Rachel Davies, dark-minded frontwoman for British gothic trio Esben and the Witch, doesn’t have rose-colored ruminations when she’s traveling from concert to concert.
“You spend a lot of time thinking about things, a lot of time just looking out van windows and questioning yourself,” says the singer, who appears today with her band in The City, playing songs from “Wash the Sins Not Only the Face,” their second CD.
“All that self-reflection can be quite terrifying. So this new record, for me personally, is an ecstatic release of all that processing, which explains its exploration of other worlds, other paths and other personas.”
At the same time, the wordsmith for “Wash” dirges such as the tumbling “Deathwaltz,” a cicada-buzzing “Despair” and the funereal “Putting Down the Prey” says, “I think I’m feeling relatively stable.”
Then there’s the schizophrenic “When That Head Splits,” which covers the concept of duality, and doppelgangers that have been haunting her.
“But that’s why I love music. It’s a way of exploring certain things that you otherwise couldn’t process, topics that aren’t so much difficult, but maybe … well, more interesting. That’s why this album has that kind of fantasy-daydream element to it.”
As bassist Davies — and her cohorts Thomas Fisher (guitar, synth) and Daniel Copeman (guitar, electronics) — saw it, there was only one way to make “Wash” the cohesive effort they imagined: by being completely alone with their shadowy thoughts.
To escape the distractions of their hometown of Brighton, they rented a rustic cottage in the English countryside where they had no Internet or cellphone signal and didn’t visit the local pub.
Nicking the album title from a palindromic Greek inscription on a Constantinople chapel’s holy water font they had seen on tour, they stayed put until the songs coalesced.
“We just needed a place that was isolated, so we could project all these images from our travels,” says Davies, who referenced her stack of meticulous journals for lyrics.
So it wasn’t the location, per se.
“It was more the feeling of just being immersed in something,” she says. “It allowed us to have a really strong focus. The only time we left was to go get more wine, and we had to walk through three fields just to reach the nearest shop. But to actually see the sky and stars at night? I found it really comforting.”
Touring America for Esben’s 2011 debut “Violet Cries” affected Davies, too. “Your desert landscapes are something else,” she says. “Coming from a village in the south of England to Arizona or New Mexico? It’s an incredibly humbling experience, and it really opens your mind.”