Published: Friday, September 13, 2013
Updated: Friday, September 13, 2013 21:09
Standing at 5’9,’‘ dressed all in black and rocking a skyscraper of blonde, rockabilly hair, singer Ivy Levan (pronounced Le-von) reminds one of a cartoon film noir femme fatale. She’s Lucille Ball with a switchblade, and her voice would be equally at home in a piano bar or onstage at Warped Tour. A cross between a jazz singer, a diva and a punk frontwoman, her band all wear executioners masks, and its difficult to figure out whether she should be lying on top of a piano or stage diving during her act.
Levan emigrated to L.A. 10 years ago when she was 16; a typical bright-eyed kid following her dream of being a singer. According to her, that naiveté promptly got her stomped on. In an interview with The Urbaness, she says, “I was so happy [when I left home]. I couldn’t wait. I was a bright-eyed dumb ass. I didn’t have a clue. I was stepped on and it made me a hard ass.” In the first years after moving to California from her native South (she was born in Tulsa and raised in Bentonville, Arkansas), Levan tried very hard to eradicate everything about where she came from in her image. She dyed her blonde hair black, started wearing heavy dark eyeliner and cut demos like “All My Hate” (an angst-ridden, electronic rock track), “Rising” (a slower, piano and bass driven song reminiscent of '90s alt bands like Garbage) and “Moving Objects” (pure rock and roll with a catchy, sardonic chorus).
Music wasn’t the only thing Levan got involved with, either. She was able to land fairly steady modeling work, and became part of the fashion world as well as the music industry. Things seemed to be looking up, and she was even offered a deal with a major label. Alas, that label wanted Levan to completely change the style of music that she was making. They thought she should devote her powerful voice to singing ballads and weren’t interested in the rock sound she’d put in so much effort to cultivate. She walked away from the deal. After that, she became disillusioned and took some years away from making music: “I just thought, ‘if that’s what it’s going to be like, I don’t even want to do it anymore.’” She spent some time as a club promoter until she met producer Lucas Banker. They hit it off in early 2011 and have been working together on her new music since.
Fast-forward to today and Levan is back with her revamped image and a four-song EP introducing her new sound to the world. She says this new style is completely based on embracing her Southern roots instead of trying to fight them. She’s mentioned in several interviews that her father is a rockabilly singer, and the new EP “Introducing The Dame” reflects both that background and her desire to introduce herself to the larger public by utilizing it. So far Levan has made music videos for three of the four songs on the album, starting with her single “Hot Damn.”
The Dame EP is sort of a concept album, so the three videos tell a black and white mini-noir tale of crime and murder, with the conclusion in the forthcoming video for “Hang Forever.” In the video for “Hot Damn” Levan looks like a homicidal '50s housewife when she uses cookware to dispatch a gang of animal-masked thugs roughing up her restaurant’s customers. She gives the camera a wide, knowing grin when she gets to the lines, “Who turned that temperature up? It’s hot enough to cook an egg in a frying pan...” and then holds said pan/assault weapon up for the camera. Levan says people always mosh to "Hot Damn" at her shows.
She’s currently signed with Paradigm talent agency, and the Dame EP was released through Cherry Tree in collaboration with Interscope records. She lives with Lucas Banker and Patrick Nissey, who are both members of Blood Money Inc. and writing collaborators on Introducing The Dame. Her fans have christened themselves “The Damepires.” “Hot Damn” currently has over 580,000 views on YouTube and word of her talent is spreading pretty quickly. If this is just the introduction, the rest of what The Dame has to offer should be worth hearing.