The Icarus Line
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January 7, 2010

STS Forum Q&A with Joe Cardamone

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Earlier last year (May 2009), Joe was kind enough to answer a few questions for the STS Forum. Here is the (cleaned up) complete interview and reprinted in full:

seasoninhell: Is the album recorded?

Yes. The record is tracked. All that remains is mixing and mastering which is taking place over the next couple weeks. I am very precious about sonics so sometimes it takes me a while to feel happy about a final mix. We may have to wait for a choice engineer to have time to help out, since the people we usually work with make tons of money on more profitable projects. Although we never have a shortage of talent we can’t always afford to pay top dollar which means we are at the whim of their busy schedules. I am as anxious to get the record out as anyone. Trust me.

seasoninhell: Whatever happened to the DVD?

The DVD was done a long time ago. The problem being that I was exactly enamored with our performance, mine specifically to be blunt. The location we used was only available at 8 in the morning until the early afternoon so we had to play very early. In true DIY fashion I had spent the previous two days making sure everything was sorted for the shoot. I was completely burnt by the time we performed. It wasn’t really anyones fault but I just know it could have been better and haven’t had the heart to release a product that doesn’t really represent The Icarus Line at it’s best. I feel bad because a lot of people put hard work into that shoot so I hope to find a way to let go and get it out there eventually. For now I just can’t…

seasoninhell: Is The Icarus Line Joe Cardamone?

Yes and No. Yes, I have written the bulk of the material since the bands inception. While other members have made obvious contributions, I really haven’t felt comfortable letting go of the wheel. I am the only one who has stuck it out when times got tight, every time, and boy have they ever. That’s not to say other members haven’t been through the shit with me but at one point or another everyone has jumped ship or been told to walked the plank for some reason or another. The Icarus Line is me and whatever cast of extremely talented individuals I have surrounding me. While it could exist with me solo playing and doing everything that’s just not what this band has been about. We have always been a gang. We are a family of like minded individuals that are not alike at all. For instance I smoke cigarettes and Jason smokes weed. It’s a hard question to answer because I continue the group through various cast changes but I never feel like we have sacrificed integrity. I know people may grow fond of a certain line up or a former gang banger and that is their right. We all get emotional now and then, don’t we? For the most part I whole heartedly feel that we have gotten stronger as a musical force as we have gone and continue to dig closer to the core of what I have always wanted this group to achieve. I can trust the current line up to make decisions without my guidance that are completely in line with what I would specifically wish for without overt communication. We are like the holy spirit in the conceptual sense. So to answer: yes, I am The Icarus Line but I am nothing without my band.

fuckass: I’ll ask it, ’cause I feel like a lot of people want to, though I’m sure its all private/ancient history: what’s the story behind Aaron leaving the band?

I will try to answer this to the best of of my ability but you have to realize that we haven’t spoken much since A. North left the group so this perspective is mine only. I have been told by people that when Don joined the band that was the begining of the end for Aaron. We had just made an opus of a record and were touring our asses off all over the world gaining a good deal of negative and positive press. Even though we may have been on a lot peoples minds at the time it surely didn’t translate in to dollar bills. We still struggled to have the bare essentials of life…food and a place to live. We all did a lot of drugs. When you take drugs you don’t have to eat, don’t care where you sleep and don’t miss your loved ones as much. Although it rarely affected our creative output and live show, it surely distorted our already green business decisions. By the end of touring Penance I was burnt out creatively and spiritually as I’m sure everyone in the band was. When we got home we had no where to live, not a pot to piss in. Imagine going from doing what you love most every night, being the guest of honor, to becoming a homeless person scared for your livelyhood. Somewhat of a shock to the system. I found a cheap hotel to hole up in and everyone else did what they could to survive. At the same time I didn’t feel like the band had much room to grow in its then current configuration. Penance was fucking balls to the wall but what was the point of making that same record again? I didn’t see one. We played up to everyones strengths as much as we could on that record and I felt that potential was dry as a bone. I just wasn’t interested in doing the same thing. Before Aaron left there was talk of moving him to bass and Don to guitar so that we could expand our sound and try some things that would otherwise be impossible. I’m sure that was the straw that put him on Reznor’s back. Don’t get me wrong, Aaron is great at what he does but I just really have a short attention span for repeating myself. Once I feel boxed in that’s when I’m done having fun. I wasn’t making money so I better be making records the way I wanted. I think these were some of the major elements in Aaron’s departure. There was no fighting or falling out (until months later), he simply emailed a resignation to our management and that was that. Aaron wanted stability and to be a rockstar at the highest level that he could attain. When it became clear that my mindset was geared in a different direction he had to go. In hindsight it really did work out best for the both of us and there are no regrets but its never easy to lose a gang member.

pleasefireme: Oh, I want to ask something even if it doesn’t really pertain to The Icarus Line but, Souls She Said. I know it was sort of a side project but, is it dead or are you and Don just taking a break from it?

Well now, I intentionally stayed out of the SSS process for the most part. All I ever did was write lyrics right before I sang the parts. Like Jay Z. SSS was Don’s thing really. Since Don left the group we haven’t spoken much at length about anything, let alone making records. I do know that Historics is pretty much Souls without me and plus a couple other guys. If you want to hear the next chapter, that is it. Me and Don don’t make records together anymore but I wish him the best in life.

prankster101: Why did Don leave? Will Don ever come back? And if he has gone, will we ever see the return of other ex-members who were “forced out” because of him? What about The Captain?

The situation surrounding Don leaving was this: He was getting married and moving to NYC. He also tried to hijack my record from me telling our management that I was going crazy and on “drugs”. All this happened in the mixing stages of Black Lives. I had him removed from the studio and the mixer was fired. Basically, everyone involved got fired because they were trying to steal my record from me. It was intense at the time but me and Don have since come to common ground. No bad blood. He has some new bands going and I am happy for him. I always did like his guitar playing.

I don’t think anyone who leaves this band is ever coming back man. It usually sucks so much for them to leave (or be got rid of) the first time that no body wants to go through it again. Now obviously Jeff is the exception to the rule on this one. He has ping ponged around for years now. If you want to know why the band has played more shows or recorded more output look no further than the fact that our drummer kept moving out of town and back. Jeff is a special person who as a friend is impossible to replace. It’s like asking could you replace your brother? No, never. At some point you just get tired of saving someone’s spot in line while you watch everyone else take their turn. I love Jeff… he has got to follow his own heart in the path to success.

prankster101: How do you think the new drummer fits in, and what does he bring to the equation? How do you think he is able to complement the strengths of the band?

A>R> the new guy! A little background on the man. He has previously played with Sonny K from Angel Hair/Year Future, my friend Niel from Trail of the Dead and also was in Vietnam for a while. While we have jammed with literally 50 drummers over the last year looking for someone to stand in for Jeff while he was away no one delivered like A^R>. Let’s just put it this way, I feel like we have much more potential to grow from where we were just a few months ago. Everyone that saw the show last friday said it was the best they had seen in years. The current line up is astonishing and punk as fuck. Feels a lot like Mono/Penance era gang but everyone is a master at their station. Really fucking sick.

Side note: The guy in the new pictures is Aric the guitar player from the Willowz and former Mutes band leader. He has been holding the heavy bass in Alvins abesence. Type this into you tube: Aric Bohn Swimming….

fuckass: You and Al have been co-conspirators for a loooooong time. What do you think it is about your relationship that keeps you dudes kicking out jams together as band members come and go? Also, why the switch to bass? As a left handed guitar player, there are so few to admire in modern music.

Alvin and I have been playing music together since we became friends in 5th grade. I was 11 years old and obsessed with Guns N Roses. I was obsessed with Rock n Roll. That year I had bought a GnR tape with a Christmas gift certificate to Licorice Pizza (now defunct record store). It was for fifteen bucks which seemed like a lot to me at the time. We were enrolled in a small catholic school, about 30 kids a class so everyone knew everyone pretty well. Me and Alvin got paired up for a project and I soon thought he was an unsually feisty Asian kid. Quick with comebacks. Sharp little nerd. We were all nerds though. Everyone wore uniforms to class every day. I told him I was going to start a band and that it was going to be one of the best that had ever existed. At first he looked at me like I was crazy but soon enough he told me he was going to buy a guitar. I told him to forget about that and to get a bass instead. I already had a guitar. Being practical about things he agreed and took up lessons at a local music shop. Within a couple weeks he was better than I was; playing Zeppelin and Rush and even Mr. Brownstone which blew me away. I have always had the big picture in mind but when I was younger I was way too ADD to really dig in to my instrument like I should have. I got other kids we knew to buy instruments so that we could play talent shows and dances. We mostly sucked but Alvin always held it down pretty tight. We kept at it through the years with various folks – some lineups more well known than others – but in a nutshell that is how we started. The rest is history.

I guess the reason Alvin and I have been playing together for so long is that he is a great musician with very little ego and a great work ethic. Pure dedication. He always knows how to get out of or in the the way in the songs. Most people who are talented musicians have trouble doing this. On top of that he is a loyal friend who can be counted on and is very honest. He has put the band first before himself a number of times and that shit is really what matters. Alvin is rad.

He switched to bass by my suggestion because thats how we started and I really feel bass suits his no frills/solid as a rock style. Under all the noise and charming guitar debauchery this band is about bass and drums. We base most tunes around a rhythm and go from there. Alvin on bass has made song writing and live shows so more enjoyable than they have been in a long time. Really, this is us returning to our roots.

Sunken: 10 years ago, would you have thought you would have gotten this far with the band? and where do you think you’ll be in 10 years from now?

10 years ago I had small obsessions. I wanted to save enough money to go on tour or to put out a single. I got excited over the smallest things. Everything seemed like such a luxury; recording for a day, making a show poster, meeting someone in band that I thought was cool. I never even dreamed that we would go overseas or be liked by anyone at all. I never thought any of this would have happened but at the same time I dreamt of it often.

10 years from now? I have no clue. Maybe I will be a janitor. Maybe a chef. I will be making music in some form or another even if it’s on a 4 track in a basement. If you really look into your favorite bands, if you look close, you will most likely discover that they come from families with money. Most bands that have any notable level of success have parents who have allowed them to posture as rockstars long before they are one. The members of this band have never had any such luxury. We have been living on the edge of poverty since we were young and it has been a constant threat. I compare it to kids in the ghetto getting worse test scores than those who live in nice homes. It’s easier to do your homework when the air conditioner works and there is food in the fridge. Of course there are always exceptions to this rule. I hope we can be that exception, that we can inspire those who have to do homework on a empty stomach.

timothy: I guess this first one would be more of a observation than an actual question.

After Mono came out it seemed the Icarus Line made it over to Europe at least a couple of times every year, on several different tours of their own or with other bands [the Dillinger Escape Plan plus Shat / etc.]. In the Netherlands at least, there never were any proper shows after both Penance Soiree and Black Lives came out.

While I understand that obviously since those first couple of tours things have changed / people have gotten older / etc., I still would have loved to have been able to see shows in support of both those records – especially Penance – after already being familiar with the material.

Not really sure what the point of this thing was, except that I would have loved to see a show after Penance came out, although admittedly that short run of shows just after Jeff and Don joined again were pretty amazing.

Maybe this is more of an actual question…

While the Icarus Line obviously functions within the context of songwriting and is formally a rock band, what has been (maybe to a lesser extent on Mono) one of the more interesting facets of the band is sonic experimentalism with sound texture / guitar tones / production / mixing / etc., resulting in something that it is quite a bit more unconventional than it might initially seem on the surface and not at all a naturalistic documentation of a band playing.

Throbbing Gristle. Coltrane. Wolf Eyes. Mingus. High rise. Mainliner. Miles Davis. Mantronix. Morricone. Nick Cave. Funkadelic. Black Chains and Exhaust Comp, Giorgio Moroder… to name a few off the top of my head. The intro theme to the French Connection is something I am going to rip off really soon.

timothy: I would be curious to know what more overtly experimental / tonal / etc. music you would state as an influence and plays a part in this.

At the time I always intended to ask Aaron if he was into Merzbow, for instance. Is this already part of your initial vision for the material or does it come together in collaboration with the players executing / interpreting / etc. the material or maybe Mike Musmanno?

Everyone plays a part shaping the record even if inadvertently. Unless I played every instrument and recorded it, only then could I take most credit. Even then there are so many accidents and X factors that almost anything that is done on purpose leads to a better accident. I have a big picture of where I’d like to end up but since there are no road maps that I like to follow it’s foolish to be so heavy handed that it’s no fun. I’m the kind of guy that opens the box plugs it in and throws away the handbook right away. More ADD. I can usually get things working on my own so I have usually just done trial and error.

Musamanno has been a huge influence on me. He taught me how to make records. Not how to press play and record. Not how to set a limiter. He taught me that a good meal and a car chase might be in order to get some good vocals that night. He showed me when its done and when it needs more. I have learned more from him than anyone I have ever studied under. He was taught by some of the best that ever were and has recorded some of the best as well. Although he isn’t recognized today as a HOT producer I think history will paint him to be a Martin Hannett type individual. The pearls he has passed on are invaluable and I don’t think I could have had a better type of learning.

timothy: On the subject, did he also work on the production of the upcoming album?

He fucked around with a track or two. Although I have been listed as “produced by The Icarus Line” on previous records it was because someone in the band may have had a significant influence on a song or two. This new record is produced by me alone. From finding the funding and booking the studio to setting the delay on the tape echo it’s been me on my own. Of course with a very talented, supportive band giving me the confidence to really follow my ideas through. Or the confidence to sit back and listen to magic unfold. They have created an atmosphere that producers dream about. One that bands pretend to have. One that seldom exists in modern record making. I love them for this gift.

timothy: Somewhat related, is it a conscious decision to have the recordings process for Icarus Line album’s as layered as it is [several different studios / several different engineers / etc. over a longer period of time rather than a single session] and what would you say is the effect on the end result of working like this?

No, it’s not a choice we have made but one that life has made for us. Pure economics buddy. I love classic recordings. I like some Lo-Fi shit too but I really really like classics. The 70’s were the golden era and in my opinion the advances on records since then interest me very little. At least when it comes it rock n roll. The reason we stumbled from studio to studio was because we could only afford so many days at the 1,500 dollar a day joint. We track the band live and whatever stays stays. Usually the drums stay anything else is gravy. Then we take the tapes to somewhere less expensive but with comparable gear. Sometimes we try to go back to big room to mix, sometimes not, it really depends on how much money is left and what we need to do. The effect has it’s upshots and pitfalls. The upshot is a very textured record that sounds foreign to itself. We get to spend more time on each songs and really pull out its true face. The downside is that we have to build momentum again and again. Not that I mind being in studios at all. I do what I can with what I have to achieve a standard of quality that I desire. You can always make something sound much dirtier but seldom can you shine up a turd. For this reason I like to start off with a very clean canvas and to spill paint as we go along. Nothing new to the art world but something that seems to be forgotten on either side of the spectrum more often these days. A record by definition is a document of a time and a performance. Why not capture the performance as honestly as you can before you distort its image? This is why we hop from studio to studio, deal to deal. The standards I hold are harder to come by in a dwindling economy but if you play smart and from your heart you can do no wrong.

timothy: Mmm, while on the last record it was obviously stated that all three of you, i.e. you, Alvin and Don, played both guitar and bass, I always wondered if Don also played any of the guitars on Penance or if the tracks were recorded more or less according to what everyone would have played in a live setting, i.e. Aaron and Alvin on guitar and Don on bass. Some of those guitars always sounded very much like Don guitar magick to me, but of course I could be wrong.

Don played no guitar on Penance. I did however…on a few tracks.

Some of those guitars always sounded very much like Don guitar magick to me, but of course I could be wrong.

Sorry you’re wrong. The album credits usually put everyone on the right instrument although I don’t think I credited myself for piano or guitar on the first two records…im not sure why? I guess I didn’t want to take away anyone’s glory. I was younger and thought people were as honest about who they were as I tried to be. No big deal.

fuckass: It seems like the recording of every one of your albums has its share of craziness behind the scenes. Any interesting stories come to mind from the recording processes of Mono, Penance, Black Lives etc.?

Yeah there’s tons of puke/overdose/fighting/lying/loving… nothing that I really would recount.

royceescobar: When you once stated that you actually “dont like People/Human Beings” in general and prefer to be alone more… How do you decide if someone is actually able to join “the Gang”?

I have been fortunate enough to have fate deliver the right people straight into my lap. First off no one is ever perfect for the job. If you ever had a girlfriend or boy friend you know what I mean. Although someone may be completely awesome – even mind blowingly – so it’s the imperfections that create magic. It’s friction of everything. The push and pull. Without that you have nothing. If someone can sit in a van for 30 hours and not put homicidal thoughts in your mind then they might be the right one. I find pleasure in seeing potential. If someone feels like they have nothing left to learn what is the point? This route may make for sticky in-between parts but in the long run the pride of discovery is so much more gratifying.

royceescobar: Although I really understand that lack of social sincerity, I imagine it to be hard finding “soulmates” or whatnot… How do you decide?

I hardly have to choose anyone they usually choose me and that’s how it begins.

maze: So is there a title for the new album?

Joe Cardamone VS The Icarus Line

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