There are a few bands, which you follow for many years and you are always willing to invest time and energy to check their new tracks, as they approach their creative side with absolute purity and honesty, without mainstream desires. British atmospheric rock trio Esben and the Witch, which found their new home for a number of years in Berlin has many news to share. Singer and a bass player Rachel Davies said the Berlin phase is over, band’s album was actually written before the pandemic and what are her thoughts on showing our true side. European tour starts on 22nd of May in Berlin and includes Prague’s venue Kasárna Karlín on 2nd of June.
It was great to do a follow up to our 2017 interview.
Photos credit: Sophie Fox
How was Berlin treating you since the time we were last in the contact at 2017?
A lot has happened over the last 6 years to say the least, both globally and personally. As of last year, I actually left Berlin after 7 years, to return to the UK. Berlin is a very special place and I have some both wonderful and painful memories of my time living there. I feel very privileged that I was able to move there relatively easily before the world started to change and certain things became harder.
Was there some surprising behavior of your German neighbors when they were under pressure during the pandemic years? I am so proud of people around me, as there was so much support for older neighbors.
I feel very grateful to have spent the pandemic years in Germany where I felt like we did receive some much needed support and guidance. I’m also very glad that I had some very close friends around me to handle the uncertainty together, especially as we were unable to see our family for a couple of years, something I found very hard. I worked throughout the time so would cycle the length of the city everyday to go to work, avoiding the train, though was very impressed by most of my German neighbors etiquette when it came to social distancing and being respectful to one another, during such a strange and challenging time. I did also witness quite a few conspiracy theorists protests outside my bedroom window which I found difficult to empathize with, especially as I felt we were living in one of the most stable, privileged countries in Europe. I guess people found ways to deal with it in many different forms…
Were there some cool areas, where you went outside of the civilization?
I retreated to nature a lot during lockdown, escaping to the lakes and forests that encircle the city, cycling hours out of the city lines to find peace and quiet amongst the trees and birdsong. There’s an old tuberculosis hospital not far from Berlin, now overgrown with plants that I visited during that time, it felt very pertinent but at the same time, weirdly reassuring, that this too will hopefully blow over and grass will continue to grow.
New forms of creativity
How was your creativity during covid? I heard from many people the creativity often varied. Sometimes there was a massive motivation to be lazy and watch movies and sometimes, there was a strong motivation to write. Not only from a frustration of not working for a while…
It came and went. I didn’t actually have a great deal of down time as was lucky enough to keep my job during this time. Creativity is always a fluid thing for me, something I need to remember, sometimes I think you can’t control it, it’s more something that controls you. I was happy to have the album lyrics to work on so I could try and focus a lot of negative emotions into something ultimately positive with art. I also cooked a lot. I found a lot of joy from food and spending the evenings following new recipes, drinking wine and listening to a lot of pop music, trying to forget for a while that the whole world was closed indefinitely.
Tell us please more about writing outside of Rome during summer 2019. Why did you choose this location?
We were looking for a different way to write entirely. We were feeling a little lost and weren’t sure if we even wanted to write another record so wanted to have some space in a different environment to reflect. We decided to escape the city and head to the warmer climes of Southern Europe, finding a beautiful artist’s villa with a huge garden where we could set all the equipment up and play at our leisure, with no pressure of an outcome, more a necessary reminder of why creating music is important to us. It was more the city and its distractions we wanted to leave. A rural retreat with only each other, the sun and a hell of a lot mosquitoes to keep us company.
There’s an old tuberculosis hospital not far from Berlin, now overgrown with plants that I visited during covid. It felt very pertinent but at the same time, weirdly reassuring, that this too will hopefully blow over and grass will continue to grow.
Recently I heard from a few musicians, it’s harder to write, longer you are in the band, as there is often a feeling you covered already so many emotions and experiences.
We were definitely feeling a little exhausted before this trip I think, I certainly needed time to reflect on what I wanted to say as a musician and if I still had anything I wanted to express meaningfully. It was a tentative process but the relaxed, free nature of it (this was all before the pandemic) meant the writing process became an absolute pleasure again. We went back to the beginning to find ourselves again.
How is your relationship in the trio? Not only from the perspective of my friends’ trio, the relationships change in some way throughout the years…
We’ve always been a weird little family and we act very much like siblings. Being in a band is like being in a relationship, things change, everything is constantly evolving but with deep memories comes deep love. It’s the first time in over a decade that we now all live in different cities, let alone different countries but the experiences we’ve been through together is so unique and treasured that as things do naturally drift and alter across time, that will always remain.
Are you able to talk in a safe environment about a bit tough emotions within the trio, or you form duos, or even prefer occasional walks alone?
I think we know each other very well. Even when we don’t necessarily talk openly about certain ‘tough’ emotions, we’ve spent enough time together over the years to learn to read between the lines and when one of us needs or wants to talk about something or when we just need to have a drink. We are all British too, so we’re used to bottling up our emotions somewhat. I think the main thing is trust, we can argue or not see eye to eye but, like siblings, understand the bigger picture.
As I understood, a majority of the album was written before covid. So, where does the motivation to be more melancholic come from?
It feels more like an instinct rather than a motivation and something that has always been there, from the very genesis of the band. It’s not something we sit down to decide, it’s more a proclivity. I find most things that have a sense of meaning to be in essence quite sad and I’ve always been drawn to the more melancholic side of art, be it in music, film or paintings. I’m a romantic at heart and struggle with nostalgia, and music is a cathartic tool for me to express some of these emotions.
What was your aim mood-wise? The album brings beautiful songwriting, but there are not many checkpoints. It is some sort of a grey, flowing, reliable blanket…
We wanted to create something beautiful, something almost soothing that people could escape into for a short time, so a blanket is a good metaphor. We were all listening to a lot of ambient music, a genre we’ve always appreciated, and wanted to create a record that provided the same relief. A short time where you can sit back and let the music wash over you, perhaps feeling a little less alone in those moments of melancholy that everyone has from time to time.
“Everything’s changed and nothing’s changed.” Do you mean that we changed and received a new perspective, but the experiences of previous years, didn’t change our essence? Or actually it might a bit, to help us to understand clearer our essence…
Yes, essentially. I’ve been reflecting a lot as I’m getting older, especially over the last few turbulent years, and it’s interesting to me how so much has changed but that in so many ways we end up coming full circle. Maybe the essence of who we are is much harder to change and it’s acceptance that we need to seek instead of alteration. I listened back to one of our very first ever songs that we had on our first demo and it could have been taken directly from this record, it was very interesting to me. Things and people can change of course, but perhaps the essence is more eternal.
We wanted to create a record that provided a relief, a short time where you can sit back and let the music wash over you, perhaps feeling a little less alone in those moments of melancholy that everyone has from time to time.
How were your activities and incomes outside of music changing pre/during/post covid?
All three of us were lucky enough to keep our jobs, aside from being furloughed during the peak of covid, which meant we could just about stay afloat. It’s been such a hard time for working musicians and we’re finding that out now, after such a long time of not touring that it’s had a detrimental effect, especially on small bands like ours where touring and selling merchandise is often the only means, financially, to keep going. We don’t expect to make a great deal of money within this industry, it’s not why we entered it, but it’s definitely a lot harder these days.
Moving to True Mirror, I am a holder/keeper. However, I can see many break-ups around me. Do you have a similar experience? This might be useful, but an unpleasant question to someone, who spoke about the break-up first: “Will you leave, when the cracks will show up in the next relationship as well?”
True Mirror is about confronting your self. To accept the shadow and to allow, often the parts you dislike, to show to another person. It’s about showing your vulnerability and asking someone if they still want to stay once they’ve seen behind the mask. I’ve certainly found it hard in the past to be totally open and vulnerable in relationships, it’s not easy for me but I’m learning slowly over time that is an essential part of being true and where the depth lies.
We are all British, so we’re used to bottling up our emotions somewhat.
This track, but a number of other tracks emphasize a need to be true to ourselves and be pure without any masks. I am really trying, but in order to be diplomatic, especially within a family, it’s sometimes extremely hard to pretend. Covid, economic challenges and war opened a number of massively challenging topics to discuss in many families. It’s extremely hard, especially if there are other experiences, like when my uncle and his family left my grandma last year after a family party on the bus stop during a cold night and that poor old lady was seriously very sick for a week, as they were too lazy to drive her home through the small streets. There was no excuse since and I should smile and do hugs during holidays? Older I get, it’s harder for me to pretend and people can see it…
Of course. As with many things, I think it is a balance and one I’ve yet to strike. Tact and diplomacy are crucial to empathy too so I think in these scenarios it’s a judgement call. When is the time to confront certain things head on and when is the time to let sleeping dogs lie? I’m realizing what works for me may not be the best solution for someone else, an especially hard conclusion when it’s someone you love. Empathy is a muscle, a work in progress, I think we’re all just trying to figure out what the best way forward is. To be true and take off the mask is more an invitation to look within oneself, at ones flaws and to try and accept and ultimately forgive.
For the last thing, I would love to hear your memories on 2013 Prague show. Really looking forward to having you in Prague.
I remember the cigarette smoke drifting through the venue and have a very strong vision of listening to the Moss Icon song ‘Lyburnum Wits End Liberation Fly’ in the dressing room before we played. We also had the tyre on our tour van clamped outside, all adding to the heady memories of playing on the beautiful cobbled streets of Prague. It’s been many years, we can’t wait to return.