London-based quintet Ithaca have been one of the most exciting groups to watch take off among the UK underground. With tours opening for bands like Big Thief and their upcoming trek with Pupil Slicer, the group’s ability to captivate a diverse audience has long been one of their biggest strengths. That’s due in no small part to their own diversity, both musically and culturally. Comprised of members that boast Arab and Indian descent, as well as those who exist elsewhere along the spectrums of gender and sexuality, the band have long been vocal about equality and their place in the scene. Such varying sociocultural backgrounds also lead to a wider, richer pool of experiences and influences to draw inspiration from.
To put too sharp of a point on categorizing their sound, Ithaca would likely be tagged as melodic metallic hardcore, or once you parse the genre arithmetic: metalcore. The really good kind. The kind that bends genre over with a paddle to deliver creative, catchy tunes that shock and delight. Sophomore effort They Fear Us will make you shake your ass, fight your neighbor, and sob into your mate’s shoulder in the span of 30 minutes. We caught up with guitarist Sam Chetan-Welsh and drummer James Lewis to see what makes them tick musically and how those sounds impacted the writing process of They Fear Us. Check out their answers below and pick up a copy when it drops on July 29th through Hassle Records.
Sam Chetan-Welsh (Guitar)
Burnt By the Sun – Dow Jones and the Temple of Doom
If you listen to They Fear Us hopefully you can tell that we draw from a wide range of influences in our melodic sections- blackgaze, power pop, prog etc. We’re very intentional about bringing that spirit to the heavy bits- what bands do we feel are not referenced nearly enough in metal/metalcore? For us, Burnt By the Sun are one of these bands- tragically overlooked, with at least one pretty much perfect album to their name. Their riffs writhe and slither as much as they bounce.
U.K. – In the Dead of Night
An overlooked 70’s prog masterpiece which sent me down a rabbit hole of exploring each member of this supergroup’s solo records (Bill Bruford’s solo stuff is particularly interesting). It’s so melodic and spacey and Allan Holdsworth’s solo here is one of his very best. I obviously don’t have the chops to imitate him, but you can hear us trying to capture the atmosphere of this song all over They Fear Us.
New Edition – Can You Stand the Rain?
I’m a massive fan of the production of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis (Janet Jackson, New Edition, Boyz II Men), and specifically wrote the final track on They Fear Us to be in the style of one of their power ballads, to evoke a feeling of nostalgia and sentimentality that mirrors the themes of the track. To me, the ‘wet’ sound is the iconic 90s sound.
Talking Heads – Stop Making Sense
We thought very hard about the look for this album, part of which is an homage to the outfits worn in Stop Making Sense. David Byrne’s intention in that was to use a suit-like, neutral uniform to ‘smuggle in radical ideas under the guise of conservatism’, and to set them apart from their peers in the punk scene at the time- exactly as we’re trying to do in metalcore. This look also serves to highlight the dramatic gowns and costumes worn by Djamila, which are references to romantic pre-Raphaelite art and depictions of powerful women from mythology. Some of the looks from the videos also reference her Algerian heritage. Through these bright costumes Djamila is representing the powerful divine feminine, backed by a neutral brick wall.
James Lewis (Drums)
Van Halen – Dreams
Campy, cheesy and hard as fuck all at the same time. Just vibes from the soaring chorus and the big spaced out drums and tom stabs. This era of metal got me rethinking the nature of my playing. Letting structures sit longer in a groove and allowing other instruments space.
Phil Collins – Hello, I Must Be Going!
Similar energy from my Van Halen summer fling. Just an incredible master of the drumkit. For me this was interesting to deep dive into (again) as it’s fascinating to see what a foremost drummer does when they are producing an entire record. Often the drums sit back and meld in to your consciousness without being overbearing. Then you get those big flam snare hits and breathy tom batterings sort of saying, don’t worry I’m still here!
Polyphia’s Clay Aeschliman
To have the chops to keep up the guitarists whilst bringing your own distinctive style is no simple feat. There’s this infectious almost melodic trance that shines through Clay’s drumming. Which at times supports the guitar but often sticks out creating that off kilter unease. Listening to this band (who I just adore as a casual listener) in a critical way helped me write hooky beats without a melody or any roadmap. These are grooves in another world but you grab onto the things that make you tick and rework them into your own fabrics.
The Iceman is just this incredibly artistic individual working under these set constraints within a team. Obviously you can score a worldie but most of the time you’re just running up and down the line. I took a lot from that and seeing how his sometimes unseen movements can make others shine.