An Interview with Lia Ices

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Lia Ices has been spending the pandemic much like the rest of us have, trying to make sense of it all and working to get by. I think she’s done a pretty solid job of that, seeing as she has a wonderful new album out called Family Album, which you can check out via her website here or wherever you get your music. Today, I have Lia with us. We talk about the importance her family and life as a mother has played in her life during the pandemic, the late JR White’s influence on her record, Lia’s advice for aspiring musicians and much more. Read on and dig in.

Andrew:
Lia, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. This last year has been rough, right? How are you holding up during this seemingly ever-raging dumpster fire?

Lia:
I am taking it day by day over here. Entirely grateful for my babies, who force me to stay in the present moment and tune into the simple joys of aliveness. I honestly can’t imagine this pandemic without the magic of childhood surrounding me…I have a newborn and a 4 year old, so as their mother, I still can create their reality . Any anxiety or discomfort  I have, I know they will soak up. It’s forced me to not lean into my fear and discomfort; I acknowledge my feelings, but don’t hold on too tight.

Andrew:
Tell us about your backstory. What was your musical gateway so to speak?

Lia:
I started playing piano at the age of 5, and always felt very musical. I was always a quiet kid, but at around 8 years old, I auditioned for my first musical and realized I had a huge voice; I came to life on stage and loved it. Through performance, I discovered a part of myself I hadn’t yet been able to access. From then on, I was a total theatre kid; I went to a performing arts boarding school, and I pursued acting at Tisch School of the Arts/NYU. My last two years of training were at the Experimental Theatre Wing where the voice work was based around finding your own voice and creating your own work (example: sing a dream). Another realization happened, which is that I didn’t have to sound like everyone else or adhere so strict to my classical training. I started writing my own songs at the end of college — all of my separate areas of focus (poetry, singing, piano playing, performing) were finally able to coalesce and coexist.

Andrew:
As an artist, who are some of your earliest and most important influences? How did you develop your signature sound?

Lia:
Judy Garland and  Joni Mitchell – their imprints are so deep, I’m sure I unconsciously emulate both of them in some way!  I grew up listening to The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Arthur Rubinstein; we always had music playing in our house.  

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Andrew:
Let’s jump right in and talk about your new record Family Album. You were pregnant when you began working on this, right? How big of an inspiration was that for this record? What more can you tell us about the recording? Where can we get your new album and what formats will it be on?

Lia:
I wrote the bulk of my last album on Moon Mountain in Sonoma. I had a sense of freedom I’d never felt before, like I could really create my own reality and a way of life that I hadn’t even dreamt of yet. Living amongst towering oaks and fruit trees on the top of a mountain changed me and my songwriting forever. You can hear the influence of Northern California and specifically, the mountain. Being pregnant surely connected me to the primal feminine in a way I never could have imagined. It’s also an entirely psychedelic experience. I think motherhood and pregnancy rooted me into a much deeper spirit-centered place, which ultimately was the place I wrote these songs from. I’ve always leaned towards the mystical, but motherhood took it to the next level!

Andrew:
You’re releasing this via your own label Natural Music, right? What has the experience of self-releasing been like? I imagine not having a label breathing down you neck is nice and freeing. 

Lia:
Family Album felt different since the get go; I made it slowly and on my own terms, independently. It’s such an intimate piece of work of me and my family, and it felt right to hand-hold it all the way through release myself, and so Natural Music was born. It’s a ton of work, but also rewarding in a whole new way to know that I’m responsible for every aspect of the album and it’s life.

Andrew:
Let’s talk about the production side of things. You worked with JR White on this album before his passing, right? Tell us about the experience and his overall influence on the record.

Lia:
JR White was a genius. I don’t even know how to put it into words…it’s like he could locate the essence of a song and conjure the most authentic emotion out of sound and rhythm to make the song most itself. This album was his creation as much as it was mine. Most memorable were the vocal takes we did. It was just me and him at Hyde Street studio in San Francisco, and he would ask the studio engineer to bring in every microphone they had and set them ALL up; he especially liked the broken/fucked up ones. He had ears like no one I’ve ever met. The sound he made in the studio is basically what it sounds like on the record, and because of that, it was so inspiring to perform hearing the vocals so dialed in. I credit his production decisions for inspiring what I feel are my best vocal performances to date. I can’t believe he’s gone, and I am so grateful my songs were touched by his magic.

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Andrew:
As an artist, how do you feel you’ve evolved since your debut record Necima, your second album Grown Unknown, and your third, Ices? What’s changed. Conversely, what’s the through line within your work?

Lia:
In a way, Family Album is a return to self for me, and a return to the piano. My first record Necima was so unselfconscious; first albums are amazing that way because it’s all the influence from birth until 25! That raw and unfiltered energy is surely present in my latest album as well, not “going for” anything other than facilitating what naturally comes out of my throat and hands when I sit down at the piano .

Andrew:
What is the artist vision for your music going forward? How has it changed since you started? How have you evolved?

Lia:
If I’ve learned anything, it’s that premeditated art doesn’t work so well for me. I’m at my most authentic when music moves through me, and is not something I construct in my head first. Technically, I’ve evolved; I definitely feel like my voice is more agile.

Andrew:
Tell us about your songwriting process. Do your lyrics come from a personal place, or are you merely telling stories so to speak?

Lia:
Music is how I process and understand myself and my emotional life. They are all deeply personal inspirations. I do hope that I can tap into something relatable and universal for others as well.

Andrew:
Touring is usually a huge part of a working band’s proverbial machine, but as we know, COVID has disallowed it. What do you miss most about touring?

Lia:
The camderie that develops between band members, the alchemy between audience and performers, the cusp of unknown ! And finding cool restaurants in each new city.

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Andrew:
One disturbing fact I’ve learned over time is that Spotify doesn’t pay artists well, if at all. How do we as fans do our part to help?

Lia:
If I end up listening to an artist or album on Spotify on rotation, I always buy the vinyl.

Andrew:
Are you into records? Tapes? CDs? Digital?

Lia:
Records!  

Andrew:
What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Lia:
For the Roses by Joni Mitchell — this album is when I really fell in love with her. Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter – I return to this album at different points in my life and absolutely binge on it, most recently was around the birth of my daughter this summer. Terry Allen Juarez – just one of my all-time favorite artists and it reminds me of the summer I fell in love with my husband.

Andrew:
Who are some of your favorite artists? Ones that mean the most to you.

Lia:
Agnes Martin, Georgia O’Keefe, Robinson Jeffers, John Lennon, Don Van Vliet, Joanna Brouck.

Andrew:
Last question. What advice would you have for young artists just starting out? How do they stay afloat in a world that seems to be so abhorrent to creatives?

Lia:
Being an artist is one of the bravest boldest paths we can take as humans. Make art because you need to make art, and know that it is a gift to the world and to humanity. If you are able to —think of your inspirations and ability as gifts coming from beyond you, part of a continuity through time and other artists. If you are doing it for the potential monetary transaction, don’t. If money comes, that’s icing on the cake. We need art, and we need artists to move our culture forward.

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Interested in diving deeper into the work of Lia Ices? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. After losing his life-long vinyl collection in 2014, Andrew began his vinyl collection from scratch again when he met his future wife Angela in 2015. Andrew’s love of music only further blossomed as his collection spanned all genres possible. After amassing 5,000 albums, Andrew knew it was time to finally follow his dream, and thus, Vinyl Writer Music was born. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict, for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island with his wife Angela and their four cats, Oliver, Patrick, Charlie, and Kevin. Andrew works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night. Andrew is also the admin of several Facebook groups dedicated to music.

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