Ivy Levan, the Queen of Swamp-Hop


Ivy Levan, the Queen of Swamp-Hop


“You see I got my cake, and fucking ate it too,” growls rising “swamp-hop” crooner Ivy Levan with her signature vampy tenor on No Good opener, “The Dame Says.” Delivering a sound that marries sparkling synths with Levan’s soulful southern blues roots, the singer’s brand of pop is dark and sexy (see “Who Can You Trust“), with a charismatic, tongue-in-cheek twist (see “Biscuit”). We caught up with the bubbling songstress to talk about being broke and fabulous, dancing to Michael Jackson as a toddler and making the perfect musical cocktail.

On her first musical memory:

“I put pantyhose on my head and red lipstick on, blasted Michael Jackson in my living room and made my mom film me like I was making a music video; I was maybe four years old. That was my first musical experience ever and I was like, ‘Wow this is awesome, I want to be like that guy.’ I love the classics, like ‘Thriller’ and ‘Billie Jean.’ My mom had Dangerous, Bad and Thriller.

On her vintage sound:

“I’ve always been a fan of blues music and that kind of round voice and feeling. I love listening to Muddy waters, Etta James and Tom Waits. It’s just a personal preference, and I like to translate that into my own style of music. That’s something I can’t avoid because I was raised in the south and there was a lot of soul going on.”

IVY Portrait_new_flat (Compressed)

On the lyric, “Champagne taste with a BudLight budget,” from “Champagne Taste:”

“That track basically stemmed from me being broke as shit, but still having this sense of diva and loving luxury. I’ve had lots of money and I’ve been homeless—I’ve been in both of those worlds. I’ve definitely not had anything just given to me; I’ve worked my ass off my entire life. I know what it feels like to be on a budget, but want to still feel like a queen. I think I was just like, ‘Oh shit, my bank account’s getting low, but I still want to go party,’ and wrote a song about it.”

On the genre, “Swamp-Hop:”

“‘Swamp’ comes from my roots; where I’m from, there are a lot of swamps. I feel like it really paints the perfect picture of the way that I write; of course when you think of a swamp, it’s really dark and ominous; there are a lot of dead trees and it’s very eerie, but there’s also a lot of life there. ‘Hop’ comes from the fun dance aspect, so those two combined I feel make the perfect cocktail—shaken, not stirred.”

On the lyric, “I’d rather burn out, than spend my life waiting:”

“I’d rather go out with a bang than fall into the system where there’s this constant pressure to be something that society thinks you should be. The way I see it is you get one life. We’re all going to die at the end of it, so as long as we’re not hurting anyone, who cares? Do what makes you happy and live life to the fullest. I felt very pressured when I wrote that song to fit into a mold and dumb down my work or keep quiet. I wanted to write a song that rebelled against it and correlated with the greats that died at 27. I tied those two together.”

On collaborating with Sting:

“By the time we worked in the studio, I had a few one-on-one experiences with him. At that point, it felt natural, like we’d been friends for years. Going up to that point, it was very nostalgic, it was very ‘pinch me, is this real?’ I really didn’t have time to stop and really scream, we were just so busy. After the song was done, I had that moment of, ‘Holy shit, Sting is singing on my song.’ He’s so brilliant and inspiring, and has such a great outlook on life. He’s a great mentor. He really connected with the record, our collaboration was very organic.”

On Disney villains:

“I’m feeling like Hades from Hercules right now, so if I was a Disney villain, I’d be Maleficent and Hades if they had a love child. Maleficent is fucking fabulous—her style is like no other. She’s very regal, and she reminds me of a Thierry Mugler runway from 1995. And Hades, his whole attitude, charisma and sense of humor is dead-on with mine.”

On sexuality:

“I am a bisexual woman—I like women and men. I’m equal opportunity; I just love people. I relate to the gay community because it’s not far from who I am. A lot of stuff I write is about being set free, having fun, confidence, self esteem and vulnerability, which I think the gay community can relate to. I’m so happy to have their support; I’m humbled—fuck yeah.”

On the music industry:

“Being a woman in this industry is very hard; a lot of times people don’t take you seriously. Especially when you try to be serious, you try to be the leader or a boss, people say that you’re a bitch; if a man were to do it, he’s a rock star or a badass. Combating all of that bullshit can be difficult, but I’ve maneuvered my way around and it’s funny because a lot of my friends are men, and I kind of get along better with men.”