Melbourne musician Alice Ivy may be a producer on paper but not so much in the modern sense. These days many producers manicure their tracks in the studio and take them out to play for audiences as part of DJ sets in their shimmering, glossy finished form. Ivy is not about that. Instead, she’s a producer in the way someone like Nile Rodgers is. She works with organic instrumentation and samples and then pieces it together live.
Her latest single Almost Here is a testament to that. It’s a throwback, brassy tune with hip-hop verses and a hook that pull it into 2016. Starting out in a soul covers band when she was 14, Ivy has an effortless knack for melding the old and the new to create her own signature sound which she has successfully carved with her last couple of releases.
We chatted to Ivy in the middle of her Almost Here singles tour about how she goes about creating that vibe, how The Avalanches have inspired her and why making a full length record is her penultimate goal.
You played Sydney over the weekend. It must feel good to unlock another door because Melbourne has such a vibrant music scene and it’s often difficult to get out of there?
Yeah. I was really stoked and I think you’ve just gotta keep going and keep playing shows. I love touring. I really love playing shows and travelling. It’s the aim of my career to continuously keep tapping at it. I’m pretty lucky because I grew up in Geelong so I’ve got Melbourne going alright, Sydney went well and I’ve got my hometown this weekend. Hopefully some homies will come along. Then I have Brisbane and Adelaide. I’ve played Adelaide before and it was pretty good. Last time I did Hobart and unfortunately I couldn’t do Hobart this time around.
It’s interesting to hear you say you love touring. So many producers love releasing music but don’t love that side of it because it’s difficult to translate that music live. What do you love so much about it?
Being a producer I’ve really really worked hard on my live set to make sure it’s not just about playing a pad and just hitting a pad or hiding behind the decks. I really try and engage with my audience a lot. I do live vocals, I play live guitar, I’ve got a drum pad I hit, I tour with another guitarist. We really work hard on keeping the set really dynamic so it really engages the audience. I aim to have a real party vibe and I like to get super energetic. A lot of people have said to me after shows, “you must be exhausted, you put so much energy into the show and look like you’re super passionate about what you do.” I am and that’s what I aim to get across in shows. I totally vibe DJ sets but I kind of don’t really wanna do that with my stuff I try and keep it as live as possible.
Often when you’re a young artist there’s a temptation to go with DJ sets because it’s a cheaper option. Was there that temptation for you?
I kind of started of...I’ve never played the set on decks just because...I’ve used Ableton Live. I originally started my first couple of shows were just fully electronic and me hitting the pads. I was still jumping around but in the months after that I realised I wanted to make it a little bit more than that. I wanted to be billed as a live act rather than a DJ. I developed it and, I dunno, the DJ set is all good but being treated as an act is more my kind of thing.
Flicking to the music side of things, all your tracks show an intricate interest in music. Have you been collecting samples and records for a long time now?
I’ve listened to the whole soul, motown, neo-soul stuff for a long time now. When I was young I used to play in an all-girls soul band. We used to cover Etta James and Temptations and stuff. From a young age I was able to tour around and do a jazz festival. I was thrown into this scene of music from a young age. I had to listen to this stuff and learn how to play guitar in a band and find a place in a band where everyone was playing something. That’s really helped me develop my set now. If you listen to my last single Almost Here, it’s the hardest I’ve ever worked on. There’s so many layers and I feel like that comes from my experience of listening and playing this kind of music in that band. You’ve gotta find a little place for each sound. I listen to that kind of music everyday and I just throw myself into it. I do sample vinyl and I have collected vinyl but I mostly do a whole lot of research on the internet.
A lot of your music has a hip-hop side to it but also a really vintage soul vibe. That’s rare these days because people are sampling more into deep house sounds. Did you always know you wanted a throwback feel instead of modernising it?
I love that throwback feeling. I always feel like it’s an aim in my music. It’s good for people to be like oh yeah, this is the old mixed with the new. The thing I love about playing live is when you get to hear some of my other stuff, it has that element of the old with the new but I have the chance to create something that’s not specifically just one sound or tone. I’ve been listening to a bunch of disco lately so I feel like I wanted to step in that direction for the next single. If you listen to Touch that one has those old notes of soul music but it’s got more of an electronic style while Almost Here is more of the horn-driven hip-hop vibe. I feel like I’m really lucky to be able to play this kind of music because I can take it wherever I want it with my touch.
Almost Here has an old school vibe to it but there’s something really futuristic in RaRa’s bars. When you choose features, do they have a large input or do you have a solid idea of what you want them to do?
That was a funny situation because I reached out to the guys and they loved the track. I wanted to get RaRa’s vibe on it and see what they could do with it so I threw the track to them and they sent me a couple of demoes and we talked over email. Then we thought we’ve gotta go into the studio and we smashed it out in the studio together. We got a lot done together in that one day which was really cool. The old school soul sound of the track with RaRa’s more modern...not particularly Australian hip-hop, but that trappy, hip-hop style. That’s what I wanted to get out of the track because I didn’t want to traditionally go with the Kanye West-style rap with the big horns because it’s been done.
It’s cool to traverse a number of different styles while keeping your same vibe. It’s something The Avalanches have perfected once again on their latest record, flicking from disco to Danny Brown hip-hop with ease. Is that a goal of yours to pop out a full length album that melds together a lot of styles?
Absolutely. I’m working towards an album at the moment and the aim of the album is to not stop. I’m a massive fan of The Avalanches and...you can’t really judge one of their songs on its own. I really like their new stuff, people threw criticism towards Frankie Sinatra, but you can’t judge a song without hearing the whole piece as it’s supposed to be heard. When you see me live I don’t stop, the music continuously keeps flowing into one another. It’s got that same kind of vibe. That’s the aim, that’s what I want to work towards...a non-stop mix of an album that takes you into different vibes and genres.
What is it that’s so appealing about the continuous flow to a record?
I think it’s electronic music. People want to chuck it on and have a good vibe. When you go out and party and see a DJ that you really like, it’s non-stop. I feel like that’s maybe just a thing that people really like. I was super lucky enough to see Questlove in New York a few weeks ago. You want to go out and you want to see his stuff and he’s a producer and his mixes are amazing. They’re that non-stop flow for 45 minutes. 45 minutes of absolute pleasure. That’s what I feel when I listen to The Avalanches.
Do you like deconstructing your songs? I love that Jamie xx, in his DJ sets, he plays out his samples completely.
Yeah, totally. I’m a really big fan of how Jamie xx writes. I loved Loud Places. It’s got that really big, open, almost disco chorus of voices. The sample itself sounds completely different to what the track does. When you listen to it you don’t know if it’s a sample or if it’s recorded. I totally love that thing. The way I’ve written certain songs like Touch, that kind of structure of song was in a similar way. It was a sample neatly-placed into a song. You wouldn’t pick it straight away. Almost Here is a little bit different because it’s got that boomy, horn-line that’s a part of the chorus. But I totally want to explore that way of deconstructing a song as I keep writing because it’s an awesome example of matching the old with the new.
Is it tough when you’ve got this amazing sample from a song to build your own track around it without relying on the sample’s melody?
That’s a tough one. Whenever I do listen to stuff like that I try not to listen to the whole song as a piece. I do a bunch of listening when I’m walking to the train and stuff and I flick through the track. If there’s a part I really like I pick it and stop listening to the rest. I chuck it into a session and then I work out some beats or some synth-lines or something. I build the track around that.
Interview conducted by the interns' Sam Murphy for Cool Accidents. Photography by Dominik Schmarsel
PS - There are still some dates left to catch Alice Ivy live in action around the country... peep HERE to see if you're in luck!