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A few weeks ago Sander van den Driesche went to Glasgow to see All The Witches (review here) and took the opportunity to catch up with guitarist Ben McLeod after the show. They had a good chat about recording the new album, signing to New West Records, touring Europe and their fans.
(((o))): First of all, US bands don’t come over to Europe very often and if they do they don’t tour in the UK as much as we would like them to. But this is the second tour this year you have been in the UK, including Scotland, which is great.
Ben: This is our third time actually. We did like 2 weeks in August last year and we played Green Man Festival, which was our only UK show. On that tour we played Norway, Germany. It was all festivals except 2 club shows in Copenhagen and Eindhoven.
(((o))): Last time you played Glasgow was earlier this year in February I believe?
Ben: It was. That was our first time over here in Glasgow.
(((o))): But to be coming back so soon again, even in the same calendar year?
Ben: Yeah 3 times and before August last year none of us had ever been to Europe.
(((o))): The fact you’re coming over to Europe very often these days, is that related to the band being on a bigger label now? Do they help you guys to come over here or is it more like you simply love being in Europe?
Ben: They do. They help us out a lot, like with a lot of up front expenses, and then we’ll pay them back afterwards. When you have 5 plane tickets to buy and gear to rent and vans, a tour manager, it’s a lot of really expensive bills. They are always there to help us with those so we can book everything. Because we don’t make the money until after the tour. Like our guarantees and merch sales just by night. So they’ve done a great job just fronting us expense money and stuff.
But as far as us getting over here and planning the shows, a lot has to do with one of our great friend who used to book us in the States. He works for United Talent Agency and hooked us up with an agent over here and he just started working. There was a lot of anticipation for us to come over here, so it worked itself out.
(((o))): Going back to your label New West Records, it’s a bigger label, although not necessarily in the same genre music that you guys play. As far as I know they release more Americana, bluesy kinda stuff, even though you guys definitely have a big blues element in your music. So tell me, how did you end up on this label?
Ben: As far as the blues stuff, all of us are big blues fans and we love the heavier stuff, but we definitely let the blues side come out more so then most bands in our scene would do. We’re not afraid to do what just comes natural. None of it was planned. Whatever we sound like live and on the records, it’s just the 4 of us playing how we play naturally.
(((o))): But how did you guys get picked up by this big label then?
Ben: The label’s president is a big fan of our band. He’s seen us like 3 or 4 times before signing us and he wanted to sign us with his different company, which was more like a distribution and publishing company. And then he left them and became president of New West and I think we’re the first band that he signed. It was a no brainer; it was great timing as we were pretty much DIY for like the first 3 years as a band, which was exhausting. It was time to kinda step up the game.
(((o))): And one of the good things about this big label deal is that I was able to pick up your last 2 records from my local record store in Edinburgh!
Ben: No way! That’s awesome. That makes me really happy to hear it’s in stores everywhere.
(((o))): Your new record is coming out in February I believe?
Ben: I’m not allowed to say the date, but it is in February yes.
(((o))): So it’s all recorded and finished then?
Ben: Everything is done yes.
(((o))): Did you lock yourself up in a small hut somewhere in the middle of Tennessee again like you did for the last record, Dying Surfer Meets His Maker?
Ben: No, not this time. The label actually has this house, it’s like offices and they also have this rehearsal space in Athens, Georgia and before we went to Europe in August last year they opened it up to us and we wrote the entire album. So the record was written then, and then the first week of September this year we recorded the album in 6 days in this little studio in Nashville, which was our first time in a real studio with a real producer. He’s like a super hot producer, his name’s Dave Cobb, and he produced artists like Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Rival Sons. Him and me were kinda becoming at first acquaintances, and then kinda like more friends. And we were like yeah, let’s do this one. It took 6 days to record, as it was all written. I would love to do another record exactly how we did it.
(((o))): That’s very different compared to how you recorded the last record.
Ben: For the last one we literally had to bring everything we needed. This time we just showed up with amps and guitars and drums, and they have pianos in the studio, like Rhodes, Hammond, like all the stuff, percussion, and great gear basically. Then the producer and engineer brought their own outboard gear. We didn’t use any of the in house mixing boards, they used all their own shit. And it was awesome. You guys are gonna freak out when you hear it!
(((o))): But even in terms of your own personal space where you were at when you recorded it, because the last one was recorded as far as I understand in quite a remote place where you were in that zone, and this was completely different.
Ben: Comparing the two studio experiences, like being completely remote and sleeping around guitar cables and waking up and recording, for me personally there wasn’t much difference, like I feel like the end result was actually better doing it in the studio with a producer and stuff because we were able to stay on track. We didn’t have time as we had to get ready for this trip and we had dates in the US as well, so we literally only had 6 days to do it.
(((o))): You just released your Live in Brussels album on your Bandcamp page. I’m sure it came up on Bandcamp earlier this year and it was then taken down. I’m sure this was around the same time that the sad events happened in Brussels with the terrorist attacks. Was that the reason it got taken down and then put up later again? Or was there a different reason?
Ben: No it kinda is a funny story as basically being on a label has been a huge learning curve for me personally. We posted it online in March for free, like no profits. But on Bandcamp people still donate money. And if there’s money coming in on songs that are licensed with a label, that would go against your contract. That’s why it was taken down, it was nothing personal, it was strictly a business reason. But I really love that we took it down and then actually legitimately released it.
(((o))): Well, I did manage to grab it when you originally put it out.
Ben: Awesome! The only difference is that the new one is mastered. But pick up both, I mean it’s still gonna be free. It’s a long set and there’s a video to go along with it as well. But I loved everything that New West did with it and when we re-released it and put it out for free it was like a thank you to people who donated after we got robbed.
(((o))): I remember you getting robbed, which is sadly happening too often with bands these days. Tell me what happened there?
Ben: It was a really, really bad feeling followed by a very reassuring feeling with the fans donating and stuff like that. It happens so much in the US that bands get robbed. People all the time get ripped off and it sucks. It really sucks. Although we just got cash and cheques and debit cards and credit cards stolen, but we know people who got whole vans stolen and guitars and gear, which is irreplaceable.
(((o))): You do have a good fan base. When you asked earlier tonight who was at the pervious Glasgow show there were a lot of hands going up. That’s really good to see. What happened to all the other live recordings you had on Bandcamp a while back?
Ben: I think that we had about 20 of them on Bandcamp for over a year. I think it was from 2014 when we were touring with Windhand, we posted like so many. It was really cool, people liked it, but it got to the point we’d play the same songs every night. I imagine that when we put out the new record then we’ll start it again. Cos then it’s not like the same songs all the time.
(((o))): So when you play live, like on this current tour, do you play the same set every night?
Ben: I would say that this tour the set is probably the most similar each night, because we have something that works and that works well. I would say that we still change probably 2 or 3 songs from what we were planning on doing, like we would switch songs around. But the jamming is always improv.
(((o))): Yes, to me you really are that jam band. I can imagine when you write an album a lot of the songs are results from jamming together, like you guys completely zoning out whilst jamming and someone records it and you listen back and decide to release it. Is that the kind of mind-set you have when you enter the studio or are things always prewritten?
Ben: Well for the record that comes out in February it was all prewritten, but it’s just so magical. For everything else we’ve done, 75% hasn’t been written in the studio. It’s like ‘oh this jam’s cool, let’s take this and splice it with this jam and put lyrics on it, and put it at the beginning of this song and then we’ll throw in this jam that we did 2 days ago in the studio at the end’. Can, the band, always used to do this. It’s called instant composition.
(((o))): Last April I finally managed to go to my first Roadburn Festival, and as I was walking around there, writing for the Weirdo Canyon Dispatch that JJ from The Obelisk runs, I had to give a top 5 wish list of bands I’d like to see at Roadburn and you guys were one of my top 5. But seriously, why haven’t you played Roadburn yet? To me you’d almost be the perfect Roadburn band.
Ben: Thank you. Sounds like we should play Roadburn then! Well, we’ve had offers 2 years in a row and we turned them down because of timing. We can’t do it next year because we’re touring in the States for the new record. We couldn’t do it this past year because we had just got back from Europe. Maybe we’ll do it one day, but it’s all just about timing. What is the best for the band at that moment. It would be great to play Roadburn, not next year but maybe the year after.
(((o))): Lastly, your US PR contact (Monica from Speak Easy PR) got me onto this band called King Buffalo, which was a band you recommended to her initially? I have to say, their last album, Orion, is brilliant. I understand you guys have been touring together?
Ben: I turned Monica on to them yes. I said ‘look you really should work with these guys’. They needed tour press and stuff like that and they worked out a deal. The guys in King Buffalo are literally my best friends, they were at my wedding! They’re awesome.