Video Premiere: Lia Ices, “Grown Unknown”


Yes In My Backyard is a semiweekly column showcasing MP3s from new and emerging local talent.

Uplifting in a Kate Bush way, uneasy in a Cat Power way, the 2008 debut from Brooklyn dreamcatcher Lia Ices was a slept-on slow-burner full of haunting crooning, minimalist pianos, and shimmering Rhodes–think PJ Harvey’s White Chalk with better anti-depressants and a suntan from a summer spent in McCarren Park. Two years later, Ices is following it up with her first album for Jagjaguwar (due sometime in 2011) and its early teaser track, “Grown Unknown.” The track unleashes a more assured, hard-edged Lia, whose swirling coo is now surrounded by tricky percussion and violently throbbing chords–mainly a “homemade dulcimer” played by drummer Otto Hauser, who used chopsticks while Lia’s brother Eliot fingered the chords. Inspired by the body percussion involved in ritual music, the track even features a new percussive slant–circular clapping that fits right next to YIMBY grads Zs and Gil-Scott Heron’s recent epic “New York Is Killing Me.”

MP3 Download: [audio-1]

Q&A: Lia Ices

What is “Grown Unknown” about?

“Grown Unknown” is about resisting the tendency to control and confine our desires. I’m playing around with the juxtaposition between what our minds have constructed about how to love someone, and all that remains beyond those concepts, unexplored. “Grown Unknown” is about letting ourselves, with the one we love, evolve with a spirit of abandon and to celebrate this move toward growing wildly together. And by “wildly” I mean, naturally, untamed, free.

What inspired it musically?

I was inspired by the relationship between rhythm and voice in tribal and ritual songs. I wanted it to feel very elemental and human. The first sounds you hear are only of the body: hands-on-leg drumming and voice. Since there are so few musical elements in the song, I was interested in each of them being really extreme in their role, almost exaggerated. Through experimenting with how they’re being played and recorded, I wanted these acoustic instruments to sound and feel new… I wrote the majority of this album over the course of a winter in Vermont. The way I related to the basic and necessary elements of my day–sun, fire, snow, moon–was extremely heightened. The combination of sparseness/richness and understanding the power that exists in simplicity had a great effect on the music and its arrangement.

What inspired it lyrically?

Lyrically and visually, I draw a lot from nature. This is definitely a theme in the whole album. When I was writing this song in particular, I was inspired by how wildflower fields come to be and the beauty of their unpredictability. They resist being tamed in any way. I’m fascinated with using the truths and processes that happen in the natural world as guidance in understanding the intricacies of how we relate in human life and love.

How did you record that tricky clapping part?

The four of us in my band did this together standing up, drumming the rhythm with our open palms on our thighs. We probably did eight or nine takes, each time changing our relationship with the microphones. We started straight on the mics in a semi circle, then moved back five feet, then 10 feet, then turned around so our backs were to the microphones, etc. It was important to record the hand slaps in as many varied ways as possible, with the goal of it sounding full and unique.

What’s the most memorable show you’ve ever played in New York?

Our most memorable show was last summer at Music Hall of Williamsburg with Juana Molina. The audience and I fell in love. It was packed in there and we had some crazy kinetic energy going on. I think I had an out-of-body experience.

What’s your favorite place to eat in Brooklyn?

In the summer I love to go to Blue Apron and Union Market in Park Slope for picnic supplies and then bike to a secret spot in Prospect Park on the far edge of the lake. But Brooklyn restaurant? Pies ‘N’ Thighs!

Lia Ices plays the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans CMJ showcase at Pianos on October 21.