ICE AGE: "The artwork could also be seen as humorous in a sort of "Don Quixote” way, and it raises interesting questions"
With the recent release of their third album, but the first within 22 years, New York based progmetal band ICE AGE managed to catch their "old", but also many new fans.
Guitarist Jimmy Pappas and singer / keyboarder Josh Pincus told me more about their current record, its eye-catching cover artwork and the band's history, welcome to check it out here:
Hey, thanks for making time to answer my questions today. You just released your marvelous, new opus, the first within 22 years. How do you feel about it, and how was the reception so far?
Jimmy: Wow – thanks so much. After so much time away, it’s amazing to discover how well people remember the band, and how excited they are about the new material. We are extremely proud of this album - The writing, singing, playing and production are of the absolute highest quality of anything I have ever been part of. I feel so lucky to be in this band!
As for the reception - That has truly blown our minds. All of the music fan and press response has been so overwhelmingly positive, it has been truly humbling. One of the common pieces of feedback we have been getting is that people that know "The Great Divide" and "Liberation" feel like no time has passed and our new album is a very logical next step in our development. What’s better than that??
That's awesome to hear, and well deserved. Let’s take a look at the terrific cover artwork. What can you tell us about its origins, and how does it reflect the album thematically?
Jimmy: We absolutely love the cover of “Waves of Loss and Power” as well. All the credit for that (and the rest of the album artwork) goes to Bjorn GooBes at Killustrations, who conceived of and created this iconic image, which we all think really captures the essence of the musical and lyrical content in so many ways. It is truly inspired and we’re very lucky to have such an instantly memorable image on the album.
The whole artwork reflects many of the ideas in the songs, regarding the need to wear a kind of “armor” in our everyday lives as we navigate the struggles life throws at us… It also represents elements of childhood and impending danger, and of being “stuck”, unable to move forward in some ways.
It could also be seen as humorous in a sort of ‘Don Quixote” way, and it raises interesting questions: Who is this character and why does he need this armor? How does one move in the desert on a rocking horse? Are the vultures coming for him or someone else? Is he surrendering somehow (hence the white flag)? On the back cover he has thrown down the flag and removed his helmet… what’s that all about? I think it’s all really thought-provoking and just super-cool.
It absolutely is :-) Could you dive a bit into the record’s lyrical concept with us, please?
Josh: Generally speaking, “Waves of Loss and Power” is about the great heights of creativity, hopefulness and personal power we all feel at times in life, as well as the contrast with sadness and grief of loss we all inevitably have to face in many different ways; personal loss, loss of innocence, etc… I think as experience and time batter us around, there are times when we find ourselves far away from who we thought we were, or who we hoped to become when we were young. There are moments of optimism and moments of cynicism; these coexist within us constantly, and that inner battle expresses itself in the actions we take outwardly every day, and those conflicts manifest themselves in cultural and political ways as well.
I generally like to create the lyrics in such a way that a lot is left open to interpretation by the listener. To be more specific about a couple of the songs: The basic idea of the "Perpetual Child" saga is about reconciling yourself to the experiences and “duties” of adulthood, while being self-aware enough to realize that we never really leave those formative years behind, and that we carry everything with us through our lives, whether we admit it or not. It’s also used as a metaphor for other things in Part II, but I’ll leave that for the listener to figure out! “To Say Goodbye” is really about loss, regret, and grief. We all experience these things in many different ways – Part V is pretty specific regarding the issue it addresses.
Compared to your previous work, “Waves of Loss and Power” sounds a good pinch heavier and more modern to me, but still incredibly diverse and unmistakably like ICE AGE. Could you briefly describe your writing and recording process please, and did it change over the years?
Jimmy: The process this time around was vastly different than back in the dark ages of “The Great Divide” and “Liberation.” Back then, as far as the recording / mixing process, that was a minor miracle. With the meager advance we got from the record company, we bought recording gear – ADATs, a used 16-track 1-inch reel-to-reel machine, some outboard effects, some new instruments, and we set it all up in our one-room rehearsal studio.
I tend to be a perfectionist when it comes to engineering and mixing; not I like to think I was able to get the absolute best out of a very sonically limited situation. In a normal studio, you have a drum room, a vocal booth and separation from the control room. We didn’t have any of that – we had one big rehearsal room. I’ll never forget recording all the parts live in that one room – the tape decks and mixing board on one end and the drum kit on the other – it was LOUD. I remember Josh and I recording guitars, sitting there with headphones at full volume, my mic’d up cabinets blasting away; we did a ton of damage to our hearing lol. I think my abilities kept improving at it as the years went on – the production on “Liberation” was even better, and all done in that same room.
This time around, we did things in a much more modern and comfortable way. The drums were recorded at Frequency Studio in White Plains, NY in Hal’s neck of the woods, with Tarik Solangi, a very talented engineer he’d worked with previously. All of our instrumental tracks were recorded at home on Reaper, our DAW of choice. Once the recording was done, rather than me having the pressure of mixing everything myself (as in the past,) we were fortunate enough to have Rich Mouser put everything together for us at his studio in LA. Having his expert, “outside” ears to listen to and work on the material was amazing – we had sent him a couple of partial tracks to listen to, and I remember how excited we all were when he agreed to mix and master the album for us. He’s the one guy we wanted for this project, as he’s so familiar with the progressive genre, and has worked with some of the biggest acts there are - Spock’s Beard (for decades), Dream Theater, Transatlantic, etc….
As far as the writing process, it was very different as well… we had started to put the musical pieces together a couple of years before the pandemic, and once it began writing a new album was not going to be an easy task. We would be unable to unite in a rehearsal studio as we had always done, so this album was pretty much created over the internet (Zoom, Jamulus etc ...). Both, Josh and I, presented the other guys in the band an amazing framework of compositions, and we went to work.
We had never worked like this before as a band. In the past we’d be jamming away multiple nights a week in the same room; we’ve always had a very special musical chemistry together, so playing and communicating via headsets now was a bit strange, but we made it work. We all soon adapted to our newly constructed personal workstations. To be more efficient, the songs were being tracked by Josh and I throughout. With delays, health risks, quarantines, etc… it took about two years to get it all done soup to nuts.
Since the songs had already been tracked for the most part, Hal went in and recorded drums alongside a trusty click track for two days. Again, something we normally wouldn't do. Not the greatest of conditions, but I feel we were able to capture something very special.
Indeed :-) What is your musical background? And where do you draw your inspiration from?
Jimmy: I started playing guitar at age 17 and I am a self-taught guitarist. Early in my career, I took lessons from John Petrucci. I am inspired by the great songwriting of 70s bands like Deep Purple, Rainbow, Thin Lizzy, Led Zeppelin, Rush, Kansas, and Black Sabbath. The guitarists in these bands wrote some of the best rock guitar riffs ever written.
When you announced “Waves of Loss and Power” a while ago, I saw many enthusiastic, “old” fans of yours showing up on social media sharing their excitement. But for those who are new to the Ice Age party, could you tell us a bit about your band’s history please, and how you got together?
Jimmy: Yes, the reaction of the fans who’ve been with us for literally decades has been incredibly gratifying and humbling. The “genesis” of the band (no pun intended) goes all the way back to the late 80’s. Josh and I were mutual friends of a great drummer named Doug Dina in college – they both played in a cover band at the time, and we all loved the same kinds of music – mostly metal and classic rock. Back then if it wasn’t heavy we weren’t interested for the most part lol.
Anyway, we all started jamming together in the summer of ’88 – we’d literally lug the drums, my guitar, amp, and speaker cabinets, and Josh’s Roland D50 synth (which he still has and used on the new album) from one laundry room on the campus to the next to play, as it was a place that had power and a tiny bit of space for us to set up. I think that summer we literally got kicked out of every one of those laundry rooms (by the same person multiple times!) for making too much noise. At that point we were just jamming; it wasn’t until 1990 that we started getting “serious” about forming a band, and decided to call it “Monolith.”
We started out instrumentally, as a lot of bands do, because we couldn’t find a singer. It’s tough when you’re looking for a high tenor in the mold of Geoff Tate or Bruce Dickinson lol. After a while we did find a good vocalist with a high range, and in 1991 and 1992 we did 2 demo cassettes with him, and played a few gigs as a full band with a bass player who was with us from 1992-1996 or so. As talented as Nelson was as a singer, he just wasn’t the right fit for this band – he originally answered our ad thinking “progressive” music meant more along the lines of new wave I think rather than metal.
After that, the drummer moved on as well, and when Hal Aponte auditioned in early 1993, the core of the band was born. We had asked him to learn one of the more complicated tunes on one of the demos, and he casually said something like, “Yeah, OK I’ll have it ready in 2 days” – we kind of snickered and thought “no way.” Needless to say he came in and played it perfectly, and our jaws were on the floor - We had our drummer.
As we just couldn’t find a singer, we continued as an instrumental band and did some local gigs for a couple of years. It was becoming clear during the vocal auditions that Josh was kind of guiding the candidates along, doing the “No sing it THIS way, sing this note” kind of thing – after a while, we were all like, “why don’t you just sing yourself?!” Josh resisted a bit, having never done any singing at all, other than the school choir in junior high (which he got kicked out of for talking too much). He went on to take lessons with Tony Harnell from TNT, who is one of the greatest rock singers ever, and lived literally 20 minutes from Josh. That really built his confidence, and the rest is history.
How did you come up with your name, and is there a deeper meaning or story behind “Ice Age” for you?
Jimmy: We bounced around a lot of name ideas for the band; we were originally called "Monolith," but someone was already using that name, so we had to change it. 25 years ago, there was no animated movie series, and we weren’t aware of any other bands with the name "Ice Age". The song with that name which ended up “The Great Divide” actually appeared on our first demo cassette in 1992, and we always thought it was an evocative and emotional name for a band, conjuring up images in your mind instantly. Obviously, the name has been used in many other contexts since then, so the name is kind of ubiquitous now.
Let’s talk about ICE AGE live: What was your most memorable show so far?
Jimmy: My favorite memory is when we played at Amsterdam's Headway Festival in 2004. I was inspired by how receptive, brilliant, and engaging the Dutch fans were to the band, and gave one of my best live performances to date.
New York is well known for being the home of many great rock and metal bands. How would you describe your local music scene? And did you notice changes over the years?
Jimmy: To be very honest, we’ve become somewhat removed from the local scene as we’ve spent a number of years purely focused on writing and recording. As a sometimes freelancer I can tell you that the opportunities for original artists have continued to be overshadowed by the market for cover bands, tribute bands and (cheaper, crowd-pleasing) DJs.
The one thing that I would say has changed is that the internet and social media have made it a lot easier to promote and advertise your shows! When I started playing gigs, we would print up flyers, go out to the local rock clubs and concert parking lots, and that’s how we would get the word out!
With all your experience: What's the hardest thing about the music business right now? And what did improve since you started with Ice Age back in the 90s?
Jimmy: It’s always been a tough business for musicians; any artistic pursuit is difficult as it’s very unlikely you’ll be able to make a living at it. Back in the day when we first signed with Magna Carta, things had already changed a lot, as labels were not developing or supporting their acts like they had done in previous decades, so once a band signed a record deal that was pretty much the pinnacle, and any success beyond just having a record out there and available was a bonus. That’s one of the main reasons we became disillusioned after the first two albums.
Nowadays it’s much easier to get your music out there because of the internet, but getting it differentiated from the other many-thousands of daily releases is the difficult part. The good thing for us is that we’re part of a defined genre -“progressive” rock / metal fans are always eager to find more.
Can totally relate to that :-) What can you tell us about your future plans?
Jimmy: Right now, the band is focused on rehearsing for live shows and continuing to write new music. We are opening this year's ProgPower USA in September and exploring other opportunities for appearances that make sense for us.
Before we wrap things up, do you have any further thoughts you’d like to share here?
Jimmy: We want to extend our heartfelt thanks to everyone that’s embraced our return as a band. Please listen to the album and keep an eye on our YouTube channel and social media hubs for announcements and content! We have another full song music video coming very soon to continue to promote "Waves of Loss and Power."
Looking forward to this. Thanks again for your time and these amazing insights into your work \m/