INTERVIEW: Ithaca (16/03/2019)

Credit: Ben Gibson

After spending some years paying their dues, London hardcore crew Ithaca are making ripples with their recently released debut album, ‘The Language Of Injury’, a crushing avalanche of riffs, chaos, and melody.

Before their show at the Boston Music Room in London supporting Svalbard, we caught up with vocalist Djamila Azzouz to chat about the band’s formation, the confused reactions that they generated in their early career, how people keep asking for a tour that already happened, and the making of ‘The Language Of Injury’.

DP!: How did you guys come together?
DA: We formed in 2012, I think. It’s quite a funny story. Sam, Lewis, and Will all went to school together. They used to muck around together, I guess. They wanted to start a band, and they got to a point when they came back from university and realised that they wanted to do it for real. The only reason I found out about them was because me and my friends used to troll this website called Join My Band. I was friends with a lot of people in bands at the time, and we just used to go on there and have a bit of a laugh at the adverts on there, because there were always really strange people; it was lots of dads, like, “Join my rock ‘n’ roll band! Do you like The Scorpions?” It was fucking hilarious.

Sam had posted an advert on there looking for a vocalist, and it caught my eye because some of the examples that he offered as inspiration were really interesting; lots of bands that I really liked, like The Dillinger Escape Plan, Rolo Tomassi, The Chariot, that sort of thing, and it stood out amongst this sea of absolute jokers. I was like “Shit, that’s really interesting.” I don’t know what possessed me to, because it’s not something that I would normally have done, but I just messaged Sam and was like “Yeah, I’d be up for it.” It all went from there.

DP!: How has the response been to your debut album, ‘The Language Of Injury’?
DA: Bafflingly positive. It’s been amazing, everyone’s been super receptive. Everyone’s been super kind about it, which almost makes me a bit suspicious; not in an arrogant way, but we haven’t really gotten many negative responses, review-wise anyway. Obviously there’s always going to be people on YouTube and stuff who are just like “This band fucking sucks”, which is fine, it’s just hilarious. Obviously we really like the album because we wrote it, but I personally didn’t really expect as many people to care about it as they have. It’s been amazing.

DP!: By some accounts it took a while to get the album out. What was the process of making the album like?
DA: It was an incredibly long process. We’re notorious perfectionists, and that’s not necessarily an arrogant thing, it just means that our idea of what perfection is is almost unattainable. We could have written an album that we weren’t happy with that everyone would have loved, but we’re just so in our own heads all the time, constantly striving to make it better and better, and more interesting. A couple of us had some issues in our personal lives as well that hindered the progress a little bit. It ended up taking a lot longer than we wanted it to.

DP!: You’re passionate about issues like equality, and representation of minorities. Was there a particular experience or inspiration you had that made you want to speak out about that within the band?
DA: I wouldn’t say that there was one particular experience, for me anyway. I’m sure many people who are in bands, not necessarily hardcore or metal bands, who are either not male, not white, or not a straight person all have those experiences of not necessarily feeling welcome, not necessarily feeling like it’s the right space for them, and not feeling like just being involved in heavy music is something that they can do. It’s something that we all feel really strongly about; representation and making ourselves seen, and making heavy music accessible for everyone.

DP!: Has there been any changes towards more representation and less gatekeeping in recent years?
DA: For sure, absolutely. When we first started playing as a band, people were extremely confused about us. Firstly, because we weren’t playing straight hardcore, and we weren’t playing straight metal either, and it was before this metalcore revival that we’re experiencing now, which I’m fucking stoked about. That is our thing; it’s what we grew up listening to, and it almost seems too perfectly-timed. But back then, five or six years ago, you were either a straight beatdown band or a hardcore band, or you were just playing metal or deathcore, and we didn’t fit into any of those boxes.

So, at the kinds of shows we were playing, people were a bit confused about that, and then also, firstly with me being a woman, people were very confused about that as well. There have always been amazing women in metal and hardcore, but not on a local level in your local scene and community. It just wasn’t something that was happening. Also having Sam, who is of Indian descent in our band, he’s very brown, people were fucking confused about that. They were like “Oh, there’s an Indian person in a hardcore band, what the fuck’s going on with that?”

Me, personally, I’m half-white, but I am a lot more white-passing; I don’t look Arab, unless it’s in the summer, then I’m super tanned, and, also for me, just not being a conventionally attractive woman, and also being a fat woman as well. People were really fucking confused about that. There’s a whole multitude of reasons that people just did not understand what we were doing, but the important thing is that now we seem to be moving to a place where there is much more representation. We’ve still got work to do, but the fact that I’m in this band still, I’m able to do that, and I’m here tonight playing with Svalbard, who are an incredible band. Serena’s an incredible guitarist and vocalist, and also with Watchcries. Nats from Watchcries is an amazing vocalist. Both two amazing women, and people are paying to come and watch us.

DP!: You spoke about a metalcore revival in hardcore. What hardcore bands are you guys enthused about the moment?
DA: That’s an interesting question, because it means picking out certain bands you think fit into that genre, I guess. Vein, obviously. Everyone’s on Vein at the moment, love that shit. Wristmeetrazor are really fucking cool. SeeYouSpaceCowboy, obviously. I’m not just all for the metalcore revival, but the nu-metal revival. Bands are out here with DJs and shit again, which gets me so hyped, because I feel like I’m 15 again! I’m gonna say Venom Prison. They’re not technically a hardcore band; they’re a deathcore band that have very clear hardcore influences, and their new album ‘Samsara’ is amazing.

DP!: Is there any band that you’d love to tour with who you haven’t yet?
DA: That’s an interesting question. All of the bands that I previously mentioned are all bands that I really wanna tour with. We’ve toured with Venom Prison in the past. It’s such a funny thing, people will mention it to us occasionally. You’ve got Venom Prison and Employed To Serve who are both doing really well at the moment, deservedly, and we’re just trying to catch up a little bit. We all started off playing around the same time. A couple of years ago, we did a tour together, all three of us. It’s so funny because people keep tweeting us, “Venom Prison, Employed To Serve, Ithaca on tour, make it happen!” You’re like three years too late, dude! We played a couple of shows together, and we maybe had twenty people turn up for each show. It’s amazing to have a look at what we’re all now doing. It’d be great to make it happen again and have a reunion, I guess.

DP!: What’s next for Ithaca this year?
DA: We’ve got a tour in April, not very far from now with our friends in Calligram who are absolutely amazing. Also in April we are playing with Anaal Nathrakh and Akercocke at The Garage, which is insane. We’ve got another tour in May which hasn’t been announced yet, so I can’t really talk about that, but keep an eye out. For people complaining about the fact that we weren’t coming up north, hopefully this will satisfy you.

We have a whole other bunch of shows. Again, I can’t really talk about it, but we have some shows coming up that hopefully blow peoples’ fucking minds that I’m really excited about that will be amazing. And then obviously ArcTanGent Festival in August, which is my favourite festival in the UK. And Boomtown Festival, where we’re sharing a stage with Napalm Death and At The Gates. Earache are smashing that stage right now.

DP!: Is it too early to ask about album two?
DA: Maybe. We are laying stuff down and writing. Considering all the reasons that ‘The Language Of Injury’ took long to come out, this one will be a less painful process, and you’ll hopefully get to hear it a bit sooner.

The band’s debut studio album, ‘The Language Of Injury’, is out now through Holy Roar Records.

You can purchase the album online from the label’s official webstore (here), BandCamp (here), iTunes (here), Amazon (here), and Google Play (here).

You can keep up-to-date with the band and what they’re up to online via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.