Review: All Them Witches ‘Gray Sabbath’

[Magnet Magazine]

All Them Witches: Gray Sabbath

All Them Witches don’t necessarily exhibit their influences on Sleeping Through The War—or any album for that matter

All Them Witches’ press clippings will reveal consistent comparisons to some of the ’70s biggest names as they pertain to ATW’s rumblingly powerful stoner vibe. Frontman Charles Michael Parks takes exception to one reference in particular.

“Black Sabbath is the most misleading, because none of us listens to Black Sabbath,” says Parks. “We must be in the same mindset at some points. I’ve never listened to Blue Cheer, but we all like Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, real early Fleetwood Mac and Roy Buchanan. And I would count international folk music as one of my main influences.”

Oddly enough, Parks and drummer Robby Staebler enjoy ambient new age and jazz, while keyboardist Allan Van Cleave grew up exclusively with classical music and didn’t listen to rock until he was 18. That all could figure into ATW’s fourth and most ambitious album, Sleeping Through The War, featuring the band’s epic volume and density interlaced with melodic nuance. Although elements of King Crimson and Mahavishnu Orchestra seem to be woven into ATW’s new approach, those are two more bands they haven’t really explored.

“I don’t listen to a lot of music before or during writing,” says Parks. “I have a bad habit of unconsciously reusing ideas without remembering where they came from. Then it’s, ‘Aw, shit, that’s just like that Cream song.’ I like to think everything we come up with is just four idiots in a room making noise.”

One reason for the distinct differences between Sleeping Through The War and ATW’s previous catalog is the Nashville-based quartet’s deliberation in creating it. The grueling touring cycle for 2015’s Dying Surfer Meets His Maker included two European circuits, and the band’s new material was largely conceived during the brief hiatus.

“Usually we go into the studio with maybe half the songs done,” says Parks. “This time, we had four days to write. New West has an artist house/venue in Athens, Ga., so we got to stay there, we wrote it, went back to Europe, then we came back and had five days to record. It was good going into the studio knowing where you were going.”

The new album’s sonic shift could also be partially attributed to renowned producer Dave Cobb, who served as ATW’s first actual producer. The process could’ve been traumatic, but Cobb was a perfect fit. “He’s a normal, easy-to-get-along-with guy, and he just knows where things should go,” says Parks. “He works the same way we do, by experimentation, so it was super easy. He likes to make art.”

Sleeping Through The War’s evolution is significant in light of the band’s short history. Then-recent transplant Staebler met guitarist Ben McLeod at a Nashville bar in 2012, then Parks, Staebler’s retail workmate, offered to play bass although he was primarily a guitarist. Van Cleave laid down keys on the first album, returned to tour and joined by default. The foursome’s chemistry is so strong they no longer practice or even hang together; they reassemble to write, record and tour.

Parks concedes the stoner-rock label was once applicable to All Them Witches but attributes their fluidity to his songwriting style. “I have material for two or three songs in my head, but I like to shove them all into one song,” he says. “So it’s an unusable length for radio. Being scatterbrained is how I like to write, and I haven’t found a way to get un-scatterbrained. I like who and where I am, so I don’t need to change yet.”

—Brian Baker