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For the past five or six years, Iceberg has been working on what he calls his "nonstop recording project." So far, he has cut around 270 of those songs.
At last count, 170 of them include contributions from other area musicians.
"The list of Titanics is huge. It's hundreds of people," Tomek says of everyone who has played on an Iceberg recording. Tomek has engineered most of the recordings in a bedroom of his modest ranch house in south Kansas City. The project is a testament to the power of Iceberg's songs and to his stature in the city's music community. "It's a lot of younger people," Tomek says. "My impression is that they respect Howard a lot."
"He's the best songwriter in Kansas City, and I'll stand on Chad Rex's coffee table in my Chuck Taylors and say it," says Tony Ladesich, formerly of the bands Pendergast and Sandoval. An esteemed songwriter and filmmaker himself, Ladesich is riffing on Steve Earle's famous quote declaring Townes Van Zandt the best songwriter in the world and promising to stand on Bob Dylan's coffee table in his cowboy boots and say it.
For his part, Rex says of Iceberg: "I've always said he's one of my favorite songwriters ever. Not just in Kansas City."
Iceberg's songs have catchy choruses and melodic turns that somehow sound familiar; his lyrics are simple yet powerful, and he's good with rhymes.
He writes in the classic verse-chorus-bridge song structure, Tomek notes. "Most songwriters don't seem to do that anymore, or they write pretty convoluted extensions of those ideas. His writing would have made sense in the 1950s, and I hope it'll make sense in the 2050s. I suspect it will because there's a reason so many songs have been written in that kind of structure."
Someday, a long time from now, when Iceberg "goes somewhere else, existentially speaking," Ladesich says, "there will be a picture of Howard on the cover of every fucking magazine in this country. Howard's going to move on to another existential plane, and someone's going to find out about him and unearth this material."
Barry Lee, the longtime host of KKFI 90.1's Signal to Noise, puts Iceberg "in that lineage with Mark Twain and regional writers who were not only satirists and good writers but part of a Midwestern literary tradition." He adds, "His writing has philosophy behind it, in addition to a tune that will not get out of your head."
"People are eager to work with him," Easterday says. "He doesn't have to do anything but ask, and people are like, 'When do we need to be there?'"
There's this other thing about Iceberg's songs, Easterday says, and he wonders how Iceberg does it.
"As a songwriter, I try to do it, too, and that's to write about something you're not experiencing — or something that you've experienced a piece of but you want to flesh that out, fulfill that emotion. I know he doesn't have firsthand experience of all the things he sings about. But I am constantly impressed by how thorough and believable they are."
The songs come to him at a rate of two or three a week, Iceberg says. His process is both mysterious and methodical.
"I keep a fairly blank mind," Iceberg says. "My mind is a lot less full of stuff than I think most people's minds are. I think I'm a little bit like a radio receiver." Reading interviews with other songwriters, he has learned that "people who write pretty good songs believe — not in a hokey way but in a genuine way we don't understand yet — that there's a collective unconscious that we can tap into."