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A year ago, if someone had come up and asked me, "Have you heard of Gay Witch Abortion?" I probably would have guessed it was a reference to some kind of occultist midnight séance. I would've imagined it taking place at the former sanitarium in Shakopee known as the Hell House, or the old rotting carcass of an Eden Prairie dwelling we called the Insulin Den, or maybe the Bunge Building, that recently demolished grain elevator complex next to Van Cleve Park. All three were dangerous squatters' nests, intriguing shitholes ripe for violence, narcotic abuse, fire, and some seriously effective artwork. In some way, they're also the best points of comparison I have for the pale moon hoodoo laid down by the Twin Cities' heaviest new duo, Gay Witch Abortion.
Whether or not Gay Witch Abortion qualify as a new band depends on your beliefs regarding point of conception. Neither member is new to the Twin Cities rock scene. Guitarist Jesse Bottomley has had a hand in numerous past projects, including Chariots and Ouija Radio. Drummer Shawn Walker currently plays with Chooglin', Shovelfight, and the Fuck Yeahs. Both are also rumored to be in cahoots with members of Seawhores. The name Gay Witch Abortion may have only started showing up on bills about a year ago, but the project spent a few years in the womb.
"We talked about other instruments we wanted, and having a revolving group of people play with us. But I think it got to the point where we were getting sick of trying to wait to find somebody," explains Bottomley.
Embracing minimalism, they decided to move forward as a duo. Vocals were not a priority for the new group, and they still only use lyrics in about one-third of their songs.
"I like a lot of stuff with vocals, but sometimes I just wish people would shut up, too," says Bottomley, the duo's reluctant voice. "I think people identify with whoever is opening up their mouth, because everyone can sing. They really identify with the schmuck that's up there going blah blah blah."
"I ain't got the balls to step up there. No way. No fucking way. I've got a drum set to hide behind," Walker says enthusiastically.
While Bottomley does step up to the mic now and again, he clearly wants nothing to do with the spotlight. He likes to keep the vocals buried in the mix, and he rarely talks to the crowd. Onstage, he exudes an ominous stoicism, letting the audience members thrash about much more intensely than the band does.
Locked in as a drum-and-guitar attack, the two are able to feed off each other and make spontaneous changes that would be impossible to pull off with other players. The band has spent the past year boiling adrenaline with a heavy math whomp reminiscent of East Coast noise icons Lightning Bolt. GWA, however, execute this trick with far greater control. They are precise rather than cacophonous. The effect of their sound is more akin to a sleek bloodletting than a hideous bludgeoning.
Playing guitar with the lowest string tuned a whole step down (referred to as drop-D), Bottomley jabs staccato rhythms and deploys various delay and distortion effects to create a swarming, ethereal fullness. Melody comes in clicks and hisses. It's like the sound of a fresh deck of cards shuffling in the middle of a cathedral, or boiling grease in a frying pan doomed-out with cavernous reverb.
"A lot of it is accidental—the combination of effects and the amp, and however I attack the string. It breaks up a lot; accidental things happen," he confesses. "I like when things sound different or damaged. A lot of times it's like you record an idea on something like this [pointing at the large, outdated tape machine I brought to record our conversation], and you can't ever get it to sound like that again. It sounds all damaged and mumbled."
Whether out of apathy or purposeful obscurity, Gay Witch Abortion have no merchandise of any kind. They recorded four or five songs last winter, but, suspiciously, never got around to mixing a record. A DVD they shot this past summer during the citywide 7/7/7 free concert event has been similarly delayed.
Setting up with a generator in the back of a friend's black conversion van, the band toured the city from the mobile unit, performing outside of six of the seven venues involved in the event (they even serenaded the line of people waiting for Prince tickets outside of First Avenue). Cody Weigel from the Seawhores filmed the spectacle from inside the vehicle, yet no physical product has thus far been produced.
What Gay Witch Abortion does put out is a sickly grooving vibe. It's like a soundtrack for the prickly tingles that strike the nape of the neck on sojourns into abandoned buildings and subterranean drug dens. It's a vague and haunting mood, equally vacuous and imposing.
Their unusual name may at first sound shocking, or offensive, but they're not really trying to make a statement. There's no right- eous political message. No blood-splatter theatrics. No lightshow or dancing monkey. Just two guys playing sinister, taut rock. As you'd likely imagine, a Gay Witch Abortion performance is dark and heavy stuff. Should you feel tempted to dip your tootsies into the fiery underworld, they'd gladly be your ferrymen—round the nine rungs of Styx we go, our heads all filled with rock 'n' roll.