Karyn Crisis. Her name is synonymous with brutal music, creativity, and artistic integrity. As the leader her own band out of New York City in the 90s, hearing Crisis, especially live, was brutal and ear and mind opening experience. Karyn had left the spotlight for the most part until a few years ago, joining Ephel Duath as their vocalist. Now forming the nucleus of what is to become her first true solo-project Gospel of the Witches, Karyn is stepping back out of the shadows. Along with Davide Tiso, she is putting together an amazing lineup of collaborators to bring this project to life. Together they have taken to a crowdfunding campaign via Kickstarter to raise the finances to make the album as independently as possible. Ghost Cult’s Christine Hager caught up with Karyn to delve into the creation of this project.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me about your new project, Gospel of the Witches, Karyn. Can you tell me a bit about where the idea came from and what type of musical expression we might expect from this killer line-up of musicians you’ve brought together?
Thank you for your interest, I appreciate your support. In fact, I’m so grateful from the support I’ve been receiving far and wide, starting with the men I chose to be a part of this album. They are all phenomenal musicians, and a dream team for me to work with. Each person has a specific strength that lends itself to the expression of this album, each person has his own power that is important to this album. I’m honored to have Davide bestowing me with the this album. It goes beyond my highest desires and has created a living, breathing place I want to crawl into and be consumed by. I worked intently and trying to imagine the ultimate album I’d want to have and what he’s written goes far beyond my dreams. Davide and I met under the auspices of making my solo album in Tuscany. Instead of making the album then, both our lives would change with the absolutely undeniable presence of a “ghost;” a Tuscan Witch in Spirit who would begin teaching me Ancient Ways while I was in Tuscany, and who’d continue to be my Guide when we returned to the U.S. While our focus was on getting the album made as soon as possible, she had other plans for me; a transformation I needed to undertake. I needed to experience this transformation before the album would be ready to be received by me and also by Davide. This album is dedicated to my Spirit Guide and symbolically what she endured as a witch, but also as an ode to what any of us endure when we feel we must live keeping part of ourselves in secret. This album is also a sonic symbol of the Union of God and Goddess; masculine and feminine energies unabashedly shining in their strengths. These songs are Incantations; they move energy, they are magick in sound. Davide’s guitars and compositions are like the searing flames that set this whole monumental album on fire and break the listener open; Danny keeps the driving heartbeat, Ross and I (and on 2 track Michael Hill) create the thick and serpentine rhythms, chants, and incantations pulsing forward and within. People are so curious about this line-up, which I think is fantastic. As a Seer I feel the energies in people beneath the surface, and to me this group of people are a recipe of great potential.
Have there been many changes to the direction of the music over the five year period of it’s creation, or has there been a consistent vision throughout?
The vision for the album was always focused, but it was difficult for me to express this to Davide and at the beginning, for me to even imagine it completed. And therefore the song atmospheres morphed quite a bit. I’m not a musician in the same way I’m not an artist. I don’t sketch, nor practice painting yet I paint images beyond my skill set. Musically I don’t jam. Musically I have my voice, my vocabulary, and as a naturally introverted person I have to be brave enough to let this out. Davide, in contrast, is an accomplished musician: precise, technical, controlled, and also wildly emotionally expressive. So to get this album in the desired musical direction, I tried explaining to him the atmosphere I imagined. As with all my creative work, I create it in my mind’s eye first, or my inner hearing. If I can see it there complete, I know it can be manifested. I work from thin air. In this case, it took me time to create an intense enough atmosphere in my imagination and to keep energy focused there so it would grow beyond just my mind, and in someway out to Davide. I know that this process works for me: creating out of thin air, but it’s a challenge when working with others, to be able to express the energy of something, which is more abstract no matter how many adjectives you use, versus showing someone something concrete. I have to be the master builder in my imagination and work with people I feel akin to energetically so the information will be received along energetic lines versus physicality. And while this project began between just Davide and myself, I became compelled to reach out and collaborate once it was clear and undeniable that we’d arrived at our sonic destination as a result of personal growth.
What part will Mike Hill of Tombs be playing on the album?
I began to hear Michael Hill’s vocals on two tracks in my mind when I was rehearsing and writing two specific songs. A few months later he let me hear the new upcoming Tombs album, and I felt it was time to invite him into the project. He has a wonderful mid-range with tone that bridges the gap between mine and Ross’s.
Davide Tiso had issued a statement regarding how this project has changed your musical and personal lives. How so and in what contrast to working together in Ephel Duath?
Davide is very much in command of all compositions and lyrics and guitars in Ephel Duath. That is his world, and when he invited me to sing for Ephel Duath, I did not want to change the chemistry between ED’s signature rhythmic relationships between voice and guitars. He is very disciplined and dedicated to his music, and he has a strong will to make things happen, and to do them well, keeping in mind they leave a mark in time, so carefully create that mark in your way. He is inspirational to me; I love to watch him so connected to his music, and I’m in awe of the emotional intensity he can unfurl. Just when I think he’s taken a riff or passage to the most gut-wrenching place, he will elevate the breaking point even more. It’s his language, and he has such command over it, but also such a trust.
With GOTW, and in my life in general, my will is irrelevant. I am a very hard worker, I’m very disciplined, but there is a very recognizable force at work with me, and if that force or if my soul doesn’t deem some creative project necessary to be continued, the energy leaves it. So no matter my will, the “right time” for something to happen is a bit beyond my control. I’ve learned that in this lifetime my soul has a specific dance in mind for me, and in Spirit partnerships I can suddenly arrive technically at a very advanced place without having to “practice” the art of getting there. For example, after I left Crisis I didn’t sing for several years at all. And when I felt a clearer picture of GOTW coming into my mind and knew I wanted some very feminine and melodic vocals in these songs, suddenly I had a well-developed middle range to my voice which I hadn’t achieved in 13 years of singing for Crisis. With all my creative projects, when the Spirit assistance is there, things manifest at an accelerated rate and can surprise people. At the same time, this requires surrender, which can be difficult to accept. So Davide and I have waited a very long time for me to be ready to create this album, the lyrics, the visuals, the videos, and everything else around it. We consider this album a great act of love; something we’ve worked towards and it broke us open in many ways, this meeting of will and surrender, and the force of energy created this heart-wrenching, epic album.
With David doing both bass and guitar on the album, has there been any talk of how you might accomplish this live or will Gospel of Witches be strictly a studio band?
I certainly have my own desires to take this live, and a specific blueprint to make it happen. However, it’s just too early to say. Right now, the goal is to get this album recorded. Studio time is booked! There’s so much work to do until then. As many people know now that the music business has become more transparent due to bands discussing it more, if GOTW isn’t seen to have any value by the business, we may not have the market value to afford to go on tour. So first things first, creating this musical monument.
What made you chose to work with Jamie King (Between The Buried And Me) at The Basement Recordings? Have you worked with him before?
I haven’t worked with Jamie before. But as Davide was helping introduce possible producers to me, I felt Jamie had the talent to work with many layers of sound and make them all huge, intense, and listenable. There are some songs that Davide’s composed 13 layers of guitar tracks for, and each song will have at times jul to 6 vocal tracks or more, so it was important to work with someone who can help take the potential here to great heights, and I believe Jamie is the one to make it happen.
Growing up in the country with no high speed internet or access to a metal scene, Crisis’ “Waking The Dead” was one of those random tracks I chose to seek out online and waited days to load after reading about you in a metal magazine. In what way have different forms of media helped your career and how has the use of Kickstarter on this project been beneficial as to who you’ve been able to reach out to?
Technology has certainly changed things and brought us all closer together in some ways. Your story is one I’ve heard over and over again, and it’s wonderful. In my early days of buying vinyl I had to rely on imported zines from other states or countries, and the few record stores who’d carry imported albums. Kickstarter has been a warm welcome into this world even further. It’s reconnected me with many people from my past, and many people who had no idea about my musical past. With this project also, I was able to create these mini films with Davide’s help. I learned, literally over night, how to use video editing software with no previous experience, but again, the internet also provided me with quick lessons on how to use Adobe Premiere Pro Cs6. When it would boggle my mind and stress me out, I’d go back to what I know: meditation, and I’d receive images of certain buttons I needed to press to solve certain problems.
Can you tell me a bit about what appeared to be a near death experience, as depicted in the short video on your Kickstarter page and how this life experience has inspired the forthcoming album?
It was a long time ago now that I almost died, but it had a significant bearing on my young adult life. My life was similar to the “6th Sense” movie, where “dead” people followed me around. While they terrified me, at the same time I felt close to the Spirit Guides around me; they helped guide me through this world and all the illusion. There would come a time where I’d have to come to terms with these abilities and how to organize my skills to communicate more clearly with Spirit people of all types and to move through my fear of certain experiences. The Spirit Guide to whom this album is devoted became my teacher in these regards until I began to train as a Spiritualist Medium in San Francisco, giving platform readings in public and training in a traditional Spirit Circle. This long journey from Ancient Ways to modern Spiritualism and everything that occurred in-between is what this album expresses.
What has it taken for you to surrender your voice as a channel beyond you; accept what has been summoned for your projection? Was it a struggle to accept this role if you did not feel like a musician at first?
I call it “the summoning,” when I feel my Witch working through me, especially compelling me to sing. After I left Crisis, I never thought I’d feel that again, mistakenly attributing that “summoning” mostly to the music even though I made it clear that there was some presence watching over the band and supporting us. I felt that “summoning” again with Ephel Duath and it was an incredible joy to be reunited with that feeling. For me, it’s very natural. Even though I don’t consider myself a musician. People have asked me for years how I do the things with my voice that I do, but I don’t think about it. I create from thin air: sometimes I chase the historic trail of a word in a thesaurus, and that trail becomes like a meditation. In these moments of writing lyrics, I begin to hear the vocal lines in my head. Then I have to figure out how to actually sing them, and often they are out of my vocal range. It comes from a place of trust that I have with my inner world. The power of it did overwhelm me during the last years of Crisis’ history, however. I find people drawn to that energy, but in reality my personal energy is much smaller, and that juxtaposition can confuse people.
I’ve recently experienced shamanic breath work and the profound journeying it can provoke into our past lives, fetal memories and future selves. Intense bursts of grief, rage and sadness. Are the toms and double kick meant to be the beat to which we follow own journey within your music?
The drums emulate a heartbeat or a countdown; a steady beat that helps one “lose time” and be present in the moment. When we meditate, we go into darkness. It’s usually a constant that allows us to break through the illusion; a constant silence, a constant beat, something that occupies some part of our attention yet lets us escape the ego and journey elsewhere. In shamanic work it’s the drum beat that takes us into the trance. Even more on this album will be the vocal choir. When I was in Crisis, I responded as a vocalist perhaps in unusual ways: the drums were what I wrote my vocals against. The guitars provided atmosphere or perhaps a note to jump off of, but it was the drums that I worked with. With GOTW, all Davide and I had were his guitars. So I had to become my own rhythm section and create the beats with these thick, layered vocals.
Why was the contrast of the masculine and feminine so important to what you’ve composed and why did you seek out Ross Dolan of Immolation to compliment you in contrast?
I asked Ross Dolan to be a part of the vocals on almost every track. It just felt like his voice belonged there, thick and deep and unbending in his power. While I’ve known Immolation from my early days in NYC, it was a recent track, “A Glorious Epoch” that compelled me to reach out to him. For GOTW, I was inspired by this idea of the layers of vocals holding the song in place against the intense emotions from the medieval monks and Tibetan monks who chant their prayers and mantras, and of the ceremonial magicians who know how to use the “magician’s voice” to move energy with sound. It was ideal for this inspiration to be expressed beyond what I’m capable and to open my collaborative doors to working with male vocalists I admire. Gender, and moving past its limitations, has always been a part of my work. However, in the past I felt more identified with male energies within me, partly as means to protect myself from abuse I endured and to not become a victim of it but to transform these experiences and empower myself. Now that I’m older, I feel safer to identify with a more feminine side of my energy, and I wanted to be free on this album to express that, but to still also have the darker side of things anchored by heavy, deep vocals. As I’ve come to find a balance in my own energies, and the Witch has taught me the strengths of feminine energy and how to empower myself with it, it’s only natural to work with this idea of the “Union” of opposites, the “Union of the God and Goddess”energies; of light and dark, of action and surrender, and blend them artistically for a greater, holistic expression of opposites. I can only do so much with my voice, so naturally I had to look outward to collaboration.
Is the number 13 of significance to you and your choice to create that many songs for the album, or was it pure coincidence?
13 is considered to be the number of the Witch, the number of transition of those brave enough to burn in their own fires and be born again.
I see you have hand crafted all the gifts involved in this campaign as promotion incentive and must compliment you on how truly innovative and beautiful they are. Have you also started creating the album art as well?
Thank you. I have begun creating the album artwork, and it promises to be just as special.
It’s been disputed by various historians and folklorists that The Gospel of the Witches ever existed even though they’re documented as having great influence on the creation of Wicca. What is your belief on the matter?
The Gospel of the Witches texts are rightly disputed. Buddha and Jesus’ stories as well. Aradia, Buddha, Jesus..we’re dealing with Ascended Masters here; stories of ordinary human beings who mastered the art of being a limitless soul- energy temporarily housed in a finite physical body. Bringing both into balance is what opens the doors to the Great Mysteries. This is done through Spirit partnerships. So the details of the stories are irrelevant. The broader perspective and the greater truths these stories are trying to tell us is that we all are potential Masters of our lives, and we all have the opportunity to allow our lives to master us and attune us to the Natural Laws of Energy. We therefore have the opportunity to be empowered by expanding beyond what we think is possible for a finite human being. There is no “supernatural,” it’s all a natural part of being eternal consciousness.
Is there a way people can send you their support if they miss the campaign?
Absolutely! Starting April 21, I will be launching an Indiegogo campaign for just a few weeks as per fan requests, so that whatever I earn there I keep for studio. You will be able to go to Indiegogo.com and search: KARYN CRISIS. Longterm, in my Etsy shop I will have album pre-orders and some of the special packages available here. All pre-orders go to fund the album recording and expenses:
Please also keep an eye on:https://www.facebook.com/Gospelofthewitches