This interview is with power metal band Witches Mark, hailing form Texas, USA. Guitarist Robert Williams speaks about the band's latest album, their influences and the occult.
How are you doing today?
RW > I'm doing great John, thanks for asking. I just spent the last three days holed up in a recording studio and in between eating and sleeping Heaven and Hell Records has had me on the phone doing back to back telephone interviews, so I am a little exhausted at the moment but I live to do this shit man! (Laughs) So... All in a day's work.
When did you join Witches Mark?
RW > Well I am a co-founder of Witches Mark along with our former vocalist Michael Lance so I have been in this band since day one. The band was founded back in the fall of 2005, so that should answer your question.
Could you tell us about the early history of Witches Mark?
RW > Yeah no problem. The early history of the band goes back to the summer of 2005. I met our old vocalist Michael Lance at a concert his band Ancient Cross was headlining. I cornered him shortly after he got off the stage and we got to talking metal and I was a little drunk and asked him if he would jam with me and he said "No." (Laughs) Well anyway, when I am sold on something I usually push my luck and I tracked Michael down on the internet and e-mailed him some music I was working on and within a few days he had e-mailed me back five different versions of him singing on it with alternate lyrics and things picked up from there. This was around the time that Myspace was in full swing as the hip social networking platform for getting your music heard and we recorded a pretty crude sounding demo that garnered just enough attention from around the world to justify recording more. So we continued to write music and filled out the rest of the lineup.
We took part in the German released "Unbroken Metal Records: Tribute To Angel Witch" CD doing a cover of "Something Wrong" off of the often overlooked "Frontal Assault" record and business started picking up after that. We added Andy Gonzalez from the cult thrash metal band Hammerwhore on bass guitar and Robb Bockman from the black metal band Panzergod on guitar and shortly after that we went into the stuio and recorded our debut EP "A Grim Apparition". Again, this was back when Myspace was a popular avenue for being seen and heard; so we uploaded our newly recorded tracks to our profile and within a day we were contacted by Jeremy Golden the CEO of Heaven and Hell Records who offered us a very attractive deal and we pretty much signed on the spot.
At that point in time there was not a lot of other acts aligned with Heaven and Hell Records, but as a metal fan I was really blown away by how comprehensive a job Heaven and Hell Records had done with the Twisted Tower Dire re-issues. It's now been a few years since the EP was released and I cannot believe how much attention that EP and that record deal has afforded the band. Heaven and Hell Records has distribution through all of the major labels like Century Media, Relapse Records, The End and Metal Disc but then they also have distro through a small army of underground retailers like Sentinel Steel, Stormspell, Hellion Records, Rokk Stakk and on and on and on... Then you factor in that Heaven and Hell Records also own their own massive distro called Sounds of Purgatory and you just realize that they are putting our disc everywhere. That label, man they did right by us as far as we're concerned.
My whole thought process going into the deal for "A Grim Apparition" was "Fucking cool. Now I can go down to the bar and sell some copies of our disc to my friends for extra beer money." Then the next thing I know we got pre-orders from Germany, Sweden, Norway, Finland and my fucking head almost exploded. I was like "Pre-orders? How the fuck does this happen?" then we received a very ample amount of positive reviews from the underground metal media and branching out we started getting in orders from Greece, New Zealand, Japan and believe it or not I even got a letter from a fan in Saudi Arabia. For all I know, it's against the law where he lives to support a metal band like us! We have just been really grateful and blown away by everyone's support for the band. This whole thing just started as a bunch of metalheads drinking beer and sweating it out in a small rehearsal room and now we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor and it's pretty fucking cool.
Where did you meet the other members in the band?
RW > Starting with Andy Gonzalez our bass player, I had seen him around at shows here in town. You know when you go out to a bar and there is just an ocean of Cannibal Corpse and Dimmu Borgir shirts? Well nothing against those bands, but when I see a denim vest with Exciter, Diamond Head and Candlemass patches I get excited. That's Andy right there, he's that guy. He was playing in this band called Hammerwhore and I witnessed their Austin, Texas debut where they just decimated this venue and between songs the newly won over crowd was chanting "HAMMERWHORE! HAMMERWHORE!" when it came time to secure a bassist for Witches Mark there was no one else in mind for the position than Andy. Robb Bockman the other guitarist in the band besides myself who is now actually singing for Witches Mark as well, I have known him since 1993. As teenagers we played the same club circuit in some of our first bands, then became friends and played in a couple bands together and then lost touch for about ten years. I was reconnected with Robb through a mutual friend shortly after the Angel Witch tribute CD and all he had to say was that he was available and I was like "You're in the fucking band man!" He is an immensely talented songwriter and musician and I feel like with Witches Mark he is finally able to prove to the rest of the world what I already know concerning his talent.
The newest member of the band would be Scott Palmer on drums. Before playing guitar in Witches Mark I actually replaced Scott on drums in a black metal band here in Austin called Of The Fallen that went on to change their name to Demontuary. I had to learn all of Scott's drum parts and perform them to the best of my ability, so naturally when I'm in writing mode the drums I hear in my head are exactly the kind of beats that I had to learn... the kind of beats that Scott would beat the shit out of his drumset with. What I have gathered jamming with different drummers is that you either get it or you don't. These beats that I'm after are pretty specific, you would have heard the right records... and Scott get's it so that is fucking awesome for us!
Who are some of your musical influences?
RW > You know, it's not at all like I jam on Judas Priest and Andy is turning up the Depeche Mode (Laughs) You know what I mean? I think it's pretty safe to say that we all are into the same stuff. Metal. Everything from Traditional, NWOBHM, Speed, Thrash, Doom and Power to the extreme end of the spectrum like Black and Death. I've never been over the top on Grind but there are some pretty OK bands from that genre.
You know, as long as it's true fucking metal that's the only pre-requisite. I don't like any core bullshit in my metal, no turntables no "Jump da' fuck up" garbage either. The stuff that influences me the most I suppose would be the metal classics from the early seventies up to around the mid eighties... They just don't make them like they used to John. There's been times when I'm drinking and I'll have "Sails of Charon" on repeat and I'll pass out and come to three hours later at like the buttcrack of dawn with a sore neck and be all "Fuck yeah, this song rules!" (Laughs) I love all of the old shit!
Are you interested in occult subjects and are there any particular writings that may inspire you as a musician?
RW > Yeah! Sure I am interested in the occult to some degree. It is an interesting subject for sure! Now I do not consider myself an expert on the subject by any stretch of the imagination. You got guys like Proscriptor from Absu and Mezzadurus from Bloodstorm and they are goddamn encyclopedia's of wisdom on the occult. I just hold a passing interest you could say. You know, supernatural, unexplained paranormal stuff, demonic possession... shit like that has always fascinated me. You know I did a little prep work for this interview with you John and I read some of your older interviews and I noticed that you ask a lot of bands about the occult and I just wanna say that from my perspective, I really admire stuff like that. How many times as fans have we been reading an interview and the journalist will be all "So how is the tour going?" I mean "Really? Is that what you're coming to the table with?"
I know it's innocent, but these journalists gotta see it from our perspective. When you're riding in a van or a bus all day, arrive to some dilapidated piece of shit venue, load in your gear in muggy weather, and then the bar staff or club owner will provide hospitality in the form of drink coupons that you can redeem for stale Bud Light and cook you your eighty billionth Tostino's party pizza. Trust me, you get tired of eating pizza real fast night after night! Oh and that's after settling for fifty bucks when you were promised two hundred by the promoter... You know, this kid is expecting your "True Hollywood Story" tales of rock n' roll debauchery and you can smell the coconut scented hair conditioner on him and you're like "I had my first shower in four days at a Flying J truck stop. I had a pretty rockin' Hot Pocket there for lunch. So yeah. The tour is going fucking great man! Thanks for asking! I love riding around in a beatup van full of my smelly friends!" (Laughs)
I welcome original questions like your's brother. Thank you for taking the time to avoid rehashing the same old crap we get asked in every interview.
Getting away from all that, the kind of stuff I enjoy reading is... drumroll... about metal! (Laughs) I have a pretty one track mind. No, but the thing is when I'm not doing this I write for this website based out of Canada called Metal-Rules.com and I stay pretty busy with that interviewing bands like you're doing right now or reviewing CD's so I am constantly reading up and studying in my spare time. You know stuff like "How many album's has this band released? Why did their vocalist leave the band? Who produced the new album? Why were they inactive from 1985 to 2003?" This is all stuff I need to find out before I sit down and interview someone or call them on the telephone so I am constantly reading up about bands which is fine with me. I've always been fascinated by bands and the stories they have to tell. You could put me in front of a T.V. set and turn on the Jackson Five movie and I'd be perfectly entertained watching these innocent kids turn to a life of substance abuse. (Laughs)
I got boxes upon boxes of old metal magazines in my garage. All era's of Metal Maniacs I'm talking about when Jeff Wagner and Mike G. were editor up until Liz Ciavarella. I've got Pit magazine and Sounds of Death, old Kerrang and Metal Hammer, fucking cult zines like Grimoire of Exalted Deeds and Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Rip N' Tear and Unrestrained! out of Canada and on and on and as retarded as it might sound to others, I read and re-read those magazines and to me that is entertainment. Martin Popoff had this really excellent book years ago called "The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal" and I've worn my copy out cover to cover. It's his perspective on all of these different records and it's so rad to put on a record and instantly have a second opinion. So I like to read everything I just said and Club International.
Who designed the album cover of your debut CD "A Grim Apparition"?
RW > The album cover for "A Grim Apparition" was designed by TJ Barber of Teajay Design. We really didn't know what we wanted to be on the cover for "A Grim Apparition" but we had seen some of Thomas' artwork and were sold on his craft so we just gave him the music to check out and it inspired him to create the end result that you know hold in your hands.
Will Witches Mark be touring in support of your soon to be released second album?
RW > We are happy to announce that we have secured a new booking agency and once the new record drops this coming fall you can expect to see us hit the road like a motherfucker. There is nothing concrete that I can confirm or announce as of this moment but we are itching to get back out there and bring our metal message to as many lost souls as we can!
Any interest in the magick of Aleister Crowley?
RW > Yeah sure, I mean he was an interesting fucking guy but like I said earlier I'm not the definitive source on the occult by any means. I am much more interested in the magick displayed by heavy metal musicians and there is a lot of magick on tap to discover. You know, anyone who was part of the punk rock movement will likely tell you that hero worship or idol worship is fucking stupid. They'll say things like "These guys are not gods, they're just regular people like you and me." I could not disagree with that sentiment more wholeheartedly. I don't know about you John, but my close friends are mechanics or they work tech support for computer companies or they're the hostess at fucking Chili's. OK perfect example, the high note on "The Ripper" and the high note on "Victim of Changes". Both fine examples of super human metal magick in full effect. The ghastly atmosphere Kevin Heybourne creates on "Sorceress" off of the debut Angel Witch record or the incredible technical prowess Fates Warning demonstrate on the "Awaken The Guardian" album.
You know it would be easy to say "Dude, Tony Iommi is somewhere in England eating a ham sandwich and watching the telly." Yeah, yeah fine. I like the way I see it ten times better though... He's somewhere in England in a fucking dark medieval castle writing riffs of doom metal magick while you're mowing your lawn. (Laughs) I know I'm kind of a screwball but it's important to me that these musicians get their just deserve for all of the years of metal magick they have provided all of us.
Any bands on the Texas metal scene that you like?
RW > I gotta tell you John, there are so many great bands in Texas. We're a pretty huge fucking state. Off the top of my head Cruxiter, Militia, Ancient Cross, Watchtower, Omen, Magnus Thorsen, Infernal Oak, Evil United and about a billion others. We've got it all down here. All of the different genres of metal imaginable you can find in the Lone Star state.
What do you do when not writing or playing music?
RW > I drink beer, listen to my enormous alphabetically organized CD collection and try to hang out with my friends and family as much as time allows. That's about it.
Any closing remarks for fans of the band?
RW > I would like to personally thank each and every supporter of Witches Mark. We will not let you down! Our upcoming record will blow the debut EP right out of the water. There will be some exciting guest appearances on the new album from some of our favorite metal musicians like Ross The Boss (Manowar, The Dictators) Jack Starr (Virgin Steele, Burning Starr) and the "Godfather of Texas Metal" Jason McMaster (Dangerous Toys, Watchtower, Ignitor, Broken Teeth). It was such an honor to work with some of our musical heroes, the players that inspired us as musicians. I can't tell you how many times I raised a metal fist in the air or how many beers me and my friends killed listening to these guys, so it was a tremendous honor to have them on the new album.
We are so excited to bring you guys these new songs and I know it has taken forever and a day to unleash upon all of you, but rest assured we are laying down the gauntlet of metal on the new album and it will be worth the fucking wait! The songs are all top notch, without a doubt the best that we have ever sounded. I promise that to you all. In the meantime please stay tuned to www.witches-mark.com for further information. Lastly, I'd like to thank you John and all at Doomentia for taking the time to support an underground metal band like us. That's a really cool thing you did and we totally appreciate your support brother. Hails to you!