You grew up in Arizona, right? How long have you lived in Seattle?
Yes, I did grow up in Arizona. Phoenix. Despite what you’ve heard, or maybe experienced, I believe it can be a really wonderful city. Phoenix music has been totally strange forever, it seems. I was lucky to grow up there because I was surrounded by all-ages, cheap, and weird shows to freak out about. After I started touring as iji it made sense for me to try living somewhere else and Seattle wound up welcoming me. I’ve been here for 7 years now. It’s a beautiful city.
When did you start iji?
I started iji when I was 15 years old. I’m 27 now, so it’s been a long haul. The music has changed a lot, but it’s been gradual and the project was built on the idea of welcoming change so it never made sense to try and change the name or start over. iji is now a life project. I’m not allowed to stop, only grow.
Your music is often described as breezy, upbeat beach pop. Is it hard to make music like that in Seattle? Do you ever feel any pressure by the weather or the music scene to make darker or sadder music?
No, not really. Seattle summer is as breezy and upbeat as it gets. Long days. Perfect temp. Lake dips. Pizza jobs. Living a mellow lifestyle up here. That being said, all of my records have sad and dark content if you listen close.
I want to start talking more about the roles that spaces play in supporting music scenes. Can you tell me a little about Cafe Racer, Magic Lanes, and Hollow Earth Radio and how they relate to iji?
Cafe Racer is a coffeeshop / bar / restaurant, Hollow Earth is a fully functioning radio station, and Magic Lanes is the name of my own home. All of them, with their different levels of legality and function, manage to stay welcoming, inclusive, approachable, and homey spots that value community over capitalism. I don’t put a whole lot of conscious thought into the spaces that we wind up playing, though. You just know when it’s right and when it’s wrong. There is also a part of me that sometimes loves to play the wrong spaces too.
You’ve toured with Harry and the Potters before, right? How do all-ages shows like that differ from bar or house shows?
Yeah. I’ve been friends with them forever and I’ve toured with them a handful of times. I like to consider myself a “session drummer” when I’m with them and treat the experience very differently than I would iji shows. Even though it’s just straight up goof-ball rock music it’s more like a play than a rock concert. I feel like the people who attend are typically more interested in the fan-fiction element of that band than the music, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that. In general though, I love all-ages shows. I usually try to only play all-ages or DIY shows with iji. I grew up on them. The world needs more all-ages music. When I was a kid in Arizona no shows were 21+, even at bars. I got to see everything. If I had grown up in Seattle that wouldn’t have been the case. These laws need to change for the sake of music to come.
You recorded your next album Whatever Will Happen at The Unknown in Anacortes, Washington. What was that space and that process like?
It’s a beautiful studio built in an old Catholic church. They have a basketball hoop indoors, a huge reel-to-reel tape machine, and a large gong collection. I’ve known the engineer Nich Wilbur for a long time and we had been talking about making an album together. It was my first experience trying to do an iji album in a studio. Recording has been a very personal and labor-intensive experience that I wasn’t sure would translate to a professional establishment. We started with live takes by the band for 6 of the 12 tunes, and then I tracked the other 6 by myself. We worked for 3 days at the Unknown and then took the tracks home to overdub digitally. Tyler Martin of James Rabbit flew in and we collaborated on string, vocal, horn and synth arrangements, calling in contributions from a ton of Seattle geniuses. I think it worked!
Team Love (co-founded by Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes) is releasing that album on June 2. How did you become involved with them? Had you mostly self-released albums before this one?
We finished the album in the summer and then went on tour for a few months. When we were in upstate New York we played at the Team Love record store in New Paltz. After the show we’re told that we had to check out the community pool up the street and that jumping the fence to swim was totally mellow. It wasn’t mellow and we wound up in jail that night, bailed ourselves out with tour money and had to re-route our trip to make it back a week later for court. The morning after our court date we bumped into Nate from Team Love on the street and chatted for a while outside of a corner store that carries more then 10 flavors of Polar Seltzer. The way I see it, the scales had been tipped, New Paltz had wronged us and they owed karmic retributions. We got this easygoing record deal out of it.
What are your thoughts about playing shows in small towns?
I feel like the size of a town or presence of an art community doesn’t matter. A good show on tour depends so much on the vibe of the space, the mood of the bands, the feeling of the evening. I’ve played the best shows of my life in tiny towns and then returned to play major bummers. Short answer: any town is worth trying, and trying again.
Some aspects of iji remind me of Jonathan Richman or the Modern Lovers as far as tone and delivery. Who have you drawn inspiration from lately?
I dig Jonathan. I try to listen to everything, give every thing a chance. I’ve been staring deep into the Ornette Coleman discography, lots of jazz actually. Jazz is new to me. Also getting weird on Jules Shear (especially the albums with The Polar Bears), all my friends’ music (James Rabbit, Remambran, Diners, Dogbreth, Spencer Owen, Stephen Steinbrink, Filardo, Heatwarmer), all my bandmates’ music (Pill Wonder, Marvelous Good Fortune, Sick Sad World, Heavy Petting, Mega Bog), the classical and smooth jazz radio stations in Seattle, imagining what the pop music representation of paintings by Kandinsky or David Hockney might look like, watching the Robert Ashley TV opera “Perfect Lives,” meditating on The Eagles and Jimmy Buffet (can’t really figure out why everyone hates these guys), Laurie Anderson, The Roches, straight up just The Beatles. I mean how’d they get so good? Of course Arthur Russell and all his collaborators. It’s really all I like to do, draw inspiration.
You have a West Coast tour in June. Do you have plans to tour elsewhere in the US later in 2015?
Yeah, hopefully full country around September / October. Gotta get back to Florida.
Ocean swimming or lake swimming?
All dips have their place.
Breakfast tacos or dinner tacos?
I don’t really have deep feelings for breakfast tacos. Dinner tacos, sure. Burritos from the cart around the corner? Ya. I like those too!
Have you ever experienced “brain-freeze” from a Slurpee?
Grape Slurpee, Lemon Slurpee.