Left: Justin Brown, Rob Wrong, Kayla Dixon, Nathan Carson / Photo by Veleda Thorrson
Witch Mountain had an interesting 2014. The Portland doom institution released arguably the best record of their long, fragmented career, while almost simultaneously losing the singer that helped push them to new heights and larger audiences.
Vocalist Uta Plotkin announced she would be leaving Witch Mountain prior to the release of Mobile of Angels. Bassist Charles Thomas was also on his way out, which left drummer Nathan Carson and guitarist Rob Wrong with the prospect of reconstructing the Mountain they'd worked years to build. Of course, that was nothing new for the founding duo. Since forming way back in 1997, the band has gone through two vocalists and about a dozen bass players.
Plotkin's acrobatic register—which could seamlessly soar to the heavens and retreat back to the ninth circle of Hell in the space of a few notes—is a hard act to follow. In fact, Carson and Wrong were fully prepared to wait possibly even a year until they found the right fit. Happily, only three months after Witch Mountain played their final show with Plotkin, nineteen-year old Kayla Dixon came into their lives via a video audition.
A week later, Dixon was the singer for Witch Mountain. The longtime theater actor (she's played everything from Magenta in Rocky Horror to Ophelia in Hamlet), has been singing since age five, and recently co-fronted Cleveland metal outfit Demons Within. In case you're wondering, Witch Mountain did receive a couple of audition tapes from male vocalists ("If some guy that sounded like Freddie Mercury or Klaus Meine had hit us up I would have loved to talk to him," says Carson). But by the time they heard Dixon, the auditions were all but over. Witch Mountain got a new bass player, too—Justin Brown from Portland sludge-mongers Lamprey. The band flew Dixon out last weekend for rehearsals and photos, and a recent dinner with the band showed the members giddy and loose. Noisey was a fly on the wall for only the second rehearsal with the new lineup, and the band sounded as tight as if they'd just returned from a three-month European jaunt. Brown played gliding bass lines on his Rickenbacker, and Dixon outperformed the band's cozy, 12-by-12 southeast Portland practice space as they ran through "Veil of the Forgotten." A missed line during "Beekeeper" brought smiles in the room, and when Dixon requested they play "End Game" off Witch Mountain's 2011 comeback record South of Salem, she ran through it with the force of a freshly forged sword.
Witch Mountain isn't easing forward with the new lineup. The band has already recorded a version of Black Sabbath's "Sleeping Village" with Dixon on vocals, for a forthcoming Sabbath tribute on Cleopatra Records, and they'll kick off a long string of shows with Yob on March 21. Dixon sounds like she's ready to move to Portland, although Carson quips with a smile: "I just want her to spend three weeks in a van with us before she packs up her bags and moves everything."
Noisey sat down with Witch Mountain to get the lowdown on playing together, moving forward and, of course, Judas Priest. We also nabbed an exclusive rehearsal video showing Witch Mountain 2015 in action, so acquaint yourself with Kayla's powerhouse vocals below:
Noisey: So, how does it feel?
Nathan Carson: I'm thrilled, I'm really having a good time. I haven't touched my drums since our last show. It seemed like it would have been a lot more work to get to the place we are after two rehearsals.
Kayla Dixon: I'm loving the songs, because I feel like there are so many performance opportunities because the lyrics are very rich. I'm having fun playing with my delivery of the songs.
Do you write lyrics yourself?
Kayla: Not something I've done for anything that's been released. I do write. I work on it.
Did you have any preconceived ideas of what the new singer would look or sound like?
Nathan: No, we didn't know if it would be a guy or a girl or whatever, we just wanted the best person. And we heard from about a dozen people that were seriously interested. And I would say five years ago, I would've hired any one of them. But Uta set the bar really high, and only one person surpassed that bar. And that's the person we flew out. In the meantime, while we were thinking, "Oh, let's see how we get along," Yob invited us out on tour, so we accelerated our plans. No regrets.
Rob Wrong: Yeah, I didn't know if it was going to take a year, or whatever. I just kind of did what I normally do, and started writing riffs when I got home maybe for something on the side, or Witch Mountain songs. I anticipated having to wait a while. It was a complete shock when I got the video from Kayla of one of our songs that Billy Anderson did an instrumental mix of. Nate put it pretty well, "It was like winning the lottery twice."
Nathan: We're the luckiest doom band there is.
Kayla, how did you find out about the audition?
Kayla: I was just on their Facebook page, and saw they were looking for a new singer. I was like, "Well, I should probably jump at this." So I did.
Photo by Mark Lore
Did you feel pretty good going into it?
Kayla: Well, Uta is amazing. I was a little nervous, just because I love her lyrics and the vocal melodies she's written. I get really nervous. But I don't like to miss out on opportunities, or ever say, "What if?"
So, you'd been a fan of the band?
Kayla: Yeah, not for too long, though. I discovered them about a year ago. I've been listening to metal since the ninth grade, though… which wasn't actually too long ago for me!
Nate, you mentioned to me earlier that Kayla caught on to some Judas Priest reference you or Rob made.
Nathan: It was Sin After Sin, "Diamonds and Rust." Yeah, that impressed us. Because I know people my age who don't even know that record.
Nathan: I know! It's fucked up! Yeah, that was a clincher.
Photo by Mark Lore Witch Mountain Spring Tour 2015:
3/21 - New York, NY at Gramercy Theater w/Enslaved, YOB, Ecstatic Vision
3/22 - Philadelphia, PA at Union Transfer w/Enslaved, YOB, Ecstatic Vision
3/25 - Richmond, VA at Strange Matter
3/26 - Raleigh, NC at King's w/YOB, Demon Eye
3/27 - Johnson City, TN at Hideaway w/YOB, Generation of Vipers
3/28 - Atlanta, GA at The Earl w/YOB
3/29 - Memphis, TN at The Hi-Tone w/YOB
3/30 - New Orleans, LA at Siberia w/YOB, Marrs
3/31 - Houston, TX at Walter's w/YOB, Project Armageddon
4/01 - Austin, TX at Red 7 w/YOB, Sores
4/03 - Albuquerque, NM at Launch Pad w/YOB, Tenderizor
4/04 - Tucson, AZ at Flycatcher w/YOB, Inoculara
4/05 - Los Angeles, CA at Los Globos
4/07 - San Francisco, CA at Golden Bull
4/08 - Sacramento, CA at Press Club
4/10 - Seattle, WA at Victory w/Wounded Giant
4/11 - Portland, OR at Star Theater w/Holy Grove, Zirakzigil
Mark Lore is committing sin after sin on Twitter.