POP POWERHOUSE WILL TAKE THE ROCK 'N RESTAURANTS STAGE APRIL 22
When she was 16 years old, Ivy Levan hotfooted it out of her Arkansas hometown and moved to Los Angeles to launch the singing career she'd long coveted.
"I didn't have any real plan," said Levan, now 26. "I just knew I needed to get out of there as fast as I could, so two weeks before I was supposed to graduate high school, I took off for L.A. with my mama."
From Benjamin Weinman of the Dillinger Escape Plan to world-renowned DJ Diplo, Levan's blossoming talent has been recognized by some of the most respected players in the music community.
Born in Tulsa and raised in Bentonville, Ark., Levan grew listening to R&B and soul superstars such as Ray Charles and Tina Turner. Claiming that she "popped out singing and hasn't stopped since," Levan seized on every opportunity to take the stage throughout her childhood.
"I did tons of talent shows, pageants, anything that would allow me to get up there and sing and steal all that attention," she said.
Prompted in part by a school suspension (after a misunderstood incident involving a bottle of cough syrup stashed in her bag), Levan headed for Hollywood just before her 17th birthday and soon began landing major modeling gigs. By 18 she'd also scored a recording contract with a major label, but ended up bowing out of the deal quickly after recording a demo.
"Everyone seemed to have a different opinion of who I should be," she said. "So I just walked away."
For Levan, that freedom goes a long way in fostering the honesty and authenticity she considers crucial to killer songwriting.
"I sing about what I've lived, in a way that's completely real and harsh but also quirky," she said. "It took a lot of years of being beaten down to get there, but I think I found a certain empowerment in all that."
Above all, she said, her journey to shameless self-expression has hinged on reclaiming her deep-South roots.
"With my music before, it was like I was putting on a mask, trying to conceal my accent and hide where I was from," she said. "I was always fighting who I really am, but now I'm embracing it and being 100% me. This is the music I was born to sing."
CRA staffer John Goddard recently posed a few questions to this year’s Rock ’n Restaurants artist:
JG: Let’s introduce our members to you. I’m sure you get asked these questions all the time, but let’s tell our state's restaurateurs why they can't miss your performance. When did you first start singing?
IL: I'm always asked this and it's always hard for me to understand how someone can just "start" singing but I can't really remember a day that I haven't been singing. I'd say I was singing even before I could put a sentence together. I knew I wanted to be a singer when I won my first talent show at the age of 7. I've been hooked ever since.
JG: And, what was the first song you learned?
IL: "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney Houston was the first song I sang in a talent show but I knew every Michael Jackson and Fleetwood Mac song by the age of 5.
JG: Have any hidden talents?
IL: Hidden? Haha, well I don't know if this is hidden but I'm an artist all around. That includes drawing and painting. I love drawing sexy women. I'm pretty good at doing impressions and voices too.
JG: Who are your musical inspirations?
IL: There are so many. Usually its strong women with strong distinctive voices like Tina Tuner, Siouxsie Sioux, Stevie Nicks, Whitney Houston and Pat Benatar. Those are just a few out of the many I admire.
JG: Those are some of the great singers and performers of any generation. Looking at who is relevant today, what contemporary artist would you most like to open for?
JG: For someone who has never heard your music, explain your sound in five words or less.
IL: Aggressive, soul, punk-rock, motown. Swamp-Hop. That's close enough! (laughs)
JG: What are the five things you can’t live without?
IL: My all black wardrobe, kale salads, red lipstick, my vanilla flavored vapor e-cig, and beats headphones.
JG: What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
IL: You get what you give.
JG: In consideration of that where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs?
IL: Inspiration comes from all over. My songs are stories of my life experience. I just don't sing about whatever or someone else's ideas. I write music based on what I've lived so hopefully others can relate or gain from my experience. It's honesty. When life hands me love, lemons, heartbreak and hate, I make them into songs. Living the life that I've lived has been plenty of inspiration.
JG: So, what’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t doing music?
IL: I don't do anything but write, record, produce and perform. That's my life right now. It's all I'm focused on. But I guess I love shopping online and playing video games too.
JG: What's the one favorite song you'll always belt out at karaoke?
IL: Alannah Myles "Black Velvet"
JG: What’s the most trouble you’ve ever gotten into?
IL: I was kicked out of high school for having cough syrup in my bag. In my adult years I've had a few run-ins with the police. Luckily, I never got arrested but those dark times definitely made for good song material.
JG: If you weren't singing, what would you be doing?
IL: That's a tough question. I've thought about this before but its hard to imagine life without a voice or music. I guess I'd be doing something with helping animals or being an art teacher or even a special effects make up artist. Even just saying that is so weird. I'd want to be an animal-rescuing, art-teaching, special-effects-make-up-doing singer.
JG: Ten years from now you will be….
Ivy: Hopefully doing what I'm doing right now: Making music and singing. Sharing my stories and changing the music industry and shaking things up.
JG: Thanks for taking the time to share your personality with us. I can speak for all when I say that April 22 will be a night to remember.
Purchase tickets at www.calrest.org/rnr or contact John Goddard at email@example.com.