Apparently one of my favorite bands, the pop trio Ivy, also has the Voice to thank for introducing songwriters Adam Schlesinger and Andy Chase to one another. I mention this because together with Dominique Durand they've just released All Hours, their sixth full-length album of moody, hypnotic songs. In many ways, I think it improves on In the Clear, their last release for Nettwerk Records. Fresh off a short run of shows promoting the album, Chase made time to answer a few travel-related questions for my Two Minute Interview column.
- How has travel influenced your music or changed your songwriting perspective? In Ivy we have a Parisian and two Americans who have always looked to England and Europe for cultural and musical inspiration, so we were somewhat more aware of the world around us than most bands when we started. But still, we were quite provincial in our songwriting in the early years. I mean, when we got signed and made our debut album we felt we had seen very little of the U.S. or Europe. If you look at the subject matter of those first few albums (Realistic and Apartment Life) the songs were all about either broken relationships or NYC urban life. By our third album Long Distance in 1999 we'd played in almost every state in the country, been to Japan and Europe three times—we had seen the world. We began writing about much more expansive and outward-looking themes. You can tell just by studying the titles of the songs: “Undertow” (which was written in Normandy) and “Edge Of The Ocean.” The traveling we've done and the sense of forward motion in our lives continues to be a recurring theme for us in more recent songs like “Nothing But The Sky,” “Keep Moving,” and “Ocean City Girl.”
- Describe something surprising, humorous, or disappointing that's happened in your collective travels. We always wondered why bands traveled in vans or buses, but never RV's. Before a six week tour we called a national RV rental company and were told they categorically don't rent to bands. I took out my earrings and went to the dealership with a jacket on and said I was going on a trip with my parents. They eyed me suspiciously and reiterated that it was only for recreational use and asked again if I was a musician. I did my best Ferris Bueller, signed all the forms and drove out of there with a 42 ft. RV pulling a trailer on the hitch. About an hour into the 10,000 mile tour, Adam put his feet up on the kitchen table and the top came crashing down, breaking two bottles of ketchup in an explosion all over the carpet below. Sans a working kitchen table, everything seemed beautiful for a few days. We began thinking we were the smartest band in the country, having found the secret to touring in style. It was the middle of the summer and by the time we hit the Badlands it was about 106 degrees outside. That's when the generator for our air-conditioning broke. The nearest hub was about 150 miles from where we were, and they said we could have it fixed, but couldn't promise how quickly. Problem is, we were a band, and couldn't just waltz in there. So about a mile from the place we pulled over on a remote stretch of road and dropped the band and crew and all the gear on a slim strip of grass. Two of us drove the RV to the dealership and waited seven hours while some guy worked on the broken generator. When it was fixed we raced back to pick up the stranded group who by then were suffering from heat stroke and sunburns and were all quite pissed. The next day our tour manager was backing up the RV and a low-hanging tree branch took off the top three inches of the roof in the rear. From inside you could see plenty of sky through the chewed up and torn fiberglass. We did our best to patch it with plastic bags and duct tape, but over the next month rain and grime made its way through and pretty much soaked and stained every inch of the living area. When the generator died again we just gave up and popped out the permanent windows so we could at least get some air flowing into the vehicle. Those windows came out pretty easily, but were virtually impossible to put back in. By the time we returned the RV to the dealership it was pretty much unrecognizable. We were charged $4,500 to repair the roof, another $3,000 to replace and repair the multitude of broken and stained items inside, and a massive $1,000 cleaning fee. It was all buses after that.
- When you were starting out with Ivy, where did you dream of playing live? What about now? We started off only playing clubs around NYC. They held maybe 100 people. We dreamed about landing a tour and traveling around the country, playing “big” places. Our first tour was with They Might Be Giants, in huge auditoriums and halls, playing to over 1,000 people. We didn't distinguish between different cities or venues—they were all enormous and mind-blowing. Now I think we dream of playing in exotic places we haven't been to yet: South America, Indonesia…
- What are some of the most memorable places you've performed, and why? In our early years we had a decent following in the major cities, but once we were off the grid we were virtually unknown. We found ourselves playing a show in a tiny dive bar in Toledo, Ohio. We waited for people to come but other than the bartender and our roadie there was no one else in the venue. We felt silly going on stage but suddenly four people walked in so we began to play. After the first song all four people and the bartender clapped enthusiastically. Dominique asked them to come to the front of the stage and sit on the the floor, which all five did. We walked to the edge of the stage, sat on the monitors and played a very relaxed, funny show for them, taking time between songs to let them make comments. It ended up being one of the more charming and spontaneous shows we've ever done.
- As a fan, do you have any enduring concert-going memories? Who did you see and where? Best concert, hands down, was before we started Ivy. Dominique and I saw The Sundays open for House Of Love in NYC. Two amazing bands. There were lots of smoke machines and strobe lights. We just watched that show in awe. How could it not make you want to be up on stage doing that?
- Do you look forward to touring, meeting other bands, and seeing cities through the eyes of a working musician, or would you rather be writing and recording from the comforts of home? Both. Those two worlds are so disconnected that, like two different parts of your brain, you need them both to function. There's nothing more exciting than the three of us holed up in our studio Stratosphere writing new songs. But the thrill and exhilaration of traveling to different cities, seeing different cultures, getting up on stage in front of people, seeing them smile and sing along to your songs, it can't be substituted. It's the Yin and Yang of life as a musician.
- Who or what do you find most exciting or inspiring about New York's music scene at the moment? Any venues you're fond of? Well, the Brooklyn scene is really the thing to speak of at the moment, though it's been vibrant for quite a few years now. We thought we'd played all the good places around town… but we just played Gramercy Theater on East 23rd street for the first time and it might be one of our favorite venues for its size (600 people) in the country. Amazing space—huge floor in front of the stage but seats like a movie theater going up in the rear of the house. The ceilings must be 50 feet high. A phenomenal PA system, an insane amount of lights and a high, wide stage. We were blown away.