Some of us have been hearing about The Bellwether Syndicate for quite a few years, and now, we, and many others, finally are able to indulge in the debut, Vestige & Vigil, an album that has been six years in the making……. It has been absolutely worth the wait. We were tantalized by the singles, which eluded to a mammoth goth rock/glam beast. The core members are William Faith (Faith And The Muse, Mephisto Walz, Shadow Project and ex-Christian Death), and Sarah-Rose Faith, whom is more regularly known as Scary Lady Sarah, gothic DJ.
I remember in the 90s, being in the city on a Friday night, on a regular trawl of the alternative music stores. Skinny’s (RIP) was one such such store, below the street level, dark and inviting. It was here that we first came across a CD copy of Elyria, with its beautiful cover by Faith And The Muse, in the goth section. Without listening to it, the album was purchased and has become a treasured part of the collection. Faith has been involved with some monumental American groups and musicians, since the 80s, and still he has the creative fire burning full blast. Running the 13 Recording Studio, collaborations, playing live and writing fabulous music that is filled with truths and insights, with Scary Lady Sarah. This album, Vestige & Vigil is an intoxicating mixture of beautiful guitars, sonorous vocals, fluid electronics and most of all, a beating post-punk heart. Scary Lady Sarah and William were gracious in talking to Onyx about themselves. their truths and of course, the debut album for The Bellwether Syndicate. All I have to add is, woohoo Scary Lady Sarah has magnificent taste…NMA rule!!!
Welcome to the Church of Onyx, William and Sarah-Rose Faith (Scary Lady Sarah). We love the night life, we’ve got to boogie, on the disco ’round, as long as it is nice and dark, with cool coloured lights.
William, many associate you with Christian Death but for me, truthfully, Faith & The Muse, Mephisto Walz and Shadow Project are the bands that really caught my ear. What was that period of time like for you and how do you feel it has coloured your music career up to this point?
William: All these experiences are ultimately additive, in that they were all different — creating with and learning from different people — but the end result is that it all becomes a part of you. Faith and the Muse would never have happened had Mephisto Walz and Shadow Project not happened first. I learned so very much during a very concentrated period of time (between Mephisto Walz and Shadow Project, we’re talking a span of 3 years), and those experiences informed my process going into Faith and the Muse. It certainly didn’t hurt having that pedigree.
Originally you were based in California, which was the beating heart of the gothic/deathrock scene and from what I have been told by others, the 80s/90s were a pretty wild time, so how did this shape you musically?
William: It was a fertile and open time. People were free to experiment, and often did. The results speak for themselves, really. I’ve carried that sensibility forward and , hopefully, that ethic and aesthetic still shows in my work. I love art that pushes the envelope, that broadens the boundaries of genre and style, and I actively avoid anything that panders to stereotypes, which was and is the whole point of it, ultimately.
Sarah-Rose, you are the well-loved DJ Scary Lady Sarah. For those of us that are not so familiar with the start of your music journey, how did you end up becoming a goth spinning the dark tracks?
Scary Lady Sarah: Music has always been the most important element in my life, even as a child. I found punk rock in the very early 1980’s and that music scene became where I spent practically all my social life and time. My taste in music gravitated more towards the “darker side” of punk and alternative music in the mid- late 80’s and I dove in head first, attending as many gigs as I could, purchasing records and zines, and also exploring the other artistic disciplines and interests that inspired the musicians I enjoyed, such as poetry, visual art, fashion.
As much as punk inspired me as a younger teen, the proto-goth / darker postpunk music of those years was like fresh oxygen. It just immediately resonated with me and still does. I felt so passionate about the music, art, and style which I was into that I wanted to be more than just a punter- I wanted to bring all that to people and help grow the community of fellow enthusiasts. It was first my love of the music and second my love of the subculture that drove me to become a professional nightclub DJ and impresario for the goth scene.
I frequented a nightclub in Chicago called neo (lower case “n”) and became friends with one of the bartenders who also would DJ there on occasion. We discovered that we had a mutual love of dark music, especially the more ethereal side of it, and so we collaborated and pitched the idea to the manager of the club at the time – 1988- and thus, Nocturna was born and still continues, though it has been my sole “baby” since 1996.
Is Bellwether your first foray into playing music Scary Lady Sarah?
Scary Lady Sarah: I was in one other band, semi-playing keyboards (I say “semi” because I really just triggered some cues and was hired to look spooky on stage!) That was right around 1990 and the band was called The Dark Theater. I only took up playing guitar in 2011, in anticipation of starting a band (The Bellwether Syndicate) with William.
Since William moved to Chicago, you been involved in created the 13 Recording Studio, also the label Sett Records and featured on quite a few tracks for other artists, as well as doing the odd bit of remixing. Where do you find the time and do you like being crazy busy?
William: I rarely sleep. When I do, it’s in a chair.
You both are the nucleus of The Bellwether Syndicate, which began around 6 years ago, but it has really been in the last year and a bit that this project has taken flight. What was the impetus to create The Bellwether Syndicate?
Scary Lady Sarah: The band actually began in 2011, so 12 years ago. I had been seriously contemplating taking up guitar for about a year before I moved back to Chicago from Berlin, in 2010. It was a desire that had been brewing in my mind for a while, after having been on the “other side” of music as a DJ for so long. When William moved to Chicago, there was no question that he would continue creating music; it’s just what he does. I am fortunate that he is not only an incredibly talented player himself but also an excellent teacher, so my first guitar lessons from him began in 2011.
William: Coming out of Faith and the Muse, I knew I wanted to get back to playing rock ’n roll. Sarah was interested in learning to play guitar, and explicitly said she didn’t want to be in a goth band, which both delighted and surprised me. We discussed the kind of bands that were turning us on at the time, and we decided to give it a go. This is the result.
Since the inception, you have been joined by three more incredible musicians in Corey Gorey, Philly Peroxide and Steyn Grey for your live shows. Could you please tell us about them and how they came into the fold?
Scary Lady Sarah: I first met Philly Peroxide when he started attending my club night Nocturna at the tender age of 18 in 2005. We became friends and eventually began DJing together at various parties and also for what is now our monthly shoegaze & dream pop music night, Shimmer. When William and I started TBS, we wanted live members who we kindred spirits not just good musicians, and as Phil is someone we both loved as a friend already, who also had piano ability, it made perfect sense to invite him to join the band. He has really emerged as an amazing force when we play live- he really gives it his all and is a joy to perform with and watch!
William: We are truly blessed to have some of the best musicians and performers in this band that I know. Sarah mentioned Philly, a dear friend and great performer. Stevyn Grey has been my right arm both as a brother and in nearly all of the same bands I’m known for (Mephisto Walz, Christian Death, Shadow Project, Sex Gang Children, Faith and the Muse, Frankenstein, etc.), and his contribution to Bellwether cannot be overstated. The arrival of Corey Gorey was the missing piece of the puzzle: I’d been a long-time fan of The Brickbats, and getting him in Bellwether was a boon indeed. From our first show with this line-up, we finally became the band I’d always dreamt of.
The debut album is titled “Vestige & Vigil”. Vestige refers to the last traces, while a vigil is when one watches for signs. Is there a particular reason for this title and why did you decide to bring out the album now?
William: It’s a view of the world from two perspectives, definitely informed, at least in part, by the Covid experience: Vestige – a celebration of what remains, and Vigil: an acknowledgement of what’s been lost. As this album was our first to be released on vinyl, we were forced to think in album sides for the first time in decades. As such, the songs, which evolved over the years, seemed to fall conveniently into one of the two aforementioned categories. So side 1 is Vestige, and side 2 is Vigil.
How good does it feel to know that the album is finally getting out there?
William: After a six year arc, and an absolute comedy of errors along the way, it is truly a great feeling.
Scary Lady Sarah: It’s like finally exhaling. Such a relief and at the same time, a rush! It’s very gratifying to hear so many positive and happy comments about the songs.
We have been delighted to be able to hear singles before the album release, so I would like to talk about the significance of three.
“Dystopian Mirror” was written primarily about someone William knew in his past. I think a lot of us from the 80s and 90s, lost friends to excessive drinking and drug use. So is the track a catharsis, a gentle warning or tribute to a lost soul?
William: Very much a tribute to a lost soul. We lost a friend to the ravages of mental illness, brought about by isolation during a grieving process, which led to a concentrated period of extreme drug and alcohol abuse. In the end, he took his own life, and the resulting anger and grief we felt about the loss resulted in this song. The lyrics are meant to be the voices in his head as he descends into the realm of the unwell. The song was our way of dealing with it, as the feelings just hadn’t gone away, even years after the fact.
Feeding into this theme is “Beacons”, which are the people in our lives that guide us to safer shores. Can you tell us a little more about the song?
William: A love letter to our fans — our friends, our family. Connecting with them at live shows is what makes life worth living, and they’re the ones who guide us home every night. Their light never dims.
Your rousing anthem “We All Rise”, is kind of a war cry to the dark alternative community. It is about being proud of who you are, never changing for ‘popular’ opinion and never let the bastards get you down. Is some of this driven by the draconian ideals and laws being driven by the zealot far right in the US?
William: It’s a universal problem — it really doesn’t matter where you live, you are always subject to the prevailing order. It’s meant to rally our people and provide a word of support, while reminding never to lose yourself in the anger, which is always a danger. Never stop kicking against it, but never lose sight of yourself and your tribe — the ones who keep you alive, who provide laughter and support when it all gets too much.
Music has always been used to protest and make social/political observations, especially in the punk/post-punk genre. How important do you feel it is to use this voice and not let it be diminished?
William: It is all important. Having come up through the eighties punk movement, both Sarah and I know that your voice is all you have. You can use it for escapism which, while I begrudge no one the option, never really appealed to me; or you can use it to agitate and push back. My lyrics have almost always opted for the latter.
Scary Lady Sarah: It’s essential, especially in these times when some of the media platforms with the biggest reach are so skewed. Music reaches people’s minds in different ways than news outlets. The politics in lyrics of the punk rock I grew up with were integral to me developing a curiosity about the state of things in government and policy. Not all songs need to be of this nature, but is important that they exist.
William, you have done quite a few collaborations, such as the stunning track “Cover Me” on the “Asylum” album for Kill Shelter. What do you enjoy about working with other artists and do you have any favourite tracks from these collaborations?
William: I love collaborating with other artists. It takes me out of my comfort zone and forces me to stretch and grow as an artist, which I really enjoy doing. Pete from Kill Shelter was a joy to work with. I also did a track for our dear friends and tour mates Then Comes Silence right around the same time I did the Kill Shelter track, a song called “Dias,” which was my first time singing in Spanish, despite the fact that it was my first language. I really enjoyed getting to do that.
Do you have a favourite track off “Vestige & Vigil” and if so why?
William: You’ll get a different answer out of me almost every day. Today I’ll say “Noir Thing.”
Scary Lady Sarah: Like William, my fave can change daily, but I have to admit to being a bit partial to “Clarion.” I love the all, though.
Will there be any little cheeky remixes of the album?
William: Maaaaaybe. 😉
What is the Chicago dark alt/goth/industrial scene like and has it further influenced your music?
Scary Lady Sarah: We have the most friendly goth scene that I’ve ever experienced. Maybe because it’s Chicago and though we’re the third largest city in the States, we still have a more relaxed, Midwestern vibe. There are at least five other people or groups of people who produce “dark alternative” club nights in town aside from myself, touring bands generally make Chicago one of their stops, and a few festivals are hosted here. It has changed a lot over the years, like everywhere, and now when I get 700 or 900 people attending Nocturna, it feels very different from when there were 200 and literally everyone knew each other, but the growth has felt organic and everyone seems to just really enjoy the atmosphere and music. I don’t know if it has influenced our music, per se, but there may be something connecting the face that I’ve always showcased some of the more ethereal and shoegaze bands at my club events and the two songs by The Bellwether Syndicate which I have solely written & sing on (“You Can See Through Me” and “Clarion”) are the most aligned with those styles.
How much do you like to play live and has it been good to be set free after 2 years of not really being able to?
William: For me, it was like being able to breathe for the first time in 2 years… Playing live is what I live to do, and being cut off from it for that time was absolute torture for me. Coming out of it with this line-up of the band was the true silver lining to the whole thing, though. We’re positively on fire now, and I think it shows live.
Scary Lady Sarah: It’s my favourite thing about being in a band, especially now with the line up we have. Our on stage dynamics are fun and exciting and energetic and I can’t help but smile pretty much the whole way through a set. Being on stage and seeing people in the audience dancing or singing along is joyous. The connection is unlike anything else.
It is incredible how many married couples make music together in the darkwave scene? Is it easier or harder creating, recording and playing music with a spouse?
Scary Lady Sarah: I don’t have another experience to compare it to, but I do know that aside from any personal relationship, it has always been an honour and humbling to be in a band with William Faith, a musician whose work I have admired before we ever met. I often feel undeserving as a relatively “new” musician myself- but grateful!
We do like ‘Aargh Like A Pirate Day’ here at Onyx and as they say, loose lips sink ships, so do the both of you go under the pseudonym, The Pirate Twins and how much of a kick is it to DJ together?
Scary Lady Sarah: When we DJ together we go under the name ‘The Pirate Twins” which is a reference to the Thomas Dolby song “Europa and the Pirate Twins.” It doesn’t happen with as much frequency now but it’s always fun.
What are your musical influences? The bands and singers that drew you into the dark side?
William: I could fill volumes with this answer, but I’ll try and limit myself: It all started with KISS, but soon followed by Bowie, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, Phantom of the Paradise (film), Rocky Horror Picture Show (film), all of which led to the discovery of punk rock, which made the impossible possible for so many of us. Bands like Plasmatics, Germs, Dead Kennedys, The Damned brought the darkness forward in their style and sound, and then the “Hell Comes to Your House” compilation (1981) had tracks by Christian Death, 45 Grave and Social Distortion that set the groundwork for so much of what was to follow. If I had to hang the whole thing on two albums, though, they would have to be Christian Death’s “Only Theatre of Pain,” closely followed by T.S.O.L.’S “Dance With Me.’ Those albums created me, essentially.
Scary Lady Sarah: Some will come as no surprise: Siouxsie & the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, New Model Army, Dead Can Dance, Bel Canto, Curve, The Cure…and many more.
What bands catch your ears these days and set your hearts pumping?
William: Fortunately, there are many: Then Comes Silence, VOSH, Actors, The Soft Moon, Drab Majesty, Bootblacks, Algiers, VOWWS, IDLES, Nyx Division, Kite, Blacklist, Bestial Mouths, True Moon, The Feral Ghosts, Bloody Knives, Bob Vylan, IAMX, Wovenhand, the list goes on…
Scary Lady Sarah: Literally, all the ones that William mentioned, and dozens more- it’s such a great time for music- but so this doesn’t run on too long, I’ll just add Gvllow, Casual Worker, Autumn, Ash Code, Topographies, Haunt Me, Yves Tumor, Male Tears, Urban Heat, Nox Novacula, Cold Cave, Cerulean Veins, Ultra Sunn, the new material coming from The March Violets, Fever Ray, Softcult, Violentene, Linea Aspera, Whimsical, The City Gates, Pink Frost, Alvvays, Noktva… (I am forcing myself to stop here but one just has to look at my DJ playlists to see which bands keep popping up!)
You have been asked to create a compilation of your favourite gothic/glam tracks and record them with the original artists, which songs/artists do you pick? (Of course, they can be 6 feet under as all necromancy is on the house and we will get the witch doctors straight onto it…no mucking around here)
William: I’ve been blessed to play and record in a few of my own favorite bands already! This may seem like an absolute cop out, but the fact is I’m not one for looking backward (as the song “Golden Age” suggests) — I’d be much more interested in recording NEW songs with these artists, which would likely include: Bowie, David Sylvian, Stiv Bators, Peter Gabriel, Marc Bolan, Kate Bush, Einstürzende Neubauten, Lou Reed, Jim Thirlwell/Foetus, Paul Williams, Nick Cave, Gary Numan, Diamanda, Galás, and, if they could ever be found, Crash Worship.
If you will, please look into the crystal ball. What do you see in the future of The Bellwether Syndicate as well as William and Scary Lady Sarah?
William: For me personally: Record. Tour. Repeat. Never stop. ∞
Scary Lady Sarah: I’m trying to live more “in the moment” but of course, I hope our music reaches everyone who would love it and that they all come out to see us play live!
You heard the Scary Lady…..go out there and hear the music live, because it is all too good to miss out.
Vestige & Vigil | The Bellwether Syndicate (bandcamp.com)