Interview: Witnesses (Doom Metal, New York)

Interview by Zax

Witnesses is a doom metal solo project that recently dropped their new record Doom II, which you might remember me reviewing a little while back. The record really struck me, so I’m very pleased to have the opportunity to ask the man behind the music some questions! Make sure to check out Doom II if you’ve yet to!

Witnesses: Spotify / Bandcamp / Facebook / Instagram

Hey man, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions with me today! You recently dropped your new concept record Doom II, what were the writing and recording processes like for the record?

Writing is a very private affair for me. All the riffs, lyrics, and arrangements are just composed here at home–maybe the cats are in the room. As is the recording. No professional studios or engineers came into play. For the collaborators, they also recorded at their homes, and I mixed and mastered myself. I give my collaborators loose direction, but only loose. I want to get the best out of them, and that means giving them freedom, but also retaining what I’d say is a right to veto. It is my vision at the end of the day, so I can’t take just anything. But these are talented people, and you don’t squander that by giving marching orders. You pick the right people, bring them into the vision to some degree, then manage the results. That’s how I like to do it. But there’s no band, no band practice, no jamming. I hate that stuff.

Tell me a little about the concept behind the record, what inspired it?

I haven’t quite figured this out yet. As I think some folks are aware, COVID isn’t really a surprise. Pandemic preparedness is something people have been talking about for a long time. South Korea, for example, I think learned something from MERS. But I think in the US, for example, it didn’t feel real. But there were plenty of stories about this, and I recall reading them in 2019. And I think this may have inspired the lyrics. But I was in search of a metaphor, not necessarily a reflection on current events. So that was really coincidence. In terms of the setting, I think The VVitch was a huge inspiration. Doom II isn’t meant to be any time or place, but I loved that setting in The VVitch. I wanted to conjure that type of imagery, just with a very different plot, if you will.

Seeing as the album is about a deadly disease, I gotta ask, how has COVID effected Witnesses and you personally, if at all? This pandemic has hit the music scene very hard and I’m sure nobody has been spared.

Personally, it was pretty scary here in NYC back in say March. There were lots of unknowns, and the numbers were staggering. I don’t live far from some of the first hospitals that were overrun, and I’m very fortunate that we just remained completely safe and healthy. And remain so to this day. But as we do this interview, things aren’t good here in the US, and we can’t isolate ourselves at the state or city level. At least not fully. So as long as other regions are going backwards, I think, in a sense we all are.

In terms of as a musician, I strangely benefit. I don’t make money off this project, nor ever set out to. But I need collaborators to bring the vision to reality, and folks are available right now. They have less live and touring obligations of their own, and I think are particularly happy to get paid working with others. So for me, it works out. But of course I don’t prefer this situation. We’re in a very bad spot here, and to think otherwise strikes me as delusional.

I see you operate mostly as a solo act, what is your personal favorite and least favorite instrument to play/record?

I think it depends. But to start with least, I get annoyed by everything for its own reason. Bass guitar I find annoying because locking in a great tone is, for me, more challenging than guitar. Guitar gets annoying because of things like intonation when you are tuned to C, and keyboards can be frustrating due to limitless options. But I guess you asked about my favorite, and that is probably guitar. The reason being that when you have the drums locked in and can see the song’s bigger picture, guitar just has a lot of energy to play. Very rewarding if you have crushing chords or a really moving harmony to record.

As far as I can tell, Witnesses is not a touring act, do you ever see yourself hitting the road or playing live with some touring members in the future?

This is definitely a no. I get far too little satisfaction from playing live. Also, it’d be a logistical nightmare what with Witnesses not being a band, apartment life in NYC making home practice a non-starter, and the fact that I’m really not established. I don’t think there would be much draw!

Who are your influences as far as doom metal goes, any favorite bands?

Yeah, the British doom stuff from the 1990s. That’s really where it goes back to for me. I love those bands, and they were a huge influence on me in my teens. Don’t get me wrong, Candlemass, Pentagram, etc., all that stuff is great, too. But the British bands are what really pulled me in. I realize there are some current bands out there that people really adore, but I haven’t given them enough time and attention. Perhaps soon, but I want to stay away from the contemporary doom stuff. I need to chart my own path, which is better accomplished by not getting too caught up in what other newer acts are doing.

I see you also make ambient/electronic music under the Witnesses name, who are some influences of yours as far as that stuff goes?

You know it’s funny, I don’t really see it as ambient. But I guess that’s as close as I can get to a descriptor. That said, some usual suspects like Robert Rich, Steve Roach, those kind of guys. But those ambient works, if we call them that, are more inspired by the likes of Ulver, Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Ryuichi Sakamoto. I also love the soundtracks that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis have done. For me, these are “cinematic works”. I know, it’s equally as useless as a descriptor, but it’s the best I can think of. But you don’t really see that anywhere, so I end up tagging it with things like ambient.

I actually found Witnesses through my work with ClawHammer PR, they’ve always been good to me, how has your experience working with them been?

Really great. I didn’t know what to expect, but I got a recommendation from one of the Toilet ov Hell writers. The price was right, and I trusted the guy making the referral, so off I went. Scott got back to me really quickly–I think I wrote him a one sentence email with a link. That kind of responsiveness was encouraging, and the results came through. I didn’t expect the level of coverage we got, and I would not have been able to get that attention myself. I have no label backing and do everything myself, so this relationship was really important.

The new album features strictly clean vocals. It’s less prevalent in the doom metal scene, but there’s a pretty large stigma surrounding clean vocals in extreme metal music, what would you say to someone who believes clean vocals don’t belong in extreme metal?

I think ultimately to each their own. But, I don’t understand why someone would limit themself. I’m not out to win hearts and minds, but I do think you have to accept certain terms to enjoy Witnesses. If you keep a mental checklist of what doom metal is, or what metal is, and you simply evaluate the music against it, well, I’m not sure what will happen. And I find that pretty short-sighted. But folks are welcome to do it and I wish them well.

This will be my last question for you, I want to again thank you for your time here today! What can we expect from Witnesses over the next year, any plans?

Lots of plans. There are three releases in the works: a dark folk EP, Witnesses IV, and the next doom release. All are complete or quite far along. I think I will slow down a tad in terms of the pace of releasing, but I won’t relent on writing. It’d be nonsense to slow down writing. So I think the next year will at least see one of those, if not two. Three seems a tad much, but really, who cares? There are no rules, and I’m not trying to optimize for marketing reasons. I just want to reach and engage listeners, so the more the better.

Otherwise, thanks so much for your support. It means a lot to me!

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