Inspired by a Danish fairytale, this is patiently stalking noir pop brilliance

Photography by Owen Richards

Photography by Owen Richards

Inspired by a Danish fairytale, this is patiently stalking noir pop brilliance

The traditional fable The Tortoise and the Hare was keen to preach that it’s not how you start but rather how you perform overall that counts. It’s a thought worth bearing in mind as we prepare ourselves for the annual onslaught of “this band will change your year” features – not all quick out of the year’s starting blocks will be remembered in twelve months time. The Brighton based trio Esben and The Witch are keen to avoid this fate, they know that the year ahead is an important one, and although they may be winning some high profile plaudits of late, guitarist and keyboard abuser Thomas Fisher is keen to emphasise that, “At the moment it’s all about taking our time, we’re all still rather new to what we’re doing.” He, along with vocalist Rachael Davies and electronic maestro Daniel Copeman, view EATW as a long-term project.

Having formed a fraction under two years ago, under the familiar story of musician having some songs and needing help to both flesh them out and transpose to the live environment, it’s been within the past six months that they have started coming to the attention of people outside their home city of Brighton.

Whereas the name of any band is usually an unimportant non-consequential element, much has already been made regarding their choice. It’s taken from the title of a hellish, little, Danish fairytale, and the band now seem almost organically intertwined with its dark hallmarks that mirror those deep within the heart of their musical outpourings. “It’s quite a weird process naming a band,” states Thomas who puts the choice down to them having recently read the tale and thinking it was a good fit for there haunting noir-pop: a blend of ethereal folk, trip-hop and goth that has so far won comparisons ranging from Fever Ray to Radiohead via Aphex Twin. But the one comparison that stands taller than any other is that of Portishead. Understandably, with both Rachel and Daniel declaring themselves as being “huge fans” of the latter, they remain flattered by the comparisons but Rachael is equally keen to point out that they “came into this wanting to make music that wasn’t re-treading old ground. We wanted to try to do our own thing and try to create something new,” she says. This mindset shared by all members is still aware that comparisons are inevitable. “There are obviously going to be other bands that people associate it with,” reasons Thomas. “If you have never heard something, you need something else to read about to spark interest off and in that instance it needs to be a musical comparison rather then a literary or artistic one.” These comparisons as well as their love for both classic literature and artists such as Bacon and De Bosch, which they say influences their work, paint the band as being both high brow and elitist.

“We don’t want to be a disposable pop act but at the same time we’ll be a bit reluctant to be called highbrow,” relays Rachael, fully acknowledging that being seen as a coffee-table band can have its pitfalls and may partly explain the bands choice to reinterpret the Kylie Minogue song ‘Confide In Me’; a move which has had a similar affect to the Arctic Monkeys covering Girls Aloud on a narrow bunch of people. Though there is a small chance that this cover could be played during live appearances, there is the much greater chance that the stage will be adorned with lampshade covered lights and an appearance of a stuffed owl. They are very much of the opinion that the live performance should feel special and not like a casual stroll through a series of songs. “Not many bands create that visual element as well, I find it an incredibly overlooked thing, it’s strange,” explains Thomas. “People like British Sea Power are often mentioned and I’m thinking why is that something that isn’t done more, really?” he asks, half perplexed that casual taxidermy and foliage is not common practice for other bands.

“When I’ve seen bands and they’ve made a stage, it’s just that bit more encapsulating, it makes that whole experience, creates an atmosphere visually to help the music,” adds Rachael, and even though there is unquestionably a striking element of their live show already, they’re keen to improve. “It’s something we definitely want to build on. I think we have as much as we can muster at the moment – we’re restrained by the strength of our backs,” jokes Thomas in reference to the strength of public transport when it comes to playing outside of Brighton.

With a forthcoming single released on Too Pure records and a UK tour forthcoming, Esben and The Witch will be casting their spell over many more people in the months to come.


Originally published in issue 13 (vol. 3) of Loud And Quiet. December 2009

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