"Pay For Pain hinges on a balance between fresh and familiar. The brand new project of guitarist/vocalist Adam McIlwee, the mastermind behind the genre-bending Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, and bassist/vocalist Dennis Mishko and drummer Pat Brier of indie rock cult heroes Three Man Cannon. The three longtime friends and collaborators’ pedigree also includes their time in Tigers Jaw, where they were instrumental in creating the band’s beloved first four albums before departing in 2013. All of that personal and musical history only serves to bolster Pay For Pain’s debut self-titled EP, a collection of six songs that not only tap into the power of that familiarity, but also push all three musicians to break ground.
Pay For Pain began almost three years ago with the modest goal of simply making music with no preconceived notions or obligations. “The only plan was to do it for fun,” McIlwee explains. “The entire band is just about doing things the way we want to do them, it’s pretty loose but that’s part of the appeal for us.” To capture that off the cuff spirit the band teamed with another familiar face, Matt Schimelfenig (Three Man Cannon, Gladie, Queen Jesus), to record the Pay For Pain EP live at his studio, The Bunk, in Henryville, PA. The result is a raw sound that incorporates the musical sensibilities of all three members—jangly-yet-brooding guitars, undeniable melodies, a knack for conjuring an enigmatic mood—while also delving into something different. “I think it’s a bit of a combination of all our current and past projects, but we didn’t really talk about what kind of band it would be,” McIlwee says. “We just started playing and writing, and anything goes. It’s still guitar-driven, but maybe more influenced by ‘60s and ‘70s rock music than anything we’ve done before.”
Mishko and McIlwee split songwriting duties on the six tracks, but found an unintentional cohesion in the songs—the kind of organic consistency that comes from years of making music together. “Fallen Angel” opens the EP with a thick bass tone and a quick tempo before McIlwee’s guitar and instantly recognizable croon enters the mix. The arrangement is stripped back to the core essentials: just guitar, bass, and drums, with Schimelfenig’s warm production allowing each member’s contributions to shine through alongside the longing vocal hooks. “New York” follows with off-kilter chords, a lilting melody, and Brier’s tight drumming cutting loose. The song’s stream-of-conscious lyrics exemplify McIlwee and Mishko’s shared ability to merge small, seemingly mundane moments with more dramatic themes and feelings, tapping into the kinds of underlying anxieties that are always there whether or not we’re paying attention.
Mishko’s aching voice leads “Gatekeeper” and “When I Was 14;” the former a head-bobbing slice of melancholy guitar pop, and the latter a slow burning stomp he describes as, “About as close to a love song as I’ve ever gotten.” Meanwhile McIlwee, no stranger to dark romanticism, takes the lead on “You Take Command of My Heart,” a biting song that could have fit into the Tigers Jaw catalog in another life—now filtered through Pay For Pain’s endearingly unrefined aesthetic. The EP closes with “Until I Walk Through The Flames,” which McIlwee says initially inspired his early ideas for Pay For Pain. “It’s this weird, vaguely occult-tinged cowboy song—which I think was the original idea in my mind for the band.” It’s an apt description, as the song’s shuffling snare beat and McIlwee’s evocative lyrics steadily build into the kind of sonic and emotional catharsis for which all three musicians are known. It’s an icy, lovelorn, punk-tinged, version of a campfire song—a mix that’s at once strange and fitting, and a promising start to Pay For Pain."
01. Fallen Angel
02. New York
04. You Take Command of My Heart
05. When I Was 14
06. Until I Walk Through the Flames