IV: Dylan, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to speak today! At Iron Veins, this is a milestone for us as you are our first band interview. Welcome!
DD: Thank you for having me! I’m very excited to be the first person interviewed!
IV: Let’s jump right into it. Following Bell Witch’s critically-acclaimed album Mirror Reaper, June 26, 2020 marked the release of Stygian Bough Volume I, a collaboration with the Portland-based, doom-folk outfit Aerial Ruin. Can you walk us through the planning and writing process between the bands? For example, did someone assume a “band leader” type role with the music and lyrics, or did you all seek to keep things a collective work?
DD: So a bit of backstory – in 2010 when Bell Witch started, we asked Erik to be our vocalist. We lived in different cities and didn’t have much material, so there wasn’t a lot of reason to make such commitments then. Instead, he sang on a song that appeared on our first full length album Longing. It is a different feel than most other Bell Witch material, and we wanted to harness some of its energy and vision in this collaboration.
In this regard, we’ve worked together on every Bell Witch record and even toured together on a few occasions. Approaching this record was easier than most projects, since we already knew how we all worked together. We agreed Erik should take on the role of “lead vocalist” and lyricist, while Jesse and I were less present in that category. Adding Erik’s guitar allowed for new harmonies to work with the bass, which were usually all covered by my bass in Bell Witch.
IV: Where was Stygian Bough recorded, and what led you to that location?
DD: We recorded the record at Avast Studios in Seattle. Avast has a long history of great records being made there over the years, and we were all excited to do things locally. It’s also close to home, so the commute was easy enough.
IV: Did you work with a new producer this time around? How would you describe that experience?
DD: The past two Bell Witch records have been recorded by Billy Anderson in Portland, and this time we went with Randall Dunn to try something new. Each engineer has a different approach and it was a learning experience being able to compare the two. I personally learned a lot just by seeing the two contrasting approaches, and I’m starting to tinker with recording things myself now!
IV: For this recording process, did you experiment with any new gear or studio techniques? If so, what were the lessons learned?
DD: On this record we spent a lot less time mixing than on previous records. Personally, I really like spending a lot of time tweaking everything once it’s finalized in context. I would rather we act as our own producers than have another person act in this role, as they don’t know what our aim is comparatively. I enjoy hearing and mixing composition throughout a record, similar to that of song structure. Maybe I could say I even prefer the mixing to mirror the song structure. Of course, many things will be consistent throughout each, but the mixing has to follow the composition in this regard. As Stygian Bough is becoming a unit of its own, I think we’ll approach things a lot differently next time in the mixing realm because of this experience.
IV: Stygian Bough is spacious, dark, and melodic; elegantly blending doom with elements of 70s era rock, ala Jethro Tull, Neil Young, and Pink Floyd. While this is quite a departure from the colossal, weighty doom of Mirror Reaper, the impact is equally mesmerizing. Were there any particular bands or artists that influenced Stygian’s direction?
DD: Our initial discussions were centered around Ulver’s Kveldssanger, Asunder’s Clarion Call, Candlemass’ Nightfall, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon. I think moving forward, these foundation influences will fluctuate and the band will continue to grow into itself.
IV: Stygian Bough now marks Bell Witch’s fourth release with Profound Lore Records, which is home to many talented, heavy groups like Artificial Brain, Pallbearer, and Portal. Can you talk about the band’s relationship with the label, and what has kept you working together?
DD: Profound Lore has been overwhelmingly supportive to all of our ideas and approaches. I think Chris’ aim in the label is to support the music and arts that move him. As you said in the question, the roster is impressive. In this regard, it’s been an honor to continue to work with Profound Lore and we’re hoping to continue to do so in the future!
IV: Let’s talk about the new album’s artwork created by Adam Burke. Simply stated, it looks killer! Burke masterfully captured the mood of the album with this design. How did you approach the artist for this release? Did you have a visual concept in mind early on in the writing process?
DD: Adam Burke and I spoke some time back about doing artwork for the Live at Roadburn album, though we ended up working with Leo Ulfelder for that record. I think the excitement of this prospect never left, and when I proposed it to Jesse and Erik for this release, they were both immediately onboard. Our intent was to reference the lyrical concept of Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin’s first collaborative song “Rows (of Endless Waves)” from the album Longing. In it, a ghost/spirit is trapped in the endless waves reaching for shore. It’s obvious intent is to make it to land, although it is trapped forever crashing into and away from it. I think he captured it great!
IV: Does the band have any plans for a livestream performance of the new material? If so, when and where can fans see the show?
DD: Erik is doing some pre-recorded acoustic versions of points in the album, namely the intro and parts of “Heaven Torn Low I”. I think those are going live in the coming weeks. As for live streaming, we have no plans in that department. Hopefully, we can play live shows again someday! We were all very very excited about our May tour on the US west Coast with Coffins (Japan) and an August European tour. Maybe someday international society will return to some memory of itself, and these sorts of things can happen again. Maybe.
IV: Ok, time for an unorthodox question: If you could record an album with any artist, past or present, who would you choose and why?
DD: That’s tough! The first person to pop into my mind is Hiroshi Yoshimura. His album Music From Nine Postcards is incredible in so many ways, and I wish I could play with such restraint as he does. That being said, I think adding another musician to an album like that could ruin it. The solitude he captures is vital and another voice would compromise that. This being said, I felt this same way about Aerial Ruin for a very long time. Erik and I have discussed having me play bass on an AR song forever, and I’ve never known how to approach it that wouldn’t take away this solitude that is vital to it. I think the intro to “The Bastard Wind” on the Stygian Bough record was the first successful pass, which allowed the rest of the record to open up behind it. Minimal music can be so delicate and unapproachable. I love these elements.
IV: Do you have any shout outs for the unsung heroes who helped with the release of Stygian Bough Volume I, or any new bands you’ve recently discovered that we need to hear?
DD: A few records I’ve had on heavy rotation as of late:
1. Lankum The Livelong Day
2. Vargrav Reign in Supreme Darkness
3. Kleistwahr Music for Zeitgeist FIghters
4. Nortt Gudsforladt
5. Superstition The Anatomy of Unholy Transformation
IV: Dylan, thank you again for taking the time to discuss the new album! Without hyperbole, we have been listening to Stygian Bough on repeat since the end of June. There is something so captivating and poignant about this new offering; truly remarkable work. For closing thoughts, would you like to share any recent pieces of wisdom that have positively impacted your creative pursuits?
DD: Thank you for taking the time to discuss this stuff with me! It’s awesome to hear you’re digging the record! I hope you’re staying safe and healthy! I suppose I’m not the wisest of wiseguys, but I think the elements that have consistently had positive effects on my musical pursuits have been these:
1. Listen to music as much as possible.
2. Play music as much as possible.
3. Seek the essence in things and relish the feelings that follow.
4. Be wrapped and sewn into the things important to these pursuits.
Check out Stygian Bough Volume I here.