At long last releasing a new single and video, The Bellwether Syndicate speaks to ReGen about overcoming adversity to finally complete and release the band’s long-awaited full-length album.
An InterView with William Faith & Sarah Rose Faith of The Bellwether Syndicate
By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)
William Faith and his wife Sara Rose Faith have each cultivated their own reputations in the dark alternative scene, now culminating in their combined efforts in the goth/rock and post-punk band The Bellwether Syndicate. Since first appearing in 2017 with the release of The Night Watch EP, the band has presented a sophisticated yet energetic sound that draws distinctly from the pair’s collective musical histories – William is perhaps best known for his long tenure in bands like Faith and the Muse, Christian Death, Mephisto Walz, and Shadow Project, while Sarah has under the moniker of “Scary Lady Sarah” been one of the scene’s most eminent DJs and promoters. The “Republik” single in late 2018 offered the first hints of what was yet to come from the band, with the two continuing to work on what would eventually be a full-length album; all the while, William and Sarah were also pursuing live performances, as well as DJing together as The Pirate Twins.
With today, August 5, marking the long-awaited release of the band’s new single, “Dystopian Mirror,” The Bellwether Syndicate has at last announced the forthcoming release of Vestige & Vigil, the product of many years of turmoil and misfortune. In this InterView with ReGen Magazine, William and Sarah relay the nitty and gritty details of the album’s troubled creation, enduring tour cancelations, floods in the recording studio, relocation, and more… it might be fair to say that the pandemic was the least of the Faiths’ difficulties. Nonetheless, The Bellwether Syndicate has thankfully overcome these challenges, and the musical landscape is richer for it.
How are you? How have you fared with the pandemic, and in what ways did it affect your working conditions?
William: It affected everything! We were in the middle of a tour with Clan of Xymox when we got the call from our agent telling us that the remaining dates were canceled, and we were told to hurry home, which meant a straight shot from Houston, TX to Chicago. The lack of real social interaction and contact was strange and very unpleasant. The sense of isolation was palpable, and it definitely colored the feel of the album.
You have a new single, ‘Dystopian Mirror,’ out on August 5. If I’m not mistaken, this is the first new recorded material from The Bellwether Syndicate since the ‘Republik’ single in 2018. I know you’ve been busy playing live and DJing, and there’s been the pandemic, but what other factors (that you’d care to discuss) resulted in the long wait?
Sarah: Losing our former studio and having to move was a big one. It might sound like the pandemic gave us more time to work on the album, but that time arose from all our jobs coming to a screeching halt – all the clubs closing meant no DJ gigs, no live shows; also, no clients coming in to record with William with his 13 Studio. The stress – and frankly, a bit of panic – that came with suddenly losing all income absolutely affected the creative process (at least, at first) for both of us.
William: Moving to a new place, and all the madness that entails…
Sarah: I also became caretaker for a family member going through major health issues and surgeries; thankfully, she’s doing much better now! Sometimes adverse situations stimulate creativity, but sometimes they can block it. Sometimes both!
William: Indeed, several strands of family crises, several converging at the same time… and, as Sarah said, a lot of financial stress that meant we had to hustle to make ends meet, which does kind of take the wind out of your sails a bit.
I understand that ‘Dystopian Mirror’ is about a friend of yours who succumbed to his addictions and lost his life, and that the lyrics are from the perspective of the voices in his head – empathy at its best, I think. If it’s not too personal to ask, how did the song help you personally to deal with the aftermath of his loss?
William: In my case, the entire undertaking was therapeutic for me. I found I was still grappling with anger and sadness about this years after the fact, and I had nowhere to put it. Finally, I channeled it into this song and video, and that has been my way of letting it go – by sharing it with everyone, in the hopes that it may help others who feel isolated and alone to reach out.
Both ‘Republik’ and ‘Dystopian Mirror’ are from the forthcoming Vestige & Vigil album, due to arrive in April from what I read on your website. I understand the album was originally planned for a 2019 release, but that didn’t happen. Over the years that the album has been in production, in what ways has the album grown from what you originally intended into its final form?
It has felt for quite some time like many are pursuing smaller releases – singles and EPs – more than full albums. It makes sense given the state of digital media, although we also have the resurgence of vinyl and cassettes. What are your thoughts on the album as a format – not just as it pertains to The Bellwether Syndicate, but the whole of music?
Sarah: William and I have already agreed that going forward, releasing singles and EPs will be the way to go for TBS. The ridiculous amount of time and stumbles that went into finally finishing Vestige & Vigil is part of that decision, but as you mentioned, many bands are embracing the shorter format releases. It appears that music fans are more interested in ‘the song’ of the moment more than a magnum opus. Attention spans are shorter than ever and with such an inundation of new music being released, it makes sense not to overwhelm at once but in bursts.
William: And with the way the album breaks down into two sides, it’s essentially like two EPs anyway.
You’ve both got long and diverse histories in dark underground music. What would you say is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your experiences? I mean this in any terms – musical, personal, technical, etc. In what ways do you feel you’ve applied this learning to The Bellwether Syndicate?
William: Above all, the main lesson is one of character and being good to people. I certainly struggle to meet my own standards, and fail often, but I do my best to be there, be present, and be of assistance to friends and colleagues as much as I can be. I’ve always believed that it is incumbent on all of us who have achieved any measure of success to reach a hand back and help other artists who are struggling and try and give them a leg up. A rising tide raises all boats.
Sarah: Stay true to your ethics, be persistent, be approachable – but not a pushover – and ask for things that may seem beyond your grasp. The music industry is tough, and artists are often hurt people hiding behind bravado, so be kind. Having a thick skin can be very helpful because even the most beloved and successful artists have naysayers. In the face of that, still… be kind.
Darkwave, post-punk, goth/rock, deathrock, and a term I’ve recently heard that seems to be popular is sorrow wave. Personally, I’ve often felt that the lines between genres is so blurred, along with the abundance and diversity of music that it feels like genres are obsolete (except for marketing purposes apparently). What are your thoughts on this? What do you find to be the validity of such categorizations?
William: I like to keep things diverse as I still get bored easily, so Vestige & Vigil covers a fair bit of ground musically, and if you judge what genre we are based on one song, that may not apply to the next one. These days, I tend to let people decide for themselves what genre we fall into. Their opinion is far more valuable here than my own.
What is the working dynamic like between you two? Is it always a collaborative writing process, or are there instances of one of you having a distinct idea of what you want for a song or piece of music?
Sarah: I still consider myself very new to the song writing process, especially compared to William’s experience with it. He will come up with most of the concepts and I’ll give feedback and contribute ideas. We communicate extremely well with each other. When I hear a song that he’s working on that jumps out to me as ‘mine,’ I’ll ask if I can ‘have it,’ and then write lyrics and melody. I feel more confident that I’ll be doing more of that and become more involved in the writing process for our future releases.
William: She’s always in my head as I’m writing, and a lot of ideas happen expressly because she’s there to help realize them. But she continues to grow as a musician and writer, and she contributes more every time.
I’ve asked many about their opinions of this, but with the pandemic still upon us (though hopefully with lesser severity), what do you feel are the major lessons we learned? Or to put it another way, what do you feel artists, labels, venues, the industry as a whole should take away from the experience and use or think about going forward?
William: Adaptability is the main one for me. Learning to navigate a volatile landscape is the main skill to hone right now, being able to pivot and move quickly.
Sarah: Definitely being able to pivot – for us as band, part of that meant performing live online; and as a DJ, that also meant the same, which was uncharted territory for us previously. The livestreaming community throughout the pandemic brought bands into people’s homes worldwide, which, despite being unplanned and very strange in some ways, was incredibly rewarding and heartwarming. Having those newer platforms for the music industry was invaluable. Obviously, I hope our world never has to resort to only connecting musicians to music fans that way again, but it sure is fantastic to have it as yet another available avenue.
I see that you’re about to go on tour with Then Comes Silence, and then with Clan of Xymox in the Spring. The pandemic notwithstanding, in what ways have you – both personally and as a band – adjusted your approach to playing live, either on a performance, technical, or business level?
William: I think we are always in a process of refinement, trying to improve what we do; any artist worth their salt should be doing the same. Be it the technical/gear aspect of things, or how we communicate with each other, or the audience, how we structure the set, etc. – we’re always evolving as a performing entity, so it’s a constant, unending process.
Outside of music, what are you enjoying most right now? Watching movies? Reading? Hiking? Driving in the countryside? Anything… what is giving you the most joy?
William: Outside of music? What’s that? Honestly, between our album, singles, videos, and working in the studio producing other artists, I don’t really get up to much else right now. Once I’ve thrown in the towel for the night, I’ll usually go upstairs and watch a show or movie with Sarah, and then it’s off to bed. Touring is really the flipside to this part of my life, as then I get to go out, see the world, perform, meet people, and be hyper social – and that is still my favorite thing in the world, so I’m always looking forward to the next opportunity to hit the road…
I will see you two at ColdWaves again this year, right?
Sarah: Hell, yeah! I’m also DJing for the official closing night, with Black Asteroid and Panterah playing! Yay!
William: See you there!
Is there anything you’d like to add? Fool that I am, is there anything you’d like to talk about that I haven’t brought up?
Sarah: Go vegan! 😉 Couldn’t resist!
William: What she said! And thanks for the interview!