the wildfires projekt
[Photo courtesy of the Wildfires Projekt]

Mental health has become an outspoken topic in both the scene and our community. Music is an integral outlet that can tie everyone together and has the capability of making strangers into new friends. With music, we’re less alone, and the Wildfires Projekt aims to do just that.

AltPress is teaming up with the band to premiere their latest single “Eyes Sewn Shut” off the upcoming EP From Which We Came, which was co-written and produced by the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus frontman Ronnie Winter.

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Frontman Johnny Zirkel has been an outspoken advocate when it comes to mental health. Co-founding the nonprofit Reverse The Trend, the vocalist has brought anti-bullying and suicide prevention to hundreds of schools nationwide as well as the Vans Warped Tour.

The Wildfires Projekt is another endeavor and platform for Zirkel to be emotional and honest about mental health. “Eyes Sewn Shut” swings hard off the bat with anthemic riffs and lyrics that are filled with emotion stemming from a dark moment in Zirkel’s life. 

Zirkel and Winter answered a few questions and opened up about the upcoming EP, the new single and what it was like to work together.

What was the inspiration for “Eyes Sewn Shut”? What made you choose this song for the single?

ZIRKEL: “Eyes Sewn Shut” is a very personal song that has to do with a time in my life where I was dealing with a very serious anxiety disorder and alcoholism. When I was at my lowest, I fell asleep at the wheel and drove my car off the side of the road. Thankfully, I survived, and it wasn’t that bad, but this song takes on the perspective of if I had died and what God would be saying to me at the end of my life.

I wanted this song to be the single because I felt it’s where I became the most vulnerable, and that vulnerability has the potential to really reach people on a deeper level. Plus, I just love the song. [Laughs.]

Overall, your main focus is on mental health awareness. How does the From Which We Came EP continue to explore that?

ZIRKEL: With From Which We Came, I wanted to make this more of a journey through different types of mental health issues instead of just focusing on my own like our previous record, A Letter To Myself. The intro track is actually a collection of interviews with psychiatric professionals at the time when [multiple personality disorder] became a more recognized illness. The songs that follow deal with everything from co-dependency to sexual assault to alcoholism and the effects all of those things have on a person.

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“Eyes Sewn Shut” seems heavier compared to the songs off A Letter To Myself. Was that a personal decision, or was that more of a collaborative effort with Ronnie?

ZIRKEL: It was definitely a collaborative effort. Initially, a lot of these songs were a bit on the safe side with the lyrics, melodies and instrumentation. But as we began to really dive into the record, we decided to throw away the rules and build the songs around the emotions and not a certain expected sound. Through that, all of the songs became a bit heavier and deeper, and there are definitely some surprising moments on the album that won’t be expected by the listener.

What was it about Johnny Zirkel and the Wildfires Projekt that attracted you to produce/co-write the EP?

RONNIE WINTER: I was exposed to the Wildfires Projekt through Johnny after I met him through taping a show, and then usually when I listen to the band from somebody who’s like, “Hey dude, check out my band”—and I’m trying to think of the nicest way to put this—it’s not always the best. So I was impressed by the music that he already had that was on Spotify. And then we got to talking, and he seemed like a really smart kid and somebody who was willing to work hard, and those are the people I like to work with specifically. I’m a [smaller] producer, so I don’t do five or six albums a year. So I just want to see somebody who can work hard. I saw that in Johnny. I liked his previous work, and I thought I could elevate his songs and his music.

What was the writing process like with Ronnie?

ZIRKEL: Writing with Ronnie was a very unique experience. He challenged me to really open up about the lyrics and meanings behind the songs, which is something that has always been hard for me. It was especially hard in this scenario because I was opening up to someone who I hadn’t known very long. I believe that is a big part of what makes this record so unique and different—you can really feel those moments.

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How was working with the Wildfires Projekt different than working with your band? Did it feel pretty natural?

WINTER: Working with the Wildfires Projekt is a lot different than working with my band because in my band, it’s all me. So in the Wildfires Projekt, it’s all Johnny. He’s very much the creative force behind that project. So I was able to relate to him, 100%. I know exactly where he’s coming from, but he also brings in elements from other people. It doesn’t have to only be him. We have that in common. So I think we worked really well together. In my opinion, the process was seamless. 

At the end of the track, you have a brief spoken-word part paraphrasing a segment from Genesis 3:19. What inspired the decision to include that?

ZIRKEL: I think part of the inspiration came from talking to Ronnie about the inclusion of a bible verse in Red Jumpsuit’s “Grim Goodbye.” I thought that was a very creative decision and sought to find a verse that could really tie the whole album together. I chose to include that portion of Genesis because it talks about the faults of man and the consequences of our actions, which is a heavy theme within the record alongside mental illness.

What message or feeling do you hope listeners will get from this single and the From Which We Came EP?

ZIRKEL: The people who listen to this record will most likely be going through some of these [mental health] issues themselves or know someone who is. I hope those dealing with these issues will understand they are not alone in their struggles and that there is hope. For those who don’t personally deal with these issues but know someone who does, I hope they realize how important it is to be there for that person. Oftentimes, we tell people we don’t need anyone, but we do. We really do.

Check out “Eyes Sewn Shut” below.

Make sure to keep an eye out for the From Which We Came EP, which drops April 7. Additionally, you can catch Zirkel live as he supports the Red Jumpsuit Apparatus’ the Emergency EP tour. Check out the tracklist and dates below with tickets here.

Tracklist:

“Eve Black”
“White Jacket”
“Open Heart // Closed Casket”
“Against The Wall”
“Once An Addict Always Dramatic”
“Eyes Sewn Shut”

Dates:

03/25 – San Diego, CA @ Brick by Brick
03/26 – Mesa, AZ @ Club Red
03/27 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Hi Hat
03/28 – Anaheim, CA @ House of Blues
04/01 – Fresno, CA @ Full Circle Brewery Co
04/02 – Orangevale, CA @ The Boardwalk
04/03 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall
04/04 – Bakersfield, CA @ Speakeasy Bar and Grill at 1933 Event Center
04/05 – Santa Cruz, CA @ Catalyst