Connie Hong, of Denver-based indie-pop trio Ivory Circle, is on a continual path of self-discovery. Her band's latest geometry-inspired EP, Scalene, addresses some of the introspection and pain that she has experienced over the past several years.
"The birth of the band is rooted in my personal situation," explains the former middle-school choir teacher who wrote material for the project while losing her father to terminal liver disease. "I started working as a teacher right out of college, but I'd always been interested in writing and playing music, and I was looking for a way to do that. I was wrestling with whether or not to keep teaching, and I moved home to help my dad, who passed away in 2014. I started writing songs while I was still working full-time. Eventually I ended up leaving the teaching profession. It was pretty brutal. I would teach all day and play shows until late at night. I had to get to school by 6:30 a.m., which made for some really rough mornings. My music was the only thing helping me survive those years."
Scalene, which drops this Friday, is the last release in a three-part series of EPs by Ivory Circle. Hong put the group together after a few unsuccessful attempts at assembling an outfit that could help her realize her artistic dreams. The first of the trilogy, Equilateral, was released in 2014, followed by Isosceles in 2015. The band comprises singer-songwriter Hong, producer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Beeble and drummer Robby Spradling. Hong says the theme of their triangle series was inspired by the artwork of a friend and former bandmate, as well as her passion for math.
"Our very first release, Entropy, had a cover with a little triangle design on it that was designed by my best friend, Ali Goosens," says Hong, who holds a degree in music education from the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. "From that logo, we got the idea of using the triangle motif for a series of shorter releases. I gave each one a theme. I based Equilateral off of my relationship with God and questions about spirituality at the time, with my dad being sick and me just getting into adulthood. Isosceles was based on my family and my relationship with my parents. Scalene is a lot about coming out of the grieving process. The plan was to focus on self-reflection in my songs and my relationship with myself. Also, I was a mathlete my freshman year in college, which might help explain the use of geometry. We wanted to do a full album, but because of time and money constraints and wanting to put out a steady stream of music, we thought it would be a cooler idea to release a series of EPs instead."
The 33-year-old Hong says that she and the group take their cues from the lush harmonies of artists including the Beach Boys and the music of Florence + the Machine, Adele, Kimbra, Mariah Carey and Sheryl Crow. Some of the band's past efforts have landed on television shows, including Showtime's The Affair and VH1's Couples Therapy.
"I'd say we're indie pop with some alternative elements to it. We've been categorized before as dance-pop, but we're more on the mellow side. I play the piano and sing. Chris, who produces all of our stuff, plays the bass and sometimes the guitar, and Robby plays the drums. On occasion we hire extra musicians to flesh out our sound if we're playing a show that calls for a bigger sound."
Hong relates that she and the band took their time recording the five-song Scalene and recently played a few house shows to warm up for its release. The group plans to perform more this spring and summer.
"We'll be playing a lot once this EP is out," says Hong, who also works as a voice coach and part-time singing teacher. "And we've been working on some behind-the-songs videos for the new EP that we put up on a YouTube channel that people can check out. I'm still really enjoying the whole process. Though the older I get, the harder it is to find the energy to stay up late and play. And it takes longer for me to recover. I still feel young, but I can tell the difference. It can take me two weeks to recover from a big night."
With her group ready to take it to the next level and her days teaching school in the rearview, Hong and company are ready for whatever the future holds.
"I don't have any regrets," she says. "I enjoyed elements of teaching, for sure, but I think it's pretty well known that the profession has a high turnover rate. I have to really be passionate about what I do. I feel like I have some wisdom to impart at this point, which makes whatever I do more rewarding for me. I don't know if I'll ever stop playing music."
The Scalene release party will push a special, limited run of a two-disc vinyl set that includes all three Triangle EPs in one package. For the concert, the band will pull out all the stops, with a string quartet, dueling drum kits, and a performance of all three EPs in their entirety.