Interview with Witnesses

witnesses_promo_apr_2017We found out what Witnesses had to say about their latest album I.

Hi Witnesses, tell us about yourselves and how the band came into being.
It’s kind of an interesting story. Witnesses started out as a doom metal project. We actually have a number of doom metal songs in the vaults–more than a full-length album for sure. The guy who did the logo you see on I even did a metal logo for us and everything. But we had some trouble getting things off the ground, and it more or less stalled out. At that point I started thinking about other ideas. I’ve always had a love of soundtracks, and I challenged myself to try and write something like one despite having no accompanying film. It was a really fun thing. I’ve always written metal and rock, and never made a serious attempt to anything outside of that. But I took shape pretty quickly, and I then realized that Witnesses could be much more than a doom metal project. Also, for the first time I didn’t feel constrained in writing. I came to realize that despite all its sub-genres, metal has very strict rules. And I couldn’t really stomach them anymore. I still love the genre deeply, but I don’t want to do a pure metal project these days. It just feels really limiting.

You’ve recently released your first album, I. Before we delve into the story of the music what inspired you to create it?
I spoke a bit about this in the previous question, but in terms of direct inspiration, there’s just tons and tons of stuff. Music, films, life experiences, etc. Honestly I don’t even know where to begin. And I’m a tad reluctant to talk about other artists, though some might be a bit more visible to the naked eye than others. Anyway, I like listeners to make those connections themselves. So it probably makes most sense to speak in more general terms. And as such, what inspired me to make this was really the desire to create a certain atmosphere with a story aspect. And to create something very bleak in general. Interestingly, I ends in somewhat of an uplifting place, but only after a lot of darkness. You have to work for the happy part, I guess.

It’s very cinematic in its presentation, allocated to four movements, that alludes to a grander story. Is there an internal film behind the music?
There is. I’ve never shared my personal internal film with anyone, though. That’s because I don’t want to color the music whatsoever with any additional context. Sorry to be so evasive in my responses, but this is another area where I want the listener to make his/her own connections and story. I have my version, but I don’t want to dictate that it’s the one true way to listen and experience I. That’s kind of the beauty of a soundtrack with no film–it can be many films. Each for the individual.

How did you find the experience of writing scenes in musical notes?
Very rewarding. It also gives you some constraints that I’d actually call productive or useful. E.g., you aren’t thinking about songs in a traditional pop/rock structure. You’re thinking more about mood, atmosphere, saying more with less, etc. It’s not about the big hook. It’s not about a catchy chorus or groove. I don’t say this to knock those concepts inherently, I just mean to say that it’s challenging and fulfilling to try and write in a different manner. Don’t get me wrong – I know nothing about the theory behind composing. It just feels that when you’re trying to capture a scene, you don’t have to worry about structure in a rock and roll sense. And that’s a nice break.

Where are you all from and how did you come together as musicians to write the album?
Suvo (violins) and I have known each other for over 20 years, so the working relationship is pretty smooth; I can always go to him with an idea and get his input and contributions. He’s a multi-instrumentalist, so he hears the whole thing/sees the bigger picture. Plus his melodic sense is incredible. We’re both from Maryland, pretty close to DC. He and I are the core of Witnesses. That core could expand, but I need to retain my ruthless dictatorship. So it’d get harder if we added too many. The sax on I is session work courtesy of (the Norwegian) Shining’s Jørgen Munkeby. It was a dream come true to work with him, and I can’t imagine I without his contributions; they’re essential. The guy is extremely fast and professional; he’s insanely talented and has killer tone. Plus, his background is jazz, so he adds colors that aren’t really in our arsenal. In terms of the process itself, we did it all at our homes and shared files over the web. No commercial studios were involved, though we did ship it somewhere pro for mastering.

Did your location [NYC] influence your style or the decision to use certain instruments in any way?
Yes, for sure. I’ve been in NYC for 10 years now, and to me–cliché or not–nothing captures the big city like some moody sax. One listener described it as “sleazy”, which makes me laugh every time I think about it. And in the first movement especially, we’re definitely going for a 4am-in-the-city type thing with the sax and the keyboard layers. But you know, NYC is a really inspiring place in other ways. I think that, whatever your art, if you live here and are not honing or practicing it, you’ll feel a certain emptiness. The city is full of talented people and art, which makes you want to contribute.

The album itself has esoteric qualities can you elucidate on what ‘hidden music counts for nothing’ means?
Some scholar out there will probably correct me, but I believe it’s a quote from Nero in Suetonius’ The Twelve Caesars. To be honest, who said it doesn’t matter. What matters is the interpretation, right? For me it’s a very general commentary on the nature of the artist’s relationship to his/her art. I’d love to think that the individual satisfaction of writing and creating is enough, but for me it just isn’t. I need listeners, at least some, to connect with. Of course you can take this down some slippery slope to manufactured pop garbage, but I think even if you’re writing the most challenging shit possible, you want listeners. That is, I know I do. So ultimately, art has to be put out into the world. And with that, I welcome any scholars reading this to shred me to pieces.

Is I something you would take on the road?
>I think I specifically is practically impossible for a few reasons. The foremost of which is that I feel the live sax would be essential. So it’s kind of dead on arrival in that regard. That said, I don’t want to rule anything out longer term. Without giving too much away, I think there is some stuff in our pipeline that will be easier to pull off. So there’s a slight chance. But for now, the focus is really on recording and trying to reach more listeners. Given the accessibility of creating music these days, and the ease of distribution, it’s crowded out there. No matter what style you’re doing, getting someone’s time to actually listen is not easy.

Where are you going from here / what does the future hold for Witnesses?
We have lots going on, which I’m really excited about. For 2017, we’re working on a single now that I want to put out in Fall. I hope it’ll be a big surprise to those who are following us. Also, Witnesses II is already all written from a synth perspective, and it’s just a question now of the live instruments, mix, etc. So that we plan on releasing in 2018. It’s a bit less dark alley, more outer space. We’re also currently working on Witnesses III and IV, but they’re very much in the embryonic stages. Ultimately, we’d love to score an actual film, but we won’t hold our breath for that kind of opportunity. We’re going to just keep doing what we feel like at the given moment, but we really want to stay busy, to always have something in the works.

You can find more from Witnesses on the following spaces: Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp and Soundcloud.

About David Oberlin 330 Articles

David Oberlin is a composer and visual artist who loves noise more than a tidy writing space. You can often find him in your dankest nightmares or on twitter @DieSkaarj while slugging the largest and blackest coffee his [REDACTED] loyalty card can provide.

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