Illinois duo Icon For Hire have been around for the better part of a decade now, kicking out jams that blend turn of the century nu-metal and radio rock with contemporary electro-and-hip-hop-infused pop, but in a lot of ways 2016 is a new beginning for them, with You Can’t Kill Us, their first independently released (and crowd-funded, through Kickstarter) album set to be released November 25th. The band, currently comprised of vocalist Ariel Bloomer and guitarist/keyboardist Shawn Jump, released two albums on Tooth & Nail (2011’s Scripted and a 2013 self-titled release), but didn’t feel the whole label format was conducive to making their best music. Although not officially available until the end of November, since the completion of their Kickstarter campaign (which raised $127,000 of their original $2,016 goal) Icon For Hire has been releasing three songs off of You Can’t Kill Us every three months so, for major fans (and funders) much of the material is already familiar. Their latest batch of songs boast a lush and morbid brand of pop, punctuated by moments reminiscent of the sassiest rockers and MCs (They would fit equally well onto the stages of Ozzfest, Warped Tour, or Lady Gaga.) Icon For Hire are currently on tour with equally cool buddies Stitched Up Heart and will be at our very own Voltage Lounge on Wednesday, November 9th, and Ariel recently took some time to tell me about their latest sounds and what it’s like to officially be an independent, crowd-funded band.
Izzy Cihak: I realize this is a pretty big question but, considering that the band has been together for almost a decade now: What have been some of the highlights of Icon For Hire?
Ariel Bloomer: It’s definitely energizing to look back and see where we’ve come from. We started out rehearsing in Shawn’s dining room, and since then we’ve toured the world, released two full-lengths, and will drop our first independent album on November 25. I’d say one of the biggest highlights is the fact we’ve had the privilege of living our dream for so long. Another big moment was our Kickstarter from earlier this year-seeing our fans pour out so much love and support made us feel like they had our backs and we weren’t in this alone.
Izzy: How was the process of doing everything on your own, compared to working for a label? Do you think the album is a significant evolution of your previous releases?
Ariel: It was a liberating experience to create the album just for us and our fans, without worrying about a label’s expectations or limitations. Since our fans so clearly wanted this album to be made-and financially made it possible-it inspired us to write the album especially for them. Instead of trying to write songs to grow our audience, we approached it more from, “What do we know our current listeners love?” So it actually wasn’t very evolutionary, it just felt like honing in on our sound in a deeper way. We were trying to distill it down to the most genuine Icon For Hire sound that we could.
Izzy: And how was your experience of working with Kickstarter? A lot of my favorite artists over the past five years have worked with Kickstarter and the majority really enjoyed the experience.
Ariel: Yes! Kickstarter has been a career changer for us, and we will always be grateful to that platform. The crowd-funding model worked really well for us since we had just left our abusive record label and honestly told our fans that if they wanted us to make more music, we would need to partner with them. We also put a lot of thought and energy behind making the campaign a positive experience for everyone who backed the project. I ended up handwriting out the lyrics to over 100 of our songs, and baking several hundred chocolate chip cookies as rewards. We really wanted to have that personal touch, instead of just giving out five different versions of the album and calling it a day.
Izzy: I do really like the whole album, but I especially love “Demons,” which reminds me of the perfect combination of the bands I went to go see on Ozzfest in ’98-’05 and my favorite sass pop of this generation (I’m pretty sure I coined that phrase… but I think it’s relatively self-explanatory…) How did that particular track come about?
Ariel: I’m glad you like it! It was actually a very last minute thing. We were in Los Angeles working with producer Mike Green and we were on the last stretch of the album. We’d brought a large handful of demos but had already recorded our favorite songs-the demos we had left felt like, well, leftovers. So Shawn jumped on his laptop and began making that intro synth hook that starts the song and we both really loved it. He ended up pre-producing the whole song in one night. The next day, I went to yoga in the morning, then set up my laptop at a coffee shop and played the demo over and over in my headphones until lyrics started to flow. I looked like a fool, whisper singing/rapping in the corner of the Starbucks, but it worked! We recorded the whole song that same day and flew back to Nashville the next morning. So “Demons” almost was not a song.
Izzy: What would you consider to be the most significant influences behind your latest music, both musical and otherwise?
Ariel: We were musically influenced by modern top 40 sounds (like The Chainsmokers, Sia, 21 Pilots) coupled with the rock sound that made us fall in love with music (Linkin Park, Breaking Benjamin, Disturbed). That very literal rock-pop balance has always been a huge inspiration to us.
Izzy: Is there anything you think is particularly significant to know about your process of writing and recording music, or even just your aim as artists… or is it all in the music?
Ariel: While music is obviously an insanely powerful medium, we know it has its limits.
Lyrically, it’s hard to get too specific when speaking in metaphors. I launched a YouTube channel a few years ago, and began writing my first book, in order to communicate more intentionally with our audience. We have more to say to our audience than what can fit into a three-minute track.
Izzy: Not to detract from the music, but you have a really great sense of personal style. What are the biggest influences behind your fashion and style? Do you have any particularly significant “style icons?”
Ariel: I sew all my clothes and I just make what I like! I have a fully equipped sewing studio where I custom make my outfits for tour and photoshoots, and sometimes I’ll be inspired by a high-end magazine shoot, or a cool outfit on Pinterest. As far as style icons go, Gwen Stefani seems to do no wrong. Angelina Jolie screams “badass” no matter what she wears. Even though my aesthetic is clearly more punk rock, I admire both women’s fearless approach to style.
Izzy: You’re currently on tour with Stitched Up Heart, who I’m also a big fan of. How has it been being on the road with them? Any particular highlights? Were you previously fans of the band?
Ariel: I’ve been Twitter friends with Mixi for a couple years and a few months back we started texting more frequently. The whole band has been so sweet to tour with-seriously some of the nicest people ever! On day one of the tour, Mixi greeted me with a hot pink gift basket full of teas and honey and stuffed animals-such a sweetheart! It’s been a pleasure to have them on the tour.
Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you play Philadelphia in November?
Ariel: We will bring the energy! After being cooped up in a van for hours driving to a city, doing load-in set up, and soundcheck, it’s amazing to have to all come together for the magic of the show! We live for that moment. We also try to connect as much as possible with the audience-even bringing some fans onstage to sing with us!
Izzy: What’s next for you? What are you hoping and planning for the remainder of 2016 and the first part of 2017, whether directly related to Icon For Hire or not?
Ariel: The book I mentioned is called Turn Your Pain Into Art, and it will be out early 2017-which I’m so stoked on! We also plan to do more legs of the You Can’t Kill Us Tour-and to head over to Europe and Asia as well. It’s time we give our fans across the ocean some love, too.