Ohio’s Witch Hazel Sound; though hardly prolific, are one of the brightest
stars in the indie pop universe. If Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson had decided
to collaborate at the peak of their powers, the results might not have been
unlike the compressed pop majesty of The Witch Hazel Sound. Their 2001 release;
This World, Then The Fireworks (Hidden Agenda) was easily one of the finest
albums of that year or the last decade for that matter. They preceded this masterpiece
with the fine debut album Landlocked (Flydaddy 1995), and the gorgeous EP It's
All True (Camera Obscura 1998). There have been a few singles and compilation
appearances in there as well (not to mention their sterling contribution to
this issue’s CD). That a band as overabundantly talented as these fellows
has to struggle to find labels willing to release their stuff, tells us all
more than we might like to know about the health of the current pop music scene.
Built around the melodies of multi-instrumentalist Kevin Coral, and singer/lyricist
Mark F., with bassist/sax player Mike Split forming the core trio around which
orbit a changing cast of players. All of their releases are highly recommended,
and essential listening to anyone reading this magazine. I conducted this email
interview with Kevin Coral in the summer of 2002.
did Witch Hazel Sound come together?
K.C.: I met Mike, our bass player in college in '90. we were
in a Joy Division -type band at first but then we got very turned on by the
sounds coming out of the UK at that time like the Stone Roses, Ride, Spaceman
3, Lush, etc. so we quit that band and put up a flyer looking for other musicians
who were into the UK type of music and that's how we found Mark F. we didn't
become Witch Hazel until '92/'93 because I moved about 2 hours away in '91 or
so and it was hard to get together. but we managed to get together enough to
do our first single Just Don't Try and the rest is very minor history...
the name change?
K.C.: Well, i was never really that fond of Witch Hazel. We
just came up with it on the spur of the moment because we needed a name to put
on the single. It was almost Beewax, which actually became the name of an EP
we did a few years later. Witch Hazel Sound just sounds cooler, more descriptive,
there other bands in the Kent area you feel inspired by or a kinship with?
K.C.: Oh yeah, for sure. even post-hardcore bands like Harriet
the Spy and Party of Helicopters.I've recorded and or produced their albums
at Waterloo Sound Recording, a studio I used to co-own. it works because even
though our music is not that alike, our attitudes towards music are, so we find
a lot of common ground. And then there are bands like the All Golden where I
was around during their formation. I recorded and produced their first album
that came out just this spring. we've kind of become the godfathers of the new
Kent scene in a small way. and I think we could've had a real Elephant 6 kinda
thing happening but some people moved and we split from Waterloo and now record
at our studio. So, now it's everybody doing their own thing.
are some of the key artists that inspired you as a pop composer?
K.C.: Well. I'd say Brian Wilson, the Byrds, Neil Young, Arthur
Lee, Ennio Morricone, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Henry Mancini, Antonio Carlos Jobim,
Burt Bacharach, John Barry, Francis Lai, Scott Walker, Martin Carr, Alice Coltrane,
Curt Boettcher, Jimmy Webb, Phil Spector, The Zombies, The Velvet Underground,
Piero Piccioni, Harry Nilsson, Ray Davies, Joe Meek, Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine,
Ride, Stone Roses, David Gates and Van Dyke Parks would be the ones who probably
most influence me directly...
there a Witch Hazel Sound ethic or ideal?
K.C.: Melody, songwriting, adventurous and interesting record
production and trying to convey real emotion through our music. I don't know
if we succeed on any of those points but that's our ideal!
Can you tell me bit about how Landlocked came into being and what inspired
K.C.: Well, it mainly came about because in either late '94
or early '95, I can't remember which exactly, Flydaddy signed us to a 3 album
deal. So, off we went to a small basement studio in Kent, the cheapest I could
find because we had a small budget and I wanted to spend as much time as I
could on the record. This was the first time I had gone off and really done
a record with just me to make all the "producer" decisions. Because
before that I had always recorded with the same engineers and Mike Crooker,
who was the co-producer on our first single and had been by my side for all
Witch Hazel recording up until that time. So, I struck out on my own and with
Scott Bennett engineering (who became my partner in Waterloo Sound Recording,
the studio we built a year or so after Landlocked) we stated recording Landlocked.
A lot of experimenting and naivete were involved! We spent like a hundred
hours easy recording it... we were inspired by all those artists I mentioned
before. We try to kinda jam them all into one little lo-fi record. Whether
we succeeded or not, I don't know...
Why have many artists, including yourself, found inspiration in music from
K.C.: Well, in most every art form there is usually at least
one, sometimes more, "golden age", and whether people want to admit
it or not, the sixties was "pop" music's "golden age".
The evidence is overwhelming. All the great records released in that 10 years
were staggering, and with the last 10 years of cd re-issues and discovery
of little known(at least little known at the time) 60's artists or albums,
we have constant confirmation(or affirmation) that the 60's was a magical
time for "pop" music. Never to be repeated, I fear...
Do you have a ghost story?
K.C.: No, not really. I don't know if I believe that sort
of thing or not. I just don't know about anything in relation to the "great
Would you tell me a bit about the creation and inspiration behind It's All
K.C.: Well, It's All True was going to be a concept record
from the beginning, as I found I was writing tunes that all had a certain
vibe and all called for strings. So, we came up with the Witch Hazel Sound
with Strings. And that made me think of those jazz concept albums of the 50's
where it would be, like "Billie Holiday with Strings". Just something
different. It's All True was recorded at Waterloo at this time, as we had
the studio up and running by that time. So, it sounds better than Landlocked.
It was recorded at a little more relaxed pace than Landlocked. I was much
happier with it than I was Landlocked...
In some ways This World, then the Fireworks... is your most ambitious work
yet, can you tell me a bit about how this album came together?
K.C.: Well, "This World..." took over a year because
we were trying to work out a record deal in between recording, and plus we
were having a lot of technical problems at waterloo and the studio was down
A LOT. So, we'd be recording in fits and stops. And at this time; Christian,
who drummed on It's All True moved, so we were without a drummer (yet again!)
which made it take so long also. I don't know how ambitious it is. I sometimes
think it isn't ambitious enough. It's actually probably our most coherent
collection of pop songs save for one or two here or there. I think it's just
that I’ve gotten a lot better at producing, arranging and engineering.
This record I pretty much engineered myself. This is probably the closest
I've ever gotten to the "sound in my head". And I had a lot of time
to refine the ideas, though at the mixing stage I was kind of pushed for time
because we needed to get it to Parasol so it come out before x-mas! I think
the next one is going to our most ambitious by far... but bands always say
that, don't they?
What’s your favorite time of the year?
K.C.: Ya know, up until recently this would be a no-brainer.
I would have said "autumn" for sure. But in the past few years i've
really come to dig
summer. I like the sun burning down on me. esp. if I'm walking and I'm listening
to some "sunshine pop" like the Beach Boys or something with big
harmonies and stuff. I dunno I guess it's a toss-up between summer and autumn...
Why so long between releases?
K.C.: Well, usually because we're trying to find a record
label to put out our records! You would think it wouldn't be too hard for
us but it has been a real chore for us. So, hence you have 3 years between
each record. We HOPE to have a record out next year, which is our "official"
10th anniversary. keep your fingers crossed!!!! More to come.