Karyn Crisis' Gospel Of The Witches
In the last few years, however, Karyn has returned to rock in a big way. Combining forces with husband Davide Tiso (Ephel Duath, Howling Sycamore) under the banner of Karyn Crisis' Gospel of the Witches, the pair have put out two sterling recordings with music that could be closely aligned with occult rock. Heavy but witchy. Pummelling but atmospheric. Both records take you on a journey.
2015's Salem's Wounds was a phenomenal debut powered by Tiso's hypnotizing guitar lines and Karyn's schizophrenic vocals which go from rabid dog, guttural depths to angelic ear-caresses. This month sees the release of the sophomore release from the pair entitled Covenant (Aural Music), set to come out on Oct 31, which is truly fitting.
Covenant follows the direction of its predecessor but goes several strides above and beyond. There is more of Karyn's clean vocals on many songs but that doesn't mean the sound is softer, In fact, the creepy factor was elevated this time around --- even some of the beautiful solitary guitar parts have a nasty, sinister aura. All of the songs crackle with energy and the resulting sounds are as if the group was able to harness the power and fury of a summer thunder storm. Fabian Vestod of Skinlab has joined the band on drums and he shakes the foundations with his contributions.
Naturally, I was anxious to talk to Karyn about the new record. As always, she was a terrific interview, both articulate and forthcoming.
antiMusic: Salem's Wounds came out four years ago but in some ways, this record sounds like a very natural continuation both musically and in a very broad sense, in the same vein lyrically. Is there a thread between the two records?
Karyn: Yes....well, this is always a very hard thing for me to talk about because I think a lot of things I do have a thread of continuation but I'm also someone who is really about the present moment in terms of the way I write. And Davide, of course, is very different. We have very different styles to work on the record. But the continuation is that when the album started in the first place, there was definitely an energy that was guiding, influencing and directing Davide and myself, which is mostly what this second record is about. The divine feminine that we channel through music. So it's being told a progressive story also, I think, through the records.
For example, the first record was called Salem's Wounds because when I first started working on it, I thought I was going to be learning about the witch hunts in America. But instead, my life experience and the album ended up being about Italy's tradition with magic and things like this. So the album was largely about things found in Italy, which is a wide variety of practices and then this album continued on with going to the focus of where those practices came from. Like the world of feminine goddesses and looking at the universe as a giant womb rather than in a masculine way of through the eyes of the gods like in a lot of the big traditions.
And so this record was really love songs from the goddesses and grief and even sadness at them being forgotten. All the ways they reached out to improve life for the peasants who were baking bread around the fire....the people who practiced in temples and all these ideas up in the stars. So "Womb of the World" and some of the other songs are really about a fiery, sort of molten lava, almost primal energy of the divine feminine expressing nature, And some of the other songs are about celestial ideas. So it started as a balance between masculine and feminine and expressions of magic and this one is more about where it all comes from and the relationship to that source.
antiMusic: Considering you've stated that you're receiving a helping hand from "the other side" shall we say for the lyrical ideas here, what sort of messages came to you that helped shape this record?
Karyn: My way, whether it is writing or making music or painting is really about receptivity. As a medium, I'm a channeller --- just in the way that a lot of creative people let go of their daily worries and move into their art. I'm kind of the same way but a little bit more practiced in channelling and deciphering those messages from the other side.
The way it works for me is....well, Davide writes the songs first with all those guitar layers. I start listening to those and immediately get a sensation or vibe, like a mini movie about where they're going. He wrote these songs really soon after Salem's Wounds came out. He almost had a whole new album's worth already written. And I get a vibe of what it's about. And it's always the same kind of vibe that he has. So we're on the same page but it's about receiving a feeling in the form of movie clips and visual sensations. And then over a time period, I listen obsessively to the songs and I laugh about it a little bit because I love Davide's guitar so much that I just cannot stop listening to the melody.
So it gets to a point where I have to separate from it and allow myself to receive how the songs want me to receive them --- what they want me to say. And that happens in my daily life moments like when I'm walking or when I turn off my iPod and maybe I'm going somewhere that has nothing to do with the music. I always ask my guides, "Do you have some words that you want to have come through?" So sometimes it's in those downtimes where you just relax and let your thoughts go somewhere else --- and then the influence can come in. Sometimes it's like focused during a meditation. And then I just start writing down words and taking notes of melodies that flow through my head.
I walk a lot of places. I'm very much a pedestrian. (laughs) So when I'm walking, I'm hearing melodies and I also keep those in my brain for later. And then when I feel ready to make rough drafts of the songs, which is usually a few months before I go into the studio, I let everything slowly develop until then. Then I go into a car or a rehearsal space...whatever I have access to and I start singing. And that's when things come together but my process is I see shapes...for example when I was writing the vocal lines to "Benevento", it was a really challenging song to figure out how to go into...well, they all are really for me.
Every time I write a song, I feel like I've never written one before. But with "Benevento", I sort of meditated and imagined that I was going into Davide's creative world and asked for permission to be there. And then I started seeing snakes climbing tree branches and thrashes of moonlight and I had to follow those patterns with my voice. It's a little bit strange (laughs). But that's how I write. It's all about feeling movements and colors so all of the songs end up being charged with emotions or energy. It's like the way some people use crystals or they focus on chakras. It's about all that kind of stuff coming into the songs for me so I follow that language. That invisible language and invisible movement to make songs. I need a lot of alone time to make that happen...so I can listen to the silence basically.
antiMusic: You've been so busy with your books, how did you approach putting this record together? Was it bit by bit over the course of the four years or something that just really came together this year? And since you're married to Davide, did you hear the shape of the songs coming out slowly or did he keep them under wraps until the basic form of the record was complete?
Karyn: Well it started off when he presented the songs to me, and we actually had more songs then what we presented on the record. It was really hard to make some choices. So yes, he presented the songs and then my life changed dramatically. I ended up going to live short-term in Italy a few times, to work on this book that I never expected to end up writing. So that was a big interruption and a big adjustment because I was going into rural communities, away from the big cities and finding out about a world that I didn't know existed previously.
So then when I came back, life was changing and adjusting again. I would try to come back to the songs again but I would have to wait for them to tell me, "OK now." So it took awhile but in the meanwhile we found the drummer Fabian...another Italian...and we started deciding which songs that we wanted to have on the record. We gave them to the Fabian, because I like to have the drums there first. For me, the guitars are atmosphere and the drums are like a very important landscape that I need in there.
So then we started working on the drums and I started working on the songs and I felt the energies say "Now. It's time to focus." And that was maybe in the year period before we recorded the album, Davide started deciding who we were going to record with and he started working with Fabian because I was traveling through a lot of that period. I was in New York actually, when they started recording. So they were handling their studio side of things. Then it was time for me to do my rough tracks and I had to fly to North Carolina to see Jamie King.
So it was definitely done in chunks when it got down to it over the course of the year. All was really dependant on Davide and his guitar layers and then I come in and I have a couple of months of really intense focus where I'm exercising and singing every day and really honing the songs in. So by the time I reach the studio with Jamie, he would plug in the vocals and I did all my own backing vocals on the songs, which there were many.
Then Jamie was ready to start mixing. In fact, he started mixing before I was done with the time that I had scheduled for my vocals, We all ended up being so ready to record in our recording period that it took a little less time than we expected. So yeah, when the whole thing was ready to come out, it just comes out. (laughs) It's a challenge. There's all sorts of emotional and physical challenges doing music that is so charged.
antiMusic: To my ears, Salem's Wounds was a more brutal record. Not that this one is less in-your-face but Covenant is just flat-out creepier. Sort of like Salem's Wounds was more for one's body and Covenant is more for the mind. "Blood of the Mother" to me, is a good example of this. It's entirely sinister-sounding, like the part in a horror movie where somebody is slowly approaching a door and you just know there's terror on the other side. Would you agree?
Karyn: (laughs) Interesting. You know, I'm just so interested to hear other people's different ideas. When I recorded my parts, I was worried that everything sounded too feminine and soft. But the guys thought that there were parts of this record that were much more terrifying than on the first record. So I think everybody is going to have different reactions. But that's how I think I approach everything with every album I've ever done. (laughs) It's a continuation but different. Otherwise, I think, creatively I would get bored. But thank you. I appreciate your feedback. I don't know how to say how it feels like. I definitely feel different things than other people do. That's part of the fun of having your own interaction with it.
Some of the songs for me...are sorrowful and mournful. Like "Blood of the Mother", but I just want to keep listening to them. And I like to do it at night with a candle on so I'm really confronted by the atmosphere of that song. I think it will be different for everyone. I mean, those songs are done for me but I'm curious to see people's perceptions. I think people will have different reactions. The record is definitely not as immediate but goes into surprising territories.
antiMusic: You've told me in the past....in fact this is a direct quote from around 2004, "I don't tend to respond to the guitar notes as much. The guitars inspire me in an atmospheric type of way. But I'm really different in terms of singing because I'm a very percussive type of singer." With that in mind, how did the drums, and Fabian's style in particular, affect you on this record and then to the side of the room there are several songs like "Silver Valley" on there with no drums at all, What was your starting point of sorts?
Karyn: Well, that was the interesting thing. "Blood of the Mother" was one of the first things I wrote and this time I really approached a lot of the record before there were drums. That was very unique for me. I've never done that before. And I felt that because of the subject matter, the vocals really wanted to express a lot of different kinds of femininity that my voice had not expressed before. So really taking up a lot of space or energy in my awareness.
Some of the songs that were absolutely necessary for me to have the drums were "Great Mothers", "Dea Iside" and "Womb of the World". I already had really strong melodies flowing through my head for those even before the drums, which again for me, is very rare. But I used a lot of percussive breaths like little punctuations and I needed to know where the drums were going to go to that so I could use them like accents...like drum bits.
And I think also, "Drawing Down the Moon", I waited for the drums. But this album was unique in that it did start giving me a lot of the vocal melodies before the drums came in. And as you said, there ended up being a lot of songs with none. So this was new territory for me in that way, too.
And also it was fun because I was hearing a lot of the songs in layers, even melodic layers. So that was something I got to do that I really enjoyed --- something I don't get to do very often. And that ended up being very fun for me.
antiMusic: OK, let's talk about a couple of the songs. What can you tell us about "Womb of the World" which kicks off the record?
Karyn: Yeah that song definitely has a feeling of Egyptian goddesses coming through. It's really a song expressing the power of every human life that has ever been birthed on this planet has come through a body. So that song is about that energy. The womb being that doorway of life. So it's very powerful and very primal and I think it's powerful and primal in a feminine way too. It was one of the songs that Davide and Fabian really liked. It was very scary and ancient sounding to them in that way.
I love the drums that Fabian brought forward on that because I think he really brought that idea of something ancient. But that's what the song is essentially about. Even the words at the end...I write about this at the beginning of my first book, "Italy's Witches and Medicine Women, Vol. 1", how a lot of words about math and measurement came from the original word for mother.
Because women were birthing babies out of their bodies and in their early shamanistic culture, they needed wisdom to be bestowed on them with their "How do I deal with this?", kind of thing. How do I deal with the birth process? How do I deal with feeding and nurturing and teaching....all the things I need to do to survive. And that's really what that song is about but as you can see, it's very fiery and like a pummelling of the earth. It's very much like natural elements come alive. And it's all very much about the power of the womb.
antiMusic: "Drawing Down the Moon" has a great riff that sucks you in along with your gorgeous vocal lines. Tell us about this song.
Karyn: Oh thank you. Again, I'll say...with all these songs, I don't think anyone has to necessarily understand the stories behind them. In my early days in music, It was very important for me to convey certain emotional things that were sometimes clear and sometimes vague. With these albums, a lot of the time, the subject matter is really specific. coming from my end, or Davide's end or even the way Fabian visualizes his drums. But I don't think that anyone has to necessarily hear the same messages in the same song because they're really charged with energy. So it's really about what you feel.
But that song is really about the idea of people in rural villages receiving knowledge from a higher consciousness. So in Italy that would happen a lot through astral flight and group dreams or women gathering around trees, and men too because spirituality is for people of all genders, not just the binary ones. But it's about how they were able to receive knowledge through nature as a conduit. And in Italy, there are some really beautiful legends about people gathering around trees with the tree being the body of the goddess down on earth. And the tree is a symbol in central-North Asian and Siberian Shamanism for flight.
So there's some connections there about trees being used to journey to the astral realm to learn from the spirit world or receiving information in like visions or downloads....being in the presence of nature underneath the moonlight. And so the song is about the meeting of the earthly and celestial worlds. There's a feeling of stars sparkling down at night time in a rural countryside and all the potential in that environment.
antiMusic: "Great Mothers" is possibly my favorite song on the record. and that middle part is just beautiful. It's quite a journey going from that wicked beginning into that middle part and then coming back into the maelstrom again. How did this one come together?
Karyn: Thank you. (laughs) That's a good question. Some of these songs come together in these really emotional moments when I'm trying to hear what the song is trying to tell me and at the same time my spirit guide is sending all this emotion through me. And that song is really a conceptual song about birth even though it's about the universe being the womb or life coming through the womb. It's a conceptual one for everyone about how birth and death is like a continual cycle. And sometimes like in the way of making an album, you go through this process which can almost feel like a death, a struggle, a challenge to get over these limitations.
You know, when you surrender, you die to your old self and you're reborn to your new one and new ideas become light and bright again. So it's really about that ancient idea of death and life being this endless circle and it's positive in a way. I've always embraced the idea of the phoenix bird and so this song definitely has a lot of fire and the phoenix bird burns down the ashes. And once you really surrender, again, it's that idea of shamanic death, where you're disassembled and you let go of everything you think you know. Then new things are born.
That song was really a challenge for me because I was singing in some ranges that were new for me. And emotionally, I remember when I was in the car working on these songs, it was really emotional and it was hard for me to sing and reach the notes that were needed. You know, the earthly mind plays tricks on you sometimes, like "Oh no, I'll never be able to sing the way I need to sing this song." And then you surrender to it and then the little gem of the middle of the song kind of came out of that triumph of being able to break through my limitations that helped write the beginning of the song.
The middle part seems to me like little seedlings underneath the dewy grass and a little bit of sunlight sparkling through there again. Again, it's sort of about that cycle of nature. And I think that's what some of the words ended up being about really. About that joyful, mournful emotionally horrible process of coming down to your zero point and then that beautiful point of being born again or renewal that comes from any kind of death.
antiMusic: My other favorite is "Benevento". I love your clean vocals so much. And the way the song builds to that crescendo where it sounds like stampeding horses is just amazing. What can you tell us about this?
Karyn: (laughs) That central part you're talking about...the big chorus where I'm singing in Italian is really an important part of Italian history. In the history books, especially in the middle period in a lot of different versions, what it is, is allegedly women accused of being witches would say, during the witch hunt trials....if you decipher this little phrase which says, "ointment. ointment. Like flying ointment, take me to the walnut tree. Through the weather. Over water. Through the weather and all bad times."
And what it is, is basically a call to astral flight. So whether women did say this or not, it is one of the invocations that I read when Davide and I were writing...just before I started writing my parts in Salem's Wounds. It was the invocation that brought me all the visions of the trips to Italy that made all this come together in the first place. So it's a traditional and powerful invocation that was allegedly said by witches who were being pressured to confess and were being tortured for things that they did or didn't do.
So this whole song is really about the beauty of astral flight and like it was mentioned in the other song, women gathering underneath the shelter of the night time. They would go to the trees and come together and be pulled out of their bodies by the divinities which is a dream world tradition in Italy. The divinities would come....and some people might have used very simple incenses like roseberry and lay down their bodies and astral travel. Or some people just physically went to trees.
But the divinities...the goddesses would pull people out of their bodies and teach them things like techniques of divination. They would re-connect people with lost rural traditions. And that song is about the beauty of that, in taking back the power of that invocation and imbuing it with a sense of protection in forward movement.
antiMusic: "Silver Valley" is just starkly beautiful. All meat and no filler at just one minute and thirty seconds. Tell us about this cut.
Karyn: This one, of course, started from Davide's guitars and it was written before I did my second visit to Italy which was my first trip to Italy without Davide and my first research trip. What ended up happening was when I was coming home, I had an eight-hour layover in a German airport between my two flights and I was really heartbroken to leave Italy. I had spent so much time in the countryside and one of my favorite places was in this mountainous area, almost 3,000 feet up in this little village. It's called the Silver Valley over there, just like the song because the mountain tops are really pointy and covered with olive trees so they have this silvery, mystical feeling about them. It's very magical, whether you're there in the day time or night time.
So at the airport, I was just thinking about that landscape and how I felt safe and protected in those mountains. And how I missed them. So it's really my love song to the nature of Italy and how I was really not ready to come back and to daily life. It's about my experience with nature there and all that is showed to me, the ancient memories and all the earthly experiences. So it's really like a heart-breaking love song to nature.
antiMusic: Again, I 'm going with all my favorites but tell us about "Dea Iside" with some ferocious drumming from Fabian.
Karyn: That's a way of saying, the goddess Isis. That's another song with a bit of an Egyptian flair. It's about the tradition of the goddess Isis and like the lyrics say, she was the healer, a mother, a priestess and all of the aspects of a masculine counterpart. It's about the priestess traditions and all of the early goddesses in Italy were like symbols of the cornucopia. In shamanism, whatever the needs that were, came from the spirit world and handed down to the earthly world for people to use in practical, daily use ways. Outside of rituals. Outside of temples.
The divinities were there to help people improve daily life. And this song is about the praise or exultation of that. And the idea of the early divine feminine being very generous...full of abundance. Sort of like the laws of attraction in nature which is that anything you can imagine, you can have or if you can reach the right vibration, it will come to you. The early feminine divinities were not yet remodelled into one. They were abundance figures. "Whatever you will need, I will provide."
So for me, it's about using simple words to express that and about the energy and the rhythm. To me, that song feels like a serpent slithering through the earth with fire and all the things that Davide was conjuring with the guitar notes and bringing back that Eastern time period. And what Fabian was bringing with the rhythm...like a Conan movie soundtrack. So that song was really about the rhythm and the pulses of that energy being bloody and fiery and manifesting into whatever was needed. It's a very sensual song. Undulating...and again about the cycle of birth and death.
antiMusic: You did some live shows to promote Salem's Wounds but as we know, anything resembling a full-fledged tour is a strain financially. Are there any plans to hit the stage for Covenant?
Karyn: There are. We've actually been rehearsing. We've almost got the final members locked in, We're really excited about it. Whether it will be a tour or just select shows, we really want to do things exactly right. Which means on stage we want to offer an atmosphere. It's not just going to be us there in our regular clothes. We want to offer an atmosphere that matches the songs. We're working on a set that marries some of the first album and second album together.
It's very, very exciting. Davide and Fabian and I have been rehearsing with our bass player and are about the bring the other members in to get ready for some live shows. It's not just something that we want to do. We're working really, really hard to make it happen. Again because of financial and logistic reasons, it's hard.
Although there are a lot of people that email me and show support but I don't think that many people know about us. Even when we were on Century Media, we really didn't have a lot of media support. It was you...lovely you (laughs) and some other wonderful people who were fans of the music but for some reasons a lot of the interviews we did never got posted or reviews about the record didn't get put on the website.
So it's really hard to say that a tour would be viable unless we can find someone who wants to take us along. But we're definitely very hungry to play shows locally. Because we had played some shows on the east coast, there are some wonderful promoters who have clubs who want us to come back. So for sure we'll be able to play the west coast and east coast but for everything else, we'll have to see, how people will reach out to us. But we're very excited to be working on things on our own time and getting things ready the way we want. We've worked with some amazing people to put on shows in the past but it was really a time-pressure thing and it was hard to keep things going because of everyone's schedule. So we're doing things in a different way this time., which is, even if we end up just doing one show, we really, really want it to count and we want it to be exactly right. So it's something that's in the works. It's something that we're working on every week. We'll see when that's ready to be released (laughs).
antiMusic: It's exciting to hear you talk about the show. I can only imagine that if you approach it with the same creativity that was involved in your Kickstarter campaign for the first record, it will be amazing. Because that whole thing was just brilliant. The videos, the rewards...everything was just perfect. So I can only imagine what kind of ideas you have for the stage show.
Karyn: Oh thank you. Yeah, it's very important to me because even on the album, I felt I was supposed to use my image in some way but not me. So my guides gave me images of what I should use, even in the videos. I never know how to make a video but they told me, you have to go into a cave or you have to go here or there. And I, of course, am not a professional videographer. I'm working with really simple views and that, for me, is also something really fun. What can we do with almost no resources? What can we make happen? It's really fun for me to try to see what kind of atmosphere you can invoke with really simple means.
So I didn't really feel comfortable going on stage without some costume like I use on the albums because I'm not really me. It's the idea. Something else is channelling it through me. Also, when I'm singing, I don't really want you to see us. I want you to be free to feel the energy of the songs. So yeah, creating an atmosphere for that is really, really fun and exciting. And everyone is on board with that. That takes a little bit of effort to get
together but thank you. I'm glad you've enjoyed all the little bits along the way.
antiMusic: The airing of "Womb of the World" has been out for a week or so now and album reviews are coming. What has been the response so far?
Karyn: We've got lots of messages. We have lots of wonderful fans over here who have been pre-ordering the album from us which is a really cool thing that our label in Europe let us do. Which I'm really grateful for. So we have a personal connection. But mostly...I'm a person that...like you mentioned early....I wake up. I start working and I work until the night. And the work can involve some rehearsals in there. The work is sometimes teaching or giving readings.....I'm known as a person who is sort of a workaholic (laughs). But because my subjects all have to do with me and my guides, I really have to work.
So I got up early today and started writing because I knew I would have this interview. So when I'm done with you...I made myself an espresso so I'll allow myself a sip, then I'll go back to writing. Then I'm having lunch with the band and we're having a little meeting. Then it's back to writing. So all day long I'm working on whatever it is....classes for my school, my books....thinking about things for the band...I'm working on new things. My next thing is that I'd like to do some lyric videos, which I'm working on. And some special inclusions for people who have bought the double vinyl directly from us.
But I do everything by myself. So I really work all day long and in there I have to take care of myself and cook my food, etc. (laughs) And 99.99% of the people that I talk to on a daily basis are Italian, whether they're American-Italian or from Italy. So I also have sort of a 24-hour schedule for correspondence. But I love it. I'm saying this with a lot of joy and I'm glad to do this. But I really do have to work hard. I take the downtime when I feel like I'm getting burned out.
antiMusic: Since you're possibly able to look into the future (laughs), is this just the beginning of a long line of Gospel of the Witches releases or will your duties as an author take over your life?
Karyn: Well, I don't get to see where my path goes, which is very interesting. I have to surrender to the guidance of whenever my path is going to at the moment. For example, when Gospel was playing live before, we were really trying to tour and we got some opportunities but the other band members couldn't. Everyone had a different schedule.
So poof! I didn't expect a book and all this life-changing research to happen in my life. I had different plans so I had to follow along. But I like to say that my life operates through open doors and closed doors and that's the simplest way I can tell everyone. I get a vibe....sometimes in movies, sometimes direct...very direct business plans, handed down from my spirit guides and I follow that until I start to feel the flow trickle. Maybe the door closes.
But even when people used to interview me when I was in Crisis, I said that was the one question I hated to answer, which was what did the future offer. Because I say, I may have my ideas but that's not to say it's the same idea as the universe. I'm a person who has always wanted to stretch and grow beyond my comfort zone and I really live that way. So I have to say that maybe sometimes my ideas were smaller than what the universe had in mind for me. Or maybe my idea was to go right when the universe would say "Well, what you really wanted goes left."
So I'm really not sure and I don't like to say this is where everything is going to be going. Do I feel other albums coming? Yes. Does Davide feel that way? Yes. How many? I'm not going to say. Do I feel other books coming? Oh yes! How long that will go? I don't know. I didn't consider that I was going to start an online school. I didn't realize that we would be in rehearsals. I really have to do a combination of focusing on the one at hand and then I try to zoom back and get a bigger picture and see where things are going so that I'm not just working one thing to death. Where is the energy? Do I feel the creative juices slowing down? What are the messages? Do I need to re-work what I'm working on? So it's a really careful balance.
Because before Salem's Wounds came out, I thought my painting skills can really become something. That's something really different and exciting. I guess I'll be a professional painter now. No. So I just have to ride the wave and let it flow.
antiMusic: Well, I don't want to monopolize your entire morning so I'll leave it there. I wish you all the best with Covenant. It's excellent.
Karyn: Oh thank you. It's good to hear your voice and reconnect with you. You've always been a good vibe for me, Morley and I really appreciate your support over all of these years.
Morley and antiMusic thank Karyn for taking the time to do this interview.
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