Icon For Hire is a band whose path reflects its members’ independent streak — a duo consisting of vocalist Ariel Bloomer and guitarist Shawn Jump. Forming in 2007 and originally hailing from Decatur, IL, the band was signed to Tooth and Nail Records from 2009-2015, after which they ended the partnership citing creative differences.
Choosing to embrace the uncertainty of musical independence, Icon For Hire has amassed a legion of fans drawn to both their lyrical honesty and genre-bending sound since breaking away from the record label system. Keeping with their transparency, Icon For Hire has managed to create a close relationship with their fans through Kickstarter campaigns with giveaways, exclusive interviews, and including them in music videos, all things that keep them involved in their journey. They blend hard rock, hip-hop, electronica, and pop with soul-baring lyrics about addiction, depression, and cultivating self-love in a world that pushes a judgment-first culture. Icon For Hire provides realism and messages of self-empowerment to those who are in pain through their music.
Bloomer, a Nashville native, and the band’s primary songwriter uses music as her principal way of working through her pain and hopes to connect with those struggling and inspire them to use what burns them as fuel. After establishing their honesty and sound with 2019’s Billboard charting release You Can’t Kill Us, the band is back with a new single ‘Curse or Cure’ off their new album Amorphous. ‘Curse or Cure’, along with songs such as ‘Under The Knife’ and ‘Hollow’, serve as examples of how Bloomer candidly addresses self-harm and mental illness in ways that make sufferers feel seen, heard, and gives hope for healing. As candid and passionate in conversation, as she is in her music, I had a chance to speak with the warm Ariel Bloomer over the phone about writing through pain, keeping a transparent relationship with her fans, and the rewards of charting your own path in music and life.
Your band’s name serves as a satirical take on the music industry’s expectations of artists. What advice would you have for other bands that want to break away from the record label system, as you did?
That’s a great question! I’d definitely encourage them to do it. We were pretty scared when we did that, and we didn’t know how it would work. It was a huge risk for us, but if we kept going on the path that we were on, we probably would’ve been forced to dissolve the band, unfortunately. If a band doesn’t have a good relationship with their label, see if there’s an out. Crowdfunding has become so much more acceptable, and the stigma is gone. I think now, with COVID-19, you’re seeing more and more artists turn to their fanbase and say, “we can’t tour or do our traditional marketing, but we can build our audience with you,” using certain platforms like Twitch, Patreon, or Kickstarter. I’d encourage people to always work on that relationship with their audience. If you have that placing, you’ll find that your audience is happy to partner with you. They’re happy to step in and become your record label in a way and help you continue making music, but that’s not going to happen if you haven’t been building that relationship over time. Start building that now, so if you decide that you want to leave your label, your fanbase would know and trust you, and you’d have that beautiful dynamic in place where you can ask them for things, and they’re happy to be a part of it. Fans feel empowered and grateful to be part of the process. They think it’s cool. It’s a win-win if you approach it that way, I think.
How did becoming an independent band change your sound, if at all?
Musically, after we left the label, it did feel like we could do whatever we wanted. Lyrically, we’ve stuck with similar things. So, our first album without the label was You Can’t Kill Us. We did experiment on that and played around with our sound. Shawn took it in more of a pop direction because he started to produce a lot of our music. This album gets us back to our roots and more of a rock sound, similar to what we did on Scripted and what we did on our first album. I’ve always said what I wanted to say, but [with a record label] I had to be mindful of how I said it. I knew it would go through many hoops and various industry people (i.e., executives) before it became a thing. So, now we have the freedom to choose whether a song makes the album or not, which songs become videos, and how we want to be represented. I don’t feel like there are any boundaries and that’s so empowering for me as someone who’s always railed against boundaries and rules. When I sit down at the piano, I think about our fans as listeners, not a record label or executive. Because that used to be a problem of what so-and-so is going to think of this song and whether it’s good enough to be heard. And now, I can completely bypass that in my brain, which is so cool.
Your lyrics frankly discuss topics like depression, addiction, self-harm, and finding self-worth. How does your lyrical candor translate to today’s political climate?
These times have gotten a lot crazier, and I think your choice is to highlight it and reveal the problems that have been there for a long time. People haven’t just started speaking out about this. These problems have always been there, these emotional issues (anxiety, depression), and many us feel that. I’m glad that the power of social media allows people to feel like they’re able to speak up about that. And, of course, everything we’re going through has heightened that. The quarantine and COVID-19 have brought a lot of mental health challenges with it. So, I think it’s important to keep talking about stuff like this until we get closer to listening to each other, respecting our struggles, and finding a way to move forward as a society.
Writing through pain is a difficult but ultimately rewarding process that requires delving into the messiest parts of our lives and finding the strength to overcome and see the beauty in the darkness. Why is that the focus of the majority of your music?
Yes! That’s always been my focus. For me, that’s always been my biggest struggle. And, so, what helped start me on a path to sanity was music as a pre-teen and teenager. When I saw how powerful that was, that’s what made me want to get into this industry, and what I think is needed to stick around in the industry is a burning, inner passion for what you do. It can be so hard and challenging and beat you down. As for me, I love music, but I also love getting to wrestle with my emotions and putting words to them and connecting with other people who feel the same way. So that central passion is what keeps me coming back. It’s a never-ending struggle for me. I don’t think it’ll ever stop.
How have Shawn and yourself been doing during quarantine? How has it affected your creativity?
It’s been hard, honestly. It feels weird to own that hardship because everyone else is experiencing it too. So, I am the kind of person who thinks, “if my struggle or pain isn’t unique, I don’t let myself admit to it or experience it.” So, I have to tell myself, “it’s okay, everyone is experiencing this. I’m having a hard time too.” We did have to cut our European tour short due to COVID-19, which was crazy. But what was beautiful was this: we ended up finding a producer here in Nashville, and we’re in quarantine with him, so we were able to get lost in making music for much of the spring, which has been so therapeutic for us. It was such a beautiful distraction because we didn’t have to think about the extremes of quarantine. We were in the studio. Now that we’ve been out of the studio for a while, we’ve been feeling it more and more. Shawn and I both have various emotional and mental instabilities that come and go, so it’s coming up a lot now that we don’t have our regular support systems. The way we’re staying sane is through interacting with our audience through live streams. Releasing music feels good. I guess I’m burying myself in work, and that’s been pretty helpful.
You have such a close relationship with your fans. How have you established that transparent relationship with them and keep up that close connection during quarantine?
It just started so naturally. We would hang out with everyone after the shows, signing things, and selling merchandise. We quickly learned that that was one of the most rewarding parts of the whole thing, getting to connect with our audience and getting to hear their stories about how the music was of help to them. So, it’s very personally fulfilling and rewarding to get that connection, and I think that artists that don’t have that are missing out, and they don’t realize that. Some try to protect themselves or build this big wall to appear “cool” and be unapproachable, but we’re not that cool *laughs* Just for our own sanity and benefit, we like having that relationship with our fans. Especially as an independent band, we don’t have any other comradery in the music industry with a big team or record label. Instead, we get that feeling from being with our fans and asking them, “Hey, do you like this new direction we’re going in? Hey, we’re thinking about doing it this way. Does that sit well with you?” And then we started our Patreon a few years ago, and we did many live streams. I think that’s where we became comfortable, interacting, and bantering with our fans. It’s natural, and we’re just ourselves whenever we go online and hang out with everyone. I think that’s the trick. It doesn’t feel like work. I think if you act like yourself, it’s pretty fun and pretty easy.
Let’s talk about your new single ‘Curse or Cure’. For those who aren’t familiar with the new track, what’s the message that you hope fans take away from it?
In the new song, I’m exploring that idea that society often pushes on us, which is they tell people who have mental struggles ‘you’re crazy, there’s something wrong with you, go figure it out and don’t come back to us until you figure it out.’ I think there’s a lot of pressure that society places on people with mental challenges. Like, the fact that we feel broken, but we’re also supposed to have these solutions built into us, figure it out from the inside out, and that’s crazy. You can’t ask someone who’s broken to fix themselves immediately. So, the song is exploring that challenge and hitting on the point that we can do things to better ourselves. We can’t save ourselves from every hole, but we do have some control. In the bridge, I’m trying to take my power back and decide for myself. Nobody can dictate to me whether I’m the problem or the solution. Nobody gets to judge me and label me that way. I’m going to take my power back and decide for myself who I am.
The music video for ‘Curse or Cure’ is a perfect mix of hard rock and dramatic fantasy, in both sound and aesthetic. Is that a sound that you’d like to stick with?
Oh! I don’t know. Yes, we will try to make thematic sense, but I wouldn’t want to box us in from the beginning and say that the whole album will be the same. So, I know I’m going to stick to the purple I added to my pink hair for a while. But there are many different kinds of songs on this new album, so each visual will be done with that in mind. I will say that people are loving this music video so much. We’ll try to give the people what they want and blow their minds. It’s cool to see the feedback on that.
You’ve said that bands that were your childhood favorites (Linkin Park, Rage Against The Machine, Evanescence, Breaking Benjamin). Has this love of early aughts rock served as influence the sound of the new album?
I would say that Shawn leaned on a lot of his musical influences when writing the album, which would be Bring Me The Horizon and a few others. I don’t know if this is the right way to do it, but I don’t lean on other artists when I’m writing music anymore. I used to more, but now I’m starting from this internal place where I’m trying to get out what I’m trying to say and have a moment of healing, therapy, and self-expression. So, I love and appreciate other people’s music, and I listen to it happily, but I don’t know if it influences me. I’m sure it does do that. It doesn’t consciously influence me, I should say. I don’t have a long list of influences for this album because it was me with my journal, writing things out.
Having leading, strong frontwomen in rock is so important. What do you hope your influence will be on other women who aspire to be rock frontwomen in the industry?
Wow, that’s a big question! I hope that my presence makes it easier for the women who come after me, like all of the women who’ve come before me, have made it easier for me. And I hope people don’t let me limit them. I hope they go beyond what I’ve done and how I’ve shown up in this space. I want to see a lot more representation. There’s a pretty narrow definition of what women in rock look like, and I want to see those barriers brought in quite a bit. I want women, men, and those of all genders to feel like they can express themselves. I hope that the way I express myself helps to inspire and unlock that for people where they hear the honesty I’m trying to bring, and it gives them permission to be equally honest in their art. I think about that during live shows. I try to show up as my full self by never faking it or phoning it in and being super present every night. I hope that it inspires them to do that if they connect with them when they see that show. The most important thing for any woman in music is to show up and be present in the space. It’s really powerful, and we need more of that.