Lia Ices Talks New LP ‘Family Album’, Musical Terroir, Embracing Motherhood and More (INTERVIEW)

The new album from singer-songwriter Lia Ices came during a time of major change in her life. She had made a major move from the East Coast to California, living on Moon Mountain in Sonoma, and was pregnant with her first child (she just had a second). These events inspired her to start writing and ultimately shaped her newest release, Family Album, which may be her most impressive and fully realized collection of songs to date. Surrounded by an enchanting and majestic environment while also entering into motherhood had a major effect on Ices, and the result is an album that feels soulful and intimate as a work of sweeping indie folk.

As is often the case on her albums, piano playing plays a center role, but this time there are other elements at play. The instrumentation is rich and layered, moving from sparse and haunting to psychedelic and sunny with plenty of nuance in between. Ices wanted to translate the beauty of her surroundings into the music, and we hear this on the catchy folk-pop of “Young On The Mountain” with its euphoric chorus, opening track “Earthy,” and the dramatic, piano-driven “Beauty Blue.” Layers of twangy guitar, choir-like harmonies, charming acoustics, and psych-folk effects that bring to mind sunny California rock of the late 60s and 70s all come together to make an album that feels like a complete encapsulation of where Ices was at during the writing and recording. Indeed, Family Album is about coming to terms with your world, embracing change, and finding a sense of happiness through it all.

Recently, Lia Ices took some time to chat about the events that led to Family Album, writing a “California album,” musical terroir and more.

This is your first album since 2014. Had you always intended to wait this long between releases?

Writing this album was a return to the piano and to myself really. I wanted to make something intimate and honest, I’d just finished a big electronic tour with Phantogram and needed a break from all that. I started writing with no end goals or commercial concepts, I would just sit at the piano and see what came out, no pressure, no deadlines. I also got married and had 2 kids…

The length between albums is never something I pre-meditate…but I do seem to have a pattern of having a new body of work every 3-4 years. This album had some delays due to the state of the world in 2020, it didn’t feel quite right to promote and release this album at the height of our collective anxiety. I also started my own label, which took a moment to set up!

You’ve said that this is your “first California album.” Do you think moving from the East Coast to California changed your approach to the writing and the music?

There’s no way I could have made this album in New York. Being in California, in nature, just got into my soul, these songs sound like the place they were written in. The Wild West energy is alive and well in Northern California, and I feel like it gave me permission to be deeply myself.

I really like the idea of the album terroir that you have mentioned. Can you talk a bit about what that means exactly?

My husband is a winemaker, he’s always talking about terroir, all those natural influences that effect the wine each vintage: rainfall, wind patterns, soil, flora, etc. Sitting down at a piano, alone, out in the country on a wild mountainside, the natural world and that unique environment completely enveloped me; the songs made sense in that place, they are of that place

Musically, do you feel like this album is a departure from your previous releases?

This album feels like a return to self. In a way it recalls my first album NECIMA, where I just sat down at the piano and let what naturally happen happen, no pre-conceived ideas about trying to make a certain kind of song, actually no trying at all! Just showing up and hoping the muse meets me in the studio.

How did the idea of motherhood affect your approach to the songs or your creative mindset?

Pregnancy and natural childbirth has connected me to the primal feminine in a way I never could have imagined. The process of becoming a mother and now second-time mother has totally changed my understanding of who I am and what I came here to achieve. Women are natural born creators, in the literal sense of the word, and I’ve loved leaning into that idea.

Are the songs on the album autobiographical?

I actually don’t know how to write a song that’s not autobiographical in some way. Writing music is how I process the human experience. I hope that listeners can hear themselves or their experiences in my songs, or at least relate to the emotions they feel in it — making art has the potential to have a real universality to it, by touching on the collective unconscious.

The album has a very 60s folk-rock sound to it but also sounds very fresh and of the moment. Were there specific albums or artists that you were listening to going into the recording?

We owe the sounds a lot to JR White and how he brilliantly engineered me and my 4-piece band playing live in the studio. He was brilliant. We were listening to all kind of things; Grateful Dead, Buffy Sainte Marie, Erik Satie, Harry Nilsson, who are all perfect mountain soundtracks.

You have said that you embraced a more collaborative approach on this album. How did that work in the studio?

This was a true ‘family album’, me, JR, Eliot, John, Chris, Derek, Jeremy, etc etc …I used to be way more controlling about what my musicians were going to play (writing bass lines, etc). This time I just trusted JR to lead the charge and didn’t try to micromanage. It made for much more spirited and inspired performances, and I could chill a bit and enjoy watching what unraveled.

Photo credit: Renee Friedrich

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