Bristol, Somerset. I descended the stairs of the ominous black ex-warship known during the colonial crusades as “Her Majesty’s Enslaver” – THEKLA. Huddled behind the stage in the galley of the vessel I found a gang of noble pioneering rockers from Nashville, USA (ex-British colony). They called themselves All Them Witches. As I gazed upon their scrappy and defiant faces I addressed the elephant in the room. “How do you guys feel about performing in a venue so loaded with colonial implication?” Drum-thumper Robby Staebler cast his eyes down nodding, and spat on the floor.
Not really. Actually everyone was very excited and nervous for the first show of their UK tour, myself included. “This is UK tour 3.0” Robbie said proudly, rhythmically tapping on his lap-mounted practice pad. If you haven’t heard of the band you’re definitely missing out, get a sense of their sound and stagecraft in the live review, the interview’s sister article. I honestly think they’re one of the best new rock bands, with a stylish psychedelic blues edge and an inclination towards gothic / stoner soundscapes. Start with “Open Passageways” (video at the bottom) if you’re looking to find some rock that sounds both good AND fresh, which is increasingly difficult these days. Their talent justifies, and is matched by, their apparent self-assuredness. This was evident when I asked what they’d been listening to recently and Robby sheepishly answered “Our new record”. Fair enough.
All Them Witches as a name is a reference to occult cult classic novel and film Rosemary’s Baby about Satanists and that. When I questioned it, guitarist Ben McLeod brushed it off – “There wasn’t a lot of thought involved. I was playing in a different band at the time and I hated it. I kept thinking about how I was gonna leave this band and start a new one. Me and Bailey (McLeod’s wife) were in the Nashville public library and renting films and I was drawn to it. I watched it and that quote came up and I said “Good name””. Despite his flippancy, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ben conflated the edgy gothic name with past experience in mediocre or unsuccessful bands – to me the band’s dark psychedelic theming and style is so well tuned it seems very deliberate and directed, like an appeal to stand out and be recognised. With albums such as Dying Surfer Meets His Maker, Lightning at the Door and Mother Electricity, and truly artful album covers, this is a band that understands how to match sound with presentation. However Robby maintains defiant – “We never discussed it or talked about it or planned out anything. It’s just what we’re like. Sometimes we don’t even know how we’re gonna sound”.
Co-editor Sam had accompanied me was chatting to Ben about how he’d visited Nashville in the summer. As a city steeped in Country music, Sam asked whether they’d been affected by it. “I love old school traditional country, it’s awful” said Ben. “I don’t like the bro stuff. I don’t like the stuff on downtown broadway.” Maybe he realised how out of depth I was in this suddenly very-American conversation – “Listen to Sturgill Simpson, he’s great” he lectured, “and Patsy Klein, she’s also great but she’s kinda dead.”
“When I think of “Rock musicians” these days i just think … Goons””
I asked how they felt about the current state of rock music, always a controversial question. “As far as like “Rock”, a lot of people would think of Seether and Three Doors Down and stuff like that” said Ben, “That’s what people think rock music is. It’s not too good.” Robbie interjected – “When I think of “Rock Musicians” these days I just think…goons.” In response to this Sam raised the contemporary issue of excessive hyphenation in band genre-ing (columnist Rob Westlake wrote a fantastic feature on this). All Them Witches have often been associated with the Stoner-Rock movement, but also with Gothic-Rock and Psychedelic-Blues among many others. It’s a Spotify rabbit hole! “Do you identify particularly with any of them?” asked Sam. Robby retorts – “Identify? No. I couldn’t think of one. We’re so many different kinds of music for so many different kinds of reasons. We’re trying to get away from that, there’s too much of it. You can’t find what you’re looking for because everything’s sub-genres. We’re just a rock band.” Here we find the difficulty of being a modern rock band, its “goony” to even be a rock musician but it’s ludicrous to be an unnecessary sub genre. However the benefit of being a good modern rock band is these logical paradoxes don’t really bother you – just after this chat the guys proceeded to tear shit up on stage, so who cares really. Check ‘em out.