Their Library: Esben And The Witch

Rachel Davies' literary favourites...
Esben And The Witch by Pinelopi Gerasimou

Coming back with their third album at the beginning of September, ‘A New Nature’, Brighton trio Esben And The Witch are sounding louder and prouder than ever. Their tracks of 2014 so far, ‘Blood Teachings’ and ‘No Dog’, both point to a very live-feeling studio collection – which fits on-paper expectations, as the album was recorded in Chicago with Steve Albini. We’re anticipating volume.

Before then, the band plays at Latitude Festival this weekend, performing a live score to the Argentinian film La Antena, and appears at Supernormal Festival on August 8th. Singer Rachel Davies is sure to have a few books in her suitcase if her responses to our regular Their Library questions are anything to go by.

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‘Blood Teachings’, from ‘A New Nature’

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What is your favourite book and why?

It’s hard to isolate just the one, but I'll go for The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I love the way Steinbeck writes. He’s a real poet, such a wonderful observer of people, of nature, of life. I think his books contain so much charm without ever being twee, so much beauty without becoming too flowery. With The Grapes Of Wrath in particular, it’s the themes of strength, endurance and the capacity of the human spirit that I find so inspiring. His portrayal of Ma is one of my favourite ever in literature. She holds everything down when things look hopeless, she is that beacon. She’s equally vulnerable and frightened but in times of horror and strife she chooses to fight rather than fear. She’s a badass. 

What other authors do you like?

Aside from my Steinbeck crush, I’m a big fan of Hermann Hesse. Demian is one of my all time favourites. Also: Jack London, Vladimir Nabokov, Tom Robbins, Albert Camus, JG Ballard, Salman Rushdie. I could just keep on going. 

What draws you to certain books?

I know you shouldn’t judge a book… but I think the design of the old Penguin Modern Classics is just beautiful. My eye’s always drawn to those. As for content, I do like the more esoteric, weirder, darker side of things, generally – or books that have a strong philosophical thread, themes of self-exploration and discovery. I find those the most inspiring, the most transcendent. 

Have you ever discovered a real lost classic? What is it and why?

The Revolt Of The Angels, by Anatole France. It gives John Milton’s Paradise Lost a run for its money.

Do your literary influences have a direct impact on your songwriting?

Yes, very much so. I’d say literature and film are the two biggest influences on how I write lyrics. Lots of our songs can be drawn back to something I’ve read or watched. Be it just a line, or an idea that resonates for some reason and snowballs into something else. 

What are you reading at the moment?

Siddhartha, by Hermann Hesse. It’s wonderful. 

What is the first book you remember reading as a child?

The Enchanted Wood, by Enid Blyton. I loved the idea of roaming around a forest, climbing a giant oak and diving into new worlds hidden in the leaves. Pure bliss. Plus, who wouldn’t want to slide down the hollow trunk of a tree on a cushion?

Did you make good use of your library card when you were younger?

Yes, we had a mobile library come to our village every Friday. It’d park in the layby and I’d go there with my mum after school. Pretty quaint, right? I remember the plastic tokens we’d get, and how excited I was when I turned the age to get yellow tokens rather than pink. That meant I was able to borrow books from the adult section. It was all go from there.

Have you ever found a book that you simply couldn’t finish?

I struggled with American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis. I found the nihilism and cruelty inside quite overwhelming. It was unyielding. It made me feel physically sick a few times and almost a little guilty for reading it – Ellis’s aim I'm guessing. I finished it but couldn’t say I enjoyed it. Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo was similar – I found it so totally bleak in places, so claustrophobic, that I had to read it in small bursts. It tells the story of a soldier whose body has been totally destroyed by war, yet his mind functions perfectly. It’s incredibly disturbing but one of the most powerful books I've ever read. 

Do you read book reviews?

No. I actually don’t think I’ve ever read a book review. I’ve got some good friends I trust who recommend me things from time to time, but mainly I just go with the blurb and the author and what the charity shops have to offer hidden between Dan Brown and Fifty Shades Of Grey. 

Would you ever re­read the same book?

Yes. There are a few books I’d really like to revisit – particularly now that I’m a little older, and hopefully a little wiser. I think a few things I read when I was younger went over my head a little. I think it’d be generally helpful to refresh my ailing memory, too!

Have you ever identified with a character in a book?

I love the way Tom Robbins describes the women in his novels. They often tend to be waitresses with sore feet and big dreams. That’s something I can definitely identify with. 

Do you read one book at a time or more than one?

I try to read just the one at a time, otherwise I end up getting too distracted and end up compiling a swaying stack of unfinished books by my bed. There are just too many choices.

Is there an author or poet you would like to collaborate with?

There was a young poet and musician called Anno Birkin who I was obsessed with when I was a teenager. I discovered a collection of his poetry called Who Said The Race Is Over?, which I used to spend hours poring over. I love the way he used language. Sadly he died in a car crash when he was just 20. Speaking of poets, Leonard Cohen would be pretty special. I think my dad would be over the moon about that, too.

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Photo: Pinelopi Gerasimou

Esben And The Witch online. See them at Latitude this weekend. ‘A New Nature’ is released through Nostromo Records on September 1st.

Related: more Their Library features

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