IVA Allows Herself To Be Seen With Nobody’s Woman
IVA is a singer/songwriter whose musical experience and activity spans several fields, with a background in classical and operatic performance. After growing up in the United States, she spent time in Stockholm, Sweden, and has brought her international perspective back to pursuing her own songwriting and performing in Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Her EP, Nobody’s Woman, arrived on March 3rd, 2023 and is her most personal work to date, partly inspired by some time spent with other songwriters in Nashville. Bringing her songs home for further development, IVA recorded the new album at Philadelphia’s Turtle Studios with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Bellenoit and engineer Doug Raus.
The title track and other songs in the collection also tie into some big realizations in IVA’s life regarding her relationships and alcoholism, but those realizations bred an intentionality that is felt throughout the new songs. As a performer, IVA has also updated her mindset to be less apologetic and more true to her “lifer” status as a musician. I spoke with IVA about the growth of this intentional approach in her life and songwriting and how we can see these developments on Nobody’s Woman.
Americana Highways: I know that you were releasing music throughout the pandemic period. Where does Nobody’s Woman fit into that timeline
IVA: This record was the first time that I was able to get my entire band back in the studio to play together after maybe four years. It was really a push. I play with my band and we test all the songs live before I record them, so when everyone came into record this record, everyone was ready to go and nailed it! We finished early on the session because everyone was so psyched to be in the studio.
AH: It feels like a very focused, intentional collection.
IVA: Regarding intentionality, I have a good friend who lives in Nashville, Adam Ollendorff. I had asked him if he could recommend producers down there. When I listened to them, I felt they were a little more country than I tended to sound, because I’m from Delaware. I’m more a Yankee than I am a Southerner even though three of my grandparents were from the South.
I didn’t want to feel like an interloper, and somehow inauthentic, so Adam said, “You could come down here and write and I’ll introduce you to all my people!” I went down to write and came up with a bunch of songs I love. This EP is the first tester of how some of this material would work for me. I still haven’t recorded some of the songs. I’ve lived all over the place, including Stockholm, Philadelphia, and Paris. I just want to be respectful of where my music is coming from even though I can bridge many genres. But besides the intentionality of going down to Nashville to write it, there’s a recent development for me. This is the first time I am doing a record sober. I struggled for many years. A lot of the record is about a partner who I had who was an alcoholic. That’s what the song “Nobody’s Woman” is about, particularly.
When I was in Nashville, I went to a Margo Price concert and I really liked her song, “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle.)” But of course I was always thinking, “It’s these other people drinking alcohol.” When I came back and wrote “Nobody’s Woman” on my own, I looked really closely at it and said, “There’s definitely something going on with me. There’s the pot calling the kettle black going on here.” This is the first time I’ve admitted that I needed help, and this January I decided to go sober.
AH: Thank you for sharing that.
IVA: It’s the first time I’m putting together that fact with the intentionality behind the record. It did prompt me to be intentional, because I care so much about the record, and about the people who work and play with me, and I care about myself. I want this to be a positive ride for everybody. That means me being at my conscious, my most self-aware. It’s really challenging being a musician, logistically. There’s a lot that goes into making sure that other people hear the music, and that can be daunting. That includes putting oneself out there, saying “Here’s my music. I’m proud of it. I’m doing this with intention.” Some people present making music as “Oops, I accidentally made music.” There’s nothing accidental about me being a musician.
AH: I love dispelling that myth, that making music is no big deal. On social media sometimes people are pressured to stylize their experience in that way. It’s almost never the case.
IVA: One of the things that happened to me recently regarding that is that now that I’m sober, I can see a lot of the stuff that I’ve been doing more clearly. For example, I play with a Nord piano and a looper that you use your hands to operate. That requires a separate microphone. I didn’t have my stuff very well organized, and I didn’t think it mattered. I’d carry my looper in the box that it came in. The guitarist I work with, after doing some duo shows together, said, “You need to rack all of that stuff. And you need to get a gig bag for your looper. It’s not slick. You’re having to move around the stage to get to stuff and it looks a little awkward.”
I got this really appropriate, racked stand. I got a grant from Delaware to support my touring, so I got a stand. I realized that maybe a little bit of me having my stuff spread out on the stage was a kind of statement, “Oh, I don’t really know what I’m doing. If I make a mistake, it’s because I’m still figuring it out! It’s not my fault!” To hell with still figuring it out! I’ve been doing this since I was nine years old. But it’s a way to avoid being judged. If you show, “I’m intentionally doing this,” then you have to live with the opinions that people might have. People might not like your music, and that’s easier to take if you say, “This is just a lark!”
AH: Did this kind of intention-based development play into your songwriting on the EP, other than with “Nobody’s Woman”?
IVA: My friends heard that I had made a song about their son who had passed away. I had not shared it with them because I thought they would not like the song, or that they might feel that I was intruding by writing a song about their son. He had a condition that made it hard for him to walk. We were all kids playing at the swimming pool and on the swim team. When I heard that he’d died, I thought, “He just threw himself into those activities with a huge smile on his face, right in front of us.” When he swam, it was a little bit like thrashing in the water, but none of us made fun of him because he went for it.
When he passed away, I learned that he had been an escort at a hospital, which is a true saint’s job, taking people in and out of very painful situations. Then I thought, “I have all of my faculties and I’m chickening out on stuff.” There was something so beautiful in all he did, so I wrote the song, “Heart” for him because I thought, “I want to live like he did!” I actually wrote that song way before I went to Nashville and I had only played it live a couple of times because it was so personal.
We invited his parents over for lunch during lockdown so I could play this song for them. I got brave. They were really moved and said, “We’d like a fine recording of this.” That’s what started me making this record. I thought, “Okay, it’s time.” When we played the song together live in the studio, I invited his parents to come, and they got so much out of it. I think they really loved it.
AH: That song is really interesting musically, too, because it has this softer side to it. It feels a lot like the dance music of the 50s which is quite romantic and lovely. That contrasts with the sense of self-critique.
IVA: When I was writing it, I did think about a time when his parents might be at a dance, falling in love, and the seed was planted for him to exist. I wanted it to sound like where he was cosmically conceived, so to speak. So that’s why I chose an old-school sound.
AH: That’s really deep! It is cosmic to think that way, to wonder how these positive, cosmic people come to be. But actually, all of these songs are very personal. Have you had any reticence about speaking so directly from your own life in your songs?
IVA: I really feel better, in the long run, when I allow myself to be seen. “Mid Air” is a lot about that. I’m saying, “I feel like the shoe’s going to drop at any moment. I’m in trouble. But I’ll crack a joke and run off.” It’s about not wanting people to see that. It’s the moment between drowning and swimming.
I was driving to a gig with one of my bandmates and he was disappointed about the level of commitment of people in his other band. He was saying, “I’m a lifer. I’m not looking for something else to do after this.” As he’s gotten older, he said that he’s noticed who the lifers are. He said, “You’re a lifer.” I agreed. I’m compelled to do this.
I have students, and when parents ask if their children “have it,” I say, “It’s not about that. It’s about their self-motivation.” My family never wanted this for me. They love it now, but they didn’t want it then. I asked for piano lessons and I practiced. I wanted to go to music school. It was my desire. I’m inspired to get better. I learned guitar during the pandemic.
In the song, “Mid Air” though, you can see that I’m concerned because I don’t want to bum people out with my songs. People have told me, “You should write happy songs.” I do write happy songs, but I’m not entirely convinced that all of life is happy. Life is about being a human being and all of the feelings and experiences that we have.
AH: I think I see a shift in recent years that musicians aren’t having to obey the iron law of “happy.” People are looking for authenticity and resonance. And if the music is hard or sad, but has that quality, then people can deal. The social conversation has moved closer to real emotions and feelings, maybe.
IVA: I think you’re right. I love Taylor Swift’s new song [“Anti-Hero”], which is saying, “It’s me, hi, I’m the problem, it’s me.” At first, I thought it was an ironic statement, but when I listened to the whole song, I realized she’s being serious. She’s saying, “It is my fault!” I also saw the movie Tar recently, and she’s such an operator, always working her angles to be celebrated by everybody else. That eventually takes her down, her basic human needs that she refuses to admit. She doesn’t want people to know that she is a real human being.
AH: You’ve lived in other countries, so what do you think about this idea of hiding our real human qualities behind a persona that seems so prevalent in the US?
IVA: We have such an individualistic culture here in the states. That is something that I’ve been dealing with in terms of how I present myself on social media. I don’t want to get up in the morning and do full hair and makeup just to tell people what I’m up to. That’s what a lot of people do. There are a lot of scary pressures of being an artist. I’ve seen artists who I really respect on one hand do things that I really consider selling out on the other hand. But I know every human is a human. They are not perfect, myself included.
Thanks so much of speaking with us, IVA. You can find more about IVA and her music here: https://ivavoice.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: Grooves & Cuts February 2023