Surfing Into the Abyss With The Wytches
The Wytches may be from Britain, but the fast-rising trio delivers a sound that traverses time and territory pretty seamlessly. In one song you're liable to hear hints of '50s surf rock, '60s garage, '70s doom metal, '80s post punk, and '90s grunge, like it's coming out of some demented future version of a '50s tiki bar. Comparisons to The Horrors' early works are unavoidable, as are mentions of The Birthday Party's feral energy, but regardless of the pedigree game and spot-the-sound, all you need to know is that The Wytches' debut album Annabel Dream Reader (out August 26) is one of the few rock records worth caring about this summer.
It's sometimes fun and sometimes pretty, but mostly the LP is loud and raw and moody. And it's the latest argument in favor of having all of recorded music at our fingertips — because how else would three Brits be inspired to mix creepy surf rock with the pummeling aggression of hardcore and the cavernous sludge of doom? The result is thoroughly familiar and quintessentially modern.
We wanted to get a feel for how this all came about, so we sat down with the band in the dilapidated green room of Brooklyn's Glasslands Gallery a few hours before they ripped through their headlining set. Read on for our interview with Kristian Bell (21 – vocals, guitar), Dan Rumsey (29 – bass, vocals), and Gianni Honey (24 – drums), then check out our lightning round Q+A with the band here and stream their debut over at NPR.
You all started in hardcore. For The Wytches, what elements did you try to bring over from hardcore, and what did you strip away?
Kristian: The intensity is still quite similar.
Dan: When we started, the quality of the recordings were quite DIY.
Gianni: The first year, we did 70-plus shows, just off our own backs, touring everywhere, making our own CDs, the whole DIY thing... We still try and do as much as we can ourselves, like, we don’t have guitar techs or anything like that. We just do all our own shit.
D: I think The Wytches were gonna be a softer thing, but it is quite heavy.
K: We were aiming for something a bit more melodic, but it just came out heavy.
Surf rock is such a sunny, American sound. How’d that get mixed up in all this heavy fury?
G: A lot of it came from Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug. I don’t really listen to surf rock, to be honest.
K: Kip Tyler, an old '50s rock and roll singer, all their guitar work was real dark surf. “She’s My Witch” is a really good song. Duane Eddy as well. But we would mix it to get the similarities in the same kinda scales they use in surf rock, to like doom. There’s kind of a similarity between the two, we’re a halfway point between them.
D: The Cramps as well, they're a big influence.
Kristian, you get the Jack White comparison vocally. Was he an influence?
K: I like Jack White, but it wasn’t a thing, I wasn’t trying to sound like anything Jack White does. But I’m a big fan of The White Stripes and The Dead Weather. The Raconteurs are cool as well.
Do you have a specific regime to recover vocally between shows after all the shrieking?
K: No, I just have gotten lucky I guess.
G: A shot of whiskey.
K: Whiskey is good 'cause it just rubs your throat a bit, and shouting is a bit more effort, so it gives it a bit of grit. I have this theory, it’s probably not right, but because I smoke, I think maybe there’s this gunge coating my esophagus. Stopping anything.
D: That's called tar.
G: Kris is just an advert of how not to treat your voice. Loads of coffee, smoking, no warmups, loads of booze.
K: I’ll sometimes do some “mmm mmm” warmups.
It’s interesting you mentioned Arctic Monkeys. In America, rock isn't so vibrant and relevant these days. What do you think of the state of rock?
K: There’s a lot of young bands getting taken seriously in England. People sometimes say that rock is dead after Kurt died or Elliott Smith died or anything like that. I guess I don’t think it’s taken as seriously, but I think sometimes you have to come back 'round to it. Like bands like The Birthday Party, they definitely have a big following, but the majority thought it was a bit wacky when they first came out. But now it’s considered very good, expressive, interesting music. So I guess, like, four albums in, people will come back round to it and take it more seriously.
What’s the worst part about releasing a debut album?
K: You really start to question yourself. This album’s themes are personal and you start to feel like a proper phony or a showman bc you’re shouting about things that you don’t necessarily feel anymore, so you’re just kinda repeating yourself every night and trying to do a convincing act. It’s really frustrating, you feel like you’re frozen in time.
Will you stray from the personal stuff for your next round of songwriting because of that?
K: Yeah, I’ve listened to this album all the way through maybe once. Maybe the next one won’t be — not like real positive, but ya know, less of an emo thing.
What are you gonna do once this LP is out?
D: We’ve already moved on, haven’t we? We’ll definitely celebrate.
K: I’ll be really happy, a big weight off our shoulders.
D: And then we’ll be like, "Alright, let’s get on."
Have you started working on the follow-up?
K: A lot of it is written. We’re gonna try and release it, like, within nine months.
Gianni, you’re a poker player, Dan, you’re a writer. Those aren’t very stable side jobs. So when did you figure out this could be your career?
G: I don’t think we ever did think we could make careers out of this.
D: I didn’t think that.
K: I wanna be a music producer. I’ve mixed a few of my friends’ bands. But the rock star thing...
G: I like fuckin’ around and having a laugh.