All Them Witches hails from Nashville, and the combination of name and hometown gives you a pretty good sense of a split personality. The moniker hints at a band in thrall to Black Sabbath, and the Tennessee city hints at something Southern - although its debts are to blues and Southern rock and not in any way country. (Bassist/singer Michael Parks Jr. noted, however: "We have been known to just pop up on the street somewhere during tour playing bluegrass on the street.")
But when the band returns to Rozz-Tox on February 15, it will be apparent that the quartet is far more expansive than that would suggest. All Them Witches embraces not just blues-based music but the blues themselves, particularly on "The Marriage of Coyote Woman" from its most recent album, Lightning at the Door. The elemental riffs of Ben McLeod have the heaviness of Sabbath's Tommy Iommi but also the razor-sharp lyricism of Queens of the Stone Age's Joshua Homme.
And, most importantly, there's an experimental psychedelic core, a grounding in improvisation that allows each person in the band to bring a distinct personality to tracks that might go anywhere - including, to cite just one example, throat singing in the folk-ish and completely un-metal "Romany Dagger."
And that anything-goes quality is the reason I was curious about this comment I read from drummer Robby Staebler: "As individual players we are more concerned and focused on our own playing. We are not focused on what the others are playing. We all do what we want. It's why it works."
All Them Witches is certainly not a band that can be pigeonholed, but Staebler's statement seemed at odds with the music, which has a unity and wholeness despite its variety.
"We do listen to each other," Parks explained in a phone interview last week. "It's constantly figuring out what the other person is doing. At the same time, that doesn't influence what each individual is doing."
Fender Rhodes player Allan Van Cleave added: "I think he's trying to say that I'm not going to listen to what Robby's playing and tell him to play something else. ... Nobody cares about what the other person is playing in that way. But we all have to listen to each other. It's kind of like jazz. You pick up somebody playing a riff, or a different rhythm. Everybody kind of falls in, and it's kind of a tapestry."
Parks: "A lot of eye contact, picking who's leading, which is fun. Sometimes you're not ready to lead and you have to go for it."
Van Cleave: "There really are no parts per se in our songs. We kind of know how the song goes, and everybody kind of plays along."
One example of that process will most likely be heard on All Them Witches' next album, which has been recorded but doesn't yet have a title or a release date. One song - also untitled - had its genesis at a Halloween show in California, one the band decided not to release despite its habit of making live shows available on its AllThemWitches.org Web site. ("The plan was, 'This one's so good we should do something special with it,'" Van Cleave said. "And then we just never did anything.")
"We wrote a song that night without trying, and it's on the new record, and it's my favorite song," Van Cleave said. "We wrote it while we were playing it." McLeod started with a guitar drone, Van Cleave started playing the keyboards, Parks came in on bass, and then Staebler joined in on drums. "And nobody knew what was happening, but it lasted like 15 minutes, and it was awesome."
On its first two records, All Them Witches went into the studio with about half the songs written, and half were written in the studio.
For the new album, Parks said, "Most of all the songs were written, but nobody had played them. We went into the studio pretty much learning songs that I wrote a while ago and seeing how it went."
"It's a little more polished," Van Cleave said. "It's a little more cohesive because the songs blend into each other a lot on this album."
"It went pretty well," Parks said. "I'm pretty happy. Unless we decide to scrap it."
All Them Witches will perform on Sunday, February 15, at Rozz-Tox (2108 Third Avenue, Rock Island; RozzTox.com). Tickets for the 7 p.m. show (which also features The Well) are $10.
For more information on All Them Witches, visit AllThemWitches.org.