Ice Age – Power Through Chemistry

Thursday, 23rd February 2023

The longevity of progressive music in all forms is not lost on this scribe. There’s a timeless quality to virtuoso-filled musicianship, crafted in such a way that you discover some little nuance years down the line. Returning to the scene after a prolonged absence, New York’s Ice Age released two full lengths in the late 90’s/early 2000’s that took their brand of progressive rock/metal into the hearts of fans not only stateside, but worldwide. Especially if you love the work of artists like Kansas, Rush, Styx all the way to Dream Theater, Fates Warning, and Spock’s Beard. Their latest album Waves of Loss and Power elevates their abilities tenfold – including a stronger emphasis on solid vocal melodies amidst the synchronized chops and thoughtful riffs/runs.

We took the time to speak with bassist Doug Odell and vocalist/keyboardist Josh Pincus regarding their second life as a band, goals for the new album, the thrill of creativity and enjoyment, how the band is handling the blessings and curses of the current music industry model, what fans can expect in future live shows, specific high school courses they would love to see taught today, and future plans.

Dead Rhetoric: Waves of Loss and Power is the third full-length for Ice Age. Given the fact that it’s the first output for the band since 2004, was there any sort of fear or apprehension to work through when it came to the songwriting and performances? Did you bring any material from the older days up to the present, or start fresh creating new material once you got the current lineup together?

Josh Pincus: I don’t think there was any apprehension at all. I think we knew once we started there’s always been a great chemistry with us musically. Once we got playing again, we knew things would go smoothly, and that’s what happened. We bounced ideas off each other, and they developed rather quickly. Jim will play something and I’ll know what to play underneath, and the other guys add things. Hal has the right beat; Doug always has the right feel on bass. That chemistry has always been there, and we are really lucky to have it.

Doug Odell: We started very fresh. One of the things that’s amazing about working with them – when Josh, Jimmy, and Hal get together in a room, it’s instantly someone will play something, others will react to it, and it just happens. It’s so natural and organic, and to see it and be part of it, watch how it evolves from a progression into multiple progressions that get built out into songs, it’s just incredible. Like Josh said, the chemistry has always been there. I stepped in just before Liberation came out, which is the band’s second album in 2001. That album was already done and in the can, and the goal at that time was to promote it. This is not a band that needs to dig into the old riff tapes under the bed to come up with something. There is always inspiration. It is notable, and I am sure Josh will talk about this too, but as a progressive band we wanted to carry on a tradition of taking some motifs and lyrical concepts from the first two albums and pull those into the present day, that’s how we continued “Perpetual Child” and “To Say Goodbye” on the new album.

Pincus: That is something I always had in the back of my mind, when we decided to get together and do another record. I wanted to revisit some of the lyrical and musical themes for the first two albums. When the music started coming out, it was clear we were going to be able to do that.

Dead Rhetoric: Two songs from previous albums receive extensions for “Perpetual Child” and “To Say Goodbye”. Does your approach differ from other compositions when adding these sequels, and are their unique challenges to conquer musically or lyrically that you’d like to discuss?

Pincus: There are always challenges, as you want the lyrics to be fresh and also consistent. “To Say Goodbye”, that entire suite is generally about loss. We all suffer various kinds of losses throughout our lives. That’s something that I wanted to explore again. As far as musically, there are challenges. I think of it in many ways sort of like classical music. I grew up playing classical music, within a sonata or a concerto there are many moments, motifs, musical themes, and melodies that are revisited throughout the piece. That’s sort of the way I look at these pieces- you want to have signature bits of the older songs, clearly audible and visible in the newer versions, but done in a fresh or different kind of way. That’s always in the back of my mind when we are writing things musically.

Dead Rhetoric: Was there a specific song on the new album that maybe was a bit more challenging than others when it comes to your playing?

Odell: I can speak to that! There is a song called “Riverflow” which for me, I just feel is such a centerpiece. I’m so proud to be a part of, Josh originated a lot of this song on piano, and there are some parts I would say have a kinship with Kansas, those kind of very iconic and recognizable riffs. But when you are writing something in a flat key on piano and you try to translate that on stringed instruments.

Pincus: I wasn’t thinking about the strings (laughs).

Odell: Because it’s progressive, it’s going to be interesting and challenging to play. When we had to approach that song, on stringed instruments, it was a hill to climb. The end product is so amazing, it forced me to step up to another level, which this band has always been that for me. Challenging me musically, which is why I love to be in this band and why I love these guys. It’s keeping up with them, they won’t agree because they are so humble, but each of them are virtuosos on their instruments, as well as Josh as a singer. It’s just a fact.

Pincus: Doug’s right – I disagree. But thank you for the compliment. For me personally, it’s challenging play-wise and chop-wise. Jimmy is always coming up with these really interesting chromatic parts, rhythmically and note-wise there is a challenge, harmony parts. Things that Doug was saying, things that I wrote in maybe awkward keys for guitar and bass on keyboards. That goes for the writing on guitar and bass to also translate to keyboards. Just as far as fingering, note choices, that kind of thing. It’s always a challenge being in this band, but it’s a great challenge because it makes you up your game and rethink the way you play. It forces you to think about how to add to things, and not what I would usually play. All of the songs have challenging parts – the slow parts, the fast parts.

Dead Rhetoric: Beyond the fact that you have to figure out a way to fit in your vocals and melodies in these complex songs…are you conscious of where that will take place, or do you think music first and then the vocals?

Pincus: This time around, I think generally in progressive music some bands once in a while have a tendency to focus on the music and the vocals become an afterthought. I consciously didn’t want that to happen this time – we are also guilty of that too. We all spend time working up the parts and then we go, how are we going to fit a vocal in here? This time around, I was much more conscious of coming up with working a part, I would have a vocal melody in the back of my mind, maybe adjusting some of the keyboard and guitar parts around those melodies so as not to conflict. That’s the recipe, and in progressive rock/metal, that’s always a challenge. Having room for the vocals, and the vocals making musical sense more this time than in some cases in the past.

Dead Rhetoric: How does it feel to be on Sensory Records after your dealings during the late 90’s/early 2000’s on Magna Carta? Have you adjusted to the changing music industry landscape that has shifted in the decades since last putting out a record?

Odell: I’m really excited to be working with Ken Golden and Sensory, because he gets it. He is a true connoisseur of progressive music, and an audiophile, a music junkie. He’s a fan of the band. He remembered us from the early Ice Age days, the Magna Carta days, it was a no brainer. When you have a chance to work with somebody who isn’t just seeing you as an opportunity or just another band on the pile. He knows us, he’s a fan of ours, that made it a great pairing.

As far as it being easier now than it was, technology is a blessing and a curse. I worked in a part of the music industry in the late 90’s where I saw the advent of Napster right in the beginning. I saw that everyone had that panic of what does this mean. There are things about it that hurt the artist, from a sense of being able to make a living. From a standpoint of being able to reach the fans and communicate with the fans, and have that direct connection, social media has leveled the playing field for bands in a way that we didn’t have twenty or twenty-five years ago.

Pincus: I agree with everything that Doug is saying. The thing about being on Magna Carta back in the day was, we were thrilled to have that opportunity. That’s the label that all the progressive bands wanted to be on. They had so many great bands, so much talent. After the release of the second album we got a little disillusioned because we realized that they didn’t have all the resources necessary to push all the bands. We tried to get some tours going, whether it was in the US or Europe, we felt like we didn’t have the development and the support from the label. The great thing about the internet is, it’s very easy to get the music out there now. The landscape is completely different. From a monetary standpoint, the renumeration you get from your music is not what it used to be. Again the great thing is, you can get an immediate reaction from the fans – and the overwhelming reaction to the new album so far has been very gratifying.

There have been fans that have been waiting for new music from us for years, and they are so excited. It’s wonderful to see that, and technology is able to make that possible.

Odell: I’ll give you an example. When you aggregate to digital platforms, in most cases all of your tracks from The Great Divide and Liberation are on YouTube through that medium. There are all these comments on the songs, and you see people from a year ago and in some cases ten years ago commenting on loving the band, whatever happened to these guys, I wish they would do something new. And now, some of those same people are discovering that we are back, they get a taste of the new music, and the excitement is overwhelming.

Dead Rhetoric: What sort of goals/expectations does the band put upon itself in this new incarnation? Has your definition of success adjusted accordingly now that you are older with more seasoning/experience?

Odell: What I would say is, I think we are in a very lucky position. There isn’t that pressure that we have to meet some standard, we all because as you said are older and more mature, everyone has their careers as far as how we live and how we sustain ourselves. We are not doing this for any other reason outside of that we love the music, we have this brotherhood, and we got back into this in the way that we did with no other agenda except to make ourselves happy. To return to the authentic Ice Age sound, doing that was just a natural thing. Getting in a room and picking up instruments, that’s all it took. There is nothing contrived about it. As far as I’m concerned, we have already exceeded expectations in that we’ve come this far, we have an incredible person in Rich Mouser to mix and master this album. It sounds so top shelf – I’d put it up against anything that’s come out, up until now and including now, it’s as good as any major label act could release.

Pincus: I got in touch with Rich Mouser as we were beginning the recording process. He liked what he heard – of course Rich is well known in production circles. He’s been working with Spock’s Beard for decades, Transatlantic, Dream Theater, Flying Colors, all these bands. When he heard the material and agreed to mix it, we were over the moon. We got very lucky, and we are very fortunate to have him on board.

We do this at this age and at this stage in the game, we do it for ourselves, the music, and we enjoy each other’s company. There is the great musical chemistry between us, that nourishes us in a way that nothing else in our lives can creatively. We don’t feel any pressure, we are pleasing ourselves with what we are writing and coming up with. And that makes us happy.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ll be performing this coming fall at the legendary ProgPower Festival in Atlanta. What can the fans expect from Ice Age live and what are your expectations performing at this well-established festival?

Pincus: Well, we always prided ourselves on being a really good energetic, precise live band. We set high standards for ourselves. When we perform these pieces, we want to be able to duplicate them live. We are just starting the process of preparing for that now. You can expect a lot of new material to be represented, but also a reasonable amount of material from the first two albums as well. It’s tough to get the setlist down, as it will be a shorter set for that show anyway. We will do some shows before and after that.

Dead Rhetoric: What do you enjoy most about the progressive rock/metal genres – and do you enjoy the expansive nature / atmosphere the style has taken throughout its history?

Odell: The first progressive band that hit my radar and woke me up to this particular style of music was Rush. And to this day, Rush is in my top five favorite bands. There isn’t a day that goes by that something from their catalog is on my mind. I’m always feeling passionate about it. I didn’t get into the UK progressive side of the world, but in the late 80’s/early 90’s I discovered bands like Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, obviously Dream Theater came along and had that big focus on them in the early 90’s. I’ve always loved instrumental rock, Dixie Dregs. As I studied music, I started on piano, then I went to bass. I spent some time studying jazz. When you are in your twenties, it’s always like what’s the hardest thing to play. Can I do that? Can I learn Jaco Pastorius’ bass lines? I am going to try to do that. What’s the hardest thing to sing? Oh – opera. It was that mindset of pushing the boundaries of whatever my limits were.

Pincus: For me, what attracts me to progressive rock/metal, is of course the chops, the virtuosity of some of these bands, but I love the songs, the song structures. I gravitated to bands like Kansas, Rush, Neil Peart from a lyrical standpoint too. He set the gold standard in lyrics for progressive rock. Spock’s Beard I love, all eras. There are always hooks, melodies you can sink into, and the lyrical content is very clever. It makes you think about the world we live in. These are all good elements of progressive rock. The virtuosity is a part of it, but the meat of the songs always has the most appeal for me.

Dead Rhetoric: What are some hobbies, interests, and passions that the musicians within Ice Age have away from music when you have the free time and energy to pursue them?

Odell: I’m kind of a nerd. I do a lot of reading and I love movies. Outside of music, those would be the big ones.

Pincus: Reading, current events. Politics… I shouldn’t say that. It’s a hobby, I won’t go into any detail on that (laughs). I love to travel as well. I spend a lot of time with our little dog, that’s our passion outside of work and music.

Odell: I love to cook. I worked in the restaurant industry and the pizza business when I was a teenager through college. I still have that passion. I have a ten-year-old son who’s always finding these bizarre recipes. We got into this show MasterChef Junior, and these kids – the things they can cook and the ideas they have, combining ingredients, I’m a hack compared to this eight year old that’s making French cuisine. He’s always trying to get me to step out of my comfort zone and cook up something that he found on YouTube. That’s fun.

Dead Rhetoric: If you had the opportunity to teach a high school or college-level course about any subject matter of your choosing that you developed outside of music, what subject would you like to teach and why do you think it’s important for people to learn?

Odell: I can answer that. But I’m going to preface it by saying I’m not qualified to teach it. I am going to say this because it’s something that we don’t teach, and we should. Instead of trigonometry, we should offer a high school course in personal finance. We could teach kids how to manage money, how to understand debt, save, all of that personal finance. If you think about it, it’s something that we only learn from our parents. And if we don’t learn it from them, then we don’t learn it at all. I would want to become an expert in that, and that’s what I would want to teach.

Pincus: That’s a great one. And mine, obviously I would not be qualified to teach it either, is civics. I think that the younger generation has lost sight of basic things, the structure of the government, representation and what it means. Democracy. What all of our responsibility is to uphold it. It doesn’t happen on its own; we have to participate in the process.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next year or so shaping up for Ice Age when it comes to promotion, shows, etc. to support the new release? Are you hopeful to work on another studio record down the line?

Odell: Absolutely. We want to ramp up and get ready to play live. In addition to promoting the album. We also are excited about resuming the writing. When we get in a room, it doesn’t matter if we had a gig tomorrow, in that rehearsal session the day before, something new is going to get written. Someone is going to play something, and someone will say, ‘what is that?’. And it will happen. For us, getting this album out there, leave no stone unturned for people to know about it, get ready to play live, and yes there will be more writing and we would love to do another release in the future for sure.

Pincus: We are all brimming with ideas. The real basic joy for being in this band for all of us is in the creating and writing process. Bouncing ideas off of each other, there’s no replacement for that. Playing live is wonderful, connecting with the fans is important too. I would anticipate we will get to work on another album.

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