Witch Hats, 'Solarium Down the Causeway'

· Wednesday November 11, 2009

Witch Hats are undeniably one of Australia's most intense rock bands, a newer and slightly more urgent version of that band that Nick Cave was in, in the early 90s (what's their name again?). They've just released a new EP, Solarium Down the Causeway, which just made me think of the 6km walk I used to take to the shops, where a Solarium and porn store were the only bastions of visible civilization on the road to glory (German baked goods being the glory). It turns out I didn't miss the mark completely, but it was LA, not some Deutsche backwater.

Their driven guitar music is nothing short of a laconic, acid bitten, apocalypse anthem. These songs are stripped back and rhythmic, foaming at the mouth. Recorded in a milk factory in Oakland, the album starts off with a punch in the teeth/stomach. Kris Buscombe yelps about the rabbit that can't hear the farmer rapping (clap clap) on the door. Kris and I had a chat on the phone a few days ago and he explained a few things…

Sarah Werkmeister: What does Solarium Down the Causeway mean?
Kris Buscombe: It's a lyric from one of the songs. It was a loose reference to seeing people sunbake on the side of this aqueduct thing on the side of the road in Los Angeles. It's really strange, they've got these big artificial rivers that funnel the water into the city, and into desalination plants and for long periods of time they're actually empty. It was empty when we were there and you just drive along through the city and you see all these artificial concrete things that are sometimes filled with water and we saw all these people sunbaking like it was a beach.

SW: You wrote this record while on the rogue road in America, partly in the Chelsea Hotel… did you meet the Joplin of your dreams?
KB: I didn't meet any Janis Joplins, but I did meet a lot of other crazy people. There's all sorts of eccentric writers that still live in there and they just wander around the hallways making noises. And then there are curious tourists like me. But I think that was a nice place to stay and work on music, and it was very artistic and interesting.

SW: A bit like that movie Coen bros movie, Barton Fink
KB: Yeah it was similar to that. Just wallpaper peeling off the walls because it was that style of place, so…

Did you find a head in a box?
KB: They may have [had one there], but I didn't actually check the box.

SW: Did you soak the stained existence of American troubadour musicians?
KB: I did get a thrill out of… there was this room that Bob Dylan lived in for a couple of years, where he apparently wrote 'Blonde on Blonde' and stuff like that. I got to have a look inside that room, that's since been renovated but it still had a bit of an aura about it, knowing that's where 'Blonde on Blonde' was written.

You wrote the album on the road?
KB: Yeah, I guess it was pretty rushed. We didn't really have a lot of time to work on the songs so we tried to keep it pretty simple and catalogued every idea that I had along the way. I had a video camera on me, so I recorded some things and when I got the hotel I sort of assembled it all. In comparison to writing in the past, it was a lot quicker and a looser way of writing.

Yeah, the record seemed more stripped back than your previous records. Do you think the reason for that is because you wrote it in the way that you did?
KB: Yeah, especially with the sound of it. I mean, we were in a place for three or four days but we actually only did 90% of the music in two afternoons, so it was a very quick recording process. It was almost like just playing a live show.

SW: What's your favourite song on the album?
KB: I like the song 'Sessa', which is really Krautrock influenced. So it's very minimal… it's just got one riff that repeats over and over again and it's very hypnotic and spooky so I like that one. It's a fun, new sounding song that we haven't really made in the past.

SW: I really like that 'Stomach in Your Hair' song…
KB: Yeah that's a nice little one too. I guess it's about trying to convey the feeling and atmosphere that you get when you're completely trashed and out wasted, when it's a bit chaotic. I think it's a frantic song and I loosely made a story to fit with that.

SW: What was it like recording with that Gris Gris guy (Greg Ashley) at The Creamery?  
KB: It was great. It was a much quicker recording than we'd done in the past. It was very off the cuff and we just stuck mic's all around his studio. It was just a concrete room that's about the size of half a basketball court and it's got a really cavernous feeling. There really wasn't much to it, we just kinda bashed it out. It's cool because it's almost lo-fi in comparison to what we've done in the past, which is a more layered studio recording.

SW: You're sound has a particularly Australian vibe, if Witch Hats were an Australian movie, what would they be?
KB: It would probably be a new movie and it would be and I wouldn't want it to be what you expect. You could probably say we suit a movie like Mad Max or something like that, but I'd like some sort of tea party film where it's a bunch of babysitters getting together and planning a week and it's a film about that.

SW: Do you have any wacky comments to add?
KB: I would, but I'm really vague at the moment. I'm trying to think of funny stuff but I can't. Just put that on the end of the interview (laughs).