Interview: Andrew D’Cagna of Ironflame
Ironflame came out of nowhere early this year from the mind of Andrew D’Cagna, shocking the world with potent riffs, catchy choruses, and gorgeous melodies. Despite having already played Legions of Metal fest in Chicago and having been invited to play Keep It True next year, not too much is known about the band at this point, so I asked Andrew some questions about it.
Hey man, thanks for agreeing to answer some questions for me. I’m shocked that I haven’t seen an interview about this project after your explosive entry into the heavy metal scene with Ironflame! Am I missing something, or is the first one for this particular band?
Hello and thanks for reaching out to me. You haven’t missed anything. Lightning Strikes the Crown is the debut effort from Ironflame. This project was not even in existence a year ago, I started working on it around Halloween of 2016.
That’s shocking to hear, given how accomplished it is and how quickly it came out from that point! From conception to recording, how long did it take you to get off the ground? How did you balance your time and creative energy between Ironflame and your litany of other projects, especially considering that Lightning Strikes The Crown isn’t even the only album that you’ve released this year?
The time between conception and recording was almost instant. The untimely passing of a good friend was what inspired me to do it. He was a traditional metal vocalist as well, incredibly talented. His passing made me realize that I’ve never done a purely traditional heavy metal project, and that he would be disappointed in me for not using my voice for such things. I felt I owed it to him. From there, inspiration came quickly. It took a while to settle on a name, but the name of the album came to me immediately. The riffs and basic structures for all songs were written and recorded in two days. From there I added drums and bass. Vocals were added last and took the longest. Some lyrics were written, but a lot of them were conceived on the spot as I was recording them.
I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend; I saw that the album is dedicated to him on the Ironflame bandcamp. It’s absolutely stunning to hear that the music came so quickly, though; it’s some real salt in the wound to everyone else that’s trying to write heavy metal! That explains how you were able to write and record the music without much conflict with your other projects, though.
Since you say that the vocals took the longest, was there any difficulty in transitioning from years of harsh vocals into the gorgeous clean singing present on Lightning Strikes the Crown? After all, though you’ve been writing and releasing music for years, back all the way to the early ‘90s with Dethroned, I can’t recall you doing much else clean aside from the Dofka album that you sang on a few years ago.
Well I’ve always been blessed with a voice that lends itself to the traditional genre. I started out singing in bands when I was young, mainly because I was poor and it was the cheapest instrument! I am also a child of the 80s, and I grew up listening to Maiden, Savatage, Helloween and things like that. I had a melodic Death/Thrash/Black hybrid band called Angelrust from 1999 to 2009. The vocals were mainly more extreme but there were always clean sung parts peppered throughout. Most of those vocals were embarrassing and terrible in hindsight. I didn’t know how to sing properly. It was the band Dofka that truly taught me how to sing.
How did you get in touch with Dofka and come to sing for them? Additionally, have you ever taken singing lessons, or are you entirely self taught?
Dofka is a local legend around here, and rightfully so. He’s an incredibly talented person. He was in a band called Screamer in the mid to late 80s. My sister was friends with the sister Screamer’s vocalist. I met him when I was 10 I think? He was the first local musician I ever met. He gave me a Screamer demo and my life changed forever. I listened over and over again, I couldn’t believe that people from the Ohio Valley made this music. So years later when I saw that Dofka was looking for a new vocalist, I took it as a personal challenge and vowed to be that vocalist. I remember training hard, singing every night. Thankfully it worked, I got the job! To answer your other question, I have had no lessons or formal vocal training.
That’s amazing to hear, and I’m glad that it worked out! You’ve really became an amazing singer, so it certainly benefits the rest of us as well.
You’ve previously told me that you have a modest studio in your basement, and do professional sound engineering for a living; does this influence your songwriting at all? What’s your recording process like given that you’re doing everything by yourself?
Yes, I do have a modest home studio in my basement. I’ve been recording my own and other people’s music since 1999. Up until a few years ago I was mainly just recording demos for local bands. I think my first recording done for a label was maybe 2007? So I’ve really only been recording professionally for about 10 years. If I didn’t have immediate/constant access to recording gear, I’m sure Ironflame and most other projects I’ve done in the past wouldn’t even exist. I can lay down an idea as soon as it hits me, which makes things easy as can be. I don’t mind being both performer and engineer. I’ve done it for so long that it’s really all I’ve ever known.
Does that easy ability to translate ideas into music tie in to your decision to release a full album as the first Ironflame release rather than taking the more conventional approach of starting with a demo?
Honestly man, I did Ironflame as a memorial to Chris. That’s all. I didn’t expect anyone to care about it. I’ve done solo/side projects like this quite often over the years, usually to little or no fanfare. Which is fine. I do them primarily to satiate my restless mind. I expected the same result with Ironflame, but people seem to see something more in it this time. But it was never intended to ever be something that I shopped to labels, or make a live band out of. Those things came out of necessity once people started reacting to the music.
Given that you initially launched Ironflame as something that you didn’t expect a fanbase from, why did you spend the money to self-release it on vinyl from the getgo? Most of your solo projects seem to start off on CD alone.
You’re right, they do. Three things made me want to press this on vinyl. 1. Vinyl is enjoying a resurgence in popularity and in reality, is one of the only physical medium people seem to want to actually buy these days. 2. The traditional heavy metal genre lends itself to sounding REALLY good on vinyl if treated accordingly. Thankfully I’ve mixed/mastered a few albums for vinyl format prior to this and had a decent grasp on all the do’s and don’ts of the medium. And 3. the recording ended up being the right length and the right amount of songs to press on vinyl without pushing the limits/constraints of the medium. The real issue I faced was selling it! Vinyl is expensive to produce and there are minimum quantities when you order. Selling 150 copies of an album with no prior following or heritage seemed bleak. So I just started a grassroots hype campaign on social media and hoped for the best. I really emphasized that the limited quantity and offered worldwide shipping, I think that’s what made the campaign work. I sold out in a few weeks.
I’m glad it worked out! I just wish I’d been a bit quicker and didn’t miss out on the vinyl itself, since I fall into the camp that you mentioned that only really buys vinyl releases. I’m sure that the excellent presentation of the record helped, particularly with the gorgeous artwork from Dorian Cleavenger.
At what stage in the process did you decide to use Cleavenger’s artwork, and how did you convince him to do the cover for Lightning Strikes the Crown? Aside from a Danzig album and the Dofka album you sang on, he doesn’t seem to have done any other metal covers.
Sorry to hear that you missed out on the first pressing. But fear not, I am in discussions with a few labels about a second pressing.
Dorian is a local artist as well. He’s been quite prolific over the past few decades, and his reputation precedes him. I finally met him not long after Humanity Bleak was released. I’ve always liked his paintings and decided this was the right time to contact him. Thankfully he remembered me from Dofka and offered to either license one of his existing works or paint a new piece for me. I chose the former. The piece I went with seemed to compliment the song “The Gorgon,” which was the first song I wrote lyrics for on the record. It felt right so I did it. Everyone seems to dig the album cover, so I think I made the right choice.
I certainly agree that it was the right choice, and I’m glad that there’ll be another pressing so that I can own it for myself. Speaking of that artwork- that of Medusa languishing over the statue of one of her victims- how did you come to decide to sing about the glorious and mythical things that you have on this album? Was it a nice change in pace from your other material, something that you’ve always wanted to do, or just something that naturally arose from the epic nature of the music itself?
I’ve always struggled with writing lyrics. I over analyze them constantly which makes them a chore and an obstacle to me. That’s why half of the lyrics were composed and half were written on the spot. I figured if I forced myself off the diving board per se, I’d work more efficiently and would be less likely to over analyze. It worked. Honestly, the reason I chose to write “The Gorgon” was simply because the verse riff kind of reminded me of “Medusa,” a song by Anthrax on the Spreading the Disease album.
Lyrics have been the bane of many a songwriter, so I’m glad that you figured out something that worked! Hell, Lightning Strikes The Crown has some of the most catchy and powerful choruses that I’ve heard in a recent heavy metal album- the sheer power, frequency, and above all, effectiveness is stunning. It really reminds of me of a lot of old United States Power Metal along the lines of Fifth Angel or early Queensrÿche . What sort of bands went into influencing that, and what from your day to day life and interests went into the strong heart of the album? As a side note, it’s interesting seeing you say that Anthrax was an influence on the lyrics because I’ve seen some comparisons to certain aspects of early Anthrax to Ironflame in the past!
I appreciate the kind words. All the more popular Heavy Metal/Thrash bands from the 80s were a heavy influence on me as a youth, it’s all I listened to. As I got older I became obsessed with Death Metal and Grindcore, basically seeking out the most extreme music I could find. I was a little too young for the underground tape trading boom, so a lot of lesser known Traditional and Thrash bands passed me by. I hadn’t heard bands like Cloven Hoof, Angel Witch or even Riot until recently if you can believe it. Like I said, by the time I was digging into the underground, Death was in and Thrash was out. But it’s those more mainstream bands I grew up on that influenced the Ironflame lyrical content, along with my extensive nerdy knowledge of world mythology.
That makes sense! I’m younger myself, so all I have to go on is books and interviews, but that doesn’t surprise me. The internet has really changed the entire game. As for your lyrical content, it’s a lot of my what I seek out and write myself, so I’m really glad to hear it. Songs about vampires and Medusa warm my heart.
Is it the presentation of those popular, mainstream bands that’s decided the Ironflame live outfit, with you choosing to have live guns playing the instruments while you sing? You mention that you were shocked that this project even received the attention that lead to you putting together a live band- how does it feel to go from solo one off to a Keep It True invite so quickly?
It’s a double edged sword really. On one hand, I feel much more comfortable performing on stage while holding an instrument compared to just a microphone. Holding an instrument makes me feel like less of a front man and I like that. However I’m not sure I could play these songs in guitar while singing them properly. I’m not that coordinated! Thankfully I have many talented and like minded friends who have been kind enough to help me make this a live performing band. I was blown away when asked to play Keep It True next year. I understand the honor of such an invitation and I do not plan to squander it. Nor do I plan on disappointing the incredible fans I have acquired thus far in Germany. They make up the majority of our fan base and have proven to be the most genuine, amazing supporters anyone could ask for. We can’t wait to bring our metal to Germany!
I think that you deserve it, and I’m glad that you were able to put together a live band to make it work. I’m sure you won’t disappoint! It’s cool to hear that you’ve built a strong German fanbase- I’ve always heard that this sort of stuff is a bit better received overseas, and it’s interesting to see that play out yet again.
While you’re out at Keep It True next year, you’ll be playing alongside a fair mixture of newer bands and classics, just like you did earlier this year at Legions of Metal. What do you think of the modern global heavy metal scene? Do you have any particular newer favorites going right now?
There’s a lot of great Metal/Hard Rock bands out right now! From more traditional sounding acts like Cloven Altar, Christian Mistress and Castle to more modern sounding bands like Helion Prime and Defy the Tide….I love them all. If I had to pick a favorite though, I’d have to choose Pittsburgh’s own Lady Beast. They tug at my heart strings something fierce. I’ve had the honor of mastering their Metal Immortal EP last year and I am in the process of mastering their new full length, Vicious Breed. They recently signed with Cruz Del Sur Music and I am sure that world domination is soon to follow. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them!
That’s awesome! Cruz Del Sur is a dream label for me, fantastic roster to be a part of for sure! Glad it’s working out for ’em.
You’ve really answered all of my questions at this point. All that I have left is to wonder where the future of Ironflame will take us- will there be more releases at some point, or will Ironflame’s story come to an end after Keep It True ?
I want to thank you for taking the time and interest to talk to me about Ironflame, it’s greatly appreciated. As for the future, who can predict? I will say that Keep It True will not be the last you see or hear of Ironflame. In fact, I’m well into the process of writing a follow up album to Lightning Strikes the Crown. I only hope those who enjoy Lightning will get the same feeling from the new one, I know I do. Stay tuned!
Thank you for your time! Cheers!
All images courtesy of Ironflame, or taken from official Ironflame media.