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Over the course of a career that spanned a little under 20 years, Ivy established themselves as one of the most polished indie bands around. The New York City trio — Andy Chase, Dominique Durand and the late Adam Schlesinger — excelled at crafting urbane pop with plush synths, honeyed guitars and subtle rhythmic grooves. Durand’s stylish vocals, which often boasted a hint of a French accent, anchored the music.
Ivy released their debut full-length, Realistic, in 1995, and continued recording and releasing music around Schlesinger and Chase’s other projects on through 2011’s All Hours. In between, the band also nabbed work for multiple high-profile films, including contributing a kicky cover of Steely Dan’s “Only a Fool Would Say That” to Me, Myself & Irene and scoring Shallow Hal.
Looking back today on a leisurely Zoom call, Durand is meditative about the disparate influences that contributed to Ivy’s chemistry. “We had a really good dynamic creatively,” she says. “Even though we had the same musical influences, Adam was really into pop songs. I was more into very indie underground stuff. Andy was sometimes more mainstream, I would say, but not in a bad way.” Adds Chase: “I was more the producer. So I was charmed by a lot of the more current stuff that might be on the radio, like, ‘Whoa, how did they do that? How’d they mix that?’ So I was always coming from more like the scientist [background].”
In hindsight, however, it’s a marvel that the New York City trio even got off the ground — much less became a band. In the early ’90s, Durand wanted to be a music journalist and photographer, not play music. Her then-boyfriend Chase, meanwhile, had only just picked up guitar. However, he took out an ad looking for musicians to start a band; in response, Schlesinger and his future Fountains of Wayne bandmate Chris Collingwood showed up.
“Adam and I had this immediate connection,” Chase recalls. “[And Dominique] was like, ‘That guy was really cool — the Adam guy. You should try to be friends with him.’” This relationship would come in handy soon after. When Chase and Durand decided to record some original tunes they sang at their wedding, with the intention of giving them out as Christmas presents for friends and family, they called up Schlesinger to contribute bass.
That was the start of Ivy — and, from there, things progressed rather quickly. Schlesinger sent this batch of songs to record labels and immediately heard back that Atlantic Records wanted to sign the fledgling band. Durand initially balked at singing live and only reluctantly agreed to sing on the album; in fact, she told Chase and Schlesinger they’d have to find a new singer if they wanted to tour.
“I’m a very quiet person,” she says. “I’m an introvert, and I’m shy. So it’s like, it was really difficult for me to imagine my life on stage. You’re performing. You’re in front of people who are watching you. For me, it was so not what I wanted.” She laughs, adding, “It felt very scary.”
Luckily, Atlantic signed Ivy with the stipulation the band wouldn’t be required to perform live. However, fate intervened: In 1994, the now-defunct publication Melody Maker named the band’s song “Get Enough” as its Single of the Week. Ivy wasn’t even done recording their first EP yet, but they found themselves booked for a showcase in front of journalists from across the U.S. and the world, including New Zealand, Australia, Japan, England and Spain.
By the time the night of the show rolled out, Durand’s anxiety was through the roof. Five minutes before the show started, Chase recalls the vocalist was nowhere to be found — until he went outside and caught her trying to hail a taxi to leave. One Valium and two shots of whiskey later, Durand and the rest of Ivy were onstage, although she refused to look at the audience during the show due to shyness.
Chase recalls thinking the show was a disaster. However, reps from Atlantic raved while visiting the band after the show. “Everyone comes in, they’re like, ‘Oh my God, you’re fantastic, Dominique, it’s incredible — like, you don’t give a shit,’” he recalls. “‘You just do your thing. And you don’t look at the audience. It’s just so cool how you don’t care.’” The press reviews were equally glowing, praising Durand’s individuality and who-cares attitude. “And we were like, ‘Oh yeah — yeah, that’s what we’re going for,’” Chase says. “Nothing we could do could turn away the wheels of momentum towards our future.”
Chase and Durand put together a compilation, The Best Of Ivy, after Schlesinger’s death, in tandem with Mark Lipsitz from their label, Bar/None Records. Durand admits deciding which songs to include was a challenge. “It doesn’t have to be your favorite songs, but it has to be songs that describe the mood of a certain record,” she explains. “It’s not easy — and especially when you are the artist, you’re close to the songs.”
In the end, Ivy landed on a compilation with a healthy dose of songs taken from 1997’s indie-pop classic Apartment Life (the horn-smeared “This Is The Day,” chiming “I’ve Got A Feeling” and psych-rock swerve “Quick, Painless And Easy”) and 2000’s trip-hop-kissed Long Distance (the undulating “Edge Of The Ocean,” gentle “Undertow,” the Stereolab-esque “Disappointed” and askew dream-pop “Worry About You”). Rounding out the track list is a pair of songs from 2005’s glowing electro-pop opus In the Clear (“Thinking About You” and “Feel So Free”) and a couple of earlier songs from the mid-1990s: the lo-fi acoustic trifle “I Hate December” and the heftier “15 Seconds.”
The curation process was also understandably quite different without Schlesinger’s opinion in the mix. “Normally, nothing ever got decided on or picked or voted on or agreed on without Adam’s input,” Chase says. “And he was a tough guy; he was a tough voice. This was so fluid and easy … And yet, it’s also sad that we don’t have that push and pull that we usually had.” Chase stresses that it’s not like he, Durand and Lipsitz had major disagreements. “But we always had to remind ourselves: What would Adam think? What would he say? Would he agree on the song?”
Emotionally, however, listening to Ivy’s entire catalog was a moving experience. “It always worked with the three of us,” Durand says. “There were obviously moments where it was difficult, because we were very different. And the three of us had a lot of personality and had very strong opinions, and would fight for whatever we felt was right. It was always intense. At the same time, it always worked out.”
For Chase, looking back also brought up a flood of vivid memories about their early days in New York City — many of which he personally documented on the Super 8 camera he received for his bar mitzvah. “How poignant it was to be refreshed with these memories and our early experiences and the course that our career took us on,” he says. “As we were putting together the Best Of, there’s three seats in the studio. There’s me and Dominique — and the third seat is empty, because Adam’s gone.”
Annie Zaleski is a Cleveland-based writer whose work has appeared in The Guardian, NPR Music, Rolling Stone and other places. She’s the author of a 33 1/3 volume on Duran Duran’s Rio and a Lady Gaga illustrated biography, as well as liner notes for the 2016 reissue of R.E.M.’s Out of Time.