|Kris, Skott, Dan|
Interview with Kris Farrant of Snake Witch by Dave Wolff
Snake Witch’s official site says you draw from a diverse range of inspiration to create something unique in metal. What sources do you draw from, how much input do the band members have and how does it make you stand out from other bands in your area?
The band as a whole listens to a varied range of metal genres. With bands such as Iron Maiden, Exodus, Kreator, Bathory, Obituary, Bolt Thrower, Sepultura, Runemagick, Amon Amarth, Enslaved, Venom, Motorhead, Heilung, Dzivia, and Fear Factory frequenting our playlists.
We also draw inspiration from traditional pagan music and music from South America with band members having connections to Brazil, Colombia, Norway, and Ireland.
When it comes to songwriting, every member has input into the creative process. As we haven’t set genre or time limitations it's quite easy to explore ideas and concepts.
In some cases it’s quite a structured approach, someone may present to the band a partial or near-complete song concept that we then collectively flesh out. In other cases, it’s very organic, someone will play a riff or a groove and we all pile in. It’s then a mad scramble to remember what we just play and quickly record something to help jog our memories.
What we feel makes us stand out from other bands in our area is the diversity in our music as well as a strong sense of camaraderie within the band. We were friends long before we were bandmates and that makes it quite easy to work together. For us, Snake Witch is not just the music, we are very much a brotherhood, and we view each other as equals and members of the Snake Witch family.
What is the name Snake Witch meant to mean and how does it fit your music?
We could say something about the snake being representative of rebirth, transformation, and healing; and the witch being representative of our ancestral connections, but this would not be entirely true. When coming up with a name for the band we set out some parameters: it had to be original, easy to remember, easily identifiable, appeal to a broad range of people including people outside of Metal, and lend itself to a strong brand image. We looked at bands like Iron Maiden, Immortal, and Amon Amarth and tried to decipher some of the tricks and techniques that used to create a band identity.
Most of the bands you mentioned as inspirational to Snake Witch are from the old school of thrash/death/black metal. With all the growth and expansion underground metal has undergone since then, how much value do you still perceive in the old school?
I think there is still a lot of value in the old school. After all it did provide the stepping stones for newer bands. With all of the issues going on in the world at the moment, people are wanting to reminisce of the simpler times, of their carefree years, and are going back to the music of that time. Which is probably why we are seeing a lot of cover bands and tribute shows doing the rounds, along with many long-retired bands hitting the road once more. For us, we are a product of the 80s and 90s and that provides the main drive behind what we play. We may be a new band but we are not young and our influences reflect that.
Does the retro-thrash of the 1990s and the second wave of thrash metal from the 2000s to the present show how timely old school thrash is today?
Many of the more prominent thrash bands wrote material that remains contemporarily relevant, a hallmark of a great band no matter the genre. Whether it is due to social awareness or the deeply personal issues addressed, much of it still holds up to the test of time.
What lyrics written by thrash bands can resonate with listeners years later, and why do you think they still speak to people?
There are so many thrash songs whose lyrics still resonate with our current social and political climate. For example, Exodus: Corruption, Slayer: Expendable Youth, Overkill: Hello From The Gutter, Sacred Reich: pretty much their entire catalog. These pieces still speak to many due to their immense relatability, alas, not many advancements have been innovated regarding how most folks live day today. The rich still step on the backs of the poor, corruption is still rife and youth seem ever more disenfranchised and disconnected to the preceding generations.
Combining metal with traditional music from Brazil and Colombia and traditional music from Norway and Ireland sounds like something that has rarely if ever been done. Is there any way you liken traditional music from those countries? And how do you see them fitting with old school thrash etc?
The members of the band have family connections to those countries and exposure to the sights and sounds from those regions. While our preference is metal, as musicians we like to listen to music where we can appreciate the skill and musicianship. A good song, regardless of genre, will stir something in your heart and make you listen. As for fitting these elements in with old school thrash, metal is flexible and ever evolving, it is perhaps the most free of genres. You can try something and if it works, it works. If it doesn’t, well at least you gave it a go.
When incorporating these musical styles into your formula, do you end up sounding similar to bands like Sepultura and Borknagar or does your style sound like something else entirely?
Bands like Sepultura and Borknagar set out to evoke a particular emotion or feeling. Borknagar wanted to create a sense of something epic. Sepultura shifted from an angry rebellion to something more tribal with the transition from Chaos AD to Roots. With us, we are not setting out to sound like anyone in particular and we are still finding our sound. Our approach to incorporating different elements is, for the most part, more subtle, with hints of different influences popping in and out of songs. There might be more of a Latin feel to a drum line or a touch of Sepultura, for example, in a guitar riff.
Extreme metal has had many opportunities to grow for many years. How much more room for experimentation is there in the 2020’s?
Extreme music shall always be open to experimentation. The beauty of creativity is that limits are only placed by the artists themselves. It may also depend upon the direction the artist wishes to express their music in, but ultimately a broad scope will reach many more ears. As long as it remains true to the chosen path and the overall integrity of wherever one may walk, why not try to evolve musically?
How different and unique is Snakewitch’s sound for the way you write traditional music into your songs? Do any instrumentalists inspire the band?
We hope that our sound is unique enough to pique interest without plagiarising from those who shaped and influenced us. It is very difficult to actively seek a truly unique sound these days, but what we write we feel is a genuinely organic process. As for the more traditional aspect, we draw from a diverse cross-section, mostly from pre-Christian era paganism, and by listening to traditional music we are looking for inspiration and elements, such as the progressions and arrangements, that we can incorporate into our music. We are also starting to explore a multi-lingual approach to some tracks.
Does your closeness as friends help you work together more easily when writing and arranging?
The brotherhood and friendship certainly ease the creative process as does the lack of egos. If one of us writes something we think works, we seem to all enthusiastically jump on board to flesh out the concept. If it doesn’t work, we may put it aside for something else. Being somewhat seasoned in the creative process affords us all the ability to guide and nurture each other’s strengths whilst simultaneously bolstering any challenges.
Does lack of ego account for your longevity as a band and your ability to create something that stands out from other bands?
The lack of competing ego makes it easy to work together. Everyone is open and approachable and we hope that will outcome across in our interactions with other bands and the punters in the clubs. Having only recently formed, only time will tell if it will aid us in our longevity.
Describe the writing and recording of Snake Witch’s debut album, and how you left it open to progress further on future recordings.
We are still in the process of finalizing our material. Most of the songs were originally written as instrumentals with the intention of adding vocals later without vocals and re-working where required. This was done as the lineup was filled in and the last member added was our singer. We are now re-working the songs to include vocals and trying out different arrangements. Our intention is to record as soon as possible and prepare a few demos along the way.
How long has it taken to compose the songs for your debut? Where is the band developing those songs; do you intend to record them in the same location and/or with the same method?
The bulk of our songs were written during the first half of year at our bass player’s house. Each song took a few weeks to get to a point to present to the rest of the band and often two or three songs were being worked on at the same time, each at a different stage of evolution. This produced a solid base from which to build upon as drums, vocals and additional guitars added and allows us to explore alternate arrangements, solos or complimentary lines. We have a number of options available to us that we are exploring for recording.
What subject matter have you been addressing through the lyrics you’re writing for your songs? Can people expect lyrics similar to the songs you cited earlier?
Our current songs deal primarily with the mythology and pagan beliefs from several different cultures. We also explore the Cthulhu mythos, Tolkien, depression/anxiety and historical events. Our songs offer a form of escapism from the monotony of present day life while striving to inspire a sense of bonding through shared ancestral themes. For now, we are not focusing upon social or contemporary issues, but maybe that is a concept we can explore further down the path.
In what ways will your songs offer escapism and inspire bonding as you intend them to? What are you seeking to create this way? Can you name some of your songs as examples?
Listening to a song should be an immersive experience. The music and lyrics should take you on a journey, be it time, or place, or emotional. As Bruce Dickinson has said it’s a theater of the mind. We have one song called The Dark Riders, which is about the Nazgûl and their search for the ring. Another song, Return Me To My Grave, is from the perspective of a reanimated corpse who seeks revenge on the Necromancer who raised them. Our song, Pagan Dawn, is about the resistance and renaissance of pagan culture in the face of Christianity.
When you first penned the lyrics to those songs, were you inspired in any way by the occult and horror based lyrics of other bands, or were you drawing from your own inspiration?
Our lyrics are drawn from our own experiences and interests. They might start with a simple phrase, word or reflection on something we have read, seen or felt. We haven’t consciously set out with the idea so-and-so sung about this, let’s sing about that too. For us, our music and our words are deeply personal and introspective.
What did you mean by a multi-lingual lyrical approach? Will this be featured in any of the songs on your debut?
Within the band, we have the ability to speak a number of languages and we are working on ways to incorporate this into our songs. We are exploring having multiple languages within a single song or for thematic reasons having a song in a language best suited to the lyrical content. Our intention is to certainly make this a feature in our material.
Bands from several countries (including but not limited to Norway, Japan and Mexico) have penned lyrics in their native languages. In what ways do you plan to carry this to the next level?
We shall be incorporating several different languages into our songs, partially as homage to our own heritage but in recognition of others as well. Many ancient cultures sang of adventures or trials, it is a tradition that we are proud to uphold. We are also starting to explore conflicting views within a song, with each side of the story told in the language of the opposing sides.
Is your exploration of conflicting viewpoints an effort to become more lyrically theatrical? Will there be English translations or summaries at the end of each lyric to explain each story?
In a way yes, music and theatrics are not uncommon bedfellows, but it’s more of exploring new ways to tell a story and utilize the skills that we have available to us. Not all stories have two sides but why not try to tell both where possible? As for translations, we will look at options such as the CD booklet, on our website etc. Nile are a band who are great at providing background and context to their tracks in the album booklets but we don’t have the budget for that sort of thing so we’ll have to be more creative.
Some people who don’t normally listen to underground metal complain that the lyrics are difficult to understand. Are you making a point to enunciate so your subject matter can be readily understood?
There is a difference between hearing a song and listening to a song. A lot of people who complain about Metal are only hearing what they want to hear to support the stereotype that they have about Metal. When someone complains that people in Metal can’t play, show them Archspire’s Human Murmuration guitar play through video. When someone complains Metal singers can’t sing, show them Bruce Dickinson. The voice of the singer is as important an instrument as the bass, the guitars and drums. Our vocals style is, for the most part, akin to that of Amon Amarth. We have the option of doing a gritty hard rock style of vocal if needed or if it better suits a particular song.
I’ve heard brutal vocals require the same techniques as melodic vocals. Do you have an approach to vocalizing so as not to cause vocal cord damage as pointed out by vocal coaches?
The vocal training for singing the way we do consists of deep voice exercises to assist with resonance as well as projection. It also helps to have a vocal coach who can aid with proper technique as well as breathing. Our vocalist is more concerned with breathing due to having only half a lung on his right side. He has suffered several pneumothoracies when younger, so proper technique is fundamental to him.
If you decided to write about more contemporary social issues on future albums what do you think you would cover?
We each have plenty of personal demons that would provide some pertinent material as some of these issues are ones shared by many - depression, anxiety, isolation, alienation, persecution and mis-perception. Geo-political and socio-economic issues have been a mainstay of metal but it is a fine balance as many dive into music to escape such things, even if it is only for the length of a song.
How would you approach those contemporary issues so they’re less like copies of other bands and more personal to you?
By drawing from our own experiences and looking at how we have been affected by an issue or how we can have an effect upon it, will hopefully enable a fresh perspective or present one that others can relate too because they have also had similar experiences.
What current issues have had an impact on the band, so much so that you’d consider writing about them?
One of the issues we may draw upon down the path is mental health, this is particularly important to us as it affected a number within the band on a very personal level and has touched the lives of almost everyone in some capacity. Others issues such as corruption, violence and of course the COVID pandemic are all relevant topics worthy of mention.
Are you going to release your debut independently and hoping it will be picked up by some indie labels sometime following its release?
We will release independently and be as self-sufficient as possible. There is always the dream of being picked up by a major label and touring the world, and while fame and fortune would be nice, the reality is we are here because of our love of music and live bands. If a label wants us then they had best be prepared to work as hard as we do and put in the same effort. With streaming services and other such businesses, they are a double-edged sword and seem to make money for themselves at the expense of the musicians.
While releasing independently, are you considering any additional distribution in the US or other countries?
We will look for options and opportunities both locally and internationally. Physical sales at shows or disc trading. Digital sale via Bandcamp and the like. Media packs to labels and promoters. With so many bands and so many avenues, there is a lot of work that needs to be done in addition to producing the best music you can.
How much more work has to be done before the full length is ready?
We were originally planning to begin the recording process towards the end of the year, but sadly during the course of doing this interview our drummer has decided to part ways with the band and pursue other interests. This has caught us off guard and will mean delays while we search for their replacement.