Latest News! from …. Witnesses- 15 Dec 2019 -
Image: Image: Greg Schwan, musician, song writer and producer from NYC
In this interview, we catch up with Greg on his new LP and what’s happening in 2020. Greg, it’s lovely to have you back here, after our interview in Summer 2018.
For those who haven’t met you, can you sum up three things that people need to know about you and your music?
Thanks, Elizabeth! Thanks again for the support and interest in what I’m doing here. In terms of what folks need to know, I’m not sure there is much! I’d prefer to remain anonymous if I could! Alas! But since you asked, I guess I’d just reveal that I consider myself someone who makes music, but something about calling myself a musician makes me really uncomfortable. It sounds professional, like some kind of designation that one earns. Perhaps I feel like an imposter, for better or for worse. I have no training; I have no idea what I’m playing as it relates to music theory. And to keep with that, sometimes I feel that Witnesses is just a vehicle for me to learn mixing. At the end of the day that is ultimately secondary, but it’s been an extremely fun and rewarding challenge. Witnesses I is the first time I ever mixed something. My inexperience shows, but hopefully I can show growth if not proficiency!
When did you start work on Witnesses III? How was the process?
I started probably two years ago or so. But it wasn’t continuous at all. Witnesses III sat for some time. The original goal was to create something with a harsher sound as compared to Witnesses I and II. It was a bit unsettling and gritty–intentionally so. But then something happened and I trashed most all of it. I’d grown tired and really dissatisfied with it. I think I’d just evolved past it while it sat. And I’m quite glad. And further, as I was getting vocals back from Gabbi, it dawned on me how essential the rewrites were. So, it was rebuilt around string samples. And those samples are very cold and airy. So, in a way I got a certain harshness, but through a completely different “instrumentation”, if you can say that about samples.
Who did you collaborate with on this album? How did all of that come about?
There are guitar parts by a long-time friend and collaborator, Matthew Kozar. I can always look to Matt to layer some nice EBow on top of the tracks, among other things. You probably wouldn’t even notice it given how synth-like it is when it’s all blended in. Otherwise, I collaborated with a vocalist, Gabbi Coenen, who basically killed it. In terms of how it came about, well, the answer is the internet. I’ve never met Gabbi nor even spoke to her on the phone. She’s extremely talented, so I gave her lyrics and some loose direction. What I got back was absurdly good. Maybe on one thing I asked her to go high instead of low. Even her scratch demos would have worked. They were that good. I don’t even know what her recording set up is.
What’s been the reception so far?
Most listeners so far have only been trusted friends and supporters, as it’s not due out till mid-December. But while that has been nice, I do think close relations are inclined to see the good in it and be positive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to get these positive words! But if I’m honest I feel like I just will never be able to make out or understand any patterns in the reception of the numbered releases. I don’t mean to imply that they’re so exceptional, it’s just that they don’t really quite fit in any genre, so some of those traditional comparisons and connections aren’t there. It’s a gift and a curse. I truly love not worrying about genre, but it’s lonely out there.
Which part is your favourite and why?
Either the second or sixth. It’s a toss-up. The second has Gabbi’s phenomenal vocals. She really brought my words to life. But I think instrumentally, the sixth. There’s some gentle stuff combining sounds from Native Instruments and Spitfire, and I really like the ambient textures at the end. The sixth was written very late, incidentally. Perhaps by that point things were clearer to me.
Did you come up against challenges and, if so, how did you overcome them?
I’m not so sure I overcame them! I think from a production standpoint it was challenging to get something that was cold but not thin. There is a delicate balance. In the end though, I found myself less wanting to match it perfectly and more appreciating the difference. Otherwise, I did try to optimize for LUFS when mastering. That’s new for me as this is only the second project I’ve mastered. The goal isn’t loudness; that’d be terrible, but the emotional parts do need to pop. I find this actually harder than rock music, for example. So, I listened back and back and back. And then I got quite sick of it all, realized that tweaks weren’t perceptible, and abandoned it!
What’s next for Witnesses?
I’m going to rest up for the rest of 2019. By that I mean writing mostly – that process never really ends. But I’d rather not see a compressor or EQ for some time. I’m energized by everything that I’m working on, but perhaps the most is the folk stuff. I love how stripped down and melancholic those sounds are. It’s simple and has space. There’s no desire to do anything besides articulate a feeling.
Image: album cover Witnesses III
You can purchase Witnesses’ music via these links: