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Iconic‘s Nathan James on Working with your Heroes, the label Supergroup and New Album ‘Second Skin’

Iconic frontman Nathan James speaks about working with his heroes and his thoughts on the term ‘supergroup’. Check out the full chat here.



Born from an born from an idea conceived by Serafino Perugino (President & Head of A&R for Frontiers), Iconic features the best of rock powerhouses: Michael Sweet (guitars), Joel Hoekstra (guitars), Marco Mendoza (bass), Tommy Aldridge (drums), and Nathan James (vocals).

The word supergroup gets bandied about too easily these days but, with a collective CV that includes Stryper, Whitesnake and Ozzy Osbourne, it’s a word that sums up this collective perfectly. Fronted by Inglorious vocalist Nathan James, the band dropped their debut album, Second Skin earlier this year. Following the release of the album, V13 grabbed a chat with Nathan to chat about working with his heroes, the label “supergroup” and his thoughts on the future of the group.

Thanks for your time. I wanted to chat to you about Iconic and everything else you have going on in what is a busy time. How did you get involved in Iconic as I read the idea was to build a band around you?

Nathan James:“Yeah, I think Serafino, the guy who owns and runs Frontiers, was after me doing a project for quite a while. I didn’t say no but something that took my focus away from Inglorious which has always been my number one thing, needed to be amazing. Then he said he wanted it to be me and Michael Sweet and then Joe got involved. Then he told me that Tommy Aldrich and Marco Mendoa were doing it and I couldn’t believe it. I was just mind blown. It’s unbelievable how it worked out and it was so much fun to do.”

It’s an incredible list of musicians to work with. Like you said, you wanted it to be perfect. At what point did you think that it was as perfect as it was going to get?

“when I started hearing the songs actually because, and I don’t know if you feel the same way, but I feel sometimes these supergroups, and I hate that term supergroups, whatever you want to call these projects, they’re great from a musical point of view, but not always from songwriting point of view but I think this album is very different to that. I think it’s got great songs, really catchy, really catchy tunes so I’m really pleased that the songs were great. It’s an album that I’m very proud of. Plus, I also got an opportunity to write two of them.”

In terms of the vision, you guys have all worked together in some capacity I guess in other projects. What was the vision for Iconic?

“I don’t know. I think it was originally about showing my voice to a new generation, another generation, especially in America, Obviously there is going to be comparisons drawn between Whitesnake’s singer and there’s 2 current and one ex-member of Whitesnake in the lineup. It’s no secret that I love Whitesnake, they are without doubt my favourite band so yes, it’s a huge honour and quite a lot of pressure but also we didn’t want to purposely sound like Whitesnake. I’m not doing a David Coverdale impression. We’re not trying to take Whitesnake’s place when he retires next year. It’s mad to think how much stuff I’ve listened to with Tommy on drums, you know, with Ozzy or Whitesnake or Nugent or any of these incredible bands and projects that they’ve been involved with. So yeah, it’s a it’s pretty cool. It’s pretty different.”

Touching on what you said then about listening to all the Tommy stuff, and all the bands he’s worked on and work with. As somebody who’s an established rock musician themselves, but what do you learn working with somebody like Tommy or Michael, or any of the any of the other guys? What what do you take from that?

“It’s the same whenever I work with anyone on that level. I’ve had been lucky enough to work with some of the best musicians on the planet. This is obviously no exception but the professionalism is just something that I love. I love professionalism sometimes to my detriment you know, I expect everyone to be on the level of the people that I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

Do you want to conduct yourself in that way, and have the same respect for music and business that they do? Previously, in my own projects, I’ve always been quite demanding of people being as professional as these guys. But there’s a reason why we were talking about Tommy being one of the greatest of all time, you know, he’s one of the greatest of all time and it’s not because he was an idiot. He’s very switched on. He’s a professional, and he strives for greatness. And I don’t think there’s anything to be ashamed of about that, about openly wanting things to be great.”

The album is out now, and like you said earlier, you’re really proud of it especially in terms of the writing process and how you wrote two of the songs. How did it all come together especially through COVID?

“Michael and Alessandro, they created the songs out of the riffs, structured them, and then Michael and Alessandro wrote the top lines and melodies apart from two songs, “All I Need”, which was the third single, and the last song on the album, “Enough of your Love”, which they sent to me gave me free rein to go and write something. Michael sent a vocal idea for one chorus, but I don’t even think I listened to it because I already had something in my head. Literally I knew this was gonna work and it was the “All I Need” chorus. The label ended up loving it and they picked it for a single.

That was cool for me as well because I think people think of me as a singer, but forget that I’ve written four albums of original material with my own band now and a couple of other projects with other bands. I’ve got a project coming up with an amazing guitar player, a young guitar player that is coming out, hopefully, early next year, which I’ve written the single for. So I love writing as well. For them to give me the nod and say my songs are good enough to be on an album with their songs, that’s pretty cool.”

What are your plans to promote it especially around everybody’s other busy schedules?

“What is annoying me is that the Whitesnake tour has just come to an end. That was annoying because we could have maybe looked at fitting something in. I think we’ll do something. It’ll be next year and, realistically, this is just me thinking out loud, as there’s only one of me in the UK but four of them in America, I think if it’s gonna go anywhere, it will probably be me flying to America to do something. It’d be amazing to try it out on a Monsters of Rock cruise or something and see how it goes from there.

It’s amazing to be involved with and I’m really grateful that our record label were keeping everyone busy during lockdown. We weren’t allowed to perform, but they did to help us make this album so that was a nice gift from them. It gave us something to concentrate on to keep our keep our mental health going really.”

I know you’ve obviously all worked together in the past but have you got together post-COVID?

“We got together for the videos. Earlier this year we were in LA for a week doing the music videos and photoshoots and that was so much fun. Spending a couple of days with Tommy and seeing seeing him take after take just nailing it all the time, amazing. Hanging out with Michael and hearing stories and hearing like proper great rockstar stories in the hotel bar. It was a really cool time, I saw lots of friends over in LA, caught up with some people and I actually stayed there much longer than I was supposed to. I was supposed to be there for three days. I ended up staying for eight. It was wicked fun. We’ve signed into all of this, in theory, to do a second album, maybe we’ll be looking at doing that. I’d love to tour it as well.”

Artwork for ‘Second Skin’ by Iconic

I was going to ask you about a second record because, even though everybody is really busy, there’s clearly a lot of excitement in the project. It’s clearly worked…

“Yeah. It definitely worked. I think it’s just finding the time as everyone is so busy. That’s what you find when you’re working with great people, they all have a lot of projects on. Joel’s got Whitesnake and obviously Tommy’s got Whitesnake. Michael’s on tour with Stryper right now, releasing a new album, releasing another another album he’s doing, he’s just the busiest man in rock. Mark goes on tour constantly doing his own show. So, finding time when we can all get together is going to be tricky. I think it’d be really cool to do like a festival Summer, just come over to Europe and just do all the big festivals. That would be ideal but the logistics of that are unbelievable after COVID.”

I can imagine. It’s been a strange couple years…

“Yeah, everything costs double now so, as much as we all love the project, we’re not gonna get in the back of a split van and go round lugging our own gear. Those days for those guys are long gone. That’s not gonna happen. We’re not gonna be in Travelodges. It’s not gonna happen, is it? It’s got to be done properly.”

One thing Michael said about the record is it reminded him of how great music of the past was. Listening to the record now, what do you get out of it? How does it make you feel?

“It makes me fall in love with that bluesy, British hard rock. British hard rock, to me, it’s the best. Whitesnake, that whole thing is so unbelievable. When you think that five dudes in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and me in my 30s have created something that sounds so cohesive, when I listened to I feel like I belong in that time. Truly, I do feel a part of it and part of me sometimes does wish that I was alive like 20 years earlier, so I could have, I don’t know, I could have been like the fifth singer in Deep Purple. So, I feel like if I was 20 years older, I would have, that would have been my time.”

I get that because I my first gig was in 1987 – Bon Jovi.

“That would have been great I bet it was incredible.”

I still go back to those albums. Now, now matter how much new music comes out, I still go back to those albums. Even the 90s British rock scene was great with bands like Little Angels, I still go back to all of that. For you, we’ve talked about Whitesnake, but was there an album that really had the biggest impact on you growing up?

“I always sang since I was a kid, but the first one that made me go wow, I can be rock and I can be soulful, because I love singing soul music as much as I love rock, is Glenn Hughes solo album, Play Me Out. David Coverdale’s Northwinds album. I remember when I heard those albums, thinking these are proper singers. These aren’t just dudes shouting. They’re not dudes screaming, these dudes are singing from the heart and I think that is something I’ve always tried to do and why I think the Inglorious album, for instance, there is usually a ballad on there that really does let me explore that side of my voice because all of my biggest heroes, Paul Rogers, Freddie Mercury, David, Glenn, whoever it may be, have all got that side to their voice. It’s not just one thing, it’s a super versatile instrument.”

Who was the singer who made you want to sing?

“Freddie. Freddie. Hearing Queen’s Greatest Hits. My uncle gave it to me when I was like 12 or 13 years old and I just couldn’t believe what was coming out of his mouth. I just didn’t think it was real. Also, I loved theatre growing up as a kid. I was in some theatre shows as a kid at school and stuff and his theatrical elements, his opera thing, he can almost wrap his tongue so quick. It was was incredible. He definitely changed my life, I think.”

That being said, if you could work with any of your heroes, who would it be?

“There’s a couple of singers that I’d love to work with and there’s a couple of guitarists that I’d love to tick off as well. I’d love to sing with Ann Wilson. She’s just one of my Gods. I did a little project with Paul Rogers during lockdown but I’d love to sing with him properly. Sing with him in a live environment. There’s a couple of guitarists I’d love to tick off. The big ones that it’d be amazing to do. I know it sounds ridiculous and big dreams but like to sing with Jimmy Page just to tick off one of those huge guitarists. I’ve played with some greats but to play with him, he’s almost like an alien isn’t he? It’s like he is beyond fame, he’s just created so much so one of those guys would be a pretty amazing yeah. Probably Slash or someone.”

I interviewed Slash and I was in the room and he was sat in his top hat, the shades, the cigarette and it was just like a Guns ’n’ Roses video. Everyone was sat around just like this is normal and there was me and my friend just sat there thinking this is just ridiculous.

“That’s so cool.”

It was like they’d literally lifted him out of a Guns ‘n’ Roses video. I saw him play live in, of all places, he played in Doncaster. With Myles from Alter Bridge. When he walked out, there was a sea of people who couldn’t believe how close he was to them. I’m very rarely lost the words with people like that but that was a real insane moment.

“Yeah, there’s very few rock musicians that are as recognisable to pretty much every member of the public. Yeah, I mean, like people would know who he is, regardless of their age and their musical taste, which is the sign of the star he is.”

Okay, away from Iconic, there are plenty of other projects on the go. For you, you’ve got the Inglorious tour coming up which you must be looking forward to. What what we expect from the shows?

“Yeah, looking forward to it. We’ve got a bit of a new stage design. We’ve bought new backdrops. We’ve got new bits of production. The whole band, after many years of me trying to make it happen, is now going on to in-ear monitors, which is a huge step for us. I’ve been on in-ears for years, Danny’s been on in-ears, but now everyone is getting on it. It’s like a super big moment for us because we’ve wanted to, I’ve wanted to do it so long, and I know it would benefit everyone with the sound. I think the sound is going to be unbelievable on this tour.

It’s gonna look visually great and we’re gonna play songs from all of five albums that we’ve recorded. It’s gonna be a cool setlist. We’re playing some stuff that I haven’t played for about three or four years now. We’re trying to bring some older stuff back into the setlist while still keeping it fresh and modern. Also, we have no keyboard player going forward. It was weird at first, but now it sounds so tight and it sounds a bit heavier actually. I think people are gonna notice that, they might not, but it’s going to be a much heavier sounding, tighter sounding, slicker looking tour. I can’t wait to get it.”

Brilliant. Okay. What about the rest of the year, and then into 2023?

“Me personally, straight after the tour. I’m actually I fly the day after we finish the tour to Belfast and then I’m doing a gig with Kim Wilde and Go West, Howard Jones, Carol Decker. It’s like an 80s Classical gig that I do, I sing backing vocals for them but I also have two solos in the show. Doing that at the Arena in Belfast straight after the tour and then I’m playing the London Palladium later in the year with Zeppelin Symphonic which will be incredible. That’s the second time doing that show there so I’m honoured to be invited back by Planet Rock and looking forward to singing those songs again.

Then, Christmas, I’m away. I’m going away to the Caribbean for two weeks. I need it after this year. It’s been a great year. It’s been super busy for me and we also started writing a new album for Inglorious a couple of months ago just slowly gathering ideas, riffs, bits and pieces to make sure that, when the time does come, we’ve got enough there to pick from.”

Well, thank you for your time. I just wanted to wrap up though. We’ve talked about so many classic bands, Whitesnake, Queen, Jimmy Page, the list could go on. For a hardcore classic rock fan what would you say Second Skin offers them?

“It offers you all of the greatness about 80s hard rock. It’s full of the great bits, catchy choruses, incredible guitar playing, great musicianship, but big, big singalong chorus is the thing I think. Songs that you will remember. Songs that you want to play, songs that you want to show your friends and also it’s just pretty cool to to hear all these people on one album together as you know this is a very special thing considering we were all different parts of the world when we made it.”

I have an unhealthy obsession with bad horror movies, the song Wanted Dead Or Alive and crap British game shows. I do this not because of the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll lifestyle it affords me but more because it gives me an excuse to listen to bands that sound like hippos mating.