Joe Iconis Interview, Part One

Joe Iconis likes to silently hug people.

Besides that, Iconis is a prolific musical theatre writer. His
Bloodsong of Love will receive an industry-only workshop this fall; he and the family are putting together a spook-tacular Halloween jamboree; and you can rock out 24/7 to the original cast recording of Things to Ruin, Iconis's song cycle which has played several venues throughout New York City.

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with the talented artist, and here I'm pleased to bring you part one of the interview. Check back next week for part two.

Talk about your song writing process. What generally comes first, a lyric, the music or an idea, or can they not be separated? Moreover, as William Miller asks in Almost Famous, “Do you have to be in love to write a love song? Do you have to be sad to write a sad song?” Finally, do you find joy in writing even when you’re “on deadline”?

I’ve always wanted to be interviewed by William Miller. Great kid. My process changes depending on what I’m writing. Usually, I’ll start with an idea and from that will come some sort of hook. A lot of times there’s music implied. From there, I’ll write on a pad or sit at the piano or pace around my apartment like a lunatic. …Writing for me is usually messy, and huge, and epic. Usually, as the song or the scene gets more and more focused, I’ll get more and more still and planted in one place—which is either at a piano or at a Dunkin Donuts. I like writing in public places; it keeps me stimulated and keeps me from falling asleep at my computer or looking at porn.

Writing is sometimes joyful for me, but to be honest, rewriting is usually the most fun. Getting stuff down on paper initially can be terribly hard and frustrating. But once I’ve got something to work with, then it’s a party. When I’m writing on a deadline, it’s always a tough experience, but it’s also the best way for me to get myself to generate material. A deadline is a great motivator and/or kick in the pants.

As far as inspiration goes, most of my writing comes out of something [personal] I’m going through but it’s usually not cut and dry. I’ve written so many overtly personal songs, but nine times out of ten they aren’t about the thing they appear to be about. It’s funny: so often after…I’ve done a song that’s clearly about me, people will come up and say that they know the person I was writing about or something. Most of the time they’re totally wrong! But it doesn’t really matter anyway—I know all the answers to my songs, but I’d never be so presumptuous as to tell people how they’re supposed to react to my work or what they’re supposed to take from it.

Do you remember hearing your favorite song (current or all-time) for the first time? What was going on and what was it you responded to?

My favorite song is “Crying” by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. The first time I heard it was when my grandfather played me a video of k.d. Lang and Orbison singing it. I loved it and it’s a song that I’ve always associated with my gramps (he died when I was a senior in high school). Aside from the personal ties I have to it, I really think it’s a glorious piece of pop music. I love how it’s so simple and tight, and how it allows the singer to go from this tiny place to this huge, wrought, lovelorn wail.

Discuss the high you get from performing. Do you feel you connect with the audience when you’re playing, or does that only happen for you before and after shows? What’s the energy like, from you perspective, on stage?

Before a show I’m jittery and insane. In spite of that, I love to speak to people and get a sense of the room I’m playing in. I hate being backstage before a show. It makes me feel nervous and disconnected. I’ve got ants in my pants so I’m no good at standing still. I like to know who is in the room, and I like there to be no barrier between the stage and the house. It can’t always happen, but the most magical moments during shows are those moments of connection—either with the people on the stage or people in the audience. I like to look at audience members right in the eyes.

After the show, I feel a connection too, but a lot of times I’m too exhausted mentally and physically to really have conversations. People come to the bar after shows and want to talk to me about ten million things, and I love that they do, but half the time I don’t even know what I’m saying. What I really want to do is just eat food and silently hug people. But I guess it’s hard to tell strangers that you want to do that to them.

What do you hope to have accomplished, or hope to be productively working toward, seven years from now?

I’d like to have a commercial production of one of my shows happen in New York at some point soon-ish. If we’re talking about Dreaming Big, that would happen on Broadway. In a perfect world, it would be a show that I believe in, and one that features these amazing artists I’ve been collaborating with for the past couple years. I’d also like to be working on ten other projects. I always wanna be working on the Next thing.

Is there a creative pinnacle for you? Or a creative nirvana?
Oh, I don’t know. I think if I ever reach it, I won’t know that I did. I hope I don’t. I always wanna feel like I’ll get it right the next time. I just want to keep trying to do the best work I can and if its successful great, and if its not, oh well.

Will you ever be satisfied with your work, in part or whole? Explain.
It depends. I think because theater is a living, breathing thing, there is a sense that work can always be growing or changing. I’ll occasionally have a moment where a great actor will be performing something I’ve written and I’ll think: “Ooh, ok. That’s as good as I’m ever gonna be. I will never be better than that.” Those moments are nice. They are little pats on the back. But that’s all. I think if I ever feel “satisfied” with my work or myself, I’ll be done.

For more information about Joe Iconis, visit A huge thank you to Joe Iconis for taking the time talk with me. And now, I leave you with a favorite Iconis tune, "Rosalie."

(Read part two and part three of my interview with Joe Iconis.)