Datura’s aesthetic is timeless. When asked about the themes of the band’s debut EP, drummer Tiffany Shafer offered: “Death, a sense of longing, feeling lost, obsession. You know, the usual.” The Wenatchee-based goth-rock band released the EP, “Orphans,” in March.
On “Orphans,” David Betancourt sings and plays guitar; Jake St. John contributes bass, synth, guitars, backing vocals; and Shafer is on drums.
Though they’ll have to shift things up live. “Since we’re a three piece, the songs will be stripped down — so no synths or anything extra,” St. John explained.
We were able to talk with the band about the EP and upcoming shows during an email Q&A. Here’s what we found out:
When and how did the band come together?
St. John: David and I knew of each other through the local music scene but were introduced through our mutual friend, Anam. Anam spoke very highly of David’s songwriting, aesthetic and DIY approach to making his own videos and wanted to start a project with us. Originally, the vision was for Anam to do vocals, but he spends a lot of time on the road, so it was hard to make that work. David and I started writing in spring of 2017, and over the next year we’d meet once a week, demo an idea, then move on. Since we didn’t have a drummer, it was really hard to rehearse or finish songs, but we came up with a lot of material. Eventually, we asked Tiffany to try out on drums. She’s been in the scene for as long as the two of us, plays multiple instruments, and sings, so we knew she would be an asset. In July 2018, she started to rehearse with us, and we went into the studio in November to record the “Orphans” EP.
Which bands or artists would you say are the biggest inspiration for your sound or style?
St. John: My biggest influence for this band is The Cure, but we take cues from lots of old school post-punk and goth bands: Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, The Chameleons, The Misfits. There are also many contemporary bands out there that inspire me personally: Soft Kill, Atriarch, Black Marble, Cold Cave, Dead Can Dance. The list goes on.
Betancourt: I grew up listening to a lot of Rock En Espanol (Rock in Spanish). Although that term is general, most the bands had a very goth sound. Bands such as Caifanes, Soda Stereo, Fobia among many more were highly influential in my childhood. Later in life I was introduced to punk rock and that is where I found how broad punk rock really is. I always gravitated toward more aggressive and dark punk rock yet still enjoyed the melodic voices and guitars that goth/post-punk/ darkwave had to offer. Although I grew up to said artists, I am still keeping up to date on newer post-punk such as She Past Away, Lebanon Hanover, Buzz Kull and more.
Shafer: Because I’m not playing the fast punk drums that I’m known for, I get to really draw from some of my earliest influences and branch out. I’m a huge fan of Sleater-Kinney so I’m able to take inspiration from Janet Wiess. Patty Schemel from Hole was a hero from my high school days and you can see that influence in songs like “Stalker.” I also really like how Clem Burke from Blondie always kept his foot moving on the kick drum and filled up the space between snare hits. With this band I’m using my floor tom more and so I’ve been listening to Siousxie and the Banshees to hear how Budgie creates unique rhythms with toms.
Why did you choose to call back to goth rock with Datura? What was it about the music or scene that inspired you?
Betancourt: The music I would make since I was ten years old has always been goth, though I didn’t know it at the time. Post-Punk/goth feels natural to play and it feels good to have great musicians to go along with a similar vision and build upon the sound that I have had in me most of my life.
St. John: I’ve always listened to a lot of metal, but when I was 14, living in Nowhere, Nebraska, a punk rock kid moved to town, and he gave me a copy of The Cure’s “Disintegration.” That album has been on heavy rotation ever since and often guides my sense of melody. Robert Smith’s ability to layer instruments — synths, guitars, vocal harmonies — is masterful. I’ve always wanted to create lush arrangements like his; however, I’m also really into dissonance and abrasive sounds too. That’s where bands like Bauhaus, Christian Death and Joy Division inspire directions we might take. I’d been in rock bands, indie bands, noise bands, and metal bands but nothing on the goth end of the spectrum, so Datura is an opportunity to explore a genre of music I’ve loved for over 25 years. I’ve always written dark music no matter what band I play with, so it’s gratifying to be able to pursue the goth sound.
Shafer: When Jake and David showed me some of their songs, I was grabbed by them immediately. I really like how dark these songs are and I love guitar dripping in reverb. And I was ready to play something different than what I usually play.
All three of you are members of other bands. How has your experience in other local bands shape the way you approached this project?
St. John: The last band I played in, Static Altars, wrote long, soaring songs that peaked at 11 minutes. We would jam for weeks writing compositions like that. The same is true with my rock band The Felts. With those bands, songcraft is meticulous and intricate, complex and challenging, but super fulfilling and soulful at the same time. With Datura, I want keep things short and succinct. Lately, we’ve been writing songs in the two to three minute range — the approach is definitely more punk than prog. With every band I’ve played in, I’m always chomping at the bit to continue writing new material, and with Datura, it’s a little easier to write something and move on to the next idea because the structures are simplified.
Shafer: Datura is unlike any other band I’ve ever been in. I’ve played drums in a lot of punk bands and I’ve played guitar and bass in other punk and ska bands. With Datura, I have an opportunity to slow it down and take some inspiration from non punk bands that I love but never played anything like. It’s been a great opportunity to grow and it’s nice to play something different.
Betancourt: I have been in and out of a few bands, but being with Datura and my other band Rich & Rare Rebels has shown me what I am capable of. I used to tour around the Northwest region as a rap artist. That is where I learned about marketing, recording and dedication as an artist. Although many things come into play, I have learned something from each project I have been a part of.
You released your EP “Orphans” in March. What is your favorite track and why?
St. John: I like them all for different reasons, but I’d have to say that “Ghost” or “Reflection” is my personal favorite. The outro is part of a song I wrote about six years ago. I never thought I’d be able to use it, so I’m grateful to be in a project where it can find life. I never really liked the original song that the outro first appeared in, so I wrote a new bass and guitar line, and David came up with the lyrical concept of a werewolf or junky as the character in the song. It turned out great and has that Robert Smith layering technique I mentioned earlier.
Shafer: I love “Stalker” but “Orphans” would probably be my favorite which is a surprise. I usually gravitate to the faster more energetic songs but “Orphans” is so cut down and I get lost in the groove.
Betancourt: Although we have many more songs which I cannot wait to share with the world, for this starting EP I would say “Orphans” is my personal favorite. When I brought up the guitar riff to Jake, we both could not figure out how to make it into a song. By feeling it out and dialing down the vibe we have created a song that literally gives me chills now. It feels good.
Are there any lyrical or musical themes listeners can expect when checking out “Orphans”?
Shafer: Death, a sense of longing, feeling lost, obsession. You know, the usual.
Betancourt: Though we wrote the songs with a story, I enjoy when people make what they want out of the song. I’m not there to tell them what to think. As for the sound, I am grateful for “Orphans” EP because it shows how we are able to be diverse with our sound yet still be DATURA.
What was your songwriting process with “Orphans”?
St. John: The song structures are often traditional: a hook, verse, chorus, outro. David and I are constantly sending voice memos and videos of song ideas back and forth, so we never really want for new ideas to explore. Usually, one of us comes with an idea — a riff with a change, a bass line and guitar melody, and from there, we put things together. When we first started, we’d write and record on my computer using Garageband drums. Now with Tiffany on board, we hash out structures over the course of a few rehearsals and work the new songs into our set.
Shafer: I came into the band late and a lot of songs were already written. Some of them already had drums pretty much written so I learned those and put my mark on them. The goal for me is to emphasize each different part of a song so there is a clear definition between chorus and verse without getting too fancy. If Jake and I are creating a solid rhythm it leaves David free to play memorable riffs.
Betancourt: Usually I will record an idea for a song on my phone with my voice, mimic the notes on guitar then begin to write lyrics or ideas/themes. I send the ideas to the bandmates. They bring in ideas or changes if we see that it has potential.
What can fans expect when coming out to see Datura live?
St. John: This is our first show as a band, so the live setting is new territory for us. We’ll be playing everything from the Orphans EP and a bunch of tunes that no one has heard — from our very first song to one we wrote a few weeks ago. Since we’re a three piece, the songs will be stripped down — so no synths or anything extra.
Shafer: We’re not just out there to play our songs, we want to create a vibe. We want to set a tone and draw you in. The music speaks for itself but we want our shows to be an experience.
Betancourt: I think that people who come to watch Datura live can expect a great show. From visuals of fog and lights with a true vibe straight from a dream/nightmare to the sound of reverbed guitar, deep bass, and drums from hell.
Your first live shows in Wenatchee are coming up in May and June. What are you most looking forward to with these shows?
St. John: Honestly, it will be fun for me to play out again because I haven’t performed in a couple years, but Tiffany’s and David’s other bands are local mainstays, and they both play with tons of energy.
Shafer: I’m looking forward to finally getting our sound and energy out in a live setting. I think we have something different that people will appreciate.
Betancourt: I am most looking forward to sharing our music with our families, friends and local musical support! We have been getting played on radio stations and radio shows in different countries in Europe, South America and North America, but I want to see goth/post-punk grow here. I am excited to expand our limits in our area!
Is there anything else that you would like to share with fans?
St. John: Folks should know that the local music scene in Wenatchee is pretty special. Many communities our size don’t have what we do: musicians and artists who keep at their craft, a venue and label that have put on dozens of shows over the last 10-15 years. It just keeps going, and that’s because people here are dedicated, so props to those who make it happen. If you haven’t checked out a show at Wally’s, you should!
Shafer: Check out our EP on Bandcamp and come to our show. I hope you’ll like what we’re doing and share with your friends.
Betancourt: If you don’t know who we are, you can find us at daturapnw.bandcamp.com and facebook.com/daturapnw. We are currently working up ideas for a music video, so follow us and stay tuned. Although we just released Orphans EP, I am very excited to show everyone what else we have to offer. Come to the shows and you may find out.