An interview with The Witch and The Robot on the release of new album Fear of Mountains

Meet the incredibly creative minds of TWATr, Cumbrian natives who are inspired by a multitude of musical influences from all over the world. New album Fear of Mountains Pt 1 is really quite special...

Written by Amelia Gregory

The Witch and The Robot fear of mountains
They live in the Lake District, they’re neighbours with British Sea Power and they make bewitching alternative music that has been labelled psych folk but which really doesn’t fit in any box. New album Fear of Mountains has just been released on digital download and features a series of unique songs inspired by their isolated location and a fabulous mash up of influences. Meet Sam Hunt and Andrew Tomlinson of Cumbrian band The Witch and The Robot (otherwise known as TWATr) for a fabulous insight into some truly creative musical minds. We’re talking everything from Wordsworth to Alex Reid

The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains head
How has living in the Lake District affected your approach to music making?
It pops up everywhere really; we are situationists through necessity rather than design. Growing up in places like the Lakes you have to create your own sense of scene, a strange amalgam made up of half understood snippets from the radio or read in magazines. We found ourselves on a strange diet of Mo Wax/Warp/Ninjatune, New Romantica/Depeche Mode/Prince and David Bowie/90’s jingly jangly indie and Tupac; unable to appropriate a single scene we made one up ourselves. It’s hard not to reference where you live in songs, if you want to write about yourself, we are conscious of the romantics and the various other assorted lunatics, artists and rum buggers who by and large saw the Lakes as a place to escape the ‘real’ world. Wordsworth on the run from memories of the French Revolution, Josefina de Vasconcellos (who pops up a lot in our songs) on the run from London society, Kurt Swchitters on the run from the war…

The Witch and the Robot by Rachel Higham.
The Witch and the Robot by Rachel Higham.

The place is filled with them, hotel staff who are a bit cagey about life before the Lakes, rich artists who see themselves in the mould of the before mentioned Schwitters, loads of people who find it very easy to create their own reality in this rural bubble. Josefina had a view on it that the mountains are both muse and jailer, we quote her on Fear Of Mountainsthis place can make things seem more than they are’ it heightens emotions I suppose, to quote Lou ‘there is only one good thing about a small town that you know that you gotta get out‘ .. Fear Of Mountains Pt 1 is about getting out….
 
Witch and Robot by Carne Griffiths
Witch and Robot by Carne Griffiths.

Are you happy with your acronym? Was it a conscious decision to use TWATr and if so why? And why the little r at the end?
When we decided to call ourselves The Witch and The Robot we were just trying to think of two creatures who would not have met before, the acronym was just a happy accident.. We’ve written a number of stories about how the two met, some of them should be on our blog but as far as the little rTWAT is a funny word and word that is used a surprising amount in endless context, maybe it’s a Cumbrian thang…

YouTube Preview ImageHoudini

Love the video for Houdini, where was it shot and what inspired the treatment?
Why thank you – the video was shot at Wastwater – I think Sally Webster from Coronation Street got it voted ‘Britain’s favorite view’ on a ITV special – it’s England’s deepest lake, as deep as the North Sea and provides much of the water for the cooling process at Sellafield just down the way – I think there was a doctor who killed his wife and flew over Wastwater in light aircraft with her weighted body intending to drop her into the icy depths but missed and she ended up on the side of the mountain.. There’s also the Gnome garden, put at the depth where it starts to get dangerous for divers, Gnomes all happy surrounded by white picket fences, the police removed it, to prevent gnome tourism but it was put back up the next week. We filmed it on a very hot day with all our Star Wars figures and HeMan figures with the intention of tying them all to helium balloons, but you would be surprised at how many balloons you need to make an action figure fly.

The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains balloons
The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains balloons
 
How do you write your songs, can you describe the process of how you work together?
We have always written together, it’s a very easy process as we’ve known each other literally all our lives, the thing about TWATr is that we are not really sure anyone else is listening, its what we as a group of friends have always done and will continue to do.
 
Witch and Robot by Gareth A Hopkins
Witch and Robot by Gareth A Hopkins.

And for that matter, how did you meet and start making music?
We all grew up together, in and around Ambleside, I think music making came from the lack of anything else to do.

YouTube Preview ImageHetero
 
Fear of Mountains is apparently the first of three concept albums in a Rock Opus. What can we expect from the others?
Like David Bowie’s 1. Outside it is our ‘A Non-Linear Gothic Drama Hyper-Cycle‘, also like 1. Outside Andrew thought it would be funny if it was the only one of the trilogy we ever did. I on the other hand have an idea about an album/graphic novel/action film/musical starring Celeb Big Brother winner and former beau of Jordan Alex Reid as a battle hardened William Wordsworth, we’ll just have to wait to see who wins out.

The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains
The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains grave

Can you describe your attraction to some of the oddball characters that feature within the music, and what exactly comes across of their personality in particular songs?
Most of the oddball characters are probably us in some way or form, so it’s probably safer just to remain hidden behind abstract lyrics, but as mentioned some real life people do tend to pop up quite a lot – the key one being Josefina de Vasconcellos, a daughter of a Brazilian diplomat, became a bit of a legend in the Lakes. She was a monumental sculptor and Blake-like visionary who specialized in figurative religious art and died at the ripe old age of 101. Religious art has never really be cool – unless you were a sculptor in renaissance, but her work was totally insane, if ever in Edinburgh have a look at The Last Chimera at The Cannongate Kirk on the Royal Mile or Escape To Light overlooking Morecambe Bay at Millom Lifeboat Station. I spent 2 years making a film about her, which in the end wasn’t that good, but was certainly an experience, as someone who struggles to believe the news let alone the presence of a God, it was a fascinating insight into what is faith…

The Witch and The Robot by Barb Royal (2)
The Witch and The Robot by Barb Royal (2)
The Witch and The Robot by Barb Royal (2)
The Witch and The Robot by Barb Royal.
 
The album can be bought in the Hide & Horn shop in Ambleside – has it since been stocked elsewhere or would you encourage a digital download of the album instead?
We released our first album On Safari on a proper label with distribution and the like and to be honest we’ve seen not a bean, so we thought it was time to scale back and try and do something interesting with the release – when you are in a Z-list psych-folk band I think it would make more of a difference to do something like that than let an un-bought album grow dusty on Rough Trade East’s shelves – also Pete at Hide and Horn could really do with the trade. But I have succumbed to peer pressure (Andrew) and put it on sale digitally as well, if you do get it from Hide and Horn Andrew has made you a lovely picture to go with it.

The Witch and The Robot Fear of Mountains bw
 
Are there any particular Lake District traditions that you feel the rest of the world should know more about, and why?
At the beginning of Fear Of Mountains pt1 we have recoded a snippet of Ambleside’s Rushbaring – for years we were told that this obviously pagan fertility rite was how they used to change the rushes on the floor of the church – but stiff like that happens everywhere – I once went to 2 or 3 Cumbrian wrestling lessons when I was 12/13 wish Id stayed on as I’d probably be world champion by now. But apart from noticeably excessive daytime drinking I think the wider world is probably better off with the Lakes traditions staying in the hills.
 
You can hear the whole glorious record here: I recommend you take a listen. Fear of Mountains Pt 1 is out now on digital download and at the Hide & Horn shop.

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