Thursday, July 26, 2018

Exclusive Interview - Bell Witch

About two weeks ago, a can't-miss tour rolled through Boise in the form of Yob and Bell Witch.  Yob is one of the best bands of our generation, and Bell Witch is no slouch themselves, diving deep into doom metal that drips with atmosphere and substance over three full-length releases.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman, who comprise all of Bell Witch, before they went onstage.  We discussed their latest album, last year's Mirror Reaper, what's next, and the intense critiquing of cover art.  Enjoy!

Hey everybody, this is Durf, and I am here in beautiful Boise, Idaho, across the street from the Neurolux with Dylan and Jesse from Bell Witch.  Guys, thanks so much for being here tonight.

Dylan : Thank you for having us.

So we always like to start off our interviews talking about the tour; you guys are of course on tour with the almighty Yob, so how has that been going so far?

Dylan : So far it's been going great!  It's been going long; we started the tour on the West Coast with Sleep for five or six or seven shows, and then met up with Yob.  So we've been out for five or six weeks, I think, and this is the last night.  I'm starting to feel rejuvenated after... the past week and a half have been pretty nice.

So it's the last night of the tour; obviously you guys are ready to go right out again?

Dylan : (laughing) Well I don't know about that

Same experience Jesse?

Jesse : Yeah yeah, the tour has been absolutely amazing, every single show has been really good, most of them have been sold out, and it's been an absolute pleasure to watch Yob play every night.  They've been one of my favorite live bands for like, as long as I can remember, so... it's pretty awesome.

I completely agree; Yob is one of those bands.  I think there are only two bands in the class, Yob and Neurosis, and they do their thing, and everybody else does their thing.

Dylan : That's fair.

So you guys are still out on tour in support of last year's Mirror Reaper, which is a phenomenal album, one of my favorites from last year.  So... you're *NOT* playing the whole thing?

Dylan : No, no.  I think on the record it's forty-eight minutes; when we play it live it's going fifty-two, fifty-three minutes.  So like the first half, before it gets really slow and the Erik Moggridge part comes in.  We're basically playing half.

Do you ever wish you could play the whole thing and play it through for an audience?

Dylan : We did it once at Roadburn, last May, and that was great, and we might be doing it again before the year is over.  When we did it live it was great; it was kind of scary, because we hadn't practiced the second half in awhile.

So when I listen to Mirror Reaper, and really all of your albums, they're the kind of music that I find to be very introspective, so I like to put them on and kind of get lost in the music. Does it seem like crowds have that same sort of response, where people are just standing and thinking? And if so, how do you deal with that?

Jesse : We've been lucky, I think, since the album's come out where one of the coolest things that'll happen is when a crowd is in to it, they'll just be silent.  So I think that's one of the ways we gauge how successful as show is, by how quiet the crowd is during the quiet parts because that means they were actually into it and listening, and not just kicking it at the bar with their friends.  So we've been really lucky on both of these tours we just did that it's been an awesome reception, and people have really been into it.

I'm actually really glad you brought that up.  My wife and I just moved to Boise in March, and before that we lived in Chicago, and I caught you guys at the Cobra Lounge with Primitive Man, and that was one of the things that really struck me, just how quiet the room was.  Everybody just seemed to be entranced by the music.  A lot of times people think of metal as moshing and slamming around, and while this wasn't that kind of energy, there was still the same amount of energy being put forth in the crowd.

Dylan : When it gets really quiet, and there are people talking, I assume everyone in the room can hear them, and it's funny: the longer and longer and longer that part goes, the more they realize "Oh, everyone can hear me talking" and I kind of get a kick out that, making people feel so awkward they stop talking.

Yeah, most every other atmospheric show I've been to, there are people talking or screaming "woo hooo" during those parts - none of which go on anywhere near as long as the passages you guys do - and it's always kind of amazing to me that people don't seem to have that sense of spatial awareness, but at the same time maybe they're really excited, and I don't want to shit on their cupcake.

Dylan : I was assuming that we were going to get some hecklers on this tour; it's one thing when we're the headliner.  You don't go see the headliner just to boo them, but on this tour I figured there were going to be people who have no idea who we are and would be like "This is boring!"  There was one show, in North Carolina where I was sure it was going to happen.  All the signs were there, this guy was getting visibly irritated that it was slow-

Jesse : And visibly more drunk-

Dylan : Yeah!

Oh, that's always a good combination.

Dylan : Totally. But nothing happened.  I do think he got thrown out during Yob's set, like we got him warmed up, and he wanted to heckle us so bad that it couldn't be contained, and they threw him out.  But even then, I don't think it got too out of hand.

Jesse : Yeah, well he was trying to fight Yob's tour manager.  And he was a little dude, and the tour manager is a big dude, who said he was gonna Jax him, like from Mortal Kombat.

(everyone laughs)

Oh that's so amazing.  Anytime I hear about bands being heckled or worrying about being heckled, I just think about the fact that Meshuggah got booed opening for Tool, and if Meshuggah can get booed, anyone can get booed.

Dylan : And I've heard that that's a common thing when you open for Tool; Yob did it once - more than once? and I heard it wasn't too bad...

Jesse : Yeah, they said it wasn't too bad; they actually thought they got one of the best responses ever, but yeah.  Most bands don't fare too well opening for Tool.

Which sucks, because you'd think Tool fans would be open to some out there stuff.

Jesse : I saw Tool and Isis, and Isis got booed a bit.

This is why we don't have nice thing; Isis getting booed, for fuck's sake.

Jesse : It's probably a pretty cool feeling though, getting booed by 20,000 people.

Dylan : Yeah, that's true.

Well as common as it is, if every Tool opener gets booed and you don't get booed, then you start thinking "What are we doing wrong?  Why aren't they booing?" So, tonight, last night of the tour... you guys have more touring plans for the year?

Dylan : We have an Australian/New Zealand tour in early November, and we have Days of Darkness and Quebec Deathfest in October, with maybe a few dates in between there, and then there's talks of going back to Europe for a couple days in December, and that I can't imagine there's anywhere else we could go for this record cycle, I mean, maybe Japan...

Jesse :  And then we're going to start writing new shit.  Well, hopefully sooner than that.  Like, in the next couple days sooner than that.

Yeah I get that.  And there's no tactful way to ask this, but if you guys have been playing the first half of Mirror Reaper for the past year or so, I mean, are you tired of it?  Do you want to play other songs, just say "Fuck it; we're playing something else tonight?"

Dylan : We've been talking about that.

Jesse : I think we're getting there.  It's been amazing, and the reception and opportunities have been amazing, but it's definitely  to the point where new stuff would be cool.  And we literally were just talking about it, like an hour ago, so it's like we need to hit the ground running.

Right.  And I guess it's a little different with Mirror Reaper being all one song, but as a band do you feel that when you write and record stuff, you want to play the new stuff as opposed to the old stuff?  I mean, your songs are all very long anyway, so you get like two or three a set...

Dylan : Sure.  With this one, it was always going to be different and kind of hard to incorporate anything else, because we're only playing half the song as it is.  But I think after Adrian (Guerra, former drummer) died, it started feeling a little weird playing some of the old stuff; not that it's out of the question, but I think that if we can avoid it, maybe let's not do that, because it feels a little weird...  but yeah, I think that since we're only playing half a song, it makes it a little difficult to add anything else in.  We could just play a section of it, but from the beginning and even since recording it, we've had really no time to put in rehearsing or preparing anything else to play live.  We've been on tour for four, four and a half months...

Jesse : We've done four tours, all over a month.

I would like to talk about the record itself for a minute.  In 2018, when we've got playlists and Spotify, did you feel like one 82 minute song was a risk?  Or was it just "No, this is what we want to do; fuck it."

Dylan : Well, I think that we went back and forth about it a lot, like maybe we should divide it up, and we had all these ideas about how and where to divide it up to keep with the theme, but we both just kept going back to let's just not divide it up; let's keep it like it is, and if someone doesn't like it they can go fuck themselves.  That's not a problem.  This obviously isn't pop music- the joke when we were recording was Billy would say 'This has radio all over it boys!' But no, that wasn't a concern.

Jesse : Yeah, that kept coming up, and that at one point there was some pressure for whatever reasons, and at that point is when we were like 'No, that's not a valid conversation; we're not going to divide it up for Spotify plays or whatever the fuck."

Dylan : I think that our management team was like "You guys really should divide it up" for exactly what Jesse was saying, and record label guy was like "No, fuck that; keep it exactly how you want it," which was super cool.

Yeah, that's awesome, that kind of support from the record label.  And just to bring up Meshuggah again, I think of Catch Thirty-Three, it was designed and written as one whole song, and the label or whoever had them break it up, and no one I know who listens to that listens to the breaks or songs; they listen to the whole fucking thing, because that's how it was written to be listened to.

Dylan : Sure.  And there's a lot of records when you think about it, that while they do have individual songs, play better as the full thing.  Of the top of my head, Dark Side of the Moon.  And I grew up smoking a lot of weed and eating a lot of other drugs and listening to that while watching Wizard of Oz - of course - so I think of it as one song, but I mean, it kind of is.  Like it has it's peaks and its valleys, and everything flows together...

Oh, I think its completely meant to be one movement, one piece of music.

Dylan : And for me that makes it so much more fun to listen to.  You get like these weird references throughout, and it adds this other layer that you don't get without listening hard.

Completely.  And I think it's weird; I look at albums like movies, I want to watch or listen to the whole thing.

Dylan : Or a book maybe.

Exactly!  And I mean, I'm sure people have favorite chapters, but they don't just open to that chapter and read it alone; that chapter is made so much better by what comes before or after it. 

Dylan : Yeah, for sure.

I feel like that's people's attention spans, with digital music now.  Digital music has done a lot of good, but overall I wonder if it's been worth it.

Dylan : Yeah, but I don't think it has to be a bad thing.  I think that because of how long the song was, it actually got maybe more attention than it would have; we were all thinking no one would listen to an eighty-three minute song you know (laughs)

Jesse : I think in this day and age, it's actually very flattering that people, that this many people, have taken the time to sit down and listen to it.  It shows it's relevant; it's not for everybody, but it's found its audience.

It sounds like people are definitely responding to it.  And do you think that - with Adrian passing away, it was a very personal record to make, and do you think that helped people connect to it, because it was so personal?  I don't want  to call it "real," because that sounds awful, but do you get what I'm asking?

Dylan : Sure, I know what you're saying.  I think that could definitely be said.  I think more people were saying 'oh, there's a story to it, there's a deeper meaning to it,' and that certainly helped.  I mean, personally, I think musically it's a really cool step up from the album before it, but I think everyone likes a story, and that was, unfortunately, a story that got tagged on to it.

Definitely.  So we always like to close these interviews on a lighter note, a funny, goofier note, so we've been talking about Mirror Reaper this entire time.  And the album artwork is phenomenal, absolutely gorgeous, but are you guys aware of the critique, and controversy around it online?

Jesse : What is it?

Well, you've got this frame, this mirror.  And the Mirror Reaper is coming through from the back, but his hands are on the outside.  And how does that work?

(Jesse staring, Dylan laughing)

I mean, I think its silly, to pick that many nits, but now that you're aware of it, what do you think?

Jesse : He's coming through the mirror.  It's a mirror.

Oh, so it's just a mirror frame.  It's not a portal, it's just a frame?

Jesse : I saw someone saying that on the comment section of something, and I don't know... if you're gonna get hung up on that, go ahead.  I like it.

It's a beautiful piece of work; seeing the full thing at the Profound Lore office, that's just gorgeous.  Well, Jesse, Dylan, it's been an absolute pleasure; thanks for taking the time to talk with me.

Jesse, Dylan : Thank you!

- Durf

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