8th October 2015
Interview by Demitri Levantis
At Nambucca, London, on the first night of US Funeral Doom group Bell Witch’s tour of the UK with Ulcerate, we caught up with bass player and vocalist Dylan Desmond to discuss the band’s changing sound, Doom Metal today, and how the US metal scenes differ across the vast nation.
Concerning the band name, could you please tell us the legend of the Bell Witch for anyone who hasn’t heard it before?
The legend of the Bell Witch is a poltergeist who haunted the family of John Bell and wanted to torture him so it terrorized his daughter to get to him. And supposedly, President Andrew Jackson came down from Washington with a strong army and they all got spooked and turned around. It’s supposed to be the most popular ghost story in American history.
So are ghost stories and horror particular themes you like to sing about?
The songs are all centred on the idea of being the ghost and being stuck in some sort of limbo and repeating the death that occurred. I think we connect that with the name Bell Witch and give off a haunting idea.
How do you find the sound of the band changing on Four Phantoms compared to first album Longing?
I think I’ve gotten better with the tapping technique on the bass where I do the tapping with my right hand. I wasn’t too sharp with that on Longing so I think I got a little more expressive with my right hand which I wasn’t on the first. We were also able to expand on the song writing process, we added some pushes and pulls which weren’t so present on the first album. I learnt to sing better and I think I sound better on Four Phantoms, at times I felt like I sound like Kermit the Frog on Longing.
Have you thought of bringing in any other kinds of instruments people wouldn’t normally expect a funeral doom band to use like something classical or symphonic?
I guess it would be expected of a funeral doom band but we have debated bringing in something like a synthesiser for the drummer to use with a foot pedal, which he could use instead of the hi-hat. We’ve discussed that for a while but never actually done it but I’m thinking when we start writing songs for the next album we can maybe invest in something like that and play around with it.
What are the biggest non-musical influences on Bell Witch despite the ghost story? Any particular literature or film or artists?
We try to write the songs in a literary fashion. I like them to be an essay of sorts. I’d say at the start of a song we say we’re going to talk about something and then at the end say something else or what we had at the beginning in a different way. I want the songs to be stories of sorts in the way they’re still an essay and the points being made prove something.
Will you be playing any festivals in the coming months?
We’re playing Dutch Doom Days on Halloween, and then we’re playing Martyrdoom in Brooklyn on the 10th November which I’m really looking forward to.
Are there any particular places in America where you love to tour or play?
Oakland or the Bay Area are always the best. Brooklyn and Portland are great and we’ve done most of the West Coast on the tour we’ve been doing. Los Angeles is always great and we played a really good show in Milwaukee a couple of years ago too.
Do you find the scenes to be particularly different, as in the way fans behave on the West Coast compared to the East Coast and other places?
That’s a good question. I think there’s a lot of similarities and the people who go to the shows a lot have a similar mindset. The same thing when it comes to Doom Metal, people are usually very calm and maybe they party harder but it’s always a very calm show and we never expect a mosh pit no matter which part of the country we are in.
Have you done any shows where people have tried to shut you down or there’s been a protest by any God groups?
No, nothing like that – that would be a trip. We did play a show one time and I don’t know why but the promoters tried to get us to play with some Metalcore bands and we were very confused and asked: have you listened to us? We knew it was going to be a terrible mix but they said: ‘what if we gave you $300?’ This was in our hometown so we though, ok. We were into our first song and people were booing, coming up to the stage, flipping us off and yelling ‘Fuck You’ so that we could hear them. I then started seeing flashing lights from all angles and I realised it was the staff who were trying to tell us to stop, because everyone was leaving. So I was just avoiding the flashlights and eventually the sound guy told us to cut it. He told us we’d gone over our limits but I was like: you gave us forty minutes and we were still in our first song; that was ten minutes at the most. But they still gave us $300 and I don’t know why so that was quite an adventure.
So what do you make of Doom Metal in general today? Do you think it’s going in a particular direction?
I don’t see there being a huge explosion in Doom bands but I think people are more accepting of it than before. We’re playing these really big notes and I worry if we’re going to be sending people to sleep but no they really like it. I don’t think there’s lots of people playing similar things to that but I might be wrong. I’d say the scene is more open which means new band can have many different takes on it. I remember when Corrupted were first putting records out and people were saying: ‘this is just terrible, why would I want to listen to an hour long song?’ But as time’s gone on I think that’s become more commonplace so people expect it.
Is this the first time you’ve played the UK?
With Bell Witch this will be the second time in the UK and the first time I played here was when I was in Samothrace. I think with them we played London, Birmingham and Manchester.
What bands do you listen to most at the moment and would recommend?
Lately I’ve listened to the new Skepticism album which is excellent and I listen to Worship all the time and I like Asunder a lot and Mgla the Polish Black Metal band, I love their new album. Ulcerate is good and Immolation and I love Country music a lot like Waylon Jennings too. That’s the most common stuff on my playlist.
Finally, what do you enjoy most about being in a band?
This’ll be a cliché answer but I just love playing. If a few days go by without playing bass, life just gets hard so I feel a bit depressed so when I play bass I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile. I feel like there’s a mission to complete and I feel so proud once I have the finished product, like a song or album, it’s a really satisfying feeling. And getting to play places like London too. I asked my mum the other day, have you ever been to London and she just said ‘no, why would I ever go there?’ So that’s the great thing about being in the band.
Well thanks so much for this and good luck tonight.