Lia Ices was born and raised in a beach town on the coast of Connecticut, studied in the Experimental Theatre Wing at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and wrote her second album, Grown Unknown, in a secluded cabin in snowbound Vermont. Suitably, her work meshes together elements from all three seemingly disparate locales — a deep reverence for the endless rhythms of nature, a relentlessly avant-garde bent, a sense of being slightly out of step with the miniscule dramas of everyday human life. The singer/songwriter/pianist's debut LP, Necima, was released in 2008 on New York's Rare Book Room records; last year, she was snatched up by Bloomington, Ind.-based Jagjaguwar, home also to Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, who pops up for a duet on her new release. It's fair to classify that song, “Daphne,” as one of Grown Unknown's most stunning cuts, but that's not really saying much — the record unspools end-to-end with one chillingly gorgeous track after another.
eMusic's Rachael Maddux spoke with Ices about her careful music-making, not being Kate Bush and working with Kanye's latest right-hand man.
On the inspirational properties of self-imposed, snowbound exile:
I wanted to switch up my process and sort of change the way that I live day to day, and also how I make art. So I spent a whole winter in snowy Vermont and I was forced to get really elemental with my days. Everything was focused on simple, elemental survival things, like making fire right away because we only had wood heat. And we didn't go to the store every day, so I had to make bread and food and I learned how to tune the piano that I worked on. So everything was, like, stripped down and hard. But it just forced me to get into this new headspace with myself and then that trickled down into the music, for sure…For the first record, it was more like a document of my first set of songs — I don't think I was as aware that I could actually take control of my process. It was more like getting it out, you know? And this time it was a lot more deliberate about where I put myself, how I let things marinate, the space I gave myself with the arrangements. I think the first one was more like a document and symbol that I was capable of writing.
On being in a band with her brother:
My dad is really musical — he plays guitar, and we grew up on the Beatles and Elvis Costello. I started playing piano when I was really little, and [my parents] always encouraged it for sure. But my brother — we didn't start collaborating until we were adults…It's amazingly easy. He's definitely my closest collaborator and we have a really similar aesthetic and we balance each other, personality-wise. I don't play guitar and I can't, and so much of the songs, especially this album — I've given the role of the main instrument to things that I don't play, so his facility with the guitar is really amazing. He understands what I want really fast, and that's something I've learned is really hard to find in a player.
On working with Justin Vernon on “Daphne”:
I've never collaborated with an artist like that — and really, with anyone else besides my band. It was really just, like, seamless. He brings so much of himself and he's so intuitive that he just tapped into what I was going for right away. I actually can't imagine the song without him now. It's his, I feel…The song, [I] recorded it a while ago and it was just my voice for a really long time, but I felt it was missing — there was some balance that was off. And I started thinking about a male voice — it's so feminine, the song needs so much grounding power. And I'd been thinking about his voice and yeah, I sent him the song and we just had a great back and forth.
On irrelevant reference points:
I just think it's so interesting that people feel like they need to compare in order to understand — that's something that I just have to be at peace with and not really listen to. And I don't think about Kate Bush or Cat Power when I'm writing music…I think, especially as a writer, that you have unconscious dialogue with other artists. I don't listen to, like, strictly female singer/songwriters. It just makes sense for people to be able to fit me in some sort of in-between or mesh of something else that they understand until they understand me.
On getting back to nature in Brooklyn:
In the summer, Park Slope is pretty good for that, and I used to live in Carroll Gardens which I feel like had a lot of green. It's fun to find those places in the city, to still maintain that kind of space that you can have in the country. You can totally fake it here sometimes.