Warm Widow - interview
"When I was doing the vocals, a security guard started trying to pound the door down because he thought somebody was being murdered."
An interview with abrasive English rock trio (and Norman Records faves) Warm Widow.
How do you convey the brilliance of a band in an era where a cursory glance at Twitter reveals so many 'geniuses', so many 'lost classics', so many 'albums of the year' and so many people going way over the top about things that are just ok, or pretty decent at best?
I've been banging on about this lot for ages -- ever since I was knocked sideways by their debut 'Widower'. Just when I think no-one's listening, the inbox pings and a message comes through from our Director and web guru Nathon: “Wow, just downloaded those two Warm Widow albums from Bandcamp. Bloody hell.”
Enough said. My constant harping has won a new convert!
Some reflections on 'Widower'...
It's late 2010 - November to be exact - and I'm in the middle of moving house. Constantly, it seems, I'm driving late at night through Leeds' suburbs, the streets lined with leaves, with the gruff bark of 'Widower' soundtracking my sense of unease. The album starts to make some deep grained impressions. Cut to two years later, and the album's still in the glovebox: I'm driving into Salford on a rain-sodden day, and two passengers in the car, who haven't heard the album previously, are blown away by its intensity, by the guttural stomp of the music, and by how fits perfectly with the crumbling inner city buildings we drive past.
It's in one of these buildings that I imagine Warm Widow rehearsing: cold, dank, dark, the only warmth emerges from a two bar heater. It could be the 1970s.
The two records they've come up with in their short history are both incendiary pieces of rock music. 'Widower' is a sprawling rehearsal tape made good, with its wild yet disciplined playing. Imagine The Fall having soaked up all of the jagged rock music the 90s had to offer, including the melodious instincts of prime-era Guided By Voices. It's all mastered by Bob Weston, of course, who knows a thing or two about wrestling a post-punk guitar to the ground. 2014's 'Childless' is slightly more contained, not as ready to collapse in on itself, but never lets up on the band's intensity. Both are brilliant, in their way - and both are utterly essential.
Warm Widow are the kind of band that have studied the noisy guitar lexicon so hard they've absorbed it, fallen into it, and it's become it's own Alice In Wonderland style fantasy -- only the Mad Hatter is the Pixies, the rabbit is Robert Pollard and the Chershire Cat is Women. On 'Widower', they pull off guitar tricks that will be rattling around in the sub-conscious of any purveyor of rock dissonance: I hear the chord that rings like a bell half way through “In A Blackout”, and I'm immediately transported to the early days of Guided By Voices, back when Tobin Sprout could pluck a crystalline moment out of nowhere, in what can otherwise only be described as a shitstorm. I hear “Scruff Of His Neck” start up and I'm reminded of how physically daunting the music of Public Strain is, the gnawed guitars layering over a hissing sound that recalls Women's snowed in tunes. And then there's “Glisten”, in which the tortured yelps are all Black Francis and the band's furious surface noise is Unwound riding the 'Fake Train'.
'Widower' is all that guitar music at once, and more, but it never feels like a repeat of it: rather, these are recycled parts being put back together into something filthier and prettier. The kind of guitar bands Warm Widow are taking after can chug angular chords down, weave a fractured guitar riff into a beautiful moment, and eventually reflect on their days of reckless punk abandon with a slow jam. But they rarely resonate in the way Warm Widow do; this band are ripe for their name, taking the premise that the earth is not a cold, dead place and then piling on with abrasive energy and screwball tones until it is a little dead, a little cold. 'Widower' is a prime example of why noise rock is so indispensable: because it exists in that space between dissonance and melody, where you think you're hearing both together. On songs like “Widower” -- where the bass is a spirit guide in a post-apocalypse wasteland -- it's hard to know what came first, the song or its feedback fuck-ups.
On 'Childless', the band's second record, they relent a little: vocal harmonies creep into opener “Dog Heaven” like warm smoke emanating in the dead of winter. The drums and guitars begin to crease into one another once more, but there's a strange gentility about the process; the band sound like they have control over their shit, this time, as if they're making the noise for themselves rather than fending it off. Things start to erupt again -- the dissonance starts to overtake the riffing -- but it's measured, the noise treated the way a rock 'n' roll dude would treat a badass solo. 'Childless' is still ferocious, but it's the little moments of lucidity that are stressed: the shining riffs in “Hissing Crease” rather than the freakouts that happen around them, and the way the call-and-response guitar riff of “Childless” eventually brings out the band's rhythm section for an honest-to-god groove. Even the noise sounds kinda lovely, on this one: “Diligence”, the record's penultimate track, sounds like a gritty band realising that actually, Husker Du were sweethearts.
All this to say that Warm Widow are compassionate rockists at heart: their affection for punk rock fury is tempered by their love of guitar music's warmth and comfort, even if you have to fight through a torrent of grade-A noise to get there. Similar to post-punk saboteurs Women, Warm Widow's trajectory has only gotten more interesting as time's gone on: they've gone from making furious hard-on-the-ears experiments to fractured but blissed-out rock songs. They sound like every guitar band you've ever fallen in love with, especially the ones with that tone, but they know the best thing they can be is themselves: malevolent, benevolent, and tight as fuck.
We spoke to Warm Widow leader, Martin Greenwood...
How did the band start? Were you in bands previously? And who were your primary influences in starting Warm Widow?
We'd all been in bands that had been knocking about in Manchester roughly between 2000-2005. Myself and Ivan (first bassist) were both in a band called Tsuji Giri, Lianne was in a band called Jackie-O and Zak (bassist since 2009) was in Sonar Yen and later Stranger Son of WB. A year or two after Tsuji Giri had disbanded I asked Lianne if she fancied getting together to do something and then my former Tsuji Giri bandmate Ivan came in on bass. Ivan was with us long enough to record an EP and co-write some of the songs on Widower. Zak came in in time to co-write the rest and to record it with us.
As for influences... It's still changing, but at the time I was always wanting to make a band that had elements of Mission of Burma, The Fall and Husker Du.
'Widower' to me sounds like a bunch of people given one hour to create a masterpiece under trying conditions and throwing everything they had into it. Is this somewhere near the truth?
It's almost true. We were under the impression that we were going to be losing Lianne, because she'd been having some really bad problems with her shoulder and didn't think she'd be able to continue in the band. So kind of desperately I asked if we could have one last blast through the songs we'd been working on, so I could have a record of the drum parts for some future replacement to learn them from.
So it was set up in a very careless way - one mic pointed at the drums, and one each at the guitar and bass - and we hurtled through it all in a couple of hours. We weren't really performing for anything but the possible utility of the recording, but there was definitely an edge to it because we thought it was the last time this version of Warm Widow would ever play together. I later overdubbed a doubled-up guitar and vocals onto that very basic recording. When I was doing the vocals, a security guard started trying to pound the door down because he thought somebody was being murdered.
'Widower' in particular has a sound that makes me think of Manchester (for example, the bass line on the title track). I thought this before I knew you were from Manchester by the way. Anything in this?
We wouldn't normally put any thought into sounding like where we're from... but there's definitely a Joy-Division-y/Fall-y kind of feel to that particular part. They're undoubtedly influences in what we do... certainly The Fall anyway. The author of that bassline though is from Adelaide!
How hard was it to follow it up? If I'm exhausted (in a good way) on listening to it, is recording your albums an exhausting process for the band?
We had an extended writing phase, but it took a while for what we were coming up with to cohere into something that felt like the next release. A lot of songs got born and then ultimately rejected... definitely jitters about what we were going to sound like next. Meanwhile we were having all sorts of issues and problems - every member of the band left at some point whilst 'Childless' was gestating! Getting organised to record can definitely be exhausting, and making the commitment to recording it in a certain way can be a nerve-fraying gamble.
'Childless' is cleaner, doesn't sound as much like you are all about to collapse into a heap but retains a jagged intensity that could have been lost on entering a 'proper' studio. Was it an intention to keep the 'live' element intact?
We definitely wanted to keep things feeling home-made but felt that if we tried to recreate Widower conditions it would likely fail or feel contrived. We also thought it wouldn't hurt be able to hear things a little more clearly. So we got our friend Patrick, who's done some brilliant work recording Sex Hands and Desmadrados Soldados de Ventura to mic us up a little more expertly than we'd had done before. Again, the vocals are overdubbed and doubled-up guitar part was added, but it's still a very simple recording.
What next? Presumably the band is a part time thing for you all. What keeps you moving forward with it?
Yeah, we all have full-time jobs and that obviously limits what we can do. But we keep going because we're irrevocably committed to the music and we want to keep creating new work. There's a shared sense that this band is capable of making really great music... and none of us want to miss it when it happens!
Is my image of you rehearsing in a crumbling victorian building in the freezing cold with only a two bar fire for warmth in any way accurate?
We're in a new place now that is relatively posh, but both of the albums were recorded in the same rather grotty room above a gym in Salford. The building that was in is adjacent to a crumbling Victorian building if that helps. There was no two-bar fire, but the electrics were pretty ropey, so that would've probably knocked the lights out if we'd tried it. There was also an impressive bloom of fungus on the wall behind Lianne's kit, so whilst not entirely Dickensian it wasn't exactly plush.