Having spent a full month on tour in the United States, U.K. dark-psych outfit the Wytches are able to quickly itemize the differences between the two countries. For one thing, they prefer American crowds, because American rock fans have received the murky, sinister, surf-inspired snarling of their particular breed of garage more enthusiastically than folks back home. They adore American pickles — “gherkins,” or “choads” — the run-of-the-mill kosher dills you can find on the shelf of any supermarket from Los Angeles to Louisiana, but apparently not in Brighton, where the group is from. And they’re also totally amused by “sex radio,” the censor-free satellite radio talk shows detailing listeners’ fetishes and bedroom dilemmas, which they listen to during long drives between gigs.
“It’s these guys calling porn stars and telling them their fantasies!” chuckles drummer Gianni Honey. The band is in the basement of New York’s Mercury Lounge, killing some time before a performance that night. “Like, this guy, he likes wearing nappies” — diapers, to Americans — “pissing himself and walking around with a heavy nappy. That was pretty funny. We were blaring the radio when we pulled up to a tollbooth and it basically [sounded like] this guy and this woman were having sex over the phone. Our tour manager was like, ‘Uh … can I have a receipt, please?’ That was near San Francisco.”
Since that stop in the Bay Area, the Wytches have seen more of the country in four weeks’ time than many seasoned musicians do in a year. They’re touring in support of their just-released debut Annabel Dream Reader, an engagingly gloomy collection of blue-black rock songs that at times sounds like a warped Ventures record playing on a dying turntable.
“I don’t really think we fit in [the Britrock scene],” says guitarist and vocalist Kristian Bell. “I like the idea of us being pretty dark, and I don’t hear a lot of dark music coming out at the moment. Dark in theme, there’s plenty of that, but I’d be lying if I said if it wasn’t quite deliberately dark.”
For Bell and his bandmates, surf — that vintage ’60s rock sub-genre that’s usually associated with sunshine, rolling tides and a laidback California attitude — is sinister, its melodies both more ominous and more mysterious than the way they’ve traditionally been presented. Take “Digsaw,” the rousing lead-off track that opens Annabel. A long howl of feedback is followed by doomy, driving drums and topped with a creeping crooked guitar line.
“Just like with any other rock band, we’re talking about love,” Bell continues. “But the sounds are evil. If you were to slow down your classic surf riff, like a Dick Dale track, it’s really evil! It’s dirty and it’s dark, surf music. There’s no Satanic connotation or anything; it’s just the feeling of it.” To hear him tell it, this eeriness has been in the genre’s DNA from the beginning. “When rock ‘n’ roll first came about,” he says, “the youngsters were so attracted to it because everyone thought it was so evil, aggressive and violent. I like the feeling of dark music. I like playing seedy, dirty songs. It’s a physical feeling, almost.”
Perhaps because of the music’s vintage roots, the Wytches have been finding favor not with younger audiences, but with fans whose show-going resumes stretch back a bit further. “We like it when the old dudes come up to us and say, ‘What you’re doing is really cool!’” adds Honey. “It’s cool when the older guys say, ‘I used to go to all the British punk shows and I really like your band.’ That’s a big compliment.”