I remember the 5K review perfectly: the cover art, a jumble of monochrome and deep crimson with a figure turned away as if some bad shit has just gone down, seemed so appealing, even before the accompanying words were ingested. The bed was a mess, the grey skies full of violence and fire. I had to have this. And I did. Over and over.
Mono was 2001’s greatest rock and roll album, from a band who teetered on self-destruction in the most beautiful way imaginable; their shows – all limbs and teeth, spit and confrontation – weren’t always memorable for the right reasons, but they _were memorable nonetheless. Once, in Manchester, I wondered why I’d bothered with them: the set was limp, the band disinterested. I may have heckled them in my drunken disappointment. I did so, of course, from the safety of the venue’s rear. I still recall Joe’s eyes, though, burning bright towards me – he didn’t need to say anything, I got the message.
Come Penance Soiree I was not about to fuck with this band any longer – accepting that the odd on-the-night blip was, indeed, acceptable, I threw myself headlong into the band’s second album. The reward was instantaneous: Penance Soiree rattled my ribcage and fractured my tooth enamel. It made my belly bubble with a desire to hurl myself in front of escalator-riding rush-hour commuters. It was dangerous, and amazing. It was, probably, 2004’s greatest rock and roll album. Spotting a pattern here, at all?
2007: The Icarus Line are no more, but so much more – the line-ups that created their past two long-play misadventures into sound are gone, lost to the sands of other bands and more pressing concerns, but the new crew – ten of feet and twisted of slender frames – have crafted a new record that only confuses the band’s self-perpetrated mythology further. It’s a sideways shimmy into waters dirtier, grimier; it’s less bluster and more swagger, but don’t go thinking it lacks that traditional Icarus Line snarl.
Doubt them for a second and they’ll blindside you and high-tail it over the horizon, more than probably with your beer and your girl in hand and arm respectively.
Ahead of Black Lives At The Golden Coast’s release, the five piece – Joe Cardamone (vocals), Alvin De Guzman (bass), Jeff ‘The Captain’ Watson (drums), Jason Decourse (guitar) and James Striff (guitar) – played a number of UK and European shows with The Lemonheads. It’s on this tour, at London’s Koko venue, that I catch up with Joe for a few minutes of relative calm. He finds the one room in the place with bright lights on, slinks down into a seat, and slides on his sunglasses. Now, it would appear, we are ready.
Bryan Ferry peers out from the wall above my head, his signature spoiling an otherwise perfectly acceptable black-and-white portrait of the apologetic Nazi sympathiser. Joe, oddly, holds the man in high regard:
“You know what? I think we equate more to Roxy Music than most people would take into consideration. We don’t sound like them, but our approach is very similar: they do all kinds of shit on their records, and their songs have strange peaks and valleys, and they’re really not afraid evolved from record to record. I kind of see a number of similarities between us – we’ll go off into space together, me and Bryan Ferry, 69’ing on a beach somewhere.”
If you succeed in erasing that image from your head within five minutes of reading the above, then you’re a colder human than I. Joe is surprisingly keen to distance the current version of The Icarus Line from the punk-as-fuck line-up of only a few years ago – the gears have slipped a little, and the new beast’s a little subtler than it’s been in the recent past.
“I’ve always wanted, since I was a kid, to have a band that was like Guns N’ Roses – a band that would just lose it, and just do anything they want. Guns N’ Roses was my favourite band for ages, and they still are one of my favourite bands.”
What, not Big Black? The Jesus Lizard? Ink & Dagger? Apparently not – although the Line – then without DeGuzman but with Aaron North, Aaron Austin and Lance Arnao surrounding Joe with a neat line in cacophony – pestered the latter Philly act for gigs, eventually releasing a split with them in ’98, Joe’s heart beats the same way as many a little wannabe rock kid. Who, when knee high to a grasshopper, doesn’t want to be in a band like GN’R? I know I thought they were the coolest band on the planet, before a friend’s older sister wised me up to what was coming rumbling from the Pacific north west.
Supporting The Lemonheads, though: surely some people must see that as a sign of mellowing? The fact: nah. Although there’s no doubt that Black Lives At The Golden Coast gets a little T-Rex at times, it’s a record that has a heart of molten rock. Joe sees it as a progression, not a step back from the venomous catharsis of albums past:
“To me, it’s the closest we’ve come to what we’ve been trying to do since the first one. There are elements of the first one in there, and it has lots of new stuff in it, too. It’s the closest we’ve come to where I want to be.”
So you see it as an evolution, as a move towards how you want the band to be, ideally?
“In this day and age, it doesn’t pay to evolve, really – the more you stay the same, the more you’re rewarded. I do think that people want to hear the same thing over and over. At least that’s my experience, anyway. Bands that are successful generally don’t deviate from what’s expected of them – if that’s keeping it real, then I don’t want to be keeping it real. I hope people don’t think we’re one of those groups.”
So you’ve no desire, under any circumstances, to ‘do’ another Mono?
_ “We wouldn’t be able to do another Mono, even if we tried. All of our records are of the moment. Mono is the beginning of everything – it’s the intro to this life. I mean, the records that we make and the songs that I write are documents of a period of time, that’s all they are really. They’re memories… and the songs evolve all the time, which can be a little sink or swim, but I just get really bored really easily. If I’m getting bored, what’s the fucking point?”_
It’s hard – really hard – to imagine all but the most already-deafened listener growing bored of The Icarus Line’s output – the new LP has already attracted office plaudits, from across the entire age range housed within the walls of the DiSopolis. Comparisons vary – Suicide, Led Zeppelin, T-Rex,_ The Icarus Line _– but one opinion sticks and shines through the noise of speaking-over-each-other chatter: the album is a winner. The title, though, is subject to one question: just how is it meant to be phrased? ‘Lives’, as in something that you and I enjoy doing thanks to lungs and a heart and things, or ‘lives’ as in where a thing resides?
“The new title? It can be said however you want. It’s just, like, I don’t know… I don’t think it’s a bad title. It’s quite adequate for the way the record sounds, and it reads the way the record sounds, I guess. So yeah, it’s good.”
The cover is also striking in its simplicity: Joe, alone, with only text for company. Back and front. Last time out Joe was frustrated because V2 snipped a pair of panels from the Penance Soiree artwork – you can get the full-art version in Japan, apparently – but now he’s far from concerned with the tiny details that make up a perfect sleeve.
“This time we’ve done anti-packaging, essentially – there’s a picture of me on the cover, and one on the back, and a CD in the middle, and you know what: who the fuck cares? CDs are a joke these days, anyway. There’re on the way out, which sucks because they’re an inferior format to mp3, but what can we do? Cassettes? They stopped selling them in the States years ago. Mix tapes became mix CDs, which then became iPods.”
And the photographs of you and you alone on the cover: is that a statement of sorts, like, “This is _my band”_?
“Yeah, sort of… I was on the last record cover too, y’know what I mean? And that cover kind of exemplified the sound of the record, but with this one I’m right in front of the microphone. The voice is not just an instrument now – it’s also trying to tell a story. The reason we chose that photo is because it kind of describes the sound and direction of the record, I suppose. Alvin’s been there all along, too – I’ve known Alvin since third grade, and we’ve been playing together since then. But they are my songs, so…”
You say Alvin’s been with you throughout, but what’s happened to Don Devore (guitarist/bassist for Penance Soiree; Aaron North, the other guitarist, left to join Nine Inch Nails)?
“Don left – he’s getting married to start a new life, whatever. I wanted a rock and roll band, so I got myself some rock and roll musicians, and it’s pretty much as simple as that.”
Is starting a family something you’re not thinking about? You’re about my age, and I know I’m entertaining the idea…
_ “Unfortunately not. I’d love to have a family, to be married and have kids. I’d love that more than anything, but I just can’t afford it. I have a dog – that’s about as much as I can afford. It teaches you the kid stuff pretty well – pets teach you all the shit you’re looking yourself into.”_
Joe smiles and flicks his eyes up towards Bryan Ferry once more – even from behind the shades they sparkle. He’s the little boy in the man’s clothes who’s been allowed – somehow – to pursue a career – admittedly a pretty poorly-paying one – where he’s the boss. He is_ The Icarus Line, if the truth were told. Sure, there are other members fleshing his compositions out, but they begin and end with him. When he says jump, the others follow. ‘The Captain’ might talk a good game – scream one, even – but I get the impression from meeting the band a couple of times on their UK visit that he and his bandmates are but satellites, orbiting the rock-solid, tunnel-visioned Joe; he’s the one that’s flicking the switches, especially since the departure of the unpredictable North. Joe’s goal is to _be rock and roll for as long as possible – that Black Lives… has taken a year to get from completion to release is frustrating, but there are already more projects lined up.
“We’re not in a position to finance our records ourselves, so there’s something of a dichotomy that we struggle with. Hopefully after this record we can get our output amped up a little, though – hopefully we’ll get another record out next year. We’ve just recorded a live record, which will be cool. We recorded it at this bar that we live above. It’ll be a DVD and a CD – there was no audience, but it sounds awesome. It’s more like _Mono and Penance… than the new record. We also have a batch of 40 new songs, which we’ll be recording soon.”_
In the meantime, expect more shows like this one; more chances to lose your shit in a relatively safe space, providing you don’t dare venture onto the stage itself…
I heard someone got on stage when you played at the Water Rats in London, and you threatened to, basically, hurt them quite a lot?
_ “I dunno… I don’t remember the Water Rats really. I remember it was a lot of fun, though. We’re not completely coherent during performances – well, I’m speaking from my own point of view here – but if someone tries to take the stage, they’ll have to take me, too. That’s definitely how it works. Nobody is going on our stage – we’ve been robbed and stolen from, and you never know who’s getting on stage. Our crowd isn’t exactly the holding-hands type. Everyone has their own spot and can stick to it, unless they want to fight for a new one.”_
And do you think your crowd is one that’s grown up with you, that’s followed the band since Mono?
“Yeah, definitely. Totally. I don’t know how many newcomers we get at shows, but I think if people are growing up with us, then that’s really cool. What are you, 28? I think the band appeals to people of about our age, and above – people who like to listen to records properly.”
Is there ever a temptation these days to cut loose and deliver a set of that primal, Mono-era material?
“If I wanted to do a set like that, I would, but those are songs I wrote when I was 19. I never shredded myself up at that age, but I haven’t tried to sing like that for years. I haven’t listened to Mono for, like, eight years. Like I told you: I’m only really concerned with what’s happening now, and with the future. I get bored with the past.”
And the future is new material with this line-up?
“Yeah. I tend to write to who I’m playing with, to play up to their strengths. I’m part of one of the best rock and roll line-ups of all time, and I know that sounds pompous, but these guys are awesome guitar players.”
But could they get the image of Joe 69’ing Bryan Ferry out of their heads before teatime? I doubt it very much. But, more importantly, is Black Lives... likely to be 2007's greatest rock and roll album? Time, and taste, is all that can tell...
The Icarus Line’s new single, ‘Gets Paid’, is out now. The album Black Lives At The Golden Coast is out on June 11, via V2. The band’s MySpace is right here. Joe maintains it, so do say hello.