Last January, Philadelphia-based lo-fi band Pill Friends left a message on their Facebook page. The words were blunt and brief.
“It was a good run, but we were all born losers. RIP pill friends,” the post read.
Despite circumstances, the self-loathing style of the words was Pill Friends-esque as ever. The band, always confrontational in its lyrics, never afraid of some figurative strong eye contact, struck again.
Pill Friends was a capsule for its members, especially lead singer Ryan Wilson, to pour their darkest selves into – as a form of therapeutic release unavailable elsewhere in their lives. At moments, the lyrics are the hard-to-look-away kind of revolting. (The cassette album cover for their newish album, Abortion Ceremony, is a bloody newborn baby.) When the melancholy overtakes the visceral, Pill Friends is a hopeless face pressed against a window, looking out on the rain.
The band and its music was an honest and public display of private feelings. With skill and the fuel of inner conflict, Wilson and his outfit left it all out on the field.
While the band was still active, KCPR was lucky enough to interview Wilson on depression, Philadelphia and why dogs should shut up. Here is an edited transcript of that interview:
What you do with Pill Friends?
I’m the lead singer and I play guitar. For everyone else’s part, everyone writes stuff on their own. I just bring in pretty much the structure of the song. Then everyone else adds their stuff. For instance, Kyle adds in whatever drums he thinks are best for that. I can only barely play guitar. Everyone else does their own thing, which is cool. So everyone has the freedom within their own role within the band, which I think is a positive thing.
Sure. When you’re doing your ritual, in coming up with your end of things (musically), is there any sort of consistent theme Where you’ll do that or what mindset you’ll put yourself in?
I can’t really sit down and write a song or anything like that. It just seems like passing over time. I guess it’s just where I am in terms of life and where I am mentally and how I’m trying to express things that I’m having trouble expressing through the normal tasks that I have (within my life).
Absolutely. And that actually brings me to one of my questions. It regards contrast that you can draw between Blessed Suffering and Child Sacrifice. From where I’m standing, as a listener, Child Sacrifice feels a lot more visceral and straight forward, where as Blessed Suffering was more ephemeral and fleeting. Could you comment on the contrast between a song title like “Forget Me,” which is sort of dreamy as opposed to “Abortion Ceremony.”
I understand what you’re saying. A lot of it has to do with the direction. Kind of like the next step forward after the idea that Blessed Suffering is mainly doing, which is, should one continue living? Or is there any value in existence. Is that enough?
Then I think Child Sacrifice is about how human relationships kind of resolve that question and they resolve the answer and give just a little bit of not necessarily meaning, but acceptance towards the most basic questions you can ask yourself.
Is it safe to say that Blessed Suffering introduces the theories. Child Sacrifice comes in with that physical affirmation?
Yeah. Child Sacrifice was over a longer period of time. A lot of the songs are almost three years old. They were written right after Blessed Suffering. A lot has to do with direct personal experiences, but at the same time, nothing is incredibly direct.
“Abortion Ceremony” is not about a real abortion.
It’s more of dying to one’s self. It’s more in the sense that everything is what it is. To kind of just say that this is all. Things can feel extremely negative in terms of the context you can find yourself in, but if you’re able to find some sort of value or joy or happiness out of it, that thing is worth striving for.
Sure, and here’s a question I had about Child Sacrifice. The last track is a spoken word piece. I wanted to know where that came from. What does it mean?
A lot of it has to do with getting out of forms of addiction. Substance addition and getting past that and wanting this thing that’s destructive and knowing that. But getting that feeling out, that you still strive for this destructive tendency. But, at the same time, recognizing that there’s nothing positive in any facet about that. It’s not what you wanted to be doing – you’re growing up. Child Sacrifice was a way of shedding my old self by trying to develop a better form in which I wasn’t so destructive.
With the next album that you guys are going to do, are you going to talk about things thematically different, grownup, since you’ll have aged a few years?
Definitely, but I would say a lot of the themes are pretty similar. I think a lot to these questions don’t leave. And there are plenty of things that I still struggle with mentally. A lot of people get upset for thinking that when we talk about suicide. They think it’s an idealization of it. That’s not the case. It’s a lot of me trying to come to terms with it. And, in the sense that these are real thoughts, and you can’t express it to people with it having a negative connotation. In reality, these are actual things. I wouldn’t say I’m that person anymore, but at the same I still think about it in a way – that’s different from an action but, (the same) in terms of a concept.
It isn’t to romanticize the concept, more just that yo need to be talking about it in these terms of it wouldn’t be true.
This comes as a change of pace, but I’d like to ask a bit about what it’s like living in a bedroom pop renaissance in Philadelphia right now, with the likes of Alex G or Elvis Depressedly. For you guys, is that sort of an environment that puts more pressure on you because there are so many people working in the same sub-genre or do you find it creatively liberating because you also have all of these people to build off of?
No, I really like it because everyone has their own thing and does their own thing within it. I think we have our own sound and our own tone and our own identity within it. I mean Alex’s music is like, obviously, the greatest stuff. Mat’s stuff (as in Mathew Lee Cothran, who also creates music under the names Elvis Depressedly and Coma Cinema), that’s what really got me into it when I was younger. I was hearing Mat’s stuff at first in like 2009. I think it’s a privilege to be a part of it and to be able to experience it and befriend these people who are making incredible music, in my opinion.
You guys just have to be like, the greatest friend group in the world.
Yeah, it’s just really cool. I feel really blessed to be even a small part of it, and having our own small cult following within it. Music for us isn’t our sole focus. We all have very different, separate lives. We all have to make ends meet. We all have to work.
We all have to strive towards other things, but music is something that brings us all together. We’re all incredibly good friends, and music is something that we use to have a reason for us to be together. It’s kind of less of us trying to make it, but rather us trying to enjoy what we’re doing.
You guys all have day jobs? What do you fill your work week with?
I work at a Chinese restaurant in West Philly. All of the servers are American, then the kitchen is Chinese. So I relay between the servers and the kitchen. I don’t know Chinese, but it’s kind of fun.
I’m also curious about whether there was any thought behind you guys setting a “name your price” on your bandcamp. There’s no price to download your music. Is that intentional?
My philosophical beliefs on digital content, I think digital music should be free in any facet. If you want something physical, I understand paying for that product. If people want to donate to our music, they’ll do that, but at the same time I understand what it’s like to be broke and want to listen to a certain band and not be able to afford it and have to go through other means to attain that.
I’d rather have more listeners than more money, is what I’m trying to say. I’d rather people listen to our music and not be dissuaded by a price.
I think it’s really admirable that you would put that idea above making money.
Bands put out a record and charge eight dollars for it, but wouldn’t you rather have somebody listen to it rather than say, “Oh this is eight dollars. I can’t really afford this.” Then they’ll forget about you.
I think that’s something that came from Mat Cothran. When he was first starting up band camp with Coma Cinema and stuff, he was a firm believer in that. I don’t know his thoughts on it now, but originally he was like that. That thought process made a lot more sense to me than charging people. Digital content is honestly a non-tangible thing. It’s hard for me to comprehend, to understand what in terms of digital content is payable and not and how you want to value and dictate the market.
Okay, I’ve largely gotten through the questions I have revolving around you the artist, but we have a few fun ones. If you don’t mind ima proceed into those.
When’s is the closest to a restaurant closing time that you’ll allow yourself to still go?
I try to keep it like an hour. I know what it’s like to have somebody come in five minutes before close and sit there for two hours. I can’t do that to people. The only time I’ll do something like that, for instance, if I go to a small place in Chinatown where they make it really quick and you eat really quick.
There are so many people who do that. I’m thinking about the people from last night who did it. When it’s some yuppie ass white dude with his girlfriend and they’re drunk and the kitchen is about to close, these Chinese chefs don’t care. They will not make you the food. They walk right out. They work six days a week, 11 o’clock to 10 o’clock.
Fuck yuppies, man. I’m sick of them. My family is a bunch of yuppies, too, and I make fun of them and myself cause I’m a yuppy, too.
How do you feel about pets with person names?
I’m not sure. My girlfriend’s dog is named Sophie and I don’t have a problem with it.
That’s very tolerant of you.
Animals with me, I have trouble with some of them because they can be pretty annoying. I hate when little dogs bark. I always have negative thoughts towards them. Cats, I hate when cats meow in the morning. They just need to shut up. They’re fucking cats. I’m watching somebody’s cat right now and we’re trying to be nice to it and then it’ll bite us.
I like good animals. There are good dogs and good cats. But they’re like human beings. There’s good and bad. I get that they’re trying to communicate and whatever, but they don’t need to communicate because I don’t understand them. So they can shut up.
They should only speak when spoken to.
*Laughs* Yeah exactly. Kind of like how kids were 150 years ago.
So you’re not very progressive about how you would raise your pet?
No, no, no. I’m kind of bitter about it.
You’re just going to be a strict, traditional father.
Will Peischel is a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly journalism senior. He also edits the KCPR website. He spins tunes on KCPR San Luis Obispo 91.3 FM and KCPR.org on Mondays from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Ella Worley created the illustration to accompany the article. She’s a KCPR DJ and Cal Poly viticulture sophomore. Her show on KCPR runs Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon.