It’s been over six years since The Wytches released their first album, Annabel Dream Reader. Since then, the band have built a cult following in the UK and beyond with an easily recognisable sound.
Friday marks the release of third LP Three Mile Ditch, one that has been a long time coming both for the band and for their fans. With a sound that quietly evolves between albums, we wanted to find out exactly how the band achieve such consistent quality with each new album circuit.
In the first instalment of our Rig Rundown series, Gabby chatted to frontman Kristian about the intricacies of writing, recording and touring an album.
In Phase: Let’s start from the beginning. How did you get into playing music and playing in bands? Were you influenced by any particular musicians, or were you going for a certain sound when you started out as The Wytches?
Kristian: Drums were actually my first instrument when I was 11 or 12. My first band was with my brother and my cousin; we were called Alive. I played drums in a few different bands throughout school, but started helping out with vocals and lyrics and found I really enjoyed it. That was the point where I started playing guitar and writing music. The Wytches was born out of listening to bands like The White Stripes and other garage music – our original aim was to be a garage band. When we first started getting together, the sound was exactly what we wanted it to be.
IP: Talk us through your live setup when you were first starting out, and in support of Annabel Dream Reader. Were you pretty limited in the gear and pedals you had available to you as a young band?
K: I mostly used cheap pedals starting out; a cheap fuzz pedal, a Danelectro FAB Echo and an Electro Harmonix POG. My main guitar starting out was a Fender Blacktop Jazzmaster that my dad bought for me, and that was our full setup prior to Annabel Dream Reader. A friend back home had left me with a customised Fender Ultrachorus Amp, which I took with me when I moved to Brighton and eventually took into the studio for the recording of the first album.
We recorded Annabel Dream Reader at Toe Rag Studios in Hackney, and the engineers were confused as to why I wanted to use this old trashy amp and a £20 echo pedal when they had thousands of pounds worth of gear in there, but I was stubborn and we really wanted ADR to sound like a ‘live’ album. We thought the sound that our gear gave us was perfect and didn’t want to change it.
IP: All Your Happy Life was released two years later, in 2016. Did much change in terms of your live rig between the first two albums? AYHL has a slightly different to ADR, was this specifically created in the studio when it came to recording the second album or do you feel it was it a natural migration?
K: My friend actually asked for his Ultrachorus back, so we were left without an amp prior to recording All Your Happy Life. I bought a Fender Bassman Head and was borrowing a Marshall cab at the time, but going back to Toe Rag we decided to use the gear we had available to us there – we were just trying everything out on the recording of that album and adding loads of random stuff.
We weren’t too worried about making the sound translate live, and not much of our setup changed; for our live shows in support of that album I just had the Bassman head, the Marshall cab, the Jazzmaster and many of the same pedals we started out with. I also bought a Danelectro Backtalk in between the first two albums that we still use now – I’ll never get rid of it. We use it to create loops in between songs whilst we tune up to make a cool, trancey sound.
IP: Obviously you’ve not been able to play many shows in anticipation of Three Mile Ditch, but with the band’s new lineup [drummer Demelza Mather joined the band just after the recording of the new album] have you found that your live setup has changed?
K: We haven’t been able to play much live at all recently – we’ve only played a handful of gigs over the past year, so nothing has really changed too much yet. I’m currently using a new Orange Overdrive pedal, which is the only real addition to the live rig since the last album; everything else has stayed the same in terms of our live setup.
IP: Playing shows abroad seems like a pipeline dream at the moment, but when you do tour outside of the UK are you able to take all of your gear with you or do you have to alter your setup for international shows? Are venues abroad different to UK venues in terms of the gear already available to you?
K: We usually just take the bare minimum of our guitars and pedals with us when we’re flying around Europe, so we have to work with each venue’s rig. The Danelectro FAB Echo is the only thing that makes me feel unsatisfied if I don’t have it. A lot of the subtleties of our sound that you hear on a recording don’t tend to come through when we’re playing live through a big PA system anyway, so we’re very much able to work with what’s given to us.
IP: Is your festival setup different to your standard tour setup? Again, are you limited in the gear you use, and do you have to change the setup for outdoor shows? Does playing outdoors, such as at your socially-distant Signature Brew shows back in September, have an impact on your playing?
K: Everything sounds so isolated when you’re playing outside that we just have to huddle a lot closer together and bring our amps closer to avoid the spaced-apart sound that outdoor stages can give. Nowadays when we play at festivals we just borrow the amps that are there, but back in the day we used to be a lot more picky and would take all our own gear.
IP: When you’re touring, is it hard to get a consistent sound playing lots of different venues in a short period of time? Do you have to chop and change the way you play or set up depending on the venue?
K: Yeah, definitely – sometimes the exact same setup will sound completely different depending on the venue we’re in. It’s can be frustrating sometimes when a sound you spent ages trying to get the night before sounds completely wrong the next day; I always question whether something’s gone wrong with amp. That’s one of the reasons that we’ve always taken our own sound guy with us as he knows exactly the kind of mix we want. We’ve started having a more stripped-back approach to touring; it’s nice to keep the same team with us, who know us and know what we want.
Three Mile Ditch will be released this Friday, 13th November via Cable Code Records.