Ikon… Legendary goth band from down under… Emerging on the dark scene over thirty years ago these goth veterans have never stopped… Ikon… After six years frontman Chris McCarter talks to Absolution NYC once again about the early days of the band, lockdown in Melbourne and plans for the future… An in-depth exclusive interview… By Tzina Dovve ( DJ Lady Davinia )…
Tzina: Welcome to Absolution NYC Chris… It is well-known in the dark/goth/alternative scene that Ikon date back to the late eighties in Melbourne Australia… How exactly did this act come to life and what gave you the incentive to form a band like Ikon to begin with?
Chris: Thank you for having us. I met Dino in 1987 where we were both attending a brand new seniors school here in Broadmeadows that was called ‘Geoghegan College’. It was for years 11-12. I went there with two goals in mind, to start a band and get a girlfriend. I got an A+ in both of those, but didn’t do so well academically. One day Dino walked into my English class and had a bag that had The Cure, New Order and The Smiths on it and I immediately thought “there’s my man”. We became friends and I introduced him to the bands I was into as we were both 16 at the time. He didn’t know the likes of Killing Joke, or New Order or who Joy Division were. I also got him into record collecting. He had just started collecting The Cure when I showed him the ‘World of Bootlegs’ and we would go into the city every week buying up what we could. It was about half way through 1987 when I said “Do you want to play drums and we start a band?” I could barely play guitar which he said sounded awesome. After months of pondering what to do and buying lots of new records, in early 1988, we decided maybe Dino should play bass as it was cheaper and easier to move around than a drum kit. So, in February 1988, we went into the city, got a bass guitar and then straight back to my place he actually could play lol. I guess his love of music came through and he just needed to work on the technique. We were messing around for a few months and auditioning different singers without any luck then one day at school, Michael Aliani (aka Carrodus), who Dino had known for a number of years and we were kind of friends said he could sing, loved New Order and had a keyboard. He was in without an audition. We got together every week and learnt to play, playing Joy Division songs. Somehow, we decided on the name ‘Death in the Dark’, which we kept until 1991. We all loved music and would share records we bought and also go into the city looking for new stuff.
Tzina: During your thirty years of existence there have been some line-up changes in the band, one being Michael leaving and you taking over the vocals… How did this affect the band at the time? Who are the current members of Ikon?
Chris: Michael and I wanted different things out of music. I didn’t like playing live, he really liked it and wanted to. We were due to go to Europe in 1996 for our first tour and I was extremely nervous about it. I was running all the equipment, which back in those days was a lot, and then playing electric/acoustic guitar I just couldn’t see myself coping with all that travelling around Europe. I was happy in the studio and just bought my own one to set up and record. Michael loved performing and became frustrated when we weren’t even playing locally. In 1997, we parted ways as he needed to do what he needed to do, and so did I. At one point I did consider Clifford Ennis taking over, but was happy just working away myself. The worst part was l was writing so many songs, but lyrics and creactive writing is not my thing. Dino and l wrote lyrics together and we got family and friends such as David Sterry from Real Life to help (he wrote the lyrics and melodies for ‘Ghost in my Head’). If you see the 2013 ‘This Quiet Earth’ re-issue there were so many songs recorded. We played our last gig with Michael in 1996 and I never thought we would play again. We kept getting offers to tour though, so I put a live band back together at the end of 1998 and thought ok, people are wanting us to tour and that included WGT, but we had so many problems with the promoter that we ended up cancelling. David Burns joined the band on drums and played from 1998-2003, he re-joined in 2010 and is still playing in the band. Clifford first played in IKON over 2004/2005 and also rejoined in 2010. There was only one year (1999) that Dino was not part of IKON.
Tzina: To my music knowledge ( as a huge fan ) you started out with the name ‘Death In The Dark’ and evolved into Ikon.. What is the story behind the band’s name? How did the idea arise to give your band the title ‘Ikon’? What does it represent to you? Can you elaborate…
Chris: After going through numerous drummers (including myself at one point), Maurice Molella, a long time friend joined the band in October of 1991. He was not really keen on the band’s name. We had our first gig with Morris, in December 1999 and to make matters worse they billed us as ‘Death After Dark’, and Morris said, “that’s it, the name has to change” and he also wasn’t keen on our earlier songs so we dropped them. During soundcheck l was too busy setting up stuff and recording gear, l didn’t pay much attention, but I found out half way through the gig that Morris and Michael had chosen the name ‘IKON’, as Michael announced it half way through the set. I remember looking at Dino and thinking “we are??” We actually never really spoke about it but l looked to see if there were any other bands called IKON and found a metal band from the 80’s spelt ICON that were no longer going and though ok, that’s the name. It really doesn’t have any significance to any of us l don’t think. Now there are about 24 IKON’s which is insane. The worst one being the Korean boy band who got us kicked off Facebook.
Tzina: Who is the main songwriter in Ikon throughout the band’s music journey? How are your dark creations brought to life? What inspires you to keep writing melodies and captivating lyrics all these years? Apart from the obvious what are your musical influences today?
Chris: Early on, it was mainly the 4 of us, but when we changed to drum machine and sequencers it was pretty much me writing the songs and Michael 90% of the lyrics. I would give him a tape of a demo and it would have a name and he wrote the words around that. Sometimes there would be bits of a chorus (Black Roses is an example. l wrote the words to the chorus and melody, as well as the music). Music comes to me easily, lyrics not so much. It was great having Clifford back in the band as when I got stuck, or thought he should sing something, l would pass a song on to him. I guess life is my biggest inspiration, both good and bad experiences tend to come out in the songs, so I draw from that.
Tzina: Ikon have done quite a number of great cover versions throughout their career and have participated on some tribute albums of Joy Division, Bauhaus and The Damned just to name a few… What are your views on bands doing cover versions in general? Are there any other particular songs you would like to cover in the future?
Chris: Those tribute CDs were so important to us in the 90’s, especially getting heard in the USA. Cleopatra helped us immensely there. Most of them we are happy with, but the odd one isn’t the best. Over the years we’ve included covers as extra tracks on singles for fun, done during recording sessions, and it’s possible we may include one on our next album, just have to wait and see. Like a lot of things in life, my views have changed. Cover versions can be a double edged sword. I think bands in the goth scene have to be careful covering goth bands, l mean look at what The Sisters of Mercy used to cover, it’s a far better achievement to take something that’s outside of your genre and make it your own. In recent years we’ve done Pink Floyd, Beatles etc, so that’s more of a challenge. I think it’s virtually impossible to make a Joy Division cover and sound better than the original. SWANS did it with ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ and we did a reasonably good job with ‘Shadowplay’ back in 1995.
Tzina: You have a lengthy back catalogue of releases, re-issues of your early work, box sets, vinyl and the list goes on.. Most recently you remixed your debut album ‘In The Shadow Of The Angel’ and have some upcoming re-releases of some more of your early work on Cleopatra Records… How did this collaboration come about for the band? What feedback have you received by Ikon fans around the globe so far on these re-issues?
Chris: Doing the re-issues came about with the urgent need to back up all our master files, mixes etc etc, so I thought it was a good time to piece together re-issues before everything becomes digital. We have released a lot of vinyl singles, but a few years back, labels weren’t that keen on releasing vinyl Lp’s due to the high costs, so we started doing it ourselves. Our early releases really suffered badly in production and as we had been working with Adam Calaitzis at Toyland Studios here in Melbourne since 2004, we got him to remix our first 2 studio recordings done elsewhere. When we decided to go with Cleopatra Records to re-issue our early back catalogue l thought it was a great chance to remix ‘In the Shadow of the Angel’ and Brian was cool with that. I thought it was totally saturated in keyboards and had way too much going on for its own good, so remixing was to me a good thing. Nothing was added, lots was taken out and we are really happy with the result. We have a very loyal fanbase, which has enabled us to do what we’ve wanted over the years, especially during the last 12 or so, when we worked on our mailorder. This enabled us to issue live, demos and archive material for the hardcore fans.
Tzina: You also have some new music in the Ikon camp on with your eighth studio album on its way… An album that will coincide with your 30th Anniversary as a band… What can Ikon fans expect from this album?
Chris: We’ve been trying to write a new album over the past few years, then when Covid hit, it put a stop to what we were doing. We also weren’t that happy with the direction it was taking. We released two singles from those demo sessions, ‘Silence is Calling’ in 2020, and ‘Toxicity’, last year(2021). The new album is very focused and is a continuation from ‘Everyone, Everything, Everywhere Ends’, from 2014 which had lots of shades in it. So, people can expect, lighter and darker shades, but more than ever the IKON sound underneath. Sadly, we’ve missed the 30th anniversary boat, and decided to reissue the ‘Love, Hate and Sorrow’ album from 2009 around May in a deluxe set and vinyl LP, then ‘Destroying the World to Save it’ in September. Our, as yet untitled new album, is in the works as we are working on the concept right now but taking our time. The release date will hopefully be early 2023.
Tzina: Ikon has been an active live band throughout its career with an an endless number of live shows both in your home country and across the globe… Supporting acts like Christian Death and HIM, participations at large goth / dark / alternative festivals such as ‘M’era Luna’ and ‘Wave Gotik Treffen’ just to name a few… What do you miss most about performing live and what is one of your fondest memories from a live show?
Chris: We feel so blessed to have played shows around the world and those big festivals, something we never really expected when we started. Touring has been such an amazing experience for us, meeting so many people and seeing so many amazing countries. We were so lucky, that 90% of our shows were recorded professionally, so we could use them at a later date, even though it came as a great expense at the time. I think both David and Dino feel comfortable playing live and it’s something that l’ve only recently become ok with. We had no idea the size and scope of these festivals until we got there. We played ‘Eurorock Festival’ in Belgium in 2001 we didn’t even know we were the headliner til on the final day. We were completely shitting ourselves going on after Star Industry l think. Same thing with ‘M’era Luna’ in 2002. Nothing like getting thrown into the deep end. We played quite a few shows with Michael singing, but only about 5 with me on vocals then straight onto a tour in Europe in 2001, playing 16-17 songs a show, night after night for 12 days. I miss connecting with the people and I’ve been to some of these festivals not playing like ‘WGT’ to name one and they are so much fun. I think ‘Eurorock’ stands out as our fondest memory, being our first festival overseas, ‘M’era Luna’ and ‘WGT’ are also great memories, seeing other bands and meeting people from around the world is such an awesome experience.
Tzina: Due to the pandemic the band were forced to cancel a few live shows last year, including your participation at ‘WGT 2020’ unfortunately… Now that the world is finally re-opening its doors to music events once again do you have any re-scheduled dates for any upcoming shows? Can Ikon fans expect to see you in the flesh in the near future?
Chris: That was such a shame. WGT ask us every year, but we are coming the furthest and we can’t risk being stranded in a foreign country, or shows and plane tickets being cancelled, so we are hoping 2023 will see us back on the international live circuit. We are due to play a special gothic festival here in Melbourne in July, so that hopefully will go ahead.
Tzina: The past year has been an extremely difficult one for us all but musicians were probably hit the worst by Covid… How much did these lockdowns affect you as a band? Do you believe the music industry, especially the live industry, will recover from this wretched pandemic?
Chris: As a band it was really difficult. We had all not been in the same room together from February 2020 til December 2021. We were writing and doing demos that we couldn’t get to. Finally I said to the guys that we had to put something new out and we finished ‘Toxicity’. Band members parts were recorded in their homes, then Adam had to piece them together at Toyland Studios. It was the most difficult thing we ever did. In the background l was working away on the re-issue of ‘On the Edge of Forever’, which was originally released in 2001. Luckily, Adam and I started that in 2020 during lockdown, as it would never have been done. It was a massive amount of work. I think the music industry has been hit really hard, artists not being able to perform, record or even rehearse. Now, it’s even harder to travel around the world, with Covid restrictions and mandates. I feel this year won’t be much better.
Tzina: On a happier note Chris, Ikon have had a successful career on the dark/goth/alternative scene with an international acclaim up to this very day… A well deserved success at that… When you started your first band back in the late eighties did you picture yourself still making music after thirty or so years? Did you think you would have this sort of international recognition coming from a country so far away? How does it feel to still be creative after such a long time?
Chris: Thank you, it has all been a huge welcoming for us, as we never set out to achieve anything other than enjoying what we do and releasing our songs and art. No, our first single, ’Why’, which was released 30 years ago, we actually did it as a memento, something to show our kids Michael said. I believe we have done some 30+ singles, according to discogs. Dino and l talk all the time, about what we have experienced and we never thought in a million years that this would happen. Covid, has made things very trying, along with line-up changes from time to time, but this group of Dino, David, Clifford and myself works really well together and our new album sees everyone doing what they do best and we are looking forward to its release.
Tzina: What is the dark /goth/alternative scene like in Melbourne today? How much do you think it has changed since your early goth days? Do you have any nostalgia for pre-digital and pre-virtual world times? How much do you think down under differs from the rest of the world? Can you elaborate?
Chris: Being a part of it for so long now we’ve seen its highs and its lows and lows. People come and go, there are a handful who have stuck with it, but it is a life long passion for us. I think Australia, is very much a club environment regarding the scene, fashion is important to people. Then again, we’ve been wearing black since we were 16, which is funny. A lot of clubs, a lot of competition. We pretty much keep to ourselves. There is a good sense of community here and friendships and hopefully people will be able to get back on track at some point this year.
Tzina: What is ‘goth’ to you Chris?
Chris: Ah, goth to me, interesting. I think it combines, music culture, art and the darkside of life. It connects people around the world that may be seen as minorities in their own towns, cities or countries. Goth is a big umbrella, which so much fits under. It’s one that we found a place in and like so many, was the gateway to the world, past and future.
Tzina: Thank you for your time.. Busy days in the Ikon camp.. Anything else you would like to share with your fans? What can they expect from you in the near future? Any messages to new bands Chris?
Chris: Busy year ahead, we have a full calendar for all in the band and are looking forward to closing the chapter on the past and moving on. We wish everyone good health around the world and hope to see as many people as we can in 2023. Thank you so much for the interview. Cheers, Chris
Great interview, well done.