Witches fly the coven | Esben and the Witch

Having played in Malta back in 2012, British indie band Esben and the Witch will be back on our shores for a concert later this month. We speak to guitarist Thomas Fisher about the evolution of the band’s critically-acclaimed atmospheric sound, and their decision to crowdfund their latest album.

Thomas Fisher (right): “In the future, we want to become a completely self-sufficient operation – that’s the dream”
Thomas Fisher (right): “In the future, we want to become a completely self-sufficient operation – that’s the dream”

How would you say that your – distinctly dark and atmospheric – sound developed over the years?

As we’ve become more confident as musicians we have begun to strip away all the layers of sound we used to rely on. We are still interested in creating heavy, atmospheric music but we’ve stopped rounding all the corners off so now its more raw and abrasive. There are less effects and layers, less camouflage too, so what remains is starker and more human. As we go on there is more of us and more of our emotion in the music.

In what ways does A New Nature differ from Wash the Sins…? Did you feel as though you were taking risks on it?

It’s more of a ‘live sounding’ album. We wanted to try and capture the energy of our shows. Our first two albums were very much studio projects, very considered and meticulous, whereas the live incarnations of those songs tend to be more wild. In the past we had most of the parts written and a rough idea of how the songs would pan out before we began recording, but that was about it. There was a lot of tweaking and arranging afterwards. This time we made sure the songs were all fully formed and that we had rehearsed them to within an inch of their lives before we went into the studio. We wanted to record the three of us playing live, together, which with the help of [producer Steve Albini] we were able to achieve. Some of the tracks were done in one take, which is a testament to his skill as an engineer.

You’ve enjoyed a healthy critical acclaim for most of your career. Does this kind of (nearly unanimous) praise help your creative process in the long term?

As best we can we try not to let any external criticism, good or bad, have any bearing on the music. The longer we go on the easier it becomes to ignore it or at least not let it exude any influence.

Given the sparse atmospheric soundscapes of your albums, how do you set about giving them a coherent shape? Do you work with themes or concepts from beforehand?

It depends on the song. What happens often is that we have a general theme or concept in mind that we explore as we write the music. The lyrics are like the fine details, they tend to come last, once everything else is in place. We can start out with an idea for a song and then sometimes end up in a different place entirely, that’s the beauty of the process I guess.

What was the main reason you left your record company prior to recording your third album? Do you foresee crowdfunding to be the way of the future for you?

We wanted to set up our own label. In the end it was perfectly amicable with Matador – we both wanted to go our separate ways. For us the idea of having complete control over every aspect of the album was very appealing. I mean, Matador had always been great and let us do by and large what we wanted but there is still something exciting about being totally free – nobody even has to hear the music before you put it out. The crowdfunding part of it came about because as I said before we wanted to set up a label of our own rather than sign with another. In the future, we want to become a completely self-sufficient operation – that’s the dream.

This will be your second time performing in Malta. How would you describe the first time you played here, and are you looking forward to be back on the island?

The first time was great. I really enjoyed the show – there was a good atmosphere in the room. It was the first time we played most of the songs from the second album so I remember it well. We are also looking forward to having a day off after the show to spend exploring the island some more. It’s a beautiful place.

Esben and the Witch will be performing at Razzett l-Ahmar, Mosta on February 28 at 21:00. They will be supported by local acts The Violent Violets and Krishna. Tickets are at €13 online or through the Embassy Cinemas Box Office, Valletta, €16 at the door. Bookings: http://www.ticketline.com.mt/