A witch connecting with her natural tools…
Inspired and informed by the appearance of Arcadia, the album represents the Old Ways as taught to Crisis by the ghost of the ancient Italian Witch, with the magnificent debut album Salem’s Wounds releases 9 March 2015, Karyn Crisis’ Gospel Of The Witches delivered an astounding piece of work. With the very talented and prolific guitarist Davide Tiso (of the now sadly defunct Ephel Duath) writing the music, Karyn Crisis explored and exercised her full vocal range as much as her spiritual heritage. Here, Karyn Crisis gives MR’s Jason Guest an insight into, amongst many other things, the album and its inspiration, working with Tiso, the ancient ways of Italian witches and druids and her own lineage as a witch, and what it is to be a woman in metal…
Hi Karyn. Thank you very much for taking time out for this interview and congratulations on Salem’s Wounds (reviewed here). It’s a fantastic album!
Hi Jason, Thank you for listening and thank you so much for your press support!
Both you and Davide Tiso were working on this album as far back as 2009. During that time, you were also working on the last two releases for Ephel Duath. How did you balance the work between the two bands?
The creative process is an ebb and flow. The flow tends to move towards wherever your focus is. We wrote for GOTW in ebbs and flows, and in between those Davide wrote for Ephel Duath. It was rather natural. Even now, he wrote tons of music for the next album, and recently has been working on the pre-production tracks for 30 minutes of music. We also wrote an addendum to Salem’s Wounds, and he’s also got an instrumental duo band he’s been writing for… as I mentioned, he’s a prolific composer and he’s able to maintain his distinct writing style into distinctly different musical landscapes. It’s inspirational to me; that’s not something I’m capable of doing.
Was it a concept, a philosophy, or was it the music that inspired the birth of Gospel of the Witches?
It was a profound life shift that inspired GOTW… meeting a witch in spirit named Aradia, and subsequently learning from her the true history of Witches in Italy and what the Old Ways are all about. This was not just an intellectual experience that still continues; it has been like meeting a person: sensations, emotions, learning, joy, and love. Likewise, the writing sessions between Davide and myself are all about love: rising to our highest expression to meet each other in a creative space that’s all about expressing emotion.
Can you tell us about what you set out to achieve with the album?
This album was about “sensing” our way into what we wanted to express, and we wanted to express this world of hidden knowledge and the truth of the Ancient Ways of Italian Witches and Druids. So while we did develop a specific concept, all along the way we had to intuitively find those creative forms of expression that “felt” right: whose existence is also in that “hidden” place, a realm hidden from the naked eye. There were specific goals we had in mind along the way: creatively, philosophically, devotionally, and Davide and I also had personal creative achievements we wanted to make: he is always topping the emotional pinnacles he reached before, always honing his musical story-telling abilities, and I wanted to express new aspects of my voice.
Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted for this record or did that evolve with the writing?
The clarity did take a while. As often, with change, the first clear ideas are what one “does not want.” I was clear from the start that I didn’t want to re-create my musical past, nor did I want to go back to what I was experiencing then. I had to understand what I wanted to express specifically.
Over time evolution of myself led to evolution of my creative expression. Davide evolved as well, but he was already light years ahead of me in his ability to create from emotions and to create quickly. He is very focused and plugged into his craft. Sometimes for me to takes longer to find my way into music or a painting…but I’ve recently learned to do that intentionally as well… to merge my capabilities with my focus, rather than just “waiting for it to happen,” although I can be quite unmovable if I don’t feel the vibe of something… this is different from not liking something. I like lots of the songs we created, but I wasn’t always able to “summon” the vocals and lyrics and energy.
Why ‘Gospel of the Witches’?
A few specific reasons: Intention to devote the album to the “Wise Women. Witches, both male and female, Female Druid Healers, Druid Magicians,” and to “sing their truth and teachings”. This isn’t a witch story nor a Goddess tale from male perspective, but from a woman. While Charles Leland wrote a book about Aradia, it also was not accurate either, so I wanted to open a discussion about all these suppressed truths.
Why ‘Salem’s Wounds’?
I thought learning about my own lineage as a Witch would lead me to Salem, Mass, but instead Aradia directed me to Italian Witchcraft and history. However, the first song written was ‘Salem’s Wounds’ which set in motion the devotional aspect of the album. Salem is a recognizable scar in history, a genocide (though on a much smaller and shorter scale than that of the 700 year period in Europe) that people have heard of whether or not they know the truth of it. “Salem” is a very identifiable word relating to “witches” and their burnings. Wounds refers to that specific genocide, but also to the fact that the church tried to eradicate this way of life so successfully that people still believe in the church’s smear campaign tying these women to the devil and to evil; the rumours and innuendos about what the church said a witch was. Witches are really about the natural way we all have to connect to the pulse of our universe and each other, so in effect killing witches is killing a natural part of ourselves and putting shame there.
All of the tracks complement each other and nothing feels out of place. Was this a decision you made early on in the creative process?
Not one moment was given to decision making around how the songs worked together until we were done in studio and had to create the track list -it was simply a matter of whether or not I felt connected to them musically and felt the vocals and lyrics pouring out as a result as to which ones would be on the album itself.
What kind of direction did you give Davide Tiso for the music he was writing?
Being that he is such a prolific composer, he’s always ready to go, and with a force.
I’m not a musician. The way I write songs, or add to the writing process, is to first be able to see the songs and album as a concept in my mind’s eye, like a short film. I tried to describe this film to him, which I didn’t see as a complete concept for a few years. At the beginning I wanted him to create an atmosphere form within a darkened forest: spells, hands in soil, herbs, coiling plants, vespers and spirits… serpents… a witch connecting with her natural tools.
So I used a lot of visual language to express to him, lots of feelings… and all this time he was growing with me in this direction. He has a tremendous capacity for pouring epic emotions into his playing, and his songs are more like stories and experiences than just “songs” …so once I had the overall concept floodgates opened… when I was naturally wanting a song about a specific ritual or color of light or intention, he intuitively created it all on his own… like telepathy.
I assume that working on the album for so long must have involved a number of re-writes. Is that so?
No re-writes. To clarify, the number of years we spent working towards “Salem’s Wounds” did not find us taking songs and re-writing them . We started writing and recording with songs like the ones you can hear on Davide’s Manuscripts Don’t Burn album..and then he kept writing and evolving as a songwriter. Next we recorded a handful of songs that had a lot of electronics which I added or began song ideas with, and we still love those songs, but decided they weren’t as grand as we wanted. We felt stylistically we might not be able to look back on them and feel the same way about them as we did in the moment. So we kept moving on. Then, he began to write songs like “Salem’s Wounds”… and around that point, I recorded vocals, and we knew we were just about there, directionally. We went through creative periods, all of which had slightly different styles or experimental natures to them. But once Davide wrote “Salem’s Wounds,” I found my way lyrically and conceptually and worked on “Mother” next and then chose a few other songs written in the most recent period and Davide set out to complete the rest.
So the process that took a while was a process of persona growth, especially for me to decide what I wanted to write about. The lyrical direction from Crisis Id’ graduated from, I went through so much I wasn’t “located there” anymore… and had to find the flow to express all I’d learned of the occult.
How did you decide on the final tracks?
I wanted to have 13 tracks, the number of the Divine Feminine, plus one hidden track.There were a few tracks we didn’t include that we felt weren’t emotionally on par with the rest, though we still love them.
The material appears to have given you the opportunity to employ a very broad vocal range from the melodic to the aggressive. Were the tracks written with this in mind?
No, the vocals came later, as I mentioned a few questions ago. The music was written as layers of guitars, an occasional effect here and there. Goddess of Light had electronic drums written by Davide, but other than that, he presented things to me without drums. This was a huge change for me, because for 13 years in Crisis, I responded to the drums to create all my vocal patterns and rhythms..I only listened to guitars for an atmosphere or vibe. I was like a drummer myself, in a way. So with these GOTW songs, I had to start with no drums at all, which is perhaps how I came up with choir vocals..they set a percussive back line, like chanting, which is also present in occult ritual: the magical voice, the power of repetitions, to act as a mantra, to draw you in. The songs can be unyielding rhythmically, and I wanted them to be that way: you are confronted by the tempo, where it takes you emotionally, and you either feel the movement or you resist that inner pull.
Rather than perform the parts yourself (you are clearly more than capable), why choose to have additional vocalists on the album?
In the Ancient Ways (like Druidry, Witchery, Ceremonial Magic and Channeling, etc, ) there’s always a representation of masculine energy and feminine energy…not “man and woman” but of the energies as aspects of a greater whole. I think I was intuitively applying this concept to the vocals. At the beginning, I simply felt I wanted to be free to express a more feminine part of my voice, uninterrupted, and then to anchor those vocals with masculine support. So there was a full range of vocal highs and lows and depths and fragility. I know how deep my own voice can go, but I felt that the right male voice could take that even deeper, so the vocals become like “chords”and a combination of feminine and masculine. It just felt like time to open up that expression. In the same way a guitarist can drop tune or add layers, I wanted to do similar thing.
Why choose Ross Dolan and Mike Hill to join you on vocals? And what did they bring to the songs?
Davide tends to pull me out of my “cave” and play music and videos for me here and there. While I was working on “Mother”, right at the time where I had a clear vision of the album, the lyrics were coming and I’d made the decision to have a “death choir” /chant-like choruses, Davide played me “A Glorious Epoch.” Immolation’s a band I’ve been familiar with since the early 90s, but at that precise moment, I just knew Ross’ voice had to be on the album, on most of the songs. His voice has a quality that’s very “earth”, very grounding and ancient. I knew he was the other key member we’d need also energetically.
Mike’s voice for me was like another part of the vocal cord on ‘Pillars’. With that track, which is a “round”, I wanted the layers of goals to really build, and the more variance in tone and timbre the better. Around that time, Davide played me some Tombs and I felt his voice would fill a nice space between Ross’ and mine.
Why Choose Charlie Schmid for drums?
Charlie was a “happy accident”. The original drummer chosen was too busy due to touring, so in pinch we needed someone to write and record their drums. Mike Hill actually suggested Charlie, although we were blessed with a handful of other options. I intuitively felt, just through the interview, that Charlie was our guy. I wanted a drummer who wasn’t a standard metal drummer; somewhere in -between rock, electronica, and metal, because vocally I was creating strong rhythms with the backing vocal chant/choir parts, and sensed the drums would need to be a little different. Charlie and I had a brief conversation about john Bonham and Marco Minnemann, plus a quick listen to some work he did with Vaura, I felt he was the guy, and I was right-he brings a non-metal direction to these albums that blends very well with everything else going on rhythmically, so they drums really add to, they let the other parts shine, they are quirky and not overpowering. To me they feel very natural. First track, very protective over ‘Mother’, for example, I love the way he started that song with kick drum… ballsy, but respectful. It was as though I first made the decision as to what type of drummer the songs needed, then had to pay attention to whom that would be out in the world. Same with additional vocalists, same with producer.
Jamie King produced, mixed and mastered the album. Why choose to work with him? And what did he bring to the album?
I was listening to BTBAM all during the development time for our Kickstarter film and demo videos while I’d go jogging. I just had this feeling Jamie was the guy to bring together all these layers of musical elements GOTW has in a grand way, elevated and also be able to hear and experience all of them. jamie is truly a master of what he does: recording techniques, mixing, mastering, effects, he’s our man! We will be recording all subsequent albums with him, Just a gem of a person as well. Super positive experience, but I also feel blessed to work with someone who gave so much care and effort to elevating these songs . And I actually had more time in the vocal booth than I knew what to do with! First time ever, other than Ephel Duath. I wasn’t pushed into the last day or so of recording.
Can you tell us about the visual aspect of the band? It’s very striking.
The way the Buddha is depicted standing on a lotus flower in, I knew represented an opening to Universal knowledge. The lotus is used in meditations as a visual cue for opening to this Universal knowledge often.
I wanted to parallel that with a Witch. Fire, for her, is part of a ritual of raising the energy to meet Spirit, (various Goddesses who are not just Universal energy but consciousness.), yet fire has been used against her. I wanted to take back that power and show its intended use (although I also added ghosts of murdered Witches coming through the fire to speak). I’d learned that Witches in Italy, and also female Druids were very powerful: they had knowledge of how to cure many diseases successfully using plants and other information they received from the Spirit world (like shaman). This ability to cure and heal was something the monks didn’t have and doctors couldn’t match. There were a couple of witches who were saved from the Inquisition because the Inquisitors realized they were too vital and their healing powers were needed to save other people. The “horns” which many people associate with Satanism had a place in the old ways: both to depict a male aspect of nature, but originally they represented the disc of the moon. So I also wanted to take back that feminine energy that was recognized around the world: the power of the moon.
How did you come to work with Century Media for the release of the album?
Lovely coincidence there… right as I launched my crowdfunding program, I saw in the news that Marco Barbierri had become president of CM. He signed Crisis to Metal Blade in the early 90s. At a certain point in the campaign, when it was apparent we’d have enough money raised to record, mix, master and pay for all the vocals and drums recording, but not enough to press CDs and vinyl, I decided to share the songs with Marco and he really loved them.
I see from your website that you practice Reiki and you are a spiritualist and psychic medium. Is the album the musical embodiment of this aspect of your life?
GOTW is an expression of those parts of my life as well as the deeper history from whence they came.
Music is a very powerful medium for conveying messages, secular and spiritual. Do you think that music – something intangible and abstract – is itself imbued with a power to provide an avenue into these unknown aspects of existence?
Absolutely. Sound is magic. Magic is the art of intentionally “moving” energy from one form to another, for various purposes, and music does that. Sound is used (music and voice) to “raise the energy” in rituals around the world, and we can find that same experience at the modern music concert to some extent or another.
What does the act of creating music mean to you?
It’s a journey into the unknown, and for me the purpose is to seek, to find, to express, to grow, to let something die and something new be reborn. It’s a transformation of one form of energy (pain, grief, rage) into something higher, brighter and more empowered. It requires trust and brevity.
When Crisis were active, you were one of the few female vocalists in the metal scene that managed to establish themselves as, for lack of a better term, “worthy”. What kind of obstacles did you have to overcome? And how did you do so?
I “grew up” on so much music that women were involved in: Cocteau Twins, Cranes, Lush, Siouxsie, Sugarcubes, Sinead O’Connor, Suzanne Vega. It didn’t occur to me at first that I’d be entering into a music scene where there were few women to be found. I had all sorts of negative experiences, but also many positive ones. I did have to physically defend myself at times: there were men who would catch me alone at the merch booth and threaten to beat me up; I had a few stalkers; promoters didn’t always take me seriously, and many people criticize my appearance. But a lot of the resistance was from press publications. This still exists. I chose to focus on my connection with fans and supporters and on my own vision.
What’s your opinion of the genre tag “female-fronted”? Exploitative or empowering?
It’s a description. I don’t think of it as exploitative nor empowering. I think other people may use it to make themselves stand out as something special among the tons of other music out there, the “special” quality being the rarely sighted female musician… but that doesn’t really apply as much these days.
Is there more music in the pipeline for Gospel of the Witches? Any plans for future releases?
Absolutely! Album 2 is already written from a guitars standpoint. Century Media told me, when we talked about working together, that they wanted to build a relationship with GOTW, and not just release one album. This was great news for me, because GOTW will release several more albums.
Any tour plans in support of the album? And will we be seeing you in the UK?
I really do hope so on both items. The whole band really wants to tour, and Davide told me I will love playing the UK. I never made it there with Crisis. Fans are really loving this album- emotional responses and personal communications with people have been really amazing! There’s a deep connection there, and it goes both ways. A lot of major press avenues here in the U.S. have not been giving GOTW interviews, so I don’t know how that will affect our touring ability. We’re looking for booking agents for the U.S. and Europe as we speak.
Again, thank you very much for taking time out for this interview. Do you have any closing words for our readers?