Trapped in the Closet with Ivan Ives
Named by Rolling Stone as one of their “40 Artists to Watch,” Ivan Ives is clearly making waves in the music industry. Although he was born in Russia, Ives’ hip-hop career began after he graduated film school in the U.S. Currently, Ives resides in Los Angeles where he creates beats with a distinctly Jurassic 5-type sound accompanied by seasoned rhyme skills and gritty lyrics. He keeps busy as the founder of his own label, No Threshold Records, and is in the midst of producing his latest album, “Newspeak.”
Via e-mail, Ives told me about his craziest memory on tour, the current hip hop scene in Russia, and his favorite collaboration thus far.
Steph Freitag: Why did you decide to start your own label?
Ivan Ives: I needed an umbrella to put all my material out under. I wasn't intending for the label to be a serious thing at first, but it ended up being bigger than I expected.
SF: What’s the creative process like? How do you go about writing lyrics, dropping beats, and producing?
II: For the most part, Fresh The Hitman does most of my beats... he makes an insane amount of music, and lets me hear it. I pick my favorite tracks from him and see what kind of emotions the beats evoke. Then I start writing, and I always write to the beat. After I write a track, I leave it alone for a couple of weeks, then bring it back up and see how I feel about it. If I still love it, then I record it. After I have a bunch of tracks recorded, I keep listening to them over and over until I get really sick of them. The ones I'm the least sick of, or the stuff I can still enjoy, I know are the gems. I keep those. Then after I make the album, I don't listen to any of the tracks for a few months. When I listen again, I'm reminded of how cool the tracks are, and I enjoy them in a whole new light.
SF: You’ve collaborated with many respected hip hop artists in the past. Who was your favorite artist to collaborate with and which musicians would you like to work with in the future?
II: Working with 2Mex has been great; he gave me a lot of pointers when I first started rapping and I look to him as a mentor. The fact that he gave me a chance gave me the confidence to approach other great artists - O.C., Cappadonna, Vast Aire, etc. The new album is gonna be nuts though - just wait till you see some of the collaborations I have on it. The Cool Kids and Black Milk are on the line-up.
SF: What makes “Newspeak” different from previous albums?
II: It's my greatest work. Everything that I've done in my career, all the work I've done, has paid off in this album. I'm my best lyrically, flow-wise, and the beats are all classics. It's a real epic album, I have no doubt it's going to be huge. It's a lot darker overall than my other stuff, and I think a lot more mature too when I compare it to old songs I've made.
SF: Did going to film school influence you as a musician?
II: No, film and music are two very different worlds for me. I used to make a lot more films, but I had to put that on hold to work on music. Some point down the line I will start making films again, but for now music is my focus. I grew up playing piano as well as making shitty amateur films and editing in-camera with our family's VCR camera—but the two don't have much influence on each other. Unless of course we are talking about the visual side of Ivan Ives, because I do direct and edit most of my own music videos. In that regard, my experience in the world of film has in fact paid off in making my own videos.
SF: As an immigrant to the United States from Russia, how has living in both countries affected your music?
II: I don't think it's affected my music on a very conscious level, but subconsciously I definitely have some Russian themes in my music and my concepts.
SF: Does Russia have a hip hop scene? If so, how would you describe it?
II: I was too young when I left to have grown up in it, but I can tell you that in all my trips back, they are definitely into some B-boy shit and Graf. Big time.
SF: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever done on tour?
II: Hmm. Weird...? Most of my tour stories are condensed into my 5-minute tour videos... but I'd say I've done a lot of pretty damn weird things on tour. This one time though, in Vermont, we were staying at this crazy house in the middle of the woods and we took these torches and went wandering through the forest at night whilst drunk. We went to this weird lake pond thing and found a bunch of frogs. We caught them in cups and threw them around. Then someone jumped into this random body of water in the pitch black and came out with weird bugs on him. We couldn't see shit and our torches ran out of light. It was a while before we got back.
SF: What are your plans for the next year?
II: After “Newspeak” drops, I'm going to just roll with it and see what develops. Build up the label, build up our roster—tour more, make some more music videos, make some more films, and basically take over this bitch.