So Many Little Nuances: An Interview with Eric Maynes of Saves the Witch

Sometimes I wonder if I have a mild case of dyslexia. Or maybe the problem is that I just don’t read very carefully. Case in point: There was a pretty decent stretch where I thought the post-rock outfit Saves the Witch was called Save the Switch. Somehow I had convinced myself that the wrong name made sense because I imagined that with all of the effects pedals that guitarist Eric Maynes employs in his deeply hypnotic and captivating music, there was always a danger of damaging a button or a switch. In fact, it wasn’t until I sent away for a Saves the Witch sticker and guitar pick that I realized my mistake. Given that Saves the Witch has a new single, “Embers and Ashes,” I thought I’d get in touch with Eric Maynes to clear up any other misconceptions I might have about his music…

Okay, so it isn’t “Save the Switch” as I had mistakenly believed! It’s Saves the Witch. What’s the story behind that name?

Ah, you’re the first person to catch that! So originally the project was called “Save the Witch.” And that’s a name born out of accepting each other and loving one another despite any differences we may have. Internally it had that name for a while, and as I prepared for the first release I found that there was a project on Spotify with that name already. Granted it seemed to be dormant. I could have used it anyway but I didn’t want the confusion so I added the “s.” I’m pretty glad I did though, because it also takes it from a statement to an action. Something that sounds more present, and living in a more present frame of mind is a huge inspiration for me creatively.

It’s more eye-catching as well. Definitely got me to look twice! Is Saves the Witch a full band, or is it a one-musician operation?

It’s just me. It started as just an experiment. During the pandemic I had gotten in contact with some old band mates from when I was younger, and we were going to remotely record some new stuff. We played more traditional rock, and I had several songs all written and ready to go. I’d sent them the stems and waited for them to add their parts, and while I was waiting I recorded “Voices” as an instrumental. I remember showing that one to my wife and she seemed genuinely surprised and really seemed to love it. I figured at that point in my life there were several aspects of myself that I needed to take control of, and take action instead of waiting around for something to happen. I got tired of waiting and decided that I’d break away from my old habits and styles, and just forge a new project. So I did a few more songs, and it became clear to me that it was going to be my primary project.

I’d always loved Post Rock but had never really written it, and I fell in love with the lack of structure and traditional rules. I was lucky in the sense that I was a drummer first, so coming up with those parts is easy for me. I can play bass well enough to get by too. I can play keyboard but I haven’t used any on this project yet, and I am a decent singer too but I’ve really enjoyed just letting the music speak so far. I’m not opposed to branching out in the future but I like what I have going right now.

You and me both! Your music is both hypnotic and richly-textured. How do you get your sound?

I think every musician or composer gets their sound by so many little nuances that it’s hard to say. I think that with STW a lot of it is in the dynamics. Some of it is the bluesy stuff I’ll sprinkle in. There’s a lot that comes from just exploring effects too. I have certain things that I’ll use more often like vibrato or wet reverbs, but otherwise it’s really just a constant exploration of sounds and what might work or not for a particular idea or composition.

You really have an impressive collection of effects pedals. What got you interested in effects? And what has your “effects journey” looked like? Where did it begin, how did it evolve, and where are you now?

I’ve really only been down the effects rabbit hole for a few years. I used to use a multi effects pedal. A “do it all” kind of thing. There’s nothing wrong with that either. But at some point I ended up getting a Slo by Walrus, and up to that point I’d never played a reverb like it. I realize now there are a lot like it, but that pedal is what made me really start looking at effects differently.

Sometimes you can sit down and write the traditional way, come up with a melody or chord progression, and the effects will be an afterthought. That always worked for me for a long time, but I started letting the effects actually help the creative process and inspire the direction of a piece; and for me there was a freedom in doing that because I’d never done it before. It was new territory for me at the time.

Far as where I am now: It’s always changing here and there. On the first record I’d say the “most important” pedals were the Keely Compressor Plus and Phat Mod, Dark Star by OBNE, Mood by Chase Bliss, The Slo, Iron Horse V2, and ARP Delay by Walrus. I also used the Julianna for chorus/vibrato at that time. With the new stuff I still have some of those, but I also have a lot of inspiration from the Meris M7, Rainbow Machine and Avalanche Run by EQD, The Meteore and Somersault by Caroline, and the Microcosm by Hologram.

I also have a fuzz pedal that a friend built special for me and it’s just… Bad ass!  I think I’m at a point now where my board is “complete” enough that I’m not scrambling to get anything anymore but there are always a few minor changes every so often. I have 18 in my chain right now.

That’s a lot of effects! Do you keep all of the pedals that buy?

It’s just been recently that I started keeping just one or two once I take them off my board. Mainly if I replace one I’ll sell the old one simply to cover the costs of trying new ones. I am by no means rich, and I have to get creative with my bank account to keep trying new pedals!

I know what you mean! How do you side which pedals to keep?

Generally I’ll decide what I’m using based on nuances in the tone, and its functions as applied to how I write. Chorus can be a good example of that. I could use any old chorus pedal, but not all of them have a ramping function or wave selector. Some have one but not the other. Out of all of those functions which ones do I actually need versus does the damn thing sound good doing all those things too? I guess that’s my thought process. I’ll tell you one that fell to the wayside, and I highly regret it: I had a Fender Marine Layer reverb. I ended up selling it because I got a fancier reverb that could also do some of the “normal” sounds of the Fender. But I wish I still had it. It did some of the best Hall and Room reverb I’d heard in a pedal. Maybe one day I’ll pick another one up. I just don’t know where I’d put it on the board currently.

What are some of your favorites? What do you look for in an effects pedal?

I think of my whole board as a favorite! But there are certain ones that I know I’ll never get rid of. The Slo, and Monument by Walrus. The Phat Mod Overdrive and Compressor Plus by Keeley. The Avalanche Run by EQD, and probably the Mecury 7 by Meris.

Back to the music itself, you’re working in the somewhat nebulous genre of Post Rock—and you curate the Post Rock Avenue playlist on Spotify. How do you define the genre, and who are some artists that you think typify its sound?

Post Rock to me is anything that abandons the typical structure of a rock song. I think some great examples are Covet, God is an Astronaut, Mogwai, This Will Destroy You. That playlist right now is just more of a personal list of mine that I love, I haven’t done much to promote it but maybe I’ll have time in the future.

Your songs have some interesting titles. I love “Rebuke the Spire,” “War Never Changes,” and “Dear Edea.” Do the titles come first or the music? Also, are there any stories behind any of your titles? I’m particularly curious about “Rebuke the Spire.”

You had to ask about that one! Ug. So with “Spire,” that was just a slow heavy jam I had started in my DAW, and I’m glad some people like it but looking back I would have cut it. It’s the only song that I think needed more to it before it was released.

Far as titles it really depends on what comes first. Sometimes I’ll have an idea that becomes a title, and I’ll build the song around that. Other times I’ll have the song first and then try to come up with a title that captures the idea well enough. Every single title that you singled out have at least a root in video games! I used to be a big gamer. Edea for example was named after what I feel was a great love story from Final Fantasy VIII. It’s about the idea of love, and when you are in love how conditional is it exactly? Could you keep loving someone even if they did evil things? That type of thing.

Regardless, all the titles have a deep meaning for me even if they draw inspiration from something else. There is one that will be on the new album called “Signal 50.” That’s radio code where I live for first responders, it’s basically how the dispatcher will check on a responding unit to make sure they’re still okay on scene. More than that though to me it’s about mental health, and how we really do need people to check on us all sometimes, to make sure we’re okay. So often the titles will call to something specific in my mind, but they mean a lot more than that even.

You have a new song, “Embers and Ashes.” What’s the story behind that one? How does it reflect your ongoing evolution as a recording artist?

Embers is a really chill one. For me it’s about searching for a glimmer of hope in a hopeless situation. It’s also a call back to some fiction I’m writing to go with the music as well. Nothing super crazy or in depth, but there are some short pieces and here there I’m thinking of putting out for fun to go along with some of the music. I’ve always enjoyed bands like Coheed and Cambria that do concept work and I thought it would be fun to try out at some point.

Thanks for taking the time to chat!

Thank you Marc! I hope you have a great holiday season!

The Shoot (Part Nine)

“Maybe we should just call it a day,” Mike says.

“No,” Miranda says flatly. “We need more material.”

“It’s too dark to shoot now,” Mike says, raising a hand to the sky. “The sun’s been setting for the past hour.”

“It isn’t setting,” Miranda says as if she can reverse time through sheer tyranny of will. “It’s rising. We’ll run these shots at the beginning of the video and say it’s early in the morning.”

Mike has papers to grade. Amanda wants to be an artist again. Natalie and Drago are still up for anything despite the cold and the setting sun. They all look to me, and I point to a worn-out baseball I’ve been eyeing since we reached the bottom of the hill.

“What if we play some baseball?” I say, flipping my guitar over and swinging it like a bat. “Natalie throws the ball. I knock it into the outfield. It lands at Mike’s feet. Mike picks it up, and we all become friends.”

“Perfect!” Miranda says in shades of Ed Wood. “Marc, you stand in the batting place. Drago, you get behind him, and Natalie, you take the ball to the pitching thing and get ready to throw it.”

“Mound,” I say.

“What?”

“Never mind.”

I’m not really trying to hit the ball with my guitar. Miranda will just try to perpetrate the illusion that I’ve hit the ball when she edits the video together. At least, that’s the plan as Drago and I take our places in a muddy batter’s box.

“There’s a big puddle here,” Drago says. “So don’t throw the ball directly at us. Try to throw it over that way.”

“Got it,” Natalie says, winding up for the pitch.

Then she throws it directly at us, hitting the center of the puddle with astounding accuracy.

“Can we do that again?” Miranda asks as Drago and I wipe the mud from our faces. “I wasn’t shooting.”

The second, Natalie doesn’t splash us with mud. I swing the guitar, and Drago tosses the ball into the outfield as if I’ve just hit it. When Mike picks up the ball, we all gather around him and start slapping him on the back.

With that, I imagine we’re done – and not a second too soon. It’s starting to get dark, and though it’s only in my imagination, the people who live across the street from the park are peering at us through half-parted curtains as they reach for their phones to call the police.

“Great work, guys,” I say. “I think we can call it a day!”

“Not quite.”

Curiously, it isn’t Miranda who wants to keep shooting this time around. It’s Mike. And though my instinct is remind him of the papers he has to grade, I keep my mouth shut and hear him out.

“See that tree over there?” Mike points in the direction of a fallen tree on the edge of the outfield. “It’s the perfect backdrop.”

He’s right. The branches arc up and over to form a small cave or a primitive shelter from the elements. It’s easy to imagine prehistoric hunter-gatherers finding it and setting up camp for the night – or breaking camp at dawn, however you want to look at it. In any case, if Mike’s on board, then so am I.

“Okay, team,” I say. “Let’s do it!”

But they’re already ahead of me, trudging through snow, slush, and mud to take their places in beneath the skeletal remains of the fallen tree. When I take place next to them, Miranda tells us all to start dancing. We’re having a great time, she says by way of direction before commanding each of us to strut toward the camera and look into it with our very best diva pouts.

“Keep dancing,” Miranda shouts when we’ve all finished with our close-ups. “And don’t forget—you’re all rock stars.”

In that moment, with the cars whizzing by in the distance and the good people of Henry Avenue watching us from the comfort of their homes beneath the blinking red lights of the radio towers above, I believe her. This is my band, and as the sun sets pink and orange over Roxborough, Miranda’s camera turns us all into rock stars.

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