Brighton three-piece’s bewitching brew of evocative nightmare pop conjures more than just media hype
Brighton’s Esben and The Witch sound like a stygian Jackanory. Taking their moniker from a Danish fairytale involving a wicked witch, child cruelty and ceremonial slaughter, the music that they create is something of an audio book equivalent. “We find fairytales like ‘Esben’ more melancholic and mysterious than they first seem,” explains guitarist Thomas Fisher, looking for a deeper meaning. “It’s interesting that sinister stories can be disguised and considered palatable for children.”
Their own tale is one less concerned with the decadence of child fiction, however. Spun from a yarn of chance encounters, Thomas met Daniel Copeman (guitar, electronics) when they began working the same “pretty mundane” day job together. “[Daniel] was quite upset with music at the time and was being deliberately awkward in what he was writing,” explains Thomas. The pair began to weave a ruminating tapestry of instrumental sounds that would become the patchwork for their tenebrous creativity. After a “pretty traumatic” experience in search of a vocalist, Rachel Davies later joined them to cast her impeccably enunciated vocal over the band’s brooding musical narrative.
Despite the group’s rather dark disposition, this year has seen them step out of the “stuffy” practice room that they frequent by the sea to play shows with the like of The xx, Fiery Furnaces, and Deerhunter. But it’s the confides of their “lovely, but dingy” rehearsal space that has produced and consolidated the sound that now travels with them. “We just want to create interesting music,” explains Thomas, “it’s just that the darker sounds tend to be more intriguing for us and something that we are all fairly united over.”
Drawing inspiration from personal experiences, geography, history and literature, they condense their post-rock influences into the notation of their music, orchestrating the evocative ebb and flow of their short stories into something that is palpable to the listener. “We would all sit together by night in a darkened room at Dan’s and write it all,” says Thomas. “Dan would sit there for nights on end drinking red wine and smoking to sort out all the production… We were worried about his health at points.”
For all their efforts and health worries, the esoteric sounds that resonated from their first demo-cum-EP ‘33’ whipped up a storm. Record industry heads swooped upon their London shows amid praise from the more discerning ears of the music’s media, as comparisons were drawn with the likes of Portishead, Bjork and Radiohead circa ‘Kid A’.
The future chapters of Esben and The Witch’s story are still yet to be written, however, and despite rapacious record labels eager for them to put pen to paper, the band remain unsigned. “It’s incredible that people are listening to ‘33’ and appreciate what we are doing, but hype is a strange thing and something we want to distance ourselves from at this stage. The New Year hopefully holds many new things for us. We are really excited about that.”
What: Nightmare pop
Unique fact: They do a wonderfully haunting cover of Kylie’s ‘Confide In Me’
Get 3 songs: ‘Eumenides’, ‘Marching Song’, ‘About This Peninsula’