Los Angeles artist, Joe Cardamone, is producing some of the most interesting music and film I have seen and heard in some time. Beautiful and heavy, he channels the pain, frustration and experiences of the few years after disbanding his noise rock band of 17 years, The Icarus Line, and loss of beloved long-time friend and bandmate Alvin DeGuzman, to create a world of his own and ignite his own “Holy War”. His new music composed in late night sessions on the MPC explore his deep feelings, shows a never before shared level of vulnerability in his art and gives an honest insight into his mind, heart and maybe even soul. Joe Cardamone is on fire and with each wave of art he releases his world exponentially grows ever brighter and more fascinating.
We chatted a couple of months ago but it took me this long to get our chat up, with the passing of my father, I took a break for a while. During this time Joe’s music –specifically the mixtape you can find here – helped me during my time of extreme loss and loneliness, themes explored in his work and that we talk about in this interview. His project is one of my favourite things to come out this year, it’s unlike anything I have heard, it’s punk, death, noise, melody, RnB, at times pop—done the Cardamone way. It’s fucking exciting! A bright light in the darkness of this crazy world.
JOE CARDAMONE: It’s definitely the closest to my heart of anything that I have done.
I feel like right now with everything you’re doing it seems like it’s one of the best times for you creatively.
JC: Oddly enough that is the truth. It’s weird because I’m an almost 40-year-old man, usually people start winding down and taking less chances; at least in music, right? People usually lose steam after 25 or whatever. There’s some exceptions, people like Nick Cave. In general the first two records are good and then it’s all downhill [laughs].
I even think that sometimes the first record is really great then it’s downhill. It’s like they have so much to put into that first record ‘cause they been living their life so far and have a lot to say, then when it comes to another record there’s two years or whatever in between to draw from and they’ve ran out of stuff.
JC: That’s definitely a thing; you kind of have your whole life to write your first record. If the first one has any kind of success, the second one is definitely a lot harder. For rock bands if your record has had any kind of success, you have to write a record that’s just as good in a couple of months. That’s why I always tell new bands these days, write three records before you do your first record, that way you already have the next records ready to go.
For this record I just did, it’s not even really a record, its part of a record; eight songs, nine if you include the [Mark] Lanegan into.
I love that Lanegan intro! It really sets a tone.
JC: Yeah, his voice sets you up. It’s like, ok, I’m ready for whatever the fuck happens [laughs].
It totally gives me that feeling when you’re across the table from someone and they’re telling a story and you just wanna lean in to listen because they’ve piqued your interest.
JC: For sure. He has an iconic voice. He is one of the sweetest human beings I know. I’m a fan of him in general, as an artist and as a person, it all ties together. He’s finding some kind of renaissance in himself these days, he’s definitely discovering some kind of rebirth, which is fucking cool man! I like seeing artists that push through to breakthrough. I like to believe that someone can be up against the ropes of life, or later in the game, and still pull out something that resonates. True artists can always do that. It’s not work—it’s breathing.
Do you feel that your ‘Holy War’ project is a rebirth for you?
JC: Yes, it is. It is by definition because… I don’t know how much you know about the last couple of years but, I broke up my group [The Icarus Line] after Alvin [DeGuzman] got sick. That group had been together for so long and existed in so many different ways, both him and I were the constants… when it became clear that he wasn’t going to be able to travel anymore, I took it as a good excuse to stop the band. When we did that record All Things Under Heaven – which I think is the group’s best record – it was the truest distillation of what I was going to do with that project… I felt like an exhale of relief, I felt like, fuck, that’s what I was trying to do with the band. I pretty much felt like I didn’t have to do much else after that, it was done. Since there was people around egging us on to do stuff and a record label, it’s like ok, maybe we’ll play some shows.
When Alvin got sick that was all I needed to shut it down. Once I shut it down, I didn’t really know what the fuck I was going to do to be honest. I didn’t really want to do music anymore. I felt like I gave a lot… maybe more than I should have. I gave a lot of my life to it, I felt hollowed out. It’s hard for people to see from the outside, to see how you do records the way I do them, it takes a lot. It takes a lot out of me. You put all this work into something and then you let it go, then that’s it, whatever happens, happens. It’s a very draining process. I didn’t know what to do. I mean I’ll always make music because that’s what I do but, I didn’t know if I was ever going to present it to people anymore. I wasn’t that interested in being an artist for the public.
I can understand that. I’ve made a bunch of music that I haven’t shared with anyone, purely for the joy of making it. I think when you just let it happen ‘cause it’s got to, without an audience in mind, it can be more pure.
JC: Yes, there’s no audience and it’s for you, it’s just something you’re doing to express yourself. That’s how it always kind of starts even if you know you’re going to end up with a product you have to sell to people. I just didn’t know if I had enough heart to do it all again [laughs].
What was it that made you care again?
JC: Probably just my ego really… so the genius of the material I’ve just released, a lot of the instrumentals were created concurrently with the last Icarus Line record. It was something that I would do on a beat machine at home at night after whatever horrors of the day or whatever. It was something to just blow off steam. I’d spend a couple of hours and bust three songs out, fast no thinking. Eventually I amassed a catalogue of these instrumentals, it was ridiculous, something like 400 instrumentals! That was over a two year period. You know what I really made them for?
JC: Besides to make something and just keeping my mind busy instead of drifting off into wherever… like thinking about robbing a bank [laughs]… they really became a cool soundtrack for in my car. In my car rock music doesn’t really sound that good – I drive a Cadillac – I listen to bass music, RnB, hip hop, stuff that sounds good in a car system on the street in Los Angeles. I was feeling really lost at this point… I had a feeling I wanted to start working on films. I had just finished starring in a film and writing a film, The Icarus Line Must Die. I had always studied film but was intimidated by the sheer size of film production, growing up here in L.A. you’d drive by a film production and there’s like 500 people and all these production trailers… dude, I was like, I’m going to be in charge of that kind of thing or a part of it? It’s intimidating as fuck! It’s weird ‘cause I know it doesn’t have to be that way too, obviously. There’s tons of films I love that aren’t made that way but still, it’s a daunting thing.
My friend Michael Grodner hit me up and said he wanted to make a film about my life, you can help write it and it will be kind of real, kind of not. He asked me a few times and each time I’d say, no, that doesn’t sound like a good idea. Finally I said, fuck it, lets’ do it man. For the first day of filming, I thought, oh fuck, what is this going to be—I had no idea. I’d never even acted. I showed up figuring it was going to be him with an iPhone or something [laughs], there was catering! It wasn’t huge but it was like a regular indie film set. I thought, oh fuck! I have to do this in front of all these people! Oh shit! [laughs]. I had to get over myself really quick and figure out how to do it. That really made me understand that it wasn’t much different from making records. I convinced myself that I was able to do it by myself. So I’m thinking about film stuff, writing a screenplay… this was a couple of years ago – the year Prince and David Bowie died – both of them were both heroes to me… the coolest kind of pop icons.
The day David passed away, I went to the studio and threw up one of the instrumentals… I had already been flirting with the idea that maybe I should sing on one of them but for some fucking reason I just wouldn’t do it. I had other people sing on them before I did, people would come over and rap or sing on them, but I wouldn’t do it. That day, I finally sang on one. It wasn’t really that good but I had something there, that’s when I knew that I should investigate it more. I spent the next two years recording songs. We started with a batch of 50 songs and worked out way down to the ones that have been released.
Will there be others released?
JC: Yes, definitely. To answer your question [laughs]… the reason why I decided to put it out and share it with people was, I thought it sounded like something new and maybe other people could relate to it… maybe people like us from the rock n roll scene that feel a little disenfranchised with how mundane that format has gotten. It’s been really exciting for me to hear these songs take place, some of them are really beautiful to me and I like ‘em just as songs. All of them relate to specific things that were going on in my life and relate to other visual aspects that are going to be tied into the music. There’s a 40 minute film we’ve made, that goes with this collection. There will be more songs.
Wonderful. I’m excited to hear them. When I heard this first collection of songs I was sitting in the dark and didn’t have any distractions and just laid there and listened—I really felt it. I got really lost in it and there were certain moments when I found myself smiling the biggest smile.
JC: [Laughs]. It’s a very intimate record… compared to most of the stuff that I’ve done, which has been a wall against the listener, a challenge, like let’s see how far you make it! [laughs]. It’s a brutal assault; not even just the music but the mentality behind it. A lot of the vocals on this are the first take, the first take of something I’ve never sang before. Like I didn’t write a vocal part and then go into the studio and sing it; I just looked at some words I’d written, sang it, and that’s what’s on the record.
That’s my favourite kind of recording! Often when I record stuff, I’ll do it, like it but then keep going to try and make it better, but I usually always go back to that first take.
JC: Totally! You’re capturing the moment that it is actually alive! You’ll never be able to sing it again like that moment that you actually mean it. Even if it has flaws, it’s not about that.
Flaws are another one of my favourite things in music.
JC: Yeah, the emotion overrides it.
Yes. I love low-fi music and music where people have made everything themselves.
JC: Some people are just geared towards that. I’m a terrible collaborator.
JC: Because I just don’t… when I see something a certain way – I’m getting better at it, slowly – I have a hard time with seeing it another way; in real life that’s not a good trait. In art, I think it can sometimes pay off. Whether people like it or not, whether it speaks to anyone, there’s a direct point of view being communicated, a complete point of view. Everything of this piece is firing from one emotive place. This music is definitely empathic in nature. It’s coaxing out… I’m saying words and the words mean something, but when you listen to it, it’s obvious that they mean way more than I’m saying. That’s one way to do it; there’s something to be said for bands that can do it.
A Hive mind… like Guns N Roses, Appetite For Destruction, there’s no one really leading the charge on that one. But it is cohesive as fuck. There’s a lot to be said for that. Shit yeah, man, even like a lot of modern pop records it’s like a hive mind. There’s ten or thirty writers on a track. I have no idea how people do that. It would take a serious sort of pow wow and a relationship. There’s only one person I collaborated with on this record and his name is Mike Musmanno. I’ve known him since I was 21 and we’ve worked on every record I’ve ever done together. He is the only person I’d let play on my music.
Is it ‘cause you guys just connect so well?
JC: Yeah. We share a common language. He’s ten years older than me. He continues to be a mentor to me; I think these days I’m a mentor to him in some ways too. We learn from each other. It’s a family thing; you know how when you’re with your family you can be yourself—you don’t judge yourself and you don’t judge them.
When you toured Europe with Lanegan I watched some live clips and I remember thinking how amazing it was, just you by yourself on stage—that takes a lot of guts to be up there solo.
JC: Yeah. The moments leading up to that was pretty intense to say the least—Alvin passing away a week and a half before I left. That was a lot. Honestly, I didn’t wanna go because emotionally I was fucked. My best friend just dies, my longest running collaborator is gone! More than even being a collaborator, the person that most supported me the longest, the person who gave me strength to be myself – that’s what Alvin did – he believed in me with no reservations. Many people don’t really get anything like that, they don’t get someone in their corner like that. I lost him, I had to bury him and move forward… right before he died he said some things to me that convinced me to do the tour. I told him I didn’t know if I could do it. It was an emotional time but he set me straight.
I took my little brother on the trip with me, he’s four years younger than me. He’s a chef and he’s never been on tour in Europe before. I went to Mark and told him I didn’t know if I could do it unless I could bring my brother… it was already such a generous thing that he was doing, taking me out on tour, on his bus—he was basically taking care of me like a member of his band. I cried the night I wrote him that email, I felt so fucking bad asking for something.
It’s reasonable though. The beauty of being a solo artist is that you can just jump on a plane… I think one extra person is ok, especially given the circumstance.
JC: True. I don’t like asking for shit. It’s not comfortable for me. Mark was like, it’s no problem we have a place for your brother. Me and my brother go, we get to Europe and start doing the shows… I have to say it was probably one of the most intense experiences of my entire life. It’s a very bold set, me alone on stage, just a track and visuals.
As I’m working through the first few nights I’m looking over my shoulder a little ‘cause y’know Alvin’s not there, there hasn’t been many times when he wasn’t. Halfway through the set, I would get into a track like “Believers” I felt there was nowhere to hide except for putting it all into the actual performance of the music. I hadn’t felt that in many years, maybe ever in my life! It was just me, my voice and an audience full of people. Even though there is a track you feel like you’re a capella. You’re the only thing that isn’t static, so anything that is loose… it all stands out like a sore thumb. It’s not something I was accustomed to; towards the end of The Icarus Line we’d have points in the set that were 15 minute free jams. It was very confrontational for me.
The first night I saw people’s faces for the first few songs and I felt they were like, “ah, I don’t know what this guy is trying to do.” I’m coming out there wearing leather and sunglasses and they’re like, who the fuck is this guy? [laughs]. I’m sensitive to that because I don’t have the confidence of a million years of touring this, it feels like the first show I’ve ever had to fucking play. What I’m trying to say is, that I’ve never really been that vulnerable on stage in front of a crowd. Honestly, if someone would have yelled “you suck” I probably would have dropped the mic and walked away. I almost did a couple of times. In general it made me believe in people again. Those people don’t know my story, they don’t know what the fucks going on, that’s what I’m assuming. For some reason I think they could see in my eyes that what I was giving to them, was everything that was going on with me, for better or for worse. They would lift me back up. I would look down and see their faces and that’s what would help me make it through the song.
Wow, hearing that gave me goosebumps!
JC: It was intense, very intense.
I think it’s a good thing that something like performing, that you’ve done most of your life, feels new again. How many times do people get to feel that?
JC: Like never! Especially when you’re my age… or if you do feel it, you run the other way. Your instinct is like, fuck that, I don’t need this! I’m too old for this shit! [laughs]. That’s what you do, or at least, I do. That wasn’t an option here though.
I hope you get to come to Australia. I’d love to see you play. Don’t you have an Australian label?
JC: I do. I’m in some business with some Aussies. The label is, Helium, its based outta Sydney. They’re one of the coolest groups of people I’ve worked with. They’re so supportive, they have a real visionary quality. They really support my larger artistic vision beyond just a record. They take an artist seriously. I’m part Australian as well.
What? I didn’t know that!
JC: Yeah, my grandmother was from Perth. If they let me come back I will be back, I’d love to. We got in trouble a long time ago playing in Australia. The Icarus Line went down there… we played four or five shows, one was in Adelaide… this fan shows up with his girlfriend, they were fuuuucked up! They got backstage and she was this veterinarian tech and she gave us this bottle of liquid ketamine. We thought awesome! We took it and just got lit. Some of the guys went nuts on stage and destroyed a bunch of gear and so whoever hired the gear is still holding a sword to cut the heads off of my ex-band members. I don’t even know any of them anymore. The guy totally blames it on me, I know he’s said that I destroyed the hotel room, like Led Zeppelin-style. Someone may have done that but, it sure as fucking hell wasn’t me—that’s not my style. So because things got out of hand, we’ve been banned from Australia for over a decade.
That’s ridiculous! I was at the Brisbane show.
JC: Was it good? [laughs].
It was! I have photos somewhere. I reviewed it for a mag I wrote for.
JC: That’s cool. It was a long time ago. That crew back then, we were like feral animals not these well-adjusted young adults, it was high school dropout drug addicts that had all grown up in poverty… someone stuck ‘em on a plane, gave them drugs and said, go nuts kids! It was mayhem.
People change and grow though! I’m a big believer in second chances.
JC: Me too!
You have to!
JC: Yes, you have to. If you don’t, then you don’t believe in yourself, everyone fucks up! If you don’t believe in other people than you must hate yourself, everybody fucks up with someone at some point. If you’re lucky enough to get a second chance, you should try to do that with someone else. Especially if it’s someone that’s fucked up but you know they didn’t mean to fucking hurt you. It can be worth it, sometimes you get surprised!