Following the release of their epic debut EP Rot and I, we got on the phone with frontman David De La Hoz (Belle Haven) to have a chat about the record. Rot and I was engineered, mixed, and mastered by guitarist and producer Jamie Marinos (Alpha Wolf, Arkive, Pridelands, Thornhill) and sees the band capitalise on the potential of what began as a hobby project.
MANIACS: What is Wither? Can you give us some background on the project?
David: I've spent the past few years fronting a band called Belle Haven, which I still do. A couple of years ago, my friend Ash Hull (Greyscale Records) and I were getting dinner regularly and one night he was like "hey do you want to start a band with me?", so we got a few friends together and fast-forward a couple of years, whilst Ash isn't involved in the project any more, that band eventually turned into Wither.
It was just a hobby project for a couple of years. Jamie (guitar) and I would be writing songs in his bedroom and demoing them on his computer and then we'd get all the guys together and have a jam, and then Lachlan Monty from Friends Like Us got in touch and he was super into it and wanted to kick us into gear, and we were down to do that and now here we are a couple of years later. That hobby project that I started with my friend Ash turned into a whole shebang called Wither and now we're playing our first show and just released our first EP.
MANIACS: Was there a particular moment where you thought "Let's make this a thing"?
David: I think we always low-key kind of wanted to turn it into a thing. I remember we kept demoing stuff and then sort of sitting back and being like "this is good, but the five of us together can write better music than this". So we'd demo something, listen to it for about a week and then scrap it and start again. And that process repeated a few times until we finished writing Nothing To No One. We finished that one about a year and a half ago and we thought "hey this is really good we can probably do something with this." And then we kept writing the tracks which ended up being on Rot And I. I think just being content with what we were writing was the turning point for us.
MANIACS: Do you feel that this is something that might take up time you would have spent on other projects?
David: It depends if I let it. For me I just love music. If I can balance teaching singing, playing with Belle Haven, with Wither, with writing music with friends, then awesome. At some point, if I have to make compromises I'll tackle it then. I just love music in general, so I don't stress too much about where my time goes until I have to start prioritising stuff.
MANIACS: The record has a concept. What can you tell us about that?
David: Rot And I is based on an experience that I had many years ago during a breakup, and I took that experience and exaggerated it tenfold. Obviously, there's things that happen in the story of Rot And I that absolutely did not happen in real life. Rot is the metaphor of the darker sides of our personality that we tend to conceal from other people out of fear of judgement or embarrassment or whatever it may be. Rot And I tells the story of someone suffering from really desperately trying to hide that part of their personality from the people that he loves, and that part of his personality eventually ruining everything and destroying his life.
MANIACS: What else would you like to tell us about the record?
David: The writing was really broken up. It was written over the space of like a year, so it was a really long process. One week we'd be right on it and writing, then we wouldn't see each other for two or three weeks.
The other thing with Rot And I that I haven't really spoken about, in general, is that writing it was incredibly cathartic for me and very freeing. I felt like I was being honest about something that I've never really been able to be honest about. I feel like there are parts of my personality that I am very afraid of showing other people and, being in Belle Haven, a lot of people see me as a very loving and friendly person which is fantastic and I try to be, but it doesn't mean that I'm perfect.
I have a dark side as well. And that shows itself in my anxieties and my depression. Sometimes I get irrational and I panic and I crash and I burn and it felt really cathartic to be able to write a story that was based on a personal experience. I felt like I was able to express a part of myself that I haven't been able to do before. It was a very new and freeing experience for me.
MANIACS: What is your advice for people going through those types of issues?
David: Everybody is different. Everybody deals with their grief in different ways. Being able to speak about it candidly and openly and be honest with my friends instead of trying to conceal it or trying to be someone that I'm not all the time. That felt like a cage for me. With the help of the Belle Haven guys and the Wither guys and Jamie, being able to be honest with myself and what I'm experiencing, opened up a lot of new avenues for help from people who love and care about me.
If I'm not being honest with them they can't help me. They can't lend their aid because they don't know what I'm going through. I guess my advice for what worked for me was really committing to being honest about what I'm experiencing despite the fear of shame or embarrassment.
MANIACS: Do you have a favourite track on the record?
David: As we were writing it my favourite track changed heaps, but I always knew that I wanted to release Marionette first. It's a pivotal moment in the story where Rot takes the front seat for a minute and shows himself for the first time. But that doesn't necessarily make it my favourite song. I think my favourite song is probably White Noise because that's Rot's moment to shine. That whole song is just Rot's voice dominating and it really shows how irrational and psychotic it is and the lengths he will go to bring what he perceives as balance to Tom's life. I love the power in that song and I guess it was just a very menacing song. It was a lot of fun to write. Even among the band, White Noise felt like a bit of a slow starter when we began writing it. When we finished writing we were like "This song is awesome, it's such a great track". So I'm going to go with White Noise.
MANIACS: The final track Alone In The Snow sounds particularly epic. Where did that sound come from?
David: Jamie drafted the skeleton for pretty much all of these songs and the order that the tracks appear on the EP is, interestingly, the order in which he demoed them. I remember when I was writing and fitting the moments of the story to the tracks, I remember messaging Jamie and saying that it was so easy to write the story to the demos because the demos he was writing were so epic. It felt like they were telling the story by themselves. Alone In The Snow was such a perfect finisher because it just paints this very defeated end to a story. It's slow and lends itself to that final chapter in the story where Tom is trying to come to grips with what's happened and it's that bitter end. The short answer is Jamie's just a genius and he really knows how to paint a picture with music.
MANIACS: You guys have got a launch event happening this weekend (Saturday, Nov 3). Are there any more shows in the pipeline?
David: I can't say too much, but this is the first show and it won't be the last show. I'm really excited to hit the stage more with the boys.