Stoner doom and Sabbath sludge from J. Mascis and co.
Stoner doom band Witch has managed to turn quite a few heads. Their Sabbath styled sludge is top shelf and served up thick as molasses. Featuring members of psyche band Feathers and legendary Dinosaur Jr. guitarist J. Mascis behind the traps. Their star-studded pedigree only enhances the 70s riffing that marks their self-titled debut. Songs like Black Saint and Rip Van Winkle present like arrows directed between the frontal lobes for the bong bubblin’ set. Witch is no super group side project, but a really fucking good band. Heads Lifestyle talked to bassist Dave Sweetapple back in 2006 shortly after the launch of their first album.
Heads Lifestyle: Does it bother you guys that a lot of people look at Witch as the J. Mascis side project band?
Dave Sweetapple: I think it does kind of overshadow what we do to a certain degree. On the other hand, I guess it helps sell the record but none of us really wanted to have to sell records. We have a sticker on the record that has J’s name as big as Witch and that’s kind of weird, but I can understand how that would help out the record company. We could try and put all of our names on that sticker but it would take up a quarter of the cover. We are becoming less known as “the J. Mascis side project” band now because the record is starting to get out there and we are getting reactions from people that are more from the stoner rock kind of thing then Dinosaur Jr. There are people on the Dinsosaur Jr. forums that really have a vendetta towards us. There are these people that treat J like a rock star at our shows and it’s really weird.
HL: But you can’t say you were surprised that your famous drummer would be garnering interest in the band?
DS: Actually, we were because Dinosaur Jr. had yet to begin phase two of their career when we started, so we really didn’t think it was going to be a big deal. J has done a lot of other projects that never really got this attention and we just thought this would be looked upon the same way. Now that the record is out, though, and we have been doing some shows, it’s becoming less of “the J. Mascis side project” and more just Witch. I guess for some people we will always be the former. It definitely helped get the record further at a quicker pace but it’s nice to see stoner rock people and doom metal people coming out to the shows.
HL: A lot of people were shocked that J was playing drums instead of guitar.
DS: Well, J’s first instrument is drums. He played drums in the school band and in Deep Wound. He still has a house full of guitars and amps but his first love is drums, and he’s really getting back into it. His drum collection is starting to take over space from his guitar collection. Anything J does is a 110% so he has really dived into drumming again.
When we were 20 and 21 we were really into loud aggressive bands and I think that rock music just has an energy to it that is meant for young people. We were really freaked out that there weren’t that many loud rock bands around.
HL: How did the band start?
DS: Well, me and J used to go to shows all of the time—shows like Feathers, which is a really mellow kind of psych folk band. We love that band but J and I were really freaked out how a lot of kids were getting into this kind of music. We were going to all of these quiet venues, and as cool as it was, we were really missing just seeing loud rock bands. When we were 20 and 21 we were really into loud aggressive bands (J’s first band was the hyper speed hardcore band Deep Wound) and I think that rock music just has an energy to it that is meant for young people. We were really freaked out that there weren’t that many loud rock bands around. We almost started it as a joke. We said to each other, Wouldn’t it be cool if we started a loud rock band and played at some of these shows?
HL: With members of Feathers, as well as, J in the band, it was surprising to hear the strong Sabbath influence. Can you explain it?
DS: Our guitarist came up with four different riffs that we could kind of flesh out. We starting doing stuff and that sound is really just what came out. Our sound is pretty natural and it just happened to turn out that way. We didn’t set out to sound like Sabbath but I guess a lot of people have compared us to them.
HL: You have only done 16 shows (five of which were at SXSW and three at CMJ) so far. A lot of people are tagging you guys as a side project, what with no tour under your belt and your record having been out for only a couple of months.
DS: Well, the Dinosaur Jr. tour really took up almost a year so we had to wait for that to end. Our record company knew there was Feathers stuff and Dinosaur stuff coming up but they wanted to get it out soon. We really want to start touring and everybody is really into the band. We are working on Japan and Europe as well. It’s not a one-off kind of thing; it’s really a project that is intertwined with other projects so there are definite time constraints that we have to work around.
The cover art for Witch's 2006 self-titled album was created by Kyle Thomas' (guitar, vocals) brother Luke Thomas.
HL: Have the shows been going well?
DS: Yeah, we played three shows in New York and they all went really cool. The only weird show was this showcase at CMJ. We performed on this boat that circled the Statue of Liberty. The boat just kept rocking from side to side and we couldn’t hear anything. We were all playing different parts of songs at different times and getting thrown all over the deck. So people who saw that show must’ve thought we were complete shit. Stephen O’Malley from Sunn O))) was at that show and he thought we sounded like an eastern block metal band from the early seventies. He said it was great (laughs).
HL: Has becoming a live band after the record helped galvanized your sound?
DS: I would say it has got us more comfortable with our sound. We’re working on new stuff already and it’s a little bit more drawn out and psychedelic.
HL: How was it working with John Agnello (Chavez, Dinosaur Jr.)?
DS: John is great and really easy to work with. We get asked all of the time how we got such a huge guitar sound. The bass and all of the guitars went through a 5-watt Fender Champ. We had this wall of Marshalls in the studio and never even switched them on.
Some old hippie who imported Acapulco Gold in the early 70s created Gold. He planted some seeds that he had and this strain eventually became twice as potent as the original Mexican counterpart.
HL: What kind of weed are you guys getting in Vermont?
DS: Well, we get some BC bud and stuff from Montreal, but there are a lot of growers here too with some really good local stuff. July is a bad month for growers in Vermont so it’s a bit dry but the local pot is usually pretty good. There are two strains of local bud at the farmers market—Gold and Blank Stare. Some old hippie who imported Acapulco Gold in the early 70s created Gold. He planted some seeds that he had and this strain eventually became twice as potent as the original Mexican counterpart. Now people come from all over the northeast to buy his bud at the local farmers market. Blank Stare is an indoor that has a coma-inducing effect.
HL: Have you ever had any problems with Vermont’s finest over possessing pot?
DS: Not really. I was only busted once when I was living in St. John’s Newfoundland. I was in the 8th grade and I bought a joint from a guy on the street and smoked it outside my school on graduation day. The principal’s name was Mr. Leonard and he looked exactly like the guy in the Twisted Sister video and in Animal House. He smelled it on me and screamed, Boy, you’ve been smoking pot! and phoned my parents. I actually had to miss my own graduation. What a dick!
Listen on Spotify
Witch's 2006 self titled album
This interview was originally published in Heads Magazine Vol.6 Issue 8, 2006