The Wytches – Interview – 2016

The Wytches' furious, hair-flinging psych-rock has seen the band rise from the ranks, from their beginnings in Peterborough back in 2011. Their debut single ‘Beehive Queen’ set the template; a creeping malevolence via their turned up, raw and reverb-heavy amps, buzzing riffs, crashing drums and shouty, almost painful sounding vocals from the mouth of songwriter Kristian Bell. And it was released on the small Hate Hate Hate label…

You’d be forgiven for thinking that a band with such a dark, black magic kind of name could be one of those doom metal merchants that forever surprises in its popularity and reach. But The Wytches are a different cup of tea entirely. They are a nice and friendly bunch of lads who like to make a psyche-inspired racket. They're not interested in the huge pendulums or long, dank hair, facial tattoos and ZZ Top-type beards. They are fresh faced music fans who aren’t averse to having a little bit of fun with their image and perceived sound. As Kristian has previously said; “We called it surf-doom as it was a really obscure genre and I found it funny. I think people thought I was being serious. The stuff before the (first) album was a lot more thrash. Now, it is songs played in a disgusting way; hard, loud and unlistenable.”

And the name The Wytches? “When we first started we were just called The Witches. I just thought it was quite funny that it was so average. I liked the idea that there were probably a million bands called The Witches. We knew we weren’t significant to anyone back then, as we had just started and we weren’t trying to come into the music industry with a big bang. We were just up for making music and having a really simple name.”

Unsurprisingly, the band had to change thier name, if only so that when people searched online they wouldn’t keep coming up with images of gnarly old women with large, wart-infected noises, pointy black hats, and sitting on a broomstick. "We got management and they said if we wanted to get things going a bit more, it might be easier. I liked how it was written down when it was spelt with a Y,” Kristian says. “We recorded about three EPs under the name The Witches but we didn’t do too much with them. We hadn’t amassed a following so we didn’t feel it was going to harm us to change it.”

Meanwhile, Dan Rumsey, bassist and singer with the group, has got his provisions ready for the long trip away with the band, as they embark on extensive touring in support of the new album, All Your Happy Life. Not for him, but his rabbits. “I’m away for a month, so my housemate, Tim (who also used be the band’s Tour Manager – “I think he got sick of us”) is having to look after them. I’m stocking up, so he can feed them”, he laughs.

All Your Happy Life is the follow up to 2014’s debut album Annabel Dream Reader. It’s all been released on the hugely respected Heavenly, but this time wth a worldwide deal in place with this iconic British label. And hopes are high that it will breeze past the Top 50 album placing of its predecessor. They are also about to embark on touring, firstly in support of Jamie T, including three consecutive nights at Brixton Academy, as well as their own headlining tour later in the year, including a date at Brighton’s Concorde 2. “We’re going away Saturday morning, to do the Liverpool Psych Fest, and then a month tour with Jamie T. It’s going to be great. A weird mix, bit I think it’s quite cool,” he says about supporting Jamie T. “His new album is really good, quite different from his early stuff. Seems to be more band-based songs. I think it will be quite an interesting blend. We’re all heavy and shit!"

It’s been a relatively quiet summer for The Wytches as they wind up towards the release of the new album. They’ve played few shows, and released a ‘fire sale’ EP of basic home recordings, stuff they wanted to just get out there without worrying about them any longer. “We’re just throwing out all the material that sounds good as it stands, so we don’t get tempted to do anything else with it,” Kristian has said. They also played Bestival recently. “We didn’t think there would be anyone watching us; we were on 12.15 after midnight on Sunday, and it had been raining a lot. But we ended up having a big audience,” says Dan.

The Liverpool Psych Fest is the biggest of its kind in the country, and an established ‘niche’ event that attracts band like The Wytches, as well as The Horrors, an act who helped to pave the way for them when they released the seminal Dark House album in 2007. It was an album that adroitly mixed up heavy psyche-garage with a dark glamour, veering on the cartoonish, but always with serious intent. The Wytches are similar, although perhaps there is less of the glamour, and more of the rocking out. “It will be good to watch them,” says Dan. "Tim (his housemate) saw them at Together The People and said they played a lot of their older stuff, but nothing off the first album. I think we’re getting a bit like that even though we’re only just about to do our second album. The first one feels so different from the one we are doing now.”

Annabel Dream Reader was recorded in two days on to analogue tape, a method that the band much prefer to digital; “All my favourite bands recorded on tape,” Kristian has said. “Digital is cool when you are tracking everything so you can isolate things and put it together that way, but tape for me works better when you do it all live, when everything is bleeding into one another and all the instruments are blending.”

While the full-on, reverb-heavy, surf-drenched, psych-riffing, yet melodic carnage of Annabel Dream Reader may have ben toned down significantly, they haven’t quite done what The Horrors did with their subsequent albums to Strange House. They’ve largely kept intact the big and loud riffs, and the lo-fi aesthetic that they have developed over the years, including the ’stop-gap’ collection of bedroom demos they released earlier this year. It’s also been recorded on analogue, with some of it done at the analogue-only Toe Rag studios in London, some of it done with Jim Sclavunos, long time drummer and keyboardist with Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds. “It’s a weird one,” Kristian has said. “It’s like two different eras of work, because our writing process is so fucked. There’s just no structure to it. So we went into one studio, put down a load of songs and then we weren’t happy with most of them. We write all the time so we just concentrated on some other ideas and booked another five days somewhere else. Some of it’s really gnarly sounding and some of its really soft and sweet.”

“We didn’t really have a plan with it,” says Dan about the new album. “A lot of songs were ideas that we were jamming, while the other album was doing its thing. We said, ‘let’s take a week and a get a room to rehearse in’ (which they did, taking a room under the railway arches of Brighton Station). We literally worked on the demos that Kristian had done, the arrangements. There wasn’t any goal. It just came out. We had maybe 12, 13 songs, and we recorded ten of them at a chapel in Lincolnshire. We weren’t happy with a few of them so we went and did some more, and came back to the rehearsal room to get together four or five more and used those instead. It was all mashed together from these different sessions.

“One of the main things we wanted was for the the organ to be quite prominent. We had it before, but it was quite low in the mix on the first record. With Mark (Breed) coming in as a new member we wanted it to be an extra part of The Wytches and that has changed our sound quite a bit, especially atmospherically,” says Dan. “I normally record songs at home,” Kristian has said . “I can play the drums too, so I can demo stuff myself and then show it to the band. Then sometimes, I won’t demo them and leave the guys to add their own parts to it. It is equal parts collaborative as much as it is me bringing it to them.”

Mark Breed, who also makes most of the band’s videos, has always been a part of the set-up even if he wasn’t always on stage with them. “He has always been around, he was in our first ever video (which he also directed). But we weren’t sure if he would stay with the band. He had his business back in Peterborough which was doing quite well, so we went on as a three-piece. He would do the odd show, if it was near where he lived. He would jump on stage. But on the last few tours he has been there, although he wasn’t officially. It was a bit confusing. He is now officially with the band!”

Just an idea in the heads of Kristian and drummer Gianni Honey (yes, that does seem to be his name), the nascent band headed down to Brighton to further their music education back in 2011, but were in need of a bassist. “There was nothing going on for us in Peterborough,” Kristian has said. “The other guys came down from Peterborough with me,” says Dan, who was brought up in Bournemouth, “at around the same time. And that’s where I met them. They stayed for a while, but money caught up with them, and they had to go back home, unfortunately. They are about to move out again, to Stanford, which is near where they are now. It’ll be good if they are in one place, and I can go up and join them. The idea is to get a studio where we can make some noise. It’s cheaper up there. But, it’s not nice, not a lot going on there,” he laughs. “There is a cinema!

“Kristian did try and stay down here; and tried to get into one of those Property Guardian schemes, this old office building, up near Lewes Road (Enterprise Point). They do this thing where you pay minimal rent and you get this massive space, like a warehouse space, and look after it. He was doing that for while, but we were out on tour so much he said, ‘why am I paying this when I’m hardly there’?

“Kristian and Gani were in a band before, in Peterborough, the Crooked Canes, a more trashy version of The Wytches. Where there’s a bit of singing in The Wytches there was hardly any in them,” he laughs. “They both came to Brighton to study music and start The Wytches properly. They put a poster up, looking for band members. I had just come here to study songwriting, and I saw that, thought it would be fun, and it ended up swallowing me up.

“They had the name, two songs, but that was it,” continues Dan. “I texted the number on the poster and Gani called me right away and asked if I wanted to jam that night. He was really pro-active in getting the band going at the beginning; getting shows, getting songs recorded. I remember they managed to get a lift out of me, and that was the first time I met them when they jumped into the car. ‘Oh, hi!’. We started chatting about music and stuff, and drove to the studio. I had learned the songs they had sent me, and we ran through them. They said, ‘this is working. Do you want to join’?”

Does he remember much about that first rehearsal? “It probably sounded shit,” laughs Dan. “But I thought it sounded better than anything I had been in before. When I heard the demos, the main thing that attracted it to me was Kristian’s voice; something really different, that I hadn’t heard before. I was always into punky, trashy music. So, it was a no-brainer.”

And does he remember the first Wytches gig? “It was a Battle of the Bands at Pav Tav. There was hardly anyone there, and we didn’t win. I’m sure we were awful, but it was fun!

“We would always be on the train to go to London to do a gig, dragging our gear up there. Kristin had a Lime 6 Spider. They’ve get a really bad name, but it worked for us at the time. It had a button on it called ‘rock on’ or something funny like that.”

What were the band's inspirations? “Mainly the old Misfits stuff, Dead Kennedys, The Birthday Party, 50s surf," says Dan. “I love 1950s surf music,” Kristian says. "It’s got a lot of presence and reverby guitar. There’s an old 50s dude called Kip Tyler and he’s got a song called ‘She’s My Witch’, which is a proper psych track. I thought about that a lot when I was young.”

“I was really into The Offspring, and Placebo,” says Dan, “the first rock bands I really liked. And through reading interviews I found out about the bands they were influenced by and I looked them up. I just got into loads of California punk bands, like The Vandals. I still like The Alkaline Trio, they are my favourite band. At the moment I can’t stop listening to Nick Cave. I saw the film (One More Time With Feeling, a brilliant documentary of Cave, which has at its centre, the recent death of his young son, Arthur), it was really intense. I like how it’s not conventional, the recording style. It feels really improvised. Kristian is well into The Birthday Party (Nick Cave’s first band). I also like Rowland S. Howard’s (original Birthday Party member) stuff, too. There is a connection with us and them. People make that comparison.”

For Kristian, the Arctic Monkey’s Humbug was a major inspiration, too. “I thought it was just brilliant when that came out. And a few years after I had a try at writing songs. I remember thinking I wanted to write something like that, which are deliberately dark.”

“We’re all into dark things, and horror films, and some bands,” says Dan. “It stems from that. We aren’t like that at all (in real life). People who write or review the band often put spooky words in there, because I guess we are called The Wytches. It gets a bit tiring.”

Although not nearly as dark and visceral as The Birthday Party and Nick Cave’s subsequent band, The Bad Seeds, The Wytches nevertheless do sometimes play up on the macabre and spooky. Most of their early videos come across as humorous outtakes of The Blair Witch Project, all lo-fi, vaguely sinister black and white works, many of which were purposefully shot on old VHS cameras, or which had the ‘VHS app’ used on them to re-create that old, knackered VHS feel. “The first video we did (for 'Digsaw') was done on an iPhone,” says Dan, “but we’re now upping things a bit in that department.” He’s referring to the new video for ‘C-Side’, a track off All Your Happy Life, a video made by animatronics maker John Nolan. “We played this festival and his mum came up to us, and said; ‘My son really likes your band.’ ‘That’s awesome’. ‘He wants to do a video for us’. ‘Oh right’. And then she started telling us what he had done, what it involves; robots and animatronics. ‘Awesome’! And we look at this website and he had actually done so much stuff, that you probably have seen. She was there, helping to build the set! We gave him our ideas, and he was accommodating to them. It took a while, but we finally did it. Going to his studio, looking at what he is working on, it blows your mind. He’s really doing us a massive favour. A big difference from our previous videos. A lot of bands are starting to use that VHS app, so we wanted to do something different.”

Dan is not only with The Wytches but is also a songwriter and guitarist in his own right, as well as proprietor of Oh So Grim, an outlet for his darkly humorous black ink drawings, inspired in particular by the American illustrator Edward Gorey. “I’ve got loads of songs, demos, but haven’t really got the time to do it yet. I’m hoping to get something out later after this run of tours with this album. We’ll see how it goes.”

So, what’s the plan after these tours? “We’re hoping to get to Europe before the end of the year, and there is a possibility of SXSW next year. We’ve been to America twice. The American audiences really seem to like us.”

And personal highlights of being in The Wytches? “Something I will always remember is driving onto the Reading festival site for the first time, and seeing the big stage and knowing we’re playing it. I had always wanted to go as a kid but wasn’t allowed. My friend was going to see Slipknot, who was in the same year as me at school, but I wasn’t allowed. ‘Can I get a ticket, I’ll pay you back later’? Too dangerous apparently,” according to my Mum!” Dan laughs.

While the rest of the band have been forced to live somewhere a bit cheaper, he still likes to live here in Brighton, "I love it here. It feels like a little bubble of creativity, and I feed off that. Not on a Saturday though,” he laughs, “I just love walking round. If I go to somewhere else, like Leicester, where my Dad lives, it’s so different. You feel the pressure of everything, people worrying about stuff”.

Jeff Hemmings

Check out our review of The Wytches new album All Your Happy Life.