In the casket showroom of his grandmother’s Pennsylvanian funeral home, the musician Adam McIlwee created Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, an emo-revivalist hip-hop project that merges 808 drums with morbid lyricism. Here, he walks us through the cemetery of his past, all from the mortuary table where he writes his songs.
“I always wonder: When someone like Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen was 40 years old, what were they up to, what were their finances like, and what was their mental health like? I live in Pennsylvania. I’ve always lived in this town. My grandmother owns a funeral home, and my bands have always practiced here in the basement. It used to be a showroom for caskets. It’s a dark, cleared-out space with fluorescent lights and wood-paneled walls, green carpet, and no windows. There’s no cell phone service, wifi, or anything like that. When my band used to practice here, sometimes my friends who weren’t used to it would walk in when they were embalming a body, and that would really freak them out.
“There were two major weird points of my younger life. I had an aunt who I was really close with who committed suicide when I was 11 or 12 years old. She was pretty young, too, like in her early 30s. At the time—for whatever reason, maybe because I grew up around death in other people’s families—it didn’t really hit me that hard. Looking back on it now, I imagine it probably did change my outlook on life. When my grandfather died, my dad ended up taking over the funeral home, so he was working for his mother-in-law. He went to mortuary school, but he had drug problems that had been persistent since I was, like, 10 years old. He was in and out of rehab until my parents split when I was 18—I had just done my first tour with a band, right after high school—and my dad kind of went rogue and left somewhere. I imagine that my aunt’s passing and my dad’s drug problems are somewhat responsible for why my interests skew toward a darker aesthetic.
“From the age of 13, I started getting really into the internet. I was on anime and wrestling message boards. Before I was even doing Wicca Phase, I had a blog where I would interview net artists who were making weird 3D graphics. When I started Wicca Phase, it was almost entirely internet-based. There would be no Wicca Phase without Tumblr in 2012, and Twitter before that. That’s how I ended up meeting Coldhart, and we started GothBoiClique together [a Los Angeles–based collective comprised of likeminded musicians including Fish Narc and the late Lil Peep]. In 2015, I booked a show in L.A., and that’s where the rest of GothBoiClique lived, so it was my first time meeting everyone. I was still writing songs in my grandmother’s house with no internet and no phone service—my thoughts were all I had when writing, so I had no choice but to be as honest and personal as possible. I remember [Lil] Peep saying he felt like he’d come up with a wrestling persona that he had to live as all the time. But there’s no character for me. There’s no world I’m building.”