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Jason Myers (Icarus Witch)

Interview with Jason Myers from Icarus Witch
by Grigoris Chronis at 07 January 2008, 7:15 PM

ICARUS WITCH: Heavy Metal music done in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. Established in in 2004, next year's Roses On Whtile Lace EP was just the teaser; 2005's Capture The Magic full-length did hold a strong warning regarding the 'classic' Metal quintet's intentions, and - anno 2007 - Songs For The Lost does nothing less than reminding us of how fresh some old-school stuff may sound, when you have inspiration in performing the 80's way. Jason Myers (bass), thanks for your time to do this interview!

Jason, I can recall the time the Roses On White Lace EP (2005) did burst out of nowhere! The truth is this release raised the interest of enough ’classic’ metalheads around the globe. Capture The Magic (2005) did also score rave reviews/feedback, but this year’s Songs For The Lost does climb one level upper. When did you start composing the songs for this album?

After Capture The Magic saw worldwide release we began playing as many shows in as many places as we could. Before we knew it a year had elapsed and we felt like we were behind with some pressure to create a new album that would better reflect how we’d grown by playing live more and getting used to interacting within the band and with the other metal lovers of the world. Queen Of Lies had been kicking around in our live set as far back as 2005 as well as early versions of Devil’s Hour & Out For Blood but we didn’t really begin the full push to focus entirely on writing & recording until October of 2006, a full year after Capture… had been out. What we hadn’t counted on was the length of time it would take to write & record in the studio since we had to top our previous effort and still be creative on a deadline. It’s stressful, but often in life good results come from pressure situations.

And who did you use for the production of the album, this time? Eric Klinger again? I think he also recorded the drum parts, right? Wasn’t Chris Batton a full-time ICARUS WITCH member by then?

Yes, Eric has produced everything ICARUS WITCH has ever done, so he has grown with us as a producer & engineer while we are developing as a band. Just before going into the studio to start tracking Songs For The Lost, our drummer at the time decided to quit, so we were left in a tight spot with time booked & no real time to find a permanent replacement. We didn’t want to rush the process of finding a band member just to get the tracks done then later find out that he didn’t fit with us or had the same issues that caused other drummers to quit. So as a business choice, it made more sense to have Klinger play. Besides the fact that he was familiar with our music, knew us all as individuals and obviously knew the demands of recording to a click track, he is a freaking amazing drummer. While most people know him for his guitar playing in PRO-PAIN, he’s also toured as their drummer in Europe when they had their own flaky drummer situations. So the man can hit hard, has near perfect timing and won’t get run out of the studio (as he’s been known to make other drummers do when they aren’t performing up to snuff!).

The quest to find a full time replacement took WAY longer than we imagined or hoped, but it proved difficult to find a drummer who understood that we wanted the classic heavy metal style of drumming. Guys like Cozy Powell, Tommy Aldridge, Vinnie Appice…they don’t make them like that as much these days. To find a player with creativity, tight rhythms, groove, good stage presence & gets along with the rest of us, it was tough. Most guys would say oh, yeah, I’m totally about rock then they want to play gravity blasts & boring typewriter double bass shit all the time \[laughs]. Rather than repeat the same mistakes we had with past drummers, we waited until the right person came along. Even though we tried out guys (& a girl) from all over the country, Chris was fortunately right here in our town & was already a fan of the band, so there was little convincing to do. He’s old-school on the throne, but still adds a lot of original ideas to the rhythms. I think the next record will reflect growth in the beat department!  

Do you, regularly, come up with a basic idea that is further shaped while jammin’ in the studio? Did you handle the main songwriting in Songs For The Lost this time?

Yes, most of the time the germ for an idea will come while playing alone. Just practicing or playing when inspiration hits. We all contribute to the songwriting in various ways. For myself, I will usually work out my ideas for weeks before I bring them in or play them for the others. I want to make sure I’ve taken an idea to it’s ultimate level that I can. Then I will generally show it to the guitarist first so that he can flesh out his take on the parts. Maybe some of what I write on bass works better for guitar riffs, then I’ll change what I’m playing on bass a bit. Once he has added his parts & we have a solid structure we usually move on to the drum department. We may jam around a bit in the rehearsal room or more often we will make a demo with guitars for the drummer to listen to for awhile. Then we demo drum ideas. After the basic tracks are down, many times we will have listened to it so many times that we come up with ideas to improve the music, so then we may have to go back to the drawing board & re-record the new way. Once everyone is in agreement that we’re on the right track, we’ll give a demo of the music to everyone. Matthew takes it away to work on lyric ideas. Sometimes I write words with him and we usually always go through the lyrics to make sure they’re a strong as possible and still flow. Sometimes we’ll nail a song almost immediately, other times it goes through many revisions, key changes, tempo shifts, etc. before we’re willing to record  for the final time. We have to play these songs live, hopefully for many years to come, so we want to make sure we’re still proud of them & excited to perform them in the future. Democratic as we try to be, someone still needs to make the final choices. You can’t please everyone. \[laughs]

Bearing in mind there’s been a two years absence between Capture… and Songs…, what other things have ICARUS WITCH been occupied with in this 2-year gap? Lots of touring, I guess…

Transitioning from a demo project band to a viable force with international aspirations & business obligations resulted in some lineup changes. Yes, we played around many cities & also took the show to Germany for the Headbangers Open Air festival, but also a lot of time was spent trying to find players who fit the vision of ICARUS WITCH better. Often you don’t know how well you’re really going to get along with another musician until you have a chance to travel together and spend many hours in the studio. It’s not all fun & games. There is a huge level of commitment and it’s tough paying your dues. Add to that, ego clashes, difference of musical direction, external things like families, bills, etc. Many people aren’t cut out to be a Witch \[laughs]. We have to remain very unattached, and flexible. You never know when you may need to uproot on a moment’s notice & hit the road, away from the comforts of home & often with very unpredictable results. It’s not surprising that some people get a taste of that reality & feel uncomfortable. Personally, I grew up moving from city to city as a child. Learned to adapt quickly and have no problem waking up in a different unfamiliar environment every day. When you become a creature of habit, that’s when the art gets stale.

Really, is there some specific meaning behind the album’s title? I could assume you’re talking bout ’classic’ Metal fans that rarely find good ol’ Metal music to listen to in our days and seek for albums/songs like yours. Your saying?

I think you are the first writer to really hit the nail on the head there. Of course many people could put their own meaning to this title, lost love, lost friends, lost family, lost time, etc. But yes, I think the main reason for the phrase was to let others out there in the classic Metal world know that there is a champion for your cause, that you’re not alone & don’t have to live in the past. To quote TRIUMPH (ed.note: Hail!), we continue to Fight The Good Fight!

In a better cover artwork, I would like to hear a word or two regarding the lyrics concepts. Do they relate to the artwork? Who’s in charge of the lyrics and what sources of inspiration do you use? I think you (or all of you) must have a good relation with literature (epic or ’classic’). I can judge from House Of Usher alone…

Thanks. Regarding Usher, it is a story that I have been drawn to since childhood. I think I first came to know of the story from the Vincent Price movie House Of Usher which took many liberties with Edgar Allen Poe’s short story. But for me the movie was first and it is still a favorite to this day. But later on, maybe in my early teens I came to love the writing of Poe. I attribute part of that to MAIDEN when I questioned their very strange song title Murders In The Rue Morgue.

Lyrically the band moves around from topic to topic without a central theme intentionally running through the songs. Some times Matthew will be particularly inspired as with Devil’s Hour where his fascination with the occult comes to the fore. Or his (some may say) sex addiction with songs like Nature Of The Beast. He & I have developed a pretty solid writing relationship over the years where he can come in with a theme and I help to polish it or maybe add a different level or twist. We communicate pretty well now but that has been a result of give-and-take. Doing what each of us ultimately feel is best for the songs & trying not to get too upset if the others don’t feel the same passion for a lyric or music. Compromise is a bitch, and when you’re dealing with ego centered artists it’s even trickier. But I think we offer one another a good set of checks & balances. There have been times maybe where he was pissed that I shot down an idea he felt strongly about at the time because I didn’t think it was right for the band or album & later on he’d thank me & say, I’m glad we didn’t do it that way. The same goes both ways.  

As for relating lyrics to art, I think the loosely binding theme is our shared passion for the occult & supernatural. We approach even mundane tasks with a sense of wonder & tend to put a mystical spin on all that we produce. It’s a natural way for us to create and part of what makes us who we are. Don’t get me wrong, we’re totally happy driving down the highway cranking She was a fast machine she kept her motor clean…. But when it comes time for the WITCH to write, you’re more likely to hear about the girl who floated into the room as a demonic apparition to sink her venom into your nightmares! \[laughs]

 Songs For The Lost sees the band coming up with a great cover of one of the most ’true’ DEF LEPPARD songs ever: Mirror Mirror. In addition, this ’remake’ features the one-and-only passionate voice of Joe Lynn Turner in a guest appearance. How did you come up with this particular song? I do not know if an average DEF LEPPARD fan remembers this breathtaking song, ha ha! Plus: how did you come in contact with Joe?

Credit Matthew with that song choice. We had been invited by our American label to contribute to an all star tribute to DEF LEPPARD, much like we had done with SABBATH, OZZY, ALICE COOPER & RUNNING WILD. Well, those bands were a bit easier since they were a little more in our vein. But for LEPPARD, we were all fans but stumped at how ICARUS WITCH would tackle a LEPPARD cover. One day Matthew was listening to a cable radio show and Mirror Mirror came on. It was one of his favorites from the great High & Dry album and fit us better since the lyrics had something of a mystic if not, open ended mystery to them. We played the song pretty straight with a few Witchy neo-classical touches. The tribute album ended up getting put on a shelf for one reason or another, but we had already began tracking and had the raw parts to the song ready. Meanwhile our new album still needed something special added to it. We had a great response from the guest stars in the past and had the benefit of a label with good connections. Additionally, we had just signed an artist management deal with a company based in L.A. that was friendly with Joe. We figured, you don’t get what you don’t ask for, so we asked and fortunately I think Joe really liked our music as well & understood our sincerity in keeping the classy, dark melodic Rock vibe alive. I feel he appreciated that and his inclusion on the record was a phenomenal boost to our confidence. It takes both the song and the band to another level. He’s such a great guy and still an amazing talent.

Recalling that (except from Frank Aresti of FATES WARNING) the one-and-only (again) George Lynch was invited as a guest at the Capture… CD, I was wondering if it is weird enough to have (so far) two guest musicians that are known for playing more melodic/hard/(even) AOR music. Is this a kind of ’tribute’ for your youth heroes or something? I love DOKKEN and virtually everything JLT has done in his 30-year career, don’t get me wrong, but some fans may scratch their heads in question.

Well, that’s a good thing then, keep them guessing. Honestly, to me it makes perfect sense. I mean that melodic Rock element has been in our music since day one & in some ways is what differentiates this band from some of the other modern Metal bands. Personally I had never heard of the term AOR until a couple years ago. When I was first getting into music years ago, one of the first compilations I bought had everyone from DIO, TWISTED SISTER & RUSH to Y&T, TRIUMPH & ZEBRA! So to me, all of that fell under the umbrella of Heavy Metal. Today if you walk into one of the few remaining commercial CD stores you’re likely to find SLIPKNOT & KORN in the Metal section yet now SCORPIONS, KISS & VAN HALEN are in the Rock bin. If you look at it in these terms, we’re more closely aligned with the Rock bands, so it should come as no surprise then that our heroes that we have chosen to work with are from the melodic side of the spectrum. I’m just as likely to listen to a KINGDOM COME or VANDENBERG record as I am CANDLEMASS & KING DIAMOND. Our style falls somewhere between these with melody & arena Rock hooks at the forefront, but plenty of doom & gothic horror imagery to ensure we don’t get that opening slot on the next JOURNEY tour! \[laughs]

Jason, do you feel Songs… is the album that can bring ICARUS WITCH to a bigger audience? I see the songwriting being better; the instrumentation is certainly superior…

Yes, it already has in Europe. The level of press exposure is higher this time around with interview features in most of the major Metal magazines in addition to a constant onslaught of web-zine interviews, which is why it’s taken me so long to get back to you. Sorry for that, but at least it is a good sign that we are growing, both as songwriters and in recognition within the scene. We do our part to continue with the former & thank supporters like yourself for helping with the latter!

You’ve licensed a deal with Cruz Del Sur for Europe, right? This fine label has many ’traditional’ Metal American bands in its roster.

Yes, Enrico has really been a great force in the underground metal world & I think he should be applauded for his efforts. He’s given a chance for some great U.S. bands to record who may have otherwise not secured funding from the traditional American labels who for the most part seem more concerned about saving their own asses and think the way to do this is to sign & promote more & more bands who sound & look exactly like the other ones who are hot at the moment. I suppose that’s the way the business has always been, but much respect to labels like Cruz who take a chance & still make decisions based on what they value & have passion for. That is what attracted us to his roster & I dare say, vice versa.

Europe has always been friendlier to this kind of music but – really – what’s the status in USA for ICARUS WITCH?

We’re something of a big fish in a small pond here. In other words, most people in the so called True Metal underground are aware of us now and many of the bigger bands have begun to give us respect, but we’re still far from being a household name. This serves as a motivation for us every day to get out there & work hard on our craft & network so that we can reach a higher level of success & make a lifelong career of this.

So, Jason, what’s up for touring? Any fixed dates yet?

Not at the moment. Our manager is talking to several agents & festivals, but as of the writing of this interview, it’s all in the talking stages. Meanwhile, we’re writing & demoing for our next album already as well as working on a video.

From your recording and onstage experience, do you feel Metal fans are still thirsty for Metal music? I occasionally feel the young generation – trapped in the endless benefits of Internet, downloading, countless bands and labels – does not 100% feel the Metal passion. It’s also been years since an ’arena band’ emerged, to carry on the fame of classic bands like THE SCORPIONS, IRON MAIDEN, ACCEPT or JUDAS PRIEST. What’s your opinion for the status of Metal music in our days?

You’ve made some very valid points there. For all of the benefits the web has brought to our on demand instant access society, it has also splintered us off into millions of tiny sub-genres & created more of an isolationist, stay-at-home generation. We are now connected to the entire world through forums, chat rooms & blogs but while this allows bands the chance to spread their music & name more rapidly & cost efficiently, this has also resulted in a glut of bands…a sensory overload. The positive side of the internet is that it allows people to find others of like mind. So say, for example, a kid in South Dakota has no Rock clubs, no Metal-friendly stores, no real peer group to trade CDs & ideas with. Now this kid can plug in and find a network of fellow Metal heads any time of day, anywhere in the world & maybe learn about new music he would have otherwise not been subjected to.  

I think the thirst you speak of is beginning to rekindle, it’s just coming back around in a modern, mutated way now. I see way more young kids into traditional Metal now than in the past decade. It just goes in cycles and now I think the cycle of nu-metal has passed & the trend of screamo seems in full swing, but is probably peaked. What you witness bubbling up from below the surface are kids who see through the bullshit & know what they want. They know there is a rich history of classic metal that they weren’t exposed to but now can dial up on youtube or see on VH1 Classic as well as in their parents CD collection.

As for whether there will be more true arena bands? That remains to be seen. In order to do that, you have to create enough interest to mobilize 10-15,000 people per city on any given night. This seems like it was easier to do when there weren’t as many entertainment options & you’d buy a ticket for the big Metal concert months in advance & plan your summer around it. The potential is still there, but the commercialization of the industry has contributed to its downfall in some ways. In Pittsburgh, growing up, you’d see the biggest bands at the Civic Arena. Well, eventually buildings found they could make money by selling naming rights, so then you had the Mellon Arena - same venue, higher ticket rates & taxes. Now they have to demolish a perfectly good building because it doesn’t have enough V.I.P. corporate boxes. It’s all business & not very Rock ’n’ Roll any more. Besides 90s alternative blasts from KORN & MANSON, METALLICA was probably the last real arena Rock band & they peaked 15 years ago. The next band to hit this level will have to be very creative at marketing, and have a solid team behind them who are able to think outside the box(seats) & really excite a lot of people at once…give them their moneys worth & a real incentive to meet somewhere, give up a night, find a designated driver to fight traffic, pay for parking, go through security, etc. It’s not hopeless for arena Rock to rise again, just a much more complicated playing field. As for ICARUS WITCH, we continue to focus on our song craft but at the same time improving our live set, stage props, performance, presentation, effects, etc. so that people will feel they are getting the full theatrical experience. Maybe we’ll find a way to crack the code!

Jason, thanks a lot for your precious time! Hope to see you onstage soon!

Thank you for the chance to spout & for taking an interest in the WITCH. I look forward to meeting you at a show in your town. Let’s make it happen together!

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