Christa Palazzolo

“Whatever ‘witchy’ musical presence lurking in Austin is due to either the funk at Barton Springs or the idiocy of blog writing. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate reviews and discovering new music as much as the next Internet freak, but sometimes there’s a fine line between credible suggestions and trend-setting manipulation.”

That’s Christa Palazzolo of Austin’s Sleep Over, talking about the supposed burgeoning status of “witch house” as a subgenre. The problem, Palazzolo and others assert, is that witch house, also referred to as “drag” and “haunted house,” does not exist, at least not in any local context. Only a handful of artists have taken up the reins of the label, making spectral electro from the dredges of chopped-and-screwed rap, UK bass and dub. So the question is: What’s with all the media hype surrounding witch house?

For one thing, in a dying world of music journalism, people who can categorize well are the tastemakers of the industry, and those people tend to be pretty influential once they hit their stride — one needs to only look at The Wire’s David Keenan, who coined “the New Weird America” and “hypnagogic pop” labels that many bands now wear like a badge.

Dissonance and heavy reverb, along with bass-heavy beats and blown-out hi hat make for very malicious-sounding music, and that sound is central to the theme of witch house — sounds meant to evoke the skewed, dark outlook of artists on the fringe of experimental music. While bands such as Salem, oOoOO and Modern Witch stick to the formula, there are others — Sleep Over included — that make ballads on the softer side of witch house, often taking cues from early dream-pop artists such as Cocteau Twins and Mazzy Star.

But Palazzolo is adamant when she denunciates Sleep Over’s music as witch house, though it may be telling that bands often lumped into the genre often associate themselves with the occult and Satanic signifiers, not excepting Sleep Over.

“I’m pretty sure the dude from [20 Jazz Funk Greats] just coined it out of the blue as a blog joke to sum up all the new ‘creepy-dark’ bands coming out,” Palazzolo said. “It didn’t have any affect on the music-making in Sleep Over. I guess we started releasing in the midst of all of the nonsense and immediately got clumped into the ‘genre’ because we’re girls and apparently therefore witches as well."

In an article for The Ex Patriarch written earlier this year, Joey Hansom writes about the apparent rise in drag and witch house, suggesting alternative names for the genre before realizing he’s been self-relegated to the music journalists that have hopped on the witch house bandwagon — err, broomstick.

“OK, let’s just forget about that human urge to try to categorize everything into neat, marketable labels,” Hansom wrote.

If only it were that easy. But Palazzolo made one last interesting counterpoint to Hansom’s theory, questioning the relevance of blogs who create these genres in the first place.
“Sorry dudes, blog genres are bogus,” she said. “I think the bigger question should be about the relevance and influence of blogs in general. It’s an interesting new idea of celebrity.”

Music Monday

Sleep Over is Christa Palazzolo, Stefanie Franciotti and Sarah Brown — three 26-year-olds who came together in October to start conceptualizing what would become one of Austin’s crown jewels of the underground. Though still in its infancy, the group’s music stands out as a promising precursor to some upcoming releases, including a 7-inch split in June with like-minded musicians Pure Ecstasy on the Light Lodge label.

Sleep Over’s music is hard to classify — on “Fog Juice,” a mostly instrumental track that recalls Pocahaunted’s Peyote Road and the mania in a Diamanda Galás track, howling guitars fill the negative space as a slow, primal drum beat pulses. And on “The Key,” Palazzolo’s reverberant vocals stand out in the hauntingly beautiful chorus, as does the cosmic dissonance in the wall of sound behind her voice.

The Daily Texan sat down with Sleep Over to discuss ankhs, the group’s experience at South By Southwest and their prior bands.

The Daily Texan: So, what kind of gear are you using?

Stefanie Franciotti: We use an AX60 keyboard, an AX80 keyboard, a bass and a guitar.
Christa Palazzolo: The setup is still pretty fresh, and we’re still thinking about incorporating new elements.

So, how did Sleep Over come together?

CP: We started in October.
SF: More like December.
CP: Yeah, we came together last October, but we just started recording material in December. We kind of were just hanging out. At that time, her other band shared a practice space with a bunch of other bands, and we would get drunk in the freezing cold. [laughs]

What was your band?

SF: Silver Pines.
CP: And a couple of other bands played there, and Sarah and I have known each other for a long time.
SF: They’ve known each other since they were tweenagers.
CP: And we’re good friends with the drummer in Silver Pines. So, I guess that’s how we met.

Did you guys grow up here in Austin?

Sarah Brown: Yeah, we went to middle school and high school here.

Which high school?

SB: Bowie.
SF: [laughs]

[to Stefanie] I noticed you’re wearing an ankh, would you mind talking about it?

SF: I’m Egyptian.

Really?

SF: No.

I also kind of find it surprising you guys started in October — kind of serendipitous, given the kind of music Sleep Over makes. But October is my favorite month.

SF: Mine, too.

What was the first song you guys made together?

SF: “The Key.”

And Sleep Over played a few times during South By Southwest right? How did that go?

CP: It was great.
SF: We were kind of maxed out. Next year, I’d like to just cruise, you know?
CP: Yeah, I think we played a little too much this year, and we didn’t get to see the bands we wanted to.
SF: Well, in some cases we got to play with the people we wanted to see, which was cool.

Like who?

SF: Pocahaunted.
CP: Sun Araw, Speculator.
SF: Pure Ecstasy, Ged Gangras.
CP: [Stefanie’s] biggest influence is probably Cocteau Twins.

Oh, yeah? Can you recommend a good Cocteau Twins album for someone who hasn’t listened to too much of them?

SF: Garlands. Blue Bell Knoll.
CP: I think, creatively too, we are inspired a lot by what our friends are doing. Which people should do, you know — draw from each other.

Are there any bands besides Silver Pines that you girls are associated with?

SF: Belaire. [points to Christa]

Wait, what? You’re in Belaire?

CP: Yeah, with Cari, my twin sister. She lives with us, too. She’s the lead singer.

Oh, no way. [laughs] That’s weird. So what have you been listening to lately?

SB: I haven’t changed the songs in my iPod for months. I’ve been listening to Survive a lot lately.
CP and SF: Yeah!

Ironically, I’ve been listening to Suicide quite a bit lately. There’s a song called “Frankie Teardrop” that blows my mind.

CP: I’ve been listening to a lot of dub and reggae.

Did you do Marleyfest?

CP: No. [laughs]
SF: I’ve been listening to a lot of Franco Battiato, Les Rallizes Dénudés.

Oh, awesome, I love Les Rallizes Dénudés — but their stuff is so hard to find.

SF: They regrouped to play South By last year, but I unfortunately did not get to see it.
CP: And there’s that really dark stuff, that Italian label.
SF: That’s the Italians Do It...

...Better. Yeah I love that label. They have, what, the Chromatics, Glass Candy on there. A lot of dark Italo-disco. How many songs have you guys made so far?

CP: We have four that came out on a tape EP.
SF: Night People put it out.
CP: That just came out last month. But we have a couple of 7-inches coming out soon, also.

Who’s putting it out?

CP: We can’t leak it just yet, but we’re recording next week. And hopefully, there’s an LP in the future.

Let’s talk about movies for a little bit. This is a weird question, but can you each tell me one movie that describes your music? Does that make sense?

CP: Yeah!
SF: Maya Deren’s experimental shorts. Some people say she died of a voodoo curse. Her films are really dreamy.
CP: Not much verbal dialogue. It’s so beautiful ... limited music.

What other movies do you all like?

SF: “The Thing”!

Which was that one again?

CP: Kurt Russell — a total hottie — and a bunch of dudes stranded in Antarctica.
SF: And I just saw “The White Ribbon” by Michael Haneke.
CP: And “The Piano Teacher.” Have you seen it?

No.

CP: Don’t watch it. [laughs] It’s fucked up...

I want you each to pick one word to describe your music.

SF: “Lunar.”
CP: Mine is “alpha.”

I noticed that word on your MySpace — you called yourselves “alpha femmes,” if I’m not mistaken. There are a lot of these little symbols floating around in Sleep Over. What’s the meaning behind that?

SF: Wingdings are coming back, dude.
SB: My word ... “puppies.”

But going back to first impressions, I’m kind of surprised how sweet you girls are, considering how tortured and dark your music can sound.

CP: Those are the current vibes.

That’s why I was so surprised when you said you were in Belaire — Sleep Over is the total opposite, it seems.

SF: I think all of our experiences in music have really kind of brought us where we are, and we’ve all definitely brought different things to the table.

[to Sarah] Were you in any bands before Sleep Over?

SF: Yeah, she was. She played bass in high school.
SB: So awful. [laughs]

Okay, this is a really cheesy question, but could you describe your perfect day in Austin?

CP: Aw, that’s a nice question. I like that.
SB: Projecting a movie on the living-room wall. We just got a projector, and we’ve been watching a ton of movies on it.
CP: If it’s a perfect day, I would not be waking up early.
SF: I would! I would make some breakfast.
CP: I’d be drinking mimosas or beer.
SF: And lox and bagels. And we’d jam! Straight jam all day.
CP: Swimming in Barton Springs.

What kind of beer?

CP: Lone Star. It’s my staple.

That’s the best cheap beer, in my opinion.

CP: And there’s a lot of pride that goes behind it.

Okay, another weird question. How would each of you describe your perfect sandwich?

CP: I got this: It would be a 12-seed bread with mayonnaise, regular mustard, provolone, some Swiss, turkey, avocado, alfalfa sprouts and spinach. And now, I’m hungry. [laughs]
SB: Honestly, when I think about my favorite sandwich, if I could have my perfect sandwich, it’d be cheap white bread and peanut butter and jelly.
SF: Arugula, prosciutto, tomatoes, some feta ... on focaccia bread.

Last question. Top three albums of all time?

SF: Les Rallizes Dénudés, Heavier Than a Death in the Family. Franco Battiato, Energy. And then Cocteau Twins, Garlands.
CP: I think Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours.

Yes! I play Fleetwood all the time on Hole in the Wall’s jukebox.

CP: There’s a lot of female vocalist-led bands I like — Cranberries. And I’ve been listening to a lot of The Byrds.
SB: And you’ve been listening to a lot of Alton Ellis. Me, I’ve been listening to Paul Simon, Graceland. Neil Young, Harvest Moon. The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo.

[to Christa] I notice you have a pretty amazing tattoo on your forearm.

CP: This feather? Little piece of spiritual independence.

At first, I thought I saw the Virgin Mary.

CP: Yeah, the sunburst behind it draws from the Virgin of Guadalupe’s. By the way, I feel like I’ve met you before.

I feel like we’ve crossed paths before, too. [laughs]