Witching Waves Interview: “…like a science experiment”

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Crystal Cafe  Is Out Now Via Soft Power Records.

Armed with their sophomore album released via Soft Power Records over the weekend, Witching Waves delve into the creation and execution of Crystal Cafe. Their tone is serious, technical and deeply reflexive of the much more calculated and polished sound that is their second record. Additionally, we are respectfully allowed a peek into the process of a group which maintains total control over everything from the creative aspects of song-craft to the actual recording and mixing process.

Overblown: Hello and thank you for chatting with us here at Overblown about the release of your sophomore album! What can you tell us about the possible difference of process when writing and recording a second album? How did your group maintain fresh interest in recording while exploring new territory for your sound?

Emma: Hello! With the first album, we put almost all of the songs we had finished up to that point on the record and that made sense at the time. We were really happy just to be making an album and it acted as a sort of document of where we were at that point in time. With this second album, we took a different approach. This time we were writing and choosing songs with the album in mind. We wanted it to be a cohesive collection of songs with similar themes running throughout. In terms of recording, we just felt a bit more confident and that meant we were up for experimenting a little bit more, particularly with the dynamics. It was still very much a learning process but it felt like we were a step further. I am definitely not an old-hand at this, so I feel like I’m always exploring new territory and that can be really difficult and frustrating, but I think it’s also really important in order to keep moving forward.

Mark: Fresh interest shouldn’t really have to be maintained. I think if you have no interest you should really evaluate why you are doing it. It felt great when we started this album because we were really excited by what we could do. The first album was just sort of testing the water, and we made a lot of mistakes, as people do. Really with the first, we were just trying to make an album, then with the second one, we were really excited about trying out all the things that we realised were possible. I really like Fear Of Falling Down, but I do think that it is kind of a one-dimensional record. On this one we really wanted to try all the things that we kind of ignored the first time around.

OB: In your bio, it is stated that this album was primarily self-recorded and mixed by member Mark Jasper. What sort of edge do you think this provides your music? What influenced your decision to self-record and what sort of elements, advantages, or disadvantages do you think this choice created in your work?

Mark: I’m not sure it does provide us with an edge but it does make Witching Waves what it is. All of our music has pretty much been recorded by me at Sound Savers, and without that freedom, and that flexibility I really doubt we would have done so much stuff. Just from a financial perspective, it would be really expensive for a band to record as much as we do, or to spend as much time on it. Some of the songs on this album were recorded three times, some of them have like ten guitar tracks. We work for ages on vocals, we like to make sure they’re right. I am a full time recording engineer, so all of my time is spent recording or mixing, and as I do it more, I learn a lot, and I really think that feeds back in to the band.

Emma: Yeah, I’d agree with that. It’s been pretty key to our identity up to this point, although it might not be an edge as such. Aside from the practical and financial reasons, we like the fact that we are in control of the recording process. The main disadvantage is that there is no-one there who can have a bit of distance and perspective on things. We end up going through so many mixes of the songs and it can be hard to make the decision to draw a line and stop. It would be interesting to see how things would differ if we recorded with someone else, maybe in the future that could be an option.

OB: What is your approach to songwriting and practice as a group? How does this approach influence your song choice inclusion for “Crystal Cafe”?

Mark: We practice every Monday evening, and then Emma and I will do an extra one in between. I know this seems like a lot to most bands but we have to do it! With songs, we normally just start playing, we work everything up from the very beginning in the practice room, and even the vocals are finished there. Emma often works on lyrics with a tiny note pad on the bass drum. It’s nice to have a sort of spontaneity to the writing. Also, I think at home you think things will work, and then they sound weird in the room. The song inclusion was actually really easy, we sort of knew what was going to go on the record. There was one cut from the final running order towards the end, but I think we all knew it wasn’t going to make it! We throw a lot of songs away! It’s for the best really, I’m glad people haven’t heard all of them.

 Emma: I really like writing collaboratively and in the practice room. And I like being able to base decisions on how the sound comes together (or doesn’t) when we’re together in the room, rather than at home which sounds totally different. We’ll record things on our phones at practice and then check to see if it still works once we’re back at home and have had some distance from it. With the lyrics, I might have an idea, usually something I’ve been thinking about or something I’ve read or seen, and I’ll start with just a phrase and work outwards from there, adding to it as we work on the song.

I feel like the songs for ‘Crystal Café’ all came together under a similar set of conditions, like in a science experiment.

OB: For my own ears, “Crystal Cafe” seems to certainly display a great deal of growth and cohesion of style for your group, was this a conscious effort, or more so an organic result of time and practice?

Mark: Thanks! I like to think it was both. We definitely wanted to try out new things but I was also aware that I didn’t want to just unnaturally change direction, as that would seem really contrived. There were definitely a couple of points where I really thought the record wasn’t very good, but that’s normal. There are definitely new things on the record that point towards things we are exploring now with the new stuff we’re writing, which is the most exciting thing to me, that we can look back and check how we’re doing going in to the future.

Emma: I think it was an organic result from time and practice but I think we wanted that too. We wanted it to evolve in some way and not just to stay the same. When we started the band I had only just started playing drums, so I think as I gradually get better that changes the way we sound.

OB: Often, groups find it very difficult to choose a suitable single release to promote their album release, why and how did you chose “Twister” as your single?

Emma: No particular reason other than it just seemed to make sense! It’s the first song on the album and it’s often the first song in the set. I feel like it’s an introduction, like “hello, this is us”!

Mark: I don’t know if we’ve picked it as a single! It’s just the first song! That made sense because it was just the first song that we wrote, the first song on the record, and whenever we play live, it’s the first song in the set. It is one of the few songs we’ve written with a sort of consistent energy, but some nice dynamic interchanges, it’s also unusual to have a song where only one of us sings. Emma is singing a lot more now, so yeah I think the song sort of sums up the record, in a way.

OB: One of my favorite aspects of your songcraft is the tension created by your ominous (and at times brooding) guitar and pedal work when paired with Wigham’s distinctly gentle (and infallibly strong) vocal work. Are her capabilities specifically taken into account when constructing the melodies?

Mark: I guess it’s best to ask Emma that… All I know is I have always kind of made drones, and played brooding minor progressions. I think Emma makes all of that stuff a bit easier to listen to! I definitely respond to the vocals first, I try and get Emma to sing early on in practice when we’re writing, otherwise I feel the song has no direction. I listen to her vocals for cues to change chord progressions or to do something different.

Emma: Usually, the guitar and the vocals come together at more-or-less the same time so they sort of feed off of each other. I almost feel like one wouldn’t exist without the other.

OB: Ok, I have to ask you this- what influenced your titling of this album? Is it a cafe made of crystals or a cafe for crystals to eat in?

Mark: Crystal Café is a café near the studio where we will often meet for lunch, it’s a nice place. We wanted the album to have sort of local references as the album is definitely about living and working in London. Crystal Café reflects that, a sort of ordinary place, but the crystal has a little bit of dreaming to it.

Emma: I remember going to Crystal Café quite a few times during the recording of the album. Both this album and our first album feel so heavily influenced by our surroundings. It feels like a sort of landmark.

OB: What can we expect to see from Witching Waves this year, any tours or other projects planned?

 Mark: I think we’re definitely going to do some touring in the summer. There was a lot going on towards the end of last year, we did a tour with our friend’s Rattle and so many gigs, so this year we wanted to just write and play a few things. It’s been nice, but I’m ready now to record another LP, and go on tour again. We’re doing a single for a label in Melbourne, I think we should be recording that next week.

Emma: We’ve been having an unusually quiet time for WW lately and it’s been nice to have a bit of a rest but I’m looking forward to lots more gigs, tour and recording later this year!

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