Photos from Icarus Himself’s show opening for Megafaun at High Noon Saloon 6.17.10
I got the chance to interview the members of Madison’s own Icarus Himself before their show with Megafaun at the High Noon Saloon 6.17.10. Nick, Karl, and Brad talked about the Madison music scene, their tour, and their new album, “Mexico”.
How would you describe the Madison music scene right now?
Nick: I would describe it as kind of chaotic right now because a lot of the bands have left and gone to, say, Minneapolis.
Brad: Yea, we miss Sleeping in the Aviary.
Nick: Yea, we miss our friends and they either moved to Minneapolis or New York. People don’t stay around here very long. But there’s a lot of good stuff here now though. Every two or three years there’s always like a turnover of bands that move.
So how long have you guys been a band in Madison for?
Nick: As a three piece?
Karl: It started as Nick doing a solo venture really.
Nick: Yea, that was in 2007 and then Karl joined a year later in 2008-ish. And then Brad came along about a year ago.
So then did you get a new name or is “Icarus Himself” what it always was?
Nick: That’s what I started as—solo.
You played at the Frequency the other day with Blackwell Beauties. How was that show?
Brad: It was good for a Tuesday night.
Nick: Yea, for a Tuesday night it was pretty fun. Starring, from Brooklyn—they’re amazing. They tore the place apart. It was awesome.
Karl: That was probably our best Tuesday night show.
I have yet to see the Blackwell Beauties…
Nick: They’re a really good rock band. They remind me a lot of Cheap Trick—like early, early Cheap Trick. It’s literally a good bar rock band.
Brad: Straight up rock… not fucking around with that.
Nick: They like the licks. It’s pretty sweet. Their lead guitar player is really good at soloing. It’s pretty fun music.
On your myspace, it says you guys are like ‘tropical/rock’ something… electro… How would you describe your sound?
Karl: Nick, what did you call it? You called it ‘Wisconsin new wave’?
Nick: No, I was joking…I would describe us as ‘electro-folk’ cuz, at the base of everything, all the songs are pretty much folk songs—singer/songwriter type songs. We just throw a ton of synthesizers on them or drum machines so they don’t sound like a folk song. Realistically, they are.
How do you approach songwriting? Does one of you come up with the song or is it completely collaborative?
Karl: Usually Nick writes the song—lyrics and a general chord feel—and then brings it to us and we just see what we can add to it.
Brad: I think that’s changed too because it seems like Nick would do a demo and then we would add to the demo as a recording now it’s more like a ‘rehearse to play live’ kind of a thing.
Nick: And the songs get changed. Like, I’ll bring a song, and at the end of recording it doesn’t sound anything like what it sounded like at the beginning. It has the core—like lyrics and chords to it—but Karl and Brad will just screw it up—
Karl: He brings basically like a skeleton of a song–
Brad: …with lyrics because we don’t really write lyrics at all. He does all of that.
Nick: And they’ll just make it sound completely different—way more awesome than I could’ve ever— Screw it up in a good way. That’s what I meant.
So you have your album, “Mexico”, out. Where did the inspiration for that come from?
Nick: I just went to Mexico—real Mexico. Plus, the picture on the front is of Karl’s brother from a vacation in Mexico in the ‘80s.
Karl: …buying candy from a local kid.
Nick: …and I just got married and me and my wife exchanged our vows on a beach in Mexico so it kinda adds some sentimental value to it too. The last song on the EP is called “Seen it coming (Mexico)” and it’s kinda about going down there, getting married.
When was that?
Nick: We got married in December and stayed down there late December through January.
How many albums do you have?
Nick: We have a full length before “Mexico” called “Coffins”. It came out in 2009. And then, before that, I had a solo EP that came out in 2008.
How has the band evolved throughout the albums?
Nick: We have more of a live band sound now.
Karl: This “Mexico” EP was the first album with Brad playing drums on it.
Nick: But he was a guest drummer on “Coffins”.
Karl: But this is our first album with him as a full-time member so that changed the sound a bit.
Brad: It really improved it a ton.
Karl: Oh, I agree…
So you tour around Wisconsin fairly often. Do you do any touring outside the state?
Nick: Yea, we went on a two-week tour around March. We went down to Texas and played a festival down there.
Nick: North by 35. It’s in Denton, TX.
Karl: It’s the lead-up festival to South by Southwest, the weekend before it. All the bands that are in town already try to play that and then jump over to South by Southwest.
Were you around for South by Southwest?
Karl: We had a tour after that and more dates so we had to go.
Nick: We went to Birmingham, Memphis, the deep south.
How do you think your sound did in the south compared to in Wisconsin–out of your local element?
Nick: It depended on what kind of town we were in. Denton—we played two shows there, actually–our first show didn’t go over so well. It wasn’t that well attended cuz HEALTH was playing the same time we were playing so everyone went to that show. But we played another show—and outdoor patio—an unofficial North by 35 show, and that was great. People really liked us and… It’s a small college town. It reminded me of Madison, only smaller. But places like Tulsa and Minneapolis are really good to us. Then places like Birmingham aren’t so good to us.
Karl: We played Birmingham on St. Patrick’s Day and it was… I wouldn’t say disaster but… It was a rough night. It was just like drunk college chicks with, like, beads, you know, and they just wanted to get drunk.
Nick: They wanted to hear like Britney Spears and just dance.
Karl: So there was a DJ, or a guy playing music, and he was playing, like, top 40 pop hits and then it’s like ‘oh, now it’s time for us to play’ and everyone just sort of moved to the back of the room.
Brad: Yea, they didn’t like it. Tough night in Birmingham.
Any other good stories from the tour?
Nick: I left them at McDonalds in the middle of nowhere in Texas. I thought they were in the back of the van cuz they were sleeping in the back of the van and we had just woken up and I was driving. I’m like, ‘I really need to get a coffee’ so I stopped off at McDonalds to go in and get a coffee. They were sleeping in the back when I left the van.
Karl: We woke up and got out.
Nick: They woke up and went to the bathroom and I didn’t see them go in and I came out and I just glanced in the back and saw all these pillows and sheets ruffled and thought, ‘Oh, they’re still sleeping.’ I took off and I went about 10 miles down the road.
Brad: It was farther than that..
Nick: No, it was 10 miles.
Brad: It felt like a long time..
Nick: Luckily Karl had his phone up by the front driver’s seat and it was ringing and ringing. Like, ‘Why is this phone ringing.’
Karl: And he wouldn’t answer it for some reason. We called like 20 times probably.
Nick: I finally picked up and Karl said, you know, ‘You left us. You should probably come back and get us.’ And I looked in the back and was like, ‘Ahh, shi…’
Karl: We were going all the way from Houston to Dallas. That’s like five hours on the road so we thought, ‘We’re stuck in this place for five hours- minimum’.
Brad: Yea, cuz his phone was turned off and our only chance to get a hold of him was for him to pick up Karl’s phone.
Nick: I actually, I looked in the back right before you called for the last time and saw that there was no one there and was like, ‘Ahh, great’ and then I picked up.
So what do you guys usually listen to when you’re touring?
Nick: Karl and Brad are usually the guys with the iPods.
Brad: We got really sick of our music by Texas. We made it to Texas with music and then we got really sick of music and we downloaded a lot of David Cross.
Karl: Yea, it turned into comedy, stand-up stuff. You’re in the car so much on tour that you just get really sick of hearing music after a while.
Brad: You’re playing and playing and playing. You’re playing your own stuff and listening to all these other bands in every town and sometimes it’s nice to hear someone talk instead of play. You just have to listen to David Cross.
So how do you think Madison, or just Wisconsin in general, has influenced you musically?
Nick: I would say the winter has influenced me, especially on the “Coffins” album. It was kind of bleak in some parts and a lot of those songs were written during the wintertime. I grew up in northern Indiana so harsh winters are new to me. I think winter influences me the most.
So did any of you go to UW? Or how did you end up in Madison?
Karl: We [Karl and Brad] went to Eau Claire actually–in college together–and played in a different band previously.
Brad: Actually, Brad Cook, who you just interviewed, played in our old band for six months.
What was the band called?
Karl: Jimmy’s Comet
Okay. So you guys are some more Eau Claire musicians?
Karl: He [Brad] grew up in Minneapolis. I grew up in Stoughton, which is half an hour south of here.
Nick: And I grew up in Indiana. Someone told me about, you know, this, ‘cool town in Wisconsin. You should go. It’s like Bloomington, Indiana’. And I came here and I fell in love with it. Thought it was a great, small city.
So any plans for a new album? Are you recording anything or writing anything?
Nick: We just came out with “Mexico” a few weeks ago.
Karl: Yea, but we already have about an EP worth of songs ready to go.
Brad: I don’t know. We haven’t talked a lot about what we’re going to do next.
Nick: We’re going to hold off for a little while since this one just came out.
Brad:.. see what “Mexico” does and just keep recording.
How does your live performance differ from your album?
Nick: Now I would say our live performance, compared to the EP, is pretty similar. It used to not be so similar. We used to have a really big sound on recording and there would just be me and Karl…
Karl: So we would load up his sampler with all the tracks that were on the album…
Nick: No, that was before I had a sampler. I just had a drum machine, acoustic guitar, and a baritone guitar. It kinda sounded like what we had recorded, but not really…
So how do you record new stuff? Do you use a studio or do home recording?
Karl: Half and half. Science of Sound- they have a studio in the basement, and we recorded a lot of the drums down there and some of the vocals. We recorded a lot of it in my basement too.