With Invisible Pictures, Jeremy Ivey raises the curtain on the existence he cherishes while embracing the mystery of lives he might have or may still explore.
A cream-of-the-crop crew curated by producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Melissa Carper, Ian Noe) transmogrified Nashville’s Bomb Shelter studio into a theatre of the mind, framing sonic scenes with trim White Album-esque flourishes that take advantage of intricate melodies sans pretension to unveil Ivey’s evolving storytelling and confidence.
Though an established collaborator and guitarist for his wife Margo Price, Jeremy stepped out front of his own project with 2019’s The Dreamer And The Dream, a left-of-the-dial contrast to the couple’s usual country-flavored Americana.
The pandemic-released Waiting Out The Storm jangled and popped, channeling a national division and discontent that also came across as wildly prophetic having been written well before the tornadoes that ripped through Nashville in the spring of 2020, Ivey’s near-fatal long-haul bout with COVID-19, and the events surrounding the January 6th attack at the Capitol in Washington DC.
Retaining a similar philosophy, Invisible Pictures targets the fractures within, salving the angst with tone and quiet mercy.
AI- When last we spoke about “All Kinds Of Blue”, we talked about your history with Andrija and the Bomb Shelter, and though we didn’t explicitly say it, I don’t think that either of us were real sly at hidin’ that he would be involved with the new album. But now here we are and we can fully delve into it! You told me at the time that Invisible Pictures would be more musically driven and from the jump with “Orphan Child”, you do in fact lay out a whole new sound compared to “All Kinds Of Blue” and Waiting Out The Storm.
JI- Yeah, I think you’re gonna find a lot more of that on the record. It was fun to write songs that were a little more chord-y and a little more musical. I got into a lot of music over the pandemic that was different than what I’ve listened to before– it was classical and flamenco and stuff like that.
In talking about that particular song, “Orphan Child”, you said you always felt like you were born at the wrong place, wrong time, wrong body, to the wrong people. I’d wondered if, from the very beginning, songwriting and music had been a way for you to connect with that other person that you possibly could have been.
Yeah, for sure– to connect with, really, the many people you can be! I think that anonymity is good. Not knowing my origins is kinda nice. People, especially my wife, try to get me to do Ancestry.com and figure out where I came from, and I guess I could, but I like the mystery better than knowing, you know? The mystery allows me to be several different people. That helps with writing.
If you could have existed somewhere else and some other time, what would have appealed to you?
Oh, I don’t know? I mean, that’s to be decided from that point of view! I just feel like having different points of view or imagining yourself in different points of view allows you empathy with other people, allows you to get in other people’s skin, as far as writing from characters. If you know, “I’m like this much English, Italian, Turkish, whatever, Irish,” then you kinda know exactly where it all came from. But if you don’t know, then you can be all of those people!
That brings me to a line of thinking that you had about how we’re all judged at birth by someone. That notion also got me thinking about the expectations that we levy at the same time. I got to thinkin’, when I was a teenager and I was full of it, I ridiculously judged my parents over certain things. Now that I’m an adult, approaching middle age, and also a father, I worry at those expectations I’m placing on my daughter and how she’s going to judge me. Do you see all of that coming full circle for you as an artist and as a human?
Oh, for sure! Sure. I try to use that as being a father to realize that I’m not right just ’cause I’m older. Sometimes your kids teach you, and I think that I had the same attitude as you did when I was a kid that my parents were wrong and I was right. Then you realize that no one’s really right– you’re just right at times and wrong at other times.
Let’s talk about that “Orphan Child” music video. You always look like you’re having the most fun in your videos– and also kind of flirtin’ with death! I recall the video for “Things Could Get Much Worse” where you were stuffed into that hazmat suit in 95-degree heat! And then on “Orphan Child”, you’re playin’ with fire and rolling downstairs, hanging from trees…
That was just kind of an on-the-spot sort of video because we had a plan to do much more, but then COVID hit, Omicron happened, so we had to cancel the band. They were gonna be in the video and they couldn’t be, and all the extras and things, so we just had to go off the cuff, which is what it ended up bein’. And I like climbin’ trees and doin’ weird stuff!
Is that your son in the video with you?
No, I offered to have my son be in it, but they said that he was too tall and looked too old for the role. It was this little boy named Dylan, and he was perfect for it!
Well, you brought up the band, and we weren’t able to dig into specifics the last time we talked because everything was still under wraps. I know that Margo appears on the album– who else did you and Andrija enlist?
Andrija got a lot of the players that he’s had recently on some albums. I had heard a record that he had done for Riley Downing, and I really liked it, so I said, “Get that same band!” It ended up bein’ Megan Coleman playin’ drums– she’s amazing! She played for Yola for a long time and played for a lot of people, but she’s just really incredibly intuitive. Jack Lawrence played bass. Little Jack’s from The Raconteurs and Greenhornes, and then other than that, it was kind of a rotating cast of keyboard players and people that played strange instruments. Margo’s keyboard player played on a few tracks, Micah Hulscher. There was a guy that came and played Marxophone on “Orphan Child”, and I played a lot of the guitars. I think there was only one song I didn’t play guitar on. Well, I played guitar, but I had another guitar player. Everything else was me, but yeah, it was fun!
I noticed overall that it’s very keyboard-driven– piano, different kinds of synth sounds. What is that on “Orphan Child” that’s got that harpsichord-y sound? Is that a harpsichord?
No, it’s a Marxophone! It’s an old 1900s-era instrument, looks like a typewriter, and it’s a little fits-in-your-lap kind of a thing. You just hit these buttons– and there’s not that many notes on it really– and it plucks the strings. It kinda has a harpsichord vibe, the ting-ting thing, and if you hold a button down, the hammer will hit the string multiple times, almost like a dulcimer.
Did you envision that sound from the beginning? Having it so percussively tone-driven?
Nah, it was really Andrija. When we got together to talk about the record and I would play songs for him, he would hear things and write down notes. He had the Marxophone idea from the get-go.
“Trial By Fire”, you’ve said, could be your favorite track on the new album. You’ve got the line in there, “You don’t have to be anyone for me,” and I know the entire album is personal, but that particular song, to me, sounded like you and Margo.
Yeah, for sure. She was goin’ through somethin’, kind of a transition in her life, and she was worried about losing friends. We had a long talk around a fire one night and the next day the song came out! I guess that’s maybe why it’s one of my favorites because it was no effort to write. It’s a very short song anyway, but I wrote it in about ten minutes!
Was it an effort to write some of ’em? I know that getting so internal with your songs, I wouldn’t say that it’s a new avenue in your writing, but you’ve certainly immersed yourself more in it this time around.
I don’t know if it’s ever really much of an effort because I feel like when it gets to be too much of an effort, it’s not worth it. Either it comes naturally or if you have to work too much at it, it might be false. I think a few songs, maybe I didn’t write the last verse for a couple weeks or somethin’? That would be the extent of working at it. But usually, the first initial burst of inspiration happens pretty quick.
“Phantom Limb” and “Black Mood” are both very visceral tracks. I think they’ve got some hard textures and sometimes a little bit of disturbing imagery in there. Going back to the question I just asked about bringing that internal emotion out, you’ve talked about a door that you had to break down as a writer to get more personal. What do you do when you’re confronting that? Do you decide, “Am I gonna go this far? Am I not gonna go this far? And if I don’t, how do I get the point across?”
Maybe a little bit of self-consciousness comes into play. But I think also if I feel like I wanna do something, it’s a matter of making it honest. I figured writing about myself would be the most honest thing I could do. I was more in trepidation about whether people would give a shit (laughs), you know? I’m not a very popular musician, so writing about myself might seem a little self-serving, but I figured if there’s some truth in what I’m going through, there’s probably truth in it to other people too.
That’s interesting that you would say that though because I think at the top of the list of the many artists that I’ve spoken with since the pandemic began, you have endured and been through– even before the pandemic– so many different things. To be able to articulate that and put it into a song and then make an album, I feel like you in some ways have chronicled this period of time– whether you intended to or not– better than almost anyone.
Well, thanks, man! Hopefully, it’s not just a pandemic that will inspire this kind of deep running around in your subconscious, but…
Oh, well, we have so many other things! We have war now!
Oh yeah, I know… I tend to always be there a little bit. I try to put some brevity on every record, but there’s some dark spots too.