Heavy-Vinyl Presents: An Interview With Dylan Desmond From Bell Witch
When Bell Witch and Yob announced earlier this year that they would be doing a tour together, doom metal nerds across the country gave massive thanks. It was a dream tour. And coupled with the fact that doom/stoner legends Sleep had also released their first new album of material in 20 years, 2018 was fast becoming a banner year for doom metal fans.
I showed up to the sold out Mothlight show in Asheville, NC and met many cool folk, including post-show drinking buddy, Aaron:
A nice fella named Mike Sheidt, who plays in a band you may have heard of called Yob:
And Bell Witch Bassist/Founding member, Dylan Desmond:
One the night prior to this awesome show, Desmond talked to us about their massive, 83-minute, single-track album, Mirror Reaper; the meaning and importance of ghosts; the passing of Pantera legend, Vinnie Paul; and using music to mourn the passing of their friend and band mate, Adrian Guerra.
David Locklear: Hey Dylan, how are you doing?
Dylan Desmond: Doing alright, I’m at the Laundromat in Wilmington, North Carolina right now trying to clean some clothes.
DL: Oh, you’re down at the beach. I kind of envy you right now.
DD: Yeah, it’s not bad!
DL: Did you hear the news yesterday about Vinnie Paul from Pantera passing away?
DD: Yeah, I read about that last night. That really sucks.
DL: I haven’t heard what caused his passing, but last night I started listening to “Mirror Reaper” and realized how appropriate that album is for mourning and loss in general. It just really seems to tap into that feeling.
DD: Oh yeah, I could see that. It’s the theme of the album for sure.
DL: Did you ever have a chance to meet the guys from Pantera or jam with them?
DD: No, I never did. I remember when I was in middle school on a field trip, buying my first Pantera CD, Far Beyond Driven. I think it’d just come out and I loved it. All of their records are great.
DL: You’ve said before that all Bell Witch records are about life and death, and ghosts on some level. Can you tell me more about where those ideas come from?
DD: Yeah, the speaker on all of our records are always stuck somewhere between life and death-sort of like purgatory, where a ghost would be. The theme of the band has always stuck to that criteria for both the lyrics and the songs.
DL: What are some of your favorite ghost stories?
DD: I guess the Bell Witch story is a good one. (laughs) I don’t necessarily believe that there are ghosts they can walk through walls, that wear sheets and scare people in the middle tonight; but I do believe that there are elements of our psyche, either due to trauma or whatever multiple reasons, and those things are acted out in various ways and they’re commonly referred to as ghosts. I think that plays into the lyrical content.
DL: Sort of like really sensing things outside of our own mortality?
DD: Yeah, sort of like your consciousness perceiving something that it can’t explain. So we think it must come from something that has already died and came back, because it is really strange to think about something that is dead moving around the front of you and haunting you. So I would say it is some sort of representation that’s afflicting them that’s that come to life from their own imagination. Like something trying to get out of their own subconscious. If that makes sense.
DL: So I guess you could see the “Mirror Reaper” ghost as being Adrian? I hope I’m not stepping over the line by asking that.
DD: Sure, I think that that’s 100% the case. When we started writing the song, Adrian was alive and well, but after he died everything took a twist. It was a different scenario. And the lyrics aren’t supposed to be written about him, but they definitely became a reference to him.
DL: Especially with the fact that you guys put some of Adrian’s vocals in the middle of the song, it becomes a very Adrian haunted track.
DD: Yeah, well we did want that to come across-part of the intention in doing that was to pay tribute to him. And it’s kind of a weird thing to say, but I think that he would’ve wanted that. I mean who knows what he would’ve wanted? But just in knowing him, as close as he and I were, and the way we formed the band, I think he would’ve been overjoyed to know that that’s how it played out. I think he would’ve been like ‘That’s perfect, I love that’.
DL: Were you ever worried that while you were mourning his loss you wouldn’t be in the right state of mind to make the proper decisions to compose this track?
DD: Yeah, there was definitely some time that went by where both Jesse and I were thinking ‘This is kind of weird now. Is this something we should continue with?’ I would say a month or two went by where we weren’t really practicing, and one day we were just like ‘We have to do this now. It would be stupid of us to stop.’ I’m glad we did, and I know that I wouldn’t have done anything differently. But I think one of the intentions was to try and play off of our emotions. The idea being that this is actually a great time to get those emotions out.
DL: Have you ever thought about doing a side project where you’re not very serious and maybe kind of goofing off on some level? Like having a catharsis for all of the serious things that you address with Bell Witch?
DD: I’ve never really gotten into the fun stuff! (laughs) I mean, if I’m at a show and I’m drunk and the band is really cool, that’s one thing. Often times, if something seems fun, it seems kind of empty to me. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it just doesn’t really hold my attention. I like music to inspire some kind of a feeling, like introspection or pose some kind of a challenge that makes me feel inspired. Like I was just listening to an old Corrupted album and all I can think is ‘This album is so cool!’ There are these crazy little guitar parts happening in the background, and I realized I never heard that before. Then I realized they were using one effect that was being reused 10 minutes later, and then I wonder ‘Are they using the same guitar player?’ And that record came out 5 or 6 years ago. And I love stuff like that.
DL: That reminds me that a friend of mine pointed out that halfway through a ‘Mirror Reaper’ you guys start playing the same tone, except in a reverse order. That really caught my attention in the way that you just described other music catching your attention.
DD: The idea was to kind of have a mirror image of the first half of the record. Not like a dead-on, looking-at-yourself-directly-in-the-mirror kind of a sound, but maybe looking in the mirror from an angle. Like two sides of the same mirror-it’s the same reflection but showing a different perspective than the other, and I love when I hear music that does that, but it doesn’t always have to do that. Sorry, I must sound like a musically opinionated tyrant! But I just appreciate music when it does that. It means a lot to me when it does.
DL: Well, I think music sticks with you when you have to search it like that.
DD: Sure! When a person is able to put their own emotional connection to it, it touches them in a certain way. It means something in a certain way. And happy music can do that with people just as much as this type of music.
DL: When playing the song live, is it tricky to keep time on a song this lengthy?
DD: Yes and no. Jesse and I watch each other pretty closely, for downbeats, but after playing it every night for a month we’ve become locked into the groove of the song.
DL: Does it get tiresome to play this one song live for so many nights in row?
DD: No! It’s great, I love it.
DL: You’ve been playing with Jessie now for a few years, how has the Bell Witch sound changed or expanded?
DD: Jesse started playing when he was living in Oregon, so when we begin to collaborate it really brought out a texture and sound it wasn’t there before. It really brought out an element that wasn’t there at all. He and I lock in and we can follow each other very fluidly. I think some people just communicate better in that regard.
DL: How has it changed in the ways you collaborated with Adrian?
DD: I wouldn’t say collaborating with either one of them is better or best, but it’s just different. I think the musical themes of the Bell Witch Project have evolved. Adrian I did many things, and when Jessie came in there may be a little more fluidity than there was before.
DL: Have you guys created any new material for a new album or you just focusing on playing shows right now?
DD: We’ve been touring a whole lot since the record came out, so there hasn’t really been a lot of time to work on stuff. I’ve got a bunch of short clips of things I’ve been recording at home, but we haven’t gone over anything yet. I mean we have about 20 or 30 minutes that we cut out of the original ‘Mirror Reaper’ track, that just didn’t fit into the theme of the record. It was like if we go with this angle, the whole song is going have to going to different direction, so let’s just cut that part out. So we’ve got that, and I’m sure will try to figure out how to salvage some of that, because it was pretty good. It was a little bit more on the death metal side of things. I think when we get done with this tour, we’re just going to try to hammer out the next album.
DL: Will it be another really long track like ‘Mirror Reaper’? Or do you think you’ll chop them up a little bit more?
DD: I don’t think it’ll be one long track, but I think there will be some similarities. I was never able ever write short songs. (laughs) I think there will probably be more tracks on the record, but it’ll probably still be pretty long.
DL: Do you think you’re going to stick with the concept of ghosts and phantoms for the forseeable future?
DD: Yeah, I think that will always be the theme of the band.
DL: Well, it’s always an interesting theme. The fear of the unknown, ghosts and specters, and things like that. There’s always going to be sort of an odd catharsis about dealing with those types of issues and ideas.
DD: Absolutely. I think that those are the ideas the people of been thinking about since people have been dying. Or living. I feel like its just part of human nature to wonder. Because it’s so uncontrollable and there’s nothing we can do about it. I’m even trying to prolong it, even though it’s in vain.
DL: It is kind of like an oxymoron knowing that you have no control, but you still try to exercise the ability anyway.
DD: Yeah, it really is.
DL: Dylan, thank you for your time, and I hope I didn’t interrupt or delay your Laundromat time too badly.
DD: Haha! No, no, you’re fine I really appreciate you doing the interview.
DL: Well, I appreciate the record and I’m really looking forward to seeing you play live.
DD: Thank you very much. We’ll see you then.