Interview with Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman | By Michael Pementel

Ghost stories are perhaps one of the most ancient kinds of tales that have been passed down throughout generations. The idea of ghosts presents a plethora of philosophical intrigue to spark one’s mind, for there are many interpretations of what ghosts are and why they exist. “I’m skeptical on the idea of ghosts being floating spirits of the dead,” Bell Witch bassist and vocalist Dylan Desmond says. “I tend to imagine that they’re more a figment of our imagination, be it in a dreamlike waking state or in a nightmare. It’s possible they could be the id’s response [to or] expression of stress or trauma.”

The love of and interest in ghosts is the main inspiration behind the work of Seattle’s Bell Witch, so much so that the band took their name from one of folklore’s greatest hauntings. Desmond shares, “All of our songs, in one way or another, have been intended as ghost stories from the perspective of a ghost trapped somewhere between life and death. The Bell Witch haunting seemed like a perfect name, as that was, in essence, what was purported to have happened in the Bell Witch hauntings.”

Not only is October the time of witches, ghouls, and ghosts, it is also when the world was gifted Bell Witch’s third LP, Mirror Reaper, via Profound Lore Records. The album is an ethereal experience that consists of just one 83-minute song. “The writing process of this album felt quite natural to me,” drummer and vocalist Jesse Shreibman shares. “Although it was a huge undertaking, this was the first material Dylan and I produced. As the song progressed, we added more layers and ideas, which turned into the album as it stands.”

“When we realized how long the piece was, we realized it would be a challenge for most people to process and listen to, be it from start to finish or musically,” Desmond adds. “The music being very slow and sparse is an off-putting approach to many, not to mention the length. The length may be the most off-putting thing to most—I’m not sure. I appreciate music that is challenging to me and makes me work to understand and appreciate it. Of course, all the better if I can develop an emotional connection with it during this.

Mirror Reaper is much more than just a long song: it’s an analysis of life and death. The title is indicative of the Hermetic axiom “As Above, So Below,” with two sides forming one whole. For Bell Witch, the fascination with exploring these realms of life and death inspires the duo’s creativity, allowing them to create music that breathes with emotion and mystery. “The musical goal of the band is to explore areas of minimalism with an emotional heaviness,” Desmond states. “Early on, the idea was to convey the feeling of being helpless or trapped. As the band has aged, the same idea of emotions is important, but more resolving patterns have emerged to connect the others.”

“We definitely adhere to a dark and bleak aesthetic, but I wouldn’t describe it in the same category as black metal,” Shreibman adds. “We strive to convey our stories through a mood in our music. If the story and music align, the message is delivered correctly in my opinion.”

Part of Mirror Reaper also honors the memory of the band’s former drummer and friend Adrian Guerra, who unfortunately passed away during the writing process of the song. “Jesse and I began writing the song in the winter of 2015,” Desmond shares. “Adrian had recently left the band, and Jesse had already completed three tours. He was pretty well-integrated into the band’s sound by that point, so writing new material had a very normal feeling to it. When Adrian passed in May of 2016, we both took a sort of step back from the song. I think we were both trying to process what had happened and experiencing grief from his loss. When we began to practice again, it was with a lot more focus and drive. We decided the new record had to be much more than the previous material or else it wouldn’t live up to the standard of emotional void and loss that we were both feeling.”

Mirror Reaper is an extraordinary examination of life and death, touching upon mortality and reflection through mystical instrumentation. For Desmond and Shreibman, ghost stories will always be at the core of their work, inspiring them to create and explore. “Regardless, [ghosts’] existence across culture, civilization, and time is fascinating,” Desmond states. “In this regard, there is something very human about ghosts that we all have inside ourselves.”

Purchase Mirror Reaper here: Profound Lore | Bandcamp 

Photo by David Choe

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