Interview – Esben and the Witch

Rachel Davies‘ voice is fit. Not only when she is singing the vocals in Esben and the Witch‘s debut album Violet Cries, but also when you are talking to her in person. It is hard to imagine how the wailing banshee vocals echoing over ‘Marching Song’ could erupt from the petite beanie wearing woman sat in-front me.

The band, aka Rachel Davies, Thomas Fisher and Daniel Copeman, are currently on tour following the release of Violet Cries earlier this month and allow Sloucher a few moments snatched conversation before they go on stage at The Harley.

The band’s name, Esben and the Witch, derives from a Danish fairytale involving magic, murder and witches. Why did they decide to name the band with such an unusual name?

“It is something we stumbled upon, we liked the story and the imagery involved and the subtle malevolence and the odd messages intrinsically involved in all fairytales.

“I think a lot of people think though that we are better educated about fairytales and more enamoured than we actually are, but we don’t know more than anyone else really.”

As we head into the early months of 2011, music publications begin gazing into their crystal balls and predicting who will be ‘massive’ in 2011. A distinct buzz has been surrounding Esben and the Witch, having been shortlisted for Q magazine’s Next Big Thing award and topping all of the music blogs and mags prestigious lists. Daniel goes into detail as to how the band reacts to the media pressure.

“It’s flattering to be mentioned in that sort of way, but it puts a weight of expectation onto people as to how we may sound and we’re not comfortable with that really.

“We don’t think about it too much and get on with what we were doing before, and how we write the songs in the first place.”

The trio first formed in 2008 when they met through mutual friends in Brighton. It wasn’t much long after in 2009 that the band self-released an EP titled 33 recorded in Daniel’s bedroom, exemplifying that Esben and the Witch are very much about doing things their own way.

Rather than being influenced by other bands and genres of music, their sound is influenced more by exterior factors, spaces and emotions, which can all be witnessed swirling around in their music.

“We are influenced by everything. It is hard to not be influenced by the things that surround you.

“Images and imagery relate to our music too, seeing something or hearing something that conjures something intriguing in our minds. A lot of our music is about what inspired the song in the first place,” explains Thomas.

Rachel agrees: “It could be a book or a line in a book that could trigger a thought and give us the chance to research it and look into our own emotional experiences relating to it.”

Do Brighton and the ‘Brighton music scene’ ever play a part in their music?

“The country does and the landscapes around the town, and of course we played a lot of our early gigs there and so we have a lot of love for the town.

“But we don’t really feel a part of any particular scene, there’s a lot of great bands and music being made in the area, but we find the whole idea of a ‘scene’ a bit weird.”

Music publications are also keen to collate the group into a pattern of female-fronted bands.

All members of the band show apprehension when this topic is brought up.

Rachel explains: “It’s a collaborative process; I’m just one of three. It’s always good to see women being involved in music and in bands.

“I feel like it is slightly undermining, it’s not unusual and sex and gender is nothing to do with what we do.

“It’s just a voice, and gender shouldn’t really play a part in defining our music.”

The intense process the band goes through when creating each song is clear to see from the opening track of ‘Argyria’ right through to ‘Swans’, but did the band go through any different processes when it came to recording Violet Cries compared to 33?

“For each song it is different, but we still got to do things our own way and record in our own time still in Daniel’s bedroom.

“There was nothing changed except we recorded the drums and lyrics in a studio, we felt these were the only things being restricted by being at home.

“I had never been in a studio before, and it was good to explore my voice in that way and to completely lose yourself and your inhibitions.”

“Which we couldn’t have really done being aware of my housemates always being around,” Daniel adds.

They describe their time supporting Foals in the USA as “amazing”, getting great reactions from large crowds and gaining new fans along the way.

But tonight at The Harley they will be the headlining act (review), having performed at the famed Sheffield venue before in the past.

“We are going to try and make people forget we are in a bar, we have played here before and love the venue but the fact that it is a bar is a challenge in itself.

“But the goal of all our live shows is for them to be developing and for fans to immerse themselves as much as possible.”

Words: Alexandra Rucki

Esben and the witch.

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