Icon for Hire: Redefining the Rock Band Experience

Just a few days ago, on April 5, I had the fantastic opportunity to be part of Icon for Hire’s virtual Tour Kickoff Party for their highly anticipated 2024 tour across the United States. The tour, set to kick off on April 21 in Springfield, MO, and wrap up on July 27 in Knoxville, TN, is a promise of pure excitement! Icon for Hire, an American rock band formed in 2007 in Decatur, Illinois (now based in Nashville, TN), is not your run-of-the-mill rock band. Led by the dynamic duo of vocalist Ariel Bloomer and lead guitarist Shawn Jump, their music is a unique fusion of rock, alternative, and pop. As Ariel once said, they are “First and foremost, just a rock band. That’s where our roots are and where our hearts are. But a few years ago, we started really getting into synths and programming. We love the combination of brutal, in-your-face riffs with the fun candy of pop production sprinkled all over it.”

Icon for Hire will be part of most of Citizen Soldier’s Save Your Story/Group Therapy Tour alongside Halocene,  Keith Wallen, and SkyDxddy. Side note: “Citizen Soldier was born in 2016 when frontman Jake Segura penned ‘Let It Burn’ lyrics from a psychiatric hospital. Now practicing as a clinical therapist, he implements intensely emotional lyrical themes on mental health into their music. The band presents an accessible message that combats stigmatization and provides a group therapy dynamic” (according to the official website). Just yesterday, Icon for Hire and Citizen Soldier, two outspoken, powerful voices in the music industry, dropped “Victim or Survivor,” a song that invites reflection on trauma perception.

Random, not-so-random side note: In 2018, Ariel wrote a memoir/self-help book titled “Turn Your Pain into Art—One Self-Hater’s Journey to Self-Love, Authenticity, and Creative Freedom.” The book earned rave reviews: it is amusing, open, and well worth reading! It truly is.

Icon for Hire is followed by about 750,000 people on combined social media platforms and counts nearly 566,000 monthly listeners on Spotify. They have released six albums: Scripted (2011), Icon for Hire (2013), You Can’t Kill Us (2016), Still Can’t Kill Us (2018), Amorphous (2021), and The Reckoning (2022). Icon for Hire is 100% independent and relies 100% on its fans to continue making music. After seventeen years, the band is solid and stronger than ever, counting on a dedicated fanbase, coined “Icon Army,” which continues growing with every release. This unique relationship with their fans makes them feel valued and is integral to the band’s success.

Where was I? Ah, yes, the Tour Kickoff Party. Though the virtual event itself was free, with limited seats, there was an option to acquire a “Backstage Pass,” which provided the opportunity to ask questions live through video, audio, or text (and support the band). So, of course, I did. The party, with Icon for Hire’s brand-new studio as the setting, was a lot of fun and an opportunity to listen to Ariel (and Shawn) sing live acoustic versions of the most requested Icon for Hire songs by partygoers. A preview of a new, soon-to-be-released song was also presented (oh, it’s so good! And shh… you will have to wait). Flicka, the dog, made numerous appearances during the stream – and she’s adorable. Ariel and Shawn are engaging, down-to-earth, outspoken, and personable musicians who find the time and space to engage with their listeners periodically, making them stand out. This active engagement with their fans makes everyone feel included and part of the Icon for Hire community.

During the backstage pass holder portion of the Tour Kickoff Party, I asked them a few pointed questions.

JS: What was your most challenging song to write?

Ariel: I know right away what it is. It was “Now You Know.”

JS: Do you mind sharing why?

Ariel: Yeah. Think that all our songs are abstract; they can be about anything. To our point earlier, the “gray” could be about my mom, Shawn, or myself, and you have no idea, and there’s safety in that. I can hide. “Now you know” was literal. It was a bit more of like… Shawn: It was very direct to some people. Ariel: Yes. X, Y, Z: here it is—a lot of words. I think I swore; I said “f*ck” for the first time in a song. I was nervous about that. I remember having conversations with friends like, ‘Is this the wrong move?’, ‘Is this going to alienate people?’, ‘Does it sound like I’m better than people?’ I was trying to humbly have a commentary without being a jerk, so I really thought about that. But when I wrote it, it all came out. It came out one night after seeing a female-fronted metal night, and I was rolling my eyes at just how dumb it was presented and packaged. No fault with the band: fault of the promoters and how the industry works. So, it came out in one piece, and that was easy. Deciding to release it? That was hard. [Note: I strongly suggest you read the lyrics; link to the song at the end of post]

JS: Completely changing subject. What was the funniest and scariest moment on stage?

Ariel: We talked yesterday about a scary moment at a Salt Lake City show when our tech malfunctioned. We were headlining the show, and it was sold out… Shawn: That was not the worst time! The worst time ever was when a girl started throwing up on stage and got it all over me, the drums, and Ariel, and then she started throwing up! We were singing “Now You Know,” so we invited some people to come on the stage with us to sing, and this girl… that was the worst moment! Ariel: Yeah, it was! Shawn: Now, I think it’s funny when the drummer’s sh*t starts falling over. I start laughing, I’m playing, and those cymbals are falling… Ariel: Or the festival stages would be too small, and our whole rig would fall off the back of the stage. Shawn: Yeah, we have seen some things. Those were some fun moments for us. To be able to laugh at that lets you know how far you’ve come in your career; when your show goes to sh*t, and you are still laughing… grab an acoustic and keep it going… Ariel: Yup! It’s our fallback.

I look forward to seeing Icon for Hire perform in Texas at the So What?! Music Festival in June. I love their “Hope of Morning,” “Enemies,” and “Under the Knife.” The songs that spoke (and speak) most to me are “Hollow,” “Shadow,” and the rock-rap-pop-ish “Brittle.” Although almost ten years old (already??), the aforementioned “Now You Know” shines the spotlight on what it means to be a female in the music industry, not to mention an independent one. I applaud Ariel for the robust and unapologetic message conveyed in a captivating rapping flow and solid bars. Though the following official video is slightly out of sync, I invite you to listen intently and follow along with the lyrics (in the YouTube description box). Reflect. Appreciate. No matter the genre, no matter the notoriety, no matter who, “stop asking me, what’s it like to be a girl in the entertainment world, (be)cause now you know.”

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