The Austin, Texas heavy/doom metal group Witchcryer are this week’s featured Meet The Band artist. Their debut album Cry Witch was self released last year, and was just issued by Ripple Music. Vocalist Suzy Bravo and guitarist Jason Muxlow introduce us to their band.
Chad Bowar: Give us a brief history of Witchcryer.
Jason Muxlow: Before Witchcryer, I lived in Chicago and founded Earthen Grave in late 2008. Pretty quickly into our run, I started stashing little bits and pieces of music aside because they didn’t fit that band’s sound. They were simpler, a bit less “metal” and a bit more old-school. At some point I attached the name Witchcryer to it and would add to the pile from time to time. I left Earthen Grave amicably in 2013 and was actively looking for a way out of Chicago by mid-2014. I made the move to Austin in January of 2015 and by June, was jamming Witchcryer material with Javi. A couple months after that, I met Suzy and she kicked the whole thing into gear.
Suzy Bravo: I met Jason through a Craigslist ad I posted a few months after moving to Austin: “Vocalist seeking heavy rock musicians who love Blue Oyster Cult” and Jason’s response was the only one I got! Jason sent me a few skeletal bits and pieces of songs through an email and discussed the idea of starting a band and calling it Witchcryer in the spirit of our beloved predecessors, Witchfinder General. He’d already been jamming with Javi Moctezuma for months (or a year?) and had a rehearsal space at a co-op. We got together, worked on his songs with the lyrics I wrote, and recorded a demo. We loved the demo so much, it kind of lit of fire on our asses to debut it to the world and to start playing live shows. I already knew that I wanted to work with Marilyn again someday (we’d played in bands together for years previously), so we recruited him for bass and the rest is history.
Describe the songwriting and recording process for Cry Witch.
Suzy: In the beginning, Jason emailed me some bits and pieces of a few songs he already had written. A few of those songs were written during his time with Earthen Grave as well as after the band’s break-up. After really digging what I listened to, I wrote lyrics and started working them out with Javi and Jason for a few months. The great thing about Jason’s songwriting is that he leaves so much room to express various singing dynamics. He writes great riffs, but doesn’t have to be a show-off about it either. Too many great instrumentalists write songs to show what they can do with their instrument (which can be great, but in the right situation), but do not leave room to tell a story in the song.
He is the perfect music writer for a singer/songwriter. Together, we wrote a good chunk of songs and recorded three of them for “The Preying Kind” demo. We used that demo to recruit a bass player and to start booking shows. The entire writing process was very organic for us. I can’t speak for the others, but the only pressure I felt was from myself to do everything better than I did with my last band and to prove to myself that I was a great lyricist and not just a singer. After a few months of performing and solidifying the songs, we recruited Brant Sankey to record our album. It took us about 7 hours to live track our album in one day at The Limelight (venue) in San Antonio. We recorded overdub instruments and vocals at Brant’s home studio. Brant mixed and Chris Cline mastered the album.
How would you characterize the album’s style/sound?
Jason: Style is a tough one so I’ll leave that to the reviewers, but the sound is a lot easier to describe: big, open and dynamic. Our co-producer Brant Sankey did an amazing job on the mix and Chris Cline’s master is fantastic. The vinyl sounds amazing.
What led you to do the Witchfinder General cover?
Suzy: Jason had the idea to cover Witchfinder General, but I love covering it because I am a huge fan of poetic justice and the lessons of irony. “Witchfinder General” is a song that comes from the perspective of a completely self-righteous man of God who believes that he is doing the world a great service by ridding the world of evil women. When in truth, he’s just simply a delusional narcissist who gets off on power and his own sadistic behavior. Who better to claim the voice of the narrator than a brown-skinned woman with a very loud voice?
How did you come to sign with Ripple Music?
Jason: Earthen Grave was signed to Ripple and I always felt a bit bad because they released our album and shortly afterwards I bailed on the band (not that my leaving killed the band, but it didn’t help things, either). So Ripple was obviously on my short list of labels to hit up, but I wasn’t sure they’d be interested in working with me, specifically. To my surprise, Todd reached out shortly after our very limited self-release of the album and asked if we had any plans for it. After a few phone calls and a little back-and-forth over logistics and we had ink on paper. We’re all really stoked and I personally couldn’t be happier to be back in the Ripple family.
What are your goals and expectations for the reissue of the album that you originally self-released last year?
Suzy: With the help of Ripple staff and listeners, we want to expand and continue building our worldwide fan base.
What are your upcoming show/tour plans?
Suzy: We’ve got a show in Austin with Duel, Destroyer of Light and Salo at Swan Dive on February 2nd and a few shows coming up in Austin and San Antonio during SXSW including Stoner Jam at Spider House in Austin on March 14th, Big Daddy’s Hot Sauce Showcase at Lost Well in Austin on March 15th, and a Ripple Music Festival that Loy Smoak Jr. organized at The Limelight in San Antonio on March 17th. As for touring, we’re about to begin working on an early summer tour of the U.S.
What has been your most memorable Witchcryer live show?
Suzy: My favorite show so far was a Monday night in Louisville, Kentucky at Highland Tavern on our last tour. A great metal crowd on a f’ing Monday night! We sold so much merch and the crowd was on! I love the energy the crowd let loose during our set. We did great on merch too! I’ll never forget it. Small town with lots of heart! Also, Brian Omer from Stonecutters was dj’ing that night and played Fastway for us! THAT RULED. My favorite thing about touring is getting to spend time with our extended family of friends.
Jason: That show in Louisville was ridiculously good, but my favorite was the last night of our tour with Messa when we played with Destroyer of Light at Lost Vegas here in Austin. We were road tight and it was just a fantastic evening from start to finish.
How did you get started in music?
Suzy: I was a poet before I was a singer. In the ’90s I used to do a bit of spoken word, but I didn’t think it was enough. Inspired by Patti Smith after a friend turned me onto her, I started writing songs instead. I had to learn how to write a different way. I was dealing with depression after high school because I was worried that I was destined to remain stuck with my dysfunctional family in the south side of San Antonio for the rest of my life. All of the south side Latinas in my hood were destined to simply make babies, get on welfare, get divorced, and never get the chance to travel.
So, I figured that if I did something absolutely ridiculous and went for it, then I’d somehow escape my destiny. So I took a Greyhound to Musician’s Institute in Hollywood with less than $300 in my pocket with no friends or family anywhere in California to pursue a certification in singing (whatever that means). Although I quit after 8 months and moved back to San Antonio, the experience changed me enough to realize that no matter where I go, I will always be strong enough to not accept less than what I wanted and to keep taking the leap to find my voice and my music.
Jason: I was a late bloomer, mostly due to growing up in middle-of-nowhere Bible country (my hometown’s population is 324) and sorely lacking either a good radio station or “cool uncle” to loan me AC/DC and Sabbath records. It wasn’t until my early teens that I really got into music, but I bought a guitar when I was 15 and haven’t put it down since. I was way too socially backwards and introverted to ever be in a band, so I found ways to make music on my own. Boombox tapes led to boombox+boombox overdubbing, which led to a Tascam 4-track, which led to a Digi001 and here we are.
What drew you to metal?
Suzy: It was always women who turned me onto metal when I was a kid. A girl in high school named Stella Mermia loaned me her Danzig When the Gods Kill cassette because I was a horror movie nerd, so she thought that I would naturally love Danzig. It was so dark and evil to me. I remember the first time I listened to that album, I was terrified. My mother and her boyfriend broke out into one of their fights, but I tried to keep listening to the album with my mom’s screaming in the background anyway. I was very drawn to the sound an absolutely loved it, but I wasn’t sure what I was feeling at the time. As the fighting escalated, the thought crossed my mind that maybe Danzig was making it happen, so I turned off the tape and vowed to not listen to it again.
Then, in the 12th grade, I met a strange group of girls who became my best friends: Harmony, Christina and Pat. We saw Pantera and Type O Negative in concert, I moved in with the girls and shared a room with Harmony. She listened to KZEP (a classic S.A. metal radio show) all of the time and worshiped the hell out of Rob Halford. She turned me onto Priest, Maiden, Krokus, Garfield (the band and the cat). One night we took the bus to Sneakers (a legendary metal club in S.A. where Sam Kinison and many metal greats performed) to see Bruce Dickinson’s solo band. We spent the night on the sidewalk at an arcade and took turns keeping watch until the first bus came along.
Jason: In 1989, I was 14 and holding a tape of Alice Cooper’s Trash in one hand and Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood in the other with only enough money for one. For whatever reason, I went with Dr. Feelgood and was immediately hooked. More hair metal followed, but within 6 months I’d discovered Metallica and thrash. A couple years later, a friend left a tape dub of Morbid Angel’s Blessed Are the Sick and shortly after that — with a huge nod to Metal Maniacs magazine — I was knee deep in Florida death metal, Swedish death metal, UK death doom, the NOLA scene, etc.
Part of the attraction was the thrill of discovery (remember this is pre-internet and pre-streaming; we were putting dollars on the counter with no idea what we were getting a lot of the time), part of it was the mystery of it all (“Whoa, did this guy really burn an upside down cross in his forehead?!?”), but to this day what I love most about metal is its endless reinvention of itself as it filters through the hands of new people, generations and cultures. It’s an incredibly malleable musical format. And it’s the loudest!
Who were your early influences and inspirations?
Suzy: Bette Midler (as “The Rose”), Patti Smith, PJ Harvey, Etta James, Tina Turner, David Bowie and Prince.
Jason: At the very beginning? Mick Mars, baby! But right after that, a lot of Hetfield. No Hammett, just those riffs and multi-tracked, harmonized melodies. Iommi came a couple years later, but again, just the riffs. I’ve really never cared a bit about wanky soloing, but I adore David Gilmour’s melodic leads. And I can’t not mention Robbie Krieger, who is just the man.
What was the first metal concert you attended?
Suzy: March 18, 1995 at Sunken Gardens Theatre in San Antonio: Pantera with Type O Negative. Phil performed “Kill All The White People” with Type O and Type O played “Walk” with Pantera. I snuck backstage and met Dimebag that night. He gave my friend and I a guitar pick.
Jason: Not sure I’d call it metal, but my first concert was Joe Satriani on the Flying in a Blue Dream tour. It was awesome. The first significant metal show I saw was Black Sabbath on the Dehumanizer tour at Pine Knob in Michigan. I don’t remember if they were good or not, but it’s still one of the loudest shows I’ve ever been to. Couldn’t hear straight for three days and we were in nosebleed section. Danzig opened (they were touring for How the Gods Kill) but all I remember was his huge belt buckle.
When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a career? Was your family supportive?
Suzy: Do I want to pursue a career in music? Haha! I don’t know if I can call it a career, but I’ve discovered that in the last 20+ years of writing, singing and recording in different bands and doing things like booking shows, concert prop scouting, promoting, fundraising, tour booking and managing, washing dishes for Warped Tours, catering for Iron Maiden, picking up cigarette butts after a Pearl Jam concert, cleaning Sting’s dressing room and taking out David Bowie’s trash I’ve discovered that I just love being where the music’s at in any capacity that I can. I especially love it when I get to be the one doing the singing as often as I can for as long as I can and continue challenging myself until I draw my last breath.
Jason: This isn’t a career for me by a million miles. It’s a creative outlet and therapy and something I’m incredibly grateful to have an opportunity to do, but that’s it. Suzy’s the real deal.
Austin is known for its strong music scene in general. How strong is the metal scene there these days?
Suzy: This is a difficult question to answer because you’re asking this question to a San Antonio native. I grew up in the “heavy metal capital of the world” and I have a very strong sense of what a strong metal scene should be. Also, Mexican-American metalheads are to be reckoned with because they have a strong sense of loyalty and family. So, the metal family in S.A. is very passionate. What I can admit is that I think that Austin should continue working on diversifying its metal scene and also come together as one. I see too many subgroups of people from different scenes and subgenres of metal and heavy rock that are so spread out. You have to go to a particular bar at a particular night to run into a particular crowd. I’ve always hated that kind of mess. Also, there can always be more metal. Period.
What’s currently in your heavy musical rotation?
Suzy: I just can’t stop listening to the new Ulver album The Assassination of Julius Caesar. It reminds me of late ’80s/early ’90s industrial bands like Sisters of Mercy and Depeche Mode. I’m noticing that quite a few bands from different genres are starting to write with this deep, dark, electronic/industrial sound. Also, Messa’s Belfry is just so fantastic that I revisit it every couple of weeks.
Jason: Ditto on the Messa. Castle’s latest album is amazing. Iron Man has been getting a lot of spins lately for sad reasons. I’m usually better at this game, but have had a hard time listening to new music the past year or so for some reason.
Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Suzy: Check out Destroyer of Light’s latest album Chamber of Horrors. It features guest vocals from yours truly. Yeah, I get to doom duet with my fiancé, Steve Colca in the song “The Virgin.” I also got the opportunity to give birth to Satan’s baby in the studio. It took a lot of whiskey and scream/heavy breathing direction from Steve and Keegan and I’m very happy my dream of being a “scream queen” for one day was finally realized.
Jason: Ditto on Destroyer of Light. The Texas Metal Show is a great podcast. On a personal note, my death metal band Wintering self-released our debut album, Darkness Driving Darkness earlier this year. Thank you for taking the time to interview us!
(interview published January 27, 2018)
Watch Witchcryer – “Cry Witch” Video