Interview with Sea Witch (No Band Photos, They Are a Force Not a Band)

Doom metal.  A genre that's really getting on our nerves anymore.  Too little variety, too much cut-and-paste aesthetic, too much simplicity, too much too much too much.  We panned one of those bands not so long ago, yet another doing the same old thing but somehow riding fame for that very reason.  But there are those who know how to do it mighty, like Tons, or who know how to do it melodic and depressing, like Evadne.  And we've said it somewhere before that funeral doom is possibly the hardest version of all to create, but don't feel like finding the link.  Doom is in its essence expected to be slow, but funeral takes it to the slowness of a depressing march to a cemetery, thus the title, obviously.  However, the difficulty lies in the fact that slowness for the sake of slow does not in itself equal crushing.  In fact, it's usually a way to conceal the fact that you have no idea what in the hell you're doing.  So at the same time it can be easy, funeral doom is also incredibly difficult, and only a few bands have come along that we'd suggest you'd investigate.  One of the most powerful was the nautical terror known as Sea Witch.  After digging through their discography, we had to know more about the band, because it succeeded in ways atypical to doom in general, and to funeral doom especially.  Justin, who is the primary member, sat down with us over the aether to give us the details on life on the stormy seas.  Yep, that's our intro.

Deaf Sparrow -  So, let's start with the basics.  How did you both get started in music in general? Always curious about that.  Works better to let the band respond with whatever comes to mind instead of prodding and dropping references like an idiot.

Justin L -  I play guitar and bass, and SJ [Her response is following - editor] plays accordion and drums.  I had been playing guitar on and off for most of my youth. I was self taught so I learned a lot from jamming and being in other bands throughout high school etc.  I never really lasted long in bands though, I always wanted to take music in a different direction than most people I knew.  So I started recording music on my own, and that’s right around the time I realized how much I enjoyed doom metal.  Growing up I was really influenced by another Canadian band Woods of Ypres, especially their first two albums. I just thought it was amazing how David Gold (RIP) was able to write music that was brutally heavy yet melodic and meaningful all at the same time.  He found an interesting way to fuse black and doom metal on the album Pursuit of the Sun & Allure of the Earth, which was one of my favorite albums growing up.  From there I started getting into bands like early Boris, Jesu, Leviathan, Corrupted, Electric Wizard, Darkthrone and lots of non metal stuff as well, which helped keep me interested in music and drove me to continue to discover new bands.  We try and separate our music inspiration wise from bands we like, but I'd be lying if bands like that didn't play a factor in why I wanted to write & record my own music.

Sarah Jean -  I grew up in a house where everyone in my family seemed to be playing music, so it was quite natural for me to explore different instruments.  I love folk music, which is why I started playing accordion.  I started playing drums at a really young age but from a more classical standpoint.  I stopped playing drums when I was around 16 and started again when we formed Sea Witch, nearly ten years later.  I enjoy mixing classical and traditional music into metal, which helped when we introduced accordion to Sea Witch and was exciting for me.  I’m inspired by other bands that are also doing this, like Wolvserpent and Hell (Salem, OR).

DS - So how exactly did you two get together to start Sea Witch?

Sea Witch - I (Justin) had taken quite a long break from playing/recording music but started recording again a few months before we formed Sea Witch.  I really wanted to start up a project but I didn’t know many people who were interested in playing this style of metal, so I started just recording on my own and using drum programming again.  I got sick of doing that, and I knew SJ used to play drums so I convinced her to record some drums for a potential music project.  She had just started playing accordion around this time as well, and agreed as long as we were able to incorporate accordion into the recording phase, which turned out quite well.  We sort of assumed no one would enjoy the music but after we had a few tracks we decided to put it up on Bandcamp for the hell of it and titled it ‘Sea Witch’. We just wanted to create music we connected with that wasn’t typical in sound.  Since we put our demos out people seem to be connecting with what we are doing which is great, but more importantly we continue to write songs because it’s what we enjoy to do musically.

To be honest, for doom leaning more towards the funeral variety, you both have it down to a science.  So what about the name itself, where did that come from?  I'll get to the thematic atmosphere in a bit, but I'm curious about the name.  You see the word witch tossed around quite a bit, but in this case, for once, it wasn't annoying.

SW - The name ‘Sea Witch’ was actually kind of a joke at first.  We enjoy doom metal a lot of course, and it’s certainly not uncommon to see ‘witch’ woven into band names or the within the genres subject matter, so we joked we would have to use the word witch or witchcraft in our name somewhere.  Given the direction our music takes, in a nautical sense, we decided Sea Witch would be fitting, and it really grew on us as a name, and we decided to use it seriously and went with it ever since.

DS - Which brings us to something I mentioned above.  Considering the name, and based on what you already stated, you seem like you have a pretty clear thematic approach in mind for you work, that being a crushing, decaying sea, if a sea can decay. What made you choose this direction?  Funeral doom usually just goes slow and thinks that's enough, but really it requires more of an idea behind it to work, and you've got that to a science, yet again.

SW - Well when it comes to writing music we take a more concept driven approach rather than trying to fit in anywhere genre wise.  Even though we love metal in general, we never wanted to sound like any of the bands we personally enjoy, which I think is a mistake a lot of new bands commit when trying to make ‘new’ music.  As far as the actual concepts and ideas that drive Sea Witch, we don’t have to look far.  We live in a small city in Nova Scotia, Canada, and live a stone's throw away from the ocean.  It shapes you as a person, whether people here want to admit it or not.  But if you embrace your surroundings and write about what you know, it’s not hard to draw on more elemental inspirations.  If you look at early stages of certain black metal bands you can certainly see how their surroundings like the forest influenced their sound/music.  I think Sea Witch is similar in that sense.  It doesn’t feel forced when we write music that we feel connected with thematically.

DS - Much respect for going that route, I was really curious to hear it when this one came in the mail and was simply overwhelmed by how successful it was.  Here's a good question, though.  Do you think Sea Witch will ever need to expand beyond this thematic direction or do you think it could have lasting effect throughout an entire career? Or, do you perhaps foresee your music as being more temporary, having a clear beginning and end?

 

 

SW - We never want to be restricted or confined to a certain style or even theme, if we grow tired of it we will likely look else where for inspiration. That being said there is certainly a wealth of influence within our current direction thematically, so for now we are going with the whole ‘nautical doom’ approach.  Again, that isn’t to say there will never be room to grow and try different things, but at the moment we are going with the flow and have no clear beginning or end in sight.

DS - Tell our readers about the process from your two demos to your latest work.  There's a noticeable similarity in approach, but The Blackened Sea sounds much more atmospheric, more expansive, like some sort of classical funeral march turned into doom.  It sounds like you incorporate some electronic instrumentation into it all, just enough to give it further atmosphere since you avoid vocals, so I was curious about your progress from your demos to your latest, including that recent split with Ecferus.

SW - When we decided to record what would end up being our first demo we weren’t 100% sure what we were setting out to achieve.  We knew we were going to play something in the vein of doom metal, that was it.  When we recorded drums we did so completely blind as to what would be recorded for guitar parts.  When drums were recorded there wasn’t even a guitar in the room, that all came after.  Funny enough, our process hasn’t changed much, it seemed to have worked well since.  The demo was very much ‘improvised’, we of course did a few different takes and recordings of riffs but most songs were just pieced together one riff at a time over the drums we had recorded separately.  This is probably a really weird concept for most bands, since they probably jam often and work on a song until it’s complete before they record.  We go in blind with nothing and record it from ground up.  We let concepts drive the song rather than any ‘musical’ structure.  It’s all about what sounds the best and what comes most naturally.

So although the first demo was very raw in sound, the concepts/themes really drove us, and it came apparent that this nautical theme was going to be our angle moving forward.  There wasn’t much of a story happening in our first demo, but we tried to make our next flow better.  After our efforts on the first (As Above) our next (So Below) was far easier to complete, we knew how we were going to record it.  It took less time and we started almost immediately after As Above was finished.  I guess this helped lay out the path we would take with The Blackened Sea. We expanded upon our nautical theme a bit and tried again to have an album that flowed start to finish, that was connected thematically.  We tried a few different recording techniques and ideas musically also, but it is still very much a reflection of what we did on our demos as far as our methods.  Since we committed to the idea that we weren’t going to use vocals on The Blackened Sea we concentrated a bit more on atmosphere, and this of course is important when trying to portray a story without lyrics/vocals on a full length album.  We relied heavily on atmosphere to reflect our theme within each track, I think we were successful in doing this for the most part.

We’ve always tried to stay busy with recording, and right around the same time we were working on The Blackened Sea we were in talks with U.S black metal band Ecferus about the potential to do that split you mentioned. Even though both bands fall within different genres we thought it was a really great idea and gave us the potential of having a truly unique release.  Not only that, but we wanted to take it a step further and collaborate on this release and make it flow well.  Alp of Ecferus is an incredible musician and I think we have similar approaches to music, so it was a smooth and great experience.  We talked about themes and traded tracks back and forth adding to them each time and ended up with a really great collaboration track, as well as some featured tracks where we each added something to one another's songs.  It was also great to hear what Sea Witch sounded like with vocals too, we were impressed with how it turned out.

DS - Interesting approach, drums first, can't say I've ever heard of that, and the challenge it poses just shows how careful you've been in writing the main lines.  Even without vocals The Blackened Sea is devastating.  Honestly, hearing what you have on that split, though it fits, I feel like you'd probably do better to do your own thing, something that represents your own vision and ties into the music like rain into the ocean during a storm.  But speaking of vocals, have you considered it at all beyond this split?  If so, what are you working with or what would you envision?

SW - We talked about it a few times, we may try it on a future release and see how it turns out.  I think our music speaks for itself without vocals though, but it would certainly be a way to try something new and offer listeners another take on what were are trying to do.  I imagine if we do use vocals it would be quite experimental, and suspect that it wouldn’t be a factor in every song, and I think vocals would be used more as another instrument rather than your typical doom metal vocal performance.  But again it was cool to see what our songs sounded like with vocals when we collaborated with Ecferus, it worked in that scenario so maybe we could pull it off ourselves.

DS - This kind of music is something of a niche, though in my opinion you two do it way better than most, and it's something I'd personally love to head wilt and pass out to live.  Any live presence at all in your region?  Plans of touring (big stretch, but just curious)?

SW - Thank you. At the moment we aren’t playing live at all.  We’ve been asked quite a few times, so it’s something we are considering for the future but as of right now there are no solid plans to play live.  We are more so a recording project and we take a very weird approach to recording music, which may not translate to a live setting well.  Since I handle all the guitar/bass I would have to bring other members in and teach them our riffs/songs and then that would lead to the questions whether or not live members become ‘recording’ members who contribute songs or not.  Not only that but a lot of the music is just sort of built from improvising riffs over drum lines and using certain inspirations or feelings to create the songs.  I’d actually have to reteach myself what I’m playing on some of the songs in order to play live. We are content at staying away from live performances at the time being, but again, this may change in the future.

DS - Yeah that would make it difficult, I'll just languidly hope for the best, I suppose.  How about future work, what are you two currently churning in your black and endlessly deep sea?

SW - We have 3 new tracks completed for a split release that will be with another Canadian band. We don't have the release date nailed down yet, we are still working on final mixes, artwork, and some other details that need to be taken care of. It will be out this year however, and should be an interesting release. As far as sound, it's still in the vein of what we have been doing, however a slight departure from the tone of The Blackened Sea. We didn't do any vocals on this material either, but again, we haven't ruled that out for other releases. We also plan on recording some tracks over the summer for either another full length album or EP, which if all goes to plan will be out later this year.

DS - Thanks a ton for taking the time to talk to us about everything.  Looking forward to future, seafaring depression.  Last words?

SW - Thanks to anyone who has supported us over the past year, whether it was a listen, download, a purchase, a share, we appreciate it all!  There will be more to come...

 

Interview Conducted by Stanley Stepanic