Icarus Witch - Ready to Rise
By: Matt Coe
There are times when you interview bands where you worry if you’ll ever have enough to talk about. And then there are musicians like bassist Jason Myers. He plays in Icarus Witch, one of the more traditional, old school sounding US metal bands that have just celebrated their tenth anniversary together. They’ve released their fifth album Rise, and it certainly will spark debate for some of the changes stylistically and production-wise the band took… all for the better in my opinion.
Recently I had the great opportunity to speak to Jason while he was coming home from sending off numerous fan appreciation packages at FedEx. The man and the band have an undying commitment to push their music to another level, something that isn’t easy in these challenging economic times…
Blistering.com: Tell us about the lineup changes which only left you and Quinn [Lukas] within Icarus Witch, and did these changes influence the slight modification in sound for Icarus Witch with your latest album Rise?
Jason Myers: Yes, actually they influenced the change in sound quite a bit. Obviously anytime you are in a writing partnership with other musicians, everybody’s input is going to affect the outcome and the direction things go in. This was a little more drastic this time around - between Draw Down the Moon which came out in 2010 until now, we spent quite a bit of time touring. Through that process for various reasons we ended up changing members- being the drummer, the second guitar player, and being the biggest change the lead singer.
A lot of the reason for that came through the rigors of touring and the lifestyle it entails - it’s not for everybody [laughs]. It’s one thing when you are playing regionally or going out a couple of times a year, but we’ve spent the better part of a year just traveling around in a van. We had some people that wanted to remain in the fold and some people that it wasn’t the right thing for them to go forward. We did some revamping, held some auditions and found people that we felt not only fit the band with the ability but we wanted people that would work well on the road too. Once we got that lineup in place, we went immediately into production and writing mode. Once the ideas came together, the results are what you hear on Rise.
Blistering.com: Taking some of the harmony cues from AOR of the past could be a tough sell for the older Icarus Witch followers into more of your conventional, traditional metal sound. Explain your musical philosophy and how you believe this can work for the betterment of Icarus Witch and the scene overall?
Myers: Well, the philosophy of the band from the beginning has always been to do the kind of music that we want, that we feel in our hearts regardless of what other people are going to think of it or if it fits in with any trends. Our style has changed a bit from what it originally was, but our philosophy is still there. Taking things into consideration, as in how it’s going to affect the business aspect of it, isn’t really our priority when we are writing. If it’s music we enjoy listening to and feel passionate about creating, we will find other people that it resonates with. If we were more stuck into repeating the same formula that we created and had some success with, we felt that we would be prone to getting into a rut and not really evolving beyond that. It was a bit of gamble to take some chances, but we felt like we had hit a plateau and with us we need to branch out more. Once we heard the results, we all felt confident that we are go.
Blistering.com: What are some of the songs on the new album that you would say took the most time to develop or possibly transformed the most from early stages to final album incarnations?
Myers: A song like “Pray” is a good example of a song that went through multiple incarnations and very nearly missed being on the album altogether. Where it started out as was not 180 degrees different but at least 90 degrees different than where it ended up at. Sometimes you get these songs that you feel like the core of it is right and has a future but for some reason or another it isn’t gelling with all the musicians. Eventually one person sticks up enough for it, you make the alterations and then it comes to a point where it makes sense for the band. This became one of the more unique and heavier songs on the album. By contrast a song like “Rise” was extremely organic and the quickest songwriting process this band has ever had. It was written on the spot and changed very little from the time we jammed on it in the rehearsal room. Two ends of the spectrum there on the album.
Blistering.com: Now you yourself play bass and keyboards within the band, do you find yourself writing with a guitar?
Myers: No, I primarily write material on the bass, and this time around I didn’t even really play keyboards. With the addition of Dave Watson in the band, he’s just such a phenomenal keyboardist. He’s a legitimately trained pianist whereas I just kind of tinker around to get the sounds I like. This time around I wrote my songs on bass - I express the melodies and riffs of what I write to the guitarists for them to transpose the way they think fits best.
Blistering.com: How would you rate Dave’s production abilities, as he also helmed the production on the new album?
Myers: Not taking anything away from Eric [Klinger], who had produced everything that we had done previously - he did the kind of productions we asked him to and we wanted, a little more old-fashioned and old school. Dave’s just a different guy, with a different ear. He would lean more to a more modern, heavier production. Being in the band as well as being our producer, it definitely shaped the sound the band wanted to take- more of an updated output.
Blistering.com: Through the years, who would you say some of your songwriting mentors would be? Also, do you feel like you need a particular time of day or environment to create Icarus Witch material best or does inspiration seem to strike at any moment for you and your band mates?
Myers: Time of day doesn’t factor in as much as my emotional state of mind at the time I’m writing. I write more fervently when I’m depressed or pissed off because that’s the time you can use music writing ability as a catharsis to get whatever situations are presenting obstacles in your life. Be it morning, noon, or night, that’s not necessarily a factor. Sleep deprivation is a natural byproduct of this lifestyle - very little sleep and the more delirious you get, the further down the rabbit hole you go when it comes to the songs- especially being in the studio.
As far as songwriting influences… wow, that’s a loaded question. There are so many. I have always enjoyed the AOR genre- even from the beginning… it wasn’t an influence per se on this. I would say collectively we have been listening to a lot more newer bands, a lot of that may be because of new members coming into the fold, younger guys coming in. The pull of influences expanded by the nature of the lineup changes. From my perspective, I’ve been listening to a lot more modern bands than in the past. My listening tastes are all over the spectrum.
Blistering.com: What do you find out most about a band through all the touring you’ve done through the years? You’ve had the chance to share the stage with Heaven and Hell, a couple of tours with Paul Di’Anno, and Y&T as well…
Myers: You have to get really good at compromising in many aspects. There isn’t a lot of personal space - you are constantly in close quarters if it’s a 10-hour road trip in a van to the next venue or sharing a hotel room with the same guy - there’s not a lot of personal space so you have to respect what little personal space you do have. Everybody has their quirks but you just have to be respectful of your band mates and what they may or may not feel comfortable with. You want to make it through with the least amount of conflict or drama. We seem to enjoy ourselves more on the road. This album was built for the road this time - the chemistry within the band is better right now.