I’ve learned to spend less time worrying about what to sound like, and instead just embrace what is natural to me
When I first came across Ivoris and her sweet bubbly music, I found I really enjoyed the bright and wholesome vibe that surrounded a lot of the messages in her songs. I loved having the privilege to sit down with her and chat about her experiences as a musician, and we ended up talking all about how strange the idea of a rollercoaster is, the insecurities we can face as women in the music industry, and the unbelievability of betraying your family for Turkish Delight
Do you feel like the days have been going really quickly?
I feel like the days are really long, but then the weeks go by so quick. Lockdown has made everything a blur.
I totally agree. I’m so shocked every time it’s Monday, it’s like I can’t believe another week has gone past!
Everything feels slow and fast at the same time.
Has your music making changed very much in lockdown?
Yeah, it’s definitely changed. I think it’s actually been really good in some ways. I love collaborating and having writing sessions with people in person, so obviously I haven’t been able to do much of that. I’ve struggled a bit with the zoom sessions because I really bounce off people’s energy.
I find I get really distracted with big zoom calls, and it can feel like I’m back in high school trying to get a word in while everyone is talking at the same time
I feel like you have to be so much more energetic to convey emotions. It’s gets exhausting! But I think this lockdown has reminded me why I make music. I started listening to all the songs I wrote in high school, and all the stuff that got me into making music. It’s reminded me of how good it feels to make music. I think for a while there I got into this mindset where I felt like I had to make a good song, a song that people would like. But I think not giving myself any pressure, and just singing and writing and listening to old music, it’s made me remember how good it feels to just make music.
Yeah, absolutely. I think this isolation period gave some of us some free time to finish projects and then also actually just enjoy making music. When you’re investing a lot of time and money into your musicianship and music business, you can sometimes stop doing it for fun, and it can feel a waste of time to sit down to just make a beat; if I’m not going to release it, then this is a waste of time
Yeah, and sometimes I feel like I have to prove that my music is worthy. It’s hard to not get caught up in what people think about your music and wanting people’s approval.
As much as we can say, oh I just do it because I love it and I love creating, when you don’t get the kind of feedback you’re hoping for, it can really crush you, and you can think you must be really bad at it. It’s an interesting balance to make sure you’re actually enjoying what you’re putting out in the world and being okay if maybe it doesn’t reach the amount of people that you were hoping it would. How did you get started in music, and what made you want to become an artist?
It’s funny, I was going through the classic lockdown activity of going through my old stuff, and I came across a note that I had written when I was probably around eight or nine. It was this note about what I wanted to be when I grow up. And I had written, ‘I hope to be a musician when I’m 18’ or something like that, and it was so weird to see it written down because I actually ending up doing that. When I was little – this is pre-preschool – my mum would take me to this music class where we just sang and danced around to music. I started learning classical piano when I was really little too. I think I’ve always loved improvising a lot, which is something that doesn’t really fit within classical music. I remember I used to walk around the house when I was really little and make up little songs and jingles about brushing your teeth and silly things. I would write songs in my piano book, but when I got into piano class, music became more about playing what’s written. When my family moved to Australia, I was exposed to a lot more pop music; I would listen to ‘Bubbly’ by Colbie Caillat on repeat back when MySpace was a thing! I really just fell in love with lyrics and songwriting. When I was 13, I got my first guitar- I begged my parents for months until they got me this cheap nylon string guitar that I still have. Artists like Colbie Caillat, Taylor Swift, and Brooke Fraser were the kinds of artists who inspired me to write songs.
Classic amazing writers of the early 2000’s
I started writing songs when I was about 13 and playing around on this really crappy laptop. Do you remember the program Audacity?
Yeah! I just recorded stuff on Audacity and would record layers and layers of vocal harmonies, and they were always so out of sync because it was laggy! When I first started, it was purely about writing down what I was feeling. I would try and copy a lot of artists, especially the artists I was obsessed with. And the first time that I realised that my songs could be bigger than just something I wrote my bedroom, was when I submitted my music to an ABC thing. I put it on this website and got an email back that said ‘we’d like to pay for the use of this song’. I was about 16 or 17, I remember asking my dad about it because I thought it was spam!
Are they gonna hack my computer!
Because this was back in the Limewire days!
Very dangerous! They did end up paying me and it was legitimate, and that’s when I realized that other people thought my songs were good. And I realised that making songs could be more than just for myself. From then on I let myself believe that I could put my music out there for other people to listen to.
When you realise that music can actually be your life, and something you can –hopefully- actually make money from, that’s life changing! That’s a big moment I think. You were saying you spent a while kind of ‘copying’ the styles of other artists that you liked, but when did you feel like you really found your sound?
Yeah, I struggled with that a lot at the beginning. I actually studied a course in production, songwriting and performance at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music – I think that was when I was really grappling with the fact that I couldn’t just copy what I thought I should sound like. I used to think this Taylor Swift song is so good, if I just make a song that sounds like that– I think that’s a common thought, a new Benee song will come out and they’ll think ‘if I can just get that guitar sound then it’ll be a hit’. But I think every artist has their own unique thing. There were times during the course when my lecturers would really push me to find my own sound, which for me involved a lot of experimenting. I got a lot more into production at that point, whereas before then I was was making more acoustic music, and I was kind of scared to try anything else. That was a really pivotal moment for me figuring out my sound, it forced me to try new things. I’m still not very confident in my production skills, and I still doubt myself a lot. I find that writing lyrics and melodies comes more naturally and the production side is more of a challenge. I’ve learned to spend less time worrying about what I want to sound like, and instead just embrace what comes naturally to me.
Yeah, that makes sense
I think for a while I went through a phase where I listened to heaps of different kinds of music, just to get inspired. And then I went through a phase where I just didn’t listen to much at all, and I would just write and write and see what came up. I do still fall into the trap of trying to sound like what I listen to, I think that’s a common thing.
I know what you mean, and it takes a lot of self-evaluation to find the sound that really suits you, because when you’re listening to music that is so incredible and it’s well-written and it’s well produced, it’s so hard to think that your music can be that. You have to remember that someone like Colbie Caillat, or Billie Eilish do actually have the resources to make it sound that amazing. It’s hard when you want to do that because you really can’t, for a lot of reasons. It’s hard to arrive at being self-assured in the kind of sound that you feel like represents you
That’s so true, sometimes when you look in the credits of songs that are really well produced, the credits list might be so long, with more than five producers. It’s important to remember that lots of great artists have a great team surrounding them and contributing their voices and skills to the art.
You have to try and elevate yourself in whatever areas that you can, and if you’re able to create something that you think, and other people think is a great song, you can know that it’s 100 percent your doing! You created all of those elements yourself and that’s a nice feeling. Not to say that it’s a bad thing to collaborate because I love collaboration as well, but to feel assured in your skills as a writer or producer is a great feeling
People can tell when a song is really authentic. Sometimes the songs that flow the easiest are the ones you write when you’re by yourself or with someone you’re comfortable with. The first song I release, ‘Honeysea’, was a song that my friend and I made just for fun. We made it in a day and we didn’t think anything would come of it, because we were just being so silly, dancing around. That’s the song that people still really connect with, and it’s one of the few songs I didn’t overthink because I was just being myself! I think people can tell when there are authentic emotions in a song. You don’t need to have all the fanciest equipment to reach people through a song.
And if you stop yourself from overthinking the process, you can create something that’s really naturally going to connect with people. Whereas, if you set out to write a song that will connect with people, you might miss the mark. Was ‘Honey Sea’ your first release?
Yeah, it was my first release as Ivoris, before that I had uploaded a few things onto triple j unearthed. I put the track on SoundCloud first because back then I didn’t have a Spotify, and I just forgot about it. I don’t know how people found it, but it ended up getting a lot of plays on SoundCloud because people were really into this bedroom-pop kinda sound. The thing that prompted me to make a Spotify artist account was when this rapper from New Zealand, Hans, wanted to use the song as a sample. I was a fan of his and I remember thinking oh my gosh, someone who makes really great music likes my song. I thought that if people heard his song, they might want to try and find the original. That kind of prompted me to make a Spotify, and also prompted me to make my first music video. It was the push I needed to actually become an artist, and that song is still one of my most played songs! I’ve tried really hard on other songs, but maybe that song works because it feels so organic and natural
It’s so warm and the sounds are so beautiful, and as you were talking about it being made in your room with your friend- it just feels so relaxed and natural
I remember when I recorded the vocals for it I had a cold, so now when people say they like my voice in that song, I think maybe I sound better when I’m sick!
‘Jealous’ is the next song that you released, can you tell me a little bit about that one?
‘Jealous’ was written with the same friend, and was written at the beginning of the relationship that I’m in right now. I was having regular writing sessions where I was singing the same sort of lyrics about jealousy, so I just decided to write a song about it. We were trying to go for a different sort of sound than ‘Honey Sea’- something more electronic that played with the vocals a lot more. We wanted another voice in verse two, so I reached out to Hans to write a verse. It’s really weird when I sing that song now because I was in such a dark and jealous headspace – the song is really fun to sing, but man that phase of my life did not bring out the best side of me! I’m very driven by my emotions, which is why I need songwriting as a sort of therapy. But you know when you listen to a song you wrote years ago, and you’re like oh my gosh, get a grip!
Yes! Like, you don’t know anything!
You’re a baby!
It’s so funny the way that we can look retrospectively at our own music like that. I think it’s funny when someone might connect with an old song you’ve written, and it speaks to them, but in your mind you’re kind of embarrassed about your past self being so dramatic! But it’s great that we can use music to really elaborate on those feelings. Sometimes we make it seem bigger than maybe it really is, but it’s a fun medium to use to work yourself out
Definitely. Sometimes you write a song and you don’t know what you’re writing about until after its finished, and hindsight makes it make sense. Sometimes if I’m feeling something really intense, I like to write a song in that moment, because I feel like music has an ability to really capture an emotion in that moment. It’s like how you listen to a song you loved from when you were twelve, and you get taken back to that time instantly.
It’s like you’re transported and it’s beautiful. I think it’s the reason why music has been embedded in our history for as long as humans have been around- music is a genuinely powerful thing. I think sometimes we forget that we can have such physical reactions to music, the chemicals in our brains can go off like fireworks, and we are so attuned to that kind of way of expressing and understanding emotion. It’s amazing that as musicians we can actually document our experiences, and then for the rest of our lives we can listen to that song and be reminded of those specific events. I think it’s a really special thing that songwriters can do.
‘Flower’ is the song you wrote with the gorgeous Jade Alice, had you worked with many female artists and producers before that point?
Actually I hadn’t, so she was the first! When I first started making songs it was a very solo activity for me. I’ve actually known Jade since primary school, we live really close to each other. And her mom used to teach me singing in primary school!
Oh how sweet!
After high school we realised we were both doing the same kind of thing, we were both studying music but in different places. I think it’s really hard to find someone that you click with on a musical and emotional level. It took us a little while to find that groove, and now she’s one of my favourite people to write with.
Was it very different for you working with a female artist? Did your writing style change very much?
Yeah, I think it was a lot more open and honest. Usually when I’m in the studio with a producer, I write the lyrics and it’s like my realm that I’m in charge of.
Do you find when you work with male producers they might offer a lyric that is completely unrelated?
Yeah, I’ve found that in sessions with male producers I’ve worked with, they haven’t given much care to the lyrics. With Jade, we spent a lot of time on the lyrics and trying to make sure it conveyed what we wanted. Sometimes when you’re working with someone and have different ideas it can be difficult, but with ‘Flower’ we were really on the same page about it. It felt really collaborative, and we were both really invested in the production process. I’m trying to work on this now, but in the past I’ve been very timid to voice my production ideas, especially if I was working with a male producer. I think it’s because I’m not an especially skilled producer, so I haven’t been quick to lend my ideas. When I worked with Jade, we were both really open with what we thought and wanted, which can be hard to do if you’re not with someone you’re 100% comfortable with. Sometimes you just want to make the other person happy. Jade’s actually always pushing me to be more comfortable with my production ideas, which I am really grateful for.
I think that a lot of female musicians have experienced that, I know I have definitely experienced that, and it’s not necessarily because the producer is going to shut your ideas down, I think sometimes there is a weird hierarchy in the studio of the guy knowing the engineering and the technical producing side of the music making, and then the girl knowing about the emotional lyric and melody writing. It’s kind of unspoken, and it means that you can feel intimidated to say, hey, let’s do it this way. I think when you do find a producer, male or female or other, that you don’t have that unspoken tension with, then it’s a lot easier to voice your ideas
It also has a lot to do with your relationship with the producer as well. It affects how honest you feel you can be with them.
‘Watercolour’ has a really different feeling to a lot of your other tracks, does it have a different approach?
So ‘Watercolour’ is actually the first song that I fully produced myself! I was living in Sydney by myself in a little studio apartment, which got lonely at times. So I spent a lot of time at the studios at uni just working on my music, and that was the time where I experimented the most with my production.
The drums really stood out to me as being unique with this track
When I wrote the song, I sat at the piano and the chorus just flowed out of me. I felt immediately that it needed dramatic orchestral drums, and it came together after that. I remember I pulled an all-nighter to finish the bulk of the song, you know when you’re sleep deprived and you get super delirious? That’s what it was like.
The lack of sleep does wonders for music
Listening back to it now it reminds me of the Narnia soundtrack.
A flawless movie!
I remember seeing it in the cinema when it came out, and I never really liked Turkish Delight, but they made me want to eat it so bad!
Yeah, I don’t know if Turkish Delight is Edmond-betraying-his-family good
Exactly! With this song I was trying to convey really dramatic emotions. I was also listening to a lot of Petite Meller at the time, and she uses a lot of orchestral percussion like timpani. That’s something that really influenced me. I think that because I produced this song myself, it feels really personal to me. The lyrics are kind of abstract, but when you write something you assume everyone will know what you’re talking about!
That was the song that was in my head the most, I think because it did feel kind of different, like it had a different personality, which makes a lot of sense because you produced it yourself. Anything that you do yourself in that way is going to fully represent your own identity and your own interests. It’s really special for songwriters to venture into production because it can become such a big part of the songwriting. You can represent so much of the feeling and what you’re trying to express through the sounds that you choose and the rhythms that you choose; it makes the song feel really connected
If you produce a song for yourself and it’s not the most technically amazing thing, but you still put time and care into choosing instruments and sounds that convey that emotion, it still works and comes together. I think the interaction between the sounds you choose are really important in telling the story. For a long time I was very hesitant to do all the instrumentation myself, and I would get to the end of the song and feel like I need a lot of help to fix everything.
I know what you mean about producing something and feeling like it needs to be ‘fixed’ by someone else. I always fully produce music, and then hand it over to a producer or mixing engineer and say, ‘just replace all the sounds with what you think is good’
And then the track I get back isn’t my song anymore? Why do I feel the need to get my music fixed in that way?
I’m so glad that I’m not alone. A few months ago I released a song as part of the triple j DIY supergroup comp called ‘Heavenbound’, and I sent it to my friend and said, ‘it’s done but can you just fix it and replace all the sounds with your better ones’. And he just said ‘what are you talking about, its good! Leave it!’. We need to get out of this mentality that what we make isn’t good enough to be the final product.
It’s all in our heads, and its why finding a good mixing engineer that you can trust is important. I’ve always fallen into that trap of handing it to producers and saying ‘just replace all the sounds’
But you chose those sounds for a reason!
I think music is so clouded in pretentiousness in so many different elements of the process, for the chords, the melody, the lyrics, but then also for the sound design. I get very anxious if I use Apple Loops or downloaded drum loops and presets as the final product, but in my mind there is an engineer listening and judging me
But no one is listening to that! People are listening to the song as a whole, they just care about how it all fits together. The whole is greater than the sum of all its parts. People are thinking about how you don’t have the best reverb.
When do you feel like a track is finished?
Done is better than perfect, and I do fall into the trap of thinking what I make isn’t good enough to be finished. Sometimes you just need to put it out in the world, and when you’ve reached the point where you can’t bring yourself to work on the project anymore, maybe it’s because it’s finished.
I think that’s why it’s important to get some distance from your work as well. I find that especially true with vocal recordings. I’ll record the same song a hundred times because I tell myself the vocals need to be done in a specific quirky way. I had this song that I didn’t really get that it was finished for months, and I came across it and realized oh this is actually fine, I don’t need to keep re-doing the vocals
You do like 20 takes and it’s the first take that you like the most, so why did I waste so many hours of my life! It’s like going out to a party and trying 20 different outfits, and then choosing the first one you tried on.
Maybe women are just built to second guess themselves! Tell me a bit about ‘Someone New’
‘Someone New’ was a three-way collaboration with NVTHVN, and Ok2222. You know when you keep saying you’ll catch up with a friend and then you never do? That was kind of what happened with Oscar and I. We kept wanting to collaborate, and then he posted the instrumental of this track on his Instagram story and it all happened from there. I remember I listened to his instrumental on the train and I had the idea for my verse immediately in my head. I was so anxious to get home and record it before I forgot the melody!
This song really popped off!
Yeah people seemed to really like this one, but for some reason I can’t grasp how many people the streams are in my mind!
I know what you mean, it’s a number that doesn’t quite compute as people for some reason
I think a lot of people found the song through playlists, which is something I didn’t really know much about before that. It’s incredible how people from all over the world can find our music.
‘Let Me In’ is produced by Motaki, tell me a bit about that one
I wrote that song while on a songwriting camp. It started with a totally different instrumental, and at the start I actually really struggled to write to it. Some songs are just such an uphill task. I eventually came up with the hook, and the rest of the song stemmed from there. I was really inspired by ‘Never Be Like You’ by Flume; that higher register vocal. Motaki and I worked on that song together throughout the camp and after. That song actually came out on the same day as ‘Someone New’!
Wow the same exact day?
Yeah, I was in Japan when it came out! I was at Universal Studios- I’m terrified of rollercoasters, and while my sister was on all the rollercoasters I was just at a café, and the two songs got played on triple j radio!
That’s so cute, and I’m the same with theme parks, I don’t know why people decide to eat so much food and then terrify themselves and almost throw up?
Thank you! Like, why are you paying to scare yourself?
You were saying before that that song was a bit stubborn to get started at first. Do you feel that sense very often when you’re songwriting? I personally feel like there’s a lot of pressure for writers to just always find the process really natural and easy the whole time, and if it doesn’t feel easy, then it’s not a good song. I disagree with that because I think that songwriting can be really challenging sometimes. But is that the main song you’ve had that experience with?
No I feel that all the time! Sometimes the songs that are the hardest to finish are the most rewarding ones. There are plenty of times where I’ve been sent tracks that I find really hard to work on, and I refuse to give up the fact that maybe I just can’t write to that song. Sometimes there are songs and instrumentals that, no matter how long you spend, just aren’t going to work for you. I won’t send something back to a producer that I don’t fully love, and sometimes I struggle with accepting the fact that it’s just not meant to be. Songwriting can be really hard sometimes, when you want to capture a certain emotion and you need to find the right words to express it. And then other times it’s really easy, and you’re like, why can’t it be like this all the time? You have to write 100 bad songs to write a good one.
You can hold onto a song, and you love it, but you hate it because it just won’t come together. I often feel quite ashamed when a song isn’t working perfectly, but I won’t give up on it. If you can push through and turn it into something that you’re really proud of, I think that that can mean so much more sometimes than a song that just came together really easily
That’s the goal in the end, to make something beautiful.
‘Necklace’ was released earlier this year, back when life was so different
Feels like a lifetime ago. ‘Necklace’ and ‘One Hundred & Two’ are both collaborations with Barrett Marshell. They were both really fun songs to write, and brought out a different side of me musically. ‘One Hundred & Two’ is about wanting to be with someone until you’re really old, and it’s a real representation of how happy I am in my current relationship.
It’s so nice to write like that, sometimes it can be hard to write songs that are happier because you don’t have these hard and dark emotions to draw on
I’ve been told before by a few producers in the past that my songs are a bit ‘too happy’ or ‘too cute’ which annoys me to be honest. It used to make me cautious of writing anything that could be deemed as too upbeat or happy. I really had to really consciously block that feeling out so that I can stay true to myself and what I naturally gravitate towards.
When people want to collaborate they need to do their research
I like being pushed to explore different sides of my musical self, but not when I have to suppress my natural sound. I’m not going to make something that’s ‘less’ of myself!
If being ‘cutesie’ or light is what brings you joy and is what you want to create, then that’s what you should do. I think a lot of produces don’t understand that the voice that sits on top of the track is inherently going to represent the song, and the singer has to be 100% happy with how they are being represented. If a producer is asking me to write a song, then they don’t get to tell me how to write the lyrics because that’s my job. If a producer tells you to sing sexier or more sultry, then that’s no longer going to be a song you want to be apart of because it’s not representing you
I think I’ve gotten to a point now where I can be honest when a song isn’t working for me. When you’re first starting out you feel like you need to say yes to every opportunity because you’re like, what if this is the song that leads people to my music? But now I’ve learned to spend my time and energy on projects I don’t really love. Writing genuinely takes a lot of time and emotion.
Exactly, we can really obsess over being involved in a track that will blow up, and it’s hard to balance doing something you’re genuinely proud of, and something that’s going to get all the streams that you want. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. You know in your soul when you’re not happy with something, and even if that was the thing that was going to get you all the streams you want, you have to decide if you’re happy to stand by it even if it’s something you hate.
I never want to get to a point where I’m releasing songs I’m not happy with.
‘Pastel’ is your most recent release, what was the process like for that one?
So this one was created with a producer called iamalex, I really loved working on it. When I first heard the beat for ‘Pastel’ it just felt very floaty and light to me. I’ve been with my current boyfriend for about five years, and we had crushes on each other in high school. I still have a crush on him actually! I wanted to paint a picture of that really innocent high school romance into this song.
What do you want to communicate overall with your music?
Magnifying moments in time. Songs are like photographs to me. I have a new song coming out next month called ‘Paddlepop’, and it’s like I freeze this single moment in a day, and paint this picture of all the emotions that are swirling around in that moment.
When I look back on my life when I’m 90- if I get to 90- I love that I’ll have these songs that hold all my memories. I guess what I’m trying to do with my music is capture moments of my life into songs, and hope that these songs can tell the stories in someone else’s life too. I love when I get a message from someone saying “this song reminds me of my girlfriend”, or “this song helped me in a dark moment”. It’s incredible how lots of people can relate to the one song in different ways.
I think that that’s something that can connect everybody. Sharing the things that matter to you can really resonate with people and make us all feel a little bit more human and more connected to each other, which is something that is really vital to be honest. People need to feel connected, especially right now. Modern society hasn’t ever gone through something together in the same way that we are experiencing right now. Every single person on the earth is going through the same thing, and music can really speak to us in that space
We’re all going through the same thing, especially in Melbourne right now. I feel like we’re all going through the same symptoms of lockdown, everyone’s tired and mentally drained and fatigued, and it’s beautiful to be able to bring a little bit of joy into the world with our art.
You can find Ivoris on the socials below