The Icarus Line
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January 7, 2010

The Skyscraper Article

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I wasn’t aware of this. Apparently The Icarus Line were interviewed by Skyscraper magazine – in their Spring 2004 issue – before the magazine closed to become an online website. I am so going to have to buy a few back-issues of that magazine as I think it really managed to capture the indie spirit of fanzines like Punk Planet of old. You can also read my interview with one of its editors here.

THE ICARUS LINE

The Sound in the Fury

by Ryan Potts

Forget what you thought you knew, might have heard, or may have known about The Icarus Line. Undoubtedly, Penance Soiree will alter ears and modify minds.

What came first: the myth or the music? As far as you know, The Icarus Line have never been about the latter. You probably know them as the bastard child of Buddyhead, or as the band that spray painted “$uckin Dick$” on The Strokes’ tour bus, or for when they shattered a display case at the Austin, Texas, Hard Rock Cafe and “freed” Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar during the 2002 SXSW festival. But who knew their music would one day loom over their pranks and their sophomore album, entitled Penance Soiree (V2) would eclipse their shit-talking precedents? Yes, the five jaded, bad mouthed kids who comprise The Icarus Line have killed the myth and – guess what? – some great music lies beneath its corpse.

Penance Soiree is an album of rock’n’roll’s rusty nails, forgotten grime, and dark shadows. It is also the sound of The Icarus Line caught between the grips of reinvention with their scream-riddled hardcore spasms laid to waste in favor of resurrecting feedback-fueled guitar chords, a sassy English pop edge, and experimentalism far outside the confining realm of punk rock.

It has the distorted tone of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Psychocandy, the revolutionary ire of Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR, the proto-punk filth of The Velvet Underground’s White Light/White Heat, and the ominous gloom of Pleasure Forever’s selt-titled debut. It’s something that does not recall – or even vaguely hint at – Mono’s seizure-inducing hardcore punk violence in tangible sound, but translates it into the record’s underlying attitude and outlook. It is erasing The Icarus Line’s past, recreating what you thought you knew about the band, and rectifying their own musical movement instead of satisfying someone else’s. In short, Penance Soiree is mature while retaining its youthful urgency, intelligent without being pretentious, and, essentially, really fucking good without being too self-indulgent.

The title Penance Soiree roughly translates to “reparation meeting” and, if viewed in a literal sense, we can conclude that this record captures The Icarus Line sonically making amends and repairing their former Attention-Deficit Disorder-riddled hardcore sound. Seemingly, that sound, which was heard hyperventilating on the full-length Mono (2001, Crank!) as well as on singles and EPs appearing on Hellcat, Crank! and New American Dream, has been overthrown in mutinous revolt by a new noise. If Mono was indeed a sickness, Penance Soiree is outwardly the cure.

Still, it’s assuring to know that The Icarus Line – while shifting their sound, tackling divergent genres, and undertaking a new musical muse – nonetheless have held their ethical and independent beliefs. Paradoxically, however, Penance Soiree will not be released through the expected Buddyhead Records or any other indie-bred label. In fact, The Icarus Line’s follow-up will be backed and branded by V2 – the same label that houses such multi-platinum acts as Mody and The White Stripes. Yet, as vocalist Joe Cardamone explains in the subsequent interview, The Icarus Line still have their ethical beliefs entirely intact and in tune with their music. Meaning, of course, that they don’t give a fuck what anyone else thinks of them.

Such an attitude is exposed in nearly everything the five-some do and – to no surprise – they dealt with the imminent label chase in the same manner. Thus, when major labels first came knocking on The Icarus Line’s proverbial door, their only response was one twelve-minute long track. That single song quickly established that accessibility was to be thrust to the background and experimentalism and sonic expanse moved to the fore. Deemed a musical oddity much too eccentric and unconventional by most, The Icarus Line were yet again cast aside. That is until V2 Records proposed a deal replete with artistic freedom by keeping their music untouched by corruptive corporate fingerprints. A signing was indeed made – and so was history.

Not only does Penance Soiree represent a new chapter in terms of label alignment and sonic evolution, but also in nearly every other aspect. After spending the past few years crisscrossing the globe while on tour with such bands as Queens of the Stone Age, Trail of Dead, A Perfect Circle, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, The Icarus Line as we know them have refined themselves, stripped down to their bare essentials, and, ultimately, instilled a beat and pulse back into the band’s heart.

More precisely, they fired their manager and booking agent as well as their lawyer and rhythm section in order to accelerate their vision and leave their past behind. The Icarus Line now resides as Joe Cardamone spitting and slurring vocals, Aaron North and Alvin DeGuzman mauling Penance Soiree into raw tatters with guitars awash in feedback and distortion, former Ink & Dagger bassist Don Devore providing the low-end grooves, and Jeff Watson reuniting with that band after a brief departure as the rhythmic timekeeper. It’s not so much a second chapter in The Icarus Line’s existence as it is a completely new novel.

All the alterations, changes, and revisions are apparent in the band’s musical makeup. Penance Soiree is sure to elicit shock from fans who expect The Icarus Line to resemble their former self – a band that approximated At the Drive-In on speed or a Jesus Lizard incarnate. Instead, they choose to radically reinvent themselves as heirs to rock’n’roll’s lineage that began with The Velvet Undeground and THe Stooges. And while Rolling Stone perpetually splashes the “rock savior” tag on every band with bad haircuts and tight pants, The Icarus Line actually understand true rock’s drug-addled, feedback-laced history and channel it accordingly.

It resonates in the influences they choose to resurrect on Penance Soiree, as those very inspirations are at once torn to pieces, broken into shards, and reassembled as The Icarus Line see fit. Year, the album sounds like it’s falling apart at its seams and bursting into flames at times, but that’s also what makes it sound so fucking good. “Spit On It,” for example, sounds like Cardamone is sending his jerky vocals through a few distortion pedals and over the top of a raw and unmastered Drive Like Jehu demo, whereas “Spike Island” accelerates Led Zeppelin into 2004.

The comparisons to legendary bygone bands don’t stop there, however. “Getting Bright at Night” hints at an unsuspecting intersection of Spacemen 3[‘s serene, effects-ridden rock vibe and a lost nine-minute epic the MC5 never wrote with a surprisingly beautiful melody spurting from Cardamone’s lips; “Kiss Like Lizards” ignites stereos the way Iggy’s recent reunion with The Stooges should have; “White Devil” writhes like vintage Rolling Stones. But what makes Penance Soiree and its bibliography of decades of rock’n’roll sound exciting and energized is how it fuses with The Icarus Line’s punk rock attitude and merges with the band’s rebellious core to overturn norms and topple trite and typical musical customs.

Even when their muse protrudes and is exceedingly obvious, at least The Icarus Line extract only the best of rock’s departed bands. “Meatmaker,” for instance, is pure Suicide circa 1977 with its stuttering synthesizers, pounding drum machines, feedback screeches, and Cardamone’s delay-driven vocals. But it stays true to Suicide’s original vision by striking pure terror into music itself while simultaneously giving Penance Soiree a stark electronic edge amidst the scorched feedback and guitar static that litters much of the album.

Clearly, this evolution from being merely post-hardcore hopefuls an album ago to now existing as rock’n’roll’s most recent embodiment of counter-culture ideals and hedonistic behavior was not easy – but that makes the final product sound even better. Penance Soiree, both when the band is found raging in unison by slicing your speakers into scraps of metal with gashes of guitar noise and when they extort aural experimentation from their mass of influences, is a colossal leap for the band on all levels: musically, stylistically, diversely, and in nearly every other capacity as well.

Yet, perhaps the most prolific change that Penance Soiree signifies is not found as much in the tangible music, but in the band’s closed mouths. Tellingly, the music finally does all the talking for the five bodies that form The Icarus Line. When I spoke to vocalist Joe Cardamone – and contrary to the public’s critical eye and the band’s notorous reputation – he wasn’t even an asshole. True, this might be the doing of a major label, but does that even matter if they still put out a great record? Skyscraper caught up with Cardamone to find out firsthand.

Your new album is a complete reinvention of what The Icarus Line is. I hear elements of stuff like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream. Why such a stylistic change since Mono?

The first thing is that Mono is over two years old. We’ve been around a while and we just wanted to make something different. The last thing we wanted to do was make another record like that. It was just the process of the whole thing and working with different people. It definitely wasn’t a conscious thing to change, though. We were just sick of certain shit and it just came out as a real rock’n’roll record. We didn’t force the change; it was just completely natural. We figured that’s what we have to do.

Were you hoping that Alan Moulder and Mike Mussmano would pull something new into your sound?

Mike [Mussmano] recorded a Lilys album [Precollection] that we all really liked, so we tried to get him and it turned out he agreed. It ended up being a total disaster, though. He just complained about being apart from his girlfriend and pretty much was an alcoholic. Not exactly the type of person you want doing your record. But we always ended up staying up all night having all out wars about what to do with certain sounds. We all thought the tracking should be different and it just didn’t work. Our visions were from different ends of the spectrum and we ended up not getting along at all. On the other hand, we were expecting Alan [Moulder] to be the one who was tough to work with and kind of the dude who was really hard assed about everything. But it turns out he was the most chill dude. He just let us do exactly what we wanted. He didn’t want to control our sound or anything; he just wanted us to achieve our vision of what we wanted it to sound like. He was much different than I thought he would be, after working with all those great bands. It was a great experience having him be part of this record.

Your vocals are much more melodic this time around. Why is that?

First off, I’m an old man. I’m twenty-five now and I’ve just smoked too many cigarettes and done too many drugs to be screaming like I did in the early years of our band. Plus, I just didn’t want to do that again. I’m bored of that. To me, there just wasn’t a point to scream like that again. I’ve already done it so much I needed something else. I just wanted a different approach on this record. It just goes back to us evolving and wanting to make something different and not keep sounding like we used to. Besides, if I kept screaming like I used to I would probably lose my voice, as well as my mind.

Is it safe to say that in a live setting you will be playing all new material then?

Yeah, probably. We’ll just play whatever the fuck we want, as we always have, but I know now I will want to play pretty much all new stuff. It’s just the frame of mind that I’m in. For the most part, I just don’t feel it’s appropriate to play the old shit. It doesn’t really represent us that well anymore – we’re a new band. But our Mono record did sell many more copies over in Europe, so when we go play there we will probably play at least a few songs from that record. We’ll never force anything, though. We’ll still just play what we want. I mean, we do this to please ourselves, so we’ll never play a song we don’t want to play.

Alright, I know you have to be sick of this already, but you guys have jumped to the major for Penance Soiree. For a band as subversive as The Icarus Line, why did you decide that signing to V2 was the right move?

We were broke. I mean, being subversive was never synonymous with indie labels either, or even something we were ever really interested in. We kind of got stuck with a label like that – that was never really something we set out to do or anything. Also, we really just never gave a fuck if we were on an indie or not, to be honest. But pretty much all my favorite bands are on major labels and we would never have been in this position to make the record we did if we weren’t with V2 or another label with money to give us. We actually welcomed the idea because now I don’t have to worry about scamming my way through life or worry about finding a day job.

Did you have a day job around the times of Mono?

No, not really, actually. I just lived life. I just tried scamming my way through it. You know, stealing a bunch of records from labels we were visiting and go sell them for money or whatever. But at least I don’t have to worry about that as much anymore. Or I don’t think I will, anyway.

So, did you have recording and studio capabilities that you would not have had if your new album was out on Buddyhead?

We definitely never would have been able to make this record if we were still back on Buddyhead. We just wouldn’t have the money to do it with them. But we’re fucking happy because this is the record we wanted to make. We got to experiment so much more in the studio and really make the record we envisioned. I mean, we got to record for four days in Sunset Sound, which is this studio that is just fucking amazing. We never would have had those opportunities otherwise.

The Icarus Line recently toured the United Kingdom with Primal Scream. How did you hook that up and how did that go?

We actually got offered to play a show in New York with them when we were out on tour with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. For the United Kingdom shit with Primal Scream, we actually used all our own money to fly out there and go out on the road with them. It was something we wanted to do so bad we just funded it ourselves. We all love them, too. They are one of the last real rock’n’roll gangs out there still making great records. They just destroyed every night and it was so much fun to be playing with them. We were definitely a good fit for them and I know they could really relate to us, too. I know they saw a little bit of themselves in us.

What influences you – both musically and otherwise?

Right now…I was just listening to an old Stone Roses record because we were talking about Mani and Primal Scream, so we threw on one of his old records. Basically, I’ve just been listening to a lot of my old favorites lately. You know, My Bloody Valentine, Pavement. All that shit.

In your opinion, what is missing from rock music these days?

Well, as for mainstream fock, it just fucking sucks. Period. It has for a long time. But even on an indie level, I’m just sick of it. There is nothing real there anymore. It’s so fucking safe. There’s just elements of, you know, white and safety and no risks. Everything’s so white. Nothing is dark anymore, or even remotely dangerous. It’s not exactly missing, I guess, but I think it’s just hiding. And it has got to come out again sometime.

Are The Icarus Line the answer?

No. I mean, maybe in one little genre, but nothing like the old rock saviors used to be. It’s just not the same anymore and it’s really depressing. We don’t really care if we fill that void though. As for The Icarus Line, we just want to make stuff that’s hard and heavy. Just something in your face, which is something else that’s really lacking from rock. Basically we just play the kind of music we do to get us off, do it as our release. We really don’t have a huge goal of saving rock or anything. That’s bullshit anyway.



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