I'm in love with Melissa Ivey, and I don't care who knows it.
Actually, allow me to clarify that for the benefit of my wife, who's probably on the phone with the divorce attorney right now: Ivey's a lovely gal, easy on the eyes and all that, but really I'm in love with the first single from her forthcoming EP. "Lovers and Stars" (check it out at myspace.com/melissaivey) owns me. I can't stop playing it. Although I've always dug Ivey, this delicious pop ditty hits a sweet spot with me like no recording since the Fray's early demos. It's a quantum leap beyond anything she's produced before.
So, what's the story behind this stunning progression?
"I've had time to focus," Ivey says plainly. "And I've had really great people in my life who are showing me different choices to make and some paths to attempt to go down as far as songwriting. And just bringing all those tools together."
Ivey credits much of the growth to time she spent in Los Angeles working with the Knack's Berton Averre, who's served as her mentor. "He's not impressed easily," she notes. "I'm just some artist who got hooked up with him. So he's telling me straight up, this is why you know this type of song, because it has this, this and this. These are the elements. And it's like, 'Oh, man. Okay.' So now when I'm writing my songs, I'm not just going, 'Oh, well, that rhymes,' but really being a stickler, like, 'Is that the imagery that I really want to get across? Do I need to sit here for five more minutes, or do I need to sit for another three hours figuring one line out?'
"So every line in 'Lovers and Stars' has a well-thought-out process behind it, from the first to the last," she explains.
Helping with that process was New Jersey transplant Christopher Jak, who co-wrote and also produced the record. "Jak is really the mastermind behind that song," Ivey declares. "I supplied the seed, and he definitely fertilized it and honed it and kicked it up. We got together and let the whiskey and the wine flow. I had been working on this little riff, and I played it for him. We tweaked it a little bit and made some changes to the different arrangements that I already had going on. From almost start to finish, we wrote this song in maybe two or three hours. I would never have thought to do anything like what it's become. That's definitely Jak. I've never worked with anybody who has the confidence and the charisma. He has an idea, but he has that motivating kind of charismatic charm to go, 'Just trust me on this. Here's what I'm going to do, and here's why.'"
Ivey admits that she's still a little "starstuck" by Jak, and so are her bandmates -- even if they were skeptical at first. "It's kind of funny," she relates. "My band was like, 'Who is this guy? He's going to come in and change our songs. What's he going to do with our girl? You sure you know what you're doing here, Mel?' I just had to go with my gut, though, after listening to his stuff and thinking about what he could bring to the table. And day one, when the guys got in there, it was like, 'I will never question Jak again.' Just the way it was sounding, everyone was like, 'He's a genius.' And he's a pleasure to hang out with. He brought his ear and a sense of calm to everyone involved. I've been in some situations in the studio where it's like, 'Okay, we have three more takes. You've got to get this.' Then all of a sudden you're thinking about it instead of doing what comes natural."
Jak oversaw the recording sessions at the Blasting Room, a curious choice for Ivey, considering the studio is known primarily for its punk productions. "That was part of the appeal," she explains. "I just really liked the vibe. I started in punk music. And it was great just to go up there and be totally isolated. The Blasting Room has one window in the whole place. So I'd wake up -- my room was pitch-black -- and I didn't know if it was eleven in the morning or eleven at night, or four in the morning or four in the afternoon. The days got all shifted. To have that atmosphere where it doesn't feel like an office building when you're coming in to record -- it's, like, dirty, with beer cans and empty cigarette packs -- that is where art is inspired. In the other recording studios, I felt maybe a little too much pressure to make that commercial product. Because you come in, and there's a desk and a receptionist, and it feels very much like you're doing business. But I wanted to just immerse myself in my art."
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The irony is that "Lovers and Stars" -- a track that evokes Mary Lou Lord as much as it does Sheryl Crow -- is Ivey's most polished, commercial-sounding effort to date. Of course, I'm dying to hear the rest of the album. If the other songs are half as good as this one, she'll own radio, too. Unfortunately, we're going to have to survive the summer before we can hear all the tunes: Ivey is issuing each song individually through a series of single-release parties, the first of which takes place Saturday, April 22, at the D-Note.
"As a songwriter, I just thought these songs should have their own birthday party," she says. "I've worked really hard on each individual song, and I kind of wanted to break out of the box. From the time we ended recording until the time we got the rough mixes, it was like a month. So for a month, I'm doing all this stuff in preparation for the album, doing all the right things for my voice, just being good to my body and being in a state of mind where it's like, 'All right, it's all been leading up to this. You've got five days to prove it. You've got a lot of people believing in this thing. And I get it back and just start bawling. And everything else was like, it's all going to be good, you know?"
Ivey has reason to be excited about the project. Still, she explains, "I'm trying not to fill my head up too much with the mundane details, but instead fill it up with writing new songs and embracing everything that's happened to me and just appreciating it one day at a time. Because who knows? I'm hoping that it picks up, but at the same time, being realistic as an independent artist, this is maybe as good as it's going to get."
Not to worry: Love will find a way.