By the time the Dillinger Escape Plan announced their impending breakup in 2016, many questioned what each of the band members would go on to do. But for bassist Liam Wilson, he’d already begun working on John Frum, a psychedelic metal band featuring veterans of the scene from bands like Faceless and Zorn.
Now that John Frum’s debut record, A Stirring in the Noos, has been unleashed on the world, Wilson and his newest set of bandmates are almost ready to bring their unique brand of hard rock to the masses (as soon as Dillinger finishes their final tour later this year). We caught up with the busy bassist between tour dates to talk about the new record and some of his two bands’ similarities and differences.
PUREVOLUME: For people who really only know the members of John Frum because of their other projects, how would you describe A Stirring in the Noos?
Liam Wilson: I suppose it depends on what kind of introduction it’s coming with, but it’s a heavy death metal-ish record with kind of a forward-leaning bullying style. But it also has psychedelic attributes and pulls more from a free jazz than a neoclassical metal influence. That’s only speaking about the music and what came out though.
PV: With everyone’s experience and careers in other bands, what was it like to get everyone together for this John Frum record?
LW: Not that it’s a “set the record straight” kind of thing, but nobody came together because of what they were doing. Matt [Hollenberg] — who’s crushing it with Zorn these days — when we started the band, he was just kind of “Matt from the block.” He started working with Zorn three years into the John Frum project, so it’s not really like anyone was farmed from or out of their situation. Derek [Rydquist] was ex-Faceless, so it’s not like we went out of our way or said “Let’s get that dude!” It just turned out that he was one of the dudes who was available when we were talking to our friends.
I guess the initial genesis starts with Eli [Litwin] and I when Knife the Glitter opened for Dillinger in 2009 or somewhere in that range. Eli and I realized we lived on the same street like a few blocks away from each other, and we initially started jamming because he was one of the drummers Dillinger was considering when we needed a drummer. We started jamming on Dillinger songs at one point, and I realized there was at least some chemistry there in terms of personality, ability, reference point, and the fact that he lived down the street.
Fast-forward a few years, and he and Matt had gotten together and started writing a few things. They reached out to me, and even though Matt and I both said we didn’t want to do a metal thing, that’s just what came out. Fast-forward again another couple of years, we meet Derek and start demoing, and then the demos turned into the record. There weren’t a whole lot of steps between finishing a song and recording it. The only other mentionable is simply that Derek was on the West Coast for the majority of it. He came out here to track some of it, but most of it was the instruments on the East Coast and vocals on the West Coast.
PV: How different was the creative process working with the guys in John Frum compared to what you became used to with Dillinger?
LW: I think one of the biggest things was the relative locality in the beginning. Most of us were living almost in the same zip code, so we had the ability to just get together and not really have a big agenda. We would just work on whatever we were working on and let the muse happen. With Dillinger, it’s been a long time since we’d all been together in a practice space jamming and writing and letting that process happen organically amongst a few people. I think for me, that was the biggest and most rewarding thing was feeling like everybody was an equal member giving an equal share.
It really turned into something where if you ask me who wrote what, I wouldn’t know. I can only name like one riff that somebody actually wrote, and I only remember that clearly because it was such a crushing riff and our drummer wrote it. It was like “Shit, this is how easy it is to work with these people?” With Dillinger, I’ve been working with Greg [Puciato] and Ben [Weinman] for like 16 or 17 years, and it’s really hard for us to see each other as the mature successful visionary artists that I believe we really can be. I see Ben and Greg as these twentysomething-year-old little jerks, and I’m sure they see me the same way. I love them, but it’s different walking into a project in your mid-30s and having a hierarchy of experience under your belt. For me, it was a really rewarding thing that definitely changes the music.
PV: Continuing with that train of thought, what kinds of things do you want to do with John Frum that you didn’t get to do with Dillinger?
LW: I can’t say that I didn’t take a lot from the Dillinger playbook at least into consideration when doing this. I’ve absorbed more than I’m rejecting from the Dillinger playbook, but this time there’s definitely more room for improvisation and less about chaos. It’s still part of the show, and I definitely still want some sort of visual element on the stage — be it metaphysical armor or “costumes.” Early on in Dillinger, I think it was a lot more about the technical “flash,” and although the John Frum record has a certain musical sophistication, I don’t think anything comes off as overtly showoff-y or beyond the range of functional from a songwriting point of view.
There’s a lot more to it, and I could unpack it all for days. Even the fact that John Frum and John Dillinger are both the muses leading these bands, and I think there’s something interesting about having that outside force. Honestly, I find that I’m rejecting more things from the scene and from music in general than I am from any of my other projects, and I certainly wouldn’t want to get into any shit-talking anyway.
PV: How conscious were you of Dillinger and Faceless, and your bandmates’ other bands when coming up with John Frum’s sound?
LW: So much of this is just what came out between the three of us — Eli, Matt and I. Once we wrote a song like “Memory Palace,” it became more clear of what the music was asking us for on vocals. There were a lot of times when it would sound too much like a Dillinger thing or influence A, B, or C, so we would change it and just push through to something else. I was definitely very sensitive to that — not because it doesn’t just naturally come out, but if Matt or Eli were to stumble on to one of those ideas, I would just think it was kind of boring to me because I’d already done it. It really came down to ability and what the songs seemed to dictate.
I couldn’t imagine a song like “Memory Palace” not having really brutal vocals over it. That’s not to say that maybe “Wasting Subtle Body” couldn’t have had some more rabid, feral catharsis-style thing over it, but you don’t really get that once you commit to a band. I guess there was a little bit of not wanting to stray too far, but you can’t really have a choice anyway. No matter what we did, a certain amount of our fanbase was going to listen to it and either like or reject it. The fact that it came out heavy is just sort of a bonus. That’s not to say I can’t imagine us always being a really heavy band, but I don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner and say that we’re always going to be a really heavy band. If we’re around for 25 years, I can totally see us taking a different path in our trajectory.