Witches Mark are just an incredible heavy metal band and when I heard their latest release on Heaven and Hell Records I 100% wanted to do an interview with them so I hooked up with members Robb Bockman and Robert Williams for this interview.
Tell me about the beginnings of the band. How did the current line-up come to be and I see that several of the members have come from different bands so how did you guys all come together to form the band?
RB - Robert Williams and I were neighbors growing up. We had a cover band where I mostly played drums and Robert played guitar and vocals. We did a few shows jamming out classic punk tunes from bands like Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Simpletones among others. Robert ended up relocating and about ten years later, I ran into a mutual friend who put us back in touch. Robert was reforming Witches Mark after their original second guitarist Steve Perez (Demontuary) left the band. After hearing some demos of what Robert and then vocalist Michael Lance (Ancient Cross, Reverend) where writing, I knew this was a band that I needed to be a part of. Originally I was working on the Bass side of things and then soon after switched over to guitar duties when Andy Gonzalez (HammerWhore/Cruxiter) was recruited. After the "A Grim Apparition" EP was released. Scott Palmer (Demontuary) took over on the drums. During the writing process of "Witching Metal Ritual" Michael ended up moving on and I took the helm on clean vocals and Robert added a whole new element by incorporating harsh vocals into the mix. This current line-up is definitely the strongest, everyone really contributes to the overall sound, it's louder, heavier and raunchier than ever and with our combined influences we cover a lot of ground sonically.
Now tell me a little bit about each band member.
RW: I've known Robb since 1993, as he stated earlier we played in some of our first bands together as teenagers. I think he's an amazing musician and more importantly an excellent song writer. Andy has played in some cult U.S. metal bands like Hammerwhore and Cruxiter and I've known him for years. He's a really solid bassist with all of the right influences. Scott and I both used to play drums for the black metal band Of The Fallen. When they released their debut on Wild Rags Records I had bought that CD and I went on to replace him in the band after he left. I had to learn all of his drum parts. Ironically when I needed a drummer it made perfect since to approach Scott because all of the beats that I hear in my head when I'm writing is similar to the stuff he'd play.
Robert how did you come to learn how to play guitar and keyboards? Were you self-taught or did you have somebody teach you? How did keyboards enter the picture for you?
RW - Everyone in my family learned to play at least one musical instrument growing up. My mom was a music major and she taught me almost everything I know about theory, pitch, how to read music and how to grasp hearing something and then play it. She'd give me piano and trumpet lessons and you can imagine as a kid I wasn't that excited at first about playing the piano or trumpet. I started playing drums and got my first guitar at thirteen. Like Robb was saying, him and I had a punk rock band and played a lot of covers and that was a lot of fun. As I got a little older and more serious on guitar I ended up taking lessons from a bunch of different instructors. I think you should never stop learning on guitar. Metal music is very demanding and you need to do your best to stay on top of your game.
So tell me about the early days of the band and what were the 1st practices like?
RW- I had some material that I had written and I was going to school for a degree in the recording arts. I had access to a state of the art recording studio and my goal was to just get some good recordings of some of these songs I had wrote. There was a concert here in town, I believe this was right around the time that Metal Church's original vocalist David Wayne had passed away, I was at this bar watching this band Ancient Cross and I was really blown away by their vocalist Michael Lance. I hung around after the show and got his contact info and he ended up recording a demo with me and our other guitarist at the time Steve Perez for the song "A Grim Apparition". The thing is we weren't really a rehearsal type band at that point, more like a recording project. We did that demo and then we recorded this Angel Witch song for a tribute record and on that we had Stoney Grantham from Shadowkeep guest on bass. That was around 2006 I think. We had a Myspace page and people seemed genuinely interested in these recordings we were making so we decided to make a record. Steve left the band to focus on his black metal band Demontuary and then like Robb had said a mutual friend told me how to find him and I immediately wanted him in the band and I knew Andy from his killer thrash band Hammerwhore and he wanted to join too and that's when Witches Mark started cookin' with gasoline.
So for the first album "A Grim Apparition" everytime we all got together we were just recording, recording, recording....all the time. As soon as we uploaded some tracks for people to check out, Heaven and Hell Records approached us about signing with their label and they released our "A Grim Apparition" CD. Almost before we even finished doing press for the CD the line-up from that CD was kind of falling apart. We lost a singer, keyboard player and drummer. There was Robb, Andy and myself left and we decided that we would continue and that Robb and I would share the vocal duties and even mix up the overall dynamics and range of the vocals as well. We added Scott Palmer on drums and the first practices went really, really well. We all drank our weight in beer in this little rehearsal studio with all black walls and a black ceiling. We went over material from the first CD and went ahead and got the material going for a second CD.
How did you come up with the band name and logo? I love the logo by the way?
RW - It was just the classic scenario of everyone pitching out all kinds of crazy, bullshit names until you find one that really stands out and carries some kind of weight and meaning across the board. We all really liked the name Witches Mark and agreed on it. You know, it's like we all carry the flag for metal. Metal is our life and if you or anyone else want to try and brand us as filthy, degenerate, metalhead, savages fucking go for it. We are proud to bear the mark brother. Our logo was created by our friend Billy Perkins of Penhead Design who is a pretty famous concert poster artist.
Now prior to your EP release did you release any demos or anything before the EP came out?
RW - There was the demo for "A Grim Apparition" and "Something Wrong" included on the "Tribute To Angel Witch" CD. You can hear both of those tracks and our cover of Candlemass' "Solitude" as bonus tracks on the "A Grim Apparition" CD.
Did you get to play live much and when you did play live what was your set like, what is all originals or you threw some cover tunes in from time to time?
RW - We've been playing material off of our two CD's and we've also been to known to cover "Devil's Child" by Judas Priest and "Solitude" by Candlemass. The shows have all been really great so far! The turnouts for our shows have been pretty consistently packed and people really seem excited about the band and our metal so we hope to continue playing as much as possible this last half of the year and next year.
What are some of the places you have played and have you had the chance to play out of state at all?
RB - We just played in San Antonio, TX. at Bonds 007, {a legendary metal venue}. We hit the stage with Wicked Angel from San Antonio and Panzergod which is my other band. It was really fun for me to get to play two sets and have all my Metal comrades under one roof, that was a pure fucking heavy metal party. We also just played the "Iron Fist Festival" in Austin,Texas at the Dirty Dog venue. Panzergod and Wicked Angel joined us once again and Ignitor, Eternal Champion and The Blood Royale destroyed the stage as well. We've played several shows around Texas. We've also played shows in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Oregon and up to Seattle, Washington. Everywhere we have played so far has been crushing and we can't wait to bring the pandemonium all over the world.
So how did you end up on Heaven and Hell Records and were any other labels interested in the band and what made you go with Heaven and Hell Records?
RW: We uploaded some music online back in 2007 and Heaven and Hell Records approached us and were excited about the band and we were really impressed by the Twisted Tower Dire reissues they had just released and they came across as a label that were really serious about their heavy metal so it was a perfect fit for us.
Tell me about the Ep that came out in 2009 called "A Grim Apparition". How many songs are on this and looking back what are your thoughts on it these days and how were the reviews for it and how cool was the feeling to have a finished product in your hands?
RB- "A Grim Apparition" is quite unique. It encompassed all our early metal roots with some more extreme influences as well (Black, Thrash, Doom) with a layer of keyboards over the top adding a very melodic edge. Conversely the main focus on this EP is the guitars. Robert wrote the majority of the riffs on that record. He is one helluva songwriter and he writes these riffs that can conjure hellfire every time you hear them. There are four studio tracks and three bonus tracks. We included the demo for the title track "A Grim Apparition" performed by the original line up, which is cool because it shows how much the band has progressed; I always enjoy hearing early demos from my favorite bands. We also included "Solitude" by Candlemass, which is my vocal debut, and the track "Something Wrong" which was featured on Unbroken Metal Records "A Tribute To Angel Witch". It's always exciting to get the finished product in your clutches. It was well received all over the world and is a solid first effort. Two of the songs "Salem's Fire" and "Cauldron Born" (my favorite tracks) from this EP have been revamped and are featured on our newest release "Witching Metal Ritual".
Now when this came out how did you end up promoting it and did this release end up getting you some more shows here and there?
RW - We did a bunch of press for "A Grim Apparition". We did lot of interviews with the underground metal press and even America Online. We didn't get invited to jump on any major tours or open up for any big bands, we were just establishing ourselves at that point and letting everyone know that we showed up to kick their ass.
Where you are based out of, is there a good metal scene or it is not so good?
RB - I hail from Portland, Oregon which is very tight nit and has one of the most loyal Metal Scenes around ("Horns Up" fuckers, you know who you are!}, the rest of the band is from Austin, Texas. Every time I head down there I am surprised at the similarities between the two metal scenes. Metalheads all over the world are true to form and metal is our way of life. I think that's true everywhere.
RW - Texas has always had a really strong metal presence. Everyone from Watchtower to Helstar, Militia, Rigor Mortis, HammerWitch, Ignitor, Wicked Angel... both Omen and Riot were based out of San Antonio at one point in time. We're proud to be a part of that lineage, that Texas metal heritage.
So what did the band do from 2009 till your current release came out called "Witching Metal Ritual" which also came out on Heaven and Hell Records?
RW - We wrote all of the new material for "Witching Metal Ritual" during that time and took our time refining all of the songs and getting everything recorded. All in all, it was a pretty Herculean effort committing everything to tape this time around. We engineered all of the recordings ourselves with the exception of the drums, which Stuart Laurence from Isotopia Studios handled. We had a hard drive crash towards the end of the basic tracking process and had to re-record a lot of tracks. Brendon Bigelow got involved with the mixing and mastering process and we spent several months with him getting the sound that we wanted. It was a lot of work, a lot of blood and sweat and beer soaked memories. It's kind of like the analogy of when an expecting couple finally has their baby, you know? You created that. It's perfect in your eyes. Since the record came out in June I have been so proud of this album and this band. I really don't give two flying fucks if some critics out there don't get what we're doing or it's not their thing and I personally think that babies are fucking disgusting.
How did this release stack up against the Ep from 2009? Did the recording of going into the studio this time go smoother than last time?
RW - The recording definitely did not go smoother. It was about three and a half years of continuous tracking, continuous engineering, a constant ever present focus on creating the kind of metal album that we as fans would want to hear. In comparison to the EP I'd have to say that "Witching Metal Ritual" is by far the better album. There's more variety, plus it's darker, heavier and more sinister. Basically it connects the dots on all of our metal influences and best represents what we have to offer as a metal band.
When do you feel you got the "Witches Mark" sound, so to speak and for somebody who has never heard the band, what would you say you sound like?
RW: I feel like the sound was first defined on the demo track for "A Grim Apparition" and we have been refining and sharpening and expanding on that sound ever since. For someone who has never actually heard us I would say just count on hearing a tour de force of true American heavy fucking metal!
I hope we don’t have to wait 4 years in between releases this time ha ha.
RW: You know what? We hope that too! We'll see how everything works out. Right now we're headed into the studio to do a split vinyl release with Twisted Tower Dire. They're recording a cover of our song "Salem's Fire" and we are covering their song "Axes & Honor". We're really excited to get this out and in the hands of the vinyl enthusiasts and metal maniacs worldwide. After that, who knows? I'd love to get started on the next album as soon as possible. We'll see what happens brother.
With so many bands nowadays what do you do get noticed?
RW: This interview with Pest Webzine is how we get noticed. Exactly what we're here doing now. There is an audience for underground heavy metal. If you asked me the last time I bought a CD released on Century Media or Nuclear Blast Records I couldn't even tell you. I've been listening to bands like Skelator and Brute Forcz and Power Theory and I like that loud, raw, really gritty unpolished sound. You know it when you hear it. I couldn't give a flying fuck about having the attention of Revolver magazine or blabbercrap.com. People like yourself in the underground have been getting the word out about Witches Mark and our new album "Witching Metal Ritual" and I feel like we have reached our target demographic with this album and people's reactions have been very positive so far for our new album.
Please plug any websites you have and merchandise as well.
Purchase Witches Mark music at Sounds Of Purgatory
Any last words horns up for the interview?
RB - Fuck yeah, "Horns Up" to everyone at Pest Webzine and to everyone that has supported us around the world. Keep your axes sharp!

Interview by Chris Forbes
Answers by Robert Williams (g./k.) and Robb Bockman (v./g.)

March 2014

Email: contact@pestwebzine.com