The Icarus Line is dead. The L.A.-based rockers were one of the most provocative and unpredictable bands to come out of L.A.’s garage-rock resurgence in the 2000s, a band that inspired conflicted feelings for some due to their dark, noisy and unapologetic music and unruly stage antics. Sometimes they were mesmerizing and beautiful to see live, and sometimes they were a trainwreck, but either way, you couldn’t look away. The lineup changed throughout the years but the group’s lead singer, Joe Cardamone, is — well, was — its tempestuous black and red heart (two colors he always wore onstage). During a conversation last week, Cardamone confirmed that the band (one of my favorites to write about back when I covered nightlife) is “truly dead,” which I had already guessed after attending a packed screening for his new film, The Icarus Line Must Die, at the Regent last month. Nothing subtle there.
Cardamone (and a collective of filmmakers including former Buddyhead honcho Travis Keller) delved into celluloid expression with the black-and-white, semi-fictional mockumentary, which depicts the life of a rock dude, essentially — thinking and talking about music, shooting shit with fellow musicians (Ariel Pink, Giant Drag’s Annie Hardy and even a cameo from Circle Jerks/OFF! singer Keith Morris … in a record store, natch!) rehearsing, and maybe being stalked by a killer. Spoiler: The end is the end, my beautiful friend.
This Saturday, Cardamone debuts another film, Holy War 2, with an even bigger presentation featuring bands and DJs. This movie features more cameos, from musicians Arrow de Wilde (Starcrawler) and Leafar Seyer (Prayers), and serves as a companion to Cardamone's Holy War mixtape, featuring new songs, reinterpretations and covers. Cardamone's new direction sees him stepping out solo onstage, sans live instrumentation, and crooning to groove-driven backing tracks and otherworldly electronic sounds in front of a giant screen popping with vibrant visuals; at least, that's what he did after the Regent screening.
One might assume the new film projects are nothing more than promotion for his latest musical transitions, but Cardamone says it’s more than that. He says he ended the band for “a multitude of reasons,” most prominent the death of his bandmate and best friend, Alvin DeGuzman. “[He was] my partner throughout the entire existence of the group,” he says. "[He] died of cancer last year. Without him I don’t think it could be what it was. Besides that, I think the mission was complete from my perspective. I did the work that I needed to do in that format, under those rules.”
Cardamone never was one to follow rules, however. A particularly raucous show at House of Blues (in which the band got booed off the stage) comes to mind. In any case, his new approach does seem even more unrestrained in some ways. “Every time I played with a band, the instruments, it sounded too familiar to me and I wanted to use new shapes that I wasn’t as comfortable with,” he says. “Also the convenience of being able to make music anywhere without tons of gear really appealed to my sensibilities. The moment of inspiration matters to me much more than the tools.”
But “tools” can also be visual. I ask if his forary into filmmaking is indeed a way of, symbolically at least, ending one thing and starting another. “To be honest, at the time of filming there was a transition taking place,” he explains. “I did not know where I was being led but instinct told me that I was heading toward something else. The Holy War collection was being born during this period but really only as a private means of expression. Something to do in the late hours of the day.”
Clearly, his new film work is a very focused and conscious endeavor. “My music has often been described as cinematic but often underutilized in film. Look at a group like Swans. You could score an entire movie with any of their recent albums. Why hasn’t it happened? ... At some point I knew I would have to do it myself for it to arrive properly. The music came first and then the visual components kind of crawled on to land soon there after.
“Not all of the visuals feature the music, so the link is not always so obvious as a music video,” he continues. “The Holy War film series are stand-alone pieces that share the same artistic voice as the music. They are meant to complement each other. Or a less pretentious way to put it is they are both one vibe. The pieces of the collection, the films, songs, posters and clothing, are all there to support a deeper story without having to be overly obvious in any one category.”
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The Icarus Line Must Die received decent reviews from the likes of Pitchfork and L.A. Times, but it was, the star admits, an evolving project that the music emerged out of. Now that Holy War has been declared an actual music project, the film series might come off as something else. The two outputs obviously feed each other, but the chicken-or-egg question in this case might never be answered, and that's OK. This scramble of emotions, words, pictures and ideas is coming from a guy with lots to say and express (still), and he seems to relish these new ways to tell stories and paint pictures. “All of my work has been visceral but painterly as well,” he says. “Allowing myself to focus on visual storytelling opened up a side that I had suppressed for ages because tending to a group of musicians on a mission was all I allowed myself to focus on for many years. As soon as I made film an option, it became clear that the types of portraits I create could greatly benefit from a strong visual component.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Cardemone’s dark take on visuals, sounds and moods. Like the artists he’s been compared with in the past (Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Bowie), this will never die. “I use the art to explain to myself what traumas I shut out to survive,” he admits. “It’s a place where I can be completely honest with myself, even if cryptically. This allows me to cope with the tough shit and identify situations that are hard to verbalize in daily life. Art has become a survival mechanism in my life. “
Holy War 2 screens Saturday, Aug. 25, 8 p.m.-5 a.m., at Evil Spirit Engineering, 420 N. Varney St., Burbank. Cardamone, Plexi (Sub Pop) and VOWWS play live and there will be DJ sets by Fast and Loose and Danny Fuentes (Lethal Amounts). More info here.