It's difficult to keep track of Camry Ivory's many music-related projects and collaborations. Originally from Overland Park, KS, Ivory is not only a singer-songwriter and composer who plans to release an EP or her original music later this year, she is a respected member of at least two Kansas City-based bands as well as Found a Job, a Talking Heads tribute band. For her Listen Local interview, Ivory reveals how the Pancake Principle relates to songwriting, how she was able to "record, edit and mix a song while I was en route to Jefferson City on an Amtrak train" and her generous advice for emerging songwriters.
Tell us about yourself. How long have you been a musician and songwriter?
I grew up in Overland Park, KS and I put down my roots across the border in Kansas City, MO after graduating from University of Missouri-Columbia several years ago. I started writing songs in 4th grade after my best friend and I started a band called “The Hot Fudge Sundaes”. The first song I remember writing was a poppy country tune called "Double Love" about a girl who finds that she has fallen in love with too many boys at once. Thankfully, my songwriting has matured since then.
In my early 20s, I went through a pretty traumatic personal experience; the shock and subsequent crisis of faith led me to write a song expressing my frustration and raw anger with a God who I’d felt had abandoned me in a time of need. I recorded the song on my laptop in my parents’ garage and had no real intentions of sharing it with anyone, until I encountered a friend who had gone through a similar experience. Sharing my song allowed us to connect and to begin the healing process. Even though other people’s music had always been a form of emotional catharsis for me, I had never really considered that people could find meaning and worth in my own music and experiences until that moment.
Now, I use my songs as a platform to unearth some of those uncomfortable human feelings and experiences that are nearly ubiquitous but rarely discussed: power imbalances, social injustices, guilt and betrayal. But not all of my songs are super-serious. I still write sappy love songs about cute boys and sunsets and pizza.
Describe your songwriting process. Who or what inspires you? How do you break through creative blocks?
A lot of my songs start in my car or in the shower, since these are usually the only places where I’m able to be alone with my thoughts. I use my phone to record every little snippet that pops in my head and save it in an app called Evernote, so I can access it later. More often than not, the melody of a song emerges before the theme and lyrics, because I’m much more methodical about my approach to lyrics. I have a tendency to incorporate fictional elements or real details from other people’s lives into my lyrics; I feel that it allows me the freedom to share my own truths while adding a layer of distance or plausible deniability.
Now that I’m in my late twenties, I’ve accepted that creative blocks are a part of life and I try to deal with them by embracing The Pancake Principle: When you’re making a delicious plate of fluffy pancakes, the first few pancakes in the batch are usually a little imperfect. It’s not until you get to the 4th or 5th pancake that you start to get the hang of things. But if you don’t make those first few imperfect pancakes, you’ll never find true pancake bliss at the bottom of the batter bowl. Songwriting--or any creative process, really---is the same way. You have to give yourself permission to power through and finish a project, even if you know it’s a hot mess, even if you’re feeling uninspired.
Every musical train wreck I’ve created has taught me about the songwriting process. Alternatively, it’s important and beneficial to have the ability to step back from the creative process and take a break if you’re just running into the same wall over and over again. Some songs that seemed to be irrevocably stalled have blossomed after I abandoned them for a few months and came back later with a fresh perspective.
On a recent entry on your blog you write: “I just get so hyped and teary-eyed seeing people live up to their potential after they have put their time and effort and money and bloodsweattears into something so important and personal. I love watching people break records, win contests, and finish projects.” What projects are you currently working on?
I've spent a lot of time working on other people's projects, and I'm now starting to find the time and energy to focus on my own. I plan to release an EP of my original songs by the end of this year. It's been a personal goal of mine for a long time and I'm looking forward to finally doing it.
I’m considering branching out and fronting my own band, but being a solo artist has spoiled me, so I still have some reservations about that.
I'm in the process of developing another project called Coloratura, a trans-media performance piece that combines visual art and music by converting paint brushes and canvas into a midi controller that can create and manipulate live music. Instead of the art inspiring the music or vice versa, both are created simultaneously. It’s a bold new step for me, as my training in the visual arts is somewhat limited, but I’m excited to explore this new opportunity.
You are very active in the Kansas City music scene. Where else have you performed? What do you think is the strongest aspect of the Kansas City scene?
When I was a kid, my parents used to tell me, "You can achieve anything you want to, if you set your mind to it", and I think I misinterpreted that as: "You can achieve *everything* you want to, if you set your mind to it". As a result, I have a lot of irons in my proverbial fire.
I'm in a Talking Heads tribute band called 'Found a Job'. We perform a three hour set that covers the pop classics and b-side gems of the Talking Heads. I'm one of the backup vocalists/dancers and I choreograph the dance moves
I'm in two other original bands: blues rock band Chris Meck & The Guilty Birds and Anna Cole & The Other Lovers, a funky septet that covers a wide range of musical genres.
I love collaborating with other musicians so I’ve been a guest vocalist or instrumentalist on at least half a dozen albums or EPs in the past few years. Basically, if someone asks me to lend my talent for a short-term project, I’ll usually say yes, unless I have too much on my plate.
What I love about the Kansas City music scene is that people are so open to collaboration. I don’t feel a strong sense of competition or rivalry among my fellow musicians. We look out for each other, we support and encourage one another. When I moved back to the Kansas City area after college, I was still a very inexperienced musician. I was so fortunate to find people who were willing to take a chance on me and take me under their wings to nurture and encourage me to reach my potential. I hope to be able to do the same for young emerging artists throughout my life.
Where and how do you record your music? What advice do you have for others who want to do the same?
I’m really fortunate that my boyfriend operates a recording studio and rehearsal space in his loft in the West Bottoms. He’s a great sound engineer and has top-of-the-line equipment, so having access to his space and expertise has helped me tremendously.
When I’m not using his studio, I use my Macbook Pro and a really user-friendly software program from Propellerhead called Reason, along with the accompanying Balance recording interface. When paired with my 36-key midi keyboard, I have a small but powerful setup that allows me to create decent recordings even when I’m traveling. It’s so portable and compact, I was able to record, edit and mix a song while I was en route to Jefferson City on an Amtrak train. Pretty nifty!
The best advice I could give to emerging songwriters is two-fold:
1) Don’t feel intimidated by your lack of experience or lack of access to high-quality equipment. Start small, find something that’s user-friendly, learn the essentials and work your way up.
2) Utilize your community resources and learn from others. Ask questions of other musicians. Sit in on a recording session. Read internet message boards and user forums to learn about new products and to troubleshoot any problems you may have. If you hear about someone doing something cool, get in touch with them and ask them. Be bold, be audacious, take risks, and most importantly, have fun!
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