TST Interview: Nick Whetro of Icarus Himself

Icarus Himself

The Silver Tongue rang Nick Whetro, frontman for Madison, WI band Icarus Himself, early in the afternoon on a day Whetro found himself in Athens, GA after playing in Arkansas the previous night. Whetro, a poised and thoughtful voice on the other end of the line, discussed the band’s newest album, Career Culture (released in late 2011 on Science of Sound to high praise), its autobiographical arc, the experience of recording a session with the fine folks at Daytrotter and his excitement about upcoming fatherhood. If you are new to Icarus Himself (Whetro, multi-instrumentalist Kyle Christenson, and Brad Kohlberg on drums) and have yet to experience Career Culture, the odds are favorable you will find deep rewards in seeking them out.

Icarus Himself – “Anywhere You Go”

The Silver Tongue: I’ve been listening your new album in heavy rotation lately and have been loving every minute of it. So, congratulations on the album.

Nick Whetro: Wow. That’s a big compliment.

TST: It’s not easy to categorize. You’d be able to describe it better than me, of course, but very song has a unique sound to it. The album as a whole fits perfectly together though, and the second it ends, I want to listen to it all over again.

NW: Awesome.

TST: One of the things that stuck out for me on first listen was seeing the title of the song “WI via IN.” I’ll start by saying I’m calling from Indianapolis right now. I’ve grown up here and gone to other places and have since come back. When I saw that title, it jumped out at me because I don’t see Indiana referenced in many other albums or songs.  After reading your backstory, I got intrigued even more. So, I wanted to ask your take on leaving Indiana, moving on, and what it meant to your growth as an artist and for the album.

NW: The album itself, as a whole, follows the story of starting out living in Fremont [IN], a little small town experience. It was fairly boring and stifling living in Fremont. It was a town of about a thousand people, and I was working at a factory at the time. I dropped out of college, and so I was working at a factory for a couple of years. I felt like I was wasting my life just working and not pursuing music, which is what I love to do.

The album is a big arc that starts out with me in Indiana, working at a factory and totally bummed. Then, I moved to Wisconsin. The song on the album, “WI via IN,” is kind of the transition in the album, going from the doom-and-gloom darkness on the first half of the album to the light of the second half. You know, in the second half of the album, I meet this girl who eventually becomes my wife, and it’s a lot more positive than anything previous, even going back to the Mexico EP, which is pretty positive on the back half.

TST: It’s obvious that song is the transition in mood, and it’s unlike anything else on the album. I think it is a genius move in sequencing, and it gives you two unique halves of a story that provide a whole impact. It’s an amazing story where you rose up against tribulations, made changes and chronicled it with great music.

NW: That song was… I had wanted to do a movie soundtrack type scene. You know it’s got that bass line that loops over and over again. I was listening to a lot of Curtis Mayfield at the time, and he’s got a lot of bass lines that sound kind of like that. It just gives a traveling feel to the song, and I thought it fit really well.

TST: When I hear that song after what precedes it, it does have a classic road movie feel to it and has a wonderful energy.

Let me ask you about recording. I read you did pretty much everything live with the exception of the drum machine and synthesizer, right?

NW: Yeah, the loops?

TST: Yeah.

NW: Previously before this album, while we were recording the Mexico EP, we didn’t have a full-time drummer. So this was the first real recording where we had Brad, who plays drums in the band now and has been in the band for a little over two years. We wanted to do most of the songs with all three of us playing in a studio live. Then, I went in and overdubbed the vocals, and we went in and overdubbed synthesizers, organ, things like that. A lot of that is better to do live like that, with the exceptions of “WI via IN,”  “On Your Side” and “Precious Holder.” Those three started as demos at my house, and then we just kind of layered on top of those demos.

TST: A lot of the songs have intricate sounds. As you listen to the album more, you hear all of the layers. Especially after having mostly recorded it live, have you had any challenges taking the songs to the stage when you’re on tour?

NW: Um, not really. There are some songs on that album that we have never played, and we probably never will just because the difficulty of all those layers. “Precious Holder” is one that we probably won’t play. We had practiced “WI via IN” for a while, but we have never played it out. That’s one of those songs that I would love to play live, but we would probably have to rearrange it. There would be too many loops and layers to cover just as a three-piece.

TST: I’m a subscribing member to Daytrotter, and just this morning I listened to your newest session with them that got posted at the end of May. I know it was actually your second session with them.  I’m a huge fan of those guys, and I just wanted to hear about your experience of recording a Daytrotter session.

NW: Yeah, they’re a pretty prominent blog, and they are just some of the coolest guys to hang out with. They are so laid-back. You go in, they give you about two hours, and you record three or four songs. It was actually a really fun experience, and we were lucky enough to get asked back to do it again. I can’t have enough praise for those guys. They’re amazing.

TST: That’s cool to hear. I’ve been listening to them and subscribing for about a year and a half or two years, and I love just about the majority of any session I come across. When you add in Sean’s words and the actual sound of most of the sessions, they are just great. Did you record it in Rock Island, or were you at their newer studio in Austin?

NW: We were in Rock Island. It’s only about three and a half hours from Madison. It was on the last day of our tour, so we just hit it up on our way home.

TST: I just watched the “On Your Side” video a couple hours ago, and I was floored by it. Stylistically and in mood, the video touches on aspects of some of my favorite films. How did that video come together?

NW: We knew that was going to be our first single off the album, so we had wanted to do a video. We had a friend in town whose name is Ryan Heraly.  He has a production company called Manic Eye Media. We had wanted him to be a part of it. The original idea was of a couple going into a convenience store and robbing it. Kind of in the process of us trying to figure out what was going to take place in the video, someone had suggested that it would be a wedding and they’d just come in and rob everyone at the wedding. As soon as we heard that, we knew that was going to be the video. Essentially, we just rented out a synagogue in Madison, and we hung out for a day while they shot the video and put it together and edited for us. It was a pretty fun experience, actually.

ICARUS HIMSELF “On Your Side” (OFFICIAL) from Ryan Heraly, Manic Eye Media on Vimeo.

TST: It kind of reminds me of a classic like Badlands, but for a new generation. When you tie it to the song, it wasn’t at all what I would have pictured on my own, but I think it’s truly fantastic.

NW: Yeah, yeah. The song is about trusting someone, you know. What better way to express that than having a good ol’ robbery at a wedding?

TST: [laughs] Yeah, absolutely! Even the moment where the guy steps in place of the reverend or pastor and has the gun to the couple’s heads is kind of an exaggerated effect, but it says a great deal about trust and the idea of marital commitment. Then, superimposing the lyrics over their mouths was a genius move.

NW: Yeah.

TST: You’re on tour right now, correct? You’re in the Southeast?

NW: Yeah, we’re in Athens, GA right now. We just finished a 13-hour drive.

TST: Where were you coming from?

NW: Uh, Ft. Smith, Arkansas. We drove it overnight, so I’m pretty delirious right now.

TST: Oh man. Yeah, thank you even more for talking to me, because I’ve done plenty of 13-hour drives. I’m impressed.

So, you’re in Athens. That’s actually a town I haven’t been to and would love to check out. It’s a pretty renowned music town, to say the least. Are you excited to be playing there?

NW: Yeah, yeah. This is our first time here. We had wanted to play here in the past, but somehow it just never worked out. I’ve been here before, but I’ve never played here. It reminds me a lot of Madison, actually: you know, college town, laid-back, a lot of great bands, culture. We’re really excited to be playing a show here.

TST: I was looking at your tour dates, and I don’t know if two legs of the tour got announced separately, but I saw you’re playing in Bloomington on August 7, which was my college town. I plan on making the hour trek down to see you guys.

NW: Oh, we’re not actually playing in Bloomington. I think that was last year. We were trying to get back to Indianapolis. I think on our next tour we’re going to hit the Midwest. I think we played Indianapolis two years ago at The Vollrath. I don’t believe it’s a venue anymore.

TST: Yeah, it closed down about a year ago, which was really unfortunate, because that was a cool venue.

NW: Yeah, that was a really cool venue. We played with Jookabox-

TST: Really? Yeah, those are great local guys.

NW: – and Amo Joy. That was a pretty good show.

TST: I bet. One of the guys in Jookabox actually works at my favorite record store here, Luna. I had seen them before, and then when I was in Austin – probably around that same time – they played down there around the time of Fun Fun Fun Fest and brought a wonderful Indianapolis contingent to my home in Austin. It was a special thing to see.

The tour goes for another two weeks or so then?

NW: Yeah. We’re done on August 4th.

TST: Do you have anything on tap after that, or will you primarily be recuperating?

NW: We’re going to recuperate a bit. We’ve got a couple of shows in Madison. And, I’m actually having a child in December.

TST: Congratulations! Is it your first?

NW: Yeah, I’m pretty excited. But, we’re going to take a couple of months off from playing. I’m going to try and write some more, and hopefully in 2013 we’ll get into a studio to record.

TST: That sounds like an amazing couple of months you’ve got ahead.

NW: Yeah, it’s pretty crazy. It’s been happening so quickly.

TST: Well, I don’t want to keep you too long. I know you drove a long way, are feeling delirious and have a show tonight. So, my last question is one I like asking everybody to wrap things up. Has there been anything you’ve read, heard or watched recently that has struck a chord with you?

NW: Well, we were on tour when that Colorado-deal-Batman-massacre-thing happened, which is just crazy. You know, going online and seeing that had happened, it’s just nuts that someone would do that.

TST: When you see news stories these days, there are always things that are depressing but seem like some variation of it has happened before. Then, a story like this occurs, and it just knocks the wind out of you.

NW: I was like, “What?” I kind of thought it was a joke at first, but, you know (voice drops off ).

TST: Your heart goes out to the families, and you also look at what it’s going to mean in the time to come. You look at the stabbings at shows in Europe and then stuff like this happens. In an ideal world, you go to a movie theater or see a live music show, and it’s a community where people are coming together to enjoy something in their own respective lives and do it as a bigger group. When people come and steal that from the community in pure senselessness, it’s a true shame.

NW: Yeah it is.

TST: Thank you again for taking a few minutes, man. I really think the album is phenomenal, and I hope to catch you one day when you come through on tour.  Congratulations on the album, the tour, and your child on the way. I wish nothing but happiness for you, Nick.

NW: Oh, thanks a lot! Yeah, thanks for calling.

Icarus Himself – “Wake Up”


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