Look for singer-songwriter Idalee's newly released EP, Starting Now, and watch the video for his bonus single "Heal", out now.
What got you interested in music?
Idalee: My dad passed down a guitar to me, I think I was 13 or so, and that was about the same time that I saw the Nirvana MTV Unplugged segment that rocked my world back in the day. I saw Kurt Cobain doing these emotional but simple formed songs and that was kind of the starting point for me writing music and not over-complicating it and just keeping it simple like he did and that raw form of songwriting. But, yeah, back in the day, that's what really got me jazzed and I would take that guitar to the community swimming pool down the street and try to impress the girls and stuff [laughs], so that was another side of it. It's always fun to meet new people through music, so that was the younger starting point.
Why choose the moniker 'Idalee'?
I'm trying for a little separation from myself with it. Ida Lee is actually a park in Virginia where my old bassist and this actor friend of mine grew up, getting in trouble and breaking beer bottles and all that stuff in my hometown of Leesburg, Virginia. We decided to move to Los Angeles and we threw around the idea of moving to DC, which is close to Leesburg, and going there and trying to make some music and stuff or if we should just bite the bullet and drive out to Los Angeles and Ida Lee is where we chose to go out and try to pursue it and, from there, it was a pretty cool journey. We met a lot of good people, we ran into some unfortunate industry connections out there, so it was a turning point for my life. Idalee just kind of stuck with me.
Other than Nirvana, which musicians have you been influenced by?
Back in the day, my dad played a lot of Creedence Clearwater Revival in my house, pretty much all the time, so I have some of that Southern style rock, which was big with me. Weezer was big with me; even Sublime, back then. These days, I'm watching closely what Imagine Dragons are doing; I like their stuff, a lot. Stuff like The Killers also has influenced this record a little bit. I got into The Killers a lot when I heard that some of the people helping me make this record had worked with The Killers on their Hot Fuss album, and that was exciting, for me to meet the people that worked on those projects. Those are a handful of the folks that influenced me. Also, Elvis Costello has a style that I'm really envious of and I really like his jams, so he's in there, too.
What words would you use to describe your own sound?
It comes from a folky area but I've been told, since talking with industry people, that it's alternative. To me, it's like folk rock, maybe with alternative styles, but I write on an acoustic guitar and just write these melodies and I think they're folky. Alternative folk rock.
What was the inspiration for your song and the video for "Starting Now"?
The reason why it's the title track and the reason why I think we went out with that one first was, it's the on the nose theme of what's going on in my life now; just, a new leaf sentiment. It's about standing up and starting over and I think a lot of people get that. It hits a lot of people that they can start over and I think that a lot of people that were involved in that video searched themselves and they were all holding up their signs and stuff that said, 'starting now I will do something better,' and it's a pretty human instinct. For me, it was when I moved to Phoenix from Virginia; it was a next step for me and also harkens back to my cleaning up and turning a 180 in my life. I was going a certain direction and it would be really hard to get a fresh start, but it's happened and it's a daily reflection and I think that's why a lot of people were into it and wanted to participate in the video.
Could you tell us more about your new album, Starting Now?
Yeah, like I said, starting now is the theme there, but it's a pretty optimistic record. I grew up with Kurt Cobain and a lot of doom and gloom and I held onto that grunge movement longer than probably most people, so I had some melancholy times, for sure, but this was my optimistic comeback. It's a way to get a fresh perspective out there because I'm feeling very good these days and I don't have the same demons that I did back then and so those ideas bleed through a lot of the songs. "Fury", for instance, is about letting go of some of the people in my life that were important to me for some of the wrong reasons and "Home" is about actually relocating and reminiscing about my LA times and I'm in LA more often now, so it's like a weird homecoming song. The whole thing all bleeds through with that optimistic rejuvenation.
Is there a track from that album you're most excited for your fans to be hearing now?
It was just released and the one I'm hearing the most positive about, that really is striking people - and me and my producer felt the same way - is "Barbarian". That's a pretty fun song and that's really a song that I have in a bunch of different versions and we picked that one out of several, but that's really the crux of my style, is that song; the punctuated rhythm of the lyrics and the way that I phrase words weirdly - I don't really know, my old bassist can explain it better than I can - but those verses in that song are like my native land in writing. I really like that that was chosen and it shines through a little bit and that gives me encouragement for the next project to do some of those that come easy to me, 'cause they're fun to write. And it's a rockin' song, it has a fun chorus to it; I think "Barbarian" is one to watch.
What do you want your listeners to be able to take away from your music?
I want them to feel like there's a second chance for everybody and sometimes there's a second, second, second chance; it doesn't really have a number on it. The new leaf, the fresh start, it doesn't have to be on New Years' Day; those resolutions are important to do some self-reflection and be positive but, like I said, I wrote some darker stuff back in the day, I was influenced by some bands that put the demons out there in their songs and there is a place for that and I have songs like that too, but this one I want the fans to feel positive about and to start the work day with it and end their Friday night with it and stuff like that. I want it to be a positive influence.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
"Heal" was a special song that I'd like to single out. It's kind of different from the other ones and it wasn't initially on the EP. It's a little bit of a darker song but it is influenced by my work with prison populations and the extreme of people that really try to start over and they have a lot working against them. That's the extreme version of the whole starting now context and starting over. I'd like people to look at that video on Facebook and YouTube and check out the prisoners performing it with me in that prison in Houston.