The day after an earthquake hit her home in Northern California, we caught up with Kessel and spoke about everything from her musical collaborations to poetry and traveling. Read on to hear her thoughts and to watch the exclusive premiere of her new music video, "Higher," which features kaleidoscopic visions of the artist and her brother as they explore Jamaica.
What were your inspirations on Ices?
The album is inspired by a lot of things but a lot of it is this feeling of levity and lightness. It was really important for me to go inside and learn a whole new set of systems -- I got really into software, technology, and making my own beats. That's really a positive force and it's very freeing. I think the energy of what it actually felt like to experiment and push myself as a writer and musician is the positivity in the album.
What inspired you to start this experimentation and learn these new processes?
My last album, Grown Unknown, has a very '70s singer-songwriter kind of vibe, but the more I toured, the songs naturally started to extrovert themselves. When it was time to write again, I was like, "I want to make an album with [my brother] Eliot," who I've always played music with. We're very in synch and we're great foils for each other.
Tell me about working with your brother.
We moved to the Hudson Valley together two years ago. He's an amazing musician, but we also bounce ideas off of each other like crazy. We got really into making sounds and playing with beats. We let all of our influences come in, all of the random shit that we like. We like hip-hop and we like Persian pop. We wanted to make a classic album and we didn't stop until we were satisfied, which is kind of crazy now that I think about it.
During those two years did you still travel or were you rooted in the Hudson Valley?
I think this is where the levity comes in. I was really committed to the project, but I was going back-and-forth between New York and California. My fiancé lives in San Francisco, so I would have crazy work binges in the Hudson Valley, get on a plane, spend time with my love partner, and then have to go back. It became a strange ritual.
When you look back on those two years, what is one of the formative moments that you'll remember?
A big one was the first time we had a production session with Clams Casino in Brooklyn. It was for the song "Waves" -- the last song on the album. Eliot and I had taken such a long time with that song and it was already so epic and powerful. During our session with Clams, I remember thinking, "This is what this album is about." The deeper Eliot and I go and the more we can communicate that, the people we collaborate with can go there immediately too. That makes the project much deeper and more meaningful. It's not just me.
What were the biggest differences between working with a partner versus working on an album alone?
It's more fun just having the days pass. You can also work longer because it's not just you and your brain. If you're really in synch with someone and speaking the same language, you get places faster. Eliot and I keep each other in check. Like the hook for "Higher," Eliot played that on the guitar and I was like, "That's it," and he was like, "What?" Maybe if I wasn't there he wouldn't have thought that was a cool line, but he's the one that played it. It's a really good give and take.
"Higher" by Lia Ices
Was there anything else different about this recording process?
I used to think I shouldn't listen to other music while I was writing my own music. I kept it really exclusive and private, but I totally let that idea go [this time]. We listened to so much and we let so much come in. I think all of these influences find themselves in there, but it's us coming through a filter of what we like. I'd also only really written songs on the piano and vocals -- to see songs on this album that were inspired by a rhythm or sounds we had made opposed to more poetry or word-based things, that really switched it up.
Did you find yourself going back to anything in particular?
We were always going back to Spiritualized. We were going back to Link Wray and some of those early American blues singers. We were digging for strange Persian or Pakistani sounds. A lot of hip-hop, new and old, and getting into those production techniques and why those feel great and what's actually going on.
What's next going forward?
I think Eliot and I have found a way that we work. We're going to make music as Benny Sagittarius, which is our production moniker. I think that is going to be a great umbrella for more Lia Ices albums and things beyond Lia Ices like producing other people. We're also working on an instrumental mix tape. But this album also seems like what I want to sound like for a while. It's a statement album. It knows what it wants to be. I always challenge myself and my practice, but I think this feels right.
Do you think there's one song on the album that was really defined by any particular moment or experience?
"Higher." That's our Jamaica song for sure. The way we felt there, just kind of letting yourself be in different places and cultures, but also realizing that can feel familiar at the same time. That's a big idea in the album -- go outside of yourself, explore, and travel.
Where are some of the places that you've visited that have been really influential?
California has been really influential. I finally moved here. Just the energy and the people -- there's a sense of openness. A little bit of the Wild West is still here. You can make your own life and do what you want. People create these crazy lifestyles and it's great.
Last question: how would you define your philosophy toward music?
The philosophy is to not have a philosophy. I think it's just to keep working, to show up everyday. No matter what, be there. That's half the battle. And the value of experimenting is invaluable. That's when great artwork can happen.
You can catch Lia Ices playing Mercury Lounge on 9/17 and for a complete list of tour dates go HERE.