Interview: Acid Witch Wanna Take You to the Movies

The Detroit doom lords take on heavy metal horror flicks.

Jun 29 2015, 2:38pm

Photo by Dez Bouchard

Somewhere among the vast ruins of Detroit, the dudes from Acid Witch stir a cauldron boiling over with classic heavy metal, ’70s horror comics and ’80s horror flicks. Their almost-too-good-to-be-true origin story goes like this: Towering bassist, main lyricist and album-cover artist Tim “Shagrat” Jenkins met vocalist and organist Slasher Dave when they worked at haunted houses together as teenagers. After teaming up with future Hooded Menace vocalist Lasse Pyykkö for their 2008 debut Witchtanic Hellucinations—a roiling bouillabaisse of psychedelic doom with death metal-style vocals and a distinct NWOBHM flair—Slasher Dave took over on lead vocals for their 2010 Midnight Mass EP and subsequent full-length Stoned.

Shagrat and Dave handled almost every aspect of the releases, from the actual recording process to the lurid, hypercolor cover art—and the cardboard Halloween masks often contained within. “We’ve let any record company we’ve worked with know up front that we want creative control over everything,” Shagrat explains. “We’re gonna be doing all the artwork and layout. Recording we can be more flexible with, but it’s just easiest for us to do most of it ourselves. That’s the best way to do Acid Witch, because the band started out as a weird niche idea based on horror movies and old comic books. We can do everything ourselves, so there’s no point in outsourcing it.”

In April, Acid Witch sawed off a release that slices directly to the main nerve of their blood-and-weed-drenched aesthetic: Midnight Movies is a four-song EP featuring fist-pumping covers from the soundtracks of awesomely schlocky heavy metal horror movies like Trick or Treat, Rocktober Blood, Black Roses and (okay, maybe not quite metal—but still fantastic) Return of the Living Dead. It also happens to be their first recording as a full band, with drummer Gnarls Charles and guitarist Mike Tuff now fully enlisted in the Acid Witch ranks.

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NOISEY: What was the initial inspiration for Midnight Movies?
Shagrat: It was actually something that had been quite a few years in the making. We had this idea maybe even before Stoned came out, because I remember talking to a few other labels about doing it years ago but people had had lackluster interest. But it always seemed pretty second nature to us to do all these covers from these heavy metal horror movies that we like. When we went to Europe in April, we needed a new record to tour off of, but our next full-length wasn’t gonna be done so we just banged the covers EP out real quick to have something to take over there.

The leadoff track is “I’m Back” by Sorcery, from the movie Rocktober Blood. Why that song, and why that movie?
Rocktober Blood was a movie I bought when I was pretty young. I got it for a dollar from the local record store that I would hang out at pretty much all the time when I was a kid. I also had the Be Something Studios Fang Face mask, which was the mask in the movie. Then I started showing it to friends—this was the mid-90s, back when I was in high school—and whoever I showed it to would be like, “This is awesome!” It’s kind of undeniable when you see that first scene with Billy “Eye” Harper singing “I’m Back” and hitting that high note at the end. I loved it, and everyone I watched it with loved it, too. It’s a pretty obscure movie, though—it’s still never been out on DVD—but I know it’s got kind of a second wind lately. I’ve noticed people have caught onto it a bit more. But it’s an oddball movie that’s always stuck out in my mind because it has so much good stuff in it. And “I’m Back” is probably the pinnacle of heavy metal horror songs.

Who’s doing that clean, high vocal on your version?
Most of the EP is split between myself, Dave, and our guitar player Mike doing vocals. Some of the clean stuff on there is me, and some is Mike. There’s a lot of trading off on the growls between me and Dave. I think Mike does the choruses on “I’m Back” and most of the vocals on the Black Roses song, too. He’s got a pretty good voice, actually.

The next track is a cover of Fastway’s “After Midnight” from Trick or Treat. Why that movie, and why that song?
I think Trick or Treat is probably the most obvious of all the heavy metal horror movies. It’s the one that comes to mind first when you think of that genre, and it has all the classic heavy metal horror clichés. Again, it’s another movie that I got into when I was younger. I think I always related to it because I had a similar high school experience of wanting to live or die for metal and just dealing with squares and shit. So obviously we had to include that movie on the record in some way. But to be honest, I don’t think “After Midnight” would’ve been my choice. I wanted to do the song “Trick or Treat,” but I got outvoted. “After Midnight” is a cool song, too, though. And of course we’re all big Motörhead fans and big fans of [ex-Motörhead and Fastway guitarist] “Fast” Eddie Clarke. It’s kind of a goofy song, though. It’s the one song on the EP that when I listen to it, I think it’s kinda rough. It makes me wonder what those guys were thinking when they wrote that song coming out of Motörhead, but Fastway rules.

The next one is “Soldiers of the Night” from the Black Roses soundtrack, which is kind of a strange one because it’s credited to a fictional band comprised of guys from King Kobra.
Yeah, I think Carmine Appice plays on that and he’s in the movie, too. He was playing with King Kobra at the time. Black Roses is probably the penultimate heavy metal horror movie outside of Trick or Treat. It has all the things you’d want in a heavy metal horror movie. Personally, the soundtrack is one of my favorites, and “Soldiers of the Night” is a great song. I really like the lyrics and the way the song flows. We definitely knew that song was gonna be the biggest challenge vocally and musically as well. There’s some pretty tough solos to pull off on that song, but Mike really went out of his way to learn those and nail them note for note. I was impressed that he sat down and took the time to learn that shit.

The last track is a cover of 45 Grave’s “Partytime” from the Return of the Living Dead soundtrack. It’s not really a heavy metal horror movie, and 45 Grave isn’t really a metal band—but it works in the context of the EP.
That was a song we were already covering live, and the movie is a classic re-watch from our teenage years. I love 45 Grave outside of that movie, too—they’re a great band, really underrated in my opinion. They’re one of the few bands that can combine goth music and punk and a little bit of fun-time metal perfectly and still have a horror image without being too cheesy. It just fit. But I’m not gonna lie—that one was easy to pick because we were already playing it, so it was easy to just go into the studio and bang it out.

Were there any songs you talked about covering that didn’t make the cut?
I know we talked about doing a song from Hard Rock Zombies. We wanted to do the song “Street Angel” from that, but it just didn’t happen. It’s still too early to tell, but we talked about doing a Midnight Movies 2 where we pull out some more obscure stuff. “Me Against the World” from Black Roses was also talked about, but we wanted to do a song that was actually by the Black Roses band rather than a Lizzy Borden album cut, which is what that song really is. We thought about maybe doing a song from Blood Tracks or Terror on Tour, too, but those movies aren’t as iconic as the others.

This is the first Acid Witch release that you’ve had someone outside of the band record, isn’t it?
Well, half of it was recorded where we usually record, and half of it was recorded with a friend of ours who has a few nicer toys to play with. He helped out with some of the engineering and twisted a few knobs, but it’s still pretty much produced by us. Oh, and the drums were actually recorded in a real studio to get a really produced, 80s drum sound. A lot of people have been complaining about the drum sound on this record because it’s really overproduced, but they’re overlooking the fact that a lot of the bands from this era were really overproduced. I mean, listen to that Fastway stuff as compared Motörhead or UFO. It’s really overproduced and commercial. We were trying to make this in the same style, but some people don’t like it because it’s different than the Acid Witch stuff they’re used to. But that was the whole point. So I wouldn’t say it’s gonna carry over onto the new Acid Witch stuff. The production is specific to this project.

You dedicated Midnight Movies to John Fasano, who directed Black Roses and Rock N’ Roll Nightmare, and passed away last year. What specifically did you admire about his work?
That’s a good question. John Fasano’s stuff is kind of in a class all its own. I think he knew what he was, what his movies were, and the audience he was going for. At that time in horror, there were a lot of directors who were trying to be very serious or trying to follow in the footsteps of Wes Craven or John Carpenter. But I like the fun that John Fasano movies have. They exist in a world all their own. If you look at the logic of Black Roses or Rock N’ Roll Nightmare, it’s like, who comes up with this stuff? It’s just different than anything else. And the movies are funny—maybe not intentionally funny—I mean, you can’t help but laugh at the 30-year-old dudes playing high school kids. But I admire John Fasano for just doing what he’d want to do. He probably didn’t have a whole lot of money to play with, but he made the best of it, and he made some good films that are finally getting the recognition they deserve.

His aesthetic seems very much in line with that of Acid Witch.
People might think those movies are cheesy, but I think he really made them with the intent for them to be good heavy metal horror movies and to strike a chord with the kids of that era. That’s kind of how it is with Acid Witch. Some of our stuff may be pretty cheesy or comical or tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time it really is who we are and what we’re into. It’s not a fad or a trend for us. We can laugh at ourselves, but we’re not joking around. We’re all big collectors of horror VHS, 60s and 70s horror comics, and all that shit. We’re pretty isolated up here in Detroit, and there’s not a lot of other stuff to do. We don’t have a huge metal scene that you can be in for social reasons. It’s pretty desperate up here, and the humor stems from that too, because if you can’t laugh, you’ll cry. We don’t need to feign darkness like a lot bands that try to say they’re really evil and occult. I don’t feel the need to play that game. We are who we are. We’re on our own fucking planet up here.

You did the cover art for the EP, which is a montage of characters from the movies that the original versions of the songs are in. It’s an actual painting, right?
Yeah, that was done in acrylics. I think it took about a week or so, on and off. The original is on a board that’s about 15 by 20 inches, maybe—so slightly bigger than an LP cover. I had the idea pretty early on—the cauldron with the collage of different characters coming out of the smoke—so I just banged it out. We were under tight time constraints for the whole project, so we had to do the whole thing in like two weeks.

Slasher Dave has been making some synth-based horror soundtrack recordings of his own lately. Have you been involved with any of that?
We collaborated a while back. Before [Slasher Dave’s 2013 debut] Spookhouse came out, he did an unreleased album called Synthesized Flashings, which was his first soundtrack-type album. I did the cover art for that and some promo art, but the label went belly up so it never came out. But that’s the only time we’ve collaborated for that kind of stuff. The rest has been all him. He definitely does a really good job with that stuff.

The new Acid Witch full-length is already in progress. What can you tell us about it?
We’re just trying to finish it up now. It’s gonna be with a full band, the same lineup that did Midnight Movies. We were shooting for a Halloween release, but I don’t think it’s gonna happen now because the record pressing plants are so backed up. But it should be out soon, hopefully.

J. Bennett plays guitar in Ides Of Gemini. He is not on Twitter.