Nashville band All Them Witches first debuted in 2012 with the album Our Mother Electricity, and they’ve since continued diving into experimental waters. Their newest album, ATW, premiered in September and it’s what the doctor, specifically Dr. Timothy Leary, ordered — by ranging between traditional hard rock and brain-bending psych. On Nov. 4, All Them Witches’ tour will make a stop at Club Dada. We chatted with Robby Staebler, the group’s drummer and music video director, as he made the drive to an Alice in Chains show in Birmingham.
What was on your minds when you were writing the new album?
I think the only thing on our minds was it’s that time of year when we played the same songs over and over again and we were excited to make something new and to give ourselves new material to play, and just to explore like that. I think we’re all kind of goal-oriented or at least like (having) projects to do, even outside of music. But it was just time to do another album. We went into the recording process with just a couple of ideas from sound checks. We set up about two weeks of rehearsal and writing time, spread out over the course of two or three months; we did two different writing sessions and then I think after we had all listened to the demos and we were like, "OK, let’s go record this stuff.”
Did you end up recording in a cabin?
Yep. We’ve done this before, but this situation was way more legit, way more isolated. And really just a way nicer building. The structure was fucking awesome. Big, big rooms, huge vaulted ceilings. We did it about 45 minutes outside of Nashville.
Haven’t you ever seen a horror movie?
(Laughs) Which one? Cabin Fever?
And you self-produced?
Yep. We just went in there and it was just the band, our buddy who’s an engineer who’s Ben’s (guitarist McLeod) cousin, he engineered it and did all the technical stuff.
What are your plans for Halloween?
Halloween, we’re playing a show in Birmingham, actually. That’s the first day of our tour.
How did you get your name; are you for or against witches?
I don’t care about witches one way or the other, but the name came from the movie Rosemary’s Baby. There’s a book in there. When I first met Ben, we started doing these no-budget demos, which I guess we’re still doing, and we were like, "All right, we have enough material to make an album, we need a band name,’’ and he’s like, "I’ve always wanted to call a band All Them Witches," and I’m like, "All right, sure, that’s the name.” We actually thought about changing it pretty seriously for a while, but it was too late.
What would you have changed it to?
Oh, Jesus. I can’t even remember, there were so many of them. It was just this ongoing thing for months. We were just writing down all these new names, and we felt that we were too far in to change the name. But now whenever we talk about the band, everyone has to feel as weird as we do when we say the name, which is cool.
So who’s the hottest witch in your opinion?
Are you referring to someone in the band or ...?
No, from fiction.
Oh man, I can’t even remember witches in movies.
There’s Bewitched, the girls from Charmed, the girls from Practical Magic …
Who was in Practical Magic?
Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman.
Both of those at the same time.
Are you familiar with the Music Modernization Act that Trump just modified?
No, I have no idea. Tell me about it.
They added mandatory producer and performance royalties and created an independent database of record labels, producers, blogs, to ensure that all royalties are properly paid to artists from streaming. There’s normally one judge who deals with copyright infringement, and they changed it to a randomized system where there are different judges from a group to handle different royalty claims.
No, I was not aware of this. I guess I don’t have an opinion then. (Laughs) I guess I’d have to hear a little bit more, but the idea sounds good, people enforcing copyright infringement for artists like me. I couldn't tell you because I don’t know anything about it, but I don’t like Donald Trump, and you said his name.
Do you give a shit about Kanye West?
I don’t give a shit about Kanye West. I have seen his new music video and God, it’s so weird. He’s definitely got a lot of eyes on him, which maybe that’s his plan. I don’t know what the hell he’s talking about. I saw his meeting with the president, which why is that even a thing? I have no idea. Why is that even broadcast? It’s sort of distracting.
How much exposure is worth playing for free?
Ha. I guess it would be the Super Bowl because they make you pay to do that. I don’t know, that whole thing is kind of a scam. We’ve never been offered anything worth it, exposure-wise. You gotta pay to play because it’s everybody’s time, it costs an insane amount of money to do this. Even when we’re not on tour, it costs the band a bunch of money every month just to be a band. It’s just the way it goes. If we have to spend a bunch of money to do it, then we have to have money coming in to be able to continue.
What’s the psych-rock scene like in Nashville?
I don’t really know what goes on because I’m isolated. I live in a really small town an hour away from Nashville and I don’t go out to shows usually, even though I’m driving now to see Alice In Chains, but that’s a different story. I know that there’s a lot of rock 'n' roll bands and that the psych thing is ramping up. When we play in town, it’s a good show; the shows seem to be getting bigger every time. We’re doing two nights in a row in December, so we’ll see what the psych scene is like. I think some of our music is psychedelic for sure, that’s in the description.
What do you consider your music to be?
Well, mainly the most blanket thing is just rock 'n' roll, but there’s all the nuances that can kind of separate it out from under that. I mean, it’s just good American rock 'n' roll like the Grateful Dead or the Allman Brothers. Especially the Grateful Dead, they did a lot of weird shit. When I first found out about them when I was a kid, I’d seen all their logos and the art associated with it and when I finally was smart enough to listen to it, it didn’t make sense to me at first. But the more I listened to it and the more I found what they would get into made sense. So blanket rock 'n' roll, but subcategories: psychedelic, blues.
On your free time on tour what do you seek out? Local record stores, local music, taco stands?
Parks, beaches. Really anything just to leave. I’ll go into a record store if I see one, but I don’t seek them out because I’m not buying records and bringing them home.
Which city loves you the most?
Man, I can’t say. I don’t think any city loves us the most, but I personally get most excited when we play the States and the West Coast. The weather is great, the scenery is awesome and the shows are good.
What kind of drugs go best with this album?
I couldn’t say because I haven't done drugs and listened to the album, but it's a pretty mellow album so probably mushrooms. Drink some mushroom tea, that will probably get you in the spot.
You’ve directed videos for the band before. How did that come about?
It came about because the label was paying lots of money for music videos at first, and it was frustrating because all that money would go to something and then we all wouldn't be real stoked about it. I’m a photographer. I’ve been shooting film and processing it and doing all the analog stuff for a long time now. So I was like, "OK, I’ll just do this; it’ll be fun." We had a couple of lame scenarios with the label where they were gonna set up videos; we had all these conference calls set up and then the dude at the label just ghosted and dropped the ball on absolutely everything in the month we were planning on doing the music video. Literally not even responding to emails. Nothing. So we just decided we should do it ourselves, and have fun, and not be on someone else’s schedule. I did the video for “Diamond,” which I shot on 16mm, and I did the “Bulls” video, which was random and a result of we were supposed to do a video for a different song and the label said it has to be for this song. The last one, I think is pretty on the mark of what you can expect to see in the future if we’re doing music videos. It’s gonna be much more cinematic and probably weird.
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If someone was gonna check out one song off the new album, which one should it be?
Man, I gotta think about that. I guess "Harvest Feast," but everybody’s different. I think that’s a good encapsulation of things we care about.
Jack White bans cellphones at his shows. If you could dictate your audience’s behavior, what’s one thing you would change?
Get all their cellphones out of their hands. It’s super annoying when you’re playing a show and somebody in the front room who has arguably the best seat in the house is just fucking around on their phone, like why are you standing here? Give your spot to somebody else and get wrapped up in what’s going on, not in what you’re trying to tell people that’s going on. It’s stupid. Get off your phone, enjoy the show, why are you there if you’re just gonna fuck around on a phone?
If someone made a made-for-TV movie about All Them Witches, what would be the most dramatic plot line?
(Laughs). Just giving everything to the cause. Just making being in the band and whatever it takes the priority, and that involves moving hundreds of miles, driving constantly, sacrificing time with people and pets. Basically just going all in and hoping it works.
So there wasn’t any moment when somebody had to go to rehab, punched a manager in the face, none of that?
No, there literally is no drama with the band. We’re all really good friends and get along really well together. That’s why it works, that’s why we can keep touring as much as we have been. There’s no drama. We deal with our shit and just go for it.