From humble beginnings in their native and beloved Leeds, to blasting out their psyche-laden doom bliss alongside the likes of Brant Bjork, heavy instrumental jammers Wiht always did have something a little bit special about them. Despite only putting out an eponymously-title EP in 2009 and the sonically devastating, historical concept album The Harrowing Of The North in 2011, WIHT were making huge strides into a scene that was primed for something new, dynamic, challenging and thought-provoking alongside riffs the size of Hadrian’s Wall. But, as is the case for many bands, life took over, the momentum was lost and the trio (guitarist Chris Wayper, drummer Rick Contini and bass-player Joe Hall) slipped away into a long hibernation. Their final show, an opening slot on the main stage of DesertFest 2012 no less, was so movingly brilliant that Shaman scribe Pete Green remains far from ashamed to admit to this day that that it brought him to the brink of tears.
But with time, much can change, heal, revitalise and regenerate. And so when Chris proudly whispered in the Shaman’s ear that he was putting the old band back together with some new shows, new tunes and yes, some new tales from the vaults of history, we immediately paid attention and sent Pete Green along to bag the low-down with Chris and the boys themselves. On his return, not only did he have with him this fascinating interview about the inner workings of WIHT, but was also clutching a brand new & exclusive recording entitled Edgar The Ætheling, now stream this mesmerising track below before reading about the historical world of WIHT.
Hey Chris! It’s fantastic to hear about the return of the mighty Wiht! It seemed like with The Harrowing Of The North album, you guys were only just getting started. What happened and what have the three of you been up to since?
Hello mate! It seems like years and years ago that, another lifetime. I love that record and it’s fair to say we are all quite proud of it but a lot has changed since then. It was a long time ago and I guess since then we’ve become older, more boring, sensible, middle of the road and beige! I decided to up sticks and move 250 miles away, which isn’t the greatest idea when trying to keep a band together! To be honest, even when we were all living in Leeds it was a nightmare trying to organise ourselves. We all worked different hours/days and we could simply never get time to rehearse. Add kids into the equation and you get the drift! There are lots of bands that have the same shit going on as we did and manage to make it work, so not for a second are we saying that situation was unique to us, but we struggled towards the end to invest the time to move the band forward.
Aside from me moving to Brighton (Worthing actually, but that doesn’t sound half as glamorous!) and having a second kid, Rick has been busting a nut at university and Joe has been plying his trade on the streets.
With you yourself moving pretty far apart from Rick and Joe geographically, how much did you miss playing together and being in a band? What (or who) were the key drivers behind getting back into the practise room?
We are all the very best of mates, so we were always in touch after my move. We were always talking about music and always thinking of ways to try to get the band back together. Eventually we were just, like “Fuck it! Let’s just do it!” I started writing some music and sent it up to Joe and Rick, they gave me their input and eventually we got a rehearsal together.
It is fair to say we do miss the jamming element of playing in band. Whenever we get together to rehearse these days, leading up to the practice we’ll have been swapping riffs over email! It’s a very different way of playing and rehearsing but, because we are now so far apart from each other, it’s the only way we can do it. So it basically has to work.
What was that first jam like? Were you ever nervous about what you’d create together after three years apart?
Our first rehearsal was awesome. We sounded pretty tight even though it had been a couple of years, but more to the point we all loved it! There were no nerves at all, it was just three mates, a few beers and some riffs, man!!
How has the scene changed/evolved since you left do you think?
Yeah, I think things have changed for the better, certainly. There are the bands like Desert Storm, Gurt, Dead Existence and Undersmile, who we played with a couple of times in the past, who now seem to be tearing it up everywhere and have gone from strength to strength, finally getting some of the recognition they deserve. There are also a few newer bands like BongCauldron who are getting a fair bit of attention now, and rightly so. I guess the scene is forever evolving and that’s what makes it so awesome!
At any rate, it’s onwards and upwards for Wiht! You have a new song out today entitled Edgar The Ætheling and as ever it’s a lengthy instrumental affair, deeply rooted in theme around the Norman invasions of England at the beginning of the eleventh century. Can you tell us a bit more about happenings at that time and who Edgar really was?
Essentially the way we see it is that The Harrowing Of The North album told the story of the raids from the point of the view of William the Conqueror. This next piece of music we are doing follows on from that but tells the story of the raids from the point of the view of rebels instead.
This Edgar chap, well basically he should have been the king but he was too young and weak to defend himself and he got done over royally by William. When Edward the Confessor died in January 1066, there was no direct line of succession, but Edgar would have been the rightful heir. It was well known that Edward the Confessor had no children and in the time leading up to him popping his clogs, it stirred a lot of interest across Europe, as various kings and lords from across the continent saw this as an opportunity to take the crown as theirs.
Harold Godwinson was elected as King by the council as they thought he was a better shout than Edgar from the fact that he had some military experience and it was felt he was better equipped to take the country to war against William. Anyway, Harold got done in at Hastings and William marched on London to take the crown. Edgar then fled north to escape William and his army.
A few years later, with the support of the Scottish King and a few other lords in the North, Edgar became the figurehead of the revolt against William – the revolt that eventually led to the ‘Harrowing’ raids. Edgar had some early successes at the beginning of these raids, defending York against the advancing Normans and although he managed to get military support from Denmark, he was eventually defeated and ran off back to Scotland where he married a woman called Morag and set up a shop selling shortbread and kilts…OK, maybe that last part I made up!
We all loved the concept of the last record. It is such a vast piece of history that just goes on and on and it seemed a shame to just leave it on The Harrowing… I guess for people that listen to our music – with the idea of the concept, you can take it or leave it. Some like the fact the music can be set against a story – the listener can almost make up their own mind about what the music means in context of the concept. Others just like the music and ignore the story!
Are Wiht back for good do you think or is that still undecided?
Yeah, I think so! I certainly hope so and so far, everything’s looking good!
We’ve got an exclusive track stream of Edgar The Ætheling right here on The Sleeping Shaman, but what is the wider plan for the song’s release? I hear you have a second track in the works too…
Yeah, we have a second song that we haven’t even jammed yet. In fact it’s not really written but I’m sure it will come together quickly! Once that is ready we will look to get both tracks released on a physical format, hopefully by early 2016. The plan basically is to release this first track digitally, then when it comes round to getting the second track ready, we’ll release them both together.
Your first, and last, full length record The Harrowing Of The North received some amazing and well deserved critical acclaim back in 2011. How do you feel reflecting on that arrangement now? Would you change anything at all?
We are all very proud of that piece of music. I still listen to it loads now. I honestly don’t think I’d change anything about it. Maybe make the sections shorter, and put some Gregorian chants over it?!
Are there any plans to play live again? What are your ambitions now in terms of shows/touring?
We’ve got a couple of shows lined up. The first is the No Fun Intended all-dayer in October with the boys from BongCauldron, which will be mega! The line-up is ridiculous, what an awesome first gig back! The other, I don’t think we can tell you about that yet, but it’s going to be awesome! As for a tour, maybe. I think once we get the physical release out we will be in a better position to maybe line up a tour. Hopefully though!
Do you plan on playing any of The Harrowing… live again at all?
Musically, who do you take inspiration from? Has this changed at all in the years since you’ve been inactive?
We all draw inspirations from completely different places. Personally speaking, I listen to tons of Nick Cave, Dax Riggs, Mark Lanegan. In terms of the heavier side, I am in love with Sky Burial by Inter Arma, that album rules! Big into Godspeed and more post rock stuff like Red Sparowes but mate, my first love was Metallica, and the love is there still!!
Wiht were born at a time when the underground music scene in Leeds was really blossoming; bands like Khuda, A Forest Of Stars, BongCauldron, Black Moth and many others were playing regularly and putting on a lot of gigs together. Was there a good sense of togetherness between those acts? Any great memories from that period five years or so ago?
Chris: Yeah I think so. Steve and Tom from Khuda were and still are awesome dudes. We were playing back at a time when the Royal Park Cellars was still putting on gigs, courtesy of Steve himself. Those guys would bring some great bands to Leeds, not only at the Cellars, and that exposed us as a band to tons of awesome live music! We never played with Black Moth, but I follow what those guys are up to and they seem to be doing well.
The chaps in BongCauldron are good mates of ours and they only started kicking off when we were just finishing so it will be awesome to finally play with them live in October. I think in any scene, there is always a togetherness, but we were very lucky to have such dedicated guys in our scene, like Tom and Steve from Khuda, along other guys like Pauly P (who has played in a number of ridiculously heavy bands) who would put us on great gigs and helped us get our music out there.
Joe: The Leeds heavy scene is still as close as it was when we dis-banded. There are still a few heavy-weights knocking about but also some new hidden gems. Everyone knows everyone and a lot of the bands grew up together in previous forms which then morphed into new bands with ex members of other bands and so on. My new band for example, Groak is a mixture of Khuda, The Day Man Lost/Suffering Mind.
When Wiht write as a band, does the history/concept or idea come first or the music? How do you marry the two together so cohesively?
The music tends to come first. With The Harrowing… it was a bit of both really. We had some of the music written, then when we got together, this idea of a concept arose and we developed the music around it. With Edgar it was different. We didn’t have the luxury of jamming ideas around and working the concept into the music like before. This time around the music definitely came first and we then used the concept as a back-drop, to set the music against. I don’t know if we do it well or not, but I think it gives the music another dynamic, something I think is pretty necessary when you’ve got three dudes who ain’t much to look at playing 20-minute long instrumentals!
I’m not much of a gear-head myself but I know you like to play with a lot of kit on stage. Can you run us through your live guitar set-up? What tools do you have that you could never be without?
Chris: I am not a massive gear head myself! Loud valve amp. Fuzz, delay and reverb. Guitar. And you are sorted! Saying that, I have just acquired an Orange OR120 which I am particularly excited about!
Joe: I use a Sound City 200 PA+ amp, Peavey TVX cab, two EHX distortion pedals, EHX Ecco1 and Electric Mistress
Rick: A drum kit!
You’ve got some synth-y moments in the new track, are you worried you could turn into Erasure?
Joe: Come on, have a little respect! 😉
I know how much you love your history… If Wiht were Ned Stark, who would you want to replace you as king on the Throne of Doom after your beheading?
Pepper Keenan. He actually wouldn’t look out of place in Game of Thrones! In fact, am I the only one who thinks there is a distinct similarity between Pepper Keenan and Ned Stark?!
Do you have any other historical events or periods that you’d like to explore in future?
That’s the good thing about history. It just keeps on happening. I’ll let you have that one! Put it on a t-shirt or something…
You guys are from Leeds – home of decent curry houses, teenage pregnancies and Billy Bremner. Has your home town had an effect on your music at all do you think over the years?
There is more to Leeds than teenage pregnancies and Billy Bremner, I’ll have you know! Manchester is only a 45-minute ride train ride away afterall…
Only joking! It’s Leeds, Leeds, Leeds isn’t it! I don’t think it has had too much of an effect to be honest. We love our hometown but I think the music came from us, as opposed to being influenced in some way by our surroundings. Leeds has a rich musical heritage with bands such as Chumbawamba and that bloke that used to be in 5ive, but with the utmost respect, they didn’t have much influence on our musical direction.
I always ask this… If you could only pick one, Sleep or Kyuss and why?
For me it would be Kyuss. Sky Valley was what kicked it off for me in terms of exploring the heavier, fuzzier side of music. Sleep came a little later. In fact, in my naivety, I was a massive High on Fire fan first, of which THEN introduced me to Sleep.
Which other bands/records are you guys listening to at the moment? Who else should we all be checking out?
Chris: BongCauldron. They’re just awesome! They need no introduction but those boys are killing it at the moment and they sound so tight live. In terms of records that I listen to a lot, I’m a big Arboretum fan, Coming Out Of The Fog is a classic, Sky Burial by Inter Arma is an incredible album. I’m listening to Astra’s The Black Chord a lot again and also Dax Riggs’ Say Goodnight To The World, I still cannot stop listening to that one.
Joe: Bands involved with the Leeds DIY collective – CHUNK, are well worth a bit of time. Bands like Pink Rick, Irk, Clenstch, Cattle, Famine, Super Luxury, Magnapinna, etc. Definitely keep an eye out for these guys. Each one is totally difference from the next. The gigs that are put on down there are usually a mixed bill, but everyone is well up for watching the next band even if they’re not crazy into it. It’s a lovely place.
If you could support any one other act live, who would it be and why?
Chris: The TBA headliner on the 10th October at Eiger studios in Leeds for the No Fun Intended all-dayer, alongside BongCauldron, Pist, Corinth, Mountains Crave and Clenstch. Thinking about it, that would be my ideal gig full stop. I would probably envisage the whole thing costing £8 with drinks deals, food stalls and a DJ until 2am. Something like that, roughly speaking.
Joe: One of my favourite bands is Corrupted, but I’m not so sure Wiht would go down too well at a Corrupted show, haha! So I reckon I’d have to say Hawkwind.
Thanks so much for taking the time Chris and for getting back together in the first place! Best of luck with everything Wiht-related now and in the future! Is there anything else you’d like to add?
If you can, can you all please come down to the No Fun Intended All-Dayer on October 10th in Leeds. We are in very good company! A big shout out to Ben Corkhill for putting that awesome line-up together. Please also show some love to the Chunk Collective and of course that BongCauldron lot! And thanks Pete for taking the time to have a chat with us, it was most joyous! See you all soon!
Band Links: Facebook
Interviewed by: Pete Green