The last few years have been busy for Icarus the Owl. The Portland progressive rock band signed to Blue Swan Records in 2015, and have continued to grow their fanbase while evolving their signature blend of progressive flashiness and soaring pop hooks. Fresh off of the release of their new album Rearm Circuits on December 1st, I talked to singer/guitarist Joey Rubenstein about the album, and what’s next for Icarus.
Icarus the Owl has always blended progressive, technical instrumentation with a strong pop sensibility and great hooks. How do you find that balance as songwriters, and what is your songwriting process like?
While most of us agree on certain bands, we each have very different taste in music. We try not to box ourselves into one style or sound. This may seem counterproductive to market a band, but we just write songs that we personally love regardless of its genre. Moreover, I love catchy melodies and technical music, but usually they don’t come in the same package. Usually, I will create the skeleton of a song and we will send it back and forth to each other until we are satisfied. Sometimes, we will have 20 different file versions of one song. It’s a healthy combination of jamming and file sharing. Writing music in a program like Guitar Pro lends us the ability to hear how the notes interact with each other in real time and we can do that from the road.
How has the band’s songwriting evolved over the years?
It’s just a lot more collaborative. Personally, I have learned the value of letting songs breathe with instrumental breaks. I don’t need to sing over every part, as much as its fun to write melodies for everything. The song structures themselves are a lot more cohesive than previously. We are trying to fit stuff we find interesting to play in a poppier context, so I feel like the structures need to be digestible.
What artistic or life experiences influenced the lyrics on Rearm Circuits?
The band almost breaking up inspired the process as a whole. It reinvigorated all of us. It made the band seem more precious and we treated it like we were writing our first album. The lyrics on the album are inspired by exaggerated versions of my life. There’s an overarching story throughout Rearm Circuits and it’s a little related to some of the themes from Pilot Waves. The song Coma Dreams is a good example of what a lot of the album is about: whatever is happening in the world, at least you have your imagination and brain to escape to.
Some of you have filled in on tour recently for bands such as Dance Gavin Dance and Vox Vocis. Has this experience had any influence on the sound of the new album?
A conscious influence did not happen as the record was already written before we filled in for them, but learning Will Swan’s guitar parts certainly inspired me to be a better guitar player. He plays so differently than me and I love it. I have so much longer to go before I fully grasp what he plays and how he plays it. I am hoping I get the chance to do something like that again.
How has signing to Blue Swan helped the band in terms of reach or growing your fanbase?
Blue Swan has a very loyal fanbase. It almost reminds me of Drive Thru Records in terms of its cult following. Just by being associated with Blue Swan, we automatically had new listeners. I remember checking out every new signing Drive Thru had back in the day, and I think the same thing is happening with Blue Swan. Will also promotes his bands through Dance Gavin Dance and that has helped us a lot, too!
Where do you see the band going next artistically?
We have been jamming a lot lately and it’s honestly all over the place. It’s too early to tell, but we want to keep expanding our sonic palette as much as we can. Icarus The Owl: Death Metal EP 2018.
What’s one song by the band that you would show to someone who’s never heard your music before?
Skysweeper would be a good one. It has a little bit of everything we do in the song. I love the vibe the song gives off. From the new record, I would say Dream Shade is a pretty well-rounded song that showcases what we are about. For someone not too familiar with the kind of music we play, Coma Dreams is a good bridge between pop music and what we play.
What’s your favorite tour you’ve ever been on?
This current tor with Dance Gavin Dance, Polyphia, and Wolf & Bear! The shows are insane and everyone has been super supportive. We get to play a couple new songs and we’ve been so excited to play them for over a year now. A close second would be the first time we went to Europe. We toured with a band called Above The Underground (RIP) from over there and it was so crazy to see a whole part of the world we’ve never seen before.
Where can fans who want to see Icarus the Owl live catch you next?
Depending on when this is release, you can see us this December with Dance Gavin Dance. Otherwise, we will be touring again this spring.