Interview: All Them Witches talk about improvisation on their latest album 'ATW'
Recorded in a cabin in Kingston Springs, near Nashville, ‘ATW’ is the fifth studio album from All Them Witches. On the opposite side of the spectrum to their last album, ‘Sleeping Through the War’ which in comparison is highly polished with a bit of bootleq liquor, ‘ATW’ is completely self-produced and is more similar to ‘Dying Surfer Meets His Maker’.
‘ATW’ is a no holds barred soundscape that takes you on a journey. All Them Witches have stripped back to the roots of their own musical influences and are throwing away any pre-conceptions that you may have had about them. ‘Fishbelly 86 Onions’ sounds like the soundtrack to a voodoo rain-dance that will summon your maker. Whilst ‘Workhorse’ is a rolling grassroots tale of growing up in a fast-changing world. You definitely get the feel of a cabin life in this one. Beneath the simple ticking timebomb of a drum beat, there is an intense bass line that rattles away almost unnoticeable, yet demanding attention, all the same.
‘1st vs. 2nd’ is full of harmonized riffs and occasional indecipherable lyrics, as ATW do best. What starts off as a Queens of the Stone Age inspired song, takes you by complete surprise as it blurs more into Kyuss when they throw in some metal riffs as a white noise synth drones away in the background, before ending with a heartbeat monitor sound. Just when you start to question where their typical blues-laden psychedelia sound has gone to, you are hit with ‘Half-Tongue’ where bassist/vocalist Charles Michael Parks, Jr.’s slick jazzy tones get wrapped up in a menagerie of sounds that guitarist Ben McLeod conjures alongside the church organ sounding keys, of Jonathan Draper.
The latest single ‘Diamond’ sets a moodier tone and brings back those heavy metal riffs that were touched on in ‘1st vs 2nd’. The band released an ominous and almost trippy video to accompany the song, last month, which can be found on the New West Records YouTube page. Just to throw another curveball at you, ‘Harvest Feast’ is a near 11-minute number that sounds like a psychedelic jam session and the perfect album closer, but next you are thrown into the slightly unsettling intensity of ‘HTJC’ which appears to discuss overindulgence; “when I was young I filled my cup even though I didn’t want to.” Respite follows in the layered vocals of, ‘Rob’s Dream’ which is late-night melancholia wrapped up in a bluesy number.
We caught up with Charles Michael Parks Jr. to discuss the process of ‘ATW’.
I find your lyrics incredibly mesmerising, due to their obscure nature. Can you delve into your song writing process? Where you find lyric inspiration and is it always a linear process?
I find lyrical inspiration in just every day, run of the mill situations. Going to the store or brushing your teeth can be wrapped up in metaphor pretty easily and that allows them to take on a life of their own. I don’t ever write anything down really. I’ve always felt like if an idea sticks around in my head then I can use it, and if I forget it, then it wasn’t meant to be there in the first place.
Improvisation seems to be a big part of the recording process of the band. Is that something that was put to practise with Harvest Feast?
Improv plays a part in all of our songs whether people hear it or not. Harvest feast is a good example of taking something depressing like a blues song and letting it find its own way out of the fog. Improv gives us the tools to let the music really live and breathe.
You’ve previously mentioned that sometimes you have taken snippets of live recordings and meshed it with bits of unreleased songs to create something new. Have you used that method with any of the songs on this album?
I can’t recall if there are any or not. But I feel like we write our songs to have distinct changes in mood to separate the conversations within. Ben and I have 2 different ideas and mash them together all the time, even if it doesn’t seem like it will fit, the music seems to find its own way to stay true to two different songwriters.
I feel as though with this album, each of the seems to have more lyrics, rather than just instrumentals, though they are still prevalent. Is this something that was intentionally done, or just coincidental?
I just feel like chatting more with each one I think. The more comfortable I get with the idea of being “the lyricist” the more lyrics fall out of my mouth.
You can tell that this album truly strips you down to the core of what ATW is, but what was the exact reasoning behind releasing your fifth album as self-titled?
That is music to me, no gimmicks, no flashy titles. We really feel like we are starting over with this one, and that’s not to say that the other albums don’t live in the universe we have created, but every album seems raw when you first make it. Dynamics change with your friends as time moves along and as you get older, and I believe it is noticeable through the music. Also, we never had a self-titled record, so might as well pop one out now.
Feature by Tyler Damara Kelly
12/10/2018 – 14/10/2018: Perris CA @ Desert Daze Festival
14/10/2018: Sacramento, CA @ Monster Energy Aftershock
31/10/2018: Birmingham, AL @ Saturn
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