare, & Hazzard's Cure).

Folivore from Santa Cruz play wicked psychedelic doom. Our bands have played some really fun shows together. They are about to hit Earhammer studios in Oakland to capture their first proper recording. Definitely keep an eye out for that. (Members of Death Monk).

Gloam is a Black Metal band from Santa Cruz that has also been quite impressive. Very well thought out and intricate songs that are drenched in heavy atmosphere. (Members of Fiends at Feast).

Sutekh Hexen is a smothering cloud of misery resonating from Oakland. If you are looking to play a cool noise show or you like being inundated in horror and engulfed in fog while you are hypnotized in a sonic cocoon - they are the band to talk to. (Memebers of Circle of Eyes, Fermentæ, & A.C. WAY).

Xenotaph is a Misanthropic Black Metal band from Hayward, California. I am releasing their debut "Vitae Iactura" on Transylvanian Tapes this spring. (Members of Torture Chamber).

Necrot - Pummeling Death Metal from Oakland. Their drummer, Chad Gailey, is one of my favorite drummers and favorite humans. This band reigns supreme on all levels. (Members of Vastum, Acephalix, Bruxers, Caffa, & Saviours).

Caffa is a Death Metal band from Oakland that I am also involved in. We are nearing completion on the writing for our next recording "Mental Enslavement" and are also in the demoing process of recording music for a split with Trenchgrinder from New York. (Members of D.H.C., Necrot, ShittyFucker, & Connoisseur).

Negative Standards are a visually captivating and unapologetic Crust band that draws influences from Black Metal, Noise Rock, and Doom from Oakland. If you are a touring band that is looking to play a killer all ages show in the Bay - You should talk to these folks. (Members of Acts of Sedition, Pills, & Akatharsia).

DEADPRESSURE is one of the best bands to come from San Jose since In Disgust/Godstomper carved their name out in the city. SJ PV at it's finest (Members of Bird & Queefer Sutherland).

Augurs is a Metal Band that plays with the ferocity of Grindcore and Hardcore from Oakland that just finished two monstrous recordings, one with Billy Anderson and one with Greg Wilkinson. (Members of Mortuous, Limbs, & DirtyxBurger).

Fiend is a Grindcore band from Fresno that is killing right now. If you are going through the Central Valley and you play in a fast hardcore or grindcore band you should hit them up. I released their debut demo on Transylvanian Tapes. Swamp Witch and Fiend will be doing a live mic together on April 26th on KFJC 89.7 FM in the Bay Area. (Members of Battleshok & Goreshack).

Maggot Colony is another killer Grindcore band from the Central Valley that is always down for good shows. Their drummer gave our bassist bass lessons and we all support this band.

Wallflower is a DIY Hardcore Punk band from Fresno. Their drummer, Chris Perez, is the coolest dude in Punk from the Central Valley. He plays exclusively alongside the best of other local hardcore musicians and I respect that guy a lot. Good group of people and good band. Everyone in Wallflower is very well connected and constantly striving to make a positive difference in their local communities and they can usually help out with setting up good shows in the Valley. (Members of Midwest Moms & D.N.S.).

Battleshok is a ripping Stenchcore band from the Central Valley. Our bassist, Jacob, used to play in their band. They jam in a haunted sanctuary deep within Ivanhoe. Battleshok is the real deal - when they have their shit together they are unstoppable and as soon as their demo comes out, people will finally get to hear them. They are always into playing with like minded touring bands.

Goreshack is a Death Metal band from Fresno. If you have been looking for more beach balls and floating straws at your shows - these are the folks to talk to. I have seen blow up sharks floating around in one of their pits. Their shows are always pretty wild and entertaining. (Members of Thracia & Fiend).

Whirr/(((Whirl))) is a Shoegaze band from Modesto/Oakland. They are NOT a Metal band. I have heard them referred to as the loudest band in Indie Rock and I have heard stories of them blowing out peoples hearing at shows because they weren't expecting such a sonic explosion. They are not for the faintest of heart. They play snotty and arrogant shoegaze that is ripe with Central Valley personality and huge in sound and tone. We support them as well. (Members of Nothing).

HoW: What is next for Swamp Witch? Can we expect to hear some new material soon?

SW: We have a couple of things that are forthcoming that you can keep an eye out for, "The Slithering Bog" is a release that we have been working on that we hope to finish soon. We are also beginning to write for a split release. If you search for it, you can find footage of us working on a new song called, "Strange Cults". 

HoW: Anything else you would like to add?

SW: Thanks for the opportunity to do this interview and to everyone that read long.

Support Heavy Music Forever.

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