Instrumental psychedelic rock/doom trio Wiht from Leeds released the 2-track album The Harrowing of the North back in 2011 and shortly after decided to quit. Devouter Records now re-releases The Harrowing of the North on vinyl with an extra bonus track (see review here). Michael B. Hayden asked Joe and Chris from the band a couple of questions to find out more.
(((o))): Can you give a brief history about Wiht? Who are you guys, where are you from, who plays what and how did you start etc?
Joe: Of course; we are all very old friends, having known each other from primary school age. All grew up in the same area; Kirkstall, Leeds. We’ve been in bands together since we could play, until about 2005 when we went our separate ways, music-wise, but decided to start jamming again in 2009. We work really well together so we decided to start up Wiht. I play bass, work as a screen printer in Leeds, Rick Contini plays drums, and works up at the Leeds University, and Chris Wayper plays guitar and works in Restaurant management down in Worthing now.
(((o))): The press release for the album (vinyl re-release of The Harrowing of the North) states that you guys have called it quits. Is there any chance you'll start it up again with the re-issue coming up?
Joe: I think there is every chance of releasing more material; it is just a little hard to say when that will be at this point in time. It’s certainly not going to be any time soon… But watch this space!
Chris: I'd like to think we'd do something in the future, it just depends how things work out. Never say never!!
(((o))): Instrumental concept records are always a little tricky to pull of as successfully as what you guys did. What came first the concept or the music?
Joe: I guess the music came first really, or at least the backbone of the tracks. Once you have a reasonable sounding piece it is easier to put a name & theme to it. It did however take a long time to arrange.
Chris: To be honest we started just writing riffs and developing ideas we had, the idea of a concept developed as the writing process did. Once we decided on the concept we found it easier to structure the album, penning movements for the title track based on chronological events of the raids. But, the music came first and the concept developed as the music did.
(((o))): Following on that, were you interested in the history before starting this album? Or was it a recent discovery that sparked some creativity?
Joe: I think it’s fair to say we are all very interested in history. Especially local history. And something as harrowing (heh) as The Harrowing of the North, it made a fitting subject to work with. Our first EP is loosely based around the same idea also, just not to the extent that The Harrowing of the North is.
Chris: Like Joe said, the first EP has a loose connection with doomsday era history, the song ‘Vasta’ from our first EP is based on a passage from the Doomsday book, in which it describes large swathes of Yorkshire as ‘Vasta’ meaning wasteland. The Doomsday book was written not long after the Harrying raids. 'The Harrowing of the North' was a series of raids executed by William the Conqueror shortly after he came to throne, also known as 'The Harrying'. The aim of these raids were simple and pretty bloody brutal; William wanted to bring the north of England to its knees, rid it of any economic or cultural worth and by operating a scorched earth policy, ensure it would be on its arse for generations to come, hence the description of large parts of Yorkshire as ‘Vasta’.
(((o))): Do you feel a personal connection to the history of the Harrowing? I had never heard of it before researching your album (thanks by the way, it is a fascinating bit of history). It is a pretty horrific event but having happened so long ago I am curious how it relates to your lives.
Joe: Every Yorkshire-man is proud to be a Yorkshire-man, and the idea of someone utterly destroying our land, regardless of when it was, is quite unsettling. I think it also fits the sombre mood of the album… or parts of it.
(((o))): Do you feel it's important to for modern art/music to be informed by ancient, cultural roots? I mean do you think that increasing awareness of historical events through your art is important?
Joe: I think everyone wants to keep learning, so by writing about a subject like this it makes more people aware of it. But I don’t think bands have to write/sing about their heritage to be good, it just makes it a little more interesting. (I guess you could call it a form of neo-folk music). There is a huge story to tell that is hidden behind the music, which sometimes leads to spending hours on Wikipedia! Haha. I guess it’s down to personal taste, to answer your question, but for me it is quite important, yes.
(((o))): All of the songs are impressively structured without a lot of "jamming" going on. How does this reflect your writing process?
Joe: Most of the riffs you hear on both our albums are the result of jamming together in the rehearsal space. We just had to put some kind of structure to them, which was the hard part. When we played live we used to jam on a riff quite frequently, and just rely on eye contact as to when to come into the next riff, or end the song etc.
Chris: The Harrowing of the North was all written live but once we got into the studio we messed around with the structures a lot more, adding layers and synths etc to create the sound we wanted. I guess that can take away from the ‘jamming’ aspect of its sound, but fundamentally we are a band that jams!!
Joe: Our personal music taste is quite ridiculous to be honest, haha. We genuinely listen to anything we like the sound of. I probably listen to more electronical music than I do rock; bands like Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, Amon-Tobin in the trip-hop scene are very influential to me. I also run a dub sound system, so reggae and dub are spun quite frequently at mine. Rick is the man you go to if you are wanting a few prog recommendations; he’s a massive King Crimson and Gentle Giant fan. As well as a ton more, obviously.
Chris: I don’t know about a ‘surprising’ choice but I’m a huge Nick Cave fan, I don’t often use the term genius but the guy has everything; incredibly dark beautifully structured music and lyrics that make you listen! Big Dax Riggs fan also, ‘Say goodnight to the World’ is probably my favourite album of the past couple years
(((o))): The reissue has a bonus track on it that is quite good. Was it from the same recording session? What made you decide to release it now?
Joe: We wrote this song straight after we recorded The Harrowing of the North, which is why it didn’t appear on the original pressing of the album, but the end wasn’t in sight back then so we thought we’d record it at a later date and just put in on the next release. When we parted ways it seemed like too big a shame to have an un-recorded track go to waste, so we recorded it with our good friend Ben Corkhill and added it to the end of the album for the re-issue. Seems to work quite well with the feel of the album I think.
(((o))): Do any of you have other bands or projects that fans of Wiht should check out?
Joe: Only myself at the moment, I play bass for a Leeds crust/doom band called Tree of Sores. We have a reasonably new album out on LP and CD. Currently working on another project with a couple of mates as well. So expect some more Leeds noise over the next year!
(((o))): What's next for you? What would it take to get you to come tour the US?
Joe: We'd just put on a gig at the Royal Park in Leeds on 1st Feb to celebrate the release of the re-issue, but other than that we don’t really have any plans for the foreseeable future as a band… I guess get some riffs written and wait for the day we can record again! :-)
Chris: Pay for us and we’ll come!!
(((o))): Thanks a lot for this interview!
Joe: not a problem! Thanks for supporting!! All the best.
Chris: A pleasure mate, thank you very much buddy!
The re-release of The Harrowing of the North is now out through Devouter Records.