Esben and the Witch's Rachel Davies is one witchy woman 

Goth rockers are apt to experience déja vu with a spooky new trio from Brighton, England called Esben and the Witch.

The group — which took its moniker from a creepy fairy tale, in which an evil crone is repeatedly outfoxed by a sly child — has bowed in with “Violet Cries,” a debut that combines the ethereal Cocteau-Twins-ish guitar/keyboard textures of Daniel Copeman and Thomas Fisher with Rachel Davies’ otherworldly, Siouxsie-Sioux-evocative vocals.

Even the spectral album photographs are reminiscent of Vaughan Oliver’s vintage work at the label 4AD.

There’s just one little problem, says Davies: “We never set out to make Goth music!”

Until recently, Davies — a studious 24-year-old who was once considering a career in taxidermy — had never heard the Cocteau Twins, nor owned a Banshees album.

“It was only after hearing that Siouxsie comparison that we looked into it, and I was like ‘Oh, OK! This is why she’s being mentioned in the same breath as us,’” says the singer/bassist, who appears with the band on Wednesday in The City.

“So there was no template that I styled my voice upon — when I was growing up, it was all Radiohead, The Deftones, P.J. Harvey and Bjork that inspired me. This whole 4AD/Goth/’80s movement was something that I literally only discovered lately, after being compared to it, over and over.”

How did the outfit arrive at dirges like “Argyria,” “Hexagons IV” or “Marching Song”? Davies started out as a dedicated teenage diarist, filling her journals with thoughts, then poetry and eventually lyrics as she learned guitar.

At the same time, she devoured literary classics like Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” J.G. Ballard’s “High Rise,” and Ayn Rand’s “The Fountainhead.”

“Rand’s whole idea of pure artistic integrity was very influential for me,” she says. “As was Ballard’s concept of how social conditions, architecture and arnarchy meet.”

Post-college, Davies was waitressing and feeling “slightly aimless — I was just watching a lot of films, reading, listening to a lot of music, and writing as a hobby,” she says.

Then she met the Fisher/Copeman team, heard the sepulchral sounds they created, and jumped at the chance to be their frontwoman. “I had no set path, and they were really great guys, so I said ‘OK, let’s try this out,’” she says.

Although Davies may not dress in black, her fans are welcome to, she says. “Even though ‘Violet Cries’ is set more in Gothic literature or architecture than the whole Goth music scene. We just did what felt natural and organic to us.”


Esben and the Witch

Where: Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $10
Contact: (415) 621-4455;

About The Author

Tom Lanham

Pin It

More by Tom Lanham

Latest in Pop Music & Jazz

© 2018 The San Francisco Examiner

Website powered by Foundation