On Shuffle: “Until I Walk Through The Flames” by Pay For Pain

Posted: by The Editor

Graphic by Madison Van Houten

On Shuffle is a weekly column dictated by a combination of computerized chance and personal history. Every week, I’ll put my iTunes library—which I’ve been cultivating in some form since at least 2007—on shuffle and I’ll write about whatever song comes up first. All of these are songs that I’ve added to my library over the last 15 years, so all of them have a reason for being there. I may or may not remember what that was. To read more about why I’m doing this, check out this intro post.

This week on shuffle: “Until I Walk Through The Flames” by Pay For Pain

I mentioned in my introductory essay how I feel now (in my perpetual old age) that music is moving very fast, how I’m feeling lately that I can’t possibly say everything I want to say about all of the good stuff that’s coming out and how I often feel like I’m too late to the party by the time I’m ready to say what I need to say. It’s not so much that I can’t keep up, but that lately I feel that I have more to say about more music, to the point where the most I can possibly say about a lot of stuff that I really love is just enough to substantiate a tweet with a video (sorry to all the publicists sending me genuinely good stuff all the time). So I’m glad that this week’s track is from a release that I really did like a lot last year, but for whatever reason got buried by all of the other stuff that was coming out of the time. 

Pay For Pain is the kind of project I honestly never expected to see. Composed of Adam McIlwee, Dennis Mishko, and Pat Brier, Pay For Pain brings back together a trio of musicians who famously left Tigers Jaw in 2013. Up until that point, Tigers Jaw was a band that kind of thrived on the tension between these different members, the brightness of Ben Walsh’s songs clashing gently with the dour, deadpan spirit of McIlwee’s. The departure of these three members, particularly McIlwee, fundamentally changed the dynamic of Tigers Jaw, which then continued on as a duo of Walsh and Brianna Collins. 

The shift that Tigers Jaw went through remains kind of controversial. For a lot of people that I’ve talked to about this, that band functionally stopped existing after they released Charmer in 2014, the last collection of songs recorded with the five-piece band. For this crowd, the band that created 2016’s spin and this year’s I Don’t Care How You Remember Me is classified as something wholly different, a band that failed to keep the magic going and should have ended it in 2014 or at least changed their name. 

Personally, I don’t really subscribe to that opinion. I think the through-line between the two eras is pretty understandable and I think that the band was basically always headed toward the glossy, shiny pop rock that they started to fully embody on spin, which I think is a great record with a few of my favorite songs. I also wasn’t really a fan of this band until Charmer anyway, and while I like and appreciate the earlier stuff it’s never been something that I reach for all that often. Charmer, though, for me is one of the best emo records of that era, and I do agree that part of the reason for that is the way that these different songwriters seemed to be playing off of one another. 

After he left Tigers Jaw, McIlwee started making music of a more experimental nature as Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, the sound of which drew from hip hop, witch house, and trap. Wicca Phase has released a ton of stuff over the years but I haven’t honestly spent much time with it besides the 2019 full length Suffer On, which I thought was a pretty cool record, if not one I really think about too often. 

All that leads us to Pay For Pain, who arrived early last year and released their debut EP Pain in the spring. The other 3/5ths of the band who made Charmer sounded natural together on Pain, returning to a kind of gloomy indie rock that centered around McIlwee’s moaning, imperfect, and downtrodden vocal style. For a couple weeks there in late April and early May, Pain was my go-to album when I didn’t know what else to listen to, the forceful but bummed-out rock music matching perfectly with the, um, really shitty time we were all having. 

“Until I Walk Through The Flames” is the closing track on that EP, not one of the ones I was gravitating toward for the brief time I was playing this regularly (I was a big fan of “New York” and the single “Fallen Angel”). It’s a nice track though, full of loosely strummed guitars that dissipate abstractly alongside a steady, thumping drum beat that gives it a little bit of an old western vibe. One of my favorite things about McIlwee’s songs on Charmer is the way he straightforwardly wrote very complex and often unlikable characters, and this song follows up on that nicely, his best lines feeling at once bluntly declared and artfully uncertain—”You knew me as the one who spoke in passionate lies / The darker twin of someone that you used to know / The feeling’s like a code imprinted on our blood now.” These characters still roam McIlwee’s songs, causing trouble and knowing they can be better. 

“Until I Walk Through The Flames” originally appeared on the vinyl release of the 2016 Wicca Phase album Secret Boy in a sparser acoustic form, McIlwee’s voice deeper, almost choked up in this darker, dustier country form. The Pay for Pain version is the superior one, although there is a strangely potent emotional aspect of this original rendition that makes both of them worthwhile. I need to note that McIlwee’s voice is not for everyone and without a lot of noise around him, it’s difficult to ignore. I think his voice works most of the time and I even had to turn that original version off the first time I listened to it, but coming back to the song later on in a better headspace was a good idea anyway. 

At this point, I don’t think anybody is clamoring for an original-lineup Tigers Jaw reunion à la Taking Back Sunday 2010. But it’s nice to have something like Pay for Pain to see what McIlwee, Mishko, and Brier sound like together in this indie rock mode after such a long time, and it’s comforting in some way to know that it sounds the way you might expect it to—perfect for a gloomy ass day like today. 

Other projects on shuffle:

  • I forgot to mention Three Man Cannon! Great band Misko and Brier have been in for a long while: 

Weird beefs on shuffle:

Live videos on shuffle:

  • Here’s Wicca Phase doing “Until I Walk Through The Flames” acoustic in 2017:
  • There’s also a video of the band’s first set in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 2019:

Jordan Walsh | @jordalsh

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