By Avinash Mittur
For six years, Witchaven have been playing shows all across America and giving audiences a dose of their blackened thrash. The band has done tours with Nocturnal and Speedwolf and has played national festivals like SXSW and Maryland Deathfest. I saw the band play at the Key Club with Dr. Know and Ghoul last Friday and was treated to a killer set as always. I caught up with guitarist/vocalist Henry Montoya at the show and we got to talk about their soon to be released second album, their upcoming shows and the differences between the Bay Area and Los Angeles among a myriad of other topics. Read our chat below, check out Witchaven’s facebook page for updates on the new album, and make sure to head out to the band’s show on Halloween night at the Key Club.
So from what I hear, a new Witchaven album is in the works. What stage are you guys at in the process?
We’re recording and songwriting right now, we’re doing it all at the same time. We’ve been going to our friend Aaron “Hippie” Cronon’s Cronon Studios to work out the songs and we record like five hours of us just trying to tweak the material until we have it done. Putting our full effort and all of our emotion into writing music is the priority right now. We have influences from d-beat, to black metal to thrash but this time around I must say that there is a bigger influence from punk and extreme black metal. Not so much thrash this time, but the cool thing about it is that we never lose what makes us Witchaven. When you listen to the music, you’ll know that it’s us.
Witchaven have built a loyal following in LA, probably a solid chunk of Metal Assault’s readers are Witchaven fans. Are there any special LA gigs coming up that you want to tell everyone about?
Well we’ve got a couple shows coming up, but the one we really want everyone to come out for is on Halloween night, Wednesday October 31st. We’re going to play here at the Key Club on Sunset, but tickets are going to cost only five dollars. It’s going to be Witchaven, Iron Fist, Internal Corrosion, Marauding Ghouls and maybe even Battalion of Saints. It’s going to be a total punk/metal show. It’s going to be cool- facepaint, naked chicks, Halloween, and pumpkins at the Key Club for five dollars!
Witchaven just played at the Key Club, literally only two hours ago. How the set from your perspective?
Well, I must say that it was my favorite set of all time.
It was different for sure. Maybe the crowd wasn’t as wild they could have been, but we were the first band up. I’d like to think we set the standard for the night because we had our delightful, marvelous friend Malice666 come out and do some burlesque dancing for us. It was wonderful and amazing! She gave a great performance. I felt the energy of the crowd was wavering at first, and I can understand why- we were the first band after all. When Malice came out though, she totally rejuvenated our energy onstage. We felt the feedback coming from the crowd and it just felt great. It was a perfect set, I couldn’t ask for more.
Witchaven are unique in that you guys initially released the full length Terrorstorm independently two years ago, but then you re-released it with major distribution. What kind of model do you want to follow for the second album?
We’re recording it and getting stuff done with the second album, and we’re going to try to get a label to put it out. I’m crossing my fingers for Hell’s Headbangers because they’re great people and they’ve worked with Speedwolf, who are some of our best friends. Maybe they might help us out, if not then we’ll open ourselves up to whoever is interested in putting the album out. For anyone who is interested, I can send out a demo and I can guarantee you that the music will speak for itself.
Speaking of Speedwolf, I know Witchaven just recently went on a headlining tour with those guys and you stopped by Eli’s Mile High Club in the Bay. The show was 21+, so I’m hoping your next headlining date is all ages?
Well, maybe. A lot of the time, the whole all-ages thing is rough because it depends on the availability of the venues. All-ages venues are very scarce these days, and the type of art that we create is just as rare.
Well, I know Witchaven have been welcomed at venues up there like 924 Gilman, Sub-Mission-
Some of those venues that are all ages though have kind of a bad reputation. Kids just don’t seem to like them! I don’t know what it is. I have no idea- we’re a band from out of town, but it seems that more people came out to a show at Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland, a 21+ bar, than an all-ages Gilman show. It’s kind of strange, but you know, who knows how it will turn out? It’s just the logistics of how people feel and what the mood of the moment is, so who knows! I can’t guarantee every show is going to be all ages, but we’ll be in town.
One thing that really differentiates the two ends of California are the concert bills. I see a lot more punk and crossover down in LA whereas the Bay seems have seasoned thrash acts to offer. In your opinion, how do those bills color the kind of experience a Witchaven fan has at your shows?
Well you know, the Bay Area is such a cultural place. People will come out if you entice them enough. Sometimes I feel that a full-on thrash show might not be appropriate for the people in the bay. Let’s just say they’re on a “higher” level of thinking, you know? People like to smoke a whole lot of weed out there, have a lot of good times, and express themselves much more. People on the West Coast in general express themselves a lot, which is really unique. People are very unique and they all have something to say. There’s something about the bay though- it’s its own animal, its own country, it’s its own place. You go there and you can’t expect the kind of crowd that you see in LA or anywhere else. The bay is a place of such mixed culture that you really don’t know what to expect. Sometimes, maybe the lineup you think is going to do great out there does terrible, and sometimes the lineup you think is only okay does amazing. I really don’t know, the bay is always a mystery. That’s why I love the bay so much though, I call it our second home. The Bay Area is truly the place that embraced us first and foremost. We call the Bay Area our true home- we come from Los Angeles, but the Bay Area was the first place that took us in and accepted us for who we are. We’re a little different than everyone else, and I think that’s why the bay still likes us regardless of what is happening in the scene.
Going back to your live sets- you’ve been playing a reworked version of “Blasphemous Cunt” recently.
Yes! We’ve been playing around and we want to pull out the new songs but the thing is that we’re very hesitant because we want to give everyone 110% from song to song. Not a “we’re working on this, check it out” kind of deal. I don’t want to pull out the new songs until we are completely comfortable and we will perform them to our fullest capability. If we show them off while they’re still being written, it’s just not the same feeling as opposed to “hey we’ve got this, check this out.”
Actually I was going to ask if you were planning on recording this new version of “Blasphemous Cunt” but what you said is great to know too.
Oh! Well, I don’t know! That’s the thing, we’re going to record every song we’ve got, including “Blasphemous Cunt.” From there, we’re going to try and sculpt an album. We’re going to sculpt it as if there is a side A and side B. It’s going to feel like a book, it’s going to feel real. It’s going to feel like the way albums used to feel. It’s going to have a tinge of Pink Floyd in terms of ideology and what’s going to happen to the music. We don’t want to write an album where you have to dissect every song. No, we want to create an album where you hear one song and it continues on to the next track and you say “oh shit, now I have to hear the whole album to understand what’s going on” and that’s why we’re going to write a lot of songs and really try to experiment with how they go in order. Maybe “Blasphemous Cunt” will make it on the album, maybe it won’t. It all depends on how it fits within what we’re trying to express with the record.
So does that also go for the songs on the “Sacrificial Burnt Offering” EP?
The songs on the EP were just us experimenting with our new ideas. See, “Supermax” has a lot of d-beat and black metal influence and that’s not necessarily how the next album is going to sound, but it does have a tinge of what’s coming. I look at the seven-inch as kind of what “Haunting the Chapel” was to Slayer. It wasn’t necessarily a whole new evolution, but you could see where we’re going.
It’s kind of like a snapshot of Witchaven circa 2011.
Yup! But Witchaven 2013 is going to be so superior to anything we’ve done before.
You mentioned there were more punk and black metal influences. Has that affected your vocals in any way?
Not whatsoever! King Diamond is the man I truly take influence from, I even have him tattooed on my arm. He was one of the few vocalists that was able to express himself in different forms and different fashions. So when you hear the new album, you’re not only going to hear punk vocals from me, you’re going to hear black metal vocals- vocals that sound like Satanic Warmaster, or the Varukers all the way to something like Nuclear Assault or Kreator. I’m going to try and do everything I can with my vocals because I feel that it adds to the atmosphere that we try to create with our riffs and music and the mood that we try to express. With my vocal performance, I’m going to all out with this new album. I kind of had the Schmier snarl before, but at the same time I’m going to bring back the black metal growl and the punk bombast. It’ll be much more intricate, I feel like the music now is much more layered. There’s a lot of weaving of influences. It’s something no one has ever heard in their life before, I promise you that.
I also wanted to talk about your guitar playing a bit, and how it’s evolved with Erik added in the band.
Well, my guitar playing isn’t so extravagant. My playing is alright, I do okay. But really who shines and has helped us expand and seriously go up to the next level is Erik. I can’t express how much of an upgrade he has been for us. Since he’s joined the band, we’ve been capable of going so much farther than we ever have before. The next album is going to feature a lot more lead guitar. More leads, more melody. It’s like Iron Maiden meets Steve Vai and you throw all of that into the pit with Bestial Mockery and Disfear. You’re going to hear a lot of solos, a lot of punk and a lot of black metal.
Well I’m psyched. Thank you Henry, and best of luck at the upcoming shows!
Related: Key Club October 12th gig review