It’s an appropriately gloomy day to be talking to a band like The Wytches. As we begin our Zoom chat, the sky outside is painted a dull gunmetal grey, and the sound of the rain lashing against the window panes of the house is adding an ominous soundtrack to what’s an already bleak and dismal afternoon. The atmosphere is uneasy and glum, but it’s one that couldn’t be more fitting for a conversation with the Brighton band who’s had every label from ‘metal’ to ‘surf doom’ thrown at them by the music press.
Interviews are something that The Wytches are just getting used to again. Since the successful release of their sophomore album All Your Happy Life in 2016, the band have spent a considerable amount of time away from the spotlight as they’ve worked towards perfecting record number three. The process hasn’t been without its trials, however, as line-up changes and recurring patches of doubt as to whether the band should continue slowed down the writing sessions. However, after some gentle assistance from those closest to them, The Wytches have managed to draw upon the last four years of growth and turbulence to produce an album that feels taut and mature, leading guitarist Kristian Bell to comment that the record “is the first thing that I’ve ever been proud of for longer than a week.”
Listening to the new album, it’s easy to understand why he feels that way. Three Mile Ditch is a compendium of songs that feed upon the strengths that have made The Wytches such a respected recording band, and amplifies those assets through a new found level of maturity and consideration. Album highlight ‘Everyone’s Friend’ sways in the typical sinister Wytches fashion, but contains a pacing and theatrical atmosphere that feels fresh to the band’s repertoire. The recurrence of acoustic guitar-led ballads that permeate the album also allude to Bell’s new found confidence as a songwriter, making the juxtaposition of the searing and violent events found on ‘Meatchuck’ and the album’s title track all the more astonishing.
The record is certainly a defining moment for the band, and speaking to both Dan Rumsey and Kristian Bell about the circumstances that surrounded making it, there’s an underlying sense of gratitude that the process actually brought everyone in the band much closer together. Lead single ‘Cowboy’ was written to explore the theme of “returning to a better state of mind”, and by the chipper and smiley appearance of both Dan and Kristian on the computer screen, one can tell that The Wytches are in a better place than they’ve ever been. As the rain continues to lash down and the sky outside looks ever more foreboding, The Wytches’ enthusiasm during our conversation for what they’ve achieved is a ray of light amongst the opaque darkness.
It’s been four years since The Wytches last released an album, and I understand that Three Mile Ditch is an achievement for the band in many respects. Describe to me what the writing and recording process was like for the new record and how the experience differed in comparison to previous albums.
Kristian Bell: I think with the new album we were just so much more prepared because we had demos to refer to. On the second album, we didn’t demo anything and just wrote it all in one go. For Three Mile Ditch we had a whole batch of songs to choose from; ones that we’d played a million times and were really familiar with. So in context, I feel that the new album is just really considered, because we had more time to work with it.
What was it like self-producing the new record? Do you think you benefited from having greater creative control?
KB: Because we had demos, we knew what we wanted to add to it. We’ve worked with Luke Oldfield [recording engineer] loads of times before and knew what the quality of the recording was going to be like. The album was really easy to make, and we did it really quickly. Circumstances also gave us the opportunity to take all the recordings back home and have a listen and think about whether we’d want to add anything more. Songs like ‘Meatchuck’ and ‘Midnight Ride’ I wrote really quickly during the recording sessions, so obviously everything to do with them was a bit more spontaneous.
The departure of drummer Gianni Honey changed how the band functioned for a period of time. How did you go about resetting the balance within The Wytches after parting ways, and how did these changes affect the songwriting process overall?
KB: Songwriting-wise, it definitely felt a bit harder. When you write songs, they sometimes transform into something completely different when you add drums, so it was really quite strange having to demo everything individually just to see what the finished product would sound like. Things normally come together a lot quicker when you have drums to jam along with.
Seeing how Mark [Breed, keyboards] stepped in to play a much more active role during the recording sessions tells me that the change in circumstances actually brought the three of you much closer together creatively?
Dan Rumsey: Yeah, I would say the change did bring us closer together. It’s great to have Mark around, he’s got loads of good ideas.
KB: Me and Mark have known each other for years and have played music together ever since we were kids, so for me it wasn’t that different to have him take a bigger role in the recording process, but for The Wytches as a whole, it was quite a new experience. .
How important do you think your other side projects were to gaining the confidence to start writing for The Wytches again? Sometimes stepping away from a situation and focusing on something else can help give you a sense of clarity about what to do next when going back to the original task.
KB: I write whatever I’m feeling at the time, and it’s easy to tell if it’s going to be a Wytches song or not. I get whatever I can out of my system with writing Wytches-sounding songs and do the same with Mark and Kristian Band. The tracks I started writing after Mark and Kristian Band released music sounded like it should just be Wytches material, as it mostly had this dark, minor sound. I think the fact that me and Mark play together just make it quite effortless for him to just come into the studio and add something, because he’s just used to doing that all the time.
You experienced a real second wind when the decision was made to go ahead with finishing off Three Mile Ditch. Did that renewed sense of determination to complete the album translate into further creative inspiration or ignite an ambition to really outdo your previous material?
KB: Before it was even a question as to whether or not we were going to make another album, I was pretty confident that everything we were doing was better in every way compared to our older stuff. And I say that not in the way where you have to say that, I just genuinely thought it was all better. I always knew it would work out, but at times, it definitely didn’t seem appealing to attempt it. I think after we’d all been hanging out for a bit again, making a new album seemed like a good idea.
How did knowing that you were away from any industry pressure this time around affect you all personally during the album-making process?
DR: I just felt like we didn’t need to make it sound like anything. We didn’t need to have any goal for a certain song, it was just like Kristian said before, it felt really easy to complete because there was no risk. The only goal was to get an album out that we thought was great and I think we achieved that. Also, I think we benefited by not having anyone come in and pass comment on what we were doing.
You’ve acknowledged the ambiguity that originally surrounded the band as to where you sat within the industry. Do you feel more at ease now in doing what you want considering the trends you were originally pigeon-holed into have moved on?
DR: I feel more comfortable, I still don’t think we can pinpoint our sound, and I feel that’s really good. Maybe we miss out on certain things because we’re not a certain type of genre, I don’t know. But we’ve always felt like we’ve done things our own way and I think that’s really good.
How do you think your songwriting has changed over the years and what direction would you say it has taken upon the new album?
KB: I think it’s hard to say really, because I can never explain how we go about writing a song. I know it sounds boring, but it’s just about putting the hours in. The strength in the songwriting for the new album comes from the fact that we’re a lot more experienced as musicians now.
Was there any attempt to embed a theme or narrative in the lyrics similar to the approach taken on Annabel Dream Reader, or did things come together much more passively this time around?
KB: Sometimes when you write a song, a few lines stand out and you’ll start writing the song around those few lines. That was how all the songs on the new album were written. When I listen to a song, certain words will paint a picture, and I feel that’s the same approach I take when writing my lyrics; keeping things more based on imagery rather than facts.
What song off of the new record do you feel most satisfied with and why?
DR: I would say ‘A Love You’ll Never Know’. I think it’s just a really great song. It flows really well and the recording came out as one of the best [on the album]. I really like the part that I play on it too.
KB: Yeah ‘A Love You’ll Never Know’ is the first one I thought worked because I remember listening to the monitor mix during the recording sessions and being really into it. The others I started to like only after other people said they liked them (laughs). I hated the song ‘You Looked Happy To Me’ for ages because I couldn’t ever finish it properly. But our manager wanted us to do it, and he kept on telling the engineer Luke to make sure that we record it. So in a bit of a bratty way I was like “okay”, but I actually really like it now (laughs).
You recently had the experience of playing two sit down shows for Signature Brew in London. As this was one of the first ‘gigs’ that were allowed to happen after lockdown, the event felt like a significant moment not only for the band but also for live music in general. What was the atmosphere like during the show?
DR: It felt really great! Everyone was really buzzing and glad to be back in that environment and we were too. We were dying to do some gigs. Initially we weren’t going to play as we were a bit nervous about maybe it going wrong and people getting ill – we didn’t want to be that band (laughs). But everyone followed the guidelines and stayed safe and I think overall it was a success.
Is there any attempt at creating a specific type of atmosphere during a Wytches show, or is it purely a cathartic experience for you all?
DR: We just try and put our all into each song and that’s it.
KB: I guess the only sort of plan is to know where to throw in a few softer songs into the set. We’ve got to consider that if we’re gonna get everyone pumped up – we don’t want to bring them down (laughs). We used to do that, but not intentionally, and it would end up being really awkward.
Because Mark doesn’t play on every song during the set, he’ll give us advice on stage during the show as to what to do. He’ll stand at the side of the stage and read the crowd, and if he see’s the mood dropping he’ll come on over and tell us to do something more rocking.
During the height of the band’s success, it was said that you couldn’t go to a gig in the UK without seeing someone in a Wytches t-shirt. I think that comment stands testament to how you’ve managed to build such a strong fanbase for yourselves over the years. How does it feel to be returning back to this community with new music?
KB: It just made it seem really worth doing. You know, we’d been away for so long and you really do question whether people are still bothered or not. I really didn’t think we still had a fan base, so I was just blown away by seeing that we still have it there. I was genuinely moved by it. It would have felt a bit self-indulgent to do an album and just be happy that we made it, but the fact that people were there to appreciate it just makes it completely worth doing.
It must be extremely motivating to see people so passionate and dedicated to what you’re doing?
KB: Yeah it’s completely surreal. I remember when I first started noticing people were covering our songs on Youtube – I was really blown away by that. I couldn’t believe it, because that’s how I started playing guitar, by watching people cover songs so you could see what their hands were doing. So to see someone do that with one of our songs blew my mind.
As mentioned at the beginning of the interview, the release of Three Mile Ditch is an achievement for the band as it represents a victory over everything you had to conquer to make it happen. What do you hope that people who listen to Three Mile Ditch take away from the experience?
KB: I guess we just want them to have a good time. Our songwriting is pretty traditional and I’ll be satisfied if people like that and get into it. We’re not doing anything that’s all that hip and happening at the moment, so we’re still a non-conformist band. I just think that approach is the main root of Wytches, and I hope people enjoy that aspect with the new record.
Words : Danny Brown Photography: Wolfgang Storm
The Wytches’ new LP ‘Three Mile Ditch’ comes out November 13th. Stream the lead single ‘A Love You’ll Never Know’ below.