Line of Fire
"What the fuck do I have to do? I'm not paying you unless someone in the band does this interview."
The man speaking is named David. He's the tour manager of Hollywood's latest savior of rock and roll, the Icarus Line. His frustration cuts through his cell phone's ear-splitting static: Stuck in a van somewhere outside of Cleveland, he's having a hard time getting one of the guys in the band to take the handset and answer a few questions.
"What is it for?" a dude in the background bellyaches.
"Something in Denver," David snaps back.
After a spate of grumbling that can barely be heard through the shitty connection, a bombastic voice pops out of the white noise.
"Hello!" it says. "This is Aaron."
A quick trade of pleasantries and apologies later, Aaron North, one of the group's guitarists, sounds reluctantly ready to end his contemplation of the fascinating Midwestern countryside and submit to the third degree.
Then the line (no pun intended) goes dead.
The Icarus Line's disdain for getting cross-examined is understandable. Besides being one of the hottest, most scribe-prodded young bands around right now, its five players -- North, singer Joe Cardamone, guitarist Alvin DeGuzman, drummer Jeff Watson and bassist Don Devore -- have probably been on the business end of a police interrogation or two at some point in their lives. In addition to racking up a rap sheet over the last five years that includes fistfights, onstage vandalism and being sued, the Icarus Line is notorious for a couple of almost legendary incidents. One: Its members once spray-painted obscenities (something having to do with all-male mouth sex) on the side of the Strokes' tour bus. Two: During a characteristically anarchic performance at the Hard Rock Cafe in Austin during 2002's South by Southwest festival, they shattered a display case that contained one of Stevie Ray Vaughan's consecrated guitars and attempted to plug it in and force-feed a dose of the Icarus Line's toxic essence through it.
North himself was the culprit that night in Austin, but that doesn't mean he's happy about the story sticking to his permanent record. "Man, that's been talked about non-stop for years. People need to get over that shit," remarks the guitarist, back on the line after a quick hit of the redial button. "It's ridiculous. It's definitely blown out of proportion. People just want to latch onto things. Those incidents don't even seem that interesting."
At that, the shaky connection erupts in a hiss and abruptly fizzles out again.
One more redial later, North, audibly annoyed, picks up where he left off. "Now, people almost expect us to try to top ourselves with our antics," he complains. "They're like, 'Come on, do something even more crazy.' But it's never been about that. The Stevie Ray Vaughan guitar thing was just a spontaneous incident. So who knows? Maybe something crazy will happen at our shows, maybe not. It doesn't really matter. Mostly we just focus on the music, and that's it."
Oh, yeah, the music. Lost among all the tales of bedlam, lynch mobs and hooliganism is the fact that the Icarus Line really is a savior of the soul, balls and volume of rock and roll. Its 2001 debut, Mono, is a chest-caving kick of post-hardcore catharsis, but it tickles like a kitten compared to the follow-up, Penance Soirée. Unleashed earlier this year, after the band worked in London with famed producer Alan Moulder, Soirée is a near impossible record to peg. One bewildered fan, who probably limped away from an Icarus Line show with pounding temples and a sore groin, posted this remark about the band on Amazon.com: "I am not sure what they are going for, except that they seem to be against everything." Granted, Soirée may feel nihilistic, but it's actually the opposite: a loving embrace of all things punk and rock, from the MC5's elephantine drone to the Refused's nanotech riffs to the lunging, dense sensuality of Primal Scream's more recent work. Often pigeonholed as an entity of sheer energy and chaos, the Icarus Line has nevertheless crafted a dynamic, textured album that paralyzes you before swallowing you whole, lulling the listener into a hypnotic, viciously psychedelic undertow.
"Yeah, I think that reflects an overall state of mind of the group, at least when that record was being made," affirms North. "That's the way we've been feeling. We put a lot into the album, and we've been getting a lot of positive feedback about it, so we're pretty happy about that. It's been good that people have been paying more attention to the record itself lately than the other aspects of the group."
But there's no denying that those "other aspects" -- namely, the band's notorious reputation -- helps generate interest in its music. Still, North wants to be sure that the Icarus Line isn't seen as just another sassy rock act with a shtick, pulling pranks to stir up publicity.
"I think people sometimes get that impression about us," he explains, "but it's just not true. When we perform, we're very moved by the music we're playing. We just get in that state of mind where we lose a little bit of control. Circumstances may arise that allow for some kind of insanity."
When asked if there has been any notable pandemonium that the Icarus Line has provoked lately, North gets suspicious. "So you're fishing for some kind of crazy anecdote, right?" he charges. "See, this what we do now: We have all these antics, but we keep them secret. Yeah, we've been doing all kinds of crazy shit, but I'm not going to tell you about it."
His voice suddenly starts to cut out yet again, but this time it's not because of some misalignment of T-Mobile satellites. After a full eight minutes of interrogative agony, North is ready to leap off the Q&A train. "So is that it?" he asks eagerly without waiting for an answer. "I gotta go eat right now."
The phone clicks twice and spits out a cold dial tone. Luckily for the Icarus Line, though, there's no need for anyone in the band to rattle on endlessly about what it does, what it did or what it hopes to do. Regardless of all the myth and shit-talking heaped upon the group, its music burns, bleeds, screams -- and, yes, even speaks -- for itself.
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