We caught up with pastel-haired songstress Lia Ices just before the release of her third LP, to talk travel, twins and the benefits of experimental theatre
American singer-songwriter Lia Ices burst onto our radars in 2012, after her track “Love is Won” from her second album Grown Unknown was featured over the closing credits of an episode of our favourite TV show, Girls.
Back then it was the touching and emotive quiet of her sound that caught our attention, but following the slog of touring the LP worldwide Ices retreated into record-writing mode, splitting her time between a new relationship in California and a musical hideaway in the Hudson Valley with her twin brother and writing partner, Eliot. The travel backwards and forwards has been the most prominent influence on her third album, Ices, telling in first single “Higher”, a gloriously joyful electro-pop cut that plays with distinctive flickers of world music, an amalgamation of genres that divests the listener of any preconceived notions about Ices’ music.
We caught up with the pastel-haired singer just before the release of Ices, to talk travel, twins and the benefits of experimental theatre.
I read that writing the album was a bi-coastal effort, was that quite intense?
It was, I decided after I toured Grown Unknown and I got really close with my band that I really loved the way I was really connected to other musicians, especially my brother. So we decided to get a place up in the Hudson Valley, and we set up shop and decided to record it there. Meanwhile my boyfriend lives in California, so it was this extreme balance between serious work binges in the Hudson valley and then getting on an airplane and going to see my boyfriend and listening to music on the airplane. It was a very strange process but I got used to it.
You started the album around the same time as you started your new relationship. Is the album about falling in love and was that a big influence on your writing?
It was a really big influence as well as the feeling that you can create your own kind of life that no one else has, and if it works for you that’s really fun. I think that it’s positive to experiment to find the way that best works to live your life or make music or to be in a relationship. I think that’s such a positive influence on the music.
Your new record has a very different sound to the previous one. It’s very joyful and has a lot of world influences. Did travelling influence that?
Yeah definitely, and I think just being open to new things and to experimenting and also with this album more than ever before I really let my influences come in. I love this about hip hop production or I love this Persian instrument that I’ve never used and how can I bring it in. So just like, letting things come through me and being confident enough that no matter what they’re still me, and just giving into these things that I love about music.
So what were your main musical influences when you were writing the record?
I mean it was a combination of hip hop production (especially some of the newer stuff and why it works so well), more like sound design, and then 60s Persian pop, middle eastern electronica and dub and then always returning to Jason Pierce and Spiritualized – we were just like sponges really.
How do you write with your twin brother Eliot, what’s the process?
We’re really psychic with each other so, its song by song but a give and take: one of us will usually start with a beat or a pattern, or just an idea: like “we should make a song like this or a beat like this” and he’s really good at more like the technically software, the EQ and mixing, and he’s great at in the box stuff. I tend to be more into arrangements and words, so it’s a give and take, always.
So he’s in your band?
Yeah, he’s actually here right now, he was supposed to come to the interview!
The video for the lead single was shot in Jamaica, how was it working out there?
It was amazing! We met these brothers in LA who live in Jamaica, who’ve been there since colonial times, they’re a really old Jamaican family and they just know so much about it, so I felt like I didn’t want to go there until I could go with a native. So we just had this amazing experience, we met Storm Selter who filmed all of it and I think a big concept for me for this album is when you give into new experiences and travel and you can actually feel more like yourself. So going there and still feeling like us, but being in this place that we’ve gone to in our imagination but never actually been there, that felt really fun, that’s exactly where our head was when we were writing the song: light, easy, not taking ourselves seriously. Being somewhere new in our creative state.
That’s really interesting, it sounds very Jungian.
It is! I totally got into that stuff when I was making the album. It also a deeper expression of yourself, it’s like “I feel connected here” and that’s the whole thing with this album, because Eliot was involved as much as like Clams Casino, the music feels better and bigger because there are more people. It’s not just me doing my thing; it’s a deeper, broader expression.
In terms of writing this album versus writing the last one, you weren’t quite so hidden away from the world by the sounds of things. What made you feel like you wanted to do things differently this time around?
I think for the previous album I was really exclusive: I took myself out of culture, I didn’t listen to anything apart from the music I was writing, and I think this time around I really wanted to just open it up and be inclusive, and let myself listen to together things and live with Eliot and get into that, so in a way we were still reclusive: we were in the countryside by ourselves, but nothing about it was strict, ever, it was very playful and childlike and experimental, and we’d watch weird alien shows and go back to work, and put on some Persian record, get inspired and write, it was just this amazing creative state.
This album took two years to make: was it more of a natural process of the album writing itself rather than a strict decision to write a new album?
Yeah it was very organic. We’d have an idea, like “maybe we should get into analogue synthesis,” and then I’d buy an analogue synthesiser, and that synthesiser is literally on every song in some way. So it just starts off as a tiny scratch of an idea and it just opens up into this whole world. We just kind of followed it.
Do you feel like, emotionally, you’re in a better place writing this record that you have been with previous records?
Yes. I am really happy. I think I’m in a relationship that I feel very celebrated and free in, to do what I need to do, demonstrated by the fact that I needed to live with my brother but nothing was sacrificed with having a relationship on the other side of the country.
There’s that line in “Higher”: “you gotta keep me close/you gotta let me go”, does that really describe how you’ve been feeling?
Yeah, I like that you picked up on that. It’s like the higher up I can go the further I can fall down. It’s just so important, with someone you love or you’re close to, to you go off and do your own thing, because then you can come back and report, and you sift through it, and maybe understand the experience a little better because they weren’t there.
Tell me about Eliot.
He’s the best, he’s my best friend. He’s hilarious and odd, and he has the most infectious laugh and amazing sensibility with music. He’s all vibe, today he’s wearing crazy African pants and has a big fro. He just got married, it’s awesome.
Did you have a very musical upbringing?
Not as like a collective, Eliot found guitar during college, he was always more into sports, he was a big lacrosse player. He was on this whole other path and I was on this theatre path, so it’s odd that we’re doing so much together now, because growing up we were into totally different things.
Why did you decide to study Experimental Theatre at NYU?
Well I’d always done classical training and musical theatre, I studied in the UK at RADA for a little, and I’d always done a lot of training, so I switched schools at NYU and moved into experimental theatre, which is all about finding your own voice rather than there being a right or wrong way of doing things. But there’s a lot of voice work, the assignments are like “sing a dream”. It’s all about finding what your own voice sounds like when there are no rules put upon it. I suppose all these different parts of training came together, because I’d always written poems, so then I brought singing into the equation.
So can we expect more of a performance aspect to your live shows now?
I guess so. This is the first time I’m performing my music not behind a keyboard, which is really fun. For this album I’m moving my body a lot, it’s quite dancey. We played at Birthdays last night and it was really fun and loud.
Is it daunting putting out your third album and having to deal with people’s expectations?
Yeah, I mean there’s always that anticipation, but I’m always going to try and keep being better than I was before, and that’s never going to end. I’m never going to feel like I’ve made the ‘perfect’ record. I love the album I’ve just made but I’m always moving forwards towards the next thing, something that’s not tangible, so I’m really happy it’s finally out. I had a really deep time with it and now it’s time to move on and give it away, and to allow other people to connect with it. That’s what it’s for really.
Have you started thinking about the next one?
Can you tell us anything about it?
Just that it’s going to happen a lot faster.
Words: Maya Hambro