Photo by Paul Harries compliments of All Them Witches
Interview conducted and written by Josh Matthews
I don’t know what to think as I walk up the stairs of The Syndicate Lounge one late afternoon last October. I’m getting ready to interview All Them Witches, one of my favorite bands to emerge over the last five years. If not twenty.
When I first heard them play, I thought, “FINALLY! Someone who fucking gets it!” We’re talking about a band who rocks in a way that the psychedelic, guitar-heavy bands of the 60’s and 70’s did, but without the glitz and glamor or over the top stage antics. No, All Them Witches are raw and pungent. Their music is fearless, unapologetic. And like every great rock n’ roll band they are deeply rooted in the blues.
That said, I was apprehensive about the interview, not to mention unprepared. And late, too. I kept toiling with the idea of not following through with the interview in the first place. Not for any of those other reason, I just didn’t want to meet a bunch of pre-madonna assholes and have them ruin my pristine vision of this great fucking band. I had that experience once, no apologies Father John Misty. You’re still great, but you’ll never sound the same to me because you’re a fucking asshole. I digress.
Anyways. It’s generally a terrible idea to interview a band that you’re actually a fan of. Even more so when you’re walking in fully prepared to be let down. But being unprepared might actually have it’s advantages in this situation. If I’ve learned anything from interviewing musicians, it’s that they get asked a lot of the same shit in an array of different ways. My hope is to simply have a good conversation and maybe get some great pearls to put on paper. And my hope is that they’re nice guys.
I’ll call Patrick.
“Hey Pat. I’m getting ready to interview ‘Them Witches.’ You got any background on these guys?”
“Yeah! They rock! And they’re nice guys! What else is there?”
At the venue I meet Parks (that’s lead singer Charles Michael Parks Jr.) upstairs. We shake hands and exchange pleasantries while he pulls someone in to take his place at the Merch table.
“The rest of the guys are back here, is that cool?” Needless to say it’s cool by me.
I follow him into the green room and am immediately confronted by the chaos that comes from sharing a small space with even a small amount of other people.“Is this a bad time?” I don’t want to intrude.
Parks isn’t phased. “No man, come in! Do you want a beer?”
For as long as it’s been brewed, there hasn’t been a better invitation than by that of a cold one. I crack open my Pabst and Parks wastes little time in introducing me to everyone. As the crowd thins, Parks points in the direction of an open couch before finding an adjacent seat next to guitarist Ben McLeod, who compliments me on my boots. Drummer Robby Staebler dissapears as keyboardist and violinist Allan Van Cleave walks in. He can’t find anything to brew his tea in. “I’m not going to stick this plastic in the microwave.” There’s talk over Nashville’s FooBar closing and it’s new name: Cobra.
“Josh, can I get you a beer?” This from Allan, the conscientious keyboardist oblivious to my to my already open Pabst resting off to the side. “Thanks, Parks already took care of it.”
“Do you want another?” asks Parks. “How many beers do you want?”
“As many as you can throw at me.”
Allan tells me to chug my brew. “I’ll take the empty from you, turn it into a tea cup, and give you another one.”
Parks recommends that we all chug a beer before the interview, but no one bites. I talk about the last time I was in the same green room. It was for Will Stewart, Dead Fingers and Patrick Sweany. Allan mentions that he noticed the show poster, “I saw that poster outside. July 9!”
“I actually just got off the phone with Pat.” I tell them what he had to say about them.
Parks: He’s always very polite and to the point, and like none of the other shit matters, and I’m like, ‘Okay!’
So this should be the easiest interview ever! All Them Witches, ladies and gentleman, they fucking rock AND they’re nice guys. Interview over.
Ben: You should have Patrick Sweany give the interview for us.
Man, that is a great idea. That would give me an excellent reason to come to Nashville. I don’t get up there enough. We had actually talked about doing separate interviews with Sweany and Kansas Bible Co. where we go around to their favorite digs and get their stories over beers, ask questions over shots.
Parks: You apparently know the nicest people in Nashville.
Is that right?
Parks: Yeah! Patrick and all of the KBC guys are like the sweetest, most genuine guys.
Ben: Kansas Bible Co. was my wedding band.
Ben: Yeah! It was awesome.
Parks: Yeah, they killed it. It was amazing.
When did you get married?
Ben: April 2.
Sorry to hear that man.
Ben: Yeah, that’s what they all say.
Nah man, congratulations! That’s a great thing!
So, I’d ask if y’all want to just dive into the interview, but I feel like we kind of already are. Ya’ll cool with this pace?
Parks: Conversational is a lot better.
I’m sure you guys have never been asked about what it’s like to be in a band.
Parks: Who are your influences.
Allan: Parks does most of the interviews.
Parks: Where did you guys meet. All of the standards.
How did ya’ll come together as a band.
Ben: Where did you get the name. Tell us about the cabin.
Parks: I hate it when they lead your answers. It’s like, ‘We heard that you spent time in a cabin,’ and they give all the answers and then ask us what happened. And we’re just left sitting there, like, ‘yep.’
You pretty much summed it up!
Parks: I can’t just say what you said!
Well, let’s talk about what’s next then.
Parks: That’s good. What’s next is good. I’m excited for it!
“What’s next is good. I’m excited for it!”
Ben: That’s a great question. Nobody asks that.
The last album was Lightning At The Door?
Parks: The real last record was Dying Surfer Meets His Maker.
That was the last one?
When was Lighting At The Door recorded?
Ben: But I can see why you thought it was the most recent because we re-released it. We re-released it twice. (Allan, the more jovial of the group is laughing in the background)
Ben: So, Lightning At The Door got released three times. (Allan’s laugh is infectious and everyone is in on it now)
Well, did you gain steam with each release?
Ben: Nah, well.. yeah. Yeah.
Parks: I do think people like that one the best, honestly.
Ben: Which makes me excited because the new record I feel like is the closest thing to it. A little bit, in the feeling, to get deep. I don’t know, we can talk about the new record in a little bit but Lightning at the Door was re-released again once we signed with New West.
Oh, Gotcha! So the new album is in the can?
Parks: We’re already done. It’s in the can.
Being mixed right now?
Parks: Nope, completely finished.
Ben: We’re already doing test presses.
When are y’all releasing it?
Ben: February 24.
Ben: You’re gonna like it.
Ben: It’s cool. It makes me happy.
Ben: I don’t know. It’s just fun to listen to. Dying Surfer and Lightning are just a lot darker albums. We didn’t just come up with a happy pop record, but I feel like it’s happy in the sense of like, The Oh Sees- listening to them just pumps you up. But that’s my take.
Allan: Jock Jams Volume 1.
Parks: This one’s for the jocks.
Will y’all be playing anything off of it tonight?
Ben: We’ll dooooo….. dose?
Parks: Yeah, you want to do two of them?
Allan: What do you want to do?
Parks: Want to do “Internet” and “3-5-7”?
Allan: When are we going to start practicing the other ones?
Tell me about these. What can I expect.
Ben: They’re different.
Parks: They’re very different songs.
Allan: They’re VERY different songs.
Parks: I didn’t realize that, but they are.
Allan: “Internet” is a straight up jam. I feel like you know where it’s going the whole time. And “3-5-7” I feel like is more of a surprise. It’s got a couple of twists and turns in there.
Ben: “3-5-7,” the one riff Parks came up with it when we were recording Lightening At The Door. So, it’s like that old.
Allan: “Internet,” You could teach someone how to play it in five seconds. And “3-5-7” would take more like 10 minutes.
Park: It took us three years to make it into a song.
Parks: Because we used to just jam on it for a while, and it wasn’t going anywhere.
Allan: Oh yeah, because no-one knew how to play it.
So, we can expect hard driving, bluesy undertones….
Parks: Oh yeah.
And minimalist lyrics?
Parks: No, a lot of lyrics!
Ben: It’s definitely the strongest vocal album.
Allan: We have back-up singers!
Parks: This is the first one with lyrics on every song, I think. Aren’t there lyrics on every song?
Ben: Every song.
Parks: That’s crazy.
Ben: It’s the first.
Parks: I never thought I’d work so hard.
“I never thought I’d work so hard.”
What kind of touring will y’all do to support it?
Ben: A lot of touring!
Well hell, y’all did a lot of shows last year.
Allan: I want to say we did around 100.
Ben: This year has been pretty busy, but next year we’re doing March, April, May, June, and then September, October, November.
Allan: That’s cool, you’ve got it planned out a whole year in advance for us (laughing).
Are you going overseas?
Ben: We are. In June.
How is the receptivity over there compared to here?
I know that’s the case for a lot of bands. I’m not sure what your thoughts are, but it seems that music has become so commercialized here, that from a music discovery sense, younger generations have to be introduced to music more broadly through media and mainstreams compared to how we grew up listening to music, generally speaking.
Parks: My music discovery has gone down, the older I get. Due in part to being on tour all of the time. And you’re in the middle of music all of the time. Then when I get home, I don’t know. I don’t seek out new bands.
But you have a really good excuse because you’re busy and you’re making the music that people should be listening to.
Parks: I really loved that time where I was hungry to go and find music.
Allan: Why are we bigger in Europe?
Parks: I don’t know.
Allan: Because of Elektrohasch (Allan is referring to Elektrohasch Records, the German label from which Our Mother Electricity was released in 2012)?
Parks: Because we couldn’t get over there for three years.
Allan: Oh yeah.
Parks: It was like, “we’re going over. Oh wait, we can’t go.”
Allan: We built up a lot of anticipation by cancelling all of our first European tours, haha!
Yeah, but I feel like music discovery must be different for European fans than it is here. I feel like you have to actively seek out music here if you’re going to be exposed to anything outside the commercialized mainstream. What are your thoughts?
Allan: I don’t know. It feels so similar there. From my three tours there, Europe feels eerily similar to the United States.
Parks: Even more so the more you go.
In regards to the industry?
Allan: Just in regards to the culture.
Parks: The culture is the same. Everyone lives in a commercial culture.
Allan: It’s just one giant Western world. I won’t go into the political aspect. But I guess alot of our fans come from YouTube or Spotify. Places where you don’t have to be directed towards something or you’re exposed to a lot of advertisements.
“It’s just one giant Western world.”
Parks: It just pops up there on the side bar based on your previous searches.
Allan: Because they’re high at two in the morning, scrolling through the internet and they like our band.
Parks: And the promoters over there are really good. They’re awesome! They take their job very seriously.
Ben: They come out to meet you, take you out to dinner, stuff like that.
Parks: They work on their shows, hard! It’s their job and they take a lot of pride in it.
Ben: Promoters there, at the venue, they’ll have their office at the venue. For instance, our German promoter is tucked away in this one room with his laptop and his printer set-up just working the entire time. Here, well not here for instance because Lauren is awesome, but generally speaking when we’re touring the state’s venues, we don’t even meet the promoter. They’re not even there.
Park: Yeah, you just talk to a rep or whoever and they get you your money and your buy-out shit. I never really thought about that, but yeah, here, the relationship between you and the promoter in the states is just not nearly as fulfilling. If you have a good rapport with the promoter, you become buddies, and you really look forward to doing those shows and hitting those circuits. And again, everyone’s working hard, on the same team, and gets things done a lot better, a lot faster. Shows are better. Maybe that’s something that…
Allan: European hospitality puts American hospitality to shame.
Parks: To shame! But I love touring America.
Ben: It’s just so easy now. We’ve done it so many times. We can book a hotel within hours of getting there. We have a van. We have all our own gear. We don’t necessarily have to fly and it’s super easy to do.
Allan: Everyone’s phone works.
Well over there, do you have to fly between countries? Do they at least backline your gigs?
Ben: We have to rent everything! Except guitars, obviously. We fly with those.
Parks: We have a driver. We HAD a driver. He was… he was a real nice guy.
Allan: He was a nice guy, but..
There’s a story there somewhere.
Ben: This was his last tour. He didn’t know it, but it was.
Parks: Oh wow. Really?
Ben: Yeah. He got fired.
Allan: He just got lost a lot. I woke up one morning at three in the morning, and we were backing up and driving forward constantly like he was trying to turn around, then I woke up and we were on the railroad tracks.
“…then I woke up and we were on the railroad tracks!”
Shut the fuck up!
Allan: Yeah, we were literally driving down the railroad tracks.
Allan: I don’t know. It’s one of those stories where you hear about people following their GPS and it says, turn left, then before you know it you’re on railroad tracks, haha!
Hahaha! This is the first I’ve heard anything like this!
Parks: Well, then we get to Luxembourg and the wheel for the trailer was gone. It had four reals, right? One was just totally gone. And it was the same wheel that Allan was like, “man, that tire looks kind of…”
Parks: Hahaha! The guy is like, nah, it’s an old trailer, blah blah blah! And by Luxembourg we’re just like, “fuck! What are we going to do?”
Talk about Dying Surfer Meets His Maker!
Parks: It was crazy.
Ben: Yeah, that could have been bad.
Okay, most interview question of our interview… where does that title come from? Any of you guys surf?
Ben: I do.
Ben: Yeah, so had this little weird side-project and it was the title of one of the songs, “Dying Surfer Meets His Maker.” Just because I thought it was funny, moving to Tennessee. I don’t surf anymore, obviously.
Well, do you have any plans to play Austin?
Ben: We are going to be playing in Austin in May. Yeah, they have a surf park there now. If Nashville got one of those, I would be okay.
And how is the state of the Nashville music scene and the industry there today?
Parks: There’s always good bands, man. Despite some of the shitty stuff and they’re plenty of shitty stuff going on in Nashville right now. What happens with any hip city and it starts to grow and grows really fast, its just the common things that come with that like the rent has gone up for everybody. And noone can afford anything and everyone has to work a bunch of jobs. Not all bands have it but there’s always good music and they manage to get through the adversity somehow but it’s the music industry and the music city as an entity I think is kind of choking the music scene there.
Ben: So alot of bands, I don’t know but I feel like alot of bands trying to move there to make it, it’s just too much on a pedestal. It seems like all those bands who are bummed out when they leave, they’re not busting their ass on the road touring and building relationships with venues and promoters, they’re just trying to stay in Nashville playing the same clubs…
And being self-sabotaged by the city they’re relying on?
Ben: Yeah, yeah!
Parks: And they can’t get past the place where they’re playing a show like, “man, I hope someone notices us when we play this show and I hope there is someone there to see it,” instead of really pushing it.
Ben: You actually have to work! You have to tour!
Parks: I mean when I moved there I was in a band and I was like, “oh, I’m going to go to Nashville,” and I didn’t know how diverse it was. Like it’s this country town and it’s not. Some of the best musicians in the world live in Nashville and will outplay your ass every single day. And some of the best people in the world will never have a real music job. They’ll still wait tables or whatever. Some people that are just mond-blowingly good.
“Some of the best musicians in the world live in Nashville and will outplay your ass every single day.”
Ben: The best.
Allan: Even the worst bands in Nashville are still decent.
Parks: Ooo, I don’t know, haha!
Allan: Well, they’re better than the worst bands in Columbus, Ohio, haha!
Ben: The best guitar player in Nashville, doesn’t even work as a guitar player. His main gig is, he’s Paul Simon’s drummer. And he’s better than everybody at guitar!
Parks: Super humble guy. Very quiet. And just totally shreds.
So the difference is between those who work and those who just hope for the best?
Parks: I mean it never starts as a strategy, right? You start playing and you get good and then you develop chemistry with others and if you want to keep doing it you get a strategy. You have to have, not necessarily a music business strategy but you have to be able to stay true to your friends. Make sure you all want to do something and that you’re all working towards something. And the rest is stressful and hard and work and it’s good! It’s satisfying. And it pisses you off all the time, it’s great, haha!
“You have to be able to stay true to your friends.”
So, last round of questions, I like to ask everyone. Tell me about your favorite concert.
Parks: Daniel Higgs. Daniel Higgs was the singer of a band called Lungfish and he was opening up for Ohm in Nashville. That was probably the most memorable one. Everyone just sat down when he started playing and, I don’t know, it was just mind blowing, brought you to tears in such a weird way.
Did you get emotional?
Parks: Did I get emotional? Yeah, I did! Robbie got emotional. Allan got emotional. Did you get emotional?
Ben: I didn’t like cry or anything, but the mood in there. You could just feel it. It was so thick. Everybody was dead quiet and just watching him. There was no banter going on, no people at the bar. And it was the fucking opener.
“…the mood in there. You could just feel it.”
People were just completely captivated?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely.
Parks: Then Ohm started out and their singer was just screaming, haha! I mean screaming at the stage hand while they were playing! Screaming at the stage hand, “get those fucking lights off! Get them to turn those fucking lights down!” And the guy couldn’t hear him and didn’t know what t0 tell them and the lights guy is just blasting them! Haha, then I can’t remember if he actually finished the song or just stopped and screamed, “Hey man! Can you just pick a color and just leave it!” I don’t think they ever played Nashville before, it was their first time ever playing. Yeah, and he was like, “We’ve been waiting our whole lives to play Nashville, can you just stop with the fucking lights!” Hahaha! And then the lights guys was just kicking back the rest of the show.
“We’ve been waiting our whole lives to play Nashville, can you just stop with the fucking lights!”
Allan: He still got paid. He just got to hang out. Drink beer and sit back.
Parks: Sit back and get chastised in a room full of people.
Ben: I would not want to get yelled at by that guy.
Park: Oh man! That was a good show. But I didn’t even stay for all of Ohm because I was completely satisfied with that Daniel Higgs show. That was one of the best ones.
And were you familiar with Daniel Higgs before?
Parks: No, I had no idea!
Ben: Our friend Willy is really into Lungfish, and they were all amping over Daniel Higgs, more than Ohm. Our friends Mikey and Joey were there, Across Tundras, because they played – they’re not a band anymore, but they were first of three on the bill.
How long ago was this?
Ben: Three years.
What’s he doing now?
Parks: I have no idea. He was a tattoo artist before he started playing solo, or I guess maybe he was doing it at the same time.
How would you describe his music?
Parks: Well, Lungfish is a lot like Fugazi.
Ben: They’re on Dischord. They’re like Slint, meets Fugazi, meets Tortoise a little bit.
Ben: You would dig it.
Allan: Daniel Higgs is like poetry set to ambient banjo playing. It’s just free form…
Parks: It’s like Indian music on banjo. Then he may bust out into the National Anthem.
Allan: It’s more art than music.
What about you, Ben? Your favorite show?
Ben: My favorite show was Wilco. Definitely. It was after they had just put out a Ghost Was Born.
Ben: I was obsessed with them. I was a senior in highschool and that show brought me to tears. That was the best show. I can’t say that about their shows now, probably because I’ve seen them fifty times, but the first time I saw them, that was it. Florida Theater in Jacksonville.
“…that show brought me to tears.”
Allan! Your favorite?
Allan: Do you know Tinariwin? They’re like a North African nomadic band. I saw them play in the desert in New Mexico. Outside Taos, New Mexico. That was a cool show. Those guys have some serious chops and history. They used to be rebel fighters in Libya. And they’re nomads, so they packed up and got out of there. Then they were granted clemency and they went back. They made a new album a few years ago and toured the States.
Parks: Yeah, they’re like trained anti-terrorist fighters.
Allan: I don’t know if they’re trained. I thought they were grass roots militia. Anyway, they’re bad dudes.
Parks: They’re bad dudes. They’re real dudes. Sometimes they play with the TV on the Radio guys.
Allan: Do you know Bombino? Dan Auerbach produced an album for another guy, similar sound. Eastern, North African influence but with electric guitars.
(About this time, Robby who has dipped in and out so may times throughout the interview entertaining other guests, comes in searching for a wine opener.)
Allan: Robby is just a whirlwind of activity.
Someone in the group has to be the bull in the china shop. Robby is that you?
Robby: Depends on the situation. Would you like some wine?
I’m good! I do appreciate the offer, you guys have been incredibly hospitable. So, Robby we were just talking about our favorite concerts. Do you have one?
Robby: Yeah, I do. Let me think about this. There’s been multiple ones. I saw the Dead in 2004. Warren Haynes was playing guitar and I was front and center in a sea of 30,000 people and it was awesome!
Where was that?
Robby: At Bonaroo. And then the other one was also at Bonaroo. I saw Bill Frisell and I cried! I actually cried at that show.
And have y’all played Bonaroo yet?
Robby: Yeah. It sucked.
Parks: They kept changing our set time around. They changed it on us about 4 times.
Robby: I hated that! I was pissed!
Ben: It was good. It ended up being good.
Parks: Yeah, it ended up being a lot of people.
Allan: We ended up playing during Slayer.
Ben: No! They staggered it. I ended up watching a half hour of their set.
Allan: Oh okay. Well I missed Slayer. Where was I?
Robby: They did stagger it so that it was not conflicting which was pretty cool that they did that.
Parks: And it’s hot.
Robby: It smells like poop the whole time.
Ben: You know the year we played was the last year that they had porta-potties? Last year they had real bathrooms.
Robby: Really? What?
Ben: Yeah, they have real bathrooms.
Robby: They installed real bathrooms? For artists?
Ben: No, for everyone.
Robby: For everybody? Damn. That’s cool.
Allan: Yeah, because you have rows and rows of hundreds of porta-potties, at what point do you just install real ones?
Robby: I remember smelling it when we were playing.
Parks: Especially in the mornings, because you wake up in the morning and everyones just kind of ugggghhh, everyone’s just fucked, and then there’s the guy pumping the porta-johns and everyone’s taking showers next to it.
Robby: The first year I went I was brushing my teeth at a community water fountain, and this dude walks up right next to me butt ass naked and he puts his foot up in the air and starts scrubbing his balls, hahaha! It’s like 10 in the morning…
Don’t mind me!
Robby: Yeah, and he’s like, “Why’s everyone staring at me? I’m just taking a bath.” And I’m like, I don’t know dude, I’m just brushing my teeth right here! Where everyone else is brushing their teeth and filling up their water bottles…and you’re brushing your balls!
(Laughter all around!)
So to wrap up, anything you want to tell your fans at Music Bham?
Robby: Wear ear-plugs. Don’t smoke crack. Ummm, enjoy life and don’t hurt people. That’s my advice.
Allan: I don’t wear earplugs, so I don’t know that’s kind of hypocritical!
Robby: I wear earplugs for everybody so you could say you did. So, what’s your life advice, Parks?
Parks: Life advice? Be nice to each other and be grateful for everyday that you wake up.
Robby: That’s very good.
Allan: Very good.
Parks: And drink water. Exercise you fucking animal!
Robby: I haven’t exercised in a while!
When we interviewed the Seratones, they also said to drink more water!
Parks: Drink water. Yeah, we came from the same place. Shreveport. Everyone’s hot and nasty all the time.
Ben: I think I’m going to tattoo that across my knuckles.
Allan: What are you going to do?
Allan: How are you going to tattoo across your thumbs?
Ben: That’s stupid.
Robby: How about, “HOLY SHIT?” Dude. That’s actually a pretty good one.
Allan: What about, “CHUG SODA?”
Robby: Chug soda?
Ben: How about “LIVE- L-I-V-E, L-A-R-J?”
The tattoo ideas and laughter continued to roll as I shook hands and high-fived my way out of there. I walked out of the green room and made my place beside the sound board, where I thought might be the best vantage point to hear. I was unaware at the time, but that show turns out to be one of the best I’ve ever seen. All Them Witches do rock. And they’re nice guys! -Josh Matthews