Interview conducted by Robert Williams
Icarus Witch; the traditional heavy metal band hailing from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania have plenty to be excited about. Their third full length release "Draw Down The Moon" has just hit record store shelves this past week; as the band finds themselves on a current U.S. tour in support of Paul Di’Anno. Icarus Witch are also playing double duty; opening shows with a set of Icarus Witch material and then joining Paul Di’Anno on-stage later in the evening as his backing band. Anyone familiar with Icarus Witch can certainly attest that for such a young band, they already accomplished a great deal, putting themselves on the map in 2005 with the Magick Records released "Roses On White Lace" EP and later collaborating with such notable artists as George Lynch, Joe Lynn Turner and Frank Aresti. They were even honored with an opening slot for Heaven and Hell on the last night of Icarus Witch’s ambitious "Lost In America" tour. Make no mistake; this is a band to keep a watchful eye on.
How are you doing today?
I’m doing good…Adjusting to life after the tour.
So you just completed a pretty ambitious tour with Icarus Witch in support of your new album Draw Down The Moon. This tour was a little different, in that you were performing a nightly set with Icarus Witch shortly followed by a set where Icarus Witch acts as Paul Di’Anno’s backing band. What was it like to tour and perform with a legend like Paul every night?
It was phenomonal. We were of course a pretty excited and little bit nervous going into it, not sure really what to expect, but he was great to work with and he treated us all really well and we had a lot of fun playing with as his opening band and then the honor of just backing him up every night as his band. It was a great experience all around.
This tour with Paul Di’Anno was originally planned for last year right?
I think the initial talks for this tour began in 2007…It was just a series of legal SNAFU’s on getting his visa to go through…based on some problems that he had in the past, but he had a team of good entertainment attorney’s working for him this time to make sure that it went through. There was a lot of build up but it was all definitely worth all the time and planning that we put into it.
What were some of your personal tour highlights?
I would say one was flying to Puerto Rico and playing down there because the fans are a little extra ravenous in that scene there and we had a really good time in Puerto Rico.
Also, for me…San Antonio was a great show because it was an open air type situation where as a lot of the other ones were at clubs and theaters, so that was quite a bit of fun…There’s so many…
Santa Ana was probably the best overall, in terms of the stage and the theater and the crowd. Everytime I thought it couldn’t get any better then a couple shows later we’d have a new high to top it…So, it was a lot of fun everytime…
I saw a recent photo of Icarus Witch hanging out with the cast of that VH1 Classic’s "That Metal Show". Were you guys a featured guest on "That Metal Show" ?
Well Paul did. He actually filmed that a day before the tour started and we were supposed to be there for the taping of that but unfortunately our driver for the tour who was coming in from Canada and he had some problems with his visa as well and he called me at four o’clock in the morning a day before the tour to tell me he was denied access at the border…so that kind of caused a panic and a complete lack of sleep as we were trying to scramble to find a means to rent a passenger van for the tour, until he could get his visa cleared.
So…even though that would have been one of my tour highlights…would’ve been going on to "That Metal Show", we had to forego that and instead we had to go to Lancaster, Pennsylvania and pick up a van and drive it to New Jersey ourself in order to make it there for the first show.
We were pretty disappointed about that but we did get to meet and hang out with the cast from "That Metal Show". They came down to our BB King’s show in New York City and hung out with us backstage and actually announced us from the stage and everything…so…
We got to meet and hang out with those guys and hopefully sow the seeds for some return visits to their studio.
Also speaking of sowing the seeds, I imagine you guys got to know Paul Di’Anno pretty well on the tour. Was their any talk of you guys working with Paul in the studio at some point?
Yeah, that is something that came up quite a bit actually. We did become pretty good friends with him and it seemed like there was a lot of camaraderie that developed along the tour and we had a really good time and one of the things that continued to come up was the potential to get in and do some studio work with him.
I’m not sure exactly when or how that’s going to happen yet we kind of left it up in the air but he had even sent me a text message after the tour to thank us for the job we did and he had mentioned in the text message to remember that he wanted to work in the studio with us. So I think that’s something we can put in the books for the future as well…
Let’s talk about your new album "Draw Down The Moon". The new album has been described as having less bells and whistles than it’s predecessor’s. You guys have gotten rid of the synthesizers and samples and have focused more on just "meat and potatoes" heavy metal. Was that a conscious decision as a band going into your third album?
Not necessarily a conscious decision in the preparation stage of it but I think we just matured more as songwriters to where once we laid out the initial demo’s for the songs in the studio it didn’t feel like there was really a need to add too much more to it.
In a lot of cases the basic tracks that we laid down…bass, rhythm guitar and drums, ended up being the final cut on it, just because we’re getting a little more experienced at our craft and the songs themselves are stronger so rather than go back in the post production stages and say "A Keyboard part would sound good here." Or maybe like an extra choir something there like we have done in the past just for enhancement.
We all felt really strongly about the way the songs sort of stood on their own as a basic Rock/Heavy Metal formula, so we really ended up not doing any of that (post production bells and whistles) this time around.
As a result I think the songs sound just a little more live and a little more immediate, a little less over produced.
So with both yourself and Matthew Bazilia being the sole original members of the band, would you say that the two of you handle the majority of the songwriting?
We split up the duties. This time around I did do a pretty good share of the writing. At any given time it’s sort of like who is available who has the most ideas coming into it, who has the most time to work on things and this time around I did a lot of the writing, but in general, we do try to collaborate on everything and keep the pallette open for anybodies ideas that want to contribute and you know, we always split the writing credits equally amongst the band.
We try to keep it democratic and sort of live by the rule that the best idea wins, and again, in this case I think I put a lot of time into it in the beginning and there was a period when Quinn (Lukas – Lead and Rhythm Guitar) was involved in some other projects and didn’t have as much time, but he did come along later and put some more of his ideas into it. So it was a split but…you know…does that answer your question? I’m trying to be diplomatic about it here…
Yes, of course. So anyway, I know this is always a difficult question for a musician, did you have any personal favorite tracks from the new album "Draw Down The Moon" ?
Yeah. For me personally I feel really attached to the song "Dying Eyes" I think in a lot of ways it was sort of a departure from what we have done in the past, it was sort of breaking new ground, yet still sticking with the Icarus Witch sound but that song to me was kind of like an accomplishment to me in the sense that we were able to explore slightly new territory.
I hesitate to call it a ballad…because it’s not really what I would consider a ballad but it’s more of an emotional song that builds up to a peak, it’s got more of a rock vibe. So, that one to me stand’s out as a personal favorite.
I’m a big fan as well of the title track "Draw Down The Moon" I think that one came out really catchy and heavy, it sort of has that…I’m always wanting to compare things to other bands…but to me it sort of has that…What’s the album I’m looking for? Um…sort of a "Born Again" Sabbath era vibe, you know? It’s just real kind of plodding and sort of doomy but just has a lot of melody and cool parts to it. So, those are probably my two favorite tracks from the album.
Icarus Witch once again worked with your longtime producer Eric Klinger of Pro-Pain fame on "Draw Down The Moon". What are some of the production techniques that Eric employs that keep you guys coming back for more? What would you say Eric brings to the table as a producer?
Eric has been our producer for everything that we’ve recorded since the EP and even before that…The reason that we keep going back to him is that he knows how to get the best performance out of each of the members.
We’re real comfortable working with him and listening to his ideas and I think really his biggest asset is he’s extremely, really good at getting the most production value out of… I hate to say a minimal budget, but you know, like on an independent budget he’s able to go in there and make the most out of every note and he’s a real master at his equipment and his plug-ins and his software. He just knows how to really make an independent production sound a little more massive and produced than a lot of people might think it is.
So keeping in mind that you and Eric are friends, do you feel like he still pushes you guys to the limit in the studio?
Oh God yeah. We always start out as friends and by the time we’re through with any album we’re all at each others throats but it’s all in a productive way.
He’s definitely…I would say, a perfectionist and we appreciate that and he’s got a real strong sense of timing and a great ear for harmonies and pitch. So, all of those things are not necessarily my strong points so I really appreciate someone sitting down and saying "No. You were a little behind the beat on that." or saying to our singer "Try doing it an octave higher." or whatever…
He definitely drives us to get our maximum performance and like I said, it can make for some pretty hair-raising experiences, or whatever you wanna say…But in the end it’s worth it because we are the one’s that have to live with this product as a representation of Icarus Witch for the rest of our careers so it’s worth putting the blood, sweat and tears into it to have something that you are proud to stand behind.
With all of the momentum that the new album and the recent tour with Paul carries, how long will it be before fans can expect Icarus Witch to hit the road again?
Oh yeah, absolutely. If I had it my way we’d still be out there now, we’re talking to some different agents and managers and trying to find a situation that makes sense for us, but there’s nothing definitive that I can announce yet, but we plan on touring as much as possible, we’re chomping at the bit to get out there again. Basically, none of us want to really stay home. We want to continue out on the road and go from tour to tour as much as possible.
When I have something more confirmed, I’ll definitely let you know. Right now it’s just in various talking stages and we’re trying to secure some sort of deal with a booking agency at the moment.
Are there any plans to film a music video for one of the tracks featured on "Draw Down The Moon" ?
Yes. Before we left the tour we were planning on shooting a video for the song "Black Candles" the first track…And we had even gone so far…Our singer had story-boardedthe concept for it and we had some of the pre-production in place for that and unfortunately, we just weren’t able to…With the amount of time that it took for us to prepare just for the tour and to get the album launched we weren’t able to shoot the video in time but that’s one of the things that we want to go back and wrap up.
There’s also so much live footage floating around there now that it wouldn’t be out of the realm of possibility to put together some type of live video situation, because it seems like every time I go on YouTube now there’s five or six more songs up that somebody taped from the tour.
You have a new drummer in the Icarus Witch ranks. How did you find Steve Johnson and does he appear on "Draw Down The Moon" as well?
No. Steve actually joined the band just before the tour, right as we were wrapping up. The album had already been tracked when he came along. We needed a permanent member, somebody that was going to be able to go out and hit the road with us.
We found Steve basically a month before the tour started so he was really thrown to the wolves in terms of "Okay. Yeah, your in the band, now you have got to learn an Icarus Witch set and a Paul Di’Anno set and you’ve got three or four weeks to perfect it and then we’re hitting the road."
He’s the most recent addition to the band and had probably the biggest workload in terms of memorization because he was starting almost completely from scratch. So…he survived! Hopefully he’ll be around for our next recording session.
His enthusiasm for the band was refreshing… to work with somebody that was coming in with a renewed sense of enthusiasm. He’s probably the first drummer that we’ve had that really came into the band as such a fan of the band and as such it was he wasn’t looking to see how he could change Icarus Witch to meet his style, he was really just the sort of hard rock/ heavy metal drumming style that we were looking for.
So it was a pretty easy fit in terms of style where as in the past I think we’ve hooked up with drummers that were maybe coming from a bit more a thrash or progressive realm and they felt constrained playing this style of our music.
Icarus Witch has featured the likes of George Lynch, Joe Lynn Turner and Frank Aresti on your previous albums. What was it like to work with these metal powerhouses?
Well, each one of them was an honor in their own right and I would say working with George Lynch was phenomenal because this guy is a legend on his instrument and he’s one of the definitive guitar players of traditional heavy metal. So for him to sort of put his stamp on our first album really opened up a lot of people’s eyes to what we were doing, like "Who are these guys?" and "What is George Lynch doing playing with them?"
That worked out really well and I had known George for a while and it was great to be able to have him lend his credibility to our first offering and for that matter you could say the same for Frank because those early Fates Warning albums were so influential on Icarus Witch as musicians and even Icarus Witch as a band.
You go back to like "Awaken The Guardian" I mean that album is an all-time classic. Frank’s touch on albums like that, the mid-era Fates Warning stuff, he’s an underrated guitar hero in his own right.
As far as Joe… Once again, this is the guy who sang for Rainbow, sang for Yngwie Malmsteen, you know, I mean… Deep Purple…for Christ’s sake… He’s a god and his voice just worked so perfectly with what we were doing and when we approached him it was almost like "Who would you like to sing on this track with us?" we figured we’d just start at the top and be like "What about Joe Lynn Turner?" thinking he’s never gonna do it… and he listened to the music and agreed immediately. We were like "Wow! Joe Lynn Turner’s on our album."
That was really cool and a lot of these relationships we’ve forged with some of these founding forefathers of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal have sort of helped us in other ways as well. We can maintain contact and friendships with these guys to where when we’re going into situations as more of a newer band or rookie band in certain circumstances, I can fall back on the experience and give somebody like Frank a call and ask him for his advice or send Joe an email or something.
I don’t want to go so far as to say that it’s like a passing of the torch, but in a lot of ways I think they respect what we’re doing and have sort of given us their seal of approval in a lot of ways and helpful advice along the way as well.
A few years back you ended your "Lost In America" tour opening up for your idols Heaven and Hell. Take us back to that evening. What was it like to have everything come full circle and be on the same bill as your heroes?
That was surreal… That would be the best way to describe it. We had been working with… Our manager at the time also worked for Niji Management which is Ronnie James Dio’s management and she gave us a call and said "Would you like to open for Heaven and Hell?" and at first I thought that maybe she was putting us on but but knowing here as I did I knew she wasn’t and we said "Yes! Absolutely!" obviously and what nobody knew at the time was that we didn’t even have a drummer at the time, so we agreed to do it and it was sort of a rally the troops kind of thing again and we were under the gun, we only had three weeks to put the band together, get a drummer in there and rehearse the set…get all of the promotion in place and we seem to work best under insane pressure like that so…
We got it together and we had never been treated so well by any venue in our lives. You think that when you get to that stage of God-hood or whatever that Black Sabbath have achieved that the treatment would be "All right kids, go up there and do it and get out of our way." but it was not like that at all, I mean, everything was so cordial, from getting a soundcheck after load-in to catering to just complete… you know… It was just a great experience. We were treated so well.
The chance to play through Black Sabbath’s PA system… Downtown… Your hearing my bass reverberating through the downtown area. That PA was just mindblowing. It was great. It gave us a taste for bigger stages and sort of lit a fire under our ass to remind us that’s what we want to do for the rest of our lives and now we’re doing whatever we can to work towards that on a regular basis.
What’s next for Icarus Witch?
Well, like I said. We’re planning on shooting a video for "Black Candles" and actually just coming off the high of playing every night for thirty nights in a row. I’m back in sort of a creative mode, so I’m working on new material for the next round of recording and just getting a chance to follow up with all of the press and promotion that we weren’t able to do as much of while we were on the road and other than that, just constantly plugging away at it every day and speaking to people about upcoming festivals and tours and hopefully the break will be really shortlived and we’ll be back on the road taking our show to another city.
Sounds great! Thanks for taking the time to talk metal Jason…
Yeah. I appreciate it man… My pleasure.