While you may associate enchantment with the occult and a preference for social isolation with extreme metal, alternative hip-hop’s Wicca Phase Springs Eternal suggests that darkness can be translated through the beat of a different drum. Branching off from indie rock’s more conventionally alternative route (a truthful oxymoron), the man behind it all, Adam McIlwee has dedicated the past few years to exploring a synth-y path of solitude while simultaneously serving as the most muted member of emo-rap collective GothBoiClique. Between dropping Corinthiax last week, hoping on the lineup for BrooklynVegan’s Lost Weekend 2, and making a surprise appearance during Lil Lotus’ hometown set on Sunday, McIlwee is a busy boi. Yet, he makes time to get away from it all, choosing to stay rooted in his hometown of Scranton, Pennsylvania while the rest of the scene is drawn to the allure of L.A. It is from this humble Philly outpost that McIlwee spoke to CVLT Nation about Crowley, culture, and keeping it cool.
This will probably be a question you’ve heard before, but it’s safe to say Wicca phases aren’t too foreign of concepts for staff and readers of CVLT Nation alike. Did you have a Wicca phase? Or is it wrong to even refer to it as a phase?
I think this is the Wicca phase right now. We’re in the midst of it. I didn’t come up with the name; my friend did. I was like ‘this is what I’m working on—do you have any ideas for a name?’ She said, ‘Wicca Phase Springs Eternal,’ and that was it. That’s the name. It was that easy. I think that there’s some magic in that name. Some people listen to me just because of my name, but I’m not sure if I’m what they really expect. So, it’s just a name from a friend. I was always more of a punk kid. I had an indie phase, but I had no idea what it meant. When I was growing up, Scranton had a pretty big punk scene, so all my friends were punk and that’s what we were into. There wasn’t really a goth scene and I didn’t really know any goth kids or people who were into the occult or anything like that in high school. I could name maybe one at the most.
It’s been said that the occult isn’t something that you’re born into. Rather, it’s an essence that you’re naturally drawn to on your own. What drew you in?
It was probably through conspiracy theory stuff. I’ve always been into that. I was always on message boards and UFO forums and stuff like that. From there, my interest in the occult grew. That was like a predominant thread through it all and I didn’t quite understand it. I didn’t understand what magic was, what the occult was. I kind of knew, but I didn’t really understand how it worked. Then from there, where do you start? You start with Crowley, then Jack Parsons, then I got into L. Ron Hubbard. Just reading about him blew my mind. He has kind of a dark magical background.
You can’t deny that there’s some weird undercurrent—a major current of magic and dark arts practice that has permeated our culture and society. We might not even recognize it now. I started thinking about [the occult] like that. I was like okay, there must be people practicing this stuff who aren’t complete psychopaths, like people who just practice the dark arts like they would pagan stuff or Wicca or anything. I started reading about different communities of practicing magicians and occultists throughout the United States and the UK. I was super fascinated with that. From there, that’s when I started reading actual magical guides and books about chaos magick. Comic books helped, too. I’m a big fan of Alan Moore, Grant Morrison and Neil Gaiman. They’re practicing magicians, and I figured there had to be something to it if three of my favorite writers—and three of the most popular comic book writers of all time—are also all practicing some sort of magic. So, I had two draws; comic books and the conspiracy theory world.
Your new album Corinthiax drops March 16. Would you like to explain the concept behind it?
Early on when I started Wicca Phase, I was trying to write lyrics that tied the occult in with the love songs that I was writing, and I just wasn’t really good at it and didn’t know what I was talking about. That was, like, 2011-2012, so I kind of took a break from it. As I was writing and recording this EP a few months ago, I was also reading a lot about occult stuff and I was really deep into it. I thought maybe I could approach that angle again in a smarter, more nuanced way now that it’s been a few years later. So that was the idea—I wanted to write romantic occult ballads, and that’s what I did.
The album touches on a few different things, but Cointhiax is just the name I came up with years ago back in 2012 or 2013. It’s the name of a spirit, and the idea was to build out some sort of mythology that would carry from album to album; not like a concept album or a concept career, but there’s just little things you can follow throughout the albums. I had never really said what [the Corinthiax] was, but I liked the way it sounded, so I used it pretty liberally. I guess that’s what Corinthiax set out to do—build out a mythology. The video [for ‘Corinthiax’] is a conjuring or invocation practice. It relates to the song pretty literally with some lunar references, and it’s a love song, too, but so are all of my songs.
You used to play a style that was decisively alternative while frontman for Tigers Jaw, and you’ve definitely retained some of that identity, but you’ve also changed direction by joining Thraxxhouse and, of course, GothBoiClique. Listening to artists like Wicca Phase and, say, Lil Peep or nothing,nowhere. could certainly encourage artists and fans to shift their tastes as this scene continues to unfold. But, sometimes it can be scary letting go because you don’t want to forget where you came from. What gave you the courage to adjust your sails and change directions?
When I started Wicca Phase, I didn’t know what it was going to sound like. I knew I wanted keyboards, programmed drums, and me signing. That way I could do it all myself and it would be easy. I had no idea what was going on with underground rap. I had no idea Mackned or Horse Head were there. I was totally ignorant of it. Eventually I found Coldhart on Tumblr and started following him. He was making beats all the time, like, albums of beats, and he’d put them up on Bandcamp for people to download. They were really dark. That was at the height of Salem’s popularity, but I felt like there wasn’t enough witch house in the world. I still don’t know why there aren’t 1,000 witch house bands still active. Anyway, he was definitely witch house influenced and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever heard. He had more rap than Salem did, but it was still really dark, and I knew that’s how I wanted my music.
Getting back to your point, it wasn’t a conscious thing. I was burned out. When I was with Tigers Jaw, I wasn’t really into any of the bands we were playing with. We’d play festivals and I wasn’t into any of it. I needed to step back from band stuff. That’s why I dove into electronic stuff—that, and I could do it myself. I don’t feel like I have abandoned it. I’m working on an album now that’s very indie-alternative. It’s the first album that I’m writing on guitar first and then working on production with someone else. It feels like it could be another Tigers Jaw album. It’s in the same vein as any other alternative album but brings in all the stuff I’ve been doing with Wicca Phase, too.
That definitely speaks to the importance of embracing the natural evolution of things.
That’s another thing—this music is totally new. I don’t think eight years ago there was someone like nothing,nowhere., right? What was the equivalent back then? I don’t know what it is, and it’s new to everyone. The scene is happening right now, so who knows what it’ll be defined as. That’s how I look at it and how I justify it. Otherwise it just sounds like a bunch of white kids trying to rap. Actually, one of my fears is that in 20 years it’s going to be remembered as ‘oh, those white kids who were trying to rap.’
It’s interesting to be in a scene that’s just unfolding, and it’s also interesting to consider how it will be received down the line in terms cultural appropriation. It doesn’t seem to have been taken as such yet. In a way, sad ‘Sad Boy’ artists, for lack of a better term, are white, but they’re also East Asian, they’re African-American; they seem to span backgrounds. Maybe that has something to do with it?
For me, my interest in rap was production for the most part. I was just obsessed with the beats. So, I figured what I would do would be singing. I’m good at writing. Well, I’m okay at writing. I did that and put it over a different style of music, and that’s all I’m going to take. I don’t know. It’s tough. There’s definitely a fine line. I don’t know why it hasn’t been called out more, but maybe because it’s not appropriation. I just don’t know. I stay so far away from scene politics. In my heart, what I’m doing feels right. When I’m recording, I’m like okay, this is what I want to be doing and what I want my music to sound like. It’s coming from the most genuine place possible. As long as other artists are doing the same thing, then no, I don’t think it’s appropriation. But, it is a really tough question. I am not nearly educated enough to give an answer about that.
It is hard to blame you for not knowing when it seems like no one really knows—or could know—at this point. But, hitting on the point of intent seems like a major breakthrough. If you’re going into it with love in your heart then the situation is a bit different than the one we’re seeing in black metal right now where people are still legitimately entertaining the question of whether or not it’s okay to wear a Swastika on your chest or not. Of course, it shouldn’t be a contest of which is the bigger issue, but the contrast is something to consider.
It’s one of those things where you know [appropriation] when you see it. If you see it and your first reaction is oh, that’s not okay, then it’s probably appropriation. There are times when I’ll listen to some white 16-year-old who only knows about this kind of music because they saw one video for $uicide Boy$ or Lil Peep or Lil Tracy, and they’re like oh, I can do this. No. I’ve heard hundreds of people who are like oh, I’m a rapper now. It’s disrespectful to people who are actually really good rappers. I don’t even consider myself a rapper, but I still consider that [behavior] disrespectful and appropriation. They’re taking all of the culture that someone else built and all of the hard work that someone else did, and they think it’s so easy to emulate it in 20 minutes and put it out there for the world to see.
Perhaps proper knowledge and appreciation can ward off disrespect. Thank you for tackling that one. Well, not wanting to leave things on too heavy of a note, let’s get to the root of the entity that is the GothBoiClique. All of you are unique in your own ways, of course, but you stand out in that you’re a little less flashy, a little more unassuming aesthetically-wise. How would you say that you fit into the puzzle?
I think that is how I fit. Having lived in Pennsylvania my whole life is a part of that. I like muted colors. I try to dress very muted all of the time. Any sort of flashiness just doesn’t work for me, so I think that’s part of it. Døves is the same way. People don’t even know what Døves looks like most of the time, so it’s not like I’m the only one like that in that group. But, I am more socially conservative than them in that I don’t like to put myself out there so much. Everyone in GothBoiClique has cool outfits all the time and are always posting so many selfies. I cannot do that because I’d just be a poser. It just doesn’t work for me, but I think they’re okay with that. I remember one time I was taking a picture with Tracy, and Horse Head said something like ‘do something cooler.’ I literally didn’t know what else to do, but they don’t hate me for it.
What a nice group of lads.
It really is. I think about that all of the time. Everyone in the group is really nice and really friendly. I feel like I got really lucky with that.
Listen to Corinthiax and catch Wicca Phase’s upcoming tour dates here.