The Icarus Line once attracted only freaks and losers but now have an international following who appreciate their mixed-up music. RUSSELL BAILLIE reports
The Icarus line sound like they're mad as hell. First, there's the band's music on new album Penance Soiree, which can go from mad-angry to mad-deranged in the space of a few strange but thrilling and high-decibel bars.
Then there's the Los Angeles group's reputation for making a statement - they once spray-painted the Strokes' tour bus with the legend "$ellout$" and smashed a display case in a Hard Rock Cafe in Texas. The instrument inside had belonged to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lone Star State blues legend. The locals didn't take kindly to the insult.
So Icarus Line frontman Joe Cardamone, what other trouble you guys been getting up to lately? "There's tons of things but it's all extra-curricular that's nothing to do with music or anything," he laughs down the line from Tokyo, where the band are on their first big overseas campaign.
"That's just to do with us being bored or broke on tour and frustrated with situations, and our personalities getting the better of us."
Cardamone adds they have been back to that Hard Rock and their waitress told them the whole story about the guitar case without recognising them.
As he talks with infectious enthusiasm (his favourite phrase is "totally, totally"), Cardamone doesn't sound like a hell-raiser whose stage presence has won him comparisons to Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop and Nick Cave.
He seems an amiable LA dude who takes his art-rock seriously and is more than happy to be in a band which doesn't quite fit in but one which sounds like the most dangerous band to come out of Southern California in quite some time.
Oh, and he's a big fan of the Clean. "I love the Clean, the Bats, all that stuff. We're big fans of all that music," he says, though it's hard to detect the Flying Nun pioneers among the great pile-up of influences on the band's latest album Penance Soiree.
"We tend to try not to wear the influences on the sleeve too much. The Clean are awesome, I'd be psyched to meet those guys if we can."
The band's quick New Zealand foray comes during their first big overseas campaign on the back of the album, their second, after an independently released debut, Mono.
The group of Cardamone, Aaron North, Alvin DeGuzman, Don Devore, and Jeff "the Captain" Watson started in 1998. They were not instantly popular. "There used to be nobody at the shows and it seems like the freaks and losers started trickling in," recalls Cardamone, before reflecting on the now international following who appreciate the band's mix of Californian hardcore and Brit-influenced sonic experimentation.
"All Icarus Line fans are more or less the same, I would say. They come to the show alone. They come alone, they leave alone and they remain alone for their existence," he deadpans.
The reason they don't sound like anybody - save perhaps early Jane's Addiction crossed with Black Flag - from their neck of the woods is down to some do-it-yourself art appreciation.
"We're all pretty much working-class ghetto kids but we developed a musical intellect through art. I did through a girl who went to art school and everybody else did in their own separate ways. So we kind of developed a musical intellect from a low-brow stance, which, I always think, is cool.
"And lots of other good bands came from those sorts of areas, too, because there is some sort of honesty and there is not too much hierarchy. It's just what's good and what you makes you feel good."
The story goes they signed to major(ish) label V2 after sending out demos of a single 12-minute song, figuring any company that took them up would let them be as weird as they wanted to be.
And that's how it's worked out on Penance Soiree, an album that sounds like a pile-up of influences and is highly confrontational.
"Yeah, it's a reaction to the times in our personal lives, to other bands, other artists, relationships. It's more of a reaction than an imitation, which is also hard for us when you really don't fit into a genre nicely.
"Wide audiences tend to get lost while trying to figure out your identity, which I think sucks because I think we have a strong identity. But that's hard for people because they are so used to having homogenised, cookie-cutter art spoon-fed to them."
It is already winning them glowing reviews, perhaps suggesting they might soon be everyone's new favourite band - maybe this year's Mars Volta. "I'm not really sure because the buzz is all music writers - it's not kids, it's not people who buy records, it's people who listen to records, who appreciate music in different ways from your average human.
"It's not like we are [expletive] going to get famous or something on that but respect is enough for us. The fact that there are like-minded individuals who can respect what we are doing, that's cool, that's gratifying."
Anyway, says Cardamone, they are an erratic outfit, especially live.
"We're not a consistent band. Sometimes it's truly out of control, sometimes it's collected, calm and focused. But I think bands that are consistent are boring. It's cool if you can nail it every night but you've got to have bad nights to have good nights."
* The Icarus Line play at the Kings Arms tonight.