With their debut album Congregation, Witch Fever conjure “power in rage and power in self”
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Witch Fever have had an incredible summer. There’s been a giddy tour of the U.K. alongside Canadian party-starting punks Cancer Bats. They absolutely owned their sets at the Reading & Leeds Festivals. Plus, there was the small matter of opening for reunited emo icons My Chemical Romance at Stadium MK. “That was surreal,” guitarist Alisha Yarwood says. “I never thought I’d ever play a stadium at any point in my career, but to do it this early?”
“I just felt incredibly comfortable onstage,” bassist Alex Thompson adds, who found out about the gig while she was working at a bar in their hometown of Manchester. “I was worried about how a gig of that size would feel, but once we were up there, I knew this is what I wanted to do every day.”
Read more: Inside the next wave of Manchester acts, from Pale Waves to Witch Fever
Despite ticking off things they hadn’t even had a chance to write on their bucket list, Witch Fever are only just igniting. 2021’s debut EP Reincarnate was a ferocious, six-track release that showed off why the four-piece have become such a celebrated live band across the U.K., while debut album Congregation (out now) lays the foundations for what comes next.
Recorded last October, Witch Fever have been sitting on the record for a year now. “You have a lot of time to dwell on it, which I don’t like,” Yarwood tells AltPress from a Travelodge in Leeds, midway through tour. It's been 12 months of asking themselves, “Did this go the way we wanted it to go? Was that the right idea?,” but Yarwood feels “extremely proud of the whole album.”
“It represents us well and is a really good introduction to the band,” Thompson adds before admitting they’re already thinking about “where we want to go now.”
“We literally only had a week-and-a-half in the studio, and the date was brought forward, so we were still finishing up the writing when we were there as well,” she explains. “It was good for us to have that pressure, though. It wasn’t a struggle, but we only had a finite amount of time to get everything done. This album captures the essence of Witch Fever, but we didn’t have a lot of time to play and develop beyond that. There's so much more we want to do.”
Formed in 2017, the early years of Witch Fever were shaped by the desire to have a good time. “I was only 17, and I wanted to make music with my friends,” Yarwood says. “I didn’t get that it could be more.”
Bonding over Nirvana, Hole and a few other staples of the scene, Witch Fever have also been a musical education for its four members. “This band has definitely opened my eyes to different kinds of music, just because we all listen to such different things,” Yarwood explains. “Using that to fuel our own creativity has been really cool.”
According to Thompson, “the music is very different now, but it’s always had that power behind it.” She says she now appreciates how “incredibly special” it is to be in a band with other women and nonbinary people. “I didn’t realize how much I needed that,” she says.
While their Reincarnate EP was driven by a desire to be “really loud [and] really heavy,” Congregation brings dynamics into play. “We realized things are more impactful when there’s space around them,” Thompson says, with the band taking influence from Warpaint and Deftones to create more of an atmosphere.
“There’s definitely some elements of doom and punk, but to just call it a doom-punk album isn’t fair,” Yarwood explains of Witch Fever’s doom-punk tag. “There’s more going on.” People ask Thompson all the time which doom bands she’s into. “I’ve literally never listened to doom music in my life,” she admits.
Witch Fever say that melding of different genres and influences “comes naturally,” with vocalist Amy Walpole bringing in a hardcore element, Thompson taking influence from post-punk, Yarwood leaning into classic rock 'n' roll while drummer Annabelle Joyce is slightly harder to pin down. “They’ve got the weirdest taste in music.”
“If we were to each write a song, they would all be completely fucking different. We all need to be there,” Yarwood explains. “So often we write something that I know only we could come up with. There’s definitely a unique charm to that.”
“We’re quite a hard band to place because we fit into a lot of different places,” Yarwood continues. In recent months, the band have toured with both IDLES and Cancer Bats, which is “quite the jump. It’s good there isn’t already a pigeonhole waiting for us, though. I wish we did fit in a bit more sometimes, but it's just not who we are as a band.” That said, Witch Fever do feel like they’re part of a community of bands who “might sound different, but we’re all advocating for the same things.”
“As long as you’re nice and not a knobhead, we’ll get on, for sure,” Thompson adds.
[Photo by Nic Bezzina]
Lyrically, Congregation is about “empowerment, feeling good in yourself and not letting anyone dictate how or who you should be,” Thompson explains. “Amy's lyrics are a lot about how she grew up in a Charismatic Christian church. I won't speak for her, but I think a lot of this record is about her finding power in the words that used to oppress her.
“Anger can be a positive tool to use and harness,” she continues. “Women and nonbinary people especially are told not to express those thoughts because they’re negative when, actually, it’s a really powerful emotion to be able to express.”
“Like Alex said, I want this record to empower, but I also want it to enrage people in a good way,” Yarwood says. “I want a similar vibe to when people come see our shows, which is people feeling amped up, full of energy and like they want to do something. I want people to be inspired by it and want to do their own thing in their own way.”
She goes on to say the recent resurgence of heavy music in the mainstream is a reflection of how people are feeling: “You look at politics and what’s happening in the world, people are pissed off, and they want music that speaks to that.”
Despite the heavy music and heavy lyrical topics, there’s an excitable, joyful energy across Congregation. “We really enjoy what we’re doing, so of course that comes across,” Thompson explains. "There’s definitely a sense of humor to it.”
“I can’t see us ever writing a record that is depressing or bleak,” she continues. “Witch Fever’s music is a representation of the relationship we have with each other, where we’re constantly amping each other up and empowering one another.”
“We just want to represent power in rage and power in self,” Yarwood adds. “It’s all about feeling powerful.”