David Shull got serious about guitar after someone heard him play and said, “David sucks.”
He was in the eighth grade at the time.
“I swear to God that has been a driving force,” says Shull. “I was like, ‘I don’t want to suck.’”
About the same time he was told he sucks at guitar, Shull discovered Wolfmother. “Everything I’d been listening to before that just seemed really contrived. I had never heard anything like that. It was kind of Led Zeppelin-y. It was like old school rock, but with this new feel and this power behind it. You know. Just driving. You want to bang your head to it.”
Shull, 26, now is guitar/vocalist with drummer Wes Brown, 21, in Wine Witch.
Brown says he was “always that annoying kid that wanted to play music.”
He chose drums as his instrument. “I had that energy and those rhythms in my head.”
Slipknot, Rage Against the Machine, and System of a Down were among Brown’s favorite bands.
He dated Shull’s sister for a time, but he didn’t know Shull. “The first time I met him I was scared,” he says. “She warned me. She said, ‘He might have to feel you out a little but don’t worry if he’s a dick.’”
“I kind of was known for being a fucking protective brother,” Shull says.
Brown was nervous when he knew he had to meet Shull one night at LBOE. “I knew I was going to have to come meet my new girlfriend’s scary older brother who I’d heard all the horror stories about. Like if I say one wrong thing I might get a quick uppercut to the jaw.”
So, Brown just “played it cool.”
“We were cool,” Shull says.
Brown was surprised when Shull called him to jam after he stopped dating his sister. “I thought I did so horrible because I hadn’t really been playing as much as I needed to and I hadn’t been playing with other people,” Brown says. “I had like half of my drum kit and I was just trying to make something happen. I didn’t think it went well at all. I thought, ‘He’s never going to hit me up again. I blew it.’”
“I knew he was good,” Shull says.
Shull was in another band when he approached Brown about starting another project. “I was like, ‘Yo, man. Why don’t we do something on the side? I’ve got all this music that we’re not going to use and I want to play it. It can be a little heavier. Something’s that going to be just fucking fun to do.’”
Brown liked Shull’s music. “Just the driving force of it,” he says. “I’m always more into hard hitting, rhythmic stuff. I like melodies that are good. He can write a really damn catchy melody and hook. He just writes good songs. I’ve known people who could listen to a Jimi Hendrix song or just an insanely difficult song to play and and play it note for note. But they can’t write their own music. He’s always writing. Always coming up with stuff. Just stuff that is genuinely catchy. My parents like it. That’s catchy.”
“My biggest influences are like Queens of the Stone Age and all of Josh Homme’s projects,” Shull says. “Because he falls in this place where it’s driving. It’s heavy. It’s not your regular rock. It’s something between metal and rock. Something that falls and sinks.”
Shull and Brown played their first show as “Amberlamps.”
Shull wasn’t a fan of that name. “I thought it was too memey,” he says.
“The first thing you learn about a two piece band is there’s a lot of empty space,” Shull says. “And every mistake you make is amplified a thousand fold because there’s only two dudes to look at. So, if you fuck up, they’re going to know it.”
Their first show together also was the first show Brown ever played. “Ever played ever,” he says. ‘So, I had the first show jitters bad.”
Shull came up with the idea of the two of them covering their faces that night to conceal their identities. “I was like, ‘It’ll be cool, man. I’ll wear this bandana on my face.”
He wanted Brown to wear a ski mask. “I was like, ‘Get a ski mask, dude. Wear a ski mask. It’ll be cool, man.’”
Brown brought a ski mask, but it wasn't what Shull wanted. “It had this little bill on it. And I was like, ‘That doesn’t look intimidating!
It looks like you got back from the mountains."
He thought it looked like Brown had been snow skiing. "
I was going for more like robbing a bank kind of vibe. We missed the mark on that, really.”
Shull ended up discarding his bandanna. “He - like halfway through the first song - got too hot and just ripped that shit off his face anyway,” Brown says.
“I couldn’t breath behind it,” Shull says.
“You couldn’t sing,” Brown says.
And their music? “Everyone said it was alright,” Shull says. “A big struggle for us has been gear. I’ve borrowed amps. I’ve used shitty amps. I’ve had amps go out on me. I just got a new bass amp."
“Well, after that first show I pretty much was like, ‘I don’t like the name ‘Amberlamps.’ Fuck that,’” Brown says.
As Wine Witch, they began opening up for a lot of bands passing through town on the way to perform at South by Southwest. “They’re looking on Facebook like, ‘Who can play these last minute shows,’” Shull says. “So, I just started jumping on them. I think we played three in a week that month.”
“And we learned a lot at every show,” Brown says.
They’ve been developing a following. A boost was when a couple from Richmond, Va., passed through Memphis on their honeymoon. They Googled to find out what bands were playing that night, found Wine Witch, and listened to one of its videos on YouTube.
“We didn’t even know there was a video on YouTube,” Shull says.
“They came to see us and they were so stoked on it,” Brown says. “Just to know that those two people were so stoked on it.”
“It’s been little things like that,’ Shull says.
Wine Witch, which plays about three shows a month, recently played its first out-of-town show at Santos in New Orleans. They’d like to play out of town shows at least once a month.
They’ve also thought about adding a third member to the band. “I’d be able to do more on the guitar,” Shull says. “Instead of being the driving melody with guitar I could actually do a little bit more filling in. Lead stuff. And see how it goes.”
“We toyed with the idea of maybe doing a revolving door thing and jamming with one person one week on keys and background vocals and playing a show with them,” Brown says.
There is one advantage to being a two-person band, Shull said. The money. “You only have to split it with between two people. Fifty bucks between four guys is like, ‘Oh, cool. Gas money.’ But with two guys it’s like, ‘Hey, now. We’re going out tonight.’”
Wine Witch will play with Pink Suede and Geist at 8 p.m. Sept. 8 at 1884 Lounge at Minglewood Hall at 1555 Madison Avenue. Admission: $10.
Wine Witch also will play with Regulus and Late Night Cardigan at 8 p.m. Sept. 10 at Sounds Good Memphis, 831 Cooper. Admission: $6.