First off, welcome back after a long absence and congratulations on an impressive album ‘Goodbye Cruel World’!
Thank you so much, it feels awesome to be back on the scene.
Can you fill us in on what you have been doing the past six years as the band was on hiatus? Was Icarus Witch on absolute hold or did you do some writing or other activities for the band?
Well, it's been six years since our last album ‘Rise’ was released but we toured and played quite a few shows in support of that album so I wouldn't say we officially went on hiatus until 2015. And even then we would occasionally regroup if a really sweet opportunity came up like playing with Queensrÿche or Amorphis. On Halloween 2015 I moved to Salem, Massachusetts to live, explore, study with the local witches and clear my head after more than a decade of non-stop music business. While I was in New England, Quinn and I continued writing and would occasionally trade ideas and files but nothing too serious. Christopher came to visit me but we mostly bonded over rum, pirates and even attended a circle together. I reconnected to a lot of pagan inspiration and seafaring imagery in that harbor town that's woven its way into our new material. I moved back to Pittsburgh right after Halloween 2016 and Quinn and I started getting together in his home studio, sharing the ideas we'd each collected in our time apart.
When did you start thinking about the new album? When did you start pre-production?
Quinn and I got really serious about the songwriting process in the beginning of 2017. Once we got on a roll the songs came together quite quickly and organically so we demoed the new material as we went along. By the summer of 2017 we had the bulk of the album written with Quinn laying down rough vocals on the demos. This was shortly before we decided to bring Andrew into the mix.
How did you get in touch with Neil Kernon and Erik Martensson, your producers?
One of our goals from the beginning of this project was to work with a veteran producer to bring in a different set of ears to the process early on. We wanted to splurge a bit and create a better version of ourselves -- build upon our past style without rehashing it. We created a short list of our dream producers and one of the top names on that list was Neil Kernon, largely due to our respect of the work he'd done with bands like Queensrÿche and Dokken. I contacted him and told him about our project and we started talking on the phone and exchanging ideas. Primarily his involvement was in the form of offering notes and suggestions on our demos and arrangements prior to recording. He also mixed our debut single, ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ which we used for the video and press release announcement back in the spring of 2018 since we knew it was going to be several months before the album was released. After the pre-production phase we recorded the songs with one of Pittsburgh's most in-demand engineers, Shane Mayer from Cerebral Audio, tracking the sessions. He was a pleasure to work with, very patient and also brought a different perspective to the process because he's known more as an extreme metal producer. We recorded off and on throughout the first half of 2018 with Andrew tracking his own vocals at Sacred Sound recording studio in Ohio. Then we sent Shane and Andrew's files to Brad Cox in Atlanta to mix in July. Brad and Quinn had recently worked together on some projects with Mike Clink in Los Angeles so we felt confident that he'd be able to quickly dial in the rock/metal hybrid sound that we envisioned. Brad nailed it. After the album was mixed we brought Erik onboard to master the tracks in Sweden. This was also exciting for us because we've been massive Eclipse fans since before our band was even formed and Erik's productions are legendary in the AOR world. So all in all there were some extremely skilled engineers involved in helping us craft the sound we were looking for -- a mix of vintage tones and vibe with an exciting modern punch.
Were all the songs written before starting the recording? Did you have vast set of songs to record? Were all the songs freshly written or did you use any old parts or songs?
The songs were written before we entered Cerebral Audio because we went to such painstaking lengths to prepare them in Quinn's studio ahead of time. There were a few parts that were holdovers from an earlier era of the band. A riff here or a lyric there that finally found some love and developed into new compositions. But for the most part the majority of the songs were fresh creations that came out of those winter writing sessions between Quinn and I with a few of the foundations having been forged during the Salem days.
Did Andrew D’Çagna have any involvement in the writing process?
The majority of these songs were written before Andrew joined but he was definitely involved in the process of developing the demos. For most of the songs I'd write the lyrics and have an extremely rough idea of vocal patterns. Quinn would make suggestions to the lyrics and improve my vocal melody ideas for the demo. But when we turned those demos over to Andrew, that's when the real magic happened. Fortunately, he was able to see our vision and add so much polish, power and creativity to the vocal delivery. We kept things loose and said if you want to change any words or phrases feel free, nothing was set in stone and we wanted to make sure he'd be comfortable not just recording this music but performing it and putting his name to it.
Was Andrew an easy pick for you as the new vocalist, did you consider other vocalists?
When Shaner decide to move on from the band we knew we had some big shoes to fill in that department once again. Christopher's an extremely talented singer and front man so we couldn't settle for a less-than-amazing replacement regardless of how long it took. Not to mention we had four releases out with Matthew Bizilia's distinct voice and incredible range. Fortunately, Quinn had been playing guitar in one of Andrew's other bands, Ironflame so the two of them had some studio and stage chemistry developing. Quinn pulled a sneaky move on Andrew and I. He asked Andrew to lay down some vocal ideas on a few songs without telling him that they were the new Icarus Witch demos. He didn't even tell me that he was giving the demos to Andrew. He wanted Andrew to sing without preconceived notions of singing in an Icarus Witch way. I think he also wanted to see if Andrew would be a fit before he played them for me. We had a few singer names that we'd kicked around for the job and Andrew was certainly on that list, but I have to admit, as much as I love Brimstone Coven and the stuff he'd done with Dofka, it was tough for me to envision his voice on our new material. Fortunately, Quinn's ruse paid off. The minute I heard Andrew's voice singing "Through Your Eyes" I got goosebumps. I remember calling Quinn immediately and saying: “well, that search is over before it began, this is obviously our new singer”.
As you had Jon Rice to lay down the drum tracks, will he be part of the band permanent? If not, are you on the lookout for a new drummer?
Our live drummer is Justin Walker. We've worked with him for years. One of the consequences of the band taking so much time off is that a lot of the players from the Rise era had new obligations when we reformed. Our other guitarist Dave Watson was now committed to Argus and Justin was already committed to several projects when our sessions for ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ began, so we looked for the best available drummer to record. We were fortunate that Jon was available during the window we had booked as he was just in between tours with Behemoth and Skeleton Witch and was living back in Pittsburgh at the time. Jon crushed it in the sessions and laid down some of the best drumming we've had to date and now Justin's schedule has freed up so he's back on team Witch just in time for the album release show.
Now the album is out, what is next? Any news of a tour or shows? Europe?
We've had a few discussions about tours but haven't found the right situation that makes sense yet. I know we're having an amazing time just becoming a live band again after spending so long in the studio and apart, so it's probably just a matter of time before we get back in the van and hit the road. If any European festival promoters are reading this, feel free to contact me if you think Icarus Witch would be a fun addition to your roster. It's been too long since we played overseas, I think it's overdue.