By Andrew Lampela
The Icarus Line have been hammering out their own unique take on noisy punk for a decade and a half now, putting out two stone classics in Mono and Penance Soiree, and yet they are one of those bands that none of your friends have ever heard of. I still get a little thrill watching people hear Penance for the first time, and it remains one of my favorite albums to turn people onto. I hope this is about to change with the release of the band’s latest, Slave Vows. There is a fresh energy to Slave Vows, along with a few new sonic tricks, revealing a band still at the top of their game.
Ghettoblaster got to talk to ringleader Joe Cardamone recently, and this is what he had to say.
Thanks for doing this interview, I’ve been a fan since I first picked up Penance Soiree when it came out.
Nice, so you know what you’re getting into.
Slave Vows is awesome.
Right on. Thank you.
This album has a little different feel to it right off the bat, with the slow build of opener “Dark Circles”. It still sounds like an Icarus Line album, but with a more expansive vibe. Tell me a little about the writing process.
I mean, the writing for this record was very quick. We basically spent all of last year on tour. We came home and decided to make a record. Essentially, we scrapped all previously written material. I always have a catalog of shit laying around, to turn into a record or whatever. So we scrapped all of it, not really because we weren’t happy with it, but just because I wanted to do something a hundred percent fresh. So, we just wrote it in a couple of weeks. The sound and style is mostly a byproduct of not overthinking anything and letting intuition and energy guide us.
How long has this current lineup been together?
Well, Ben, the drummer, has been with us a couple of years. I knew him for a few years before. Alvin, who’s playing keyboards, has always been in the band. He’s played various roles. He played bass on Penance, and guitar on the two subsequent records. Lance, who plays bass on this one, played on all the early material and Mono, and was involved with the writing on Penance. Kind of a tough question to answer, it’s a carousel of characters that revolves in and out of the group. So I don’t know how to answer that.
Yeah, it was pretty difficult to figure out online.
It’s impossible to figure out in real life.
You finished some pretty big tours before recording the album, I see.
We did the entirety of Europe with Killing Joke and then did the entirety of the U.S. with the Cult.
Those seem like solid bands to open for.
They weren’t bad, you know? Obviously opening up doesn’t pay, so there was no money involved. Aside from that, it was great. We got along with everybody, we terrorized their audiences. That’s what we came to do.
One of the things I like about Slave Vows is the open-ended feedback. There’s always been a noisy element to your albums, but it feels more powerful and effective on this one.
One of the things that I think made this record a little different is that we didn’t approach it so much as making a record as we did with the other ones. We kind of just did it. We did it live in such a way that…even bands that say they did it live are lying. We did it with no headphones. All the amps are in the room, we didn’t monitor off of anything, it was live for real.
You own a studio, right?
I do. I own and operate a studio (Valley Recording Co.) here in L.A., I guess it’s my day job.
Besides the Icarus Line, what other artists have you worked with?
I was actually working on some material with Ian Astbury, which was cool, with the Icarus Line as his band. Imagine that. It was pretty bad ass. I’ve been working on the Pink Mountaintops record. I did Giant Drag’s last record, Annie Hardy and I have been close friends for years and years and years and have always kind of worked together. And then I’ve done a slew of up and coming bands. I’d say that’s my main thing, working with groups that I believe in in L.A. and making an affordable place that doesn’t compromise any sort of quality. We’ve got top notch gear, top notch room, but bands that are just starting out that don’t have a ton of money can afford to work here, which is something I understand because I’ve never really had any money. Being able to start and finish a record in the same studio when you’re broke is often a pipe dream. Go somewhere nice to track drums, but then bang out overdubs in someone’s fucking crack basement. I’ve tried to make it affordable to have a coherent sound and stay in a nice studio for the endurance of the project.
Do you enjoy the producer’s seat?
Sometimes. Sometimes I love it and sometimes I want to sell all of my gear and move to Italy and never care about music ever again. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, let’s put it that way. It’s a lot of stress trying to maintain recording equipment. It’s definitely not a fucking money maker, I’ll tell you that much. If you want to make money, stay out of the recording industry.
How do you balance being in a functioning band and owning a studio?
I wish I knew. I have to give credit to my group because they’re very flexible about it. We practice in the main tracking room. They understand the fact that in order for us to have a place to rehearse, I have to work my ass off over here. Beyond that, I essentially have to save up money so I can afford to leave. I always have to think two steps ahead. I don’t have a trust fund. My mom’s a teacher. Everyone in the group is in a similar position, if not worse. Nobody has any sort of cushion when it comes time to hit the road, so we all have to strategically maneuver ourselves financially and otherwise to make it happen. It’s an insurmountable production sometimes, and sometimes we can’t even make it happen. I guess it’s a testament to how much we love to do it, the fact that we can get it together and make it happen. I honestly don’t know how sometimes, it’s fucking insane.
(Stream Slave Vows here: http://www.spin.com/articles/icarus-line-slave-vows-agitated-records-album-stream/)