Saturday, 3 February 2018

INTERVIEW: Bell Witch @ Meat Locker, Montclair, NJ (8/11/2017)

By: Mark Ambrose

Seattle’s funeral doom duo Bell Witch endured tragedy that would end practically any other band.  After the departure and tragic death of founding drummer Adrian Guerra, bassist Dylan Desmond teamed with drummer Jesse Shreibman (also a close friend of Guerra’s) to create an 83 minute, single song elegy that has topped critical lists throughout 2017: “Mirror Reaper”. Featuring some of the last recordings of Guerra’s vocals, and key contributions from honorary member Erik Moggridge (Aerial Ruin), “Mirror Reaper” is a monumental, historic record.  Dylan took some time to talk in detail about creating the album, from the cover art to recreating half the song for a live setting, right before a moving, sepulchral show at Montclair’s Meatlocker.  We also got to discuss touring and the live plans for Bell Witch in 2018.  Bell Witch will be touring Europe starting in March, with Monarch and Aerial Ruin.

How are you translating Mirror Reaper for live performance?  Are you integrating any of the older material?

Dylan: For this tour we’re not doing any of the older stuff.  Basically we’re doing the beginning of “Mirror Reaper”, up to about the 47 minute mark – right before the section before it basically drops and Erik Moggridge would come in.  So we’re doing about the first half of it.  Which is kind of easy because it is quite familiar to us now.

How did you bring Erik into the process of creating the record?

Similar to how we did “Four Phantoms”, we had a chart out of where we wanted the song to go.  Once we had a section we determined was where we wanted him to be, we made a really rough demo of what we had, sent it to him and said, “Hey, here’s what we got.  Here’s what we think you should sing.  He’s what the lyrical content is about.  Kind of go wild.”  Erik is really good at really fast, almost improving, like poetry.  He’s incredible and has a beautiful voice.  He whips stuff up really quick.  He’s always blown me away.  Aerial Ruin keeps getting better and he keeps adding to it.

It’s a particularly intense and poignant passage in the record.  I know there are also recordings of Adrian on Mirror Reaper.  Where did you pull those sections from?

Those tracks come from the fourth track on “Four Phantoms”.  We were in the studio and Adrian was doing a vocal take.  We’d go back and listen and bicker about it – one of us would want to redo it a different way.  But when we went back for “Mirror Reaper” there was a lot of old tracks to pull from.  We told Billy (Anderson, recording and mixing on “Four Phantoms” and “Mirror Reaper”) what we were looking for and he pulled out the files and we went through and listened to them.  The last track had a lot of them.  Basically what we were looking for was a combination of highs and lows – high screams and low growls.  A good salt and pepper mix of everything.  We got some of that and Billy worked his magic to piece them together and it was dead on.  Billy was so great to work with.

Adrian’s passing shocked and really affected a lot of people – I’m sure you guys most of all.  And the record isn’t maudlin but must be very personal.  How is the process of reliving some of that on tour?

It’s interesting… It’s easier because Jesse (Shriebman – drums, organ and vocals) and I have known each other for song long.  And Jesse and Adrian knew each other for a really long time too.  We were all really close.  That makes it easier.  When Adrian died, it would have been one thing if the new drummer playing with me was someone who didn’t know him.  That would have been odd and had that been the case, the band could have fizzled out.  It could have dissolved and whatever.  But for Jesse… it was really hard for him too.  When he and I started coming back to him and said, “We need to finish the song we started before this happened,” I felt a lot of motivation for this to be a very special thing.  Jesse felt the exact same way and we pushed each other at it.

You and Jesse have established your rapport as a band at this point.  What do you do in your downtime?

We listen to a lot of music in the van.  I work from my computer so if I have free time I jump into that.  We kinda shoot the shit a lot.  Jesse especially makes a lot of bad puns and that turns into a little game.

How has tour been with the guys in Primitive Man?

Great.  I mean those guys are so easygoing.  We’ve learned that with more people showing up it can be stressful but those guys are so mellow and laid back.  No bullshit that we have to deal with.  And they’re a great band.  It’s a great pairing where they’re exploring the death metal side of things and we’re exploring the atmospheric, funeral side.  There are so many parallels and so many offshoots.

Can you explain the process of deciding on the cover artwork by Mariusz Lewandowski?  It’s so phenomenal but practically everything about him right now online is in Polish.

We were saying, “Who should we talk to?”  Paolo Girardi did “Four Phantoms” and I love the work that he did and working with him.  He’s such a cool guy.  We were ready to talk to him again but then decided to do a little research and look around to see if there was anything that was going to just smack us in the face.  And we came across Mariusz and it definitely smacked us in the face.  We were saying, “This is outrageous.  This is so good.”  So we contacted him and he’s not a native English speaker so we started e-mailing back and forth.  We sent him the last record and he said, “I’ve always wanted to do a record cover and I’ve never done one.  I like this!”  We told him what the record was about.  We still had the working title “As Above, So Below.”  But we had a bunch of lyrics about mirrors, so we thought maybe that’s a cool image.  If we have the mirror as a centerpiece, a gray area between life and death, a reflection.  We sent him that and he sent us the artwork and just blew us away.  It was very easy and he was great.  I hope to meet him someday!

What’s ahead for next year?

We’re going to play Roadburn in April and we’ll play “Mirror Reaper” from start to finish.  Erik is going to join us and play an Aerial Ruin set also.  We’ll do some touring in Europe surrounding that.  As soon as we get some downtime we’ll start working on some new stuff.  We have 20-30 minutes that didn’t work into Mirror Reaper.  We figured we could save it for later.  We have a lot of those we can start digging into.

Do you think you’ll go back to a couple different themes, broken into multiple songs, on the next record?

I don’t think we’ll do the single song thing again.  The process proved to be very difficult.  The writing process was tough, the recording process was tough.  That being said I don’t think we’ll ever write short songs.  I’d be surprised if we got below the ten minute mark.

The End

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