Ivy Levan On “Biscuit,” Body Art And Boy George: Idolator Interview
Like fireflies in the bayou, the buzz has been building around swamp-hop starlet Ivy Levan ever since her debut EP, 2013’s Introducing The Dame. Blessed with a Southern-belle-with-a-switchblade persona and a bigger-than-pageant-hair voice, Levan is as hilariously sharp as she is darkly ethereal-looking.
After we fell under the spell of her wacky, witchy single “Biscuit” (grab it on iTunes), we had a talk with Ivy in an effort to discover all of her secrets, including more details about her full-length debut, due later this year.
What’s the latest on your upcoming album? IVY LEVAN: We just finished it about a week ago and we are going to turn it in very soon. That’s exciting. We have a loose release date in August, I believe. We’re pretty ready. It’s been two-and-a-half years in the making, so it’s like I’ve been pregnant forever. [Laughs]
And just when you thought the album was done, you tweeted that you just recorded another “glorious jam” to slip in. Yes, that’s my life. I’m lucky enough to have a studio right upstairs, so at any given moment I can start spitting new stuff. That’s how we roll: Something inspires us so we create.
Speaking of “glorious jams”—everyone is gagging on how delicious lead single “Biscuit” is. I am eating it up. I love people’s interpretation of what a “biscuit” might be. That’s exactly why I wrote it, because I want everyone to use it as their own weapon. Tell people to kiss yo’ biscuit!
Are you afraid of being upstaged by your co-star Beau Biscuit’s rising career? His Instagram game is next-level. [Laughs] You know what? I actually am a little nervous about it, I’m not going to lie.
You’re pioneering a new sound that you call “swamp hop.” How would you define it? For me, “swamp” conjures images of darkness and texture and color. It’s very ominous but there’s also a lot of life. And then the “hop” comes from the dance, fun, urban aspect. The mix of those two is a nice little cocktail.
Among your many fans is one very high-profile legend: Sting. He was so impressed with your music that he’s collaborated with you several times, including doing a scorching Beatles cover last year on David Letterman and recording a duet on your upcoming album called “Killing You.” I would’ve never thought in a million years that Sting would be championing me! He thinks I’m a great musician and really respects me as an artist. I am so over the moon—it feels like a dream I never want to wake up from.
The emotional and musical range of this album is an impressive witch’s brew of everything from club bangers to introspective ballads. Musically, how do you keep it all balanced? Back in the day, I always felt like I had to fit into a box of what I thought people wanted to hear. This time, I found a group of people who have let me bleed out like an open wound. On the record I can be a crazy, fun, drunk mess while also writing about the vulnerability that follows a breakup or just being fucking pissed about somebody driving into me while I’m in traffic. My album covers everything from being super open to being a little closed-off and salty. Anything I could think of in terms of my life and the craziness I’ve seen — it’s all there.
That passion really comes out in your vocals. Do people do a double-take when they realize how powerful your voice really is? Thank you, that means a lot to me. It’s funny because my voice just sounds normal to me since I live with it. But I get that a lot — that people hear how I sing and would never expect it from me. The people I idolized growing up — Whitney Houston and Tina Turner, for example — had very round, full character-driven voices, and that really hit home with me.
Along those lines, are people surprised when they expect you to be this unapproachable, flawless glamour queen but, in reality, you’re really funny and warm? The “Biscuit” video does a great job of showing this side of you. Being funny helps break the ice. I want people to feel safe and comfortable and not scared of me…unless they’ve got a reason to be. [Laughs]
You and your mother moved to Los Angeles from Arkansas when you were 16 to pursue your dream. Was that a total culture shock? Not at first, because when you move here, you’re starry-eyed and don’t realize that you’re just one of a million people here doing the same thing. You’re super confident and naive, like, “I’m here to take over the world!” But as you start being put through the ringer, you realize, “Shit. I’m going to have to work really hard for this — if I don’t, I’m not going to get anywhere.” My hunger and drive and work ethic comes from getting kicked in the balls a bunch and learning from it. When you move to L.A., you’re like a puppy who gets its ass trained, real soon.
Director Paul Feig has been really vocal about how amazing your performance of the theme song of his new Melissa McCarthy comedy, Spy, turned out. What was it like channeling your inner Bond-theme diva? I was so fucking ready when I got the song. When they sent it to me, I said, “I’m going to fucking slay this.” The song is very James Bond-esque, sexy, jazzy, bluesy — it just touches everything I’m obsessed with. It’s going to be incredible and hopefully, too, we can come up with some remixes and there might be a music video in the works very soon.
How did it feel to sit there in the movie theater and hear your voice and song open the film? I couldn’t believe it at first. Like I said earlier, sometimes I hear my voice and I’m like, “Okay, that’s me.” Other times, I’m like, “What the fuck is that? How is that coming out of my little scrawny ass?” It’s something bigger than me that I can’t describe; I’m just the vessel for it to come out. I heard the song and I had chills.
In addition to Sting, there is another music icon who recently left you a little starstruck. How did it feel to get followed/retweeted by Boy George? He is on my bucket list of who I want to meet. Just to get a tweet, I felt like I was halfway there. He’s another legend like Sting. They’re undeniable trailblazers and Boy George is undoubtedly one of the best. And his makeup, too: Visionary. He’s everything.
Can you walk me through the stories behind a couple of your tattoos? The Morticia Addams on my side is just me being a dumb kid obsessed with her. I wanted to get Morticia on one side and Lucille Ball on the other to show my split personality. I started with Morticia and I was like, “Holy shit, this hurts so bad.” So I’m going to wait a minute for the other side because I’m still recovering. [Laughs] But yeah, I drew it and had a friend in Detroit do it and it’s awesome. I have the Queen Of Swords on my arm. That’s always been my favorite Tarot card and I feel like it is me — if you look up what it means, it’s uncanny. I was really into reading about witchcraft and Tarot cards and horoscopes and astrology when I was a kid. That’s just, of course, a must. I have a noose on my finger. I got that when I was a little punk rock kid with my best friend at the time. I was like, “We should get a noose on our finger because we’re going to hang forever!” [Laughs] She loved it and I wrote a song about it and the rest is history. I have so many tattoos that I’ve even forgotten what and where they all are. I’ll see one and be like, “Oh yeah, I remember that one.”
Why haven’t we seen you as an “Extra Special Guest Judge” on RuPaul’s Drag Race yet? Giiiiirrrrrrl, from your lips to Ru’s ears! That’s my dream. Why, Ru — why am I not on there yet?
You’ve talked before about a huge style influence on you: The Disney villainesses. Which are your favorites? Oh. My. God. Maleficent, of course. The queen from Snow White. Of course, Cruella de Vil. All of them! They’re just so fabulous. I’ve always gravitated towards sleek, mysterious, snaky, dark goddesses. I’ve never been into the pretty princesses and their pinks and blues and purples. The only princess I liked was Ariel and that’s because she was a fucking mermaid.
An Ivy Levan fan is a loyal #damepire. How can a new fan become a #damepire? If you like the music and you can relate to it — or if you can’t relate to it but it makes you move — tweet me! Being a “damepire” means having a larger-than-life attitude. You’re classy but nobody crosses you.
As your damepires, present and future, shiver in anticipation for your debut LP, what message do you have for them, oh Dark Damepress? Thanks for your support and thanks for waiting! It’s been a long effing road, but it’s going to be all worth it, I promise. I’ve put everything into my new album. I’m so grateful for all the people who’ve gotten involved and who’ve called into radio stations to request “Biscuit” and who’ve told their friends. Hopefully, we can just keep it growing and shake up the pop industry ‘cause it’s so fucking boring. I want to pump some life into it. Enough beige already!
You can grab Ivy’s “Biscuit” on iTunes. Stay tuned for her full album, out later this year.