Tone Talk with IVA

Tone Talk with IVA

Woman holding guitar
Photo by Shervin Iainez

Cinematic singer-songwriter, IVA released her Americana-tinged four song EP Nobodys Woman on March 3, 2023. Recorded at Philadelphia’s famed Turtle Studios with producer and multi-instrumentalist Ross Bellenoit and engineer Doug Raus, the songs on Nobodys Woman deal with heartbreak, addiction, friendship, and the dissolution of a long-term, abusive romantic relationship – all laced with confessional lyrics and soaring, ethereal vocals reminiscent of Aimee Mann and Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood). To celebrate the EP’s release, IVA will be performing in the Philadelphia area at 118 N. on March 12th and at Arlene’s Grocery in NYC on April 17th.

What is your definition of tone, and how has it changed over the years?

Vocal tone has been my obsession ever since I was a little girl. I worked to cultivate a warm, resonant, vibrant timbre with the right balance of chiaroscuro — light and dark colors. Since I am relatively new to the guitar, at first, I would accept any decent sound that I got out of the instrument. Now I am able to work on finding the magic pressure on the strings that I cultivate when bringing my vocal cords together.

In general, I like a free, natural, open, analog sound for my non-vocal instruments, as I played acoustic piano for many years before getting my Nord keyboard. I love the tone quality of my Telecaster through my Fender Princeton Reverb amp. There is something completely authentic about that sound, something fundamental, and I like to keep things simple and focus on the innate quality of the songwriting itself and not use too many “effects.” I only recently brought a couple pedals into the mix to add some more atmosphere to the sound of the guitar, but I don’t lean too heavily on them. I don’t mind having more of a stripped-down sound to my guitar and letting the band’s lead guitarist (Ross Bellenoit or Geoff Bennington) use their pedalboard and instrumental to get their own, more honed sound quality.

Which guitars, amps, and pedals are you currently using and why?

I have a Telecaster named “Tigger” with Strat pickups that I run through a Fender Princeton Reverb amp, which was a gift from a long-time friend. I picked Tigger up at Rivington Guitars after a long day of searching in New York and immediately started making up riffs, which I’d never done before. Tigger has a gorgeous screen printed front to look like tiger wood, and tigers have fascinated me ever since I was a child. I asked the man in the shop how I would know if a guitar was right for me, and he said, “You look at it in the corner of your room in the morning and think, ‘Oh baby, just one more song before work.’” I knew Tigger was the one. She’s soooo beautiful. Some of the best men in my life — my father, brother and uncle—- gave her to me as a Christmas gift as it was in the months after my mother had died and my cousin, who had also lost his mother, and I were learning to play together. My cousin was with me when I bought Tigger. It was a magic moment.

For pedals, I use a JHS 3 series Chorus and Reverb pedals. I got them after hearing another singer-songwriter (Katie Kleiger — she’s so good) use them at a solo show with her Tele, and it sounded dope. I like to have a dreamed-out atmospheric sound to the guitar when I’m playing solo and give the voice a cloud of sound on which to float.

I also have a 1970’s Guild dreadnought named “Jeanne” after my very musical grandmother. She and I had a falling out later in her life, so I feel like I’m making it up to her every time I play the Guild. My guitar teacher (same guy as the Rivington Guitars sales whisperer) found her for me and he was sad to part with her. It has a big booming badass sound and a bluegrass twang. Sometimes I like to plug it into my Fender amp as well to give it an electric sound.

What about strings?

I use D’Addario phosphor bronze acoustic guitar strings, extra light gauge. I like thin strings on both guitars as it gives me more control over the sound and doesn’t tax my keyboard-playing fingers too much. I am kind of a wimp when it comes to pressing the strings, and I feel more agile when the strings are lighter gauge.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I haven’t yet recorded guitar in the studio, so we’ll find out . . . hopefully sooner rather than later.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

For band gigs, I keep my setup simple and use the guitar on key songs that need a boost from a rhythm guitar. For solo gigs, I keep the same sound on every song on each guitar, but I am starting to play with that more as I give more solo shows.

What does your practice consist of?

  1. Staring out the window at the Williamsburg Bridge and losing track of time.
  2. Not doing the four-finger exercise that my guitar teacher gave me because, Goddammit, I was a good girl with learning piano and voice, and now I just wanna have fun.
  3. Crying, trying to look cool, messing up, and lots of …

Favorite guitar riff or lick that inspired you to play guitar?

When I was a kid, I memorized all of George Harrison’s guitar solos by singing along to them. My favorite thing he ever did, though, is probably the opening chord on “Hard Days Night.”

What is your advice for young women who hope to work in the music industry?

Know what sound you want, hone it, own it, and stand up for it no matter what. At the end of the day, you are 100% accountable for your creative choices. Bad things can happen, and you have to learn to steer through the issues and work with people that inspire you and make you feel alive. And find the kind of support you need to stay in the game, be it through therapy, good friends, creating a loving home for yourself, and learning to like your own company.

Belief in yourself has to come first and foremost from you. Love yourself for it as much as you hate yourself for it. And be direct and clear when speaking to others. It helps no one to be misleading because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. It’s not about being nice — it’s about being clear and, for me, being a good colleague that can be counted upon for a fulfilling musical experience. Most of all . . . go for it!!!

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