Building Tension

How Spokane got a bad rap with Portland’s Witch Mountain

It probably doesn’t get said very often, but Spokane’s loss is Moscow’s gain. Of course in this case we’re talking about Moscow, Idaho. And while having a 1970s-inspired, stoner/doom metal band skip Spokane in favor of Moscow may mean little in the grand scheme of things, the tale of why Portland, Oregon’s Witch Mountain has deliberately passed on the ‘Kan since 2001 might be of some interest. Drummer Nate Carson explains.

“We played there, like, 11 years ago with Spirit Caravan at this place called Ichabod’s. We basically played for Wino [Spirit Caravan guitarist/vocalist, Scott Weinrich] and Wino played for us and no one got paid,” he says. “Later, we found out the bar’s owner burned it down for the insurance money. Ever since, we’ve avoided it, but it does seem like the scene is getting better and there a few cool clubs, so it’s on our radar as a place we’d like to get back to, we’d just like to feel invited or welcomed back.”

In both cases, it’s all about baby steps. Just as it’s taken time for a viable music and arts scene to develop in and around town, it’s been a long slow slog for Carson, guitarist Rob Wrong and their “succession of, like, nine bass players” (Neal Munson currently holds down the low end) to get to where they’re at today: their third album, Cauldron of the Wild is out on Canadian cult label, Profound Lore, and popularity and interest in the band is at an all-time high.

“Rob and I started the band in ’97,” says Carson, digging out the history books, “and for lack of a really great singer, he just started singing. On our first album [2001’s Come the Mountain], we invited Erica Stoltz from Lost Goat to sing on a track.”

Carson praises Stoltz’s performance on “A Power Greater” as “an amazing cross between Tina Turner and Dio and that’s what we wanted — someone who could really sing at that level.”

However, as Stoltz was busy with her own band and life in the San Francisco Bay Area, Witch Mountain continued with the nagging knowledge that a vital piece of the puzzle was missing. “Metal was a rarity in Portland at the time, let alone someone who could sing like that and wanted to do it in our band,” he says.

After some touring and a contract offer from the late, great Man’s Ruin Records, the band went on a two-year hiatus in 2003. When it reconvened, the band’s internal mood altered. Carson describes Witch Mountain from 2005 to 2008 as “being more like going fishing with my buddies. It was comfortable, we’d have songs, play live, but didn’t have any real vision or direction.”

Enter Uta Plotkin. In 2009, Nate and Rob both found themselves divorced, with fewer strings attached to their lives and thinking about getting serious about music again. That’s when Plotkin, a native of Corvallis, Ore., came to intern at Carson’s Nanotear booking agency. One thing led to another and he and Wrong found themselves joined “by one of the best singers in the world, and the last three years has had us putting all of our eggs in one basket and exceeding any expectation.”

There’s no doubt that Plotkin’s incredible voice — reminiscent of Janis Joplin and Rob Halford taking turns hauling off on Bessie Mae Smith’s bread basket — has become the focal point of the band. And rightly so, as her presence has transformed Witch Mountain entirely, from how much time and energy they devote to the band to how the songs are written.

“Rob used to have to write parts he could sing over and he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore. He plays whatever music naturally comes out of him and Uta is there to help hone it. We used to be slow to write, but Cauldron of the Wild came together really quickly because Rob’s writing what he wants to hear, Uta has her vision and I help with the arrangements,” Carson says. “We all respect and listen to each other and it’s become easier. That’s why we’ve kind of been on this rampage as of late.” 

Witch Mountain with Castle • Sun, Oct. 14, at 7 pm • Prichard Art Gallery • 414 S. Main St., Moscow • $7 • All-ages •

Pamela Benton @ Steam Plant Restaurant & Brew Pub

Thu., June 1, 5:30-8:30 p.m.
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