Icarus Witch – Welcome Back to CrueltyThursday, 1st November 2018
Pittsburgh, PA is nicknamed the Iron City – a steeltown with a blue-collar mentality and work ethic. It’s the area that Icarus Witch call home. A traditional metal band that since 2003 has delivered a consistent discography that embraces sterling twin guitar hooks, melodic vocals, and catchy choruses along with adding their takes on classic material by Ozzy Osbourne, Def Leppard, and Judas Priest. After their last album Rise in 2012, the band seemingly fell off the proverbial map. As you’ll discover in our talk with bassist Jason Myers, the prolonged hiatus has paid dividends in their latest release Goodbye Cruel World.
Taking on more of their older AOR-style affinities while still being metal to the bone, the new record has that air of specialness you don’t often hear in today’s generation of artists. We felt the need to catch up with Jason on the latest lineup of the group – the special outside assistance the band secured, and the changes that have happened over the course of six years. You’ll also understand a bit more about their future – and frank talk about social media and the music business as it exists today.
Dead Rhetoric: The obvious first question regarding the six-year hiatus between studio records for Icarus Witch – did you ever think of putting the band to bed once you moved to Massachusetts, and what circumstances took place to see this current edition of the band come together?
Jason Myers: To be honest, the thought has crossed my mind prior to moving to Salem. We had hit a wall creatively. It had been a grind, ten years we had been going straight – touring, album after album cycle. I needed a break and I talked to Quinn (Lukas) the guitar player about it at that point. My mindset was we had said all we needed to say, we were spinning our wheels. Fortunately, Quinn had more of a positive view, he wanted me to take the time off that I needed and regather. There was no need to end anything or make it more dramatic than it has to be, let’s just take a little break and recharge the batteries. I moved to Salem and we were still in touch for just over a year, sending files back and forth and discussing song ideas. The band was put on pause.
After that time ran out, the ideas were still coming in, we started to get excited about the ideas that we were passing back and forth and coming up with. Enough time had passed to get back into the game. I moved back to Pittsburgh and I got back in full force, we went to town to lock ourselves away to hone in on the songs that would become Goodbye Cruel World.
Dead Rhetoric: And when it came to who was going to be coming into this new lineup, was that another tedious process?
Myers: It’s no secret that our lineup has changed from album to album since our inception fifteen years ago. Quinn and I are the nucleus of the band that has lasted together the longest. When I moved back, understandably not everybody had waited around. In that interim a lot of other things have happened, people in other projects and other things in life going on. The lineup that was there for Rise was simply not available when Quinn and I were ready to get moving again. There’s no bad blood, everyone is still good friends, we still support each other. Let’s write the album with the core that we have, sometimes it’s a less cooks in the kitchen sort of scenario to get stuff done a little quicker. We wrote the bulk of the entire album ourselves, and then when we were ready, before we were going into the studio that’s when it became important to see who was going to sing on this album.
Quinn had been working with Andrew D’Cagna in Ironflame as a side band. That was the obvious go to for us, Andrew’s voice is really amazing and a good fit. Quinn had some experience working with him, they had played some shows together and had been in the studio together and we had known Andrew for a long time when he was playing in Dofka, playing shows together on the same bills. Quinn handed Andrew some of the demos, unbeknownst to me, and didn’t even tell him it was new Icarus Witch material. He said it was just a heavy AOR-style project he was working on, would he want to throw some vocals on it. He didn’t want to have Andrew come into this thinking he had to sing it the Icarus Witch way, and when Andrew came back with the demos I was blown away with what he did. The search is over.
Once we filled in Andrew on the material, he wanted to become a full member of the band and started mapping out a strategy for where we wanted to go. We start every album by recording the drums, and our previous drummer Justin (Walker) had already committed to some other projects at the time. We went with the best available drummer that we had access to, who is Jon Rice. He came referred to me from your friend David Gehlke, we’d known Jon for a while. Small town, small scene – he was coming off of a tour with Behemoth at the time, and had some time off when we needed to get our drums going. He just came in and nailed it in the studio, it was a sight to behold. He was pounding away on the drums.
Dead Rhetoric: At what point during the development of Goodbye Cruel World, the latest album for Icarus Witch, did you know you were heading in the right direction? And where do you see the major differences between this effort and your previous discography?
Myers: I think the moment I really knew that we had something special with this, that we were 100% on the right path is when we heard those demos with Andrew singing on it. Prior to that, we were just demoing the songs with my horrible version of singing to Quinn, who is a better singer than me and he would demo it, and pass it to Andrew who is an actual, awesome singer. When we finally heard those demos, we got really fired up. Any shadow of a doubt was erased- and that was probably last June or July when we were at that stage.
In terms of how it differs from our discography – I think that there’s still an obvious thread of continuity within Icarus Witch but how this stands apart is we really focused on the songwriting this time. That was our major goal – to really perfect our songwriting to the best of our ability. And that’s not to say that we didn’t try to write strong songs in the past, that was our sole objective here. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many revisions we have to make, or the ideas we have to get rid of and put new ones in there – a lot of that started with crafting the best choruses we could. Then we would say what the pre-chorus would be. These little tricks we were learning along the way, we were implementing in these sessions.
Quinn had started with Mike Clink, a famous producer out in Los Angeles who has produced Appetite for Destruction from Guns N’ Roses among other platinum releases. From having that working relationship, he got to see things from a different perspective of how to craft a song from the ground up. It really helped us. Besides having those songwriting tips and tricks, we decided early on to work with an outside producer for the first time ever. That’s where we came with a short list, and that’s where Neil Kernon came in.
We contacted Neil to see if he would be interested in helping us, at least in the pre-production phase because Neil was a guy that since Quinn and I were writing this, we thought about the albums and producers that we bond over. One of those geeked out albums was Rage for Order by Queensrÿche, it was such a cool pairing and career changing album in their early stages. We needed an outside ear, we didn’t want to write the same album that we’ve written five times previously. That’s another big change with this album.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you discuss the importance that behind the scenes players like Neil Kernon and Erik Martensson along with support from Shane Mayer and Brad Cox had in the final aural/sonic perspective for this album?
Myers: A lot of it is just… it’s just having somebody, an outsider who’s only listening to it for that objective that you hired them for. A guy like Neil isn’t going to care if he is going to hurt our feelings if a part is bad. That’s what we are paying him for. Those kind of harsh realities are tougher to politically navigate within your own band, it’s harder to sometimes tell the guy you are sitting next to in a touring van that his idea is crap. Whereas if you get a guy who is coming in from the outside that has platinum records, knows a good hook, it’s a little easier to have somebody like that as a referee. He is offering the benefit of his experience.
The same can be said for Shane, it was the first time we had worked with him as an engineer, he’s a young guy coming up in the scene – he’s very entrenched in the extreme metal scene, even though this is Icarus Witch to us, to somebody like him – we are a rock band. I just think it’s good to get a lot of outside ideas, ultimately at the end of the day Quinn, Andrew and I would decide if we were going to implement anyone’s suggestions and we would take votes on things. It helped to stir up the conversations to think about your own music and your own songwriting that you wouldn’t have if you approached it the same way you do year after year.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s realistic at this point for the touring situation of Icarus Witch – because in the earlier years of the band, you definitely had more of a road warrior mentality and picking up some key touring spots to establish the band’s presence in the scene?
Myers: Yeah. I don’t know. We are still TBA on that. I’m not exactly sure what our touring is going to look like on this album. We’ve had some offers tossed around. We haven’t committed to anything yet. The landscape has really changed a lot. You are right in the fact that we have had that road warrior mentality in the past. You can ask any band, that’s not necessarily a sustainable business plan (laughs). In other words, there is a myth in the industry that the only way bands make money is on the road. Usually those sentiments come from people who actually haven’t tried to go out and finance an underground metal tour. There’s a lot more tours out there that lose money and put people in bad situations. With that said, we do still love playing live and will probably get out there and get out on the road when we find something that makes sense for us. We are just not sure what the right scenario is going to be yet.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you feel you learned most about yourself during your Massachusetts sabbatical? Has it always been important to reset yourself when you feel like certain aspects of your life seem out of sorts to maintain a level of balance and control?
Myers: Wow, a deep question! Yes, I’ve moved a lot in my life. I’ve lived sort of a nomadic, gypsy lifestyle. Every few years I get that urge to pick up and completely restart somewhere else. I’ve done that multiple times in multiple cities in different parts of the country. What I learned about myself… I’m going to try to figure out an eloquent way of saying this. What I learned was that I define Icarus Witch, it wasn’t healthy to have Icarus Witch define me. By that I mean when you are so in the center of this band storm for year after year, it’s really easy to have that become your life and have that define you. You wake up every day thinking what am I going to do for the band, this deadline, this song, book that show, go to this interview. It’s real easy to let the business of the music take over at a certain point and get away from what it is that inspired you to create the music in the first place.
By moving to Salem, I was able to put the business aside and just really try to get grounded spiritually. I feel very spiritually connected there, there’s a certain energy in that city. It feeds my soul. I was able to for a year go be anonymous. I didn’t show up at an event as Jason from Icarus Witch, I was just Jason Myers. It helped me relax and unwind, all of the other pressures of being in a band I was able to put aside. That’s the best way I can sort of describe it. I felt there was more room in my spirit to be creative in a town like that with so much history, energy, and heritage. It sparked my creativity to where I would pick up the bass and start writing and playing because I wanted to, not because I had to- and that’s such a huge distinction.
There was a long hiatus, it wasn’t intended that way- but everyone is going to benefit from that break. I think if we had just run into the studio after the Rise touring cycle ended and started working on the follow-up, it would not have had the same maturity as Goodbye Cruel World does. Stepping away from the table completely got everybody excited to get back to it. When we were in the room together, we really appreciated it more because of taking a step back.
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