Witness K chat espionage and ditching drums on Real to Reel
March 22nd 2023
FBi Album of the Week alumni Witness K make eerie yet melodic music that combines meticulously arranged instrumentation with almost whispered poetry, distant vocals and the occasional chant. The group’s avant-garde arrangements build an uneasy yet beautiful atmosphere for listeners to immerse themselves.
Witness K’s debut self-titled record is as intricate as it is brooding. In order to reach this end product a variety of elements had to come together. Two of these elements/members joined Jasper Craig-Adams on Real to Reel last week. Andrew McLellan (bass, vocals, electronics and piano) and Lyn Heazlewood (guitar, vocals and accordion) dropped by the FBi studio.
The band’s other members are Maeve Parker whose repertoire includes flute, poetry, xylophone and keys, and Sabina Rysnik who contributes guitar, vocals and keys. They’re album also features a cameo from Marcus Whale on saxophone on the track ‘Fantasy in Facsimile’. The odds of such eclectically talented musicians coming together seems slim. Lyn’s explanation on how she came to be making music with Andrew almost makes you believe that fate was involved:
Lyn: “I think Andrew found me on the street one night because of a tshirt that I was wearing, which was a band shirt of the band NUN. Andrew said he was going to play some music with Sabina and I don’t know how the rest happened”
Witness K formed out of a want to create punk music without drums or a drum machine. There were multiple motivations behind this. One being that none of the members were particularly keen on lugging around drums and the second being a want to create music not confined by the restrictions of a beat.
“I think we wanted to start a punk band that didn’t have drums or a drum machine because it’s kind of that default… We wanted to do something that was a lot looser and properly guitar based.”
Based in Ashfield, the band have the winning combination of a shed at Andrew’s residence and accepting neighbors. Andrew said the absence of drums in Witness K’s music has been paramount to building a strong relationship with the neighborhood they practice in.
“Thankfully we’re not a very loud band”
The origins of the band’s name come from a controversial part of Australia’s history:a spying incident around Australia’s Maritime boundary negotiations with East Timor in 2004.
“Something that a lot of people don’t know about is that Australia during Maritime boundary negotiations with East Timor in 2004 had actually bugged the offices adjacent to the Prime Minister of East Timor… You would think that with a very young country that Timor-Leste is… that negotiations would be conducted in good faith”
“Witness K was the whistleblower on that who still can’t be named due to secretive legislation around national security… I think as a band we also just couldn’t resist that it’s Witness K with the initial ‘K’ and for anyone that’s read Kafka’s The Trial, the parallel is pretty blindingly obvious there.”
The formation of Witness K’s debut record was a long process that began in 2019. Much of the recording and writing process took place over Zoom during the pandemic – a method that Jasper described as “work from home for a band” The band found this process difficult, preferencing the traditional face-to-face recording they were able to do as the album neared completion:
“Everything just changes when you’re in a space together. Decision making becomes easier, ideas become non-verbal. It’s all fantastic.”
The song titles on the album are quite abstract and often have no correlation with the lyrical content of the tracks. This is something that came up while Jasper was introducing ‘Screaming Across The Low Fence’. Andrew said the band wanted to change the names from their working titles, so just brainstormed in a park one day. This adhoc method of naming songs has had a consequence:
“We came up with a lot of bullsh*t, and now none of us can actually remember the names.”
Witness K’s approach to lyrics is also unorthodox. Andrew explained that they often come as an afterthought to the music and are deliberately vague and “oblique”.
“I like oblique lyrics… It’s something that fills you with imagination. It’s kind of like a horror movie, not seeing the actual monster… Messaging never needs to be direct, in fact when it’s indirect it just has a very different emotional meaning”
You can check out Witness K’s intriguing song titles and mysterious lyrics from their debut record below or listen to their full chat on Real to Reel up top!