Interview by Arto Lehtinen
Icarus Witch from Pittsburgh definitely came out of blue with the brilliant debut Ep release ROSES ON WHITE LANCE. The four piece has continued their traditional heavy metal crusade on the first full-length album titled CAPTURE THE MAGIC. Therefore it was about time to get a hold of the founding member and the bassist of Icarus Witch, Jason Myers, to find out more about the band. Icarus Witch definitely stands for the good old traditional heavy metal by swearing into names of several classic metal legends, which can be without any doubts heard in their music. Both of the outputs of Icarus Witch just prove the band’s ability to create memorable songs.
BIRTH OF ICARUS WITCH
Icarus Witch’s saga already kind of began in the city of angels, Los Angeles, where you used to dwell for a while. Apparently the atmosphere for playing classic traditional heavy metal is not best nor is it the most idealistic and adored metal style in L.A as you left the dust of the town behind in order to relocate to Pittsburgh ?!
Well, L.A. is one of the best cities in the world and has the greatest track record for producing America’s best metal bands. But nowadays, it’s about the same as any place in that most bands are trying to be trendy and follow the flavor of the weak. So I have nothing against that city, but for me, trying to find players that wanted to execute the classic metal style was just as hard there as anywhere, so why bother with the exaggerated cost of living & traffic when the battle is the same. I’ll probably move back to California one day when we sell enough records to get a place up in the hills, haha!
Was Icarus Witch already in the early stages of its creation or a more project based band thing at that time when you used to hang around in LA ?!
At that point it was just a vision. I had a few song ideas kicking around my studio that ended up mutating into Darklands & Atlantis, but the project didn’t become a real band until I met Matthew [Bizilia, singer] in Pennsylvania.
When returning to the city of iron, namely Pittsburgh, did you have an exact vision in your mind of how Icarus Witch would get more air under the wings or were you about to bury the whole Icarus Witch thing and pursue other music involvements and projects ?!?
Yes, the vision was always clear from the start. It took a few strange twists & turns in the early phases, going through band members, trying to find a writing style & look we were comfortable with, but most bands go through similar growing pains.
Did you manage to create and build a good network of connections with various record labels/managers etc to boost your music career as either a solo artist or a band member before taking a course back to Pittsburgh?!
I’ve never been a solo artist, but yes, my entire post-school career has involved various stints in music business ventures. I’ve always been fascinated with the industry so decided at a young age it was best to make my day job something that could also propel my dream.
Apparently the first incarnation of the Icarus Witch line-up underwent some changes before getting its stable form ?! But was finding and recruiting suitable and above all devoted old school metal musicians easier in the Pittsburgh area than in Los Angeles ?!
Yes, it was a little easier. Pittsburgh is pretty behind the times in general, which in this case was a positive thing. Sure there are all kinds of bands here & it’s a relatively big city, but the midwest in general seems to have clung on to it’s classic rock roots a litter harder than the coasts, at least in my experience, having lived on both coasts.
As for the guitarist of Icarus Witch, Steve Pollick, as far as I know he has gained himself a good reputation in the local metal genre by putting out three solo albums ?!
That’s what I hear. Haha. I don’t actually have any of his albums, but was impressed with his style, chops & versatility the first time he came over and jammed at my place. We’re both Malmsteeen goons, so that was our first bonding. When we’re writing a song, especially a rhythm for a lead we half jokingly way, “W.W.Y.D.” You know, What would Yngwie do?
Did you already know Matthew Bizilia before, were you already familiar with his abilities before teaming up with him to form Icarus Witch ?!
I heard his voice on 2 songs on a rough demo CD that he did with a local guitarist. That was it. I knew the instant I heard him that we’d end up being in the same band.
As for the band’s name, as it partly belongs to the Greek mythology as Icarus was imprisoned in a tower on Crete and then created wings to fly free, but I have been wondering where that “Witch” title comes from ?!? Is there any story how those two words are connected to each other and where and how you found that interesting name ?!
Have you ever heard of automatic writing? It’s like when you channel other forces to create the words for you. It was something like that, a Wiccan ritual. You ask for a sign, it’s given to you and you never take it for granted. Witchcraft is often maligned or misunderstood, but for me it’s been a positive & essential aspect of my existence.
IN THE NAME OF METAL
Icarus Witch flags for the good old traditional heavy metal by swearing into the name of legend names such as Dio, King Diamond, Maiden, Yngview Malmsteen, etc etc. and those influences can be heard in your music, but obviously you are not thrilled about the European power metal style, bands playing faster than a bullet train goes on a rail by using double bassdrums, singers singing in the upper register, guitarists trying to be quicker than Yngview himself and symphonic music elements are used quite a lot ?!
The European style as you describe it is fine for them and many people love that. I have enjoyed shows by bands like Hammerfall, StormWarrior & Paragon. Our guitarist loves bands like Pagan’s Mind, Stratovarious, Rhapsody & the like. Our drummer’s favorite band is Nevermore. But all of those styles while technically impressive just don’t move me the same way the original do. You can only play so fast or sing so high before you have to stop showing off and prove that you can write a good song, I think a band like Dragonforce has sort of taken it to the extreme. I’m amazed at their speed, but for my band, even though we have those weapons in our arsenal, I feel like the bigger challenge is to create a song that will outlive us. A legacy of sorts. Bands like Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Priest, etc. are not still around because they tried to show off. Their longevity is in part due to their craftsmanship as song writers. A skill I feel has been lost in the race for the “effect.” Even guys like Yngwie, who were accused of being too fast or flashy when he came out on the scene, I mean he had skills as a song writer. “I Am A Viking,” “I’ll See The Light Tonight,” “You Don’t Remember,” Those are memorable songs. Most of the metal that’s come out in the past 20 years doesn’t make that deep of an impact and likely won’t stand the test of time as well. But it’s just an opinion, a personal choice, so that reflects our band’s output. Trying to rekindle the spirit that has been neglected in pursuit of trying to be the fastest, most evil, most extreme. Seems like fun, but still not as impressive as writing a song like “Rock You Like A Hurricane” that still gets played on the radio in every city of the world, every day of the year for 2 decades in a row.
But where does the spirit and the feeling to play and compose the more traditional, let’s say now, old school heavy metal come from in the first place, especially it ain’t a common and that trendy metal style at least in The States at the moment ?!
Well, it sure would be easier to get gigs and money being in a trendy, random 3 word named screamo core band, but it would be very false & unsatisfying. We just write & play in the style that we love and that moves us the most. The fact that thousands of others have joined our crusade worldwide just proves that there is more substance. For us it’s ultimately more rewarding the just play from the heart even though it means facing even more uphill battles than your basic modern rock band. Nothing worth having is easy. Everyone should just play the style they really love instead of playing what others want them too. There would probably be a lot more creative music in the music stores.
Icarus Witch didn’t release any so called official demo outputs to draw an attention like millions of other bands do in hope of getting a little attention on the metal map, instead you were kind of discovered from tribute albums for example; Black Sabbath, George Lynch and Running Wild. How did you get involved with these tribute albums?! Was the reputation of Icarus Witch in the local scene so strong that labels releasing these tribute albums was convinced about your skills ?!
I have worked for Cleopatra Records for several years & helped create the Magick Records label with the owner of the label. I’m a bit of a control freak in that I like to have a say in every phase of my band’s work (music, art, advertising, video direction, etc.). To bring Icarus Witch into that Magick Records roster was natural. But I wouldn’t have risked my career if the band & players weren’t world class to begin with. This group of guys is my proudest achievement in terms of scouting & managing talent. This is the real band I always dreamed of working with. The fact that I not only get to write & perform with but also oversee the business, it’s a blessing.
I can’t help if it was a bombastic overwhelming, in a positive way, experience for you to play the Ozzy tune S.A.T.O. together with George Lynch on his own tribute album, how did this actually come about ?!
I was George’s A&R rep for a few albums on the Deadline label. We became friends. I asked if he’d like to be on our record. He was eager to collaborate and the rest is history! Lynch rules.
If I am not mistaken the first Icarus Witch recording was the Black Sabbath cover tune “Falling Off The Edge Of The World” taken from “MOB RULES”. Apparently Dio’s era of Sabbath seems to appeal more to your taste than Ozzy’s era??!
You are correct. I felt like that song & era best summed up the pinnacle of classic metal / hard rock. I don’t think Sabbath’s done a better album since, nor have many others. So it was the perfect starting point. Sab invented metal & while the Ozzy era was fantastic, they really became something special with the Dio era. The Alpha & Omega of true power metal.
You recorded the “ROSES ON WHITE LANCE” Ep with the Pro-Pain guitarist Eric Klinger as producer. This may sound amusing, but was the Pro Pain guy aware of the approach of the traditional heavy metal that Icarus Witch stands for? I mean that Pro Pain is quite far-away from the Icarus Witch style ?! Did he know exactly what you were willing to achieve on the Ep release ?!
Yes, our working relationship with Klinger is amazing & we cherish his involvement. He’s produced everything we’ve released & become a great friend along the way. He is a versatile musician, not simply a hard core tough guy. I mean the guy has skills and appreciation of all music. He plays rhythm guitar on the song “Roses” from the Alice Cooper tribute. Talk about a strong precision picking hand. The man is like a machine.
Why was this Alice Cooper’s song name chosen for the album title even though there would have been other possibilities to name that output ?!
Everything for that project came together very fast & just fit. The artwork we got from Mattias was a skull with a rose growing from the bone, how perfect was that for the song title, “Roses On White Lace” Plus, it being the fastest song on the EP, we put it first just to give us a boost out of the gate. Plus it’s just a cool, dark romantic, gothic phrase. We didn’t want to get lumped into the pack of D&D / Tolkein castle rockers. Even though we have a song about dragons & admit that fantasy style is a big thrill for us, it is just one aspect of this, and a title like “Roses…” seemed a bit more mysterious. The fact that it’s another guys song name, I don’t know, never seemed as strange to me as it did to some people I guess. Cooper was another big influence on everyone, so there you go…our tribute to the father of shock rock.
Regarding that Cooper song, Michael Romeo of Symphony X was involved in the recording process, right ?! How did he get hooked up anyway ?!
We’re friends with his record label, Inside Out Music, here in Pittsburgh so I got his contact info & called him up. Steve had already met him several times at SX shows. He was a real nice guy, super pro & fast, not just on the fretboard but in the studio. A real wizard.
The second output, but otherwise the first full length release titled “CAPTURE THE MAGIC” saw the light of day last year. Did you face an “agony of creation” feeling when doing the writing process of the debut album? Was the writing even harder on you than writing and composing the material for the EP release ?!
No agony, the writing process is one of the best parts. Creating, pulling those ideas from the ethers, shaping them, collaborating & hearing how the other members will interpret your ideas. I play & write practically every day. I’d like to release more, but it’s a lengthy process.
The former Fates Warning guitarist, Frank Aresti, visited on the album doing a track ‘The Ghost Of Xavior Holmes’. Did you happen to know him before? How did you manag to lure him to play on the album ?!
Yes, I became friends with Frank through the label when I licensed a song from his Dragonspoon project for a gothic compilation I was doing for Cleopatra. He’s a great guy and has become something of mentor, which is extra special considering what a huge impact “Awaken The Guardian” had on everyone in Icarus Witch.
The same Ozzy cover S.A.T.O is on the album, was it re-recorded for the album or is it the same version as on the George Lynch cover album ?!
Same version. It’s showing up on several compilations. Getting the most bang for the buck. Seems to be a big hit.
Were you basically pleased with the final result on CAPTURE THE MAGIC, or are there parts on the album for example in the final mixing that you would like to change and re-do in a way or another ?!
I’m very pleased. It’s a labor of love and I think it was the best we could have done at the time. We keep getting better each time we go into the studio and Klinger’s growing along with us as a producer.
When looking at those several cover tunes that you recorded so far, in my opinion there is always a possibility Icarus Witch will be considered and recognized more as a cover band playing nothing, but great classic metal songs than a normal metal band with own songs. Or how do you view this kind of opinion ?!
I disagree, but understand what you say. The bottom line is when you get a chance to participate on an internationally released CD along side guys from Maiden, Priest, KISS, Dio, Def Leppard, Malmsteen, Twisted Sister, etc., it’s an honor & a fantastic way to appeal to new listeners who might not otherwise be reading a Metal Maniacs or watching M2. Hopefully some of those new listeners will then visit our site or go to a show to hear our original music. Not to mention, the bands we’ve tributed have given us years of joy & purpose, so to show respect to those bands in such a way is also one way we give back to the metal community.
Apparently you will continue recording more cover tunes in future, can you unveil some possible choices that you have planned on your minds !?
We’ve already got tracks for tributes to the Scorpions (“Pictured Life”) & Iron Maiden (“Killers”) that are coming out on a limited second disc for the European release of CAPTURE THE MAGIC on Remedy Records. We’ve also recently recorded our version of Def Leppard’s High & Dry classic “Mirror Mirror” that will be on a tribute album this year. But dont’ worry, these projects only make us better songwriters & better rounded musicians, we’re constantly writing original songs and look forward to our next CD more than anything.
CAPTURE THE MAGIC(K) MUSIC
Both of the outputs of Icarus Witch “Roses On White Lance” and “CAPTURE THE MAGIC” were unleashed by Magick Records, being a division of Cleopatra Rec. It is obvious that getting a deal with them was more than a godsend boosting Icarus Witch’s career and your metal dream forward a lot ?!
Indeed, as I mention it was all part of the master plan. Godsend? I’d say I have to give the credit to Lucifer for such a nefarious deal!
Choosing Magick Rec wasn’t a hard task, was it ?! I mean Cleopatra has released plenty of DVDs and records by several wellknown artists and bands and the staff had an experienced background, gained in other labels. Or did you have ponder twice with whom you would sign a deal anyway ?!
No choice, I’m already friends with the owner & staff and trust them very much, in this business, that trust is invaluable.
And the Remedy Rec will handle the distribution and promotion here in Europe ?!
Yes, again, I became friends with Jorn und Petra from Remedy when I went to Wacken & Metal Bash a couple years ago. Can’t really sign your music away to a company unless you’ve sat down and had many beers with your partner. Then you get to the real deal.
As for the lyrics, I can’t help inquiring if you ever reflect your own pagan ritual experiences that you have attended on in your lyrics or in general are you more keen on penning lyrics about supernatural experiences and darker obscure things ?!
The lion’s share of the lyrics come from the mind of Matthew Bizilia. He & I often trade ideas for themes or phrases. I will sometimes give him ideas or a story to write a song about, but usually he will just go off with the music & come back with a version of the words. Yes, being so heavily influential on this band’s direction, my pagan beliefs seep into the framework. I think that’s fair. We’re not a political or religious band, we just tell tales from our dark perspective. But overall, the goal is to entertain, both us & the listeners. An escape, pleasure. That’s what this music is for.
Icarus Witch is quite a young band, formed in 2004, I have been wondering a little bit about how quickly you have managed to achieve such a good following and got some festival dates booked to European metal festivals? Is it just a good luck or do you have a strong management on the background working their asses off ?
How much, do you view, all these website, free mp3 files sharing have helped to spread the name of Icarus Witch around ?!
I’ve seen them. I think it’s bullshit personally. Many of these sites give the impression they’re legit or helping the scene, but meanwhile the artists & labels don’t get paid. It would be like someone just stealing your interview, putting their name on it & selling it to people as their web zine. I mean, we’re not a greedy band, but eventually we’d like to make a living out of this and that’s hard to do when you have some Russian MP3 site selling downloads for ten cents. As you said, we work our asses off for this band to give our fans the highest quality music. If someone wants to file share as a way to sample us, I’ve got no problem with that, but if you like what you hear & want to buy, do it through a legit site like itunes or cleorecs.com or better yet, icaruswitch.com.
THE TRAD METAL UNDERGROUND IN THE STATES
Even though traditional heavy metal and in general hard rock are definitely not the biggest things in The States nowadays, but judging by the amount of young true metal bands on the underground level, it seems that traditional heavy metal lives and is well in North America inthe catacombs of the underground ?!
It’s underground where it’s always been. Many kids are sick of the trendy garbage they’re force fed on TV & radio and want to tap into that mystical era of so called true metal. We get great support in the U.S., but being as this country is so huge, in order to tour you have to really spend a lot of time & money to make it happen. Festivals are good & the internet has been a great way for us to stay in touch with our fans on a personal level until we get a chance to come to their city.
But apparently the rivalry between bands has to be quite hard, but how do you think of breaking out of the underground of the US trad/power metal genre to gain more attention as well as success, because there are so many bands in the same position as you are right now?! Do you think Europe would be the better starting ground for Icarus Witch for example Iced Earth gigged in Europe effectively to establish the fanbase ?!
Well, yes & no. I agree Europe is fantastic for supporting traditional metal, which is why we agreed to play H:O:A in Germany this July. It’s a chance for us to play to many people from all over Europe at once. I don’t see us in competition with any American bands. If another band does the style we do and is successful at it, we support them and encourage them. I’m not one of these guys that takes pride in the small size of the underground. I wish there were a million fans in America into classic metal, it would make our jobs a lot easier & allow us to stay on the road & in the studio all the time.
Jag Panzer, Nevermore, Iced Earth could be said to be the biggest US power/trad metal bands. Do you in general view the US metal, now speaking of the traditional heavy and power metal scene, cos there are a lot of bands practising in their own rehearsal places ?!
I think those bands that you mentioned are doing respectable business. I used to work at Century Media, so I’ve had first hand experience in promoting and publicizing all 3 of those bands & they have all worked pretty hard to get where they’re at. Nevermore is touring with Disturbed now, so that’s a huge step for them in terms of the size of audiences and they did the Megadeth tour last year. Iced Earth has Priest’s old singer, Ripper, so that brought a lot of attention to them. Our style of metal, while still appealing to the fans of those bands is a lot different in the way we approach it. We’re probably even more at odds with the mainstream in our writing. But since you asked how I view the U.S. metal now? I still prefer to listen to bands from the 70s & 80s. We’re not a cutting edge band. We’re not intentionally retro as some gimmick, but the power we tap into comes from the old ways. I think we’d fit in better on a Blue Oyster Cult tour than a Nevermore tour, haha. But then again, you listen to Iced Earth’s Tribute To The Gods record & you hear the kind of music he really likes: KISS, B.O.C., Maiden, Priest, etc. We’re just skipping over the thrash era and going straight to the heart of early metal.
You have paid attention to the band’s visual side and image as well since you don’t wear torn pants or typical band shirts etc and promo pics haven’t been taken in front of the local gas station, right ?! Are image factors important issues for you !?
Certainly. The bands I had on my bedroom wall in high school were the ones that had the look and the whole package: W.A.S.P., KISS, Maiden, Crue, Ozzy, etc. I mean Shout At The Devil was a brilliant record, but the only reason I knew that was because I was intrigued by their mystique, their image and showmanship. It’s part of the lost art of arena metal. We’re not as over the top as that, but we take pride in our presentation and feel that if a fan is going to pay $10 to come see a show, we owe it to them to put on a show. We’re professionals. If you went to a hockey game & the players came out in jeans, you’d feel like they were a bit unprofessional. To Icarus Witch, metal is our church, and you’re supposed to dress your best when you go to church, right? Watching your buddy rock out in his Metallica shirt is an entertainment better saved for the pub on a Saturday night.
Before concluding the interview I am eager to find out your current top five albums on your playlist right now, can you unveil them and tell why ?!
1. Alcatrazz – No Parole From Rock N Roll: Has never left my top 5 since it came out. Class, fire, precision & craftsmanship at it’s pinnacle.
2. Deep Purple – Perfect Strangers: Like Alcatrazz or Rainbow’s Rising, just a flawless slab of real metal which by today’s standards is considered classic rock. Blackmore is royalty.
3. Rainbow – Rising: Dio & Ritchie were simply magic together. Everything about this album is amazing, from the timeless Ken Kelley cover painting to the live black & white photos. I don’t even mind the fact that it is 6 songs. It’s a fantastic journey. Give me quality over filler quantity any day. I don’t have the patience to listen to 15 songs in row by anyone, including my own band! haha.
4. Black Sabbath – Heaven & Hell: Takes me completely into their realm. I hope to have that impact on listeners with our music, on our scale.
5. Uriah Heep – Best Of: I Just love the mysterious nature & pioneering sinister ways of these Brits. Very misunderstood & underrated metal band.
*2 honorable mentions because they’ve been getting a lot of play here recently:
Kingdom Come – Kingdom Come: A classy rocking Whitesnake-ish gem that I recently rediscovered & got absorbed in their lush productions, distinct vocals, and hooks. Plus the guitarist Danny Stag was a Pittsburgh native, so they get bonus points. Got panned as Zep clones, but then again so did Great White, Whitesnake, Bonham, etc. Nothing new under the sun, listen to this album from start to finish & appreciate the level at which these guys were delivering the goods.
Judas Priest – Sad Wings Of Destiny: We’re thinking of adding “Ripper” to our live set since we don’t usually play any covers live. It’s just so cool to think of people making such great, evil music so long ago.
Queensryche – Rage For Order: I aspire to such levels of courage & creative acumen in our development.
I for one thank you for the interview and wish all the best to Icarus Witch and you have now a good chance to praise Icarus Witch…
The official Icarus Witch sites :