Political and personal strife fuels Closet Witch’s ferocious, ‘therapeutic’ shows

Closet Witch performs at Gabe’s. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Of all the hardcore bands and DIY power violence outfits to emerge from Eastern Iowa in recent years, few have been able to channel sheer anger and emotion as effectively as Closet Witch. Forming a little over five years ago, the band is characterized by their aggression, both onstage and on-record.

Guitarist and primary songwriter Alex Crist provides the heavy yet skillful guitar riffs characteristic of the hardcore genre, while Cory Peak plays along with his equally fierce and dynamic bass licks. Royce Kurth adds to the controlled chaos on drums, fluidly setting the break-neck tempos of each song. But it’s Mollie Piatetsky’s screaming vocals that elevate Closet Witch’s sound to a new level of ferocity. Brutal and strained, her singing is paired with her intense stage presence.

Piatetsky laughs alongside bandmate Peak during a phone interview. “We’re like the two quietest members of the band,” Piatetsky said. “Even though I’m so loud.”

Hailing from Muscatine, Closet Witch found each other in the midst of basement shows and DIY projects, united by their shared love of hard music.

“We all liked heavier stuff and we knew that would be a good outlet for a lot of different things,” Piatetsky said. “The music we play is pretty heavy and aggressive and a pretty good therapeutic outlet for more negative things we all want to get out of us.”

The heaviness and internal frustration can be heard on the group’s debut self-titled album, released just over a year ago. The LP is a shining example of Closet Witch’s ability to convey raw energy while still remaining dynamic. The band comes in swinging on the opener, “Blood Orange,” which combines Piatetsky’s harsh screams with the band’s strangely melodic backing instrumentation. The track reaches a resolving climax, a short breath of air before seamlessly transitioning into the next track and plunging the listener back into the band’s controlled nightmare, without warning.

The songs are short, averaging under two minutes in length, but each one packs enough energy to fill an entire record. Incredibly fast, yet clearly rhythmic and defined, the album stays sonically consistent.

Peak explained that there was never a concentrated effort to be cohesive with the album, but it did “come off that way” when it was complete. Perhaps its fluidity can be attributed to the recurring theme of vented frustrations, present in nearly every Closet Witch song: the use of music as a “therapeutic outlet.”

Cory Peak of Closet Witch performs at Gabe’s. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

Many of the band’s songs are fueled by larger political and social topics. Much of Closet Witch’s earlier work addressed issues related to public health care, after guitarist Crist went through numerous back surgeries.

“That was a thing we touched on,” Piatetsky said, “these frustrations about not having affordable health care or frustrations about how the medical industry puts you in a circle and takes money from you. Then, with time, it evolved. When Trump was elected and running for president we touched on a lot of things like the disrespect for minorities and women.”

Most of the band’s lyrics are written by Piatetsky (although Peak and Crist contribute lyrics occasionally), and while much of the content is fueled by larger issues of injustice, some of Closet Witch’s music involves the airing of more personal emotions. Experiences of grief and loss are often channeled by the band and churned into the violent energy heard in their music. Piatetsky recounts her inspiration for some earlier songs, an incident she has since revisited in newer material.

“Most of that content was based on me trying to get any kind of contact with my mother who had passed away quite some time ago,” Piatetsky said. “There are two new songs that are geared around trying to touch base with something I’ve lost. I think a lot of people can relate to that too.”

As the band continues to release pent-up emotion, their vicious stage presence has yet to slow down. If anything, it’s only grown more ferocious. A recent tour brought them “further west than [they] are used to,” according to Peak. One of the stops included Northwest Terror Fest in Seattle, a music festival famous in the hardcore scene.

Their production value has upgraded slightly as well. Past projects relied on the recording capabilities of Crist, embracing DIY ethos and taking the recording process into his own hands. However, the latest Closet Witch record found the band in the more professional recording studio of Luke Tweedy’s Flat Black Studios — “A really good choice,” according to Piatetsky.

But even with the recent boost in production and scope, Closet Witch is still a DIY outfit at heart.

“We just all come from a place, musically, where you shouldn’t let money limit you,” Peak said. “You can just kind of do things with what you have. In smaller towns you just kind of have to make your own scene and put on your own shows. You just have to do what you want to see happen around you.”

Now, a year has passed since their latest project, but the therapeutic need for expression is still driving Closet Witch to make new material. This July, the group plans on heading back to Flat Black to record a couple splits. A new song will be featured on an upcoming compilation disc, the proceeds of which will be donated to organizations devoted to providing health resources for women. All the bands featured on the record, Piatetsky explains, are trying to raise awareness for the right things. Similar to Closet Witch’s material, the collective effort is driven by systemic injustice.

Royce Kurth of Closet Witch performs at Gabe’s. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“As Americans, we’re not given as much as we deserve when we’re hard-working,” Piatetsky said. “I think we have to remember to stick up for each other and get help where we find it.”

Derek Tate is studying journalism and geography at the University of Iowa. He expresses his pent-up frustrations by playing the baritone. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 267.

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