Trackpacking: All Them Witches

by Keith Savage

All Them Witches

Trackpacking is a series highlighting musicians that inspire me to travel and create.

In the 1968 horror film Rosemary’s Baby, Mia Farrow is destined to give birth to the Antichrist. A coterie of creepy players prepare her to carry the spawn of Satan, though the knowledge is kept from her, and only through the help of her friend Hutch does she begin to suspect her kindly old neighbors might be sinister witches. The key that unleashes Rosemary’s tide of isolated paranoia and fear? A book on witchcraft titled All of Them Witches.

The name conjures shadowy rituals, gothic mysticism, and the suggestion of deeper, forgotten powers. It’s a fantastic name for a book — I love the improper grammar — but it might be an even better band name. Many moons have passed since my last entry in the venerable Trackpacking series, and I’m happy to end the drought with All Them Witches. (Now is a good time to scroll down and fire up one of the songs linked below.)

First off these guys are not the Antichrist — at least not to my knowledge — but there is something in their music worth fearing, and I mean that in the best possible sense. The Witches formed a little over four years ago in Nashville, Tennessee, but the members hail from outlying areas — Florida, Ohio, Louisiana — and with them comes a host of adjacent genres: Hard rock, psychedelic rock, blues, spoken word, bluegrass, jam, and Appalachian folk. Their music reminds me of a good whisky: Complex, moreish, and always hinting at something deeper. That’s the scary part. This music taps a vein whether or not you want it to.

Few bands make music with such equality. On any given cut you’ll notice each member coming to the fore and taking the song by the horns, and it’s this aspect that also makes them an incredible jam band. The low end is pinned down by Robby Staebler, a beast of a man who punishes the drums but not at the expense of clarity or precision. He’s got a swingy ear, too, so you can thank him for many of the grooves. I don’t know these guys — I’ve only chatted with them briefly at shows — but I sense Mr. Staebler is the glue that binds together both the songs and the band members themselves. He met the guitarist in a bar, worked with the bassist/singer, and has been friends with the keys guy for a long time. Oh, he’s also the artist behind much of the band’s merchandise.

A dedicated keys player is an uncommon addition to a psych/stoner/desert rock band, but All Them Witches would not be the same without Allan Van Cleave behind the Fender Rhodes. In fact, the more I listen to their music the more prominent and essential he becomes. The warm tones and melodies add loads of atmosphere and give some songs a Boards of Canada vibe. When needed, the keys function as bass and a few songs have Mr. Van Cleave on the violin imparting a taste of Appalachia.

I’m a riff monster. I like The Sword, Graveyard, and Truckfighters, but also their ancestors in the 90s and 70s. Lead guitarist Ben McLeod has a shredder’s spirit. Just listen to El Centro. His ear for melody combined with the warm, reverby, fuzzed out guitar tone makes for a delicious stew. I’m not sure if it’s the tuning or the key All Them Witches usually plays in, after all, I’m no music critic or musician, but it resonates with me. It feels good. And Mr. McLeod is a creative guitarist seemingly just as comfortable using steel slides for bluesy jams as laying down power chords for some grunge.

I’m sure I miss out on a lot of good music because bad singers kill bands for me. The final witch in this coven, bassist, vocalist, sometime guitarist, Charles Michael Parks, Jr., is my kind of singer. Over the course of three albums Mr. Parks has refined his style to the point where ‘shamanic’ is the best descriptor I can imagine. He pulls his deep voice around grooves and hangs lyrics from unexpected places, often speaking his words and leaving them like stones tumbling beneath a torrent of guitars, bass, and keys. Want more? He’s a lyricist, a true poet. All Them Witches’s songs tell stories, but they’re veiled in metaphor, open to interpretation in a way that allows the thoughtful to discuss their meanings at length.

I’ve had the good fortune to see All Them Witches live in concert three times in the last four months as they tour their new record, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker. They’re incredibly tight, and you shouldn’t miss the opportunity to see them if they’re passing through your neck of the woods (they’re on tour now).

When I listen to music I want to feel something, and when I listen to All Them Witches I feel inspired. In fact, several of their songs have wormed their way onto the playlist I listen to while working on my novel. I’ve since vowed to Sarah that when I sell the movie rights I’ll finagle a caveat that allows me to co-executive produce the soundtrack. All Them Witches will be on it; “Open Passageways” is perfect.

I can’t wait to see what the future holds for these guys.

Pack These Tracks

Photos by abbers13 via Flickr/Creative Commons

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