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The band, Water Witches, poses for a portrait on Tuesday, January 28, 2020. 

Water Witches’ music is a work of magic

Water Witches have made themselves a staple of the Athens music scene. With frequent performances at bars around town and appearances at music venues outside the city, they have secured themselves as an established act of Athens rock’n’roll. 

Water Witches is a three-piece garage rock band formed in 2015. The band started getting on bills before they even wrote most of their material, Ethan Bartman, guitarist and vocalist of Water Witches, said. 

“We’ve written most of our material at shows,” Bartman said. “We haven’t stopped playing since then.”

Water Witches’ early success kept the band members busy. It took the band a while to learn how to say no to gigs, Bartman said. 

“We used to play shows three days in a row in town,” Bartman said.

Water Witches also had their start in the house show scene. House shows, often performed in living rooms and basements, have a different atmosphere. 

“It’s a different crowd of people,” Bartman said. “It’s good to not turn your nose to it. People who don’t come out to The Union (go to house shows). We’ve found (some of) the best crowds at house shows.”

House shows have been a way Water Witches have met friends and fellow musicians, Matt Clouston, bassist of Water Witches, said. House shows are a great way to connect with other local bands, including up-and-coming groups. 

“It’s cool -- being a part of the scene,” Bartman said. “We’re good buds with some bands and it’s good knowing that people got their back.”

Bartman and Clouston can both recall their early days of Water Witches. They made their way up in the scene, but not without the help of more experienced bookers, musicians and friends. Now, they’re leading by example, Bartman said.

“We don’t feel like an authority,” Bartman said. “We’re more comfortable (in the scene now).”

Bartman put a lot of work into the early days of Water Witches that didn’t exactly pay off, he added. But for both he and Clouston, it finally is.

“It’s a good spot to be in -- to be able to give advice,” Clouston said.

Outside of Athens, Water Witches have also performed at the Nelsonville Music Festival. In fact, they’ve played five times now. For them, it’s an honor every time. 

“One of our goals was to play that festival,” Bartman said. “There’s not much cooler than that.” 

Water Witches is currently writing new work. Their influences include The Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman and Aphrodite’s Child. A lot of their lyrics are “esoteric,” Bartman said. But their upcoming work is venturing into new territory. 

“(I’m) just now starting to explore real feelings and more relatable work,” Bartman said. “(I’m) singing how (I) actually feel, rather than disguising it.”

In other terms of esotericism, Water Witches are in fact real witches, Charlie Touvell, drummer of Water Witches, said. The band got the name from a seance using a Ouija board. But being a “witch” is more than just conventional notions of magic. 

“With witches, their whole thing with wearing black -- (where they’re their) own spiritual authority,” Touvell said. “Rock’n’roll is a great conduit of spirits -- (people) come to our shows and get possessed -- or rather, possess (themselves).”

Water Witches next show is Saturday, Feb. 1 at The Union. Their music is available on Spotify


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