Wednesday, 10 December 2014

'Riding The Witch' – In Conversation with Witchrider

Witchrider with Phil Weller (M)

Darkness is closing in. The shadows of the trees that surround you, stalk you in this dense, blackened and chilling woods stand like cold-blooded killers all around. You search hopelessly for a light or any redeeming sign of human life in which to run to. The howling is getting closer. The trees themselves now seem to be closing in on you too, scraggly branches reach out like withered, clutching hands, yet strike against you with menacing intent. They scratch against your skin, leaving a swarm of tiny cuts etched upon your arms and face. Leaves and dead twigs crunch under your feet. Still the howling fills the air, hunger and despair rasping their calls. Then at last, hope. Mercy has come calling. A cabin amongst the trees, so out of place, like a soap in a dirty war. You race towards it, breathing heavily, dejectedly. You make yourself at home inside; you slam the door shut and fall upon it landing in a heap of the floor with a sigh of hollow relief. The howling grows louder yet still and you know, somehow – a sixth sense perhaps – you know that no one has ever made it out of here alive.

Then you awaken, but not with a jerk that pulls you upright with a stark, aggressive inhalation. You can’t move. You lay motionless and terrified. In Zimbabwean Shona culture, it is believed that this happens when a witch, an evil, crooked spirit tries to gain control of your body. They believe that witches can only truly harm when possessing the body of someone close to the victim. It is referred to as ‘riding the witch.’ This would, by complete chance, form the basis of what Witchrider stand for.  

“I suffered from it a few years back,” states guitarist HP matter-of-factly. “It was a coincidence actually, we realised that it means that after we chose the name. Initially this band was just going to be a whole jam session with different musicians on every song, like the Desert Sessions. But when we recorded our first three songs we decided that this will only work as a complete band. So we were called Desert Mountain for about two weeks. But riding the witch - it’s just an interesting concept really because our music tends to be quite dark and the idea of riding the witch is living a nightmare so much it feels real. It’s interesting because it blends in with our music. In some songs we go to darker places so it fits into our concept.”

The Austrian band, recently signed to Fuzzorama Records for the release of their exceptional full-length debut, ‘Unmountable Stairs’ are sat beside back stage at Sound Control. The winter darkness has closed in outside, like a nightmare of its own. Inside though, things are much more tranquil. Vocalist Daniel sits with a can of Carlsberg listening intently to HP. Bags, clothes, laptops and all manner of tour gear scatters the floors and tables of their shared area with Truckfighters.

Talk had veered towards their ‘occult rock’ tag, one which they are more than welcoming of. In fact, speaking to Truckfighters earlier that evening, when Dango had queried what occult rock actually was, Witchrider drummer Michael had appeared at the door cupping his hand to his ear.
“Whaaaatt?” he mused with a smile, all eyes turning upon his unexpected entrance. Dango echoed his question.

 “It’s what we do, it’s our sound,” was his short but simple answer.

“You do the rituals?” quizzed Ozo light-heartedly.

“Yeah, we do the rituals…I think it’s much about the lyrics. The lyrics have a lot of deep meanings.”

“We all really love horror films,” continued HP as I later pressed the band on the matter. At this point Daniel revealed that ‘The Cabin’ and ‘The Fog’ are probably the two most prominently horror inspired songs off the new record. Then HP said “The idea was to create little horror stories in the songs. The video for ‘The Fog’ definitely has that kind of surreal, nightmarish quality to it. It’s alienating, the whole experience. But I think sometimes in life that’s how it feels when you’re trying to find your way. Sometimes it gets weird, with your own situation, your own thoughts and I think the video fits together with the story of the song.”

Witchrider are a do-it-yourself kinda band. When it came to creating visuals for a track off ‘Unmountable Stairs,’ they kept it all in house.


Says Michael: “Daniel and I have really wanted to make a stop motion video for a long time. At one point when we needed a new music video we sat down and said ‘okay, let’s learn how to do it.’ We began watching video tutorials, figured out a story line and made the video.

“We still had the Photoshop files of the Wolfman from the cover so we used it for the video. Then we were just fooling around with other characters and ideas like Pig Man, Carrot Man and the Dog Detective,” reflected Daniel.  

HP: “Snake man. There’s some really weird creatures.”

“Snake man’s definitely my favourite character. You only see him for a few seconds but he’s very vital to the video,” adds Daniel to a surge of laughter. How many beers had you had at this point, Daniel? “I didn’t count.”

Further proof of their DIY aesthetics can be heard on ‘Unmountable Stairs.’ Self-produced at the home in which all members bar HP share in their hometown of Gratz – HP lives 1km away – over the first half of the year, it bore both practical and comfortable benefits.


“We could just get up in the morning and start working on an idea, start recording different instruments,” said Michael. “If we did that in a studio we’d end up with a bill for about 5000 or something like that. We started recording in January and finished it in June. Some songs were written late on, we couldn’t afford a studio for that long, you know?  It’s really nice to have that set up because when you’re working on a song or new parts you can record right away. You don’t have to go anywhere.”


Daniel, you’re quoted in the press release Daniel as saying “I don’t know how to make music on purpose,” so you’re obviously a very jam orientated band, so what is a jam session with you guys like?

“It tends to be that we start off with someone’s idea and build on that. But the idea itself Isn’t on purpose. We just sit down with the guitars and fiddle around until we get something good. It’s a pretty long process but it’s worth it in the end.”

You’ve got to have a really strong chemistry as a band for that to work and Witchrider couldn’t be a tighter unit. 

“I think it’s really important that you can get along with each other. If you want to take it seriously and travel around I don’t think it’s that much fun if you hate each other’s guts,” laughs HP.

“We’re just enjoying ourselves, you know?” remarks Daniel, rounding things off. “We’re really grateful for this opportunity so why be angry about anyone on the tour bus and ruin your time?”

Their first jaunt outside of their home country may not be one that makes huge ripples in the ocean that we call life, but for this group of musicians, it’s simply a great opportunity. It keeps their dreams at a touching distance. These are the humble beginnings of a band I truly believe can do great things, they just need the world to sit up and take note.

Words and interview by: Phil Weller
Photographs: Phil Goddard

You can read Phil’s review of ‘Unmountable Stairs’ here