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PILGRIM – Adventurers
Anthony Morgan
February 2012

Pilgrim (l-r): Nick Nosach, Jon Rossi and Eric Dittrich

Provisionally titled Big Cheese during a grunge phase, Rhode Island-based doom metal trio Pilgrim formed in 2009-2010 and consist of guitarist / vocalist Jon Rossi, bassist Eric Dittrich, and drummer Nick Nosach. The Wizard, Count Elric The Soothsayer, and Krolg, Slayer Of Men the trio are respectively better known by, the names formerly their Dungeons & Dragons monikers from the days they used to play the fantasy role-playing game.

“I wanna say that we formed in 2009, but the dates are a little fuzzy. Again though, I have the worst memory. I don’t remember,” chuckles Jon Rossi, vocalist, guitarist and co-founder of Pilgrim. “We got together when we were all in high school and we used to listen to a lot of bands from the grunge era, Nirvana and all those bands. We started off as friends before we were a band. We listened to grunge for a long time and that’s why we got together, because we wanted to make that kind of music. It might not sound like it, but I think that there is a grunge influence in our music. I think it had a big impact on how we play, but it might be subtle. It’s in the riffs that we resonate well with and the grooves that we like, and I guess our overall attitude to people and as a band is heavily influenced by the 90s. We don’t take ourselves very seriously. We liked grunge music, but then as we got older though we started to discover doom metal and got totally into that. Doom metal bands are the greatest of all time. We’ll always say that because they make the best music; in my opinion, those bands are really, really awesome. And their style? Doom metal is just the best. That’s untouchable to us, but we also like stoner stuff from the West. We all like Pentagram, Revelation. Saint Vitus of course. Doom metal bands really influence us a lot, but not so much the funereal, sad doom. We like our doom a little more triumphant and powerful.

“Everybody says that we’re a doom metal band because we listen to doom metal and we like to play things dark and heavy, but we have a lot more influences than that that make up what we sound like though. A lot of it is – like I said – from the 90s, a lot of grunge bands and things like that. I guess if you had to choose a genre and describe it, I think doom metal would be the best. But yeah, it’s just rock ’n’ roll. It’s just the same stuff that you heard in the 70s; it’s simplified, and just a lot more volume and distortion. I listen to a lot of 70s prog stuff. I really like Pink Floyd, and I like some classic rock like Led Zeppelin. A lot of modern bands have also influenced us a lot too, people that we know, that we play with. We play with a band called Natur from New York, and their style of metal really has a big impact on us and also our friends Ice Dragon. They’re awesome and we’ve played music with them a lot. They’ve definitely influenced us.”

Synonyms for the word ‘pilgrim’ include ‘traveler’, ‘explorer’, ‘wanderer’, and ‘sojourner’. “At first it was just a name that we chose – a good one-word metal name – but then eventually we started travelling to New York a lot,” the axeman remembers. “Being in New York, we would think of it as taking a pilgrimage to New York City. We spent a lot of time going to New York, because nobody knew who we were. Public Assembly I think is our favourite place to play; it has the best stage, and the best sound. We played The Acheron a lot, which is small. I don’t know how you would describe it. It’s like a tunnel, a small tunnel with actual people, but the people there are very cool. Those are some of the good ones, the ones that we like. We were trying really hard to make a name for ourselves, and it took a really long time. So yeah, a lot of it was spent just trying to play live as much as possible so that people actually knew who we were. That’s when the band name really started to fit, but originally I think it was inspired by the Om record Pilgrimage (October 2007, Southern Lord Records). I think that was the original inspiration.”

Two-track demo Forsaken Man arrived in 2011. “That was made in my parents’ basement when we were a lot younger,” Jon notes. “It was recorded on a computer microphone which you’d use to talk to people online, and we had the worst programme, the worst software like Windows 95 stuff. It was really bad; it took a lot to get the sound good, a lot of EQ. We were really, really proud of it at the time when we finished it, but now not so much. I don’t think it’s very good now, but at the time we liked it. That was the demo that Alan heard. That, and surprisingly some other earlier demo material that wasn’t released. They were just on our MySpace page. I’m really surprised that he was enthused because they were awful. They were God awful, really bad (laughs).”

Jon Rossi

Alan ‘Nemtheanga’ Averill oversees Poison Tongue Records, a Metal Blade Records subsidiary who announced news of Pilgrim’s signing on November 22nd. “We got an email from Alan, and he was very interested in the music and wanted to release something,” the singer recalls. “At the time we were like ‘Yeah, whatever.’ We didn’t know who Alan was, and we didn’t know who Primordial was. To be honest, we didn’t even know what Metal Blade was. Six months to a year later, we had another email saying ‘I’m ready to do this.’ We really wanted to put our music out there, so we were like ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ We took a chance with it, and didn’t know what to expect. It turned out for the best, and then he gave us a lot of money to record which was very generous.”

With Boston, Massachusetts-based doom metal group Ice Dragon and limited to 300 copies, the split ten-inch vinyl single ‘Astaroth’ was issued through Yersinia Pestis Records on December 3rd. “We became really good friends with that band Ice Dragon, because we went to go see them in Boston,” Jon enthuses. “There was one night in particular that we went to go see them, and nobody was there except for me and …. the bass player. Because nobody else was there we talked to each other and found out that we both had bands, and we became really good friends. We started travelling to Boston to hang out with them and make music, and then eventually we got the idea. We happen to both have songs called ‘Astaroth’, so we were like ‘Dude, let’s put out a split with both of our songs on it.’ Astaroth is a lesser demon of Hell. I guess he’s just a mythological creature that both me and Chris from Ice Dragon resonate with. He’s also into a lot of Hammer Horror films, so we were really partial to the name and we liked the idea and the psychology. We spent a lot of time on the internet reading, reading too much shit. Our friend Josh – also from Boston – has a label called Yersinia Pestis, so he wanted to put the split out for us. We’re so proud of that; this record is a symbol of a friendship between two bands, and it really is. It’s the best – I love that record.”

Produced by Henry Yuan, Misery Wizard was recorded at Emandee Studios in Brooklyn, New York in September 2011. “We got given a pretty handsome cheque by Alan I guess you could say,” the co-founder beams. “We went into our friends’ studio whose name is Mark Emandee, and he runs Emandee Studios. We got to the studio, and we banged out the record really fast. I don’t know if you’ve heard the stories of Black Sabbath when they first went into the studio, where they just cut all the songs track after track in one take. It’s pretty much as close to that as you can get; it was recorded in three days, really fast. It was quite the experience. I think we were all on amphetamines at the time (laughs), so we were playing faster while recording it. It was very quick, and to the point. We had a lot of fun, and we got to work on our sound. We learnt a lot from being in the studio.”

Journalists and fans alike tend to neatly confine groups to specific categories. Some musicians are comfortable with this, and others not so much. “I go back and forth every day,” Jon confesses. “I don’t know, because it’s one thing to be playing music for the purpose of doom metal. It feels triumphant and you feel like you’re doing it for something very important, but at the same time you don’t wanna be tied down to a genre. It’s weird. I really don’t know how I feel about that yet (laughs). I’m still trying to work it out.”

Lifting stage names from Dungeons & Dragons, lyrical content of the wizard-type ilk inevitably surface. “A lot of the lyrics are about wizards and magic, demons and sorcery, aliens and UFOs and ancient religions,” the guitarist discloses. “‘Adventurer’ is an autobiography of the band, and it also touches on some ideas of being isolated. Solitude, and the craziness that that can cause someone. The experience of being alone for too long. ‘Forsaken Man’ is the story of the character Forsaken Man who is also the Misery Wizard who the record is named after, which is all basically an autobiography about myself. It’s the story of this guy who’s just totally detached himself from society, I guess. I know it sounds very generic.”

Paul McCarroll of Unhinged Art designed the cover artwork for Misery Wizard. “That guy is awesome,” Jon reckons. “We gave him the idea for the cover, and he came back with something that was way beyond our expectations. It’s actually a parody image, an almost exact replica of this one painting called Jesus Heals The Lepers. It’s definitely in the style of Renaissance artwork. I found the image on the internet so I’m not sure who the artist is. We thought we were going to get a pencil sketch from Paul, but he just went all out and it’s amazing. He’s really easy to work with, is really nice, and is an awesome dude who makes awesome artwork.”

Misery Wizard was released on January 27th, 2012 in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, on the 30th in the rest of Europe, and subsequently on February 14th in North America, all through Poison Tongue Records.

Interview published in February 2012.

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