by Leigh Lanzillotta
I’ve never met Bite Marks – at least, not in person – though I do enjoy their music. From Stephanie Hope’s soaring, epic, angelic vocals to Sean Kelly’s strangely soothing guitar to those pounding, ominous, intense drums…beating in the background like a hero’s heart. Bailey Ryan played the latter on the album and singles, though Rob Francis replaced her eventually. Like the deep hum of Trey Vickers’s bass, the drums exist primarily as a steadier. Something strong and even to keep the beat, that thumping heart, half-hidden beneath everything else. I’ve never heard Rob play, though I’m certain he’ll do a fine job. The band’s deliciously grim sound shouldn’t change too much.
Either way, they’re bound to sound dark in a pretty way. There’s something so intense – so gothic, if I may use that word – about Bite Marks. Even the cover of their upcoming EP (the aptly-named No Future) looks fantastically haunting. Two glowingly pale skeletons embracing in a joint grave. I mean, how can you not love that? Like the band’s name, there’s both love and darkness. Elegance and gloom. You ought to look it up, if you can. It’s on their instagram page (@bitemarksband). That’s why I decided to interview them. If you’d like to learn more about Bite Marks – from the reasoning behind their name to the story that inspired the new EP’s cover – read on, fellow fan.
Alchemical Records: How did you guys get into music? Did anyone start out in musical theatre, or…?
Stephanie Hope: Um, well I started out on the piano, actually, and only sang occasionally. And then I discovered – when I was about 14 – that you could play and sing the piano at the same time. That was pretty much the end of classical music for me. [Laughs] So, yeah, from there I was in a band in high school. We mostly did covers and stuff… and we wrote some songs. We were called the Corduroys. I died of stage fright several times. In addition to, like, furnishing my confidence and being a really good experience with some really talented people, it also birthed my coming on 15 year love [affair] with Zombie, which I’ve now covered with every band I’ve been in, so that’s been a great success. So, that’s how I got into music. Dumb luck.
Sean Kelly: I’m from a musical family. So, it was just a matter of time.
AR: Anyone else?
Rob Francis: I started playing drums when I was 10. I haven’t not done that.
Stephanie: You’ve been making noise since!
AR: What kinds of bands were you guys in before this one?
Stephanie: Sean was in a metal band.
Sean: Mmhmm. At least one, yeah. Many years ag- almost a decade ago, actually.
Stephanie: His hair was much more impressive back then. It was very long. Yeah. Well, I was in [the Corduroys] and I did, just, some idle stuff in college. And then… no, I wasn’t in a band in DC. I grew up in this area. But I came back and I’ve been here for five years, and in that time this is the only type of music I’ve done.
AR: How’d you come up with the name?
Stephanie: That was-
Sean: An ordeal.
Stephanie: An ordeal. Yeah, we went through many back-and-forth sessions. I wanted something that was both, um, loving and aggressive at the same time. Because we tend to write a lot of music that, uh, is both…you know most pop songs are upbeat but a lot are about dark sh*t. Kinda like that. I liked the paradox, the contradiction, that something could be both a lingering sign of aggression…but also of affection. That’s where Bite Marks came from.
Sean: I wanted something short/snappy that conveyed all of that, basically. Weren’t you riding your bike when you just came up with that?
Stephanie: I commute to work, so I come up with a lot of ideas while biking. I think I came up with that while biking…along with a lot of worse stuff.
Sean: And a lot of good stuff that was taken.
Stephanie: That’s the hard part of being a 21st century band.
AR: Who writes the music?
Sean: Well, as a group we’re sort of figuring that out now because all of our, like, 20-song catalogue was written by just the two of us. And I basically did all the orchestration. Um, sometimes we’ll use a song that [Stephanie] had already written.
Stephanie: I can play the guitar badly. I can do chords. [Laughs] Most of the time…I mean, it works in a variety of ways. Sean will send me a sequence of musical parts and I’ll decide how I want to arrange them based on lyrics…or, very rarely, I’ll have a full set of lyrics done up and then Sean will write everything in a night. Or, um, a couple of times we’ve gone and we’ve had maybe a chorus or a phase, and come together and done that. The four of us wrote a song recently that was based out of a jam. I guess. Didn’t “take it back” happen that way?
Sean: No. That was an idea I’d been sitting on for two or-
Stephanie: Alright, but it was a riff. It was a very small idea and we made it a big one.
Sean: That was an example of us rehearsing and then I just came up with something, and she started singing it, and she said “are you recording that?”, I said “Yeah. Great. See ya later!” And I said “oh, this song is gonna be great”…and two years later we finally sat down, worked on it, and it was.
Stephanie: Yeah. We write in different ways. I do all the vocal parts. Sean will do harmonies, sometimes.
Sean: I’ve done…it’s kinda like, we dabble a little bit in the other’s melodies. The process to me works the best when we both have something that’s very cool but not formed. Because whenever I have half of a song built out and she has lyrics, it’s always a struggle to get them to fit together, ‘cause I get attached to what I’ve written. And, at that point it, might not even be working well in the new version of this song. So, I prefer when we start a session with very basic ideas and build something together.
AR: Is your upcoming EP your first?
Sean: Yes. It’s the first collection of songs we’re releasing to the public.
AR: Have any of you recorded with other bands?
Stephanie: No, that’s the first.
Sean: Just some home recordings for me. Like, you know, bedroom kinda stuff.
Trey Vickers: I did something in Boston. It was very different genre.
Stephanie: It was a Polka Band.
Trey: It was not a polka band. Strike that from the record!
AR: What’s it like, recording for the first time? Was it harder or easier or…?
Sean: We… we did record in a studio this time, which I don’t really ever want to do again. [Laughs] At least, not like as rushed as we did it.
Stephanie: I think – yeah, it depends. I think we all came in expecting we could just knock out. We’d been playing this stuff for so long we figured we could knock it out pretty quickly. But it turns out it takes a while to like tune a drum kit, get it all together, doing all the takes, even the vocals. It just took a long time. And you’re much less rushed when you’re not on the clock.
Sean: And since I was the one mixing it every kinda…not shortcut…but every…the compressed time frame in the studio meant way more work for me in post-production. Um, and, I did most of my guitars outside the studio. And that took a long time just ‘cause I’m a perfectionist.
Stephanie: So, yeah, along the way from when we started writing songs together in 2015, and now, Sean taught himself how to produce and do all this stuff.
AR: Who designed the cover?
Sean: I did.
AR: How? On the computer?
Sean: Yeah, on the computer. I wouldn’t call myself particularly visually inclined…um…uh…and…so…but I can work with a computer though.
Stephanie: So, we did singles. And I did the art for that, in photoshop.
Sean: I did eggshells.
Stephanie: You did eggshells. I did the type on Eggshells. Fonts are important.
Sean: Yeah. The cover came out of, um…we recorded five songs for the EP. We decided, after the fact, that one didn’t fit thematically. And so we released it as a single. And I felt that there was a little bit of a void there and we should have five songs. So we tried to write like a new opening song. That turned into sort of a new experimental musical piece that I made a video for which I don’t think we’ll ever release. But that video helped me come up with an idea for the cover essentially.
Stephanie: Which is…?
Sean: Which is.
Stephanie: Who are the skeletons?
Sean: Oh. They’re an actual couple buried in a village in Italy. I think it was uncovered maybe 20 years ago.
Sean: It’s a photomanipulation.
AR: Why did you call your EP? It’s not a Sex Pistols reference, is it?
Sean: That’s a good guess. [Laughs]
Stephanie: It’s not, though! Okay. So. The Sex Pistols did not necessarily have a political vision. But, in Britain at the time a lot of youth movements were protesting about the lack of future. No future, no political future, climate change – well, not climate change. Climate change now. But, you know, nuclear armament and no jobs. It was really horrible. And I think we are kind of in a similar moment where we don’t have a future because of climate change. And a lot of other things…like rising Fascism and Nationalism and a lot of other “isms” that are not great. It’s a lyric in one of the songs that gets shouted out. All the songs in general sort of wrestle with the idea of “what do you do when…you don’t know what to do”…when nihilism is not really what you want, but it’s all you can sort of reach for.
Sean: I like that.
Stephanie: Yeah. So. That’s where that came from.
Sean: I kinda like that it’s, uh, something everybody can put their own interpretation into as well.
Stephanie: I don’t like literal song lyrics. But I do, obviously, enjoy allusion and everything. I write fiction, so…you wanna say what you wanna say but you don’t want to be really obvious about it. Which I feel like a lot of political music can do. It’s hard to write a good political song.
Sean: Ours isn’t even that political.
Stephanie: It’s really political.
Sean: To be fair, I’m coming at it…from the musical side these songs aren’t necessarily that political. They’re just about this feeling of existential dread I was going through at the time. Again, I like that everybody can put their own spin on it.
AR: So, I’m out of questions. Do you guys have anything else to say about the new EP?
Sean: It’s gonna be great.
Stephanie: I’m glad it’s out in the world. Or will be soon. I’ve spent a lot of time with this music. And what’s exciting is that it still feels relevant.
Sean: I’m hoping that, even though it is incredibly bleak, it’ll find an audience. For people that’re having a bad day. It’ll take the edge off.
AR: I think it’s really, really pretty. [They let me listen to a sample early, ‘cause, I’m a music journalist]
Sean: Oh, thanks.
Stephanie: Thanks. I don’t listen to happy stuff. Don’t. [Laughs] Don’t listen to happy stuff. So, yeah.
Sean: [jokingly] I don’t like being unhappy. It’s just something I’m good at, so….
Stephanie: Yeah. I don’t feel like have to be unhappy to channel [this] or even that the music is necessarily unhappy. I would say that it’s discontent, though.
Sean: Actually, one of the things my parents [said] was that the lyrics are more depressing than the music. The lyrics are more unhappy than the music. I guess everybody has an opinion….
AR: That’s all for now. Thanks, guys.
They’re certainly talkative, aren’t they? Not to mention interesting. Ye Gods, I learned a lot this time. Hopefully you did too. Now…go listen to their singles on Bandcamp, follow them on Instagram, and download No Future when it’s out!
M. L. Lanzillotta was born and raised in Arlington, VA. She began writing as a child and completed her first full-length novel at age 16. Her hobbies include painting, embroidering, dancing, and complaining via Twitter.
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