At Public Services Wine & Whisky, we’re talking elevators and other vehicles of ascension with members of Fiddle Witch and the Demons of Doom. It’s an appropriate subject for the band, whose star is rising with the news it is in contention for a Grammy Award nomination for its latest single, “Midnight Mayhem.” The song was released in June by the act’s label, Domo Music Group, and a stirring video for the track followed on Halloween. Band members Jo Bird and Spike the Percussionist met with us to toast the moment and its thrilling possibilities.
“Basically, from what I understand, the record labels submit all their stuff. Our record label submitted 20 or so things — singles and albums. The Grammys review all that stuff and then they send back what made it through the door,” says Spike, the band’s animated and gregarious drummer. “We’ve made it in the door of the building; that means we’re listed. We’re in the elevator. Now, if we could get off the elevator, then we’re nominated. If we make it past the velvet rope, then we’ve won.”
Pulled together by violist and founding member Bird, whose other projects include Two Star Symphony and I Am Mesmer, the power trio had its debut concert at Rudyard’s in May 2014. Last year, it won Best New Act at the Houston Press Music Awards. Bird says only recently did it adopt “Battle Metal” as an accurate description for its eclectic blend of classical, world and metal music.
The rise to these lofty heights might appear swift. Each member of the trio, also including bassist/guitarist Geoffrey Muller (who is absent this night), is a veteran Houston musician with multiple projects. Muller is a regular player with acts such as Robert Ellis, Craig Kinsey and Kelly Doyle. Spike's projects include Unified Space and Morgue City. This Friday, Bird will sit in as a special guest with the Honky Tonk Blood Brothers at MATCH.
“We all have a different background, we’ve all played many different types of music, so we’re all very versatile,” says Bird. “Classical really was there first, and it made its way into modern music and eventually metal music. Growing up, listening to metal music, I just loved it. It was in my bones. When I started playing here in Houston, composing for orchestral pieces, it all just made sense.”
Maybe it made sense to her, but even music-industry veterans are being taken aback by the sound. The group recorded “Midnight Mayhem” with Ulrich Wild, who has produced music by heavy hitters such as Pantera and Jane’s Addiction.
“As a producer there are few situations as rewarding and exciting as being able to deliver something new to the public. ‘Midnight Mayhem’ is the ultimate marriage of classical and metal and world styles," Wild says via press release. "There is no real precedent for Fiddle Witch and the Demons of Doom; they were truly one of a kind and a joy to work with. I am very proud of the band and very proud of this track.”
“His laundry list of bands is incredible. Recording with Ulrich was amazing, but also it has the notoriety – he’s actually won a Grammy with a Deftones track, eight years ago,” Spike says.
The song was co-written by the trio and features vocals, an anomaly for Fiddle Witch songs. Former Houstonian and Los Angeles-based singer Jesse Lynn Madera collaborated with the group. Her mesmerizing incantations over the Romani-tinged metal make the track spine-tingling. Bird calls it “ear candy” compared to the Valkyrian journeys on the band’s eponymous debut album.
The band felt the video should reflect the song and shot footage for it over the past year, partially at Spike’s studio, The Noiz Temple, and with Madera, a friend of the band, filming her parts in California. It’s mysterious and beguiling. The music is cinematic and suits the scenes, which include all the band members, Madera, Bird’s incredibly nimble work on the viola and other bewitching imagery.
“It’s eye candy,” Bird admits.
Whether at Numbers, House of Blues’ Foundation Room, Rudyard’s or Nightingale Room, the band collects fans who are appreciative of how they’re pushing the Houston music envelope in interesting directions.
“We have everything from a hardcore death metal guy to a soccer mom loving it,” Spike says. He said some appreciate the technical aspect of the music, the crazy time signatures Bird dreams up and Spike and Muller expand upon, but said, “It’s written in a way where it doesn’t lose the ordinary listener.”
Because the band defies labels, it might be seen as weird. It did, in fact, earn a 2016 HPMA nomination as Houston’s favorite “Weird” act. The band was flattered, naturally.
“I was all giddy,” Spike says.
“We are weird in the sense that it’s a viola, bass and drums and it’s usually instrumental except for this one single. So, it’s weird. It is weird,” Bird agrees. “I guess when I started this I thought, okay, I’m going to do a metal band with viola as the lead and it’ll be different. So, then, it was like what kind of metal? There are like a million different genres and this new song is totally different. When you’re in the business and you’re up for nominations and all these things and you’re writing your bio, you have to know what you are — and I hate that. But we figured out that we’re battle metal.”
“The music, to me, is the witchcraft. Music is like a spell, so we’re kind of casting a spell onto you with our music,” Bird continues. “I do have my rituals. I have an altar and I wrote the bare bones of the music, the skeleton, in a tiny apartment that overlooks Poison Girl’s parking lot in Montrose.”
Bird says there are candles, incense and bones from her family’s west Texas ranch on the altar. The music is written in the dark to evoke the spellbinding mood present in songs like the new one and those found on the debut album.
“And,” Bird notes, raising her glass for one more toast, “of course, there’s wine.”
The final Grammy nominations will be announced December 6.