White Witches are a post-glam four-piece from Sheffield and London comprising Rory Lewarne (vox), Daniel Pencavel (guitar), Charlie Webb (bass), Marc Hoad (drums), and Jeremy Allen. “Whoa, hang on right there young fella! Hold your horses,” I hear you cry. “You just said it was a four-piece, but that’s five!”
Ah yes, indeed it is, dear reader, and your concerns are fully justified, but I haven’t lost the ability to count from 1 to 5 on my fingers just yet. The reason for this anomaly is because Jeremy lives in Paris and doesn’t tour with the band, but he co-wrote the album that is due out in the new year, and continues to write for them. He’s described by Rory as being the band’s Brian Wilson, and I can imagine him in his garret in Paris hunched up over a keyboard knocking out exquisite lyrics that don’t rhyme “June” with “moon”, or “dance” with “chance”, or for that matter “romance”. He’ll be sitting up there in his tower, mouthing the occasional “sacre bleu” or “magnifique” while constantly being surprised by the quality of his own creativity. And as he feverishly scribbles lyrics on to the back of a Star of India takeaway menu, he is only hampered by the ghost of David Bowie hovering over his shoulder and muttering “If I’d’ve lived another year, I’d’ve written that, you thieving bastard…”
Of course, some of this may be seen as pure conjecture on my part, but the bit about him living in Paris is true. Also, I might add, there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that he’s working on a track called “Who Let the Frogs Out”, no matter what you may have heard to the contrary. Anyway, enough of all that twaddle. I spoke to Rory during White Witches’ current mini-tour to get the lowdown on the band’s state of affairs.
So, Rory, the current version of White Witches dates back to early 2017, but the “Secret Club“ video dates from 2014. What’s the crack with that?
We made the “Secret Club” EP with an earlier, London-based line-up, as seen in the video, but that version of the band never really did much else. But Jeremy and I loved White Witches and kept the idea going, and we recorded a new album with Charlie on bass and Mikey Breyer of Art Brut on drums. JP Buckle from Relaxed Muscle helped and mixed it in East London.
I loved the album and was dying to play it live, but Jeremy had moved to Paris and become a hermit, so Charlie and I went back to Sheffield, where my old band Pink Grease was from, to put together a whole new line-up around Marc and Dan. They were both in Pink Grease with me and are two of the best musicians I’ve ever played with. They both play a lot in Sheffield – Dan also plays drums with a Sheffield band called The Hill People…
Oh right, I’ve seen The Hill People a couple of times, good band…
He also plays guitar in We Are Not Devo, the UK’s leading (only) Devo tribute band. He played bass when he was in Pink Grease.
He’s not related to Roy Wood, is he? Because he could play any instrument that he picked up, even if he happened to be dancing The Sailor’s Hornpipe at the time. Which, knowing Roy Wood, probably happened on occasion. But, I digress. When is the album being released?
Early next year. And no, Dan’s not related to Roy Wood.
Will there be another tour in the new year to support the launch?
Yes – for us that’s the best part of making a record! With this new line-up, it’s the best we’ve ever played – there’s a connection you have with old bandmates that you simply don’t have with anyone else. Also, Jeremy gets to fulfil his Brian Wilson fantasies of being the musical genius locked away writing songs while the band goes off performing without him…
How about a title? Have you named it yet?
We’re probably going to call it Heironymus Anonymous, after a song about a stylish metropolitan art-world type who seeks recovery after becoming addicted to art. Addiction and recovery are big themes on the record.
I can see why you called it that, as that title sort of rolls off the tongue effortlessly (he lied). But I’ve gotta say, that sounds interesting – I think I might like this already and I haven’t even heard it yet. How does the songwriting thingy work? Does Jeremy do all of it, or does he collaborate with you?
Well, Jeremy is the engine of the band. He does the bulk of the basic songwriting, sometimes using lyrics I’ve written but usually his own. Then he passes the songs to me and the other musicians and I worry over them, rearrange them and add bits if necessary, and guide them to completion. He doesn’t have the patience for that. So we have a baton-passing songwriting method: He writes, I edit. He starts, I finish. He does most of the writing, but I have the last word.
Oh, I get it. Like the Chuckle Brothers… To me, to you, to me, to you, sort of thing. Ha.
Yes, but you’d have to ask someone else which one of us is Paul and which is Barry!
OK, serious face on here… Which song on the album is your favourite and why?
“Heironymus Anonymous”, I guess, because it’s quite unexpected musically. We have a lot of upbeat, frantic songs so the ones I really like are the ones that aren’t like that – the cabaret-style ones or the moody ones, for instance.
What about the other band members, how do they figure in the creative process. Do they write any songs?
Charlie has – he wrote a riff we turned into a huge outro for a song on our Secret Club EP. And he contributes basslines and ideas throughout. Marc and Dan haven’t had the chance yet really! But I’m sure they will for the next album.
What would you say your musical influences were?
We all love the glam of Roxy Music and Bowie, plus there’s a lot of Pixies, Suede, and Devo in the guitar-playing. There’s also some early Adam Ant and Bauhaus in there I think, and vocally, I’m probably most influenced by the punk croon of Joey Ramone. Jeremy is a Serge Gainsbourg fan and is always sticking references to him in all the songs. I’m always saying “Not another song about having sex in Serge’s old house, Jeremy, write about something else!”
Who first got you into music and how you would describe your style?
Hearing both Michael Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis as a very young child had a really physical, exciting effect on me, in their different ways. I was always drawn to music that seemed exciting, that could just overwhelm you. As a teenager I was a total introverted teenage Prince fan, and I also got into Pulp, the Manics, Julian Cope, various things. Music was just a place to lose myself in, and also reinvent myself.
As for my style, imagine if a third-rate Bowie impersonator shagged an Iggy impersonator and then the child was raised by a manic John Foxx. I dunno.
And your ambitions?
As for ambitions, we’re doing it purely for the enjoyment of the music, the process, the experience. So our ambition is to make more albums and play more shows, especially now we’ve got a permanent line-up.
What can people expect when they come to one of your shows?
Well, we really do go for it – we rock out, release all our manic energy – but the musicians in the band are very talented and keep the whole thing taut and together. It’s a tightrope we walk, and if we fall off sometimes, that’s part of the fun!
Thanks for your time, Rory, catch you at The Washington. I’ll be there with bells on.
See you there!
And there we have it. Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. All hail White Witches. Be sure to catch them at one of their remaining tour dates:
Dec 8th Cardiff – The Moon
Dec 9th Sheffield – The Washington