One thing that is so appealing about Wicca Phase’s music is that it is made to make you feel. The dreary, lo-fi aesthetic of the beats puts target on your emotions and the drawl of his voice, somehow both monotone and melodic, is ready to hit the bullseye. Wicca (real name Adam Mcllwee) was the frontman of cult-favourite emo band Tigers Jaw, where he wrote sing-along anthems like ‘I Saw Water’ and he kept that emotion when he started Gothboiclique in 2013 with LA rapper Cold Hart, a movement that includes acts like Lil Tracy and formerly Lil Peep. It was with GBC that Wicca released internet-acclaimed projects like Abercrombie & Me. The sentiment has continued with his new album Suffer On, his first release on Run For Cover Records. The record shows a distinct progression in his craft, that doesn’t leave behind the ‘emo rap’ trend that he and GBC pioneered, but matures it.
Suffer On is a cold, isolated release that finds Wicca delving into familiar themes of depression and heartbreak, but with new introspection. Blending his familiar style of emo-influenced rap with indie, acoustic and electronic in what feels like a protest against the dilution of heartbroken hip-hop in the mainstream today, a stance that his GBC peers seem to take too. Songs like ‘Does Your Head Stop’ and ‘I Need Help’ are particular standouts, tackling topics like work and depression and the lack of communication in relationships. It’s raw, void-of-metaphors songwriting that finds Wicca venturing into creative territories, and showcases potential that runs deeper than the Tumblr message boards where he got his start.
I talked to Wicca Phase on the phone a few Wednesdays ago, before the album was released. We delved into topics like the writing and recording process of the album, the influence of Lil B, and the legacy of GBC.
Hey Adam. Congratulations on the new album Suffer On. You’ve kept consistent with an array of releases over the last five years, what about this one feels different for you?
Well, I think this is the most consistent album I’ve made because it’s the first one I saw through from beginning to end. Normally I just get beats sent to me, and try and pick the cohesive ones and then transition to just having one producer to keep the consistency there. That’s kind of what I did with this one, but I also wrote everything myself so it was easy to stay focused. Every song was already mapped out.
The album title sticks out to me as an interesting concept. What’s the inspiration behind it?
Suffer On is the name of the last song that I wrote for the album and I was trying to think about what could tie it together as a whole album. I was thinking about what themes were consistent through the project, it’s really emotionally heavy, there’s a lot of weight there. That’s the same with my other projects but this felt more personal, like there was more levity to the songs. There’s a feeling of suffering throughout the whole album and it doesn’t really let up.
The album feels different from your past work in the way you delve into these themes of depression, heartbreak and sadness. Could you tell me about the process of putting the project together?
I wrote the album for the most part in a period of 2-3 weeks, and there are certain times throughout the year where I’m in a depressed and miserable state — I can almost map when it’s going to happen. Sure enough, that was the period where I was writing the project. When I was trying to write that album I was doing it in the same way someone would do a day job. I would get up in the morning and go to my grandma’s house, I was having work done on my house where I usually write so I was going to hers and working out of her basement. There’s no internet or phone service there so I was left to write based on what I was feeling or nothing else. Usually, if I’m stuck on ideas I’d distract myself with Youtube videos or something, but this time I didn’t have that luxury. The longing, heartbreak and sadness have always been a part of my music, but I just kept steamrolling through this writing process and by the end of that period I had 10 songs full of very depressing material.
“The longing, heartbreak and sadness have always been a part of my music, but I just kept steamrolling through this writing process and by the end of that period I had 10 songs full of very depressing material”
I think humans in general have a tendency to distract themselves rather than facing how they feel. Did you experience difficulties exploring these emotions out loud?
Definitely. I can’t recall a specific experience or anything, but I always end up taking a line or two, sometimes even a whole verse out because it seems too direct. Even listening to the album now, I’m kind of surprised at what I actually kept on there because when I hear it I automatically think “wow, that must of been a tough year for me”. There’s some stuff in here that’s so literal and not coded at all. There are very little metaphors, it’s exactly how I was feeling and exactly how I would express myself but still, if I sing something that hits a little too hard I usually take it out because it’s not something that I want to be on the record forever.
A lot of this record reminds me of Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked At Me, another album that is void of metaphors and cuts straight to the chase when it comes to sadness. Would you consider Phil Elverum as an influence on your craft?
Yeah! He’s my biggest inspiration, I first heard him as a freshman in high school. I used to go to the library and borrow like 20 CDs at a time, I’d burn them and listen to them all — that’s where I found him. I think the first record I heard was The Glow Pt.2 when he went by The Microphones and since then he’s been one of my biggest inspirations. I’ve only listened to A Crow Looked At Me like two times because it is so heavy, but I also feel as if he was able to record that album and put it out that I’m doing him a disservice by not listening. I just don’t think that I’m in a headspace right now or have been in the past few years to go down that hole, but I love him. That whole transition from The Microphones to Mount Eerie that he made inspired me to start Wicca Phase, reinvent myself and explore different musical routes. The way he changes up his sound every album is inspiring and gives me hope that I can keep Wicca Phase going without tying it to a specific genre.
I know that Phil cites the weather and scenery as huge influences on how his music sounds. He recorded his album Dawn in a Norwegian forest. Do seasons and your surroundings have the same effect on your craft?
Yes and no, let me figure out a way to explain this [laughs]. When I’m recording I have the type of weather in mind that I want the music to reflect. I know that I want it to be dreary and to sound the way that rain sounds or the way that fog feels. I think also trying to build around the album when you’re trying to figure out how it sounds, helps dial in your vision. Almost every song on this album starts with a minor chord, which sets the tone, and you’re not thinking about sunshine when you hear a big minor chord. So it’s not necessarily the weather where I am that affects the music, but I do have that imagery in mind of what I want it to be.
This album has been released on Run For Cover records, which is interesting considering you’ve done everything primarily DIY up to now. What’s the change been like?
I’ll tell you what, it’s not that much different, and that’s one of the reasons why I went with Run For Cover. I’d been in talks with them since 2017, and I felt like I wasn’t quite ready yet — I had a lot of material I wanted to get on my own before switching to a proper release format. At the same time, I was talking to people from major labels, and the more those talks progressed, the more I realised I’d be limited in what I wanted to do and the way I branded and marketed my music. Even in a larger sense the way I pursued my career and venues I play — just the roads I take to becoming successful. And at the end of the day with Run The Cover, their vision of what was possible for me was the same as mine. It feels no different other than the fact that I have more support when it comes to what I want to do, more of financial backing, and more exposure. There’s a difference between taking your music to the next level and selling out, and Run For Cover allowed me to move forward without having to compromise. They made no changes on the record or suggested anything, they let me do whatever I wanted. I don’t feel less independent, I feel more empowered. At the same time, this album feels like my first record, because it’s properly produced and has a bit of push behind it.
Run For Cover is the home for a lot of emo bands, and lately, we’ve seen a trend of rappers taking elements of the genre and combining it with hip-hop, a style you and the Gothboiclique helped pioneer. Looking at it today, do you feel as if the music is still as authentic as it was, or has it become compromised?
Yeah, the music is definitely not as authentic now (laughs). I was definitely inspired by people to pursue the rap lane because when I started I just wanted to make electronic music. Going on sites like Tumblr, I discovered artists like Black Kray, Goth Money Records, and Bones — who was more inspired by traditional rap but was still singing on songs. It wasn’t as saturated back then. Now there are so many artists, I can’t keep up with them. Like I couldn’t name 20 “emo rappers” when we started, but now I can name 50 and I bet half of those are old news at this point. I look at show flyers and stuff and I can’t believe how many people are doing this. I guess it’s pretty easy to make this type of music, but it’s not easy to make this music and make it good and unique and genuine. But it’s simple these days. You can go on Youtube and look up ‘Lil Peep type beat’, download it, record it, put it on Soundcloud, and become one of these artists. That in itself hurts the authenticity and legitimacy of this music. I make music for myself and because I feel I need to, and I just hope other people like it. I’m not doing it because I want people to notice me or anything like that. I think as long as people have that mindset that it’s fine, and there can be as many artists as people want there to be. But when it becomes a thing to just be cool it hurts artists like Horsehead, Lil Tracy, and myself who I feel are making this type of music in a genuine manner. It bums me out, man.
Last year you released the Dead Star EP with Clams Casino and Fish Narc, as well as ‘Waiting Here’ with Lil B, which brought me back to the days where this type of music wasn’t as diluted. How did those collaborations come about?
These collaborations go back to me being on Tumblr in 2011-2012 and hearing the Lil B and Clams Casino songs they had made together, ‘I’m God’, ‘Realist Alive’ etc. It was underground and there was nothing fake about it, Lil B was coming from the heart and there was real emotion in those Clams Casino beats. It was so refreshing because I didn’t know that type of music could make me feel that way. So Fish Narc had somehow linked up with Clams Casino and they started working together. He then sent me the beat for ‘Dead Star’ and I asked him to send more, and he sent about seven more that he made with Clams. I then face timed them and asked if they’d be down to release the songs and they were. It was a dream for me because I was recording on Clams beats in 2012 and not releasing them. The Lil B one was just a shot in the dark where I emailed him and explained who I was. He must’ve been aware of Gothboiclique or something because he emailed me right back and sent me his phone number. He picked one of the songs I sent him and he had it back to me the next day.
You and Lil B coming together to me in a way symbolises one of the most important eras in online music. What effect do you think Gothboiclique, as well as Lil B, has had on shaping the climate of music today?
I think I’m still trying to figure it out and place it in the grand scheme or music, whether it’s the underground or mainstream music in general. I definitely think Lil B has a huge part in people being themselves and being funny, as well as just not being afraid to express. I think without Lil B’s influence there would be no Gothboiclique, and you wouldn’t have people like Lil Yachty and Lil Uzi Vert getting played on the radio. You’re really putting yourself out there by being as honest as he is in his music, or how I’m trying to be in mine. I mean, Lil Peep and Lil Tracy rapped about their lives exact, they weren’t making stuff up to try and be cool. When they were rapping about the drugs they were doing, they were really doing that, and when they rapped about the girls they had broken up with, that had really happened. I think people relate to that and that’s why it’s so popular. That’s when you start seeing mainstream versions of the underground come to light, that’s where the Post Malones and Juice WRLDs come from. I don’t want to put Gothboiclique in the same light as Lil B because I’m not really sure what our place is yet, but I don’t think you’d see anything like what we see today without Lil B because being weird and quirky used to work against the cool factor for rappers. I think traditionally a mindset that was very masculine and tough was needed to come across as authentic, but then Lil B just came out as himself. You can see that in the way people dress and in the way they deliver their music. Also, Lil B’s internet savviness helped set a blueprint for how artists can become popular on the internet — that can’t be understated.
“Lil Peep and Lil Tracy rapped about their lives exact, they weren’t making stuff up to try and be cool. When they were rapping about the drugs they were doing, they were really doing that, and when they rapped about the girls they had broken up with, that had really happened. I think people relate to that and that’s why it’s so popular.”
Lastly, the title track and song that closes out the album is one of the dreariest, but it also has glimpses of hope throughout. After all you and Gothboiclique have been through, whether it’s inner feuds or the unfortunate passing of Lil Peep, how do you find the motivation to keep going, to keep suffering on?
I think the idea that there’s still a lot I want to do. I feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface. I think this album is the first time I’ve made the music I want to make and have included the honesty I want to get across. But it feels like it’s just the beginning, and there are so many projects in my head I want to make. Gothboiclique only has one album out, and we’ve all grown so much since then. And we’ve only recently that we realised how much is possible and the different kinds of music that we can make. It doesn’t have to be rap music or emo music or anything like that, it can be a lot of things. It keeps me optimistic and interested in going forward. There’s still a lot I want to do.
Wicca Phase Springs Eternal’s new album Suffer On is out now. You can stream it below.