Horcerer doesn’t sound quite like any other band in Knoxville. In fact, it’s a good bet they don’t sound like any band anywhere on the planet right now, though it’s possible some East European goths who’ve spent too much time with krokodil and Skinny Puppy records might have stumbled across similar sounds.
Singer/lyricist Adam Deal favors somewhat sinister subject matter, delivered with dramatic crooning, operatic metal wailing, and the occasional bit of rapping. Drummer Cole Murphy, keyboardist/programmer William Tugwell, and guitarist/saxophonist Josh Wolitzky create music that borrows from industrial, goth, hip-hop, free jazz, and prog rock. Combining this many elements has the potential to sound, at worst, like an aggressively annoying update of Mr. Bungle, and at best a mess, but Horcerer blends dark humor and serious experimentation in appealing, at times even poppy songs.
The group grew out of a one-off performance for Pilot Light’s 2012 Halloween masquerade show, when Deal, Tugwell, and Wolitzky came together to cover Soft Cell. The trio found they enjoyed working together and continued to collaborate.
“The three of us would get together and mess around, and we came up with a few songs,” Wolitzky says. “Once Cole came in and cinched everything together with drums, a lot of amorphous songs that didn’t really have structure started forming. Then we started writing songs a lot easier. But we didn’t have a particular sound in mind. The way Ween did whatever the hell they wanted to, album to album, song to song, we wanted to do something like that.”
This penchant for experimentation is aided by the fact that the musicians of Horcerer are a bit outside of their comfort zone, playing instruments with which they claim not to be at complete ease. With the exception of Deal, every member has other ongoing projects in which they play what might be considered their primary instruments.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a guitar player, but for Soft Cell I had to learn how to play those songs and get better at keyboard,” Tugwell explains. “I downloaded Audacity and started working with it and figuring that out, and I had a little beat machine that I would make loops and play around with. It’s fun. I like making music that way.”
“I’m primarily a saxophone player but wanted to play guitar in Horcerer,” Wolitzky adds. “I’ve never been a super-strong guitar player, and I’m still not. I’m not a technician—it’s more about creating a certain sound, making the right noises. I think it’s crucial to the band that we’re both discovering our instruments at the same time.”
“I think I’m kind of doing that, too,” Murphy says. “I’ve been playing drums since I was 15, but for the past few years my main focus has been composing electronic music for Fine Peduncle. Writing music on a drum kit is kind of new for me.”
The group seems to view Horcerer as a conceptual project to some degree. They talk of themselves as characters with specific roles in the band. Theatricality is most apparent in frontman Deal, who once performed from inside a plastic trash bag. He tends to accessorize his outfits with such accouterments as a gas-mask codpiece. Befitting a band where each member is also a visual artist, they also have an abundance of visual ideas for future performances. While many bands play several shows a month, so far Horcerer has only made a few appearances since their first gig in July 2013. This is deliberate.
“We could play more shows, but we want the shows to be special,” Tugwell explains. “You can get really burned out playing a lot of shows. I know I have, and I think you can lose some of the magic that way. I’m always interested in how to get from the typical thing of a performance by a couple of bands in a dark room to something that’s more of an experience, something that makes it memorable.”
So what’s the deal with the name?
“The seeking out of a band name, especially in this town, is difficult,” Wolitzky says. “There have been a lot of really good band names in this town! We came up with a lot of names, but Will Fist just shouted it at us one day and it seemed right.”
“Later I found something on the Internet that said it’s the name for these Icelandic berserkers that would eat mushrooms and drink a lot of mead then vomit all over their enemies,” Tugwell adds. “So then it seemed perfect.”
(This turned out to be from an entry in Urban Dictionary. Further research turned up no other sources for the word. A request to the author of the Urban Dictionary entry, Jerry Manderpubes, for more information has thus far gone unanswered. If anyone has any information about Icelandic horcerers, please contact the band or the author.)