King Witch – Darkness and LightSunday, 31st May 2020
Considering their relative short time frame as a unit, Scottish band King Witch are making an indelible impression on the heavy metal scene through two full-length albums. Signing to Listenable Records on the strength of their debut EP Shoulders of Giants from 2015, the four-piece have weathered some rhythm section changes but come out with two monumental efforts in Under the Mountain and the latest release, Body of Light. Those who love doom metal with stoner and heavy metal nuances, plus the potent pipes of powerhouse vocalist Laura Gilchrist, will be well advised to dig deep into this material.
We reached out to the husband and wife duo of guitarist Jamie Gilchrist and singer Laura to find out more about their musical background, favorite albums and concerts, signing to Listenable Records, and current challenges facing the band plus future plans post-coronavirus.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of your first musical memories growing up, and how did you make the progression into metal and eventually wanting to perform in bands?
Jamie: When I was younger, my father was a musician and there was a lot of rock music around my house- Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple. I was getting exposed to that – and there were a lot of musicians within my family. As soon as I started high school, I heard Metallica for the first time and I started hearing Ride the Lightning. I hassled my parents after that to get me a guitar, and my life has been focused on that ever since.
Laura: When I was growing up, my parents were listening to stuff like Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Janis Joplin. Like Jamie I’ve got some family musicians as well – if there was a family party, you would have to take your turn to play an instrument or sing. I didn’t really know I could sing metal until I started college, and that was in my twenties. I had a lot of musician friends and we would go into some drunken jams. One time they asked me to stand in for them as a vocalist, I got the bug after I did it that one time. That’s when Jamie and I had a band we were in for ten years before King Witch, and then we started King Witch.
Dead Rhetoric: Now King Witch formed in 2015- but you both have ties before that with another band Firebrand Super Rock. What can you tell us about the previous band, and how that ending led to a fresh start with King Witch – did you know straight away the type of direction you wanted the music to take this time?
Jamie: It was strange because Firebrand had been going a long time. It was more straight-ahead traditional metal, and that was the kind of music we did. It was difficult to veer from, and it had just naturally run its course. When it stopped, we didn’t have any serious thought to starting another band, even though we had a lot of musicians around. We planned to start a new project, the aim was just to write what we wanted to write without any preconceptions of the sound. We got an original bass player and drummer, and things took off very quickly from being a project into being a band. The first gig we ever had was the Sweden Rock Festival, so it was full steam ahead. Which was strange for us.
And then sound wise we never made a decision. It’s just the songs that we wrote, and we felt less constrained by the traditional metal sound. A lot more dynamic range and doom came through I guess.
Dead Rhetoric: Your first EP Shoulders of Giants released independently led to signing with Listenable Records. Tell us your memories of that first recording – the response, and what made Listenable attractive to the band to sign on the dotted line?
Jamie: The response to the EP was really surprising, as that was originally going to be a demo for us getting gigs and so on. That was the first proper recording, it was ridiculously low-fi, recorded in our practice room with the most basic of mics. It’s a raw sounding recording, it works, and the songs really work. When you are a new band, you have this spirit in you and we had written the material for a month before recording those songs. We can tell that it has identity.
Laura: The label president for Listenable got in touch with us after the EP release, to say that he really liked it. And they wanted to hear what we would come up with next.
Jamie: We were in touch with Listenable on and off, after we recorded the album we got in touch with them again and they were like yes, let’s do something. They cared more than anyone else, if they don’t like a mastering or a mix, they’ll be happy to tell us we have to go back and do it again. In the case of doing that for the first album, we ended up coming out with a much better product. The first album was recorded by myself with bare equipment, and looking back Listenable knew it needed to be improved upon and remastered. They have been really good to work with.
Dead Rhetoric: The debut album Under the Mountain came out in 2018 – how did the songwriting and recording process go for this effort, and were there any surprises, obstacles, or challenges to overcome? How do you feel about the record now that you have a couple of years and distance to it?
Jamie: We recorded and tracked the album twice, which was a fucking nightmare. We had a drummer change halfway through the recording, which is far from ideal. The tracks we had recorded for the first run weren’t necessarily recorded in the best headspace. It was good, but we didn’t want to do it again – but Lyle (Brown) our current drummer had just joined and he plays the songs better. We scraped a lot and recorded the full album again. In terms of sound and songwriting the new album is a massive step forward, but I still love this album. It’s got a lot of character and the songs that I enjoy.
Laura: I still listen to it, but like Jamie I feel the new album is a step forward. I really wanted to be a bit more naturally vocally and have more dynamics. I’m not a trained singer, so my style is basically being really loud (laughs). I wanted to try to make a bit more character. I’m still really proud of what we did for Under the Mountain.
Dead Rhetoric: Body of Light is the latest album – and has expanded many elements to the King Witch sound, especially taking on some epic-length efforts in compared to the shorter work on the previous record. Where do you see the major differences between the two albums, and did you have a specific aim or goal this time around that you wanted to achieve in terms of the songwriting, performances, tones, and sound?
Jamie: We didn’t have a specific approach, but in terms of writing the new songs what was definitely different was having a much more solid lineup. It was much more organic the development of the songs, and King Witch as a sound. We have more light and shade, and epic songs – it’s not something like we said we were going to write a couple of ten-minute songs on the album (laughs). The label was probably hoping for a few more radio friendly numbers. But when we listened back to the demos for these songs, they were what they are, there was no point in cutting them down. It’s just long compositions, but they really worked.
Laura: Because we had a solid lineup, we had a chance to properly think about stuff. It felt like a much more fluid and natural process. I think that definitely comes across on the album as opposed to Under the Mountain, because of the lineup being a bit broken.
Dead Rhetoric: It seems like on the new record, you are conscious of injecting shifts in tempo and energy level, often right in the middle of a song- is that why you consider yourselves influenced by classic heavy metal and 70’s rock just as much as doom and stoner-type music?
Jamie: I’d say so. I think it’s important to incorporate the light and shade – especially when you are developing an album that reaches the hour-long territory. A consistent tempo or dynamic can become monotonous even if you have really good songs. In the 70’s, the songs for bands like Deep Purple or Led Zeppelin have a lot more light and shade on them – instead of the same tempos and riffs all throughout. There are ups and downs in all of those albums, and that makes for a really good album.
Dead Rhetoric: And when it comes to the lyrics, you end up featuring a lot of history and mythology, the dark topics. Where did the inspiration come from for the material on Body of Light?
Laura: I hadn’t really thought of anything in particular. I think one of the first songs we worked on was the title song Body of Light. I had been reading about Aleister Crowley, and his thoughts on astral projection which I thought was really cool. The ideas behind astral projection was totally fascinating to me. Then that followed suit for other lyrics like “Beyond the Black Gate”, it’s about life and death and what’s beyond, the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen afterwards. They all are intertwined, and that really wasn’t done on purpose. It’s another reason why I think the album flows well, a lot of the lyrics are related. For mythology, especially for “Of Rock and Stone” and “Witches Mark” are both based on Scottish folklore mythology – Beira the queen of winter and “Witches Mark” is based on a series of witch trials the North Berwick Witch Trials which is not very far from us.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us regarding the video shoot for “Of Rock and Stone” – it’s an excellent example of using stunning visuals, psychedelic effects, along with capturing the energy of the quartet as a band?
Laura: One of our friends actually captured the band footage playing in our practice room. We weren’t really sure where to record it, but we covered all the walls in black sheets and he brought in some lights and filmed the footage. We did some weird shit, the figure Beira is meant to be with one eye so we had my giant eye ball. The colors are really cool, even though the video was low budget it works well for the song.
Jamie: Laura did an amazing job with the visuals on that one and putting it together. It definitely fits the song.
Dead Rhetoric: Laura, as a vocalist you obviously make an incredible impression through your delivery that captures multiple emotions. To my ears, I hear elements of Janis Joplin, Ann Wilson, and even Messiah of Candlemass in your range and higher note holding abilities. Discuss your role in the band and how you shape the material through your natural talents – has it always been as easy as you make it seem?
Laura: (laughs). I love the singers you just mentioned! It’s not really something I think about, when we went to rehearsal, I really sing based on how Jamie’s riffs make me feel. If I feel it’s a darker track, there will be a darker feel to my melodies. Sometimes it’s real easy, sometimes it’s not. “Witches Mark” went really quickly, but a song like “Of Rock and Stone”, I had all the lyrics and then realized when I had it done my sort of timing was completely different than the music. We had to rethink that song.
I’m not trained, so sometimes I think because I’m not classically trained I’m not restricted to things. I don’t think about it that much, it just comes out.
Dead Rhetoric: Describe what King Witch is like in a live setting – do you have a preference for small stages or theaters versus the festival audiences, and what have been some of your more memorable performances throughout your career?
Jamie: I love every opportunity, whether it’s the club gigs or the festival gigs.
Laura: We have really cool gigs for both. The clubs gigs are more intimate, but to play a festival there’s a massive adrenaline rush. You feel the people, the stage is huge, the energy is fantastic. A festival is also cool to meet a lot of different people.
Jamie: Sweden Rock was fantastic, the Malta Doom festival was fantastic. There is a festival in Ireland that we’ve played twice that’s fantastic called The Siege of Limerick. It’s absolute madness, one of the greatest festivals – because it’s quite small, only 400 capacity, maybe 600- but it’s so intense. I remember everybody in the crowd before we played had been drinking for about 14 hours at that point, it was a memorable one.
Laura: I don’t know if I have a favorite gig, but I don’t think there is a venue or festival we’ve played at that I haven’t liked. Not yet anyway.
Dead Rhetoric: What are your thoughts on heavy metal in the current international landscape – where would you like to see things change (if anything) to make things stronger for the bands, the fans, and the community in general?
Jamie: The doom genre has a wide range and spectrum of styles, which I think is a really good thing. With a lot of styles in the past, you’d find a lot of bands that would play with similar bands, and I think with doom and stoner it’s so healthy right now. You can get showcased at festivals doing really different things. I guess it’s a good time to be making our kind of music.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you think of three specific albums that shaped your overall outlook on heavy music – and what was the most memorable concert that you personally took in, just from a pure fan perspective, and what made it so special to you?
Laura: That’s too much of a technical question for Jamie, there’s so many albums! (laughs). For me, does it need to be heavy metal? Albums close to my heart include Electric Ladyland- Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd- The Wall, and maybe Nightfall- Candlemass. There are so many albums… I’m going to go away and think about it in case I told you the wrong ones! (laughs). I have two concerts I think. The two I can think of, Corrosion of Conformity in Glasgow, Scotland- about two or three years ago. One of the most favorite gigs was Black Sabbath on The End tour, playing Copenhagen at the Copenhell. It was raining and the crowd… the atmosphere was electric, and that was the best I’ve ever seen them.
Jamie: Master of Puppets by Metallica and Sabbath Bloody Sabbath from Black Sabbath are definitely the two best. Master of Puppets is unbeatable stuff. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath are perfect in terms of the riffs and melodies working together, plus the psychedelic elements start to creep in on that one. Something from Kyuss, Alice in Chains, and Soundgarden – the 90’s when I was growing up, those bands had a strong influence on me. Alice in Chains and Soundgarden are absolutely incredible. Let’s put Dirt – from Alice in Chains. We went to the Led Zeppelin reunion show and that was unbelievable. We’ll go with that, because you knew it was going to be a one-off gig.
Dead Rhetoric: As a husband and wife within a band, how do you handle the stress and strife that can possibly come up from your personal lives and not let it seep into band actions? Do you believe you have great band chemistry as a four-piece?
Laura: We’ve been playing in bands for so long, the majority of the time you can keep the two things separate. You can’t do that all the time. We are a pretty good team. We are husband and wife, and we share all the same friends as well.
Jamie: It’s sort of weird for us, as we met in that first band, and we’ve always been there. We’ve never been a couple without this situation. We just deal with it, I guess. There are no serious fights, and we don’t have the money to hire any hit men (laughs). So we’ve made it successful.
Dead Rhetoric: What are some of the biggest challenges you believe you currently face with King Witch in trying to rise up in popularity to be successful as a band?
Laura: I think sometimes where you are from can be tricky at times. The Scottish music is a lot smaller than England or Europe in general, it can be harder to get yourself out there even though we do play a lot of places.
Jamie: Just touring on our level, trying to get out there. Knowing when to tour, financially we have been lucky so far where we can at least break even on tours. Just try to get on bigger tours and festivals, with our label we’ve been able to get onto things. Just what a band at our level would try to do. The label helps take some of the pressure off us for some of the financial needs.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for King Witch over the next twelve months?
Jamie: The booking agent is looking at rebooking tour dates in September. I just don’t know. I find it hard to see how there can be much meaningful touring this year. I think it’s unlikely that a lot of large gatherings will be allowed in a lot of places. There is going to be a mad rush of re-booking when people know they can book again, it could be pandemonium for bands and venues.
Laura: We are putting our feelers out at the moment. I did hear some places in Ireland are going to be open for social distancing gigs, but I don’t know if that would work at all. I guess we will find out soon enough.
Jamie: We mostly have our eyes on 2021, and see what we can do this year. We have to wait and see.