by Thrin Vianale (@windedfl)
I saw Night Witch for the first time when I was 18 and had just moved to Tallahassee, FL. It was the peak of summer and they played in the backyard of a vegan café called All Saints. Even though I felt like I was in fever dream because of the Florida heat, I remember being mesmerized by the groups’ presence and the intentional and powerful way they made the things they care about known to the audience. I had the privilege of talking with them about their upcoming full-length album Who’s Next?, and learned more about the group’s powerful vision and perspectives in their approach to music. The following is an interview conducted with Rosie Richeson, Tyler Bisson, John Saullo, and Nick Derella of Night Witch, which has been transcribed below (with a premiere of the band's album ahead of the August 31st release date).
TV: You guys put out your first self-titled LP in 2015, how do you feel your sound has evolved since you put out that album?
Nick: Since that album came out half the band has changed. Shaw and Nathan no longer play with us, cause they succumbed to grad school. We added Tyler and John and it has definitely changed how we write our songs and our general sound a little bit, but not much. John has brought some more crust punk elements, with complicated riffs but still straightforward time signatures. Shaw would write in really weird time signatures all the time, even if the songs were straightforward. It’s kind of like we’re doing the same thing but all the roles have changed, and what makes things different are put into different parts.
Rosie: Yeah, and Tyler’s written three songs on the album.
Q: So you guys collaborated mainly on the songs?
John: There are three songwriters and like a fourth genre that Nick and me collaborated on.
Nick: And there’s one that Shaw actually wrote the structure of. A couple of the songs on the album were written with Shaw and Nathan.
Tyler: Shaw wrote two of the three riffs in "Don’t Go," and we arranged it, SO MANY TIMES.
Q: Are there any particular tracks on the album that are your favorites?
Rosie: "No Access" is my favorite, I love singing that song. Not my lyrics in particular, but I sing the riffs.
Nick: I really like "Undue Burden," I think it’s like a really important political song right now lyrically. It’s really fun to play and we got the perfect sound clip for it.
Tyler: Oh I should have prepared for this question. Um, the three I wrote feel really special because when I was playing guitar I felt like I couldn’t use those riffs for anything else I was in. So maybe "Corrupted," we played it a lot before recording the album and people tended to like it and I’m really proud of people going like “OOOH THAT one!” Like what’s the one that you play with the “shun dun dun dun”? And I get to say I wrote that one! Another one of my favorites to play is "Grow Up." The breakdown is sick.
John: My favorite song that I did is two notes.
Nick: Oh yeah, Two Note! That’s one of the two songs we wrote during a practice. During the practice I was like, Johnny we NEED a song that’s only two notes that’s the only thing missing on the album.
Tyler: You phrased them all yourself too, I didn’t even help. You’d be surprised, I’m sure people will hear that song and not realize it’s only two notes.
Rosie: Technically isn’t it three notes?
Everyone else: NO WE GOT RID OF THE THIRD NOTE.
John: The third one is silent, it’s just silent.
Rosie: I feel like even when Shaw and Nathan were in the band we did collaborative songwriting. Sometimes we would come with full songs ready to go like "Drop Dead" and a few others.
Nick: Probably four songs on the album I wrote completely myself? There’s one song, "Scorpio," which when we initially brought it together, and we knew Rosie would want to cut it in half, so we preemptively cut it in half to see if she’d want to cut it in half again. And she did. And we played it and it was literally 17 seconds long and we were like wait... maybe this is actually too short.
TV: You decided to re-record "Scorpio" and "Who’s Next," right? What influenced you to re-do those songs?
Nick: When we originally put out the tour tape, which was half original songs and half Naps covers, we talked about doing that to have something for that summer to tour on. The idea was to have those songs for down the line when we would do a full album. I was still pushing to re-record all of them because I had a dream that we would have like 36 songs and cut 10 of them, but I was the only one that was super into that. "Scorpio" I think no one has really heard because it’s on a compilation. "Who’s Next," which is the name of the album, we felt fit thematically and sequentially with the rest of the album.
TV: What was the recording process like? Were there any new methods that you used this time that you hadn’t before?
Tyler: I have no idea how they recorded before but I know exactly how we did it this time because I did it all. We did it all in that small room over there. (gestures to room)
Nick: Over the course of a weeeeek? 2 weeks!
Tyler: It was 2 weeks, but when we first talked about it we were toying with the idea of maybe going somewhere else and paying someone to do it. But when we decided when tour was going to be we were really crunched for time to when we’d have to get the record pressed. So we knew we had to record the last week of June and put everything in, so I was like, why don’t I just do it?
TV: So was self-recording more out of necessity at the time?
Tyler: Oh yeah, definitely. We had looked up other places to record but it would have been like… all of the band fund money. We did drums in 2 short days, then guitar in 4 longer sessions, bass and vocals in like 2 sessions each. As far as new methods go, they didn’t use a metronome as directly as I did last time they recorded, so I had them clicked the whole time.
Nick: That was wild. It was weird, it helped at some times and hindered at others. There were sometimes I was begging for it to be turned on and others where I was like, please I can’t take this anymore, I can’t concentrate, turn it off.
Tyler: This being the first recording that John and I are on is interesting too. John and I had gotten a lot of new stuff and we were building his sound when we recorded.
John: It’s my first time getting a new guitar in 12 years. I’ve had the same guitar since middle school. It was annoying to have to do 22 songs twice, I used 2 different pedals with different settings and Tyler made it sound the way we wanted it to sound.
TV: Are there any guest vocals or guest spots on the record?
Nick: Not really, I did vocals for 2 songs, and then we did CREW vocals for 2 songs, which was all of us.
Rosie: I have a list of like 27 people I want to do guest vocals at some point. Some of them are like, pie in the sky people and some of them are my friends who I love.
TV: And you did guest vocals for the new HIRS album, right?
Rosie: Yeah, that was crazy. We did a 3-day tour in Florida.
Nick: Rosie reached out to the Gainesville show they were playing and asked to play, and they were like “oh yeah we saw you play at Fest last year!” and had us play with them. I think someone who booked the Pensacola show reached out and asked us to play with them for that show. We never actually talked to any of the bands, which is kind of wild but we made it work, and it was awesome.
TV: You guys have been on tour with a bunch of bands lately- HIRS, Screaming Females, Thou- how was it getting to tour with bands who have been around for a super long time?
Rosie: Playing with and hanging out with Screaming Females was super surreal. Everyone was so cool.
Nick: Everyone in that band including their merch person were some of the coolest most interesting people I’ve met. We went to Ichetucknee with the drummer, bassist, and guitarist of Screaming Females and the guitarist of HIRS. It was so much fun. They’re all from the Northeast, and when you come to Florida as a band and you do any of the stereotypical Florida things it’s gonna be going to the beach or going to a theme park. You don’t really get to experience deep Florida stuff, like going down a river like that. We saw turtles and a heron flew in front of us and landed.
Rosie: It was like the most Florida thing imaginable.
Tyler: The drummer lost his flip-flop and later Rosie found it!
Rosie: Truly a heroic time for me.
TV: Do you guys have any tips for touring bands?
Rosie: I think the most important thing is communicating with each other and just asking how are you feeling today, that kind of thing. Checking in a lot. I personally make sure I have my basic needs met, basic needs meaning like, coffee in the morning; I’m the first person to wake up and Google the nearest coffee place. And I also am the first to wake up and do my morning routine so I can feel normal and ready for the day. And also, I don’t know, be nice to the people that are hosting you, talk to them and stuff. There are times when it’s like, day 10 of tour and you’re tired as shit and you don’t want to talk to people, and I’ve literally asked ok, who’s the social one tonight? Who has the energy to talk? Because I don’t. Talking about that as a band before starting the night can be really important. And making sure dietary needs are all met!
Tyler: Kind of a positive spin on that part, if you’re going to town and there’s like a place or a restaurant you want to go to, don’t be afraid to say hey I want to go see this place! Don’t be afraid to suggest something cool you want to check out.
Nick: When we played Memphis, the only time, I was and am still the only person in the band who is not vegetarian or vegan, so, Nathan really wanted to go to Kroeger’s and I found that there was this amazing hot chicken restaurant right by there. So I was like, ok y’all, can you just drop me off at this place and come back in like a half hour?
Rosie: And we were like, we can sit with you Nick!!! We don’t care!!! And you were like I DON’T WANT ANYONE TO SEE ME.
Nick: I had to do what I had to do.
John: That is so beautiful.
TV: What are your plans for your tour upcoming?
Rosie: It’s in September, the 6th-17th. We’re going as far north as Providence and then down the East Coast. We wanted to do the West Coast but we decided we’d wait and do it another time.
TV: Did you book the shows yourselves?
Nick: Yeah, we booked them ourselves.
Q: I want to talk a little bit more about the songs specifically on the album. Are there any unifying themes or themes you want to highlight that come out of the songs that tie them together?
Rosie: I would say it’s kind of more of the same. I think it’s just the difference between this album and the other full length is going into Feminism 101, and this is going into Feminism 202. Let’s start talking about emotional labor, things like that. Also, between that album and this album our friend Joey passed away, so there are a few songs on the album that are about Joey, and we use a sound clip from a podcast they are on. I wish there was an overall theme but it’s kind of just about how shit sucks, but stay alive. Let’s scream about it together and cry about it. One of the songs that I’m most proud of lyrically anyway is the last song that no one is gonna listen to because it’s too long.
Nick: I wrote that one, and Joan DeToro helped by writing one of the riffs in the song. That was the first time I tried writing a song that was more than a minute and a half long. I really wanted to try to branch out a little and write something that was more than 2 or 3 parts.
Rosie: I like that song a lot lyrically too because I’ve had it happen over and over again where a male acquaintance of mine will ask me to have coffee, and I’m like oh yes friendship! Yay! And the whole coffee date is spent unpacking this big emotional thing they’re going through. And before this, we’ve never been super close or talked about things like this, like we’ve talked together at shows we’ve never established that sort of friendship before and it hasn’t been reciprocated where I can unload on them. It’s more like, let’s meet together one time so we can talk about this heavy thing I’m going through, no “how are you?”. It drives me crazy because on one half I’m so happy they feel comfortable talking to me like that, maybe they can’t talk about this with anyone else. But on the other hand I’m like, ok well are you doing this because you like me as a person? Are you doing this because I’m a woman? Are you doing this because I have the reputation of listening to other people’s problems? And it’s not reciprocated, and it mostly happens with men in my life. So that’s the concept I wrote about with that song, and not a lot of things repeat in that song which I’m proud of, and it gets that whole point across.
Q: I think it’s really cool that you use your music to explore that. It’s obviously something really personal to you and expressing that in the song is really great. I wanted to talk about your activism as well, all of you guys. I know that aside from being musicians you guys are outspoken human rights activists. How do you balance your roles as activists and musicians, and how do they interplay? I know your music hits really hard on talking about human rights and reproductive rights and mental health. How do you feel your roles in the community and as musicians come together in that way?
Rosie: I would say that before I was even in a political band I’ve always made those two things go together, music and activism. In Tallahassee, even if it was just organizing Punk Prom and raising money for a local organization I just wanted to keep the two ideas together. They should go together, music should be political. You know, it doesn’t have to be that way for everyone but that’s how we are. So I feel like music and activism to me are pretty much the same, at least for me lyrically. The first band I was in in Tallahassee was called Sleeping Spiders with my friend Robert. He would always talk about his songs and what they were about and I thought that was so cool and it made me want to talk about my songs, why doesn’t every band do that? The next band I was in, For the Hell of It, Shaw wrote a song for me and told me to talk before the song about some of the things I was going through. It’s kind of just making the personal experiences you have translated into something important for other people to understand. And using the social power that comes with being in front of a microphone to talk about the things that are important to you to the community around you.
Tyler: It’s really selfish of me, but I feel like bands that don’t really try ever to either be political or consider the concerns of others in their songs, and only write about their relationships is so boring.
Rosie: I even think that if you write a song about, I don’t know, a shitty break up and feel comfortable talking about it in your music that you can connect with people. I do this in this album, I just write a small paragraph about what the song is about and why it affected me and why I wrote it.
Tyler: Like a perspective on it you mean?
Rosie: Yeah, I don’t know that’s just me. If you don’t want to talk about your songs you don’t have to. I love learning about what bands have to say and what they care about. It helps me feel more connected with bands when they talk about what’s important to them. Even if it is about a breakup and you talk about it, and someone else connects with it and understands where you’re coming from, then you build community and relationships and that’s activism within it self. I attribute the fact that we talk about these things to my friend Robert and my sister Lily, they both talked about their songs a bunch and I was like “I want to do that”.
Nick: Even if your songs aren’t about anything rooted in reality, for example, my old band Atrocitus wrote primarily about comic books and wresting and stuff like that, if something was going on in the world I would try to say something in between songs about it. Just like, maybe if we’re about to play a really angry song I’d talk about something happening in the world that made me angry that week. At least bring a little more awareness to what’s going on in the world. Even if you have a shtick you can find ways to bring important issues to light even if you band is all about just having fun or celebrating different works of art that you like.
Tyler: Tie it back into the real world in some way. Even if your songs are metaphorical you can say how it relates to something going on at the moment.
Rosie: There are so many different ways you can do it too. And I don’t want to shit on anyone who doesn’t, or writes vague lyrics, or is in a goofy band, but just trying to build community is all you can really do. It all builds into something we can experience together.
Upcoming Tour Dates:
9/01 - Tallahassee, FL @ the BARK (Record Release)
9/06 - Decatur, GA @ Camp Hope DIY
9/07 - Richmond, VA @ Church Of ABE
9/08 - Philadelphia, PA
9/09 - New Haven, CT @ Never Get To Be Cool
9/10 - Cambridge, MA @ Charlie's Kitchen
9/11 - Providence, RI @ AS220
9/12 - Brooklyn, NY @ Brooklyn Bazaar Basement
9/13 - Pittsburgh, PA
9/14 - Columbus, OH @ Cellar Door
9/15 - Asheville, NC @ Static Age Records
9/16 - Birmingham, AL