10 Questions for an Artist: Damn the Witch Siren

There goes the neighborhood.
There goes the neighborhood.

The only thing Krista Botjer and Nathan Photos fight about is music.

“The fights are not about what we’re doing in music,” Krista says, “they’re about how we’re going to make this happen.”

The pair is the electronic duo Damn The Witch Siren and they have settled on a plan for making “it” happen: They’re moving from Columbus to Hollywood in July.

“I think I’m more nervous than she is,” Nathan admits, but their new album, “Superdelicious,” which they officially release Friday, has them both excited to make the transition, quality product in hand.

Krista and Nathan swear they fell in love at first sight, which only seems partly true. The rest of it was love at first sound. The two musicians were immeshed in the bands they were a part of at the time (you know Nathan from The Town Monster), and seeing the other play and perform music sealed the deal.

“He writes with heart,” Krista says. “I knew he had something to say and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Naturally, they formed a band, and in 2012 they put out their first compilation of songs, “Let’s Fall in Love.” When they play, Krista transforms into the sexy and fun Bobbi Kitten and Nathan into the brooding but bouncy Z Wolf.

On “Let’s Fall in Love” you can hear them finding their sound and finding each other.

“Superdelicious” is a pumping riot reminiscent of musicians who have truly grown together. It’s so fun to listen to, the songs are super catchy and the complicated sound artistry hits you in waves of fourth and fifth listens. (I wish you could hear right now me trying to imitate the sample of Krista’s voice on “Pearls and Lace” that is my favorite. My neighbors are probably worried I’ve hurt myself.)

Plus, they really rock it live. I’m a big Damn The Witch Siren fan, and I’ve already downloaded the music to my computer and the CD’s still spinning hot and sweaty in my car.

As the album sleeve eventually gathers dust on my bookshelf, I imagine it will grow grimy with gold glitter, atrophying into a kickass gothic unicorn that gallops off every night and returns at sunrise, leaving a hazy trail of delicious in its wake.

 

Damn the Witch Siren's album release party is at 9 p.m. Friday at Ace of Cups.
Damn the Witch Siren’s album release party is at 9 p.m. Friday, May 30, at Ace of Cups.

How would you describe the creative process of making “Superdelicious”?

Bobbi Kitten: We started some of our songs right after our first album. We kind of knew our direction. We knew that we wanted it to be very beat driven. It’s a hodge podge of collaboration.

Z Wolf: We’re both really into technology at the moment, so we use our iPads or iPhones to start songs. I’ll be at work and I’ll come home and she’ll be like, ‘I started this thing’ and it’s just a beat and then we’ll do a vocal and then we got the song “Honey, Honey.” I love working with her because we just bounce ideas off each other all the time.

Bobbi Kitten: Yeah, I’ll be like, come up with something that sounds like Devo.

Z Wolf: All the lyrics on this one are her. … I’m always kind of uncomfortable with singing, which is kind of a reason this is my dream band because she’s an awesome vocalist. I always use the analogy of why would you drive a pinto when you have a ferrari? I love to sing. I love it so much, but I also know my strenghts and weaknesses. And she’s way more charismatic on stage than I am.

Bobbi Kitten: We were trying to be mindful about being gratuitous with the vocals. “Honey, Honey” is vocals from start to finish, basically, but I think it’s cool to know your boundaries. I always worry about that as a vocalist. That’s my strongest instrument. But that’s also a double edged sword. I want to make a song out of all vocal samples. That’s a goal of mine. I don’t know if that will be something for us, but learning more about production and all that stuff, that’s one of my goals. I think we did a good job with “Microphone.” Nate produced most of the song. He put in a dub step fill and he wrote all that ominous part and it’s really cool. It’s cool to collaborate like that.

Z Wolf: I feel like we’ve barely done anything at this point. I’m dying to make an album that’s not really electronic at all. I feel like that’s career suicide, at least if you’re a big band. Most bands don’t do things like that–be one thing and then do a 180. But I’m sick and tired of the rules of music. Experimentation is why it’s so fun. Like, I love metal. I’d love to make a metal album and have her screaming on it.

Bobbi Kitten: We’ll see about that. I don’t know how cool my scream will be.

Z Wolf: No, you’ve got a great scream.

What’s the most difficult part about being a musician?

Z Wolf: Right now, for me, it’s juggling not making any money and having a shitty job that we have to go to everyday that just cuts our day in half. It just gets exhausting. Not a lot of payback for music at this point. It can get taxing on your soul. But at the same time it’s the most nourishing thing for your soul. It’s totally worth it.

Bobbi Kitten: I love my job. But the day job cuts into what you do want to do for the rest of your life. The exhaustion makes you feel like you’re getting old. Am I getting old? No! I’m just really fucking busy. How do you make money doing this? That’s the hardest part. How do you do it without selling out, put the most simple way. I’ve read so many blogs over the last two years about how to make it in music, and they’re like ‘You gotta write a number one hit!’ and it’s just like, um, OK. We want to write pop music, we want to write something that connects to a broad range of people, not for money but just because we want to make fun music, we want people to relax, we want people to go out and have a good time. We still want to say things, though. You’re juggling when you’re writing pop music between compromising your art, and we haven’t compromised, so maybe we won’t make money off this.

Z Wolf: I’ve always done what I wanted to do musically.

Bobbi Kitten: I always find myself going a little crazy because I’m like ‘I want to put this out there.’ And then I’m like, is that selfish of me? To want to put your art out there? Is that selfish to not wait until it’s ready? It makes it feel cheap. … It makes you feel cheap when you put it out on the internet. Oh what now?

Z Wolf: Yeah, there’s just so much out there nowadays. Everyone is making music and all the music is free. It does kind of give it a cheapness that we didn’t have when we were growing up. I cherished my small CD collection growing up. It’s not better, it’s just different. I kind of love this world we’re in, but it’s kind of crazy how much there is and it’s kind of scary where you feel like you’re in a very deep ocean with very little chance of actually making a career out of this. It also can be discouraging when you know no one cares about your album as much as you do. We’re clearly the most excited, but hopefully we can change that.

DTWS' majestic guard cat.
Damn the Witch Siren’s studio bouncer, Lyla. After experiencing back-t0-back break-ins at their downtown apartment, the two moved into Nathan’s parents’ home, where they do all their recording, until they head west this summer.

You guys are so fun to watch on stage, and the production of the videos you play behind you during your set are always relevant. 

Z Wolf: It kills me that I can’t watch her.

Bobbi Kitten: Sometimes it feels very awkward. I love performing and it’s easy to get really lost in the music but then there are those moments where everyone’s staring and you can see people, you can make out people’s faces, and you’re like is this weird, are people enjoying themselves? I just want people to have fun. It’s easier when you’re having your own fun.

Z Wolf: We both hold back quite a bit. We don’t want to. We’re trying to unleash, but the crowd can make you awkward. In your mind it’s always a room full of people and they’re all dancing, and when it doesn’t happen you’re a little reserved. This generation just seems more reserved, a lot less prone to dance. It’s a divergence of so many different things, people are into so many different things. And, again, that’s not bad, it’s just different. But back when there was The Beatles, there was just The Beatles and everyone in the world just lost their minds for them and that was it. Now there’s so many choices and you can’t lose your mind like that unless you’re with a group of people losing their minds like that. Not everyone’s going to lose their minds like that to this little band playing a little club.

What inspired “Superdelicious,” your new album?

Z Wolf: Our first album was a lot about the two of us meeting. It was more of an internal thing, whereas this one is more about the outside world. There’s more on there about social media and the world we’re living in now and the overwhelming, huge amount of music there is out there and making something that has some validity in that context. There’s also a lot about fashion and the way women are treated and feminism.

Bobbi Kitten: “Pearls and Lace” is a really fun song. The meaning of the song is a lot about feminism. It’s about being a woman and it sounds tongue and cheek. It sounds like I’m a man, I’m a woman, I’m a man, I’m a woman, going back and forth and I feel like the song “Honey, Honey” is a lot like that too, just kind of standing up for being a woman. One of the lyrics in “Pearls and Lace” is “All hookered up in pearls and lace.” When I was in high school I got called to the principal’s office for wearing lace, but you couldn’t see anything, it’d be a lace shirt where you could see the shirt but not through the bodice of the shirt, yet men could wear really sexist T-shirts, like “Cool story, babe, now go make me a sandwich.” Teach men to stop sexualizing the female body so much instead of putting so many restrictions on women. There’s this female band whose members wear these cloaks all the way up to their chins and they want to put an end to all of this sex in pop music, which I understand to some degree, but then they’re covering up their bodies and it’s just like, you should be proud! Be proud! That’s not saying anything. That’s kind of going backward.

Z Wolf: There’s a lot of sexuality in our music. We just got our first writeup for the album and the guy said the one turnoff of the album for him was that the lyrics were racy. I think she comes off like a very powerful woman in her music. Someone who is a role model. My favorite part of “Pearls and Lace” is the second verse where she says “You looking like a dirty knock off/ rock and roll is here to stay/ they dubbed you the savior” and then all of the sudden she gets pitch shifted to down and she says “Move bitch, get out the way.” That’s my favorite part. It can be taken a lot of ways. It’s a throwback to the Ludacris song and it’s also kind of a symbol of how men can dominate in areas including pop culture.

DTWS pink guitar

Catering table for DTWS studio mates.
Catering table for Damn the Witch Siren’s studio mates.
Z off duty.
Z off duty.

Why write as your characters, Bobbi Kitten and Z Wolf?

Bobbi Kitten: It’s fun.

Z Wolf: We love theater and theatrics. Sometimes people want their pop and rock stars to be really relatable and be like them and wear flannel. Other artists you want to be larger than life, ridiculous, and I think we’re just naturally more of that camp by nature. Film, puppets, experimentation.

Bobbi Kitten: Some of my favorite artists were always writing like they were someone else, folk singers who could become different characters in different songs. It was easier to find my voice as a singer and as a writer because we had built these characters. It’s just a different way to express yourself.

Why a wolf?

Z Wolf: It feels like a douchey answer. I’ve always loved wolves and I’ve always felt like that’s my spirit animal or whatever. Wolves are going extinct because people have hunted them to extinction and that depresses me to no end, so like I feel like Z Wolf is one of the last ones. We needed one more. I feel kind of dorky about it, but nothing gets me as emotional or fired up as animal rights. I try with futility to raise money for them, like with [my former band] Town Monster’s albums, but it got no response. No one seems to give much of a shit. We’ve been vegetarian for a year now. It’s really altering, just living in a different way. I used to eat meat two times a day and now when I cook chicken at work it sickens me. I have no real desire to eat them anymore.

How have you grown vocally, Krista, through Damn the Witch Siren?

Bobbi Kitten: When I was a kid I used to sing all the time. But I had a real high squeaky voice, and I remember auditioning for things and I got this part and my friend Mary was a really great singer, too, and I remember all the kids were telling me Mary should have got the part, that I had such a weird voice. I became terrified of singing. I had the weirdest voice. It feels like a totally different life from now because all I ever get now are compliments on my voice, just talking too. It’s so weird because as a kid I was afraid to talk to people. … In high school I would speak really soft; I was still terrified of it. I always wanted to sing, though. I love being on stage. …  I think my voice was a lot different before I met Nathan. It feels like a whole life away. … When I met Nathan, all the rules went out the window. I felt inspired. That’s when I found my true singing voice, was when I met Nathan and we started making music together.

Z Wolf: Her voice is like honey but sharp; it will cut you. She’s very diverse. I wanted to work with her immediately. I knew she had tons of potential. She’s very charismatic. I try to encourage her and push her to do more, be like a cartoon character almost. I always want her to be as ridiculous as possible. I think she holds back a lot still and I want her to let go completely. I have that reservation too. When I was in Town Monster we were playing out so heavily and I felt like a more confident singer and keyboard player and now I’ve been doing more production, so my production has got better but I’m dying to start playing piano more because I don’t want to lose that. I just want to be in a project that I love and I love our band.

DTWS heart mic

What’s your musical origin story, Nathan?

Z Wolf: I was in band in fourth through eighth grade and I really had no interest in it. It was a time killer. I liked messing around on the trombone or whatever but it didn’t click with me. … When I was 15 I went and got MIDI Notation software for $45 at CompUSA. I had already been writing lyrics in my sad little goth boy notebooks, but I took that software home and within an hour I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is what I want to do.’ Everything I made for years was horrendous. … I started making music by punching in notes on a computer. Eventually my mom let me trade in my trombone for a four track tape recorder and an acoustic guitar. I started singing and it was just raspy muttering. I just never stopped. I don’t think I’m truly talented. I think I just work really hard.

What does your work schedule look like? How often do you rehearse? 

Bobbi Kitten: All the time.

Z Wolf: Yeah, we’re pretty obsessed.

Bobbi Kitten: Sometimes we’ll take a week off where we don’t rehearse, but when we’re not rehearsing we’re writing or we’re working on video or something. It’s always very consistent. Having a set rehearsal schedule doesn’t work for us because it takes away from the creative process. We already have the discipline and sometimes you just don’t feel like doing certain things. You kind of have to go with your creative impulse as far as what to work on each day.

Z Wolf: I felt like I was in the worst dry spell of my life in 2011. I’ve been pretty prolific. I’ve written hundreds of songs, but that was the biggest period of time where I didn’t write a lot of stuff. I don’t really know why but I don’t look at it as much of a rut now because during that time period I got a lot better at production. And, really, we had met at that time and I think I just needed some time to fall in love. At the time I was stressed out about it. … Then I made a solo album in, like, a week. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever done but for various reasons I do like it. It’s dark and depressing. That was the end of my dry spell. I kind of had to force myself to make that. At the time I was not impressed with it at all but having some time away from it I like how it’s me and I like how different it was for me. It’s all crazy vocal effects and Auto-Tune, which I think everyone in the world hates except me, but I think that album feels like this weird subterranean world unto itself and, in that, mission accomplished.

How would you describe how Nathan uses Auto-Tune?

Bobbi Kitten: It’s very textural. He paints this line that’s light pink and then he puts all this darkness around it but it just becomes a part of the light pink. He keeps the darkness light.

DTWS equipment detail

DTWS equipment cat shot

What equipment do you use?

Z Wolf: My favorite part about being an electronic artist is that it’s so malleable. This keyboard doesn’t make sound on its own and those two devices there don’t make sounds on their own. But then you plug them into the computer and they do whatever you want them to do. We’re doing all sorts of crazy silly shit up there. We’re using a keyboard to play all the keyboard sounds but we’re using the faders and knobs and sometimes we’re turning drums on or off or we’re setting effects. She triggers a lot of vocal effects on stage, she triggers different clips, like a bass line or drums. We put different samples on this thing and can play with them in so many ways. It’s total madness.

Bobbi Kitten: The past year I feel like I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘What are these machines? Play a real instrument.”

Z Wolf: I used to see this guy whose truck I saw all the time and I just wanted to ram him with my car because he had a bumper sticker that said “Drum Machines Have No Soul” and it was like, drumkits don’t have a soul either! The drummer has the soul.

Bobbi Kitten: Being a singer songwriter doesn’t get me excited. With Ableton [the brand of the musical tech they use], there are all of these new sounds that people haven’t really used before that we can manipulate and that really inspires me.

What are your goals musically?

Bobbi Kitten: We have a lot of plans for our live show. Right now we have synced music videos that go along with our live performance but we will also have midi-controlled lights in the near future. We don’t want to give away too much of what else we plan to do but definitely a lot of cool technical shit that will embrace a lot of new technology.

If you could invite three artists, living or dead, to dinner, who would they be?

Damn the Witch Siren:

1) Marilyn Monroe

2) Morrissey

3) Tom Waits

Bobbi Kitten:

1) Edie Sedgwick. She was extremely witty but she was also a character. She was someone else when she went out and I want to see that in execution. I always wondered what it would be like to be really witty and clever and in it. She seems like one of the most interesting people.

2) Patty Griffin. She’s a folk singer songwriter. I admire her and she was one of the first singer songwriters that moved me to tears. She writes in other people’s bodies. She’s an 80-year-old woman one day and a man the next day.

3) Marilyn Monroe. Everyone has an opinion about who she was as a woman, but I feel like they don’t understand how dynamic of a human being she was. I understand her want to be validated for her art. And falling in love with brilliant men. I feel like she was just a soulful, thoughtful person.

Z Wolf:

For the record, my answers would change every day.

1) J.K. Rowling. I would just love to talk to her about her books. And just cry on her shoulder. “Why would your fiction hurt me that badly?”

2) Jesus. I think he gets a bad rap nowadays. I’ve done a lot of studying of spirituality and I think he had it right. It’s impressive how much I agree with the things he strictly said. Even if the rest of the Bible is bullshit, Jesus had his head on straight.

3) John Lennon. For similar reasons. I know so much about the guy already I don’t know how much I could glean from having dinner with him, but I really honor him and he’s a big hero of mine. He was so compassionate and he wanted to do good in this world. Also, he was terribly flawed. But he meant well and he really did take strides in his life to become a better person and I’m all about that. I was a shitty teenager and I’ve been a selfish person through a lot my life, everyone is, and I think it’s important to take a step back and look at who you are and try to be better.

DTWS k and z in studio

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