The reputation of the Icarus Line precedes its music. Perhaps it all started back in 2002, when the Los Angeles quintet infamously broke a glass case in the Hard Rock Café at the South By Southwest music festival and filched Stevie Ray Vaughan’s guitar — without asking permission from the aghast staff beforehand.
Or maybe it’s because the group is tight with the notorious Southern California shit stirrers at Buddyhead, who once stole Fred Durst’s red dork cap and auctioned it on eBay. After all, the Icarus Line’s debut single, “Kill Cupid With a Nail File,” was the first release on the label created by the ‘Head dudes, and its first full-length, Mono, also carried the Buddyhead imprint.
Either way, like many exaggerated myths and fables, the reality of the Icarus Line is far less interesting. It’s certainly not fodder for the tabloids.
“There’s all kinds of ideas about the band that couldn’t be any further from the truth,” says guitarist Aaron North. “People come to the show, and they’re like, ‘Oh, I heard these guys think that they’re fucking tough,’ or ‘These guys think they’re crazy. I’m gonna go to the front of the stage, and I’m gonna fucking throw my drink at this guy, and we’ll see if he’s a badass or not.’
“What am I supposed to do?” North continues. “I’m fucking broke, and everything I own in the world is on that stage. I’m not going to let some drunk idiot destroy my equipment with his fucking drink. So I end up fucking kicking him in the face or something, and then it’s like, ‘Oh yeah, see, these guys are dicks.’ It’s a vicious circle like that.”
Nevertheless, it’s apparent that reports of the Icarus Line’s bad attitude are often embellished — if not egged on by PBR-fueled meatheads or fratmonkeys who would rather instigate a fight than listen to the band play its tunes.
Such a skewed focus is galling for a band that takes great care to make its music as incendiary as its shenanigans. Penance Soiree, the group’s sophomore effort, is a hairy behemoth that crackles with sex, sleaze and sin.
“[It’s] just an honest representation of our tastes,” North explains. “What we’re into. [We wanted to] not be afraid to do what we want[ed] to do and not worry bout being different, not try to force anything, not try to force sounding, like, aggressive or hard, or force sounding poppy or … uh, spacey or any kind of stupid cliché thing. We pretty much wear our influences on our sleeves. If you listen to the record, there’s definitely some obvious points of reference.”
The song “Getting Bright at Night” starts off like a dewy Jesus and Mary Chain stab of psychedelic drowsiness; “Sea Sick” screams and howls with the druggy, grinding distortion of Primal Scream; and “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers” resembles chugging stoner metal in the Soundgarden vein. “Kiss Like Lizards” is reminiscent of the Stooges and features garage-sludge riffs and scraggly bellows from vocalist Joe Cardamone. The excellently titled “Party the Baby Off” is a warped British-invasion fuzzbomb with a leering chorus: Tonight, take off all your clothes.
That kind of sporadic genre crashing might be hard to market. Thankfully, the laid-back Pacific branch of the band’s label, V2 Records (ex-Circle Jerks founder and vocalist Keith Morris is an employee), understands that the Icarus Line’s brand of sonic destruction will never translate into beaucoup bucks or Bentley blinging.
“They realize that we’re not gonna be selling a shitload of records,” North says. “We’re definitely not going to be ending up on any kind of commercial radio station. We’re not going to end up on MTV, and we’re not going to be selling hundreds of thousands of records or anything. We’re going to reach a pretty small audience, and they treat us accordingly.
“Sure, it’d be nice to sell more records,” North continues. “But, I mean, we’re not making the kind of music that’s going to affect a lot of people. It’s not the kind of music that a lot of people are really going to understand. We’re realistic about it, and we’re doing it pretty much for ourselves.”
The Icarus Line has adopted that hardscrabble, DIY attitude since its inception. The initial incarnation of the band, the Kankersores, formed while its members were in high school and played the diviest dive bars around. After that band broke up, the newly christened Icarus Line drove from California to New Jersey in North’s pickup truck to play its first concert, an opening slot for Ink & Dagger in 1998.
The group had to borrow gear for the entire tour, though Ink & Dagger member Don Devore didn’t seem to mind — he’s now the Icarus Line’s bassist. The rest of the subsequent years saw a handful of singles, shows with Queens of the Stone Age, A Perfect Circle and Primal Scream, and heaps of hype from the UK.
Still, North — who says he still lives “way below the poverty line” — suggests that the band’s definition of success doesn’t encompass monetary comforts or bombastic hype. The Icarus Line may get more attention for its offstage antics, but North’s aspirations are firmly rooted in the old-fashioned values of career longevity and musical quality.
“I’m not comparing ourselves to these bands, but the Velvet Underground never had a PR person at all,” he says. “The Stooges weren’t in any magazines. They didn’t get any press when they were a band, but their music stands the test of time, since it was good fucking music. When the Velvet Underground put out their first record, they didn’t sell any records at all. We’re not really interested in being the hip, new, cool anything. We’re interested in making good music, and people happen to be paying attention now, that’s fine. But if not, if it’s good, then they’ll pay attention 10 years from now or 15 years from now. That’s what’s important to us.”