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Witch Hats

Ahead of the release of new EP ‘Solarium Down The Causeway’, Witch Hats singer/guitarist Kris Buscombe talks to TREVOR BLOCK about indulging hipster fantasies in New York’s Chelsea Hotel, changing labels and recording on the road. Stooges-esque photo by LAUREN BAMFORD.

At the end of their 2008 US tour, Witch Hats took some time out in Oakland CA to lay down a few tracks live to tape with producer Greg Ashley (The Gris Gris). The result is new EP Solarium Down The Causeway, which is rounded out by a tune that singer/guitarist Kris Buscombe recorded upon the band’s return to Melbourne.

It’s not a tour diary, however. There is a brief reference to a Milwaukee carpark, but that’s as far as the observations go. And there are no homesick songs about the “joys” of life in a Motel 6 either. It’s more about unloading some of the psychic baggage picked up while travelling.

How long were you indulging your wanky fantasies in the Chelsea Hotel for?
I stayed in the Chelsea for three nights. What a place. I was up on the eighth floor which is pretty close to the roof where this voodoo Harry Smith filmmaker guy tried to make a real life zombie by burying a homeless person in the rooftop garden.

I was in one of the transient rooms rented out to curious touristy types like myself. It had been modernised and spruced up a little – I didn’t get fleas, the heat pipes didn’t “just cough” and I wasn’t sharing a bathroom with junkies. Still, it had an undeniably surreal atmosphere. The whole building did, it spurred me on. I was feeling pretty deranged by that stage anyway, it was the first time in my life I’d spent that long travelling around playing music most nights and partying like a lunatic.

After probably two months “on the road” and a few nights and days off by myself in such a great city (staying in such a historic place where everyone’s heroes used to live), taking some time to fine tune songs was irresistible. I set up a tiny one watt Fender amp that I’d picked up in Milwaukee and ploughed through about 12 songs worth of ideas and lyrics, recording to a video camera.

I was sticking paper to the walls like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind by night and running around Greenwich playing art hipster by day with a small troop of new Yankee friends. We were all ignoring its present gentrified nature and pretending it was 1961. I became addicted to using a hair straightener and looked like a primary school kid playing Duran Duran dress-ups.

How did you sort out the recording, while still being on the road?
Once we were back on the west coast we rented a rehearsal space for two days and learnt the songs as a band before meeting up with Greg in Oakland to record. It was a very quick process from writing to recording, only a couple of these songs existed prior to going to America.

We recorded roughly 12 songs over a couple of days, aiming for an album’s worth of gacked-off-our-faces material. After getting back to Australia, doing some mixing and having a chance to properly assess what we’d done, it became clear a bunch of the stuff was either recorded poorly, played poorly or the song was just shit. Having said that, there were six tracks which came out brilliantly so we thought we’d settle for an A+ EP rather than a C+ second album.

“I became addicted to using a hair straightener and looked like a primary school kid playing Duran Duran dress-ups.”

I hadn’t personally heard of anything Greg made prior to meeting and recording with him. I’m pretty sure Duncan [Blatchford, ex-drummer] had just approached him via his MySpace page which had some information on his studio and so on. He was a pretty funny and nice little hobbit guy to work with. The only problem arose after he’d partied on all night without any sleep and then fell asleep during a vocal take the next day. I started singing Billy Ray Cyrus songs into the mike for about 10 minutes as he still had his earphones on. It was a subliminal mind experiment that didn’t do anything.

Are you happy with how it turned out?
Oh, yeah. We wanted to make a recording that got away from the slicker studio recordings we’d made in the past. I personally think our band sounds its best with the rougher edges exaggerated through recording live on shittier equipment. And minus vocals and one guitar overdub it was all live, which is completely different to how the previous stuff has been recorded. That’s all full of overdubs.

My favourite song off this thing is ‘Sessa (Son Of A Silo Salesman)’. It was an interesting one that I hadn’t taught the rest of the band until we were ready to record it. I’d wanted to have something a bit krautrock-y, a bit Neu!-esque in our arsenal for a little while. After the two-note Johnny repetitive riff was set in place we just weaved it back and forth, dancing around in imaginary toilets. It’s got Tom [Barry’s] best recorded guitar work to date on it.

Yet you re-did one track here in Melbourne?
The version of ‘Check The Center’ we recorded with Greg had some serious tempo issues and lacked the punch and feel of the version I recorded. It sounded like a strong song that needed to be on the EP so we went with the recording I’d made myself. We’ve got a film clip for this which will be put online very soon. The clip was made in the Arizona desert, it’s kinda like a $10 version of that Audioslave clip where they all fly into the desert and let off fireworks.

Why did you include a proper lyric sheet this time round?
This was the first time I’d made a deliberate effort with my lyrics. In the past I was using the first thing that came to my head, and that was what ended up in the songs. Not that they rival Leonard Cohen yet but I’ll get there. So yeah, I’m comfortable for them to be seen for the first time. Plus it stops shithead journos making up their own [words] in reviews.

You’ve changed labels for this, and issued the first 10” vinyl I’ve seen for ages.
We were ready to go with Bruce Milne and In-Fidelity back at the start of the year, in preparation to release ‘Check the Center’ as a 7" split (prior to the full EP) with a track from an American band we made friends with on our tour, Thee Oh Sees. But one thing led to another – it probably had something to do with the fact we weren't recouping a whole stack of money they'd spent on us in the past – and in the end we got the heave-ho.

So then we sent it to a few labels, most of whom declined. After hearing that our old friend Lou Ridsdale (who had worked with us as a publicist in 2008) was starting her Z-Man label, we gave her a copy and found a willing and excited new home. She's never had a label before but is very experienced in all sorts of other “music industry” areas so I can't see her fucking us over too badly. She buys us beer and potato wedges whenever we meet her too.

The EP was only supposed to come out on vinyl but Lou insisted on CDs as well which makes promoting it cost effective. You can't really send stacks of free vinyl out for reviews etc. And the length of it meant it worked well as a 10" record. I've always liked 10-inchers, the Fall’s Slates EP is one of my favourite records I own. They're just like a strange poofy midget thing; a pubescent 7" on it’s way to the common adult size of 12", a pretentious teenager trying to stand out from the crowd.

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Witch Hats’ Solarium Down The Causeway EP & 10” vinyl is out this month via Z-Man Records.

  -   Published on Monday, August 24 2009 by Trevor Block.
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Your Comments

NiteShok  said about 5 years ago:

kickass interview. is it just me, or is kris completely confident of the band's direction, now?


andyr  said about 5 years ago:

Plus it stops shit head journos making up their own [words] in reviews.

is this me? :P


Block  said about 5 years ago:

As someone who got a few WHats song titles wrong in a live review once, andy, I didn't pursue the details of this.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

'Shithead' really should be one word, in my opinion.


devilwillride  said about 5 years ago:

Shit-head?


josejones  said about 5 years ago:

'Shithead' really should be one word, in my opinion.

agreed.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

Oh no! I didn't mean you should change it!

Fuck, I've become one of those commenters I hate, when I really just wanted to annoy Block.


josejones  said about 5 years ago:

it's actually in the style guide as one word.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

READ THE STYLE GUIDE, BLOCK.

(And just for good measure):

GET A HAIRCUT, NITESHOK.


astralwerkor  said about 5 years ago:

What abouts numbnuts? The same?


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

Yeah.


Block  said about 5 years ago:

In the styleguide? Bull shit.
Oh, and anyone who wants to use ''Psychic Baggage'' as the name for a band/album/travelgoods store is welcome to it.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

In the styleguide? Bull shit.

Now yr just being silly.


astralwerkor  said about 5 years ago:

What about Shit Head?


devilwillride  said about 5 years ago:

Is fuckwit one word? It currently has the red, squiggly line underneath it in Firefox.


astralwerkor  said about 5 years ago:

I mean, as a name for a band.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

It is one word. The squiggly line is because Firefox doesn't recognise most slang.


astralwerkor  said about 5 years ago:

Fire fox is two words.


tinyman  said about 5 years ago:

iphone won't let me say fuck. keeps autocorrecting me to say duck this duck that.


annehelena  said about 5 years ago:

I can think of two words right now.

Anyway, great interview, Block!


View Comments 20 to 48

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Orange Julius  said about 5 years ago:

do i see some crabcore happening in that clip? i think i do...


mother and father  said about 5 years ago:

very good record. indeed.


neopleuromasterdon  said about 5 years ago:

that clip is radical. can you guys put the song off the new ep on myspace where chris makes funny noises its goes something like '' dylaaaan dylaaaan dalalallalalalal''
yeh that one


JunkiePhil  said about 5 years ago:

It'll happen soon enough, Tom.
I think the words you're looking for are
''COME AROUND, come around, COME AROUND, come around''
or
''DO DA DO DA DO DA DAY''
Same song either way.
Tis called,
Sessa (Son of the Silo Salesman)


neopleuromasterdon  said about 5 years ago:

yep thats it.
its filth


mother and father  said about 5 years ago:

(sister of shelly who sells sea shells by the seashore)


knomadix  said about 5 years ago:

Live Witch Hats set from Super8 Diaries show in Jan 2007 now up.


LaxCharisma  said about 5 years ago:

Nope...all I got was gobbedly goop.

May I state again how much I'm loving ''Wound Of a Little Horse'' right this moment...I simply must have more coffee


knomadix  said about 5 years ago:

try refreshing the page.. I only added it that minute.


LaxCharisma  said about 5 years ago:

Oh..OK...sorry.


LaxCharisma  said about 5 years ago:

Nope. Still no good. Might be my computer being a shit cunt. I got all computer speak all over the page. I'll try in a few days maybe.


knomadix  said about 5 years ago:

weird..someone else try it please..


King_Rat  said about 5 years ago:

Other links seem to working fine. Have not tried the hats. NOTTT YETTT


Orange Julius  said about 5 years ago:

Works fine, sounds great.


LaxCharisma  said about 5 years ago:

FUCK MY COMPUTER!!!!!

WHY IS IT BEING SHIT!!!!

NONE OF THOSE WORK FOR ME!!!


Orange Julius  said about 5 years ago:

song titles would be good though...


knomadix  said about 5 years ago:

ha!.. can you imagine how long it would take to get the track titles from all those bands.. another 4 years.


JunkiePhil  said about 5 years ago:

It'd all be stuff off Cellulite no doubt.


neopleuromasterdon  said about 5 years ago:


JunkiePhil  said about 4 years ago:

Our clips getting played on Rage tonight around 1:45AM.


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