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INTERVIEW: Pittsburgh’s Icarus Witch Continues to Cast Their Spell

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15 years into the business and still going, that’s quite a testament.  At this point in your lives and careers, what is the driving force behind continuing?

It’s purely for a love of creating and performing music at this point. When you’re starting out it’s easy to get swept up in the rush of the business and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes along regardless of consequences or whether it makes sense. But being more of a veteran band now we can appreciate the power of being more selective, patient and enjoying the journey as the destination. Ultimately, the same thing that motivated us to form the band is what drives us still, once music is in your blood, it’s like a drug.

You have stated that you took a different sonic approach to this record.  Can you go more into depth into what type of sound you were looking for and how you achieved that with Neil Kernon producing?

Well, to clarify, Neil did not produce the album. He helped us in the preproduction phase when we were putting our demos together. So his role was more about arrangement and songwriting suggestions. He did mix the single version of Goodbye Cruel World which is what you hear on the video.

We were looking for a bigger sound this time. Previous productions have leaned more toward a stripped back, classic rock approach and Quinn wanted more of a stacked “wall of guitar” sound. Bigger drums, dirtier bass, layers of vocal harmonies, just a larger, nastier more over-the-top version of our sound.

We tracked the bulk of the album with Shane Mayer at Cerebral Audio here in Pittsburgh. Shane’s a highly sought after engineer in the extreme metal scene so we were a pretty tame blend of metal compared to what he’s used to and I think it helped each of us think outside of our usual perspective. The tracks were mixed in Atlanta by Brad Cox who is Mike Clink’s go-to mixer these days. Quinn had worked with Mike and Brad on some other projects so it was cool hearing Brad mix our album because he’s got a really strong rock and pop ear and our focus on writing this time was on loading each track with hooks, a trait more common in pop than most modern metal.

The final set of ears on the songs was Erik Martensson who mastered the album at Blowout Productions in Sweden. Erik’s work with Eclipse and many of the bigger Frontiers Records albums was an awesome opportunity to have one of the world’s best melodic rock producers give it the finishing touch.

What has bringing Andrew in as the vocalist added to the songwriting and performance?

Andrew was a pleasure to work with. He took our rough demo ideas and instantly turned them into highly polished, pro-sounding melodic gems. It’s easy to see why he’s so in-demand in the metal scene, producing and performing with a variety of bands ranging from doom and power metal to folk and black metal. But it was his classic rock vocal styling that impressed me the most once I heard his original take on our demos. We were immediately speaking the same language and from there, things moved quickly. The fact that he’s also a producer with his own studio helped immensely as he was able to record his vocal parts while Quinn and I were tracking at Cerebral Audio.

Your one appearance for 2018 is your very own record release party at Get Hip Recordings.  Can you tell us more about the event and what plans you may have for 2019?

After spending so much time working on this album we wanted to celebrate with our Icarus+Witch+at+home+in+the+studio+L-R+Quinn+Lukas,+Andrew+D'Cagna+&+Jason+Myersand family in a low-key but festive way. So we booked a room that’s a bit more chill than the standard rock clubs and theaters in the area. We wanted a more intimate room where we could control the environment better, have conversations with people, talk about the songs, see some old friends we haven’t hung out with in a while. You don’t get that level of control with most clubs where it’s often hard just hearing the person next to you over the whatever music the DJ is blaring. Our first show ever was at a record store so this is a way to restart the new phase and pay tribute to our beginnings.

As for plans for 2019, honestly, we’re keeping our options open at the moment. We just booked our first show for the spring but aren’t permitted to discuss the details just yet.

Can you talk a little about why we have not heard from you guys since 2012?

After Rise was released we went back on the road, got plugged back into the regular cycle of promotion. But eventually, for whatever reason, the machine just started to run out of gas. We’d been going hard for the better part of a decade and it was time for a short break. The short break just turned out to be a little longer than anticipated. I moved to Salem, Massachusetts for a little over a year to step away from the business and hang out with some different types of witches. Quinn became involved in some serious studio projects in Los Angeles and the rest of the band explored other musical endeavors as well.

When I returned we started talking about getting the new album writing sessions back on track. Our second guitarist Dave left the band due to other commitments so we decided to carry on as a four-piece and played a one-off show with Amorphis to knock the rust off. Shortly after that our drummer Justin told us he had to leave for other reasons as well. Then Christopher left the band and Quinn and I found ourselves in a tricky situation. Was this the universe telling us it was time to pack it in or was it merely testing our mettle.

We had so many cool song ideas brewing that ending the band seemed foolish, even though we had our work cut out for us to rebuild and relaunch. So we made a pact to each other and continued writing. We actually got into a really killer groove writing together and the songs began coming together very organically and relatively quickly considering we were programming drum ideas and demoing vocals ourselves at that point.

Then we brought Andrew in and once we heard his vocal ideas on our songs we instantly had a renewed faith in the band and got fired up to take this album to new places that we’d not previously reached with the first 5 albums. But we’ve all got lives outside of Icarus Witch at this point so the final studio recordings took a bit longer than the old days.

How has Pittsburgh been an influence on your sound?

We’ve always written and played the type of music that comes naturally to us, regardless of what trends are happening in the industry. The particular flavor of any given record is a reflection of the other musicians who are in the band at the time we’re recording. As for how Pittsburgh influences the sound, we tend to do a lot of writing over the long, gray winters. So there’s always a slight element of gloom, even in our more AOR songs. I think more than affecting the sound, Pittsburgh has affected our work ethic. The blue collar, nose to the grindstone, do your job mentality is something that permeates the culture and has kept us honest and moving forward, even in times of great adversity.

What made you go with Jon Rice to track the drums on Goodbye Cruel World?

As I mentioned before, Justin wasn’t available at the time. He was in the middle of finishing his schooling and had previous commitments to another band so we decided to look for the best available player for the sessions. As fate would have it, David Gehlke, the same friend of ours who recommended working with Shane, also recommended working with Jon. Jon was in living in Pittsburgh at the time and between tours with Behemoth and Skeleton Witch so he had just enough time to learn our songs and track them before heading back on the road. Those sessions blew my mind. There’s a reason that guy is one of the most in-demand drummers in heavy metal today. We’re blessed to have his playing on such an important album for us.

You seem to pull from many classic rock and classic metal influences.  Are there any modern bands that you consider influences as well?

No, not really. We all listen to a wide variety of music new and old but when it comes time to write and record we just write what’s in our heart. Nine times out of ten our classic influences come out naturally. It’s not a conscious effort, it’s just who we are.

Does  ‘Misfortune Teller’ have any current political undertones that you intended?

It may, but generally speaking, I like to let the listeners draw their own conclusions on what a song means to them. As a rule, we keep politics out of the band. Everyone has their own opinions and view of what’s happening in the world. We’re here to provide some escapism from the grief. But lyrics are a form of bardic poetry so even when speaking metaphorically, there will always be certain messages between the lines.


 

The video for “Goodbye Cruel World”  is fantastic, providing a bit of that in-studio experience that many of us crave.  Have you ever thought about producing some in production videos from the studio as a means of promotion or just documentation?

Thank you. The inspiration for that video was those old Rush videos at Le Studio. We wanted to do something a bit low-key at first because until that point the studio really had been our home for so long. I think Quinn and I will be shooting some play-through videos soon in case any guitar or bass players want to geek out with us on isolated tracks and stuff like that. But we have some cool plans for a few more production videos as well. If I had my way we’d do a different video for every song. Who know knows, maybe we will.

Despite our desire for perfectionism in the studio, in life, this band is 10% preparation and about 90% fly by the seat of our pants. It drives some people insane but it keeps things interesting for us. And after being in a musical relationship with the same people and project for so long, you’ve got to do whatever it takes to keep it exciting and creative so that you don’t stagnate.


First Angel Media covered the release party…read all about it here

https://www.facebook.com/icaruswitch

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