“Witch of the East is doing really well at the moment. But the amount of music you get to do per week… it’s about five percent compared to everything else. All bands who are doing well have to work really, really hard at what they do.” Aeris, frontwoman of shoe-grunge band Witch of the East is made up, looking every bit the Celtic witch that her heritage lead her to becoming (“I was going to wear my dressing gown, but then I thought, no, I’m gonna make an effort,”), in steampunk-esque corset and ginger curls framing her face. A guitar rests in the background the same way a broom might lie in the corner of the room until it needs to be used to get to the Sabbath.
This move towards the more professional realm of the music industry is what caused the dissolution of her previous band, Chambers. “Due to legal reasons, I had to change the name, but Witch of the East is basically Chambers part two, to be honest… I’ve never really set it out like that before now, to be honest. I don’t like talking about it, but that’s the truth. We’ve had really good gigs but it can be absolutely exhausting – you have to be passionate about it and really love what you’re doing or else it just feels like really horrible, hard work.”
The band were in action when I first stumbled across them, supporting Nova Twins on their headline tour of the UK. We take a moment to marvel at the juggernaut that is Nova Twins – their unrelenting energy, an uphill battle in the world of white men shredding guitars and leaving little room for anyone else. “They work so hard. And when you meet them, they’re always really happy. And they must be absolutely drained, but always had a smile on their face.” Now, back to the matter at hand – choosing a new band name.
What was it about the name ‘Witch of the East’ that made Aeris feel like she’d found the name of her band? “When I picked Witch of the East, I picked it out of anger. She doesn’t get any screen time, you just see a little pair of shoes. So I wanted to give her some bloody screen time!” Were there any esoteric urges in picking such an evocative name?
“But also, in my family, there’s a line of witches. It’s something it took me a long time to accept, but I started to see a shadow person who would follow me around and I had to start facing my lineage. I had to accept it.” Aeris talks about magic very seriously. It’s in her DNA, as a Celtic woman, but it’s also in her craft, as a musician and songwriter.
“There’s no dispute about music being magic. Music is magic. You can put a song on, and the difference it makes to people, you can see it happen. It changes them. There’s no denying that magic exists, especially in the form of music. Could you imagine life without music? No. It’s the… sparkles of the universe.”
“There’s a song of ours called ‘Red, Yellow and Black’, which is our latest single. That song was a bit mad, really, because it just came into my head. All those lyrics just came out of nowhere – and they’re absolutely mental. It’s not how I talk!” Truly, ‘Red, Yellow and Black’ – a highlight from upcoming album, Savage Beauty, sounds like a reckoning. Aeris mutters incantations and spurts out twisted and terrifying imagery over a hauntingly understated backing guitar drone. It’s witchcraft in action.
But the album is more than just spooky utterances. “I first got into music listening to The Beatles; you can still hear it on songs in the album like ‘Comfort Me’. it’s got a really big, anthemic chorus. But now I like focusing on really interesting verses and adding more colours to my palette. I take inspiration from, like, a documentary I watch while I was cooking or something – it can come from anywhere.” Inspiration came from Aeris’ culture growing up just as much as it does her current surroundings – “I was born in Ireland and we used to go there a lot, so I heard a lot of traditional Irish music growing up. I use a lot of folk tunings on my guitar as well which were inspired by that.”
Aside from music, Aeris is a busy artist. Putting on the aptly-titled Rainbowtopia later this month, she was constantly inspired and provoked into action by the immense strength in the face of loneliness which was emanating from her community. “Being a trans woman especially, lockdown was hard because you want to be with your community. A lot of queer people felt isolated throughout the lockdown. That’s what inspired my art work and installation that I’m doing – paintings of queer people over lockdown, celebrating their resilience.”
The event will include live music, DJs, artwork and a display of queer strength, love and community. Rainbowtopia will take place in Leeds on the 13th October at Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, featuring queer artists, Aeris’ portraits, and Witch of the East.
“I would say Nova Twins to headline Download! I’ve had the honour of playing one of their shows at Rock city. I know first hand how nice they are in person. Plus they deserve to be headlining Download Festival. They’re rad humans!” – Aeris, Witch of the East