THE WITNESSES: HOT OFF THE PRESSES

Review of the Witnesses' song "I Should Not Have to Ask" which appears on the Yes NY compilation alongside the likes of Interpol, the Strokes, the Rapture, Radio 4, and more. From Delusions of Grandeur webzine:

Band:
The Witnesses
Song: I Should Not Have to Ask

New York's rock and roll renaissance is now in full swing. The Mooney Suzuki are bringing the garage rock stomp across the nation. Critics' darlings Interpol are one of the biggest things going right now. The Liars are kickstarting the post-punk revival. Yes there's a lot going on in our nation's cultural capital.
The Witnesses are poised to take their place alongside NYC's leading lights. This five-piece plays a sleazy style of rock informed by the Dave Clark Five and the Stooges in near-equal parts. According to their minimalist bio, "The Witnesses are a rock band from New York City". That's probably just about the best description possible.
"I Should Not Have to Ask" is a mid-tempo, Hammond-driven garage rave-up very much along the lines of the aforementioned Dave Clark Five. There are just enough stop-start dynamics to keep things from getting too groovy. All five members - four guys and a girl - provide lead vocals on various parts, which generates an eclectic feel to contrast the relatively straightforward rock and roll.
The Witnesses have clearly got their shit together booking-wise, as evidenced by upcoming dates supporting The Go, The Mooney Suzuki, and The Figgs. They have thus far rarely ventured out of the NYC/ Philly area, and have only one east coast tour under their belts. However, this will likely not last long - this band has its finger on the pulse of the underground scene right now, and it doesn't hurt that they're actually a very competent band.
The Witnesses' debut recording, a self-released three-song EP, will be available shortly through their website if you're not a New Yorker.

Review online at: http://www.adequacy.net/music/online/12-2-02.shtml

 

Live review of the Witnesses from the Stereo Effect webzine:

The Witnesses @ Manitobas, NYC; 28 Apr 2003 by Jay B.


It’s the tail end of the Witnesses month-long stand at Handsome Dick Manitoba’s, east village bar where the walls are covered with pictures rock ‘n’ roll legends. Under the watchful eye of photographs of the Ramones, Iggy Pop, and Dick’s own NYC punk outfit the Dictators, the five members of the Witnesses snake through the packed club to the tiny space allotted to their instruments. This Brooklyn based band looks like they’ve been plucked from the sixties. Cowboy boots, silk scarves, narrow cut sport coats and one strapless black leather dress, they’re the living breathing descendents of all that was, and still is, cool in rock music.
As the band rips open their set an immediate comparison can be made to late 60’s/early 70’s era Stones, but the Witnesses prove they aren’t some cheap imitation. Bassist Kenan and guitarist Darian carefully manoeuvre amongst each other to deliver solid backing vocals on solid blues infused songs. The high energy and fancy footwork, most notably of frontman Oakley translates into a sweaty romp. With every solo, screech, bass line, and beat the Witnesses display their love for the blues with the greatest of ease.
They manage to perform an eclectic mix of their own tunes and songs by Früt of the Loom, Solomon Burke, and an encore of Willie Dixon’s “7th Son”. As the set progresses and vocal duties are vigilantly exchanged in the tight squeeze of the bands space, one thing becomes apparent - the Witnesses will be seeing bigger stages in their near future.

Review online at: http://www.thestereoeffect.com/onstage/display_live.php?LiveId=139

Feature from New York City's weekly newspaper, the Village Voice, on the Witnesses' month-long residency at Manitoba's bar on Ave B in NYC:

The Witnesses; Mondays in April; Manitoba’s; March 26 - April 1, 2003
by Chuck Mindenhall


The Big Apple's first post-rawk revival NYhilism is upon us. Or something like that. When bassist Kenan Gündüz closes out a set by singing Sparks' 1980 anthemic holdover "Rock 'n' Roll People in a Disco World," you can't help but feel a real connection, like the wild spirit of rock has been articulated. All those stretchy blues riffs, spasmodic vocals, and bratty snarls belong to the Witnesses, a Brooklyn-based cross-tread of the Rolling Stones, the Stooges, and Steppenwolf. But don't tell them that. The Witnesses hate the term "retro," and they want little to do with the so-called rock revival going on in New York.
"Contrary to popular belief, there were rock bands in New York City before the whole renaissance," says primary singer Oakley Munson, ex-Rondelles drummer-keyboardist. "A lot of bands are trying to be rock, some bands are trying not to be rock—and we ain't trying to do shit. You hear things like 'We want people to know that we're the next Clash.' All I want people to know about the Witnesses is that we think all that's a bunch of rubbish." It's statements like these that have some calling the Witnesses the next Clash.
On any given night, at least one, and often all five, of the members of the Witnesses can be found barside at local tavern Daddy's in Williamsburg, mixing it up with the neighborhood patrons. You'd know them if you saw them. The 24-year-old Munson has an unmistakable mushroom cloud of brown hair like Noel Redding in a thunderstorm, wears a Sergeant Pepper coat with epaulets and a stylish ascot, and has boyish ruby red cheeks. His bandmates are not hard to spot after that; they're the striking collection of fashion works beside him. They've been roommates in nearby Bushwick since 2001, and their camaraderie is obvious.
And for that the Witnesses have become a consummate New York band, from selling out their first ever show "at a dump in Manhattan called the Luna Lounge" to performing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Donnas, and the Star Spangles, all of whom love Witness rock. Onstage, it's Munson's sleazy high-pitched pipes that get the most work, but keyboard cutie Bonnie Bloomgarden—when stepping away from her chin-high Vox Jaguar—displays a tremendous set of lungs for such a little thing (she's five-foot-nothing) on the tantrum-like original "Black Eye." She belts out the Ike and Tina classic "Fed Up" with equal tenacity. Whoever the singer is, guitarist Darian Zahedi's backup vocals and trashy-sounding guitar licks masterfully accentuate the loud choruses.
The organic chemistry that makes the Witnesses stand out live doesn't slacken on their eponymous three-song EP, which features an emblazoned recording of the crowd favorite "Stop Pretending." For their homecoming show at Northsix following a mini-tour of the South, we're likely to hear all the songs from their pending full-length album; while at Manitoba's every Monday in April the Witnesses promise Manhattan a steady blend of covers and originals.

CAN I GET A WITNESS?
The Witnesses, mavens of New York’s fashionable rock
by Lane Brown


Darian Zahedi is having a bad night. The Witnesses are a verse-and-a-half into their first song when the lead guitarist's amp cuts out and they have to abort. While Zahedi scrambles to fix it, lead singer and guitarist Oakley Munson entertains the crowd by playing harmonica. When the amplifier is resuscitated, the band starts back up again, but a few songs later Zahedi breaks a string.
"Did you ever have one of those days where nothing seems to work out?" he asked the sold-out audience at the Mercury Lounge. "One of those days where it's raining, and your shoes keep coming untied?"
"Your shoes don't even have laces," bassist Kenan Gündüz responded.
Equipment failures aside, The Witnesses played the same high-energy set that has been getting them all sorts of attention lately. Though unsigned and relatively new to the New York scene, the band has been the subject of several magazine features, including a four-page pictorial in Rolling Stone last fall. Their music is a gritty blues-rock, drawing on musical influences like the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Ramones, Ike and Tina Turner and Chuck Berry.
Critics most frequently compare The Witnesses to the Exile on Main Street-era Rolling Stones. Munson has mastered Mick Jagger's snarl, and some of Zahedi's guitar work could easily be mistaken for Keith Richards'. Zahedi said this is a result of the band's personal music taste, which includes much of the same music that influenced the Stones.
"We're all big fans of Chicago blues, Delta blues, R & B, Detroit blues, Stax and Motown," he said.
Although they are inspired by music from the past, Zahedi does not see the band as part of the current garage-rock revival.
"Nobody in New York even has a fucking garage," he said.
One of the more interesting aspects of The Witnesses is that all five members of the band sing. Though Munson is the lead singer, vocal duties are often divided among all five Witnesses. On "I Should Not Have to Ask," Munson sings with drummer Will Scott, and keyboardist Bonnie Bloomgarden's songs are crowd favorites.
"We want this to be almost like a variety show," Bloomgarden said. "Like Sly and the Family Stone ... it's a family of singers. It's more exciting when everybody sings."
Bloomgarden is The Witnesses' not-so-secret weapon. Midway through the band's set, she steps out from behind her Vox Jaguar organ to front the band. Suddenly the whole room is lit up with flashbulbs. Male audience members shout out marriage proposals as she sings about "burning rubber in the back of his car." During guitar solos, she pounds a beer and poses for pictures. The crowd goes ape shit.
"I like it when one person is in the spotlight, too," Bloomgarden said. "But I think in our band everybody's got a personality, so everybody's in the spotlight."
The Witnesses are a band in every sense of the word - every member plays an important part. So when Zahedi's amplifier malfunctions, there are four strong personalities on-stage to carry the slack. And though they have the chemistry of a band that has been playing together for years, The Witnesses were only formed in 2001. Before joining, Zahedi was a student at NYU, balancing schoolwork with playing in another favorite New York band, The Mooney Suzuki, with drummer Will Scott.
"I was studying writing or something," Zahedi said.
"I don't think he was studying," Scott tells me later on. Citing creative differences, the two left The Mooney Suzuki in 2001, not long before The Witnesses were born. Zahedi, Scott, Munson and Bloomgarden rented a farmhouse in upstate New York near Margaretville and spent the summer writing songs and rehearsing. Later, they moved to Brooklyn, where Gündüz joined on bass. And in September 2001, they played their first show at the Luna Lounge.
The band released a self-titled, three-song EP last October and recently finished recording a full-length debut with Tommy Ramone.
"If you've been to see our show, that's a pretty good representation of what the album will sound like," Scott said. "It's going to be 11 tracks. Two of the songs from the EP, 'Stole My Room' and 'Stop Pretending,' have been re-recorded and souped up. The rest is stuff from the live set."
Meanwhile, you can catch the Witnesses playing every Monday night in April at Manitoba's, 99 Ave. B.
"Half the people come to see a girl and half the people come to see a boy," Bloomgarden said, "so nobody's left out." • From the NYU Press, March 2003



LIVING PROOF
THE WITNESSES:THIS BAND NEEDS TO BE SEEN TO BE BELIEVED
By Sarah Wilson

"It's about a man who finds himself on an island of cannibals. But instead of eating him,
they keep him alive, because he's the only outside verification of their existence on the
island," says Kenan Gündüz, the bassist for the Witnesses, over a late breakfast at a cafe in New York's East Village. Oakley Munson, the long-legged lead singer with a shredded, bluesy voice, leans forward. "It's like, what if you had a witness to a dream? Then you could prove it. Otherwise how can you prove anything actually happened?"
The band is explaining the concept of the book Witness by Jose Juan Saer, for which the band is named. The five members of the Witnesses--Gündüz and Munson, along with Bonnie Bloomfield, Darian Zahedi and Will Scott--are hungover, but as with all subjects they feel strongly about—books, Ike and Tina Turner, the New York music scene and not least their own music—they become animated and adamant, finishing each others sentences and coming up for air only after they’re satisfied the point being made is understood.
“Do you get it now?” Munson asks. “The thing about Witness?” Uh, yeah. I get it already.
Less than a year ago only a handful of people could actually confirm the Witnesses’ exis-tence. Since then, this unsigned band has developed a small but consistent following which has taken to their blend of rock, soul and blues. Live, the Witnesses play straight up blues-rock, furious and fun. “Why would we do anything if it wasn’t fun?” asks Bloomfield, the pint-sized keyboardist. “There’s no fucking point.”
Songs like “Stole My Room” and “Stop Pretending”, both on their eponymous EP (released independently this past November), have drawn frequent comparisons to the young Rolling Stones. Scott, the drummer, calls that comparison “a bit lazy,” but still, the Stones reference is not inaccurate. “I guess it makes sense we’re compared to [the Stones],” Munson concedes. “We all listen to the same music that influenced them.” Included in that list are Chuck Berry, Ike and Tina, Wilson Pickett, and the British Invasion.
When the members of the band met four years ago they were recent high school gradu-ate and playing in different bands. “But we would cheat on our other bands with each other,” says Munson. “Playing together was our guilty pleasure.” After breaking up with their old bands, the Witnesses became a full-time commitment. Now they live together in Bushwick, where people on the street know them simply as “The Band,” write all their songs together, and drive around in a broken down Dodge Ram christened “The Bone.”
Although they’re working with Tommy Ramone on a full-length album to be released this spring, and despite the buzz around the band, the Witnesses have yet to cash in. “Let’s just say the check is in the mail,” Munson says weakly. “But it’s not regular mail, it’s com-ing by pony. From Siberia. And Siberia is a long way away, so we’re not holding our breath.”
For them it’s not about money or sex. “Really, all I want,” Scott says, “is for the kids sitting in homeroom to be just itching to run home and put on their Witnesses records.”
From The Fader, February 2003