But while the group itself is new, if you've followed the original local music scene at all over the past three decades, you'll likely recognize the players.
In the ’80s, singer/guitarist Rob Hamrick fronted Sleep Theatre, one of Cincinnati's more popular and influential Alternative acts of that era, and would later lead local bands like Witches Wah and Tonefarmer. Handling beats, keys and electronics, Witches Meadow's Bill Bullock was the drummer for Roundhead, a guiding force in the ’90s Cincinnati music scene, and, more recently, Soapland. The pair — who play together in the most recent version of the on-hiatus Tonefarmer — are joined in Witches Meadow by bassist John Yates (who was also in Sleep Theatre) and live guitarist Tim Koppenhafer (of the local group MARR).
Aztec Sea Snakes makes for a completely absorbing listening experience, the kind of album that's easy to get lost in, in an almost meditative way. Ambient, tranquil and evocative, the bewitching tracks are gently layered with guitars and electronic atmospherics, with Hamrick's distinct, ear-grabbing vocals and airy melodies rolling atop the mesmerizing sonic waves.
Sea Snakes feels like a culmination of all of the players' past experiences, building on the past while looking to the future. There are even a couple of direct callbacks to Sleep Theatre's seminal 1988 album, Escape is Calling.
The album is available on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon and other streaming platforms. Witches Meadow has also released three music videos for songs from Aztec Sea Snakes, including the most recent, a clip for the title track that parodies sunshiney pharmaceutical commercials.
Bullock and Hamrick recently answered a few email questions about Witches Meadow.
CityBeat: You two have long and winding histories in Cincinnati’s music scene. When did your paths first cross? I’m assuming back in the Sleep Theatre days you at least knew of each other?
Bill Bullock: I had just joined a band from Portland, Oregon that had just moved to Cincinnati, the leader of the project Tim McAllister told me that I must go see Sleep Theatre, Rob’s band and that they were amazing. I couldn't be in the band If I did not.
Rob Hamrick: One of my first memories of meeting Bill was at a Sleep Theatre recording session at Tim McAllister's studio. We were recording three new songs to be added to the cassette release of Escape is Calling. I remember Linford and Karen from Over the Rhine hanging out a bit and Bill. Johnny asked Bill to play some percussion on the tracks and Bill played bongos. Then when Bill played in Roundhead, we used to do shows together around town.
CityBeat: How/when did you decide to pursue this as a new band and album?
BB: I took a moment to look at what I had been listening too in the past years and found myself listening to bands like Massive Attack, Health and Neo Soul. I unfortunately had been dealing with a lot death in my life surrounding me and I really wanted to get those emotions out creatively.
RH: Bill and I had been working on some songs that were not right for Tonefarmer, so now that Tonefarmer is on a hiatus, we decided to record them.
CityBeat: The album is amazing. Was it an entirely DIY project?
RH: Yes. Bill and I engineered the recording and he produced it. John Yates plays bass on the record and mixed the tracks.
CityBeat: How were the songs constructed? Is the songwriting collaborative? I like how there’s a sturdy songwriting base, but you seemed to experiment and build up the songs a lot in the studio.
RH: I usually start the song with some chords, melodies and a basic idea for an arrangement and then Bill kinda wrecks what I give him — in a great way! He will cut and paste and even suggest I write a new chorus or bridge if he doesn't think we have enough yet. Once I learned from Bill what he was doing, I have been able to focus on editing the basic idea to a point sometimes where the original is unrecognizable.
BB: It definitely took some trust from Rob for me to destroy one of his loops and send it back to him in an email saying, 'Okay remember that song idea you had? Well this is it now.'
CityBeat: Something I’ve appreciated in the aging process (the one thing?) is being able to observe how things evolve over the years. You two each have an impressive legacy of music in the rearview, but I think this album is some of the best you’ve ever produced and I can kind of hear those histories between the notes, but also see how you’ve pushed yourselves forward. I’m curious how you feel Witches Meadow fits into each of your histories in music. Do you think it’s the culmination of all you’ve done and learned?
RH: I think that is a good way to put it. We often sit around and talk about what kind of song we want to write and we pull from everything we have ever done. We even lifted some samples off of Escape is Calling which we used in our new versions of "Interlude" ("Another Interlude") and "Escape is Calling" ("Escape is Calling Part 2").
BB: We are very fortunate to be able to take music from our past and reimagine it today, with a different mindset.
CityBeat: Rob — what is it with “witches”? From Witches Wah to Witches Meadow — how did this band name come about?
RH: Witches Meadow is a campground in Salem, Connecticut. John Yates and I were driving by it on the way to a Sleep Theatre show in Massachusettes and we saw signs for it and thought it would be a cool name for a band. Somehow it morphed into Witches Wah because of a Wah pedal.
BB: Yea, Witches…
CityBeat: You two and John were a big part of the tribute to Paul Stewart (late singer of influential ’80s Cincinnati band Red Math) at the Southgate House Revival. What was that experience like? What were your relationships with Paul? Rob, I remember there were a few years there early on where it felt like (to me at least, as a fan) Red Math and Sleep Theatre were like the Beatles and Rolling Stones of the local “Alternative” music scene.
RH: We were super honored to be asked by (Red Math bassist) Paul Brooke to be in his band to play that show (the band played a few old Red Math songs). Paul Stewart and all the guys from Red Math were super nice to John Yates, Chris "Freekbass" Sherman and myself when we first started Sleep Theatre. They released our first record on their label Heresy Records and we did numerous shows with them. We learned so much from them. I got to hang out with Paul at his apartment and of course out at clubs and parties where he would usually "hold court." But he didn't really act like a rock star that much — people just treated him that way!
BB: Paul was always so kind to me when I showed up in the scene. He actually sang on my first band's album and used to come have dinner at my parents. It was an honor to be able to celebrate his life at the show.
CityBeat: What’s next for the band? Is it more of an artistic exercise or do you foresee doing the whole touring/pursuing industry attention thing?
RH: It is first and foremost an artistic fun project. But if some music mogul reads this and wants to make us stars, that's OK too! HA.
BB: Already deep into writing album #2 and excited to release that.
Visit witchesmeadow.com for more on the band.