IVY: Andy Chase and Dominique Durand

Vineland: New York stories from Ivy
Hearsay #21 / 2000 / Email interview with Ewen and Neil

"We would always explain that we were homebodies; that our time in NYC was spent at night doing pretty mellow stuff, sitting on the couch writing songs"

There have been surprisingly few successful French-American cultural fusions. One thinks most recently of Jeanne Moreau flouncing off the set of ER and being on a plane back to her homeland at the precise moment her scenes were due to be shot. Bucking the trend and striking a blow against European centralisation and for furtive romanticism come Andy Chase and Dominique Durand who, together with Adam Schlesinger, are IVY, fashioners of sublime and yearning pop for anyone who had a heart. We've enthused about Realistic (1995) and Apartment Life (1998) in these pages before; now read our foreign correspondence with them from last year...

HEARSAY: What do you think are the differences between your albums Realistic (1995) and Apartment Life (1998)? How did you change as songwriters, musicians and people between the two releases?

ANDY: On Realistic we were really racing against the clock. We only had enough money from the label to work for three weeks in the studio which was nothing when you consider it was just me and Adam doing most of the music and, going in, the songs were just sketches on the acoustic guitar. We hadn't any idea of even what tempo the songs should be. We had our work cut out for us. We also felt very trapped in the indie scene as it was then--totally guitar-oriented. So, although we wanted to make a lush, very arranged record, we weren't too brave about using other instruments besides our guitars.

On Apartment Life our method of writing was virtually the same as before—writing on acoustic and then fleshing out the songs (arrangements, tempos, instruments, etc.) in the studio. But this time, two years later, I was a more accomplished engineer and we felt more comfortable with our own production skills. So I ended up doing all the engineering, and we produced it ourselves in the recording studio I had recently put together in the meat packing district of NYC. We took our time and got to experiment with all the things we felt we neglected the first shot around. We also focused on making sure the rhythm tracks, especially, were more sophisticated and interesting than on Realistic.

DOMINIQUE: I also think a big difference is that after making Realistic we toured for almost a year and it definitely made us more confident as musicians, especially me as a singer.

Maybe it's just the packaging of Apartment Life but the whole album seems to have a distinctly NYC vibe to it. Do you agree? Do you think Ivy's music is inherently urban (small u!) and reflects the place in which it's made?

ANDY: Something obvious had been developing by the time we were almost done writing for Apartment Life. We had a bunch of songs that seemed to point to urban themes—the pressures and oppression of city life, the monotony of living in our shoe box homes, city-stress, etc. The funny thing is that most of the songs (at least that I wrote) were written in France where Dominique and I had been for almost two months. So I don't know what to say about the "NYC vibe" theory. I do think, however, that the idea of going somewhere else for inspiration in order to write is very important. It really works for me. If I'm sitting on a cliff looking at the ocean, happy to be away from NYC, I'm probably going to be inspired to write. And maybe what comes out isn't necessarily descriptions of seagulls and sand but of the things I've been keeping inside back in the place where I live.

Do you think living in an apartment engenders a significantly different kind of lifestyle from living in a house? What does the album title signify to you?

ANDY: Well I grew up in a house in the suburbs. It's a world apart from the kind of life I'm leading now. The album title came from our response to the press who were always trying to connect us to a specific scene. For us, the only scene here in New York we were aware of was rap and underground, lower eastside-type rock. We would always explain that we were pretty much homebodies and weren't part of any current movement; that, since we didn't grow up in a big city, our time here was mostly spent at night doing pretty mellow stuff, sitting on the couch writing songs. This homebody response, along with the emerging urban theme, seemed to justify calling the album Apartment Life.

DOMINIQUE: As opposed to Andy and Adam I grew up in an apartment in Paris on the third floor of a 40-floor building. So for me it all seems pretty familiar. I feel very secure in a big city, living in a big building.

Do you feel part of a community of musicians in NYC? The guest names on Apartment Life are impressive. How do you know Lloyd Cole, for example? And was Chris Botti a friend already or did you pursue him because you'd admired his session work on other records?

ANDY: Manhattan is an extremely small city and, I've discovered, its music scene is even smaller. It was inevitable that we would meet most of the other musicians involved in the same genre as us. Lloyd was auditioning musicians and we heard about it one day at our rehearsal studio. We figured he must have an upcoming tour or something so we sent our CD to his rehearsal studio with a note saying, "Please let us open for you!" We ended up touring the States for seven weeks with him. Afterwards, back home, he co-produced a few songs with us, one of which (I've Got A Feeling) made it on the record. Chris Botti was suggested to us by a mutual friend and we thought it was a good idea since we were already familiar with his playing.

DOMINIQUE: I've been a fan of a band called The Feelies here from NYC for a long time. The drummer, who I think is just spectacular, was also the drummer in Luna—another band that I love. So we called both the drummer (Stanley Demeski) and Luna's singer (Dean Wareham) and asked them if they wanted to play on a few songs. They were happy to do it.

Do you prefer producing yourselves to being produced? What do you recall of working with Kurt Ralske on the first record?

DOMINIQUE: I think a producer can be very necessary for any band. It's good to have an objective ear and it can push you beyond your own limits.

ANDY: Adam and I are both producers outside of Ivy so it's no surprise that we prefer to produce ourselves. It's not an ego or control thing at all, it's simply that it's one of the best parts of making music for us. We absolutely love the whole production process and it's really one of the reasons we enjoy Ivy so much. It would take a lot to give that up. And our one experience working with another producer (Kurt) was a total nightmare. So unless Flood or someone like that wants the job...

What sort of music did the two of you bond over when you first met?

DOMINIQUE: The Smiths, New Order, Lloyd Cole, the Go-Betweens, the Stone Roses, House Of Love.

When you're obviously in a very happy personal and professional relationship, it's perhaps surprising that so many of the lyrics take a doomy or cynical view of relationships. Where does this pessimism come from? Is it pure fiction or experiences from your past? Things you see in your friends' lives, perhaps?

ANDY: If you're a writer or poet or whatever you're observing the world around you for future reference even if you don't think you are because something has to be fuelling your muse. You might see things in your friends, or watch something on TV that resonates for you, or just suddenly think about something terrible or exciting that may have happened to you. Maybe that's why there's an itch all-of-a-sudden to write a song that day. And what comes out might seem uncharacteristically dramatic and morose but you can never tell the state of someone's inner mind by just looking at them or chatting for a few minutes. I guess for me, underneath the surface, there's a less cheerful side that's easy to smooth over during the day for people I don't know. But when I'm alone it definitely comes out. We've all had some pretty rough relationships or experiences and I'm sure everyone can get dark at times. I just seem to draw on it for inspiration... I don't know why.

Do you think any peculiarly French qualities show up in Ivy's sound? Do you listen to any French music at home? I wonder if you feel any kind of kinship with bands like Autour de Lucie or Air?

ANDY: A good friend of mine, Jean-Pierre Ensuque, is the guitarist for Autour de Lucie. And I've been exposed to all kinds of cool but obscure French bands since I met Dominique nine years ago. I also just finished producing an amazing French band called Tahiti 80 (which was mixed by Tore Johansson: Cardigans, St Etienne) so I do feel very much a part of the French scene.

Any current or future plans for the band you'd like to let us in on? How easily do you think you can integrate the roles of pop gods and responsible parents?

DOMINIQUE: We're almost done recording our new record. I'm trying to finish singing all the vocals between baby feedings. It's definitely a very 'different' experience - extremely challenging and also funny. It's too soon yet to imagine what it's going to be like on tour.

Apropos of nothing... if you were each given the chance of programming a season of films on a linking theme at your local repertory cinema, what would be the theme and which films would feature?

DOMINIQUE: The theme would be The Malaise Of The Human Heart featuring any films of Antonioni, Visconti, Truffaut, early Wenders and Kurosawa.

ANDY: My theme would be Films With Unhappy Endings featuring The Vanishing (original version), One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Planet Of The Apes, A Woman Under The Influence and Bonnie & Clyde.

Who would play the band members in the TV movie of the Ivy Story?

ANDY: Nastassia Kinski would have to play Dominique if she was to be happy; we'd get Donald Trump to play the part of Adam.

DOMINIQUE: Jeremy Irons would definitely be Andy!

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