Interview: James Ivy Talks About Finding his Sound and Constantly Learning Along the Way
"You want the type the way you make me feel." sings James in his song Texas. "The chorus doesn't really makes sense, I just remember getting to that part of the song where it gets really big and saying whatever comes up. It was just a feeling and an energy." he explains. Dada poets used to cut up newspaper articles, put the words in a bag, take out each cutting one after the other and copy the words conscientiously in the order in which they left the bag. One of the pioneers of Dadaism, Tristan Tzara explained this type of poetry by saying;
"The poem will resemble you and there you are--an infinitely original author of charming sensibility."
What James is doing with his music isn't all that different from this way of creating. There he is, with his spirited big vocals in Texas, shouting what seems to be random words yet having a cathartic and lustral moment. Like Dadaist poets who found themselves through their creations and poems, James Ivy is constantly discovering himself in front of his computer producing and writing.
James has made a name for himself in the music industry with his patchwork-esque aspect of merging different genres together to create a unique sound of his own. From electronic embellishments to shoe gaze references, James' musical landscape is filled with meticulously crafted interlaced sounds and luscious vocals. His music finds a mysterious yet striking middle ground between nostalgia-filled references and experimentalism. The inspirations are visible yet they never overshadow the unique sound found by James himself. With his new release "Headset Go" he adds yet another vigorous single to his discography, this time sounding more confident with his vision which is slowly starting to reach its full form. It is a single that hints to what we can expect from James' EP GOOD GRIEF! that will be released on October 22. In this meeting between James' previous works and his new ones to come, Headset Go serves as a bridge. James says;
“GOOD GRIEF! is my attempt at, or my best interpretation of pop music. I began writing “Headset Go” as a song to tie the EP together. I wanted to have fun and make it as much of an earworm as possible, so it started as somewhat of an exercise, but became the epitome of what I was trying to do with GOOD GRIEF!. It’s crazy how much this song grew on me, something about it is kind of infectious.”
While we're counting down the days for James' upcoming EP GOOD GRIEF!, we sat down with the emerging star to talk about his influences, his insights and how he is slowly but surely creating his sound and discovering himself.
Janset: Your music has so many underlying influences from PC Music to grunge to rock. What I’m picking up on is a strong the 1975 influence mixed with a my bloody valentine type dreamy shoe-gaze sound. Mixing that sort of references with electronica beats is quite original. How did the classic James Ivy sound came to be?
James: You're definitely spot-on with all of those takes! I guess the origin of my sound just goes back to high school. I played instruments growing up and was always surrounded by music. It wasn't until I fell in love with electronic music that I envisioned myself gong into the line of work that I'm doing right now. There was this scene which changed quite a bit but being a part of that scene was the first time where I felt like it was actually something I could do for myself. That was the period of that time when I was in high school and listening to a lot of PC music and travelling for music and DJ'ing. As I got older, I was still making electronic music but I felt like I couldn't convey what I wanted to transfer without using my voice. That's when I started to sing. When I went to college the James Ivy project really took a full force. As you've said, I was a huge The 1975 fan in college. Now, what I'm trying to do with my music is discovering what the truest sound is for myself. For a while, I just wanted to replicate and wanted to make songs that I felt were very similar to my biggest inspirations because it was fun! It's hard to balance it out but I'm still in the process of synthesizing all my influences and making them into something new, into something "James Ivy"
As I’ve said, you were quite inspired from the rise of PC Music, a genre known to be a very vocal one concerning activism and identity. Do you aim to transfer a similar message on representation and visibility through your music too or are you more focused on the music?
As a part of that scene I mentioned earlier, there was this company who threw parties throughout the US and the UK. At parties, you saw kids who had all met each other through music. It helped me get out of the bubble I lived in. It was hard to be introduced to new experiences and meet new people living in the suburbs as it was very homogenous. Being in this scene and travelling, I felt very accepted. Growing up, a part of the reason why I never considered going into music until electronic music was because I didn't really see anyone who looked like me and was doing the kind of music I was inspired by. Then you go to these parties and see that people have masks over their faces like Daft Punk and nobody excludes anyone. The idea of anonymity and people liking you for your music was a new idea to me at the time and I understood that what you look like isn't all that important. As I get older maybe I'll have more to say about my music but right now what is important to me is giving people a face that looks like them. It might not be a lot but I think its still important.
Each single of yours can shape shift into different genres depending on your perspective as there is a bit of everything in your music. How do you experiment with different sounds and choose an appropriate creative direction for each song?
It's funny you asked, I actually feel like I struggle with this a lot. I feel like this is my kryptonite as an artist. I get in my head about genres mostly because I'm always trying to find a "sound". What James Ivy means for me now is just bringing everything together and making it something new. Also I feel like every time I make a song I change the rules for myself because I love experimenting with stuff. I struggle to make my project sound cohesive sonic identity wise. It is encouraging to see people say that they like my music because each song is so different yet so good though. I think there is some sort of through line that tie them together, a line that I can't see myself. Maybe it's just the fact that it's coming from me and that it's coming from the heart. Whatever I end up doing next, I'm going to be in the mind set of "Fuck it!" and I'll do the music that I like. I'd like to be in a position where I can jump in and out of genres. I want to make so much music in my lifetime that I want to touch all the bases and make everything! I really look up to Damon Albarn in that aspect. He has had such a lucrative career where he went from Blur to Gorillaz and he sustained his career until he was older.
Your initial single Staring Contest reflects what your music is in four minutes perfectly. The lyrics sound like you’re processing your emptions and confusion. How is your relationship with writing? Is it something that you find comfort in or do you tend to put it off?
Writing is really important to me. I want to spend more time really owning the craft of it. I wrote a lot of stuff when I was younger and then once I got into music production there were no need for lyrics. For a long time I focused so much on the production and how everything sounds. I'm constantly retraining my brain to write more. Staring Contest is my first song that I've made that I wrote entirely on an acoustic guitar before I produced it. Most of the time I do the opposite. I start with a production idea on my computer, get inspired by it and then write lyrics. It was a great writing experience because it just came out so naturally. I remember writing it one night shortly after my 21st birthday. It was the most fun experience to see that song come to life because it was something that existed as a demo for a while. The writing process is always different, to answer your question. It kind of depends on the song and the idea, it is very sporadic. There will be times where I don't write anything in months and sometimes I just write a song in a day. Writing music is crucial because it also allows me to work through my feelings and get my emotions out. It's very therapeutic.
So at the same time there is a very cathartic relief?
Yeah! It is very cathartic. I never stop to think "These lyrics are very personal or intimate." Putting out those kinds of lyrics might be scary in theory but when it has music to go along with it, I guess it is fine!
Photo credit: Wade Schaul
Talking about lyrics, do you have any lyricists you love?
Yeah! I do, I definitely do. The first one who comes to mind is Them Yorke. I mostly like the romantic stuff that he writes. I like romantic lyrics for sure, I'm a sucker for it. I grew up listening to this band called Teen Suicide, they go by American Pleasure Club now. The lead singer Sam Ray writes great lyrics. I like them because they are really simple. Saying something which is really easily understandable but saying it in an artful way really resonates with me. There is not a lot of vivid language or big words. This one is a funny one to throw in here but John Mess is also great. There are a lot of screaming like you would expect to find in metal music. He has some very funny and weird lyrics and I think its cool.
Your boundry-less genre-bending approach to music is more evident than ever in your single Texas, where you clash punk with dance music inspired sounds with the uses of synths and upbeat riffs. What was the inspiration behind this song sonically and thematicaly?
Texas was a song I wrote with my friend Harry Teardrop. I was over at his house when I wrote a very early version of it. We produced a little bit together but then I ended up throwing that draft away. When we redid it I repurposed the writing and made it into a song that was way more bigger sounding and I scrapped that too. So there were two versions I didn't use. The third time around I started with an ambient guitar and that was all I had laid down. My friend Aiden came over and he sat with my computer for a while, looked up to me and said "Bro, you're not going to like this at all." There were some elements in there that really inspired the chorus of the song. He inspired me with his production work to fuel the rest of the song to be made. He really gave it an insane new perspective. I thought the production sounded amazing unlike what he thought I would think. It was very collaborative. That chorus came from a bit of a free styling so the chorus doesn't really makes sense, I just remember getting to that part of the song where it gets really big and saying whatever comes up. It was just a feeling and an energy.
Your latest single Last Star seems to have a very nostalgic reference point from the way the song is built and the singing style. What were your main inspirations for this song?
I was inspired the early 2000s songs were the songs were mainly built around an acoustic guitar. I was quite inspired by a lot of Ashley Simpson stuff, obviously some Oasis and Third Eye Blind. I never actually listened to their song "Semi-Charmed Life" in the process of making Last Star but the first thing that my manager said was "We're going to get sued!" because of the similarity -laughs- They were the stuff I grew up listening to. It was really fun for me to go back and revisit that nostalgia.
Do you think that being a young emerging artist comes with perks as there isn’t a lot of creative pressure concerning your music or is it mainly overwhelming being in a sea of hundreds of new artists?
That's an interesting question because there is definitely perks and there is definitely drawbacks. One of the perks is being able to pursue all this and being up-and-coming you have less to lose.The stakes are not as high but I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform the best that I can and be the best that I can. I'm getting to do things that are the things that I've always dreamt of doing. Though at times it's a bit overwhelming. There are days I just want to crawl into bed and not do music. I definitely have my ups and downs but inside I know that music is something that I'll probably do until the day I die no matter at what cost. I can't really complain I'm having A TON of fun!
After a long period of being away from live music and performing, how do you feel about going on tour with Porter Robinson and Jai Wolf? Would you consider this to be a milestone in your career because it sure sounds like one!
Yeah it's really exciting and I would definitely consider this as a milestone. I'm so fucking grateful to Porter and I still can't believe that its happening. I think we're going to have so much fun on tour. I'm so excited to see the cities I haven't seen before and experience the tour lifestyle for the first time. I think it's going to be really wild to be on the road for that long especially because we had a year and a half of staying inside. It's the first time I'll play shows this big in venues this big. I'm hoping to stay grounded and healthy. I couldn't be more excited and grateful.
Is there anything you wish you knew before getting yourself in the industry? Do you have any advices for up and coming artists?
My one regret, if I have to name one is starting when I wasn't ready. I feel like there are a lot of pressure on kids because the age in when you become famous is getting younger and younger. When I look at my biggest influences, they all started when they are older or they took time to figure out what they wanted to do exactly. I guess the advice that I would give is taking your time with music and there is always time. Getting it right before putting out a project is so important. Looking back, I wish my project was more figured out before I started making music. I'm still I'm learning along the way. This is just what I think, some people like to see growth and follow you along the way. The second that you trust yourself, which is hard to do, the rest figures itself out. Not kidding yourself and letting go of this mentality of "What are other people going to like?" is so important. There was this one time where I played a song of mine to my girlfriend and I wanted her to like my music however it was a song I made that wasn't really true to me. She immediately picked up. It clearly wasn't good. She really kindly told me that it wasn't me. A year later, I showed her another song and she was really happy to hear it. It was less derivative and more me. The more you give up on trends and lean into your own sound you're going to be better. I feel like it was a really good lesson to learn.
Read our Last Star review here
Stream James Ivy's new single here:
Cover Art: Beyza Çelikmen