Witch: Amping Up the Stoner Rock Formula on Paralyzed

Dave Sweetapple, bassist for the Vermont rock band Witch, apologizes for being a little late for our phone interview. Cyril, his Scottish Deerhound turned unofficial band mascot, had to step outside. A friendly but physically imposing canine, his presence in early Witch promotional photos had many fans wondering how the band found such a menacing creature for a stage prop. Basically retired from his mascot duties, Cyril sits in on the band’s practice sessions and is one of their top friends on MySpace.

Witch consists of Sweetapple, guitarists Kyle Thomas and Asa Irons of the Brattleboro-based freak-folk collective Feathers, and Sweetapple’s longtime friend and rock luminary J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. Reaching into heavy psychedelic blues and blasting it into the 21st century, Witch’s second album, Paralyzed (Tee Pee Records), is one of the most anticipated titles of 2008.

Originally from Boston, Sweetapple moved to Brattleboro at the end of the last decade, and was followed by Mascis, who moved to nearby Amhurst, Massachusetts in 2001. With relatively few music enthusiasts in the area and the limited nightlife options of any small town, the two quickly became immersed in the area’s blossoming music community. Local shows draw people from all walks of life. “It’s more of a social thing,” explains Sweetapple.

Despite its small size, Brattleboro has gained recognition as a fertile ground for noise and freak folk. Although Sweetapple and Mascis appreciated the local trends, they longed for the energy that only a rock ’n’ roll show can provide. “Witch was sort of a reaction to the non-song-based stuff in this area. It’s really hard to see a rock band these days, so we said, ‘Why don’t we just do something?’”

From the onset, Mascis wanted to play drums. This surprised fans that associate him with his frenzied guitar playing in Dinosaur Jr. Mascis, however, saw Witch as a fun opportunity to play the instrument he used in Boston’s Deep Wound in the early 1980s. A youthful hardcore act, Deep Wound left an indelible mark on a generation of punk rock and was a forerunner of grindcore.

Sweetapple and Mascis become acquainted with Thomas in his teen years working at a local record store. Sweetapple recalls, “I never really thought about being in a band with him or anything, but he was doing a lot of solo stuff in his bedroom, and it was pretty cool.” After recruiting Thomas and Irons for guitar, the official Witch lineup was intact. Within a month of its first practice, the quartet completed all of the songs that would be on its 2006 self-titled debut album, which was recorded with John Agnello (Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth).