British rocker Kristian Bell can clearly trace the artistic origins of every creepy song on Annabel Dream Reader, the debut disc from his clamorous surf-garage trio The Wytches.
The growling "Gravedweller," for instance, was inspired by a creepy cemetery he and his girlfriend were passing late one night.
"It was a very unkempt graveyard, and the grass hadn't been cut in ages," he recalls. "And in the actual graveyard, there was this dude just lurking about in the real tall grass, looking at all the tombstones. So I found it quite interesting how he found it so interesting. Or he might not have at all — he might have just been a bit weird."
The buzzing "Digsaw," conversely, is rooted in the culture shock that Bell and band drummer Gianni Honey experienced upon first moving to big-city Brighton from their tiny hamlets of Yaxley and Peterborough, respectively.
"Until we moved there, we didn't realize how '60s-inspired everything was [in Brighton]," he says. "Everyone was saying, 'I dig this' and 'I dig that.' So I just imagined a digsaw. Kind of like a jigsaw, but ultimately just a word that sounded cool, because I'd always been into '60s things."
The title of the debut album, which will see its American release next month, was just a nonsensical phrase that Bell used to sing to fill in missing lyrical gaps during a song's composition. "So that phrase stuck with me, even though I didn't have a clue what it meant."
The Wytches started their career in earnest after Bell and Honey got fed up with their fading hometown punk-metal scenes. They'd decided to try their luck in relatively exotic Brighton, where Bell enrolled in music college but couldn't secure a student loan.
"I didn't have any money, so I knew full well that I was moving away with no housing," he says. A longtime Yaxley friend let him stay in his living room for two months, after which he moved into another friend's walk-in closet. "You could just about fit a bed, and that was it," he recalls. "But it had a window, which was nice."
Next came a small and crowded sublet. "I moved in with nine other people, and I expected them to be like, 'Oh, hey! How ya doing? My name's blah, blah, blah.' But no one said anything to me, and I spent the rest of that year in complete silence. I got a lot of writing done."
It was there that Bell solidified his lean and hungry Wytches approach, as well.
"We're big into horror — we were all spooky kids, and we loved Goth bands," he explains. "And I was into doom metal, and really chuggy, riffy '70s rock stuff, plus Duane Eddy and Dick Dale. I think if you slow down a Dick Dale track, you've kind of got a doom-metal song. So I always saw a very close bond between surf music and doom metal, and that's the sound I wanted to achieve."