Doing interviews is a rewarding experience, especially when the musician you are talking with, has a genuine love for what he / she is doing without considering songwriting as a day job. I am not saying that the bands who are doing this are bad; no, it is just very different to talk to someone who is excited of creating music and putting it out. This is exactly how it felt video-chatting with Joel Green from WITCHSKULL with the main subject being the band’s amazing album, “A Driftwood Cross”. Check down-under what he had to say...
Hi Joel and welcome to METAL KAOZ! You have the video on; let me switch my camera on too.
Hi Dimitris (laughs)! Excellent! You’re the first person putting the video on. Everyone else just let me on my own (laughs). You are calling from Chicago, right?
Yes, I am.
Great, I have not been there. I have landed at the airport but did not get to go out.
You did play live in New York though.
Yes, we recorded our second album in New York and because we were there we did a one-off show at The Saint Vitus bar. And the reason we went to New York is because our bass player is a New Yorker who moved to Australia 15 years ago, so we wanted to do the album in his hometown. That was unreal, New York what a place. Other than that we have not properly toured the US or even Europe and we were hoping to do this for this album.
This was one of my questions; I mean, how does it feel releasing a new album and not having the way to promote it?
It feels unusual to release an album at this time, just because it’s a very unusual time. But for us, I dunno that will be as difficult because we still haven’t toured through Europe and America. So, we’re one of those band who are unable to play anywhere near the amount of shows the American and European bands play, so it won’t affect us as dramatically as affects a lot of people within the industry.
Well, you can see that at the other side of the coin; like you’re a young band and your blood is boiling if you may, so you want to get out there.
We’re definitely a young band but with older dudes (laughs); for us we’re sort of grateful for every opportunity we’re getting, like this one talking to you. This is the first time I’ve ever done a round of interviews for an album all in a row like this, so we’re just absolutely amazed that there’s interest for this band of a bunch of blokes from Canberra which is a very small sort of city, in the bottom of the world (laughs).
Ok, so let’s talk about the album itself; from your side, what are the changes that you did on this album as compared to the previous two?
This was the first time we’ve used two separate studios; we used one called Toyland Studios in Melbourne where we did the beats but the main reason was having a real good drummer room and the engineer producer works there called Adam Calaitzis who I think is Greek as well, he is amazing at pulling really good drum sounds so we decided to do all the beats there in four days and then move everything back to Goatsound Studios which is the producer’s studio, Jason Fuller, he used to play in BLOOD DUSTER and other cool bands, and we finished the record there. So, that was different for us going in two different studios.
But why did you choose on the first place to record the drums in a different studio?
I just think we’re able to get better drum sounds because we record everything with a mics (we are not doing any sound replacing), drums and get all these sounds as organically as we can; we knew that this studio had a better drum room and maybe better drum mics than when we got back to Goatsound to do the rest of it, so it was an important way that we could track all the beats live together but the drums in a separate room, so there’s one big massive drum room that looks through glass windows at the other big room where the two guys had their amps set up. So, there were no baffles between the amps and we had the chance to get everything totally played live. It just felt right and we’re really happy with the results.
We were listening to the album this morning with my wife (who wrote the review) and one of the comments she made was that the album, the recording sounds very organic.
That’s great! That’s what we were hoping. When we went through the mastering process we used a really good mastering facility of a guy called Dav Byrne here in Melbourne, called Iridium Audio, and we had long discussions with him regarding the mastering process because we’re tired of everything being mastered really loud and making everything sort of sound similar, so we wanted to go a few steps back. Now, when you hear it, you’ve actually have to turn the volume louder than most of modern records because it’s being mastered lower than a lot of bands do these days. So that’s what the older records were like. I just think for us what’s the matter if you’d turn the volume up? So, I think when you master with less mastering put in, the album sounds better as you turn them up. So we’re hoping that has a similar effect as you boost the volume it takes on its own.
So, I’m guessing that the album will sound better on vinyl, right?
I hope so, I haven’t heard it on vinyl yet but everything we do, we’re really big fans of vinyl, just because that’s the format we grew up as kids, and cassettes as well. So even when CDs came in, obviously everyone moved to CDs but there’s always something about hearing things in their original state. I’m a huge MOTÖRHEAD fan and I remember putting “Overkill” on my record player and then on the CD player and then I was flicking between the vinyl and the CD, and the vinyl sounded better. And sometimes the CDs sound better because there’s all this white noise hiss and I remember these sounds when I was a teenager, so there’s something to be said for the more sort of organic / analog methods.
Yeah, imagine my childhood when I started listening to VENOM on cassettes (laughs).
VENOM?! Watch the long sleeve I’m wearing now (laughs) [pointing at his “Welcome To Hell” t-shirt]. I’m a massive VENOM fan, and Tony and Marcus really love them too, so we try with our band to focus on all the bands that meant a lot to us when we were growing up. So, there are massive elements of SABBATH, MOTÖRHEAD, PRIEST, VENOM. All the bands and the early stuff like DEEP PURPLE, LED ZEPPELIN. All those things that were integral when we’re growing up with is the stuff that naturally comes out of the soul, so we try to focus on just playing absolutely naturally and not that we sound like any of these guys. But all those kinds of things melted together and sound like a mangrove version of it, you know.
I get what you’re saying, Joel. So, how long did you work on the album itself?
Probably for two years, to be honest, because when the last album came out, we weren’t really for whatever reason into a position to tour, so we just spent the whole time in the rehearsal room writing. So, there’s two years between these two records and we basically started writing when the second (and last) album came out. We did a couple of shows in Australia and we went to New Zealand a couple of times which is close for us, you know, and that was great, but we didn’t a huge touring – and that allowed us plenty of time to write. So, in some ways, we were happy with that, we don’t have the pressure that a lot of bands have of touring nine months of the year.
But would you like to do that? The constant touring that bigger bands do, I mean.
I don’t think so. I think it’s something to be saved not having to answer to anybody but ourselves. We don’t rely on going on tour to pay our rent, you know, so for us music allows us to do exactly what we want without interfering and not sort of external pressures. Look, we definitely want to come over and tour but I don’t think we’ll ever be in a position where we’d be a full time touring band. We much rather just focus on making really good quality albums we like.
What about the lyrics? Who wrote those?
The lyrics is Marcus’ domain, so unfortunately I won’t be able to give you too much insight into that. I think he’s a very good lyric writer, he’s amazing songwriter. He has a really unique tone; I think his vocals are so unique-sounding and I think it’s an amazing thing. You hear so many bands where they just sound a bit run of the mill whereas with Marcus, there’s difference to what he does. And his lyrical content, if you read his lyrics, they’re just very, very unusual. Sometimes I ask him what they’re about and he sort of says “it’s a lot of abstract” and his lyrics kind of comes from subconscious so he’s just tuned into different space and they just come out, he doesn’t sit down and naturally agonizing over writing the next line; it sort of flows out and it’s just incredible to watch.
I’m kind of relieved that you said that, because I was trying to understand what the title-track is about, but man, I couldn’t figure that out!
Yeah, it’s the same for Tony and I – when we finally started going through the lyrics to proof them when the release is coming out, we’re like “oh, that’s what he said!” (laughs) In fact, in the rehearsal space, Tony goes “are you singing that?” and then Marcus goes “I’m not singing that, I’m singing this”. It’s great for us because he has a real knack for writing things in a way that is really unique and we have been friends for a long time; we were mates since we’re 8-9 years old, we were in the first band together when we were 15, so we go back, and finally enough, the reason we met Tony was because Marcus’ cousin, Caroline, moved to New York City and met Tony and then they moved back here. So, when Tony moved to Australia, the only person he knew was his wife’s cousin, Marcus; so then Marcus told Tony “we’re in this band with Joel who I know since school” and that’s like we feel that WITCHSKULL is more of a brotherhood than a band. Like, there is something between the three of us that’s more important than just three dudes that answer that in the piping, you know.
Yeah, a careful ear will hear that in a sense that even though this is your third album, it doesn’t sound like, like I said in the beginning, a young band; it sounds like a bunch of guys who are absolutely confident and know what they want from their music. And that shows in the recording.
Thank you so much, that’s fantastic that you feel that! I think there’s something that comes with age for us where you lose a little bit of baggage of your youth, so we have a very healthy sort of belief of not caring what anyone thinks, so we obviously prefer people to like our band but it has no bearing on anything we do. Whether people will like it or not, we play purely for ourselves and if the only thing we get out of it is that feeling of that we created something together, that’s all that matters. So, for us we feel that we’re in a very pure place, there’s nothing that’s overthought or contrived in any way to try make people think one way or another – it’s just what we feel naturally comes from within us and we play it organically and there’s very little difference to the albums to live, because it’s just been played the exact same way.
And that’s really something to appreciate because nowadays sometimes we go to concerts and we say that “hey, this isn’t the music I was listening to the album”, so you have to really try to identify the song (laughs).
I think there’s a lot of pressure for younger bands; if they wanted to make it really organic loose-sounding record, it’s hard for them to do in today’s environment because it’s expected from them to sound a certain way in order to operate at the level that the other bands in the genre are operating, so because of our age and the fact we’re not relying on touring to make a living, we just don’t have any baggage at all. I think most dudes of our age are either famous or have just given up. What we are doing it’s been done purely because there’s something we feel it’s worth it and we strongly believe in and the three of us have this chemistry where we write and play together, so we’re just in a really, really good place, you know.
Is there any connection between the lyrics and the album’s cover artwork?
Look, there’s a whole range of concepts and themes that run through everything and some of them you can dig really deep into them and get something from, and other things are just blatantly there. So, it’s kind of interesting between the three of us in the band we even have different feelings on what it means, so I suppose as a concept you really need to sort of read through the record, the lyrics and tackle the artwork in of all three releases and you’ll find common things running through all of them, but it’s kind of more up to the individual to fit in their own interpretation of it because nothing is set in stone, there’s a whole range of things that are kind of there, if you look deep enough.
Ok, although I wanted to ask if there’s a concept of the all-seeing-eye, because we see the hands of the lady creating a triangle, exactly above her forehead.
Well, it could be (laughs). So you know, I’m not trying to be clever and all and not answer your question, I just think it’s one of those things where for me growing up as a music lover and I still am, there are certain things that I interpret in other bands’ releases that when I hear someone spell out exactly what they were thinking, it’s sometimes “gee, that was generally completely different than what I thought” and that could sometimes be a bit deflating. I kind of think that anyone who hears or views a piece of music, it’s really important that they have their own interpretation and belief of what it is, because then that ties you more to the music since it means more to you specifically. But that’s just how I think and how I interpret music.
Well, even though you mentioned a lot of times the age thing, I think what you described is something that it’s a little bit declining because people nowadays want everything chewed, they don’t like to spend time, like you said, having a look at the artwork or the lyrics’ sheet inside, and then build/create their own emotions and thoughts of what they listened to. So, they want everything to be laid in front of them.
You’re right and that’s why I think vinyl is so important because, I dunno about you, but when you put a record on, it doesn’t just become background music, you put it on and you tend to listen and then stop halfway through and change it over to listen to the other half. And then you can open the gatefold, read the lyrics and actually allows you to go into a different headspace. And that’s the whole point of music; at least it is for me – it’s an escape from the world when you really get into something, it’s like being in a meditative state, music is the most wonderful thing on the planet. It’s absolutely crucial and brilliant. So, what music makes people feel is up to the individual, some people may like it and some people may hate it. And that’s fine; it’s just like we’d rather people sort of listen and have an opinion. At least, when somebody doesn’t like it, I’m totally happy that he listened to it and had some kind of impact to that person, whether positive or negative.
You released a video for “This Silent Place”, so did you film it before the Covid-19 pandemic?
No, and I’m so glad you brought that up. It was so difficult to finish this and get it over the line. We likely just shot it in February, before the club where we shot it was shut down – that’s The Basement in Canberra of which these guys were very supportive of us. But then the director, Jeremy Belinfante, once he had the raw footage, he still had to make the special effects done, color-graded, he need to shoot extra material and he had a whole bunch of roadblocks because of everything that was going on at the moment, so we luckily just got it over the line in time. So, that was definitely difficult for all of us but we’re happy we were just able to get it done prior to the release of the album.
So, are there any plans to do anything else, I mean like lyric videos, as things move forward?
We definitely want to do another video for this record. For us in Australia, we’re not able to tour as I mentioned before, as easily, even when we’re not in the situation we are now [with COVID-19], so we tend to try and put as much work as we can into videos, and we luckily we’ve got some really good friends that really help us out, because normally we couldn’t afford to get these videos done without the help that we get from good friends, like Richard Grainger who did the last two clips. So, it’s something we definitely want to do for this album, but we don’t know for which song and we don’t know when, but that maybe is something that’s not gonna happen at the moment when bands can’t tour.
Absolutely. And one of my final questions, and out of curiosity; are there any plans to re-release “The Vast Electric Dark” on vinyl via Rise Above?
There’s been no discussion about that. The vinyl rights of the first album, the band owns them again, and Ripple Steel has the digital rights, the CD rights for another 18 months I think, but we can release “The Vast Electric Dark” ourselves whenever we want, so we’re thinking further down the track of doing a picture disc or something maybe, but we don’t know yet. Lee from Rise Above has never asked about the first record, so as far as I’m aware this is the situation.
It started to become a rarity because you can only find it through Discogs, so I was wondering.
You can probably find some copies on Ebay but there’s not that many around that I’m aware of. There were a lot of different versions of it too. I think it was five different versions or something, with all different colored vinyls. It was one test-pressed with the wax seal, but the die-hard version was in 100 copies, the work on that, the quality of the cupboard is amazing. If you’ve ever get a chance to see it, it has the logo in red and it says ‘die-hard edition in red’ at the bottom of the record. That’s unbelievable. We’re vinyl lovers, so it was good that our first record came in five different versions.
Ok Joel, thank you so much for taking the time to have this wonderful discussion!
Dimitris, thank you so much for your time and your support is really appreciated. Hopefully one day soon we’ll get to Chicago and we’d have a beer together.
Absolutely, man, I’ll keep you accountable for that! Cheers!