Although often labeled as a “traditional” metal band, Icarus Witch’s new album, Rise, shows a much broader scope of musical ability.
We sat down with Icarus Witch's bassist Jason Myers and guitarists Quinn Lukas and Dave Watson to discuss changes in the band and the new album.
GUITAR WORLD: The new album, Rise, was just released, and the sound is certainly more modern. Was there a conscious effort to change the sound?
Jason: The sound of the band has always reflected the lineup. This time around, there was one strong influence absent and three new members bringing in fresh perspectives. Rather than tell the new blood to write in “our style,” we thought it best to allow the band’s style to evolve naturally without such restrictions. The goal was to just have everyone play to their strengths.
Dave: I think that in a way there was both a conscious and unconscious effort to change the sound. I think after four releases of strictly a traditional metal style, the band was ready to branch off and go in a different direction. Some bands are comfortable sticking to their guns while others want to evolve into something else after a period of time. Also, like Jason pointed out, when you have new members (especially a new frontman), a style change is usually inevitable.
Quinn: Like Dave said, it was time for us to explore our musical boundaries and branch out. I really wanted to up the ante on this one and not live inside a preconceived notion of what this band is about. It was time to let these major changes in the band mold the sound of the band rather than molding musicians into what we previously did.
Can you talk about how Dave came to join the group and his role in making the record?
Dave: While I have known the band for years, we actually started to work together when I was asked to produce and engineer the single “Tragedy” in 2010. After that was completed the original game plan was for me to produce and engineer the Rise album as well. Before that came to be, the project I was in (Mantic Ritual) was coming to an end, and Icarus Witch’s guitar player at the time was leaving the group as well, so it made sense to all of us to see if I could do be the new guitar player for the band. After a couple of rehearsals, the chemistry was there so the decision was made and I officially joined the band.
After I joined the band, most of the material was written minus my solo sections and extra parts that I added to what was already there, so I did my best to put down ideas to take the songs one step further. Once the album was written, I still thought we needed a driving track that would open up the album.
One day Tom started playing a drum beat based off a bass line Jason had and I started putting down riffs, and we kept jamming and ended up coming up with the basic structure for the song that became the first track “The End." We all are proud of how that track came up and that track really showcases the abilities of all of the members quite nicely.
Sonically, I wanted this album to be a bit fuller than the previous records, so we went for a bigger guitar sound and bigger overall production in general. We put down lots of layers of vocals, guitars, keys and even double some bass passages as well.
Quinn: When we were left with the decision of finding another guitar player, it was kind of a no-brainier. I wanted someone who we all felt comfortable with and who had a great work ethic. I knew it had to be someone who was like-minded and shared the same interest as me musically but had their own personality with the guitar. I didn't want a "turkey gobbler" guy who can just shred, but there isn't any soul behind it. Dave was the guy, no questions asked.
Jason: Plus I’m a cheap bastard and figured he’d have to cut us a deal on production if I made him a band member.
How has the new vocalist, Christopher Shaner, impacted the band's sound as a whole?
Jason: Our original singer, Matthew, was a more polarizing figure with a distinct “niche” vocal approach and focus on sinister vibe. In my opinion, Christopher’s style is more European, more melody-based with emphasis on hooks and big choruses. I think Shaner’s voice has a broad appeal. At least to the broads that I know.
Dave: I agree. Adding on to what Jason said it should be noted that Chris wrote a lot of material on the new album as well. He also can play guitar. So he would often show up to practices with whole songs written for us to learn, so he was pretty hands-on when it came to the song writing. Chris isn’t the type of frontman to sit back and let people write the album for him just to sing over. He wants to put his sonic stamp on the album as well.
Quinn: I knew Christopher was going to change the way the band sounded. I wanted that and welcomed it without fear. The fact that Chris also is pretty damn proficient behind six strings helps. He doesn't struggle when he's trying to explain an idea to you. It's fantastic!
Before, I wasn't pushed as a guitar player. I often felt held back in some ways. Chris really encourages me to branch out and not hold back. A singer that says "solo over that whole part," I was kind of shell shocked sometimes. Haha
Has the writing process changed over the years?
Jason: We’ve loosened the reigns and quit trying to confine our sound to a specific genre. Sometimes you have to quit telling yourself what you can’t do as a band in order to find out what you truly can do.
Icarus Witch has been labeled as a "traditional" metal band. Is that a characterization you guys welcome?
Jason: I say drop all of the silly tags and let the music do the talking. It’s only rock and roll ... but we like it.
Quinn: Jason is right. I'm not all about writing to remain in a specific sub-genre. It's heavy, melodic and comes from the heart. But maybe we could be the world's best traditional, bluegrass, electronica, dub-step, metal jug band?
What are you guys using these days as far as gear?
Quinn: I play Jackson Rhoads Vs with my main one being a RR5 with a Seymour Duncan JB ("Jib," as I like to call it) in the bridge and a Duncan Jazz in the neck. I have a Rhoads customized RR24 with EMG's, the 81 and 85. I have a couple of Gibson LP customs that see the stage often, A '74 and '86. All my guitars are strung with Dean Markley Nickel Steel .10-.52. I play through a ENGL Powerball with the TC Electronics G Major into stock Marshall cabs.
Jason: For me it’s Fender American Custom Shop Jazz Basses loaded with Seymour Duncan Quarter Pound pickups and Dean Markley Blue Steel medium strings through Markbass TTE 500 Amplification.
Dave: I have a Gibson Les Paul Classic loaded with a Seymour Duncan 59 in the bridge and a Gibson 496R in the neck. I also have a Jackson SLSMG Soloist with EMG 81 and 85 pickups in the bridge and neck pickups respectively. In front of my amp I use either a Maxon OD808 or a modded Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer into my Peavey Triple XXX, which then goes into my oversized Marshall cab, which houses Marshalls vintage 30 speakers.
Now that the Rise is available (Buy it on iTunes), what is next for the band?
Jason: Hitting the road with White Wizzard for a North American tour in August then playing the new songs live for as many people as inhumanly possible while starting to write for the next album so we won’t have two years between releases this time!
Quinn: I second that! Some beer in between would be nice as well!
Jason: Mmm ... beer.
Icarus Witch's new album, Rise is available now. Catch Icarus Witch on the road this summer with White Wizzard on the North America Assault Tour starting on August 9 in Kansas City, Missouri.