This interview is one of several which was originally done for a printed publication. Due to production issues it never made it to press, so is being published here along with several others over the coming week or so.
‘Mirror Reaper’ is a record that almost didn’t see the light of day, after the devastating death of their ex-drummer Adrian Guerra, just a year after ‘Four Phantoms’ was released. The Seattle duo, now with Jessie Shreibman behind the drum kit, picked themselves up and carried on their ghostly dirge of funeral doom because they felt that to not do so would be disrespectful to Adrian’s memory. “In the beginning nothing seemed different at all. I was spending a lot of time writing the beginnings of a song by myself, as I’ve always done with this band. Jesse and I started playing a section of it live during an East Coast US tour with Wrekmeister Harmonies in early 2016 and things were moving along well with it. Sometime around March of 2016 Adrian told me he enjoyed the new material, which I was happy to hear”, vocalist and bassist Dylan Desmond tells us, “Adrian’s unexpected death a few months after that was a difficult obstacle. There were a lot of emotions and questions, but ultimately we both decided it would be cheating ourselves as well as his memory to stop the progress we’d made. I believe he would be proud of what we’ve done. Adrian’s death ultimately made us focus harder. The record couldn’t just be good, it had to be our absolute best. Anything less and we’d be letting him down.”
Bell Witch’s “absolute best” is an album that encapsulates a single, 84-minute, goliath of a song, featuring vocals from honorary member Erik Moggridge and engineering and mixing by Billy Anderson. What unfolds is a spectral and emotive sprawling soundscape, the concept of which is as densely enriched as the cavernous riffs that occupy the space within. “Our original plan was to do two movements, one titled ‘As Above’ the other ‘So Below’ within one song. The goal was to have one consistent riff pattern repeating throughout, eventually turning around and mirroring itself. The idea of the mirror, which conceptually fit well with the axiom ‘As Above So Below’ became a different sort of focus; was the song’s structure to be reversed and played backwards from the middle point? Was there room for elaboration in a sort of mirror image? We ended with the idea that a mirror’s perceived reflection is subject to how it is looked into”, Dylan explains, “Thus, the second half of the song needed to be a unique take on the image reflected while still holding the integrity of its form. Near the end of the writing process we decided the song was best presented as one piece as opposed to two. While it is written as two pieces, with the point of reflection occurring near the 45 mark, we felt like it would be taking some of the integrity of the song to cut it in half for the sake of tracking. We were both surprised at how long it had become; we originally planned for something in the 50 minute range. We cut some sections out during the writing process for fear that the direction they were going was leading towards a different song.” Dylan and Jessie didn’t feel that it would be right to complete the record without including Adrian in some small way, so took his unused vocal tracks from the ‘Four Phantoms’ recordings and added two minutes of them to the turnaround point in the song. “I think the song would be missing a lot of the complex emotions that went into it without his tracks. His family was gracious and helpful in giving us permission to use his voice, for which we’ll be forever grateful”, says Dylan.
Adrian’s passing has made Dylan and Jessie all the more determined to stay true to the path that Bell Witch’s sound has trodden up to this point. “The only road map was to keep expanding the idea without venturing away from the original direction. I think the band has refined a lot of the original goals of experimenting with slow tempos/minimalism/opposites etc. I like to think the vocals have gotten better with age and practice. Our original conceptual idea of making all the songs ghost stories of sorts has continued well.” Dylan’s belief in ghosts does not expand further than simply inspiration to write lyrics, however, and he is firm in his belief that the supernatural is not for us to understand. “I would say any and all experiences I’ve had that had ‘supernatural’ undertones were due to my own misconceptions as opposed to actual spirits between life and death or something of that sort”, he continues, “I wouldn’t say I believe or don’t believe in the supernatural, however. I can’t even perceive of how little I understand of the vastness of this world, and I can only try to understand the things that have been put before me as best I can for myself. That being said, I don’t think anything I immediately perceived as ‘supernatural’ was anything that defies a logical explanation.”
Despite the gruelling heartache that the pair have had to endure, alongside facing the prospect of continuing their band without further input from one of its key founding members, Dylan and Jessie have shown strength in the face of adversity and soldiered on. Not allowing the release of a new record to slow them down, they’re keeping their forward momentum and have already begun looking to the future and the new musical ventures it will bring. “I started writing songs for a new album”, reveals Dylan, “We’ve also discussed to idea of doing a conceptual collaboration with another artist/group. Who and what have yet to be decided.”