All Them Witches appeared at Lake Tahoe on May 9 in support of their latest and arguably most accomplished album, “Sleeping Through The War.” On their last three albums, Charles Parks (bass/vocals), Ben Mcleod (guitar), Robby Staebler (drums) and Allen Van Cleave (Rhodes piano/ keyboard) have created a thick, layered sound that is impressive for its depth and power. It pummels your senses like some mystical, backwoods behemoth forged from metal, blues, hardcore and folk.
All the ingredients are still there this time around but there is a noticeably different tone on “Sleeping Through The War,” which is more lively than lumbering and charges the kinetic energy in your body. One example is the lead song “Bulls,” which flows from a wavy rhythm into a Morse code guitar duel that explodes into a Chemical Brothers-like trance groove.
Parks told Tahoe Onstage that the musical pivot was intentional.
“It was just time to do some faster stuff and add more stuff into the repertoire that is more dancing music. It is fun for us to play and the last record was pretty sad and there’s a lot of instrumental stuff on ‘Dying Surfer.’
“‘Sleeping Through The War’ is the first album where there are vocals on every song. We’re just trying to play it up on stage to have more fun, really, to be honest,” Parks said.
If All Them Witches’ sound has changed with its new album, the process has not. “Sleeping Through The War” was written in four days during a tour break and recorded in six days during another break. Parks said when the band records it kind of just comes together with no set idea of what the songs might sound like. It’s quite intuitive and free-form, something that is at the heart of the band members’ chemistry with each other.
As to what message one might get from this new batch of songs, it’s really in the mind of the beholder. Parks writes in an impressionistic manner where his lyrics begin to have meaning only when you couple them with your own thoughts and experiences, very much like the psychedelic Rorschach-esque art on the cover of the album. He’s a poet whose sensibilities feel timeless and philosophical and still have a punk honesty to them. You won’t find literal stories or experiences that illuminate what influenced the writing of “Sleeping Through The War,” but you can be sure Parks is revealing some of his own truth.
“The poetry is lost from a lot of music these days, especially pop music. People are more about the attitude and the rock and roll lifestyle and they’ve lost the poetry. Why punk music is so good and why hardcore music is so good is that those guys don’t give a fuck. They’re going to say whatever they’re going to say. So I feel a kinship with them, whether or not I fit in with that crowd,” Parks said.
The bassist is excited to bring the music in front of fans and music lovers. He is more concerned about the new material and working that into the show than digging through the band’s back catalog. The band has always been a force to reckon with as the members’ collective sonic waves pound and engulf you like frothing surf. Couple that with their intuitive musical connection and ability to play in the moment and you have an experience rooted in the band baring its soul every night on stage.
“I think people have a lot of stock in the live shows because they are different. Sometimes they are lightening-speed fast and sometimes they take two hours to do. I like it that way because I don’t want to be a perfectionist and I don’t want to get up on stage and try and get my songs perfect. They aren’t perfect and that’s not what we’re trying to do,” Parks said.
What All Them Witches is doing is connecting on an honest level with audience members and inviting them to experience their own journey with a group of willing people. If anything is going to keep us awake for the war, it is those connections with ourselves and with each other.
Related story: Concert review of the May 9 show at the Crystal Bay Casino.
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.