Stay frosty + An interview with Ice Dragon
Although they are a strange and reclusive breed, Ice Dragon are equally majestic. Hidden from the vapid gaze of lesser mortals, their tale is one that should not be soon forgotten. Having perched themselves atop an impressive heap of well-crafted DIY releases, they have honed the scope of their creative vision in a way that rends the mind and leaves the listener breathless.
Tighten the grip on thy bong and thy beer, brave adventurer… Prepare to ascend to higher realms of psych and song and strange, forbidden dreams as you meet the unyielding gaze of Ice Dragon!
TBR: First things first, your new album, Dream Dragon is an absolute stunner! Before we tear into the music itself, tell us a bit about the amazing cover art by Adam Burke. It’s a classic!
Joe: Adam’s the man. He also did the artwork for the Tentacle EP, a split single we did with his band, Fellwoods, as well as new art for The Sorrowful Sun. He has a very distinct style that draws on a lot of cool influences without being slavish.
The cover art for Dream Dragon couldn’t be more stunning. Our collective jaws dropped when we saw it. For a small underground band to have album artwork that can stand up to any of the classics from when album art was still taken seriously is damn cool. Thanks, Adam! More people should commission work from him and check out Fellwoods.
Ron: Yes, I agree, Adam did a fantastic job. I’m kind of tired and grumpy right now. We figured it was about time we had a cover with a dragon on the front, ya know? I mean really.
TBR: I think that you guys are going to pull in a lot of new fans with the new album. On the one hand, Ice Dragon seems to invite the listener to recognize some familiar sorts of sounds, but how would you describe the band’s sound to someone that’s never heard it before?
Joe: You’re referring to Dream Dragon but we actually just put out another new album, greyblackfalconhawk. That one’s another 180 from what we’ve done before, very minimalist. I’d say we’re basically a heavy-psychedelic-folk-rock-pop band, haha. Sometimes we lean way toward the heavy side of things. Sometimes way towards the lighter side of things. We try to be fluid above all, and hopefully it all comes out sounding like Ice Dragon. My standard answer is we sound like a 1970s band from the future: grounded in the great music and creative vibes that were everywhere in that era, but forward-looking. We never want to be retro for the sake of being retro. We want to be the best Ice Dragon we can be, always.
Ron: I usually just say “Heavy Rock” and leave it at that. It kinda works, like for old people anyway. Like one of your relatives says “what kind of band are you in?” Then you just say “heavy rock” and they leave you alone usually.
Today I was at the burrito place I go to all the time and the girl said “you’re kind of quiet today”, I thought that was a nice way of noticing I was kind of in a weird mood. Rather than saying “what’s the matter? Or what’s wrong?” Everyone hates that ya know? She’s cool, and makes good burritos.
TBR: You guys have never been afraid to go “outside” the realm of more traditional song structures, but things seem to be even more adventurous this time around. Was it a conscious decision to stretch out a bit more on this album or did the songs just come together naturally?
Joe: For Dream Dragon, we just wanted to have fun, I think. The record was a breeze to make; it came together very quickly. To be honest, I think it’s among the most traditional stuff we’ve ever done, lots of sing-along choruses, which is why I think people seemed to like it the most and the quickest of anything we’ve done. Proof that people like tunes. We all do. It’s pretty much psychedelic pop rock, in a way.
Ron: I think it was conscious. We were trying to make something a bit more 60’s style psychedelic pop-rock-ness. We bought a tambourine specifically for that album. We spent like one whole Friday overdubbing tambourine tracks but we were all really hammered so they came out like shit and then we had to re-do them later.
TBR: Songs like “Maximum Trip” and “Beard of Thieves” really rip it up and I can’t help but wonder how they would sound live. Have you guys played out very often or is Ice Dragon more of a studio project?
Joe: Thanks, man. We’re definitely more of a studio project at this point, which is how the band started—it was Ron and Duane Carter just recording weird psychedelic stuff that was an offshoot of another project they’d had. Then, after I joined along with a drummer, Ryan, we became very much a live-oriented band. We wrote a bunch of songs with the aim of playing out, and recording almost became an afterthought. After Ryan left, we became a trio, with Ron taking over on drums, and became recording focused once more. We released the first album, “The Burl, the Earth, the Aether,” and then just began recording a ton. We record something every week.
Ron: Yeah, playing live sucks. I can never understand why a creative person would want to just keep playing the same 6 or 7 songs for a year, or two, or three after they make an album when they can just start making new stuff instead. I guess some people really get off on playing their music in front of people. I don’t.
I would rather a non-drunk person bought an album of mine with a sincere interest in it and then gave it an in-depth listen in the comfort of their home. No buyer’s remorse because they bought it at a show and were shitfaced, or thought we were “SO AMAZING” just because we had our amplifiers up really loud. Anyone can do that. Can anyone make an album that still sounds good after 30 years? No. That’s the hard part, and people should be focusing more on that I think. Or whatever or something, maybe I’m just an asshole.
TBR: What’s going on in this album from a lyrical perspective? Is there any sort of overall theme? What are a few of your favourite tunes, in terms of the lyrics and what are they about?
Joe: I don’t have a favorite, but when I hear the album I smile. It’s a summer album for me.
Ron: Lyrically speaking “Dream Dragon” is pretty awful I think. It’s all just funtime silly rock stuff. There’s some good writing in there I guess, but it’s not the kind of stuff I hold on high. I like really emotional, honest, depressing songs mostly. From a lyrical view anyway. I’ve done much better I guess is my point. This is just a fun summertime old-school stoner rock kind of album. People love that shit, that’s why AC/DC is so big, you never hear them pouring their heart out about how they want to end it all, but then guys like Jackson C. Frank make amazingly beautiful deep records and they die penniless and hating themselves. Sigh.
TBR: OK, let’s stop beating around the bush: Are you guys on drugs or what? And if so, what kind? What’s your favourite?
Joe: I do beer, haha. But I’m glad that people get taken to an alternate plane by our music.
Ron: I’ve done drugs. I love that stuff. W33d and alcohol are all I’ve been having for the past couple of years though. I wrote a whole bunch of the earlier songs while on mushrooms. “Beard of Thieves” also. Last night I got really high and watched The Munsters. Oh and “Wind in the Willows” that stop-motion one from the UK. You ever got high and watched that? You should man, it’s so great.
TBR: Looking back, tell us a bit about the history of the band prior to releasing your first album, The Sorrowful Sun. Were you guys friends before Ice Dragon or did the band bring you together?
Joe: See above answer for more on the history of the band. I was acquaintances with the other guys, but the band really is what brought me into the fold.
Ron: It started with me and Carter, then Joe joined, then Ryan. I think. Then I got really drunk and yelled at Ryan and he ran away. I tried chasing him down the street yelling “Ryan I’m Sorry!” but he was crying and he could not be consoled. I get drunk and yell at people all the time, it can be a bummer I guess, though the real amazing thing to me is that most people would rather get “offended” than actually yell back. People love getting offended, it gets them out of whatever corner they are in. Conversationly speaking of course. Eh, whattyagonnado.
TBR: Before you guys actually started writing songs, was there much discussion about the musical direction you wanted to go in or was it more like, “Let’s turn up, rock out and see what happens”?
Joe: Speaking for when I joined the band, I think it was exactly “Let’s turn up, rock out and see what happens.” It was pretty much bring some riffs/ideas/beers to the party and have fun. The only thing we are conscious of is trying to not repeat ourselves. It’s worked so far.
Ron: Yeah, there has never really been a whole lot of discussion as far as musical style. Song to song, sure, but overall not really. We basically just try and have fun and make good music. Hopefully it’s working.
TBR: Who are a few of the more obscure progressive/acid rock acts of the 60’s/70’s that you guys enjoy or may have influenced your work?
Joe: I like all that psychedelic, freakbeat, Nuggets stuff, for sure, as well as more obvious stuff from that era. Pretty Things, Wimple Winch, Small Faces, Blossom Toes, Andromeda, off the top of my head. I love all the obvious prog/Krautrock stuff. King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, Yes, Amon Duul II, etc. But I also worship, say, Cheap Trick, and really mellow AM Gold type stuff. There’s influence that occurs by osmosis, sure, but I don’t think we ever consciously try to write a Sabbathy song, for instance. The music you love gets in your blood; hopefully it comes back out in weird ways.
Ron: Wicked Lady. The Sonics!!! The Groundhogs. Old Johnny Winter. Soft Machine. Not too obscure, but Grand Funk Railroad for sure. Edgar Winter and his White Trash. Roy Buchanan. Tammy Wynette. Jackson C. Frank. Townes van Zandt. T-REX.
TBR: Are there any contemporary artists that move you these days?
Joe: For me, Robert Pollard is an endless inspiration. Anything he does—solo, with Guided by Voices, the Circus Devils, et al, I love and admire. He’s a pure artist. He follows his vision alone. The record industry died and he’s putting out 10 albums a year, every year, on his own label, creating all the artwork. He’s an album artist, a total anachronism, and at fifty-something years old still rocks harder than most kids half his age. Oh, and he can write a song or two.
Ron: R. Stevie Moore is way cool. Amebix. Earth. Strand of Oaks. Atari Teenage Riot. Godspeed You! Black Emperor. I like Elliot Smith a whole lot, but he’s dead now. You know who else I friggin loved was “God Lives Underwater”, bummer they don’t make music anymore, “Life in the so-called space age” is one of my favorite albums of all time.
TBR: What are some of the other things – records, books, movies, visual artists – that have influenced your creative direction with Ice Dragon.
Joe: Not sure about influence, but I was binging on thrash metal and The Savage Sword of Conan — stuff I especially loved as a kid — right around the time we started playing together, haha! Youthful exuberance – is that an influence?
Ron: Taneda Santoka’s haiku poetry is especially dear to my heart, from a writing perspective. I recently read Moby Dick for the first time, that’s a fucking amazing book. Truly. You ever seen “Severed Ways”?
TBR: You guys do the whole “DIY” justice to say the least. Tell us a bit about your approach and attention to detail when it comes to the artwork and packaging.
Joe: Thanks, man. “Make it with love”. That’s DIY in a nutshell. Or, when the band fund is low, release onto the Internet with love, haha. The Sorrowful Sun cassette release is probably the most DIY thing we’ve done, and we put a lot of care and time into it. It’s all a labor of love—the songwriting, the recording, the production, the artwork, the packaging. Why bother otherwise?
Ron: DIY is kind of a “bad word” with the “doom” crowd, which is bullshit. Most bands and fans in that scene want everything to be all slick and sound and look like “pro” shit. Fuck that. That’s where the Black Metal dudes are killing it right now, they make some awesome releases and don’t give a shit about whether or not they can get their cd’s onto amazon or wherever. That’s my 2-cents.
TBR: Some people say it’s boring an irrelevant to talk about gear in these sorts of interviews. I say “fuck those people”. Ice Dragon has a fresh sound, but you guys capture the “vintage” vibe really well. Tell us a bit about your studio setup. Do you rely on any particularly old gear to get your sound?
Joe: Ron can probably speak to this better, but I’ll just say that within our arsenal are a couple of old, lovingly worn Peavey two-twelves (one solid state, one tube), a drum kit with a floor tom as a bass drum, a homemade synth, a homemade Theremin, a homemade reverb tank, a homemade coffee-can mic, and a homemade Gibson SG double neck, a couple of really tall and old Shure PA stacks, a beautifully hand-painted acoustic guitar, and a tan Dean Markley solid state amp I pulled out of the trash.
Ron: Yeah! “Fuck those people” is right. Amen! We usually record drums, bass and guitar all in the same room, straight to tape first. We have a Tascam MK424II(?) 4-track, at least I think that’s what kind it is, it’s the bigger one. We also have an old Sony 2-track ¼” tape machine that we use to do the same thing, so it’s either/or usually. Then I dump that into an old Compaq Presario running Windows ME that I’ve had FOREVER. I use Cubase SX and love it. I usually edit up the basic track in there, and then we overdub whatever else over that.
We just bought an MXL ribbon mic for $80 and it’s fucking amazing. I’d buy one again in a second. Use a D112 on the kick, SM57 on the snare, or no snare mic at all and just room mic it. Put the ribbon in the middle of the room. I have a radio shack mic stapled to the wall near the floor tom for that. Usually a SM58 or the 57 for the guitar and/or bass. The coffee can mic I made works really well for verbed out vocal sounds, you just gotta stand way far away from it. I just built a DIY Recording Equipment ferrite DI box, we do a lot of the bass direct. That thing is SWEET. I like to re-amp a lot too.
TBR: I have to know what synths you guys used on the album. For example, “I Know You’re in Here” is an interesting track. What’s going on there?
Joe: Take it away, Ron.
Ron: That track is almost all my home built modular synth thing. It’s basically just a bunch of the “Voice of Saturn” synth kits put into one big cool looking box. It has the 10-step sequencer, 2 of the synths, and the modulator. I love it. For a lot of the other synth stuff I use my Theremin. It’s one of the PAIA kits, I just built a slick looking wooden box for it and added bigger power lights. I love lights on electronics.
TBR: You guys make very extensive use of both the Mellotron and the Theremin – both pretty distinctive sounding instruments and from where I stand, you guys get great sounds out of them that have always served the songs and given a great feel overall. Did you guys play or have much experience with these instruments before starting the band or did you start playing with them as a function of writing songs for Ice Dragon?
Joe: I’ve always loved Mellotron and pretty much forced it into the band, but happily the other guys were all for it. I’d be inclined to put washes of Mellotron over everything, and thus ruin everything. Fortunately, these guys rein me in. It’s such a weird instrument—simultaneously soothing and eerie.
Ron: Yeah, the Mellotron is all Joe. I love using the Theremin, I built it back when I was doing all electronic music and then just figured what the fuck when we started doing Ice Dragon. Sounds great through a big ass verb and delay.
TBR: Do you guys actually have the use of a real Mellotron?
Joe: Yeah, we bought it off Rick Wakeman’s old roadie when we stumbled on him in skid row while looking for a place to by submarine sandwiches.
TBR: Were you guys D&D nerds or what? If so, how did you get into role playing?
Joe: I played D&D for one summer when I was about 11 years old. I loved it, and have fond memories of it still. I found a magic ring in a cave—I remember that. For whatever reason, I never continued with the game. I should have—you have all the time in the world for that stuff when you’re a kid.
Ron: Not really bigtime nerding out on it or anything, but I definitely used to play a bit. I was really into Battle Masters and HeroQuest too. Like REALLY into those games. My cat peed on the boxes though. I wish I still had Battle Masters, I would make Carter and Joe play it on Friday nights and yell at them.
TBR: If you were to roll a new character that best represents yourself, what race/class would they be?
Joe: I’m pretty sure I was a dwarf when I first played, probably because I was a short kid at the time and could relate to them. Now, I’m older and taller and uglier. I would be an Ugly Man Without Magic or Any Discernible Skills were I to play now, I think.
Ron: Night Elf Mohawk.
TBR: Go on, break out that old Monster Manual! Who or what is the coolest monster/NPC in the AD&D universe?
Joe: This is a joke question, right? Ice Dragon, dude, Ice Dragon!
TBR: Hit us with a few of your favourite authors or other artists in the realm of swords and sorcery!
Joe: Well, I mentioned The Savage Sword of Conan—I love that stable of artists and writers. (Somewhat shamefully, I haven’t gotten around to reading the original Robert E. Howard material, yet.) I love Tolkien—one of my first literary loves. I actually just pulled The Hobbit out last night and plan to reread it.
Ron: Thanos is my favorite comic book character. And Lobo too. Ok, I gotta go, it’s almost time to leave work and I NEED a beer right now.
TBR: Tell us a bit about your side project, Tentacle.
Joe: It’s pretty heavy and ugly. And just like us, it’s getting heavier and uglier all the time. Hopefully will have some new stuff to dump on the world soon.
TBR: Any parting words?
Joe: Thanks for having us and asking some cool questions and thanks for listening.
Ron: Yeah, thanks!!!!!!!
TBR: Fuckin’ a, boys!! Rock on!!