The inspired art rock/post-punk alloy of SEAWITCHES’ debut EP Spacegun, issued in late 2012, announced the arrival on record of a long-standing fixture on the city’s gig circuit. Fast-forward eighteen months to today and we’re happy to report that the band’s follow-up to Spacegun vaults far ahead of that impressive first offering. The forthcoming, vividly titled EP Tear Back The Sky picks up the baton from the previous release and sprints headlong into newer, more expansive territory.
Revolving around principal players and songwriters Jo Herring (Vocals, Guitar, Bass) and Laura Caldwell (Bass, Guitar, Vocals), the pair are joined by guitarist Sophie Nicole Ellison and a steady succession of drummers (Jacob King is in possession of the sticks for the current release). The band’s profile has deservedly snowballed since they unleashed Spacegun, bolstered by a slew of live shows and radio sessions, but with Tear Back The Sky it feels like the stars have aligned for them, in more ways than one. EP curtain raiser Stars, recently released as the band’s debut single, is their most immediate track to date, a sunburst of Veronica Falls-esque jangly indie pop, backed with SeaWitches’ first foray into video. “It’s the first song we wrote. I think you can hear its naïve charm, because it’s literally the first thing we ever did together,” Jo explains, as dusk settles, presaging another wintry night in Liverpool.
Drawn from Jo and Laura’s extensive catalogue of songs, accumulated and refined over years of concentrated writing, many of the tracks started life in the band’s former practice room in St. Bride’s Church. “We’ve got so many songs cos when we first started playing together we weren’t gigging at all. We didn’t have that confidence yet, we were trying to find our feet as musicians really,” Laura explains. “All these really old riffs that we wrote years ago just bubble up.” Several songs, meanwhile, evolved out of edited-down, lengthy, improvised jams, which are born from the duo playing “things to death until they arrive at their natural state,” Jo smiles.
As ardent fans of David Lynch and Haruki Murakami (author of modern classics 1Q84 and Norwegian Wood), the non-linear narrative drift of both filmmaker and writer are elements with which the band strive to infuse their material. “We try to bring that to the way we write the music,” Jo nods. “The idea of it doesn’t need to make sense. Why should it have to make sense, really?”
This effect of weaving what initially seem to be disparate elements into aural tapestries works brilliantly on the spiralling riffs that form the bedrock of the songs on Tear Back The Sky, such as Sleepkill, which is anchored by a clunking, almost industrial rhythmic pattern. “We want to be evocative, and Sleepkill is a bit hypnotic and nightmarish in a way,” Laura explains. “I think it’s OK that not all the lyrics make complete sense; we often name songs after what they remind us of in terms of what they sound like.” The Eastern, which is possibly the highlight of the collection, stands as a prime example, padding along with cat-like grace through a desert haze before deftly switching moods towards the coda and transforming into something more urgent. Written using Eastern modal scales, the track is a partner to The Western, which is set to be included on the group’s next release and is influenced by Jo’s recent immersion in Ennio Morricone soundtracks.
Produced by Sophie, the five-track set was recorded in the decidedly upmarket surroundings of a certain former school in the city’s Georgian Quarter. “We played a gig in the old Milk: Presents HQ [above the Cabin Club, Bold St] and Sophie was playing that night as part of Wet Mouth and she was looking for a project and she ended up joining us,” Laura explains of the sessions. “Sophie was working on the finals for her degree in Sound Tech at LIPA and part of it was to record a live band to professional standard and she chose us. She’s really brought something out of the music; she’s made it more accessible. On the last EP, it was done in two days; it was rushed; and it was the first time we’d recorded that way.”
“When you’re going into a high-end recording studio it can be a bit daunting and Sophie was aware of that and our inexperience,” Laura recalls. “We’ve probably got an album’s worth of material out of those studio sessions, but we thought we’d aim for an EP first. These five songs seemed to make sense as an EP, the flow of it, plus trying to release a self-funded album is quite a tall order.” With Sophie on the other side of the recording-studio glass, Tear Back The Sky boasts increased assurance and clarity with the reverb-swathed vocals, razorwire guitar motifs and slowly unspooling basslines that have become SeaWitches hallmarks.
Helmed with the aim of matching the impact and tangible atmospheres of touchstones such as The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds and Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures, the sidewinding guitar lines interlock seamlessly with Jo’s sonorous vocals, pitched crystal clear in the mix. “This last year doing all these recordings I’ve definitely become a better vocalist; I’ve really been trying to push myself vocally and stretch what my voice can do,” Jo says.
Black Bark, meanwhile, its lyrics inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, “along with a quote from a Nico biography”, possesses a febrile energy similar to early Siouxsie And The Banshees material. Laura takes on vocal duties for Black Bark, delivering lyrics loaded with religious imagery. “It’s like a fairytale written as though you’re being pursued, as though you’re being surrounded by horrible things and trying to hold it together.”
With the second instalment about to hit the shelves, the third episode of SeaWitches’ continuing odyssey isn’t far behind. “There’s still a ton of old stuff. Once we’ve done the launch night for the EP the next priority is booking studio time; we’re really anxious to get the [new] songs recorded,” Jo says. The angst to hear new material should doubtless be shared by listeners, as the successor to Tear Back The Sky can’t arrive soon enough.