Adam McIlwee Talks Comics, Conspiracies, and the Wicca Phase Springs Eternal Mythology
Saturn is the center of our universe, and gothbois love it.
“Right now I’m really into stuff about the planet Saturn—it all ties back to the idea that Saturn was our sun before our sun now. Instead of Earth revolving around the sun, it was enclosed within Saturn. So there’s people who think that in the Bible, when they talk about the Garden of Eden or the Golden Age in writing, they’re talking about when Earth was revolving around Saturn.”
These are words you may never have thought you’d hear from Adam McIlwee, the brains behind music and aesthetic collective Gothboiclique, and frontman of the witch house–inspired emo rap project Wicca Phase Springs Eternal. With a marketing background, a love of Grant Morrison and Tom King comics, and a penchant for Dickies 874s, McIlwee comes off as a normal guy. But under that signature black hoodie lies an entire history complete with its own characters, rules, and a dark, underlying mythological branding. As Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, McIlwee openly embraces all things weird—accompanied by 808 drum beats and lyrical allegories—as a part of his personal exercise in creative world-building.
McIlwee began his music career as the lead singer/songwriter for the mega-influential emo group Tigers Jaw, but something was missing from the standard pop punk formula. He dove into the world of Tumblr and SoundCloud to release drum-fused, lo-fi rap demos. At the time, it seemed like a stretch from the crooning harmonies of Tigers Jaw, but it attracted the attention of online producers and artists in the godfather of experimental SoundCloud rap groups: THRAXXHOUSE. The Mackned-founded collective consisted of some forty-plus members of the creative communities in Los Angeles and Seattle, and they specialized in new hybrid forms of rap. McIlwee joined as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, and was a residential “gothboi” singer along with artists Cold Hart and Horse Head.
A few years later, McIlwee formed his own group, the now-notorious Gothboiclique. After numerous collaborations between THRAXXHOUSE and Gothboiclique, the two collectives eventually merged, resulting in a supergroup of genre-bending artists. With names like Lil Tracy, DOVES, JPDREAMTHUG, and the late Lil Peep, Gothboiclique set the standard for collaboration and respect in a community where artists are encouraged to be weird.
Although numerous WPSE releases and collaborations are available on Bandcamp, the upcoming album Suffer On will be the official full-length Run for Cover debut of this persona (most of Tigers Jaw’s music was released via the Boston indie label), and it’s the least weird of his releases. Even though Suffer On has mostly moved past the primary subject matter of his previous releases—spirits, aliens, and conspiracies—McIlwee hasn’t. The aesthetic and mythology behind Wicca Phase Springs Eternal continues to stem from the same process that turns writers into bestsellers: by writing what they know.
For Adam McIlwee, embracing the weirdness in the world is how he expresses himself. In preparation for the release of Suffer On, we talked with McIlwee about his inspirations behind the project—and it turns out we might all have a little Wicca Phase in us.
What is Wicca Phase Springs Eternal?
“Wicca Phase” is something you get over—a fleeting thing. I thought that fit well with the way I was branding the project, kind of “mall goth.” If anyone asks about the name “Gothboiclique” I normally point to that. It’s never a predominant thing with the music, but there’s dark undertones, and aside from that it’s just us wearing black t-shirts and black hoodies, so I thought it was of a joking nature—like the person who named Wicca Phase was trolling us.
But the full name “Wicca Phase Springs Eternal” implies that something lasts forever, and it does lead to something else that you can’t really get rid of. Post-2010, when you put music online, you get kind of popular. You’re never going to be able to erase that music, you’re going to be stuck with that name. I like that aspect of it. I thought the name reflected the state of music at the time—moving forward, especially in an Internet-driven genre. It’s kind of a shocking name.
Is Wicca Phase Springs Eternal an aesthetic?
I dress pretty conservatively—I don’t dress wild. I feel like Lil Tracy dresses pretty wild. Peep dressed pretty wild. My whole look is more muted. It’s mall goth in the sense that I haven’t fully committed to the black eyeliner every day. Also, at the time, “health goth” was a super popular fad in the Tumblr community—people wearing Under Armour tights and black shorts over them and stuff like that. I wanted my music to sound like that look.
I heard that you like comic books. How have they inspired Wicca Phase?
I worked in a comic book store for years, and at an early age my parents would take me to a recycling plant around Scranton that would have a bunch of comics that newsstands and convenience stores were getting rid of. The main thing I always liked about comic books was the world-building that goes on. Shared universes, characters interacting from different titles, stuff like that. I liked the idea of building a mythology—and there is definitely a Wicca Phase mythology: Corinthiax and the introduction to some sort of world I haven’t fully developed yet. That’s the main thing I took away.
I remember Peep talking about how if you really want to stand out, you have to create a character the same way a wrestler would create a persona, and that’s who the fans identify with. I wouldn’t be able to do any of that if I didn’t have some sense of how characters develop over time. The first Batman comic came out in the ’40s and the character stayed relevant, like, eighty years later, so I try and take from that.
Speaking of Corinthiax, how does this persona evolve to fit into Suffer On?
That was a name I came up with based off of a comic, Sandman. There’s a villain named “The Corinthian,” and I took that and added an “x” at the end. A total comic book villain move—take a name and put an “x” at the end and it sounds evil. I was putting that name into songs really early on without ever knowing what it meant. With the Corinthiax EP, I was able to use that weird, dark mythology as a backdrop and weave in more personal stuff around it, whereas this album is pretty much all personal stuff with a few tinges of that weird mythology built into it. I haven’t thought of a name for the new person. [Suffer On] is my first album with Run for Cover and my first proper album, so I didn’t want to come in too hot with the weirdness.
Wicca Phase implies ties to the occult and mysticism—so, what’s your favorite conspiracy theory?
For a while I was into conspiracies, but now I’m more into the thought process behind conspiracy culture and what attracts people so much to conspiracies. For a while, it’s been like, “Yeah—everything is a conspiracy, you can’t believe anything you’re told by the mainstream media.” That might be true, and there might be some agenda behind everything, but I have a hard time believing that. It hurts my head to think, “How do I know what’s real and what’s not? How do I know what’s being fabricated and manipulated at a higher level?”
“I remember Peep talking about how if you really want to stand out, you have to create a character the same way a wrestler would create a persona, and that’s who the fans identify with. I wouldn’t be able to do any of that if I didn’t have some sense of how characters develop over time.”
Scientology is super interesting to me. Jack Parsons is a dude born in the early 1900s who went on to develop the rocket technology that NASA would make its industry off of. He eventually helped start NASA by giving them the technology that would help them form, but he was also a black magician and studied under Aleister Crowley. He was doing a ritual called “Babalon Working” where him and L. Ron Hubbard, who had not started Scientology yet, were up for weeks doing this ritual, and shortly after that Roswell happened. So there’s people that think the ritual actually worked and opened up some sort of interdimensional portal that allowed aliens to come here, so that’s definitely one worth looking into. L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons had some sort of company they were forming, and L. Ron just took off, and eventually Jack Parsons’ wife went with him. Shortly after, Hubbard started Scientology, so there’s some really weird connections there. I could go on about this forever.
Speaking of conspiracies, on Secret Boy there’s a song called “Like I’m Tom May.” Rumor has it that that’s in reference to Tom May of The Menzingers. What’s the story?
I’m pretty close with Tom, and I grew up with his younger brother. [Tom] helped me learn guitar, he showed me so much music when we were young, he’s helped me out so much and I always really looked up to and respected him. There’s a street in that song that I mention that Tom mentions in early Menzingers songs, Keyser Avenue—a big street in Scranton. For whatever reason I decided to pay tribute to that. I don’t even know if he’s heard the song. I love Tom, I love The Menzingers, especially with them being from Scranton.
I don’t think they had a car crash. I think I just said, “I crash my car on Keyser like I’m Tom May,” as if Tom May would be driving on Keyser Avenue. But I didn’t crash my car on Keyser Avenue either. It’s just artistic license. I’m just being dramatic. FL