Spotlight: The Wytches
02 Jul 2013
RFB turns the spotlight onto The Wytches.
Photo: Alex Sutherland
Some people, it seems, are destined to transcend their surroundings.
For The Wytches' Gianni Honey and Kristian Bell, their hometown was inspiring, isolating and insipid in equal measure. Brought up in Peterborough on a strict diet of daily rehearsals, DIY gigs and the gruelling work ethic that comes with small town hardcore scenes, the duo's rural surroundings soon became asphyxiating and stale.
So when Gianni and Kristian decided on a whim to leave their rural homes, move to Brighton and to start a band, it would undoubtedly be the best decision they ever made. Little over a year down the line and when RFB meet with the band, now accompanied by bassist Dan Rumsey, The Wytches are riding a wave of hype and positivity that belies the melancholic aggression of the music that they make.
RFB quizzed the self-described 'doom surf' three piece about hardcore, hard work and how they've come to this point
How did you guys get together and start making music?
Kristian: Me and Gianni were in a band in Peterborough, he played drums and I had just started singing. Nothing was really going on so we just moved to Brighton and met Dan at Uni. We just started practising straight away really. Within a couple of weeks we'd got a set together.
Were they songs you'd written before or were they things that you wrote together?
K: I'd written the first batch of songs while I was in Peterborough, recorded them and brought them here so it was quite quick to get the first set together.
What was it that made you decide that you should definitely be in a band together?
K: I think we all need to write and to be in a band really and that was the reason. I didn't really care about University, it was just a good thing to do so that you could be in a band.
And why did Brighton seem like the right place?
K: I don't even know...because we hate London? That's why. That's the real reason...No, it just seemed like a nice area to move to. It wasn't too far out of the way from anything else. Gianni just told me to move along one day so I did.
GIanni: I just said “Look, you're awesome, there's no point rotting away in Peterborough so let's just go”, and we went...on a whim really. I'm glad we went though.
K: I didn't have anywhere to live so I was just staying on couches for a whole year.
Are you still at University down there?
K: I just quit. A couple of weeks ago.
G: You should’ve seen this one room that he lived in last year. What a hole that was. It was like a dustbin outside their front door. It was horrible.
Do you feel like you've paid the dues you have to pay when you're in a band? Whether that’s living in squalor or moving to Brighton on a whim…
K: Yeah, there was no comfortable leisure, for me especially because I just didn't have a place so every ounce of energy was going into the band and that's all I lived for and still do. If I went home and was living in poor conditions it was only because I was having a good time, practicing and writing. That's it really. When we moved down there we didn't go out and just get drunk every night. I mean...we still were drunk every night.
G: People are like “there's a really good music scene in Brighton” and there is but we don't really know anyone. We've just been completely focussed on ourselves which may be selfish or arrogant or whatever but...
Did you want to experience being in a bigger scene with other bands?
K: We didn't really have any idea about that because in Peterborough there's no such thing as a music scene.
Is there anything in Peterborough?
K: Well there is. There are bands. There was a good hardcore scene but we were new to the more alternative indie scene because we were all in hardcore bands before.
G: Dan was in a band with Justin from the Vaccines who were brutal. They were really, really, really brutal.
Was Peterborough quite an important place for you?
G: It just made me want to get out of there, that's all.
Why did you want to get out of there?
G: I don't really want to say...no comment.
K: For me, I write songs, that's what I do. I just write songs and I didn't really know what was going on in popular music because I lived in a very small village outside Peterborough which is even more in the middle of nowhere. I was pretty much just an alien. Anyone who lives in an unknown village, in an unknown city, you don't really have a clue what's going on. So I felt quite isolated from it all. I was just able to get on with my own thing.
Did you enjoy that feeling of isolation then?
K: Yeah I did, definitely. Because I'd just have a little studio to record...
Was this your mum's infamous garage?
K: Yeah. (laughs) I feel like whatever I was doing in Peterborough, we're just doing it on a larger scale now, it's still just trying to do our thing and not really listening to anyone else or what's popular with alternative music. We're just doing that on a larger scale. But it definitely put that kind of work ethic into me, the band work ethic that we have.
G: The hardcore scene did that as well. We're a really low maintenance band. We're not high maintenance people at all.
What was it about that hardcore scene that you found inspirational?
K: It was just that everyone was so angry and aggressive and it made you feel comfortable about being angry and aggressive in front of large groups of people. That's all it is. Whenever you play a show in that sort of scene everyone there is in a hardcore band. Everyone knew each other and everyone was in a band. Everyone was so open to having a beer with their friends, hanging out and then just going on stage and pouring all their frustrations out really openly. It was also subconscious because everyone was just doing what they heard from the New York hardcore scene.
G: The work ethic was brutal as well. When we went to music uni for a year and all these people didn't have any idea about the management side of being in a band, getting gigs and stuff. We were just so used to doing it all ourselves. When we moved to Brighton we had no problem getting shows. We just got on with it!
K: You had to beg in Peterborough to get a show.
Was there any feeling of guilt when you moved down to Brighton, leaving that scene behind?
K: Peterborough is very much like Hollyoaks or Eastenders. If someone is doing well while at the same time someone else isn't then there's a lot of unnecessary jealousy. But we never felt bad about it because we always worked hard. We were always practicing. Our tour manager in The Wytches was the bass player in the first band that I started singing in, the first band I was in with Gianni, and I used to get picked up by them after sixth form, go back to mine and practice until about eight in the evening and then repeat the cycle every day. We had music and we wanted to get good at it. We don't feel guilty about anything because I wouldn't say we're at that stage where we've got people falling at our feet and we should feel sorry for that.
G: Things are going well but it's just the tip of the iceberg of what we really want to do.
What do you really want to do?
G: Just tour. Just make music and tour loads. That's all we want to do. That's all I want to do anyway.
How do you feel about the fact that people are noticing you now, that there are people aware of you and who want to come and interview you?
K: It feels really good.
G: It feels good but we've always put the music first. We've always said at the end of the day if our tunes are good, everything will come.
K: We're really happy to do interviews with people if it's for a sincere cause. There's this magazine called Boon in Brighton. It's a new thing, a completely non-profit magazine. They asked if they could document our tour and we're happy to do it because if someone is happy to sit you down and ask you things that they're genuinely interested in and know that other people will be too, we'll do that. But we're not going to just bang out anything.
Is community something that's quite important to the band?
K: Definitely. We played shows for people when we weren't doing anything and when it started to pick up we promised that we'd still play for those guys. There's a lot of people who have helped us out so we're happy to do that. A lot of shows these days get a bit sickly in the sense that there's a lot of people there who aren't necessarily audience members, they can do something for you somewhere down the line. But Bad Vibrations and people like that are just small promotions companies putting on good shows and the people that are there are just good people wanting to listen to new music.
D: Keith from Bad Vibrations is a really good guy.
Does it surprise that you're in this place?
K: It definitely does.
D: I didn't think we'd be touring this quickly.
K: We've all tried for so many years that this felt almost a bit too easy. We're glad it's happening though. We're just enjoying it!
Why do you think it has happened at this particular time?
K: I think it's happened because we made it happen. I genuinely believe that.
D: I, personally, have no expectations for anything. At our first band practice we weren't like “this time in two years we'll have a sweet record deal and be doing this, this and this”. We never thought that.
G: Last year, we didn't have a manager or an agent and we weren't even looking. But we did eighty shows off our backs in a year. We played pretty much anywhere and did a whole tour off our own backs.
K: We did some stupid routes with no money.
G: We played a couple of really dead shows but hey...we're all cynical enough to handle that.
K: But it's payed off. I think if we didn't have all the support we have now, unnecessarily or accidentally we would have elongated everything and rushed everything at the same time. We wouldn't have got out there as quickly because we'd be booking shows after show where they don't mean much to anyone. But at the same time we'd have started rushing and just putting out everything at once. We want to just do our album straight away, as soon as possible, because it's all there. We've got a second one ready as well which is exciting.
What records and artists have influenced The Wytches?
K: Bob Dylan, Desire, Songs of Leonard Cohen, In Utero by Nirvana. Arctic Monkeys, Humbug is just one of my favourite records ever...
Are they the sort of artists that you want to channel in your music?
K: I listen to a lot of Bright Eyes and there's a lot of things I want to say in songs which I feel a bit obliged to. It could feel a bit embarrassing, there's a lot of personal subjects. But a lot of the things I listen to almost seem to make it acceptable to start rambling. Albums where they don't claim to be conceptual but they are very much concept albums. We're just really ready to do it, our album. But at the same time if someone turns around and says “look it's not the right time to do it” then we'll hold back because we have a lot of confidence in it. Obviously we just want to tour and tour and tour but the main thing we want to do right now is start working on an album.
Is it interesting for you that you're thinking in this way now?
K: We kind of base our inside jokes around how we could go about everything the wrong way for the industry. We just joke around about doing silly things and then we kind of do them as well. Elongating riffs and making everything ten times slower. When we were getting all these songs together they were just songs and it turns out that some of them are a general favourite for people. I guess that's the remnants of a hit. We're more conscious in that we know a certain song is probably going to go down quite well because it's on a plate and quite easy to grasp.
What song is that for you now, something like Beehive Queen?
G: That was the first song that we did together as a two piece before anything had really started to happen. It was a really weird version of it.
K: But then 'Crying Clown' is relatively new. In an ideal world I would've liked to have that out there but I understand that 'Beehive Queen' serves more of a purpose for being on the radio in particular.
I guess you have to play the game sometimes… Then you can write ten minute long slowed down doom rock songs!
G: There'll be plenty of them on the third album don't worry about that!
K: The thing is that we have these batches of songs. If you counted all the tracks that we have ready as a band it's probably about forty songs and we can batch them. We do think in terms of albums. There's probably bands that have been together for years that'd be like “what are you talking about? You haven't put your first one out!” It's like saying you don't want kids when you're ten years old...you're probably going to have kids.
D: We've always been into the idea of EP's in between albums because you can have a real loose concept for four songs and then just forget about it and just let it be. They don't have to be permanent.
G: Kris doesn't really get writers block so we've always got something on the cards that we need to jam. There's always ideas.
What do you think it is that means you can write so freely? What do you think it about you or the way that you see things that makes it feel like that?
G: It's his tortured soul.
D: It's because he's a cynical bastard.
I'm happy to go with their answers if you want...
K: (laughing) Nah. I have a lot of time to think at the moment. That's it really. I write a lot of lyrics so if I really mean something then everything else will come around pretty easy.
D: There's no pretension in the music. We're not writing to a formula or anything like that. It's just writing for the sake of writing music.
I think it's really positive and a sign of you learning from the past that keeps you in tune and excited about the music. You realise that these songs are probably going to be an album and you'll probably get it out in six months time and can be patient about it.
K: I wouldn't advise it to anyone that's just written a killer album, to just sit on that for a while. If you're on fire, if you're in your element, you should just keep doing it. At the moment I'd say we're in our element.
What do you think it is about the place you're in right now that makes being productive so easy?
G: We're all brutally honest with each other all the time. We still have a really good laugh too but it's just honesty. It's like anything, we're just savagely honest with each other and there's no time to hold grudges. Christian's got the music down and me and Dan have been in bands for years so it is easy because we've been doing it for so long.
What do you think of the music around you at the moment?
D: It's good to see that it seems like people are starting to go to shows again and people have started to buy more music. That's a good thing. But I wouldn't necessarily put us into the whole psych scene.
G: I've never really seen us as a psychedelic band.
K: No, I haven't either but we do seem to be pushed into that which is fine but...
G: It's kind of good for us in a way. Clearly we're a lot heavier so when we play those kinds of show we're a bit more immediate.
K: It's so easy to put us in that psychedelic group because all that music is based around the Egyptian scale but the one thing we're quite comfortable about is that we're quite heavy. If we were to be permanently placed in the psychedelic scene we'd feel alright about it because we'd be bringing another element to it which is doom with riffs. It was quite a happy accident really because I never really knew there was a psych scene going on. I only started playing guitar about two years ago now and we've been together for a year and a half so I was picking up guitar whilst we were a band. The only music I'd heard where I noticed the guitar particularly was that Dick Dale track from Pulp Fiction, I just fell in love with that and then a lot of stuff with Nancy Sinatra where it's all really cinematic, sixties, echo-guitars. I think I share that same passion with a lot of bands which is just a happy coincidence. Everything seems to be based around that Sixties sound and why not be in love with that because it's great. We get a bit silly sometimes saying “we're not a psych band, we're not a psych band, we're a doom band!”.
G: We turned up to this show we played with Death Grips and there were people outside playing weird indie music and we turn up playing Slipknot. We went to DJ at this night in Brighton once and we lasted three songs before they kicked us off...
K: They asked us to do a DJ set and what we didn't realise is, there seems to be this unwritten rule with an alternative band doing a DJ set which is that you put your personal preferences aside and you play DJ tracks. But we had no clue. We made a mix with Electric Wizard, 'Dunwich', that track. Then we played some depressing folk music and then we put Metz on and they'd had enough by that point. We'd cleared the dance floor…