- Posted on Mar 1st 2011 5:15PM by Kenneth Partridge
In an interview with Spinner, guitarist Thomas Fisher explained how he and his bandmates -- guitarist and electronics wrangler Daniel Copeman and singer Rachel Davies -- wound up in the seaside town, as well as how its "startling scenery" has influenced the trio's music.
You and Daniel formed the band before enlisting Rachel. How did you meet? What made you want to work together?
I met Daniel about three years ago and it worked out quite well because I hadn't really played electric guitar at all before -- I'd been messing around with an acoustic, with a vague intention of writing songs. He was a better musician than I was. He introduced me to loads of stuff with pedals and how you get sounds out of the guitar. He, at the same time, was drifting away from guitar. He'd acquired a drum machine and was programming beats and things. It fit what both of us wanted to do, musically, quite well. We just started writing, just randomly coming up with stuff. A lot of the early stuff is really basic, musically, and that was just because we were finding our feet with those instruments.
To a lot of rock 'n' roll fans, Brighton conjures images of the mods and rockers fighting it out in the Who's 'Quadrophenia.' How has the city affected your music?
None of us are from Brighton originally. We all kind of gravitated here for various reasons. It's interesting, the influence a place can have on music. For us, it's kind of a subconscious thing. It's difficult to explain how it affects me. This is where we met, and we played our early shows here. It's really kind of a nice community, but there's also the geography of the area around the sea. There are these breathtaking walks out on the coast and onto the Downs, and that's where we spent a lot of time. The place where we practiced and wrote a lot of the album is a small room that's under the arches on the seafront, and we wrote it there last winter. It's kind of a dark space; you come outside and there's an expansive seafront. It's this really inspirational place. Brighton seeps into the music without us knowing it. It's certainly startling scenery around here, dramatic scenery.
Rachel never sang publicly before joining the band. What made you think she'd be a good fit?
Our formation is just a series of happy accidents. Myself and Daniel, we had wanted to have vocals involved. We wanted to have lyrics, rather than just have it be instrumental. We experimented briefly with Daniel singing, and he didn't feel comfortable in that role, so we briefly tried to seek out a singer. That took us nowhere. Rachel was an old friend of mine I hadn't seen for a long time. We bumped into each other, and she mentioned that she'd been doing a bit of singing, and we felt like there was nothing to lose.
She just started singing and we were both taken aback by it. It fit amazingly. We're lucky enough to share a collective vision -- not just the music and lyrics, but the art that surrounds it.
I know you're all share similar interests in literature and film. Are you by any chance David Lynch fans? The song 'Swans,' which ends the album, reminds me of 'Twin Peaks.'
It's amazing you mention 'Twin Peaks.' We're all fans of that. Thinking of the album as a film, I suppose, and a soundtrack, 'Swans' was intended to be the closing credits. In a way, it releases tension that the second half of the record is building up. 'Swans' is supposed to evoke a funeral procession and the lyrics of that song were Rachel's. It's inspired by Victorian funerals, and how the procession used to move through the streets. What we wanted to do is make it feel like that song was -- particularly the ending of it -- a procession disappearing over the hill. You can take stock, in that song, of what's gone before.
You mention that Rachel wrote the lyrics to that one. Is that how your songwriting process generally works?
Musically, it just starts randomly. Anyone comes up with an idea. It's a really collaborative process. All of us work together on all the songs. Rachel writes most of the lyrics -- not all, but most of them. Speaking for myself, I don't consider the syllables and how the words will work, so I tend to write just stream of consciousness, almost.
It can start with Daniel programming a drum-machine beat or myself writing a synth or guitar part or Rachael with a lyrical idea or a skeletal guitar part. When we develop it, it's a collaborative process. That's kind of how we achieve the sound we want -- by taking bits and grabbing ideas the three of us suggest.
Writing about the band, critics invariably use words like "dark" and "sparse." They also cite Siouxsie and the Banshees as an influence. Did you listen to a lot of bleak, moody music growing up?
Siouxsie Sioux comes up a lot. None of us really listened to her at all. It's really flattering people compare us to them, but that's not a band any one of us grew up with. In the kind of realms you're talking about, I listened to early Cure records -- 'Seventeen Seconds' and 'Pornography' -- and those kinds of things that have that sparse, gloom to them. We liked those, but growing up, I listened to a lot of AFI as well, and I don't know if that would be described as minimalist, but at least theatrical and overblown.
It's interesting to us the Goth thing gets brought up a bit, because it's something we never considered. There was no great design to how the music sounds. Rachel grew up listening to Bjork and PJ Harvey, and Radiohead [for] Daniel and I, and maybe bands like the Cure. When it's all put together, [our sound] is the way it comes out.
Catch Esben and the Witch's SXSW Sets on Tuesday, March 15 at Spill (212 E. Sixth St.) 10PM, Friday, March 18 at Latitude 30 (512 San Jacinto St.) 12AM and Wednesday, March 16 at The Windish Agency House @ ND (501 N IH 35) 8PM.
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