A promotional video for Water Witches forthcoming "Halcyon," due out June 2017.

Cosmic Like That: Chatting With Water Witches

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A pulsating, spastic guitar riff – one part Velvet Underground guitarist Sterling Morrison circa “White Light/White Heat,” and one part the Cramp’s weirdo guitar goddess Poison Ivy – thrums over a fluctuating percussive beat, followed by an explosive, guttural howl.

But what is this unholy sound?

It is but the opening to Athens’ own Water Witches’ first single, “Totality,” off of their sophomore effort, Halcyon, due out in June.

“This album is pretty esoteric,” said drummer Charlie Touvell. “Like if David Lynch made a tarot card deck and then somehow put it in a meat grinder and made an album out of that.”

The band, made up of Touvell, Ethan Bartman, and Matt Clouston, is currently utilizing an Indiegogo campaign to fund pressing Halcyon to vinyl.

Some of the rewards that donors get for chipping in at various levels include a personalized cassette tape, a private performance for any soiree, bachelorette party or ice cream social – and, of course, vinyl copies of Halcyon and the group’s debut album, Feathers.

The new album is a thick, vibrating thing, chock full of references to shamanic psychotherapist Alejandro Jorodowsky and a couple of lines from Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart.

More than anything, Halcyon reflects the rock ‘n’ roll outfit for which it is named, one of the two bands that morphed together to become Water Witches in 2015.

Charlie Touvell and Ethan Bartman.  (
Charlie Touvell and Ethan Bartman. (

“Charlie and I had a band called the Soft Rock project, which became Feathers, and we played a few shows – and Halcyon is a band that we started on a whim – on a whimsical party night,” said Bartman. “So, we had these two projects and everybody was confused.”

To put an end to that confusion, the group did perhaps the only thing that makes sense when one is perplexed at what to call their rock ‘n’ roll band.

“We had a séance with the Ouija board at the Cider House, and the spirits just gave us the name ‘Water Witches,’” said Bartman. “It was just cosmic like that.”

In short, Water Witches are more than a hard, fuzzy rock-pop outfit. They are also the founding members of the Last Church of the Children of the Universe, a “fake real church” that is based on the tenants of tolerance and love.

“We have a Facebook page for it, and people really ought to check it out,” said Touvell. “It could change your life. Or maybe not. It’s a church for the churchless, for the unwashed masses.”

Early on, Water Witches shows were even more tightly tied into majick and occult symbolism, often including whiskey baptisms and “un-baptisms” (“If you were baptized as a child against your will,” said Bartman.) among other playful and ultimately loving rituals.

Charlie Touvell contemplating. (
Charlie Touvell contemplating. (

That devotion to the understanding of the power of human love, as well as an acknowledgment of the more sinister aspects of the human experience and our shared consensus reality, bleeds through into just about everything about the band — including their pre-show ritual.

“We just get in circle and focus our minds, bodies, and attentions together and chant ‘ohm’ three times,” said Touvell, who mentioned that the band performs a short ‘diamond in the ash tray’ meditation before each performance, which stems from the research and writing of British philosopher Alan Watts.

“(The diamond in the ash tray) has to do with the spirituality of psychedelic drugs – like when you take psychedelic drugs it’s like a shortcut, you realize that you are a part of the Godhead. You understand the oneness of everything, and you can stare at an ashtray and it’s the most beautiful thing in the world,” said Bartman. “But the spirituality of psychedelics is a shallow thing, and it takes a real, dedicated practice your whole life to understand the beauty of an ashtray, and to make something that expresses the beauty of the universe that way. And most of our lives, we live in disgusting places – it’s a pretty gross world. But when you’re playing music, making art, you’re telling yourself that you are doing something significant – even when you’re going to go change into your dress in a bathroom in a sh**ty bar in Louisville and you have to stand on the toilet to get your tights on because there are a couple of inches of standing water. We end up in dirty places; bars are usually pretty gross. The meditation helps us remember that we’re doing something real, that this is a practice, a dedication.”