Guitars! Propaganda! Pre-War Russia!
By Bill McMillan
An Interview With Jamie Glisson from The Icon And The Axe
If you need an acoustic/ambient/rock fix, local group The Icon And The Axe is dropping their debut album on April 18. For those who haven’t heard of the act, its MySpace page says Propaganda offers a sound that conveys the passionate search for truth paired with the melodies of a bygone era. And they ain’t playin’ either.
Jerk spoke over the phone with the band’s front woman Jamie Glisson (who at the time was in Philadelphia) to talk Aux Records, Russia, and Mogwai.
Jerk: What are you doing in Philadelphia?
Glisson: Basically what we’ve been focusing on is just working on recording our album, which we will be releasing on Aux Records this March. So, essentially, we haven’t really been playing out much or doing things of that nature. I just really wanted to get my degree, and so I just felt like I’m going to go down to Philly and kind of work there.
And then a couple of the band mates [Benjamin Tubbs (guitar), Mike Bilinski (bass)] are still in Syracuse so they’re working there along with the label. My drummer [Nick Irvine] is here right now too, in the city, so it’s kind of been fun to broaden our demographic a little bit, and for me to go to school.
Nick has played in a lot of bands right?
Yeah, but that’s actually been really good for us because he has so much talent from his experience. He’s played in top 40 bar bands, folk rock bands. He’s done everything. He brings a lot to the table.
Speaking of bringing stuff to the table, are you the band’s main songwriter?
Essentially what it’s been for us is that I will sit in my room with my acoustic guitar and just come up with these little tunes and riffs that are essentially about my life or what people our age have to go through. Then I’ll bring the songs to the rest of the guys and then they make it a real song.
I kind of call them my skeletons. I bring my skeletons down to the boys and they’ll make them real songs. So I guess you could say that I’m the songwriter but, as far as the music goes, the guys are much better musicians than I am. They make the songs songs and such.
So it’s a collaborative effort?
Yeah, absolutely. That’s the really exciting part about making music because we each know exactly what we’re good at. We can kind of come up with it individually and then when we come together, I’m always just really impressed and blown away with what they bring to the table. It’s very exciting for me to just work with really talented musicians who come up with good ideas in that way.
You’re in the studio right now, but where are you in the recording process?
We are nearly finished with it. We just have one session left, wherein Mike, our bass player, has to finish his tracking. And then our producer has to obviously mix everything. But we’re almost done so the end is in sight.
It’s really exciting because this album is almost a year long in the making. We started out recording a demo last February with Wayne Manor Recordings. Josh Coy of Long Since Forgotten, it’s kind of out of his house. Our drummer Nick obviously knows everybody in Syracuse, so through that connection we just said, “Hey, we should get a demo recorded.”
A couple days later we were in the studio. We recorded four songs and threw them up on the MySpace. Once again, it happened pretty fast. Within I think two days, Aux Records contacted Nick. They knew each other because Nick was in Anorexic Beauty Queen on the label.
He said, “Hey I’m really interested in this band, let’s set up a meeting and see if they’re interested in working with us.”
Of course we were. That’s where the demo began. Then we just decided, “Why not release a full length?” and kind of make a little bit more worth our while and worth the listener’s while to buy it.
I love recording and we all really enjoy it so we decided to go back into the studio this past July and have just been playing away and here we are. It’s been kind of a long time coming, but it sounds really good. It sounds like what I would always hope to have an album sound like. I think it’s the same way for everybody as well.
When you Google “The Icon And The Axe,” the first thing that comes up is a book on Russia. Is this where the name comes from?
It is. It’s actually like a pretty scholastic book on the history of Russia. We had another band name until we started talking with the label. We were called Theft, but that was already taken. And so, in talking to our manager, he said, “If you’re going to be a viable band, you need a name that isn’t taken” because of lawsuits and different things.
So, I basically just went into the library at school and looked through books upon books because I had this vision in my mind of what I wanted us to represent and convey. Pre-war Russia is really evocative of the kind of struggle for identity that I think our lyrics and our sound really tie into well with. So, the book, in and of itself, The Icon and The Axe, the axe represents the political aspects of the history of Russia and then the icon would be the religious elements.
For us, and especially for people that are our age, there’s this whole coming of age situation where we’re really delving into what truth is and what it means to be who were are and trying to do that through these social apparatuses that have kind of been put into our lives at an early stage. It’s really not a political statement.
So yeah, that’s where we derive our title from. We’re not a political band by any means. I hope we all voted in the last election, but I’m not sure. That’s as far as it goes.
Your MySpace page says you’re an acoustic/ambient/rock band. Do play this style to fill a void you see in music or is it just the sound that came out when you began playing?
Well I think for any artist, it’s really difficult to describe your sound because you’re taking so many different elements from so many different influences. So, I don’t think that we as a band never really set out to do something completely different. I think it’s obviously something that sounds great, but basically we just write music that we like and when we get together to practice or record.
Whatever we come up with is very organic, and if that’s something new or different then that’s amazing. But to me, I don’t really know who to compare us to. I can’t think of a band that we really sound like or that we try to emulate. So, if we’re filling a void in that, that would be great.
Were you in any other bands before this?
Yeah, I lived overseas for a while. I lived in Norway for about a year and so that was when I was 18 or 19 and I formed a band there. That was pretty much the same situation as it is now. It was kind of my songs and I just needed good musicians to be surrounded with in order to put on a good show. I just kind of scoped my school that I was going to there and coaxed different musicians into being in a band over there. We played a bunch of a shows and that was a lot of fun. It was really different since it was overseas.
It was really great too 'cause all I had to do was say I was an American musician from New York and they all thought that I was famous. That was a really good experience for me. The rest of the guys have been in tons and tons of bands. Like I said before, Nick has been every band you can imagine. Ben and Mike have done a lot of touring together with different bands. So, they have a lot of experience with that.
What’s the last song you heard that you wished you had written?
I think it’s “Danphe and the Brain” by Mogwai off of their latest album.
That was quick.
Yeah I kind of pre-formulated in my mind what kinds of questions you could ask me so there wouldn’t be these pregnant pauses in the middle of the interview.
So what will happen once your finished recording?
Well, we’ve really talked about that. We just had a meeting down at the label where we really kind of looked at different options and plans for moving forward and promoting the album. So much of our energy has been thrown into this record, so we haven’t really had an opportunity to play together in awhile and we’re really excited to be able to have that chance.
We’re going to be focusing on Syracuse, Philadelphia, and New York – those demographics at the moment because we feel like it makes sense, that’s where we are. I think our album will appeal to people that live in those areas. So we’re going to be playing mainly there, but we’ve talked about touring in Europe and have other options too.
We’ll see what happens. We’ll just keep plowing away and continuing to build a fan base through MySpace.
How would you describe The Icon And The Axe in one sentence?
Our sound is emotionally driven, epic music that encourages you to think.
For more information on The Icon And The Axe, visit theiconandtheaxe.com.