The title of Kansas City songwriter Ivory Black's recently released EP, Ready Get Set, perfectly describes the feeling of the music itself: primed and ready to go. Steeped in the sounds of 1960s and 70s-era classic rock and power-pop, Ivory Black's melody-heavy songs truly rock. Look a bit more closely and you'll also find deeply personal lyrics and incredible musicianship. We are extremely lucky to share an interview with Black about how personal struggles have influenced the songs on Ready Get Set, who Black looks to for inspiration, and why "Kansas City is bliss."
Introduce yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
Hey, first of all my name is Ivory Black and I’m a singer songwriter living in a small town right outside of Kansas City. Short story, I was actually born as Devin Miclette but I adopted the alias Ivory Black a few years ago when I decided to pursue music under a different name. Now let’s fast forward to recently and talk about how I’m living with my manager Klaartje Van Lue which is where I have been for the last 5 years working on my career. I am typically in Kansas City 5 days a week to practice with my band in the evening and I work in our personal studio during the day and weekends. The rest of my day kind of just happens depending on what’s going on.
Describe your creative process with songwriting and recording, especially with the songs on your “Ready Get Set” EP. What songs are you most proud of and why?
The process of writing music and recording is a very tedious process, as nearly every serious songwriter will tell you. I go through a lot of ideas and I only use a small percentage of them. The best way that I can describe going through my own music, is like going through a box of receipts for just one specific ticket. I'm very unorganized so that plays a major part in that metaphor.
Since I don’t have a full band, recording is a bit nonconventional because I have to find all the right people and the right sounding instruments. I basically show studio musicians my ideas on a demo I recorded in my home studio so that they can make it "come to life". In the process I've worked with some pretty amazing musicians. Craig Kew plays bass on that entire EP, Micah Burdick threw some more guitar in there for me, and Lester Estelle did what he does best. The drums.
If I had to choose which songs I’m most proud of I’d have to say, all the songs on that EP. It’s my first ever release of what I’ve done, it’s official, and it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something.
You’re really open and honest about your background on your website and your EPK. You’re willing to share more about yourself – running away from home at 15, genderbinarism -- than most people would be. Knowing these things about you I think gives your music an added power. Tell us more about how you’ve used music to heal yourself.
The EPK was the most confidential pieces of myself that I’ve ever had to share. I’m not used to opening up about many things in my life, so that video was like my “once and for all, this is who I am (musically and personally) so take it or leave it” memoir type of video I guess you’d say.
The part about my running away I thought would've been a very difficult thing to talk about, but of course as one moves on into the world, their perception of themselves and what they’ve gone through changes, so it ended up being a lot easier than I imagined it would be.
Now to delve a bit into the gender binary thing, I always thought I was kind of different as a kid, and a lot of that self-identity stuff was probably the most difficult thing to express through words. I’m still trying to find myself, just like many others, but I wanted to open up about that part of my life because I wanted to somehow represent people that are trying to become comfortable in their own skin within a world full of boxed identities. It’s nice to have your own way of expressing yourself and I like sharing the fact that the possibility exists and it's 100% okay to own that.
The healing however, is an ongoing process and my music literally heals me in its own way. Whenever I write a song about my life and express it through my lyrics and melody, it’s usually written on paper fueled by this inner turmoil, and it actually helps me express how I actually feel. My music becomes a tool to express my emotions. It being a “tool” I can physically, spiritually, and mentally fix myself and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
What artists do you look to these days for inspiration? What do you admire most about these artists?
Besides listening to music I grew up with, which always inspires me, and without really favoring any of them, I’ve been listening to a lot of upcoming bands as well. I could name a slew of people I find inspirational. Børns is definitely one of many. I’m also a fan of Foster the People as well. I love how bands are perfectly bringing back that classic sound that I grew up with so long ago. It's nostalgic and I feed on it. However, I personally think one of the most influential bands I’ve heard so far is Diane Coffee. They have a few albums out and the singer is a brilliant artist. Their music has a 70ish almost kind of psychedelic vibe. It’s definitely something to look into. They have a pretty cool back-story too actually if you follow that part of an artist.
What are you working on currently? When can Ivory Black fans expect to hear new music?
I’m always trying to perfect “my sound”. I use quotations to stress the fact that my sound has always had to redevelop in a way that I myself could be satisfied with it. I’ll be content with a song but then feel the need to write something completely different the next week after. Many musicians will say that if they had a choice, NONE of their songs would be finished. For me, it’s my sound haha. I’m always experimenting. I guess you could say that there’s typically something for everyone though.
However, I’m always working on new material. Trying to make that breakthrough for myself that I can be proud of once more. Just like this EP was a breakthrough for myself as an official release, you can expect something similar within the next year or so produced as a full album.
What most excites you about music and creativity in Kansas City?
To me, Kansas City is bliss. Nobody is really in it for the competition. It's never been every one person for themselves. There's a hidden agenda of course and the gimmick is basically be as real as you can be. Which is pretty damn easy considering. Everyone is in it together, promoting each other, and talking about each other’s music in a positive way. I adore that about Kansas City. It takes your mind off of the race everybody thinks music is and really brings back what music is all about, sharing your story and this city is all about that.
Ivory's recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog:
All of The Cat Who books by Lillian Jackson Braun. Great read when I was about 12 or 13 years of age, not to mention very consistent in the way they were arranged story wise, so it was always fun to read different books.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I think it was very relatable to my life. I painted a fence once.
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's a classic. I'm even surprised.
Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. The little detective in me adored this book.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Another classic. I still can't believe I remember reading it, so it makes the list.
Aliens Ate My Homework by Bruce Coville. Cause what kid DOESN'T want aliens to arrive in their room in a little tiny spaceship. You'll go BERSERK reading this one... if you're 12 haha
The Ramona and Beezus books by Beverly Cleary. I had a younger sibling so it was very relatable.
These Final Hours. I love apocalyptic fiction for some reason. Along with 80% of the world I suppose lol
Let the Right One In. YES. So much YES. I'm not even going to say why. Just watch it.
Stardust. I watched that movie at least 15 times and I don't re-watch movies often so obviously it has to go here.
The Broken Circle Breakdown. Cause every list needs a tear-jerker.
They Came Together. HA! This movie literally makes me cry every time i watch it. It's stupid funny actually, but apparently I dig that stuff.