[Icemen photos: Ken Salerno]
Harder than a bag of bricks, The Icemen seem to have gained some more buzz in the past few years by younger hardcore fans - a good thing since they are perhaps one of my favorite bands of that era in terms of NYHC/metal/rock hybrid perfection. On paper, they seemed to have had the makings for large scale success, yet ultimately didn't seem to get the attention they perhaps deserved (well, my impressions at least).
I got in touch with Marco, who has also gotten a great MySpace page together for the band, which you should definitely check out for more basic background history and even some unreleased tunes:
This is part one of my interview with him, much more to come...
The Icemen formed out of the early stages of the NYHC scene with you and Noah. What were some profound experiences you guys had growing up, hanging out and seeing bands, that ultimately led to you forming The Icemen? Who were your favorite bands (hardcore or otherwise) at that time in your life? What shows (HC or otherwise) left a lasting impression?
Noah, Mackie and I started playing together after school. We would jam in our basement studio in downtown Manhattan. In the beginning it was mostly Hendrix, The Who, Zeppelin, etc. I met the Bad Brains when they moved to NYC and they quickly became a big influence for all of us. By that time we were listening to a lot of Brains, The Damned, and Motorhead along with a fair share of metal.
As far as being formed out of the early stages of hardcore, that was initially a by-product of the shows we booked, at the time it seemed the only performance opportunity we could find were the CBGB matinees. We were listening to hard music but not hardcore (other than the Bad Brains) and really were simply interested in rocking out. Overall the bands that inspired us were classic rock, then metal and a few select punk bands. Again in those days our favorite bands were the Bad Brains, The Damned, Motorhead and without question those three provided some of the best shows we experienced.
The Icemen seems like a band that should have and could have taken off by 1985/1986 had the right singer been in place or John Gamble (original singer) worked out. What were the problems you ran into in this department with Gamble and ultimately in finding a replacement? Meanwhile, what was going on with Mackie being in the Cro-Mags? Did that also hinder the band really going somewhere? What are your recollections of this stint of inactivity for the band?
As blessed as I've been with musicians, I have been equally cursed in a sense with singers. John Gamble was a childhood friend of ours and in the beginning that was enough to have him shout along and thus enable us to perform live. It was all too acceptable in the early days to have a "frontman," good with a crowd but little to no vocal ability. I have always had a nightmare of a time finding a singer who could compliment our musical aspirations. Really the only time I ever did was Paul Snook with "Shadow," my second band much later and even with him there were continuous problems with dependability and commitment.
As far as Mackie playing in the Cro-Mags, that was a problem but not specific to them, as he would play with a multitude of bands through the years and reliability was often an issue. The Cro-Mags are old friends of ours, I met Harley when he was 10 so while it was a problem it never was acrimonious. It is clear that Mackie's lack of commitment hindered The Icemen's success in the long run.
You and Carl...it's pretty clear now that you guys aren't hanging out and eating dinner together these days. But at the time in '87, how did you go about getting linked up with him? Was he a friend you knew from the scene as Carl The Mosher, or just some dude you had heard of with Underdog? I've read recently that you say you felt like you"settled," but at the time weren't you happy with him? Personally, I think he had a real cool voice and great stage presence, but then again I wasn't in the band.
Actually, at the time I had never heard Underdog's music and did not know who Carl was. I was hanging out one night bar hopping down on Avenue A and ran into Paris of the Cro-Mags. We had a couple of beers and he knew I was still looking for a singer and mentioned Carl. He was across the street by Tompkins Square Park, Underdog's van was parked there that night and Paris introduced us. We talked about meeting after their tour and so that was how that began. I had run out of patience trying to find what I was looking for and Carl seemed like he had a bit of a reputation and could get a crowd going, so yes I settled.
What I mean by that is he was as so many "vocalists" were back then, a frontman, not a singer in the true sense. Energetic, good with a crowd but that was about it. I agree with you on the stage presence but inevitably vocally he was limiting us musically. He did enable us to have what little success we achieved but in the end that was not enough.
I would like to point out that through most of his tenure with us we all got along, I would say that for my part I considered him a friend. I can also understand how he would be upset when dismissed from my band. Nevertheless I cannot respect someone who uses another's artistic creation, without permission, and passes it off as their own as he did with The Icemen, entirely my creation soup to nuts. There is a word for that- Plagiarism.
When Carl did start with the band, it seems like you guys hit the ground running - yet I imagine in your eyes, playing out in the NYC scene was a bit different from how it had been in 1984/1985. What had changed? What were new difficulties you faced? Do you feel that not having an immediate vinyl release or even an official demo then slowed you down?
Yes, by the late '80s it was different in that there were bigger crowds and all shows had a better turn out. Unfortunately the excitement of that time progressively degraded with each passing year in that there was a lot more petty band rivalries and infighting as well as bands trying to fit in to some kind of scene. Factors such as increased violence and the straight edge movement to name a few continued to fracture the audience into separate groups, more concerned with scene than music.
As for The Icemen during the years in between singers up until 1987, we had improved and over that time we had been rehearsing, the material I had been writing had been recorded in the posh studio Noah was working at as an engineer. We recorded many early Icemen songs such as The Iceman and It'll Be Your Grave as well as songs that we would record again for the E.P. in 1990 such as The Harsh Truth, R.I.P., No Guts No Glory. Just Noah, Mackie and I, with vocal tracks by me.
In retrospect I would say that our reluctance to relinquish song rights and cut a deal with a larger indie for a full length definitely hindered our progress and exposure and thus our popularity. Eventually we had nibbles from majors such as Elektra who stated interest "but not with that vocalist" which echoed our sentiments and only hastened the inevitable end.
Not to stir up any bad blood, but I once read Carl as saying that he and Mackie were the hardcore guys in The Icemen. Do you agree? By 1988, did you feel like you had grown past the hardcore scene? With Carl now in the band, where were you looking to go with things?
I suppose that's fair, although tell me what do you mean when you say someone is "hardcore"? If you elaborate perhaps I can better answer, if I am to assume what you mean then, really Carl was the hardcore scene guy. Mackie, well hardcore in the sense that so many of the bands that he's played with are within that genre musically but if we are back to some kind of ethos, well last time I checked, he's not straight edge, skinhead, vegan, scenester or whatever other many indicators I've seen used to define hardcore. He's always been "hard" if that's what you mean, although growing up in the city we pretty much all are to some degree.
As for Noah and I, we never played music to conform or fit in, we played out of love for music itself and aspired to rock out in the most traditional sense. What we wanted to do with Carl in the band was no different than before or after, we wanted to take it over the top, rock hard, reach as many people as possible and share the music.
[TO BE CONTINUED]