Icarus Line’s frontman Joe Cardamone is still wound up and going strong – even after a decade of raging ups and downs with various labels, disagreements with heavyweight producers and that mythical incident at SXSW where guitarist Aaron North busted into a display case to “liberate” Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar.
Five albums later, a rung of new band members and various incarnations of sorts, Cardamone is happy to report the spirit of the band is still the same. He’s built his own studio in L.A., and “drums up work” outside Icarus Line by helping out new bands lay down some tracks, if he thinks they have potential. On stage, he has ramped up the energy, discarding the once legendary uniform of black shirt and pants with a thin, red tie. He now plays shirtless.
“That’s been a direct result of me becoming a producer I think,” he says. “I’ve been working with bands, and I’ve been going to shows and seeing bands — and aside from the handful of groups that I decide to work with – I don’t know, I just haven’t seen anything exciting. I’m always hoping that I’m going to walk in to a club and see a band that is like The Damned or The Dead Boys or something that’s going to knock my socks off. And I’m just not seeing that.”
“That’s kind of what kicked me in to high gear to make me want to go tour again. ‘Cuz it was like, well, if no kids are gonna fucking do anything about this then I guess we’re gonna have to go out there and start fucking people up.”
He admits he’s none too keen to jump back in to touring too soon, though.
“I’m like in the re-grouping period – this band has a cyclical fuckin’ life span that just keeps going. It’s…put out a record, go on tour and then suffer the financial consequences of that for a couple years – and then do it again.”
Like most musicians these days, Cardamone is not impressed with the state of the music industry.
“If you told me that the current state of the music business, for lack of a better term, was gonna look like this when I was 18, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ And so would anybody else,” he says. “I don’t think people fully understand how apocalyptic it is at the moment.”
Over the past decade, Cardamone has seen the detritus of internet anarchy up close.
“It’s been about ten years now of the industry just hemorrhaging uncontrollably and I don’t know – something’s got to give. You know, there’s all kinds of fuckin’ red herrings like that Spotify bullshit – but I haven’t seen anything real yet,” he says. “Something does have to happen or our culture will suffer more than anything. And it already is.”
“It’s like the internet was supposed to level the playing field and all it really seems to have done is create a bunch of static so (it’s easier for) the lowest common denominator to take a strangle hold…Since everyone has a voice now, it seems like no one has a fuckin’ voice, because everyone can’t talk at once and not everyone has something meaningful to say.”
Because of the free for all that has become the current state of the industry, Cardamone says touring has turned in to a whole different nightmare.
“There’s been a fucking chain reaction all across the board. It’s a completely different fucking fiasco,” he says. “For example, we just toured with Killing Joke in the UK. We did like sixty dates with them – and I’m seeing things that I’ve never seen before, like bands that buy on to tours. If a big band wants to go on tour, they will have some opening act that may not even really be a band before the tour – you know, maybe just some people with money that want to go on tour and they’ll pay like, $10,000 dollars — and they essentially pay for a headliner's bus.” He goes on, “The tragic notion about that is that there are bands that should be going on tour that cannot compete with that sort of fucking payola shit.”
Although the general atmosphere out there is gloomy, Cardamone clearly isn’t letting it get him down. The upside is he’s been writing a lot.
“Creatively it’s been a good time for me. I write all the time. That ‘s not a problem. It’s more of a – keeping the hot water on (issue).”
And he insists he’s an optimist at heart. “There’s still good people out there,” he says. “The label we’re on in England called Agitated is this guy Simon Keeler that brought us over to the UK for the first time when we were 21. He basically helped us get a foothold over there and he only puts out records that he loves and he’s fuckin’ awesome.”
“So I haven’t lost all hope because there are people out there that are gonna do this no matter what – I mean what else are we gonna do? I pretty much have to do this come hell or high water… after a certain point, if I don’t do it – I’ll just get sick in the head,” he says. “So it’s pretty much the only thing I can do to not become a criminal or whatever.”
There is a new album in the works, in fact, and the band has been writing music in a different way these days. “It’s kind of a more organic process,” Cardamone says. “The way that’s been easiest for me (lately), and it just seems more exciting, is that I’ll bring basic skeletons or the seed of an idea (in) and maybe give them some sort of road map, like – ‘Here is a couple places we can go within this idea. Here’s a couple places we might end up at, and if you see me go there, follow me.’ And even though I don’t play guitar live ever, I always bring one to rehearsal so that I can kind of conduct from it – and everyone can at least know what key we’re in.”
Why doesn’t he play guitar on stage? “I need to go make a fool of myself on stage,” he laughs. “It wouldn’t be fun for me. I’m 33 and I can still fall on my face without my hip shattering — so I think I have a couple more years to beat myself up. I just want to entertain people,” he pauses. “I think there’s a lack of entertaining rock 'n' roll front people.”
“It’s like a bunch of white kids ‘bearing their soul’ (out there now) and I can’t get behind it that much. Rock 'n' roll used to be informed by black music and just had more danger to it. That’s what attracted me to it in the first place and that’s what’s kept me here. If I can’t actually feel that way, for real, while we are playing, if we can’t reach some kind of collective zenith, with everyone feeling like at any moment this whole thing could fucking burn down and take everyone with us, then there’s just really no point in doing it.”
Makeup by Jessica Urbealis.