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Thomas Gerbasi
Joe Cardamone (Photo by Travis Keller)

At 39, Joe Cardamone is still standing. If you were a betting man, you would probably get good odds that this wouldn’t be the case in 2018, at least in a musical sense, simply because the band he led, The Icarus Line, was expected to rise up and go down in flames, just like Icarus.

But here he is, about to release the film Holy War II and its accompanying mixtape, and you could make a strong argument that he’s an even more vibrant and relevant artist today than when he and his bandmates were tearing through Southern California for nearly two decades.

Don’t tell him that, though.

“To me, it doesn’t feel any different,” he said. “It still feels like when we were trying to put out a seven-inch single. I have a hard time finding indications of success in my own life. I think everyone probably feels the same because we live in a world and society that only shows you what you don’t have. I feel like everyone falls victim to that mentality. I don’t listen to my old records, I don’t watch the film after it’s made. I have not taken a victory lap because I don’t really see there being a victory. This is a lifelong thing. There are no laurels to rest on, not in my life.”

And that’s what keeps the music coming and the music evolving. But there’s more to it these days for Cardamone, who has added the visuals to his music, with Holy War II following on the heels of the critically acclaimed The Icarus Line Must Die. That film, while not a documentary in the conventional sense, did cover enough of the band’s history, especially the tough parts, such as Alvin DeGuzman’s battle with cancer, to give an idea of where the group was at the time. It wasn’t an easy process to go through for Cardamone, who saw DeGuzman pass away in October of last year.

“It’s not a documentary, so it doesn’t cover the entire band’s existence, but having said that, even documenting daily life as it stands, it was uncomfortable, for sure,” he said. “A lot of the conversations in the film, especially the ones with my wife are conversations that we probably recently had or not in the too distant past, and it’s awkward because you’re reliving difficult moments that no one in their right mind would choose to relive again. I can’t watch the film. It’s reopening wounds. That’s really what it is. And what makes an interesting or relatable story or something that talks about real life is usually the hardest stuff to do for the individual who’s telling their story. Often, it’s too much and there’s never gonna be enough space between you and the event to properly shoulder the grief or the pain. But it’s part of storytelling.”

It’s storytelling Cardamone continues with Holy War II, which he describes as “an installment in a series we’re making that’s almost like Twin Peaks for the trap generation.”
And while it’s not as personal as showing interactions with his wife or dealing with the impending death of a good friend, it is as real as it gets when it comes to showing the real Los Angeles. Yes folks, it’s not all glitz and glamour in the City of Angels. One walk down Skid Row will clear that assumption up in a hurry.

Numbers from late last year estimate that there are nearly 60,000 homeless people in Los Angeles, but it’s not something most stories on the city focus on or even touch.

“It’s something that the city tries to sweep under and it’s just so weird the media has controlled LA’s image for so long,” said Cardamone. “There’s just a small percentage of what the city is that gets talked about. And everything else is a whole different story. We have the Olympics coming here and I have no idea what they’re gonna do. Back when we had the last Olympics (in 1984), they bused the homeless people up to central California. At this point, I don’t know if they can do anything. There’s nothing you can do about the problems and it reaches into every neighborhood at this point. Skid Row is one thing, but every neighborhood has a little piece of Skid Row now.”

It’s not what Motley Crue was singing about during their heyday, but Cardamone wants people to know his city, warts and all, because the way he sees it, that’s his responsibility as an artist.

“I feel like the only music from here that ever does a portrait of that is gangsta rap,” he said. “That’s the only music that has ever touched on that. But white rock and roll, for lack of a better term, or whatever category I get shoved into, doesn’t cover it. Even cool s**t doesn’t cover it. It just doesn’t appear in their music, and that trips me out because it’s all around you. How can that not affect you? Do you have eyes? What kind of person are you where that just doesn’t affect you? Maybe because that’s not a selling point. But to me, art has always been a mirror and part of my job is to show people what is happening around here. More than a news report, you can get into a little bit deeper version of the actual people that are here and what it feels like.”

And with technology constantly changing the way we take in music and news and everything else, Cardamone has added the visual aspect to his work, something he doesn’t feel was necessary for him, but that he marks as part of his artistic evolution.

“I don’t need to do anything, really, because it’s up to the individual,” he said. “But, for me, I feel like for so long I only concentrated on the sonic aspects of things and making records. And for some reason, when I started this project, it became imperative to have some sort of visual context for it and to have the story be three-dimensional. It’s not that easy for people to get into something unless it’s really snappy and surface. That’s what will grab attention for two minutes. Instead of going that way, it seemed like a cool experiment and option to try to create a universe around the music and have a visual language so that there’s some sort of path to the music. To me, it just seems to be a more complete way of getting what I’m doing across. So I don’t know if it’s mandatory, but for me it has been so exciting.”

Not bad for the guy that wasn’t supposed to be here today.

“We weren’t supposed to make it out the gate,” he laughs. “Even getting a record deal, we felt like we had pulled the rock and roll swindle of the century off. And it always feels like that. Me, I’d be doing this no matter what. It’s like breathing. I’m grateful as f**k to make another piece, every time. But there’s zero complacency in it because as soon as that comes out, now more than ever, you have to be on to the next thing or else you’re just really not making anything important.”

For more information on Joe Cardamone, click here

Holy War II will be screened at Evil Spirit Engineering in Burbank on August 25. For more information, click here