Fallbrook native, Stuart Reeder and his band, Woods Witch, a local San Diego band, has just returned from its first West Coast tour. The tour started June 9 with the release of Warmth and Comfort, their first release as a full band, and a headlining set with four other bands at San Diego metal venue Brick by Brick in San Diego.
Musicologist Jameson Foster said of Woods Witch on his youtube channel after the Cascadian Midsummer 2023 Festival June 16-18, "Woods Witch, a San Diego band really stood out to me. Woods Witch's frontman was charismatic ... [he] was just a riot. It was like he was putting on a stand-up show without meaning to...keeping the crowd entertained while he was tuning his guitar. The set was awesome, with such high energy, people loved it and had smiles on their faces while they were playing and while he was talking and getting the crowd riled up. If you are looking for more heavy metal, look up Woods Witch. I feel like they're about to blow up."
San Diego Woods Witch frontman is a Fallbrook High School grad and UC Berkeley grad Stuart Reeder. As a molecular and cell biologist, he has been employed as a biotech scientist for the last 10 years, "But I always wanted to play music," he said.
"I think I was in denial through my 20's without really knowing it, never thinking it was realistic to pursue music, and sometime around 25 I just realized this is the only thing I actually want to do."
While working full-time in the biotech field, Reeder was convinced that he would rather have a career in music. Reeder formed the band after working as a solo project from 2019-2022.
The path into science turned out to be of benefit to Reeder putting together a band though. He met Woods Witch guitar player James Curatalo while at Cal; Curatalo lives in Santa Barbara. And while Reeder met drummer Keith Schreiber through another music project, they were working at the same biotech firm in San Diego when Schreiber became the first additional full-time member of the band. Schreiber also recommended bassist Adrian Holtz, a classically trained musician, who became part of the band.
Becoming the frontman of a black metal band took some hard work. Reeder said, "I've been screaming since I was 16, but it wasn't until that 25ish year mark when I decided I wanted to do this seriously, that I came to terms with the fact that my technique wasn't clean enough to scream for 30 or 45 minutes without losing my voice.
"I ended up studying with Greg Delson (Landlights Voice Coaching in LA) whose specialty is more in Pop and R&B, but he got his teaching certification from the Complete Vocal Institute (CVI) in Copenhagen, Denmark where you have to learn to teach classical, blues, rock, metal- everything and they pretty much say any sound that your voice can produce, you can produce healthily if you do it correctly. One example they always give is babies can scream quite a bit and you don't hear a baby losing its voice. So I studied with him for about a year and loved learning the fundamentals of clean singing and support and breathing for the first time.
Reeder continued, "At that point I still wasn't at a place where I could perform a whole set comfortably and I ended up studying for another couple of months via Skype with Aliki Katriou who is just a great metal vocalist and teacher located in London. I don't even know what it was, there wasn't a specific technique that changed, one day just with all the struggle I kind of clicked into a new high scream that sounded even more throat-ripping but was actually more comfortable, and I've been off to the races ever since, sometimes performing three nights in a row. There are all kinds of different parts of your throat that you can vibrate to safely make these crazy noises and it might just be that I switched from one to another. In the next couple of years, I might go back to one of these schools to become a teacher because I absolutely loved the process and the anatomical knowledge uncovered along the way."
The band itself didn't occur until after Reeder wrote enough songs for performances. "I started working on the songs at the end of 2019," he said.
Black metal is a genre that emerged from heavy metal, thrash, and punk. "Black metal is pretty much by definition a very dark and despairing genre," Reeder said.
"It's always been important to me to have a positive impact on people, so in past projects, even if I wrote a very dark song, I would usually have a positive sentiment punch through by the end. But with my first Woods Witch release, Sorrow. Anxiety. Depression. I did not do that," Reeder laughed.
"I wanted to try not pulling any punches and let myself express those feelings, especially since that's the miasma that black metal typically exists in, and I'm really proud of what I made and what I expressed there."
Reeder continued, "And now with Warmth and Comfort, the new release, I wanted to give the other side of the coin. Every song is about fighting through those hard nights and tearing down your world if and when you need to, to rebuild it into the life that you want, so in the end, I got to do both."
The planned release for Sorrow, Anxiety, and Depression was March 13, 2020. Woods Witch was supposed to perform at a San Diego party. The extended play album release and party became a victim of the coronavirus shutdown. "I ended up canceling it," Reeder said. "Things were really unclear that day, and it was super stressful, but it seemed like the right thing to do."
The shutdown gave Reeder time to work on additional music. Reeder was able to compile the album. "I'm pretty excited about it," he said. Once the COVID shutdowns loosened, Reeder was able to play shows, including Brick by Brick in November 2022.
"We were excited to return to Brick by Brick for our album release," Reeder said.
Guitar player Jameson Shaw had previously been with Woods Witch and is now with Old Gods. "Woods Witch needed an opener," Shaw said. "He asked if I wanted to play."
Old Gods became the opening act on June 9. Parasitic Existence, Bluntsplitter, and Doomslayer also preceded Woods Witch at the concert. Doomslayer's lead singer, Dustin Bowman, is originally from Oceanside and has lived in Fallbrook for the past four years.
After the June 9 concert Woods Witch embarked on a two-week tour and played in Atascadero, Oakland, Eugene and Portland in Oregon, the Cascadian Midsummer festival in the southwest Washington town of Pe Ell, Seattle and Olympia.
Reeder still works for a biotech company part-time which allows him to follow his dream of a full-time music career. Follow Woodswitch @woodswitchofficial and photographer Chad Kelco @chadkelco
The next local show will be 7/22 at Brick by Brick in San Diego @brickbybricksd.