All Them Witches are not really new kids on the block any more; they've been churning out epic works of fuzzy psychedelic blues since 2012’s ferocious ‘Our Mother Electricity’. Right now, though, their star is entering a sudden and steep ascendancy over this side of the Atlantic. Ad bassist, singer and main songwriter Charlie Parks tells me from their label offices in Nashville, there has recently been a noticeable difference to their reception outside of the states, "There have definitely been more interviews and bigger crowds and stuff," he notes, "We went from the Lexington to the Scala and now we’re going to be playing to a crowd of 1,400 at the KOKO, so that’s progress!"
So who, or what, is responsible for their burgeoning popularity? Well, there's something about their latest batch of tracks that seems to chime with new listeners. Latest release 'Sleeping Through The War' might not quite be an 'Only By The Night' or ‘Only Revolutions’ in terms of crossover appeal, but it is definitely a more gripping, more immediate listen than their last record, 2015's excellently named but mildly self-indulgent 'Dying Surfer Meets His Maker'. "On that record we were super unprepared and unrehearsed," concedes guitarist Ben McLeod, "This time around we were extremely prepared, and it shows!”
While the kaleidoscopes of sound and atmosphere found on previous albums have tended to divide ideas along clear track boundaries, this record sees the band seizing the frayed edges of their excesses and binding them together, folding their disparate ideas back on top of themselves until they are left with eight well-crafted, near flawless tracks. “It’s all just come together this time around,” Parks agrees with his band-mate.
‘Sleeping Through The War’ is, according to Ben, “More fun, kinda spacey, less moody”, the kind of album that plays as well through a party’s speakers as it does through pair of high quality headphones. To Parks the record captures the sound of a key moment in the band’s evolution, a near-mastery of the ability to create songs with the shock power of ‘3-5-7’, songs that contain that moment where everything seems to pleasingly click into place. “To me it feels like somebody grabbing you by the shirt and pulling you along,” he explains, “I actually get that same feeling listening back to it because that’s how we felt in the studio making it. It’s nice to go back and be able to trigger that feeling.”
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The album also contains a clear lyrical message of purposeful escapism that he reckons might strike a chord with listeners, given that they are dealing with a world that becomes harder to comprehend by the day. “Escapism runs through most of our albums, it’s just become more clear as time goes on,” Parks explains, “I think I’m at a time in my life where I want to write about things that are a little more obvious. But mainly our progression stems from us continuing to do the exact same thing we’ve always been doing and still having fun. It’s actually increasing in fun, fun is going up!”
Nearly every other word of our conversation seems to be “fun”, All Them Witches are an exuberant bunch. But this doesn’t stop them from indulging in the occasional dose of self-flagellation by way of the Youtube comments section, which is where the band apparently get the majority of their musical feedback from. “I just scroll down until I see the word ‘suck’” Ben admits, “it’s always more interesting to find negative feedback.” Surprise surprise, the Youtube commentariat are yet to reach a consensus on the record: “Some people are disappointed, some people think it’s the best record they’ve ever heard” ponders ever-sage Allan Van Cleave, whose keyboard and mellotron work tends to elevate the group’s sound above some of their more straightforward fuzz rock contemporaries.
IRL the response to ‘Sleeping Through The War' has been overwhelmingly positive, but there is another essential factor responsible for the growth of their crowd sizes: the word of mouth buzz their potent live shows inspire. For Parks their records can only ever offer a hint of what the band can offer live, “When you’re in the studio you capture that one point in time and when you play a show you capture a completely different one,” he figures.
Key to this transformation is a lack of perfectionism and a willingness to craft their malleable jams into new and exciting forms every evening, “We don’t practise until we get everything perfect, that’s not part of how our band works. All the mistakes, all the improv stuff, it makes something new each time.” Their upcoming tour is even going to see them going “full drum circle” and cracking out a couple of bongos for latest single ‘Alabaster’. “Parks is going to go into the crowd topless with a megaphone to make people freak out,” Ben promises (only semi-jokingly) on his band-mate’s behalf.
Whether or not such antics really occur, All Them Witches just might well turn out to be one of the more essential live acts to grace our shores this year.
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'Sleeping Through The War' is out now.
Words: Josh Gray