Interview: Sombre Serenity, Esben & the Witch

Lovely, highly literate and quite literally unique, south coast sweethearts Esben & the Witch have relatively recently become Dots & Dashes' firm favourite doom mongers, dealing in delightfully depressing, yet ultimately uplifting indie progression. Conversing electronically over thousands of miles of land and sea, the trio talk of future festival conquests, Victorian infatuation and nudge you in the direction of a rather reasonable trade-off...

Dots: Brighton's regularly associated with bright beaches and atypical British spots of sunshine. How has the mythical darkness that burns deep inside the gas chambers of Esben & the Witch been ignited?

Esben: Brighton is indeed a beautiful seaside resort and very vibrant, certainly not the sort of place you would readily associate with the gloomy, claustrophobic wares we peddle. Brighton does however add its own inspiration, mostly geographically. The sea and its changing moods fuel dreams of escape and adventure. The downs looming over the city and the tourist element creating a feeling of daily transience, add to this the diverse and eclecticism of the residence and it creates an odd mind set. 

Dashes: To what extent does the band serve as an allegory, shrouded in the art of concept?

The Witch: I think if we ever began to think about the concept of the band on that grand a scale we would begin to undermine the manner in which we have come to be. The beauty (for us) in the development of the band has always been that it has taken on a snowball like quality rolling down a hill. It’s taken on a life of its own and although we guide it as best we can, to start implying too much of a dogma to it would run the risk of defeating its charm somewhat.

Dots: Undoubtedly, the haunting loops and ghostly howls contained within the likes of They Use Smiles To Bury You will tie the band in fairly tightly with everything East of Old Street. Do you find current music scenes somewhat suffocating and to what extents has London both accepted and rejected your creativity?

Esben: It would be disingenuous to claim that Victoriana and such the like is not something we are enamoured with, but we do find the East London affiliation we have encountered slightly odd. London has been, to this point, very kind to us.

Dashes: You've been dubbed everything from nightmare pop to skeleton swoon. Obviously, pigeonholing has stretched so far out of context that artists are now evaluated according to who, rather than what they sound like and the emotions that are henceforth exposed. Compared against the likes of Florence and The xx, how difficult was it to cultivate the unique instrumentation conjured up throughout 33?

The Witch: Music Scenes arise from a desperate desire to label bands or artists and compare them with their contemporaries; it’s this element that can prove ultimately restricting. Not necessarily from a creative point of view, but from that of the potential audience. Lazy groupings and the constant need to reference previous artists are glib and condescending. If music is good it should be original and individual. 

The instrumentation for ‘33’ came remarkably naturally. The key thing with everything we record is that it should be organic, if you spend too long considering instruments and noises rather than just trying them you could end up neutering your output. We are also big fans of the idea of using the studio (Daniel’s bedroom in our case) as an instrument itself, creating an atmosphere is the key.

Dots: With the looming approach of all things festive (in the musical sense at least, what with Christmas still being a veritable mile away...), are Esben & the Witch the type of brooding act to clandestinely sneak up on a more mainstream conscience through prolonged exposure to summer sunlight?

Esben: It’s certainly a possibility; whilst summer sunlight may not be the most appropriate of settings for what it is we are trying to achieve it’s still a marvelous chance to play our songs to new audiences.

Dashes: I forgot to sign up to your mailing list and subsequently, download the 33 EP. Please could I have a copy?

The Witch: In exchange for your e-mail address…

For such a wondrous EP, an e-mail address seems a sensible price to pay.

Esben & the Witch step out of the shade for Britain's most fashionable festivals, including Live At Leeds, Liverpool Sound City, The Great Escape and Field Day with many more undoubtedly on the cusp...