By Dana Getz
With a voice reminiscent of Christina Aguilera in Burlesque and a face to match, Ivy Levan has been making quite the impression on the L.A. music scene. Influenced by everything from Whitney Houston to Depeche Mode, the brassy-voiced singer debuted her first EP, “Introducing the Dame,’ last June, though this isn’t her first brush with the music industry. The now 26-year-old went from her Arkansas hometown to Hollywood at the age of 16 in pursuit of her music-making dreams. After a sour record deal and several forays into modeling, Levan quit singing altogether and began club promoting to make ends meet. It wasn’t until early 2011 that she met producer/songwriter Lucas Banker, who encouraged her to rekindle her musical roots.
The resulting sound is an eclectic mash of sassy jazz and blues-infused pop that elicits visions of down-and-dirty New Orleans soul— think 50’s pin-up with a hint of Motown swagger. Whether she’s belting about penny-pinchers on sexed-up single “Hot Damn” or crooning sweet serenades on “Hang Forever,” Levan is reincarnated and feisty as ever, fresh off a summer tour with Fitz & The Tantrums. We chatted with the up-and-coming pop star about her Hollywood experience, touring as a new artist and just how hard she “bros-down” in her spare time.
How did you first get started with music?
I’ve always been a singer; I’ve always been into that whole thing. I had my first talent show when I was seven, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
When did you know you wanted to pursue it as a full-time career?
Probably after that talent show. I won, and I beat 20-year-olds. I loved all the attention and the crowd, and just being up there and having all eyes on me. After that I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
You moved from Arkansas to L.A. when you were 16. Why did you decide to take that leap?
Well, I didn’t really have a choice. I got kicked out of high school for having cough syrup in my backpack. So I got kicked out of school, which was fine because I didn’t wanna be there anyway, and my mom and I packed up and left.
Tell me about your experience in L.A.
My first experience I was naïve and it was all glamorous and what not, but slowly but surely I found out the hard way that it’s not all as glamorous as it seems. It was very hard work, and there are a lot of people that will step on you to get what they want. So it was just all about learning through trial and error.
You landed a deal with a major label, but later backed out. What compelled you to make that decision?
It was pretty easy because I didn’t really have a say in what I wanted to do. Everyone had their own opinion of what they wanted me to be. They heard my voice and they thought, ‘Oh, she’s a ballad singer like Celine Dion,” or they heard like a female Gorillaz. I really didn’t even have my own idea of what I wanted to be, so I was just going through a lot of growing pains. I had a horrible experience, but it was all for the better and I learned a bunch.
Do you ever miss living in the south?
Some. It took me a long time to be able to say that because I rebelled for so long to get away from that, and I’m just now embracing it. I have these moments where I do miss it, but I love L.A.
After you dropped the label you stopped making music for a while. What was going through your head during that time?
I thought it was over. I thought, ‘If this is what it’s like I don’t wanna be a part of it.’ I gave up hope.
But then you met Lucas Banker. Where did you guys meet? What about him inspired you to get back in the game?
He actually contacted me via email. I met somebody just kind of randomly, he saw me at a club—I was club promoting after I left my label. Someone came up to me and they were like, ‘I heard your music on MySpace, I think you should do this,’ and I kinda just said, ‘All right, I’ll give it another try.’ So he had taken me to some meetings, and I met this guy who knew Lucas and thought Lucas and I would make a great pair as far as writing goes. And then Lucas tried to contact me for like two months, and I was not having it. I was like, ‘No, I don’t know this guy, I’m not sure about this,’ but I finally gave in. After that it all just started happening, so I’m glad I took that email.
And now you live with both Banker and Patrick Nissley. What’s it like living with them?
It’s awesome, because any moment at any time of day at the drop of a hat we can make music. We can create organic stuff about what we’re doing during the day or how we’re feeling. So I’m very spoiled.
What’s the biggest challenge about living with two guys?
You know what, I’m kind of a dude myself. I’m very much a tomboy. I do like to be glamorous every so often, but I’m a dude. I can bro down.
Let’s talk about your music. Who are some of your biggest influences?
Oh man, the list goes on. Anywhere from Tina Turner, Whitney Houston to Depeche Mode. I mean there’s so many people that have inspired me.
Tell me about your first EP, Introducing the Dame. What were you listening to while make the album? What other experiences inspired it?
The EP is organic. We wanted to make something that was an introduction, rather than a ‘Look at me, I’m so cool, I’m the shit.’ It wasn’t a show off move, it was basically just giving people a change to know the music and kind of sniff it out, and be prepared for what’s to come in the future. I feel like we’ve created a sound that hasn’t really been touched on. It has a lot of throwback and retro, whatever, but it’s also very fresh. It has it’s own brand.
Do you have any plans for your first full album?
I do. I cannot wait to get home and start on that. I think we start around September, so I’m very excited. I can’t wait to show everybody what we’ve got under our coat.
You recently toured with Fitz & The Tantrums. What was that experience like?
It was awesome. It was definitely an experience. Being a new artist, nobody knows your music. So you either go out there and win them over and everyone’s loving you and they become your fans, or everyone’s snoring and there’s crickets. So it was a nice experience to give people a look at the music, and kind of converting people into the world of the dame.
What do you like to do when you’re not making music or touring?
I play video games like a mad man. I just sit on the couch eating really good food, cuddling with my cat and playing stupid video games for hours on end.
So you really are a dude. What’s the longest video game binge you’ve been on?
I’ve gone from probably like nine o’clock at night till maybe 6 a.m. in the morning. I game so hard.
You’ve also dabbled in modeling and acting. Are those things you’d like to further pursue in the future?
Yeah, I love it. It’s just another medium for me to express myself with. I’m an artist 100 percent, so any time I can do something creative I’ll take full advantage of it.
Where do you hope to see your career in the next few years?
Well, hopefully I can pay my bills with it. But also I want to shake up the music industry. I feel like it’s a dying star right now, and it needs a little life brought back into it. So hopefully I can kick open some doors and fix it up.
LEVAN’S DEBUT EP, “INTRODUCING THE DAME,” IS OUT NOW.