Witch Mountain Interview with Nate Carson: To Build a Mountain Takes a Long, Long Time

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The album, which was recorded by the venerable Billy Anderson, offers no posturing, no bullshit. Plotkin‘s vocals soar above Wrong‘s chugging riffage, underscored by a heady foundation of groove affected by Carson and bassist Dave Hoopaugh. Right from the beginning of opener “Wing of the Lord” and down through cuts like the growling “End Game” and the 12-minute sprawl of “Hare’s Stare,” South of Salem keeps to a natural, live feel that makes the performances captured that much more striking. Listening, as much ass as Plotkin kicks throughout, I keep going back to Wrong‘s layered solos toward the end of “Hare’s Stare.” Pure Iommic bliss.

I posted South of Salem a while back as an audio stream, and it’s available here if you didn’t get the chance to hear it. In our email exchange, Carson — who also helms Nanotear Booking — discussed making the album, the process of bringing Plotkin into the band, Witch Mountain‘s touring plans, and was kind enough even to turn the keyboard over to Wrong when it came to explaining how their new vocalist has changed the songwriting methodology. For anyone living in the Northwest, Carson also confirmed he’ll be doing another installment of the Fall into Darkness festival (prior years have included the likes of Earthless and Ludicra), although he was tight-lipped when it came to saying who might be in the lineup.

Full Q&A is after the jump. Please enjoy.

What was behind reviving Witch Mountain? Do you feel like it had been long enough that you basically had to start over with the band with 10 years between albums?

Nate: Well there seems to be a bit of a misconception about Witch Mountain’s history. If there was ever a “revival” it was in 2005 when YOB asked us to play with them and Totimoshi at the Doug Fir Lounge. Mid-2003 through 2005 was the only period of total inactivity for the band. Since that historic show, Witch Mountain has been gigging on a regular basis in the Northwest.

As for finally getting South of Salem done — that had a lot more to do with finding a singer, a producer, and earning the budget necessary to record this album and release it without a label. So there’s been serious continuity for me and Rob and Dave. The main new addition is our fantastic singer Uta Plotkin. She continues to inspire us to be a better and more serious band.

Tell me about bringing Uta into the lineup. What does she bring to the band in your estimation? Has having her on vocals changed the approach to songwriting at all?

Nate: I’ll let Rob field this one.

Rob: Uta has freed up a lot of my duties as the frontman and allowed me to expand as a guitar player on all the music that we have written or recorded since she’s joined the band. Now I can layer parts in the studio. Previously, I often limited my recorded parts to what I could play and sing at the same time. Her vocals have also definitely changed the way we write since we’re no longer a three-piece.

I’ve also been freed up as being the main content writer. I don’t have to worry about shooting myself in the foot live by writing parts that I can’t sing and play at the same time. In fact, it’s given Dave our bass player the opportunity to step up and bring in his own material. He’s written one of the newest songs that we’re currently playing live and plan on recording in the near future.

When was the material for South of Salem written? Are there older songs from before Uta joined, or is it all new?

Nate: All the material on South of Salem existed before Uta came on board. She was able to add all the harmonies on the album and base her great melody lines on what Rob had already devised. There are a few lyrics that she adjusted too, especially on “Plastic Cage” and “South Sugar.” The most exciting part is that she’s deeply involved in writing the brand new material, from “Veil of the Forgotten” (our track that appeared on Metal Swim) to all the tracks we’re hashing out for the next album. We love writing as a quartet and getting her input and giving her the opportunity to sing lyrics that she has written herself and resonates with on a personal level.

Did you have a specific feel in mind when you were putting together these songs? The result on the album is classic-sounding, but not retro or anything like that. Did you know what you wanted going into the studio?

Nate: Thanks for saying so. That was the idea! We all listen to a lot of classic music, so inevitably, the idea is to make our music timeless. How you go about doing that is anyone’s guess. Our approach was to work the songs over for years and years, and then get our favorite producer to have his way with them. I would say we knew what we wanted, but we also gave Billy Anderson carte blanche to be a producer and help us make the album as sonically epic as he deemed appropriate.

Tell me about working with Billy Anderson. What was your time in the studio like? How long were you there, and how do you feel about the results on the album? What were some of the differences recording South of Salem and Come the Mountain?

Nate: I’ve done an album with Billy before, also at Smegma Studio. He’s an old buddy of ours going back many years. So to be honest, recording with him was exactly what I expected and had already experienced. He’s fantastic; one of our favorite people, and an absolute master in the studio. Really great at creating that audio “dirt” that many other producers try to get rid of.

We recorded and mixed the album in seven days. Luckily, we were very well rehearsed. That was a big difference between South of Salem and …Come The Mountain, as we took 10 days to track CTM and over a month to mix it. We’re simply a much more experienced band now, and we have a singer who can belt it out with the best of them.

As for what it’s like to be in the studio with Billy? Well, there was a lot of Mike’s Hard Lemonade, herbal medicine, and puns that would make you want to jump off a bridge. The guy is mile-a-minute and truly hilarious. He slept on my couch every night up here on Mount Tabor. After six or eight hours of blaring doom metal every day, I wanted him to have a really relaxing place to conjure new energies for the next session. I do believe it worked!

Have you gotten a sense of the reaction to South of Salem? Everything I’ve seen has been really positive. Does that kind of thing matter to you?

Nate: Of course it’s fantastic to have this album be so well received. We waited so long to make it, and we took our time every step of the way to make certain that the songs, the production, the mastering, and the artwork would be just right. So the fact that reviewers and fans (both new and old) seem to recognize and respond to all that is awesome. We would do it anyway, but it always puts wind in your sails to know that people respect or identify with your art. Otherwise, why release albums or tour at all? If you don’t care one bit about what people think, stay home and keep your shit secret. Have fun with that.

Portland has an incredibly strong scene at this point. What do you think it is about the area that has led to such a tight-knit and creative group of bands?

Nate: There’s no single answer to a question this broad. But my gut says that it’s a combination of raw talent, and a complete zeitgeist in the heavy rock scene. Portland has been “the next Seattle” or flat out ignored by the music industry for so many years. You go to Chicago or San Francisco and you cannot count the major label bands on one hand. Here, you can. And you have fingers left over. So instead of a music “industry,” we have a music “community.” And I would not trade that for anything.

Also, we have said for years and years that much of our inspiration comes from the sky. Look up nine months out of the year in Portland, and you will see black roiling clouds bursting with rain. It’s a constant reminder of doom when the sky is always black. I fucking love it, and draw immense creative energy from living on a volcano where owls hoot outside my window at night.

Will Witch Mountain tour? What’s next for the band?

Nate: We toured quite a bit back in 2000-2003. And we just completed a tour this March to SXSW with our friends Christian Mistress. You can see some of our Austin set on YouTube.

We are looking at a potential Fall tour right now. It could even be announced by the time you print this interview. If that doesn’t work out, we’ll figure something out. Main priorities are to complete the new record, and get on the road — and not necessarily in that order. We’re determined to make people wait only one year for a third album, instead of another 10. And of course, we absolutely want to get over to Europe.

People wonder if we are serious this time, and the answer is a profound YES.

Are you going to be organizing another Fall Into Darkness festival? If so, anything you can reveal about who might be playing?

Nate: Yes. And no. ;)

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3 Responses to “Witch Mountain Interview with Nate Carson: To Build a Mountain Takes a Long, Long Time”

  1. Chris West says:

    “And of course, we absolutely want to get over to Europe.”

    Hell yeah. I’d love to see you guys live, come on over.

  2. saturnine says:

    Best place to keep up on Fall Into Darkness news for now (albeit no shareable news just yet): http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nanotear/298152260739

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