By Brent Thompson
For its 2017 release Sleeping Through The War [New West Records], All Them Witches enlisted the help of A-list producer Dave Cobb (Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton, Sturgill Simpson). But when it came time to record the recently-released follow-up album ATW [Red River], the band’s members – Robby Staebler, Charles Michael Parks, Jr. and Ben McLeod – put the production duties into familiar hands: their own. On Wednesday, October 31, All Them Witches will perform at Saturn. The Birmingham show marks the opening night of the band’s upcoming tour. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Recently, Staebler spoke with us by phone from his Tennessee home.
Birmingham Stages: Robby, thanks for your time. If you will, talk about the creation of the ATW album.
Robby Staebler: There were two things on that album that existed in some random form. “Half Tongue” – we just started playing that at a soundcheck at some point last year, just that riff. The other one was the heavy part of “Rob’s Dream” – that was something that me and Ben recorded years ago, like when we first started the band. That was something that we demoed and never looked at it again. Everything else just came about it – it was another fast process which has its drawbacks and bonuses, but it was a relatively quick thing. Over the course of two weeks of writing sessions and rehearsals, we basically structured the album and took another week to sit down and record it in a place we rented.
Birmingham Stages: It must be nice to write and record in such a quick, efficient manner.
Staebler: The last three albums we did were a relatively similar process. We just took an extra week with this one. I think we’re going to do something different for this next record. We were all living in different places, but I’ve moved back to Tennessee and I’m a good middle spot between Parks and Ben and I’ve got a studio. I’m renting a church and we’ve been rehearsing a bunch and just jamming. We haven’t been able to hang out and just jam for probably five years. We’re looking forward to this year and everyone being close and being able to play whenever we feel like it. I live 50 miles outside of Nashville because I can’t handle [living in Nashville] – I can’t be distracted. If I live in Nashville, I’m going to bars and making friends and spending all of my money. I live in this really small town and all I do is play drums everyday and work on graphics.
Birmingham Stages: After working with Dave Cobb on Sleeping Through The War, your band decided – with Ben at the helm, as the album’s press release states – to self-produce ATW. If you will, talk about that decision.
Staebler: It wasn’t really much of a discussion. We could’ve gone the same route – the producer thing – but we don’t really need someone to nudge us in directions. I’m not saying working with Dave diluted our process at all because it didn’t. It was a new experience and it was exciting. But we’re confident enough to be what we want and not really seek outside counsel for things like that. Ben’s super nerdy about the engineering aspect and recording – he really wanted to be at the helm, as they said. It was super easy and it was fun and relaxing. We could go as late or early as we wanted – there was no rush.
Birmingham Stages: At this point, do you see the band using the self-produced approach on upcoming albums?
Staebler: I think so. We’ve always been doing it ourselves with the exception of the last one. I’d put my money on us doing it ourselves.
Birmingham Stages: Your band is known for is work ethic and incessant touring schedule. How do you guys maintain that level of intensity?
Staebler: Because we’re each a real musician and that’s what our whole lives have been to this point. We’ve always played music and now I can pay my rent, see progress and talk to people and see that [our music] means something to them. If you call that “work ethic,” then you can, but we’re just doing what we love to do and being able to pay our rent doing it is more motivation. It’s always an adventure. We love traveling – it’s hard, it’s tiring and we miss our girlfriends, our families and our pets. But you only live once and if we get to go around the world and play stuff that we made and share our art with people, then we have to keep doing it.
Birmingham Stages: Going back to the subject of do-it-yourself recording and producing, artists now can forge careers without the required help of a label. Some artists say that’s great and some say it creates clutter because there is no gatekeeper. Simply put, anyone can record and release an album anytime. How do you view today’s overall climate?
Staebler: It’s definitely a pro that you can do it on the cheap. It’s accessible to people who couldn’t do it before and they can do it now. If they really want to do it, they can do it. It’s very saturated, but it’s just the world we live in. You can’t do anything about it. It’s just a matter of chance that someone listens and passes it on. There are so many things people will never hear that are amazing. Maybe it’s luck of the draw, but that’s how it is.
All Them Witches will perform at Saturn on Wednesday, October 31. Handsome Jack will open the 9 p.m. show. Advance tickets to the 18+ show are $12 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.