Interview by Parisa Eshrati
Hailing from the small midwestern town of Muscatine, grind-mathcore group Closet Witch released their debut self-titled album that is both as technical and precise as it intimate and personal. Ahead of their set at Northwest Terror Fest, we caught up with members of the band in this email interview to discuss the background, execution and thematic elements of the release.
Tell us a little about the recording process for this album. I read that there were a lot of complications with the last EP that led you all to do the project completely DIY without a studio or recording engineer, but this time around you guys did everything at Flat Back Studios. How did you all connect with them and decide to try the professional recording route again?
Mollie Piatetsky (vocals): I personally never had any experience in a recording studio before Flat Black but Luke Tweedy had mentioned interest in recording us after seeing us live and we went with it. All of us liked Luke already and were familiar with a few albums we loved that had been made there. It was a really positive experience all around.
Alex Crist (guitars): I personally had some more negative experiences with studios with previous projects that really deterred us from doing it again at first, a lot of engineers in our area that start projects but don’t want to finish them. After doing so many releases ourselves and work/shows/writing consuming our free time, it was time to open up to new ideas. We met with Luke before committing, really felt out the studio, conversed ideas and shared a lot of different viewpoints. It only felt natural to work together.
Mollie - you’ve said before how your lyric writing process varies from journal writings to researching political articles to fuel your passion. What were some of the more personal songs for you on the self-titled album? Tell us about the process of bringing some of your most personal writing and sharing it in a very public light.
Mollie: Two songs on the album that touch on loss and grief are "Your Grace" and "Personal Machu Picchu". "Your Grace" brewed from a split that we put out with our friends in National Hero from the Quad Cities many years ago that I wrote lyrics for inspired by ways I’ve attempted to contact a lost loved one, “failed” by my own terms and then had to force myself not to obsess over it. There were three songs total on that split. "Personal Machu Picchu", to keep this short, touches more on my draw to cemeteries for comfort, reflection in many ways, feelings of safety. "Lost and Unidentified" is also a more personally hard hitting track for me due to its base lyrically brewing from trauma and stress in my teenage years. Some trauma brewing directly from sexual abuse that I had always felt like I had to hide or act like it didn’t happen, which often left me feeling really alone.
Cory and Alex - I know you both do a lot with artwork and design. What are some design elements that you contributed to this album, whether they resulted aesthetically or sonically through the songs?
Cory Peak (bass): I didn’t contribute anything to this album in regards to design (except for in group discussion - minor things like ‘should there be a band logo on the front cover?’ etc.) My contribution was solely musical. Learning how to play the songs and performing them to the best of my ability during the recording process.
Alex: I didn’t contribute anything to our self titled release other than a very raw sketch for an idea of what we wanted to see in full detail from someone else’s perspective. Along with recording with someone else, we felt like outsourcing to a local friend to do our artwork. I honestly couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.
I’ve been seeing comments online how you're an animal rights-based band. Since your lyrics aren’t available online, I was curious to ask if there’s truth to that. If so, what are some songs that tackle those issues? If not, can you elaborate on some of the other themes dissected on the album?
Mollie: We don’t really have any songs that are specifically dealing with the subject of animal rights. However, we do have lyrical content relating to cruelty, mistreatment of all living beings, injustice which could obviously reflect on the subject of animal cruelty/rights etc. Lyrical content also includes subjects such as; health care/government, personal experience/trauma.
Royce Kurth (drums): And even though we don’t necessarily have any lyrical content that's explicitly focused on animal rights, it is an issue that I think we all feel really strongly about in our individual lives.
The album showcases some incredibly technical and mathematical instrumental segments. I read that no one is trained in theory, so I’m curious what everyone’s educational background in music is. Were your previous bands also as technical as Closet Witch?
Royce: This is definitely the most technical project I've ever been involved with, particularly being brought up in Latin percussion at an early age and punk rock later on. This project, from a drumming standpoint, sort of seems like the culmination of all of the things I've learned from playing so many drastically different styles over the years.
Cory: None of the other bands I’ve played in have been as technical as CW. I did play in one hardcore/metal band but it was not at all ‘mathy’. It has been a challenge for me to learn some of the CW material and it is rewarding when it finally ‘clicks’.
Alex: I’ve jumped between a lot of different genres for old bands but CW definitely is the most raw and technical. I didn’t quite understand timing when I first started playing guitar, so most people didn’t understand what the riff was that I was showing them, I would be ridiculed a lot as a hack musician when I was a kid. So when people say it’s technical, off-time or mathcore - it all just sounds the same to me. I can’t really tell the difference between 4/4 vs just following an off-time pattern. I saw Ringbearer (Sender Receiver / Dead Church) while running a venue at 19, it literally changed my life. I had to play grind.
It seems like Iowa has a really killer music scene. What do you think it is about Iowa that leads to it having such a devoted hardcore scene? Can you recommend some bands from your area (any genre) to check out?
Cory: I think that we have less going on here in Iowa (compared to more heavily populated areas) so we tend to appreciate what we do have a little more maybe.. There are fewer people who are into the whole DIY/punk etc. thing so it just works out best for everyone to get along and work together and support each other and whatnot. My favorite Iowa bands right now: Aseethe, Druids, Dryad, Good Morning Midnight, Traffic Death, Blood Spell and Karen Meat.
Alex: I agree, it’s pointless to not work together out here - genre doesn’t matter. It’s soley just let’s book a show and make it the best we possibly can. The real folks get it and they strive to work together. It’s far more of a community than it is a music scene. I also think the lack of touring acts that use Iowa as a drive state contributes to the want and devotion to music, the kids are fucking hungry. So if someone keeping it real shows up to Iowa for a show, they are going to have a great time.
Several points throughout the self-titled album invokes inspiration from physical landscapes, i.e. “Personal Machu Picchu” and “Moonstomp” being inspired by a wilderness path on Wild Cat Den in Muscatine. Can you elaborate more on how your direct physical surroundings influence the atmosphere of your music?
Royce: It seems like in lower population areas, you really have to make the most of your surroundings and appreciate the beauty around you whenever you can. And I think that reflects in our music slightly. Things may not always be pretty, but when they are, it's incredible.
Cory: I basically just follow what Alex does musically. But I would have to say that the midwest landscape of ‘emptiness’, suffocating factories and also experiencing things such as small town small-minded ness and witnessing drug abuse (meth) in our communities has an effect on our sound and need for cathartic release.
I really love how you guys have described the ambiance of your show being really positive and not harnessing that super bro-hardcore-macho-dude-moshing-vibes that almost inevitably show up at hardcore shows. Can you elaborate on creating a more welcoming environment at your shows and how you make sure that machismo energy in the crowd doesn’t fester?
Cory: I think that people can see, hopefully, that we don’t take ourselves too seriously and we don’t demand people do certain things at our shows like say..punching someone or throwing the fuck down. Mollie is pretty good about reminding folks to mind their neighbors space/be aware if your moshing/moving is bothering anyone and being considerate but to still let loose and enjoy yourself.
Alex: I think people just feel it and also can feel a nonthreatening energy. I think the scene right now is really striving for relentlessly heavy music without the “metal guy” attitude, I think they are actually starving for it. We’ve been blessed with crowds that truly connect with our performance. As far as keeping the machismo energy from the crowd, I think they handle their own. We’ve played shows where folks are drug out - if you’re there for violence, you’re at the wrong show.
CHOOSE UR FIGHTER (WITCH EDITION): Kikimora, Baba Yaga, Elvira, or Winifred Sanderson (or if you feel so compelled, pick your own witch of preference).
Mollie: Baba Yaga or Elvira, just depends on who the opponent might be.
Royce: Elvira for me please
Cory: I’m going to have to go with Baba Yaga.
Alex: Schierke, please.
What else can we look forward to from you all for the rest of the year? Who are y’all excited to see at Northwest Terror Fest this year?
Cory: Cloud Rat. All of the other bands we are playing with on Friday honestly. Bongripper at the aftershow! Unfortunately, we will only be there for one night..and will miss a ton of great bands. Really wanted to see Bongzilla.. I’ve been a fan for like 15 years.. Saw 'em once years ago.
Mollie: All of the band we’re playing with are going to be amazing to see. I LOVE seeing Cloud Rat, so i’m happy knowing I’ll have that pleasure but it will also be so amazing to finish the show and head to the aftershow to see Bongripper tear it up.
Alex: I get to spend my birthday watching Pig Destroyer, Bongripper and our friends in Cloud Rat. I’m so fucking stoked you have no fucking idea. We’re doing 3 splits and a limited flexi run of an awesome live performance that’s never been released online throughout 2019/early 2020.
Royce: Honestly, I don't think theres a single band I'm not super stoked to see. I'm still kind of in awe that we get to be in the company of so many insane performers.