Failure and mistakes are part of the process, especially when you’re innovating as an artist. Keep going and be easy on yourself. All learning opportunities are worthwhile. Rejection is part of the landscape, and we need help processing the shame that comes with it (therapy — it’s so good.) It’s not about perfection — it’s about awareness and taking the next steps towards what you want to do.
As a part of our series about rising music stars, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing IVA!
IVA’s vocal prowess and phenomenal range have garnered her international recognition. She possesses an uncanny ability to switch seamlessly from pop-style vocals into full operatic singing within the same song. IVA is universally applauded as a rare crossover singer, songwriter, and vocal coach with an extraordinary career of 15 years. As a pioneer in the male-dominated music industry, IVA embodies women’s empowerment, inspiring and training many promising young female artists.
IVA’s first breakthrough was when she made her first appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien, showcasing her unique gift. Her fateful performance transformed her career from a classical opera singer to an international pop star. Since then, she has performed and toured around the world, releasing multiple hit albums, including “Ivolution” in 2009, which was picked up by Universal Sweden, “Leap” in 2015, and more recently “Traitor,” released in 2019. She has collaborated with multiple Grammy-award-winning producers and highly acclaimed artists, such as Tim Sonnefeld, Jaron Olevsky, and Trey Pollard.
History was made when IVA became the youngest person to receive the Vasa Order’s Swedish American of the Year award for her revolutionary career and involvement in U.S and Swedish intercultural relations. Other laureates of this prestigious award include Ann Margret, Buzz Aldrin, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, and Nils Lofgren of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.
Unlike her career, IVA’s personal life hasn’t been entirely glamorous. She was in a turbulent relationship that resulted in domestic violence. “It shocked me, and I felt like it threw me off course for a while, yet I came out of that experience with growth and strength.” To shed light on domestic violence, she wrote the hit song “Immense Tenderness.” “It is something I wanted to share in my artistry — that even if you think it’s your darkest hour, there is hope, and there is light. Speak up and get help,” she says.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
There was always music playing in my home. My family has eclectic tastes, so I was exposed to everything: classical, rock, jazz, big band, Broadway — you name it. My grandfather was a multi-instrumentalist and my grandmother sang and played piano. My father played clarinet and saxophone but mostly played his extensive record collection. Our across-the-street neighbors were classical music lovers and exposed me to crossover — Philip Glass’ Songs from Liquid Days, for example. My father says he remembers me riding a rocking horse and singing to Ride of the Valkyries. At nine a family friend brought me to Opera Delaware, where she was leading children’s operas, and I picked up singing and read music easily. Plus, there were a lot of other children that I liked in the productions. From then on singing was my favorite activity. And, I got out of school when we had opera performances. Who doesn’t like that? ;) (Stay in school, kids!)
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 12, I was asked to sub for an adult who was singing the role of Lucy in the opera “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”. I was incredibly nervous, as I opened the scene, and in the wings, I remember the man playing Aslan putting his hands on my shoulders because I was shaking. His kindness helped me get out on stage and do something terrifying that I loved. I felt incomparably good afterward, and that feeling has kept me going all of these years.
Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
When I was fresh out of college and new to New York I met a woman in the gym who had a Late Night with Conan O’Brien jacket and bag. My boyfriend at the time idolized Conan and I asked her where’d she’d come by the jacket. She said she worked on the show and would give us tickets. When I called her to arrange that, she said it just so happened they needed an opera singer on the show the next day and could I do it. I went in and improvised some comic singing as they asked me to — something we didn’t do in the opera conservatory — and I had a blast. That was a huge coincidence and thrill that lifted me off to a more versatile singing career.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In college, my a cappella group was giving a house concert, and before we went on, I needed to use the bathroom. I was nervous and, in a hurry, so I didn’t knock and wound up opening the door on a very attractive guy. When I was singing, later on, he pointed me out to his friends and they all got the giggles. I got them as well, and couldn’t stop laughing as I sang. I realized then that it’s okay to interact with the audience as they are part of the energy of the show, and that it was okay to be embarrassed. We all had a good laugh. I also learned to take my time before going on stage, no matter how nervous I feel.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I’m currently composing an opera about my experience as a victim of domestic abuse. It gives me the chance to explore a painful time in my life using all of the tools available to me as a musician and artist. I’m trained in opera and composition but thus far have only released popular style songs. I’m working to bring all that I am to share my story in the hopes that it expands my creativity and my self-awareness. It’s frightening to share all the gory details of my story because I’m not proud of many of them, but I hope there will be great healing in that. I’m also excited to try my hand at a longer form of music, and I’m having fun writing on Logic and trying lots of different instruments. There are some seriously cool sounds in there!
We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
This is a tough question as film and television isn’t my field, yet I do know that Media has a profound influence on our society and culture. Here are a few thoughts I can share.
- Look how diverse the world of music is. I’m not saying that it’s perfect, but there are White, Black, Latin, and Asian artists sharing concert bills, playlist rotation, radio play and the stage at the Grammys. The communication of music reaches people’s subconscious like nothing else can, and many different cultures and skin colors share their stories through their songs. If music can represent a diverse audience, so can TV and film.
- Media needs to tell stories that dissolve the illusion of separateness of races and gender. If we want to live in a society that sees all people as equal, then we need to cast all people in the same story, living together and interacting naturally with each other without prejudice. Most recently I think that “The Great” on Hulu did a good job of casting many different races as members of the royal court, and it was refreshing. Also, when I watched Issa Rae’s “Insecure” it struck me that every character was a fully developed person who shared the same hopes and dreams and perceptions of life, friendship, and love that I did. In many other TV shows and movies, I’ve seen black characters represented as tropes. That was not the case on Insecure. Recently I saw a production of “Book of Mormon” on YouTube from ten years ago. It does NOT present an adequate representation of the people of Africa. The times are changing.
- Perspective matters — for me, female stories and female directors matter. Women and men have different experiences of the world, and most of tv and film’s stories are written and directed by men. Women’s stories, like in “The Kids Are Alright” or “Portrait of a Woman on Fire” has a different feel and flavor to them as they are written and directed by women, and they affect how women see their voice and value in society. In order for us to value all that makes a woman, a woman and a man, man, those traits need to be shown in the storytelling and direction of films. In the documentary “The Mask You Live In” the media’s limited representations of masculinity are explained and we see how they hurt men and society. Diverse people, stories and leadership in TV and film give us a much greater vision of what it’s like to live in this world of vast possibilities and people.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. The world does not revolve around you.
I was upset on my first and second albums when people didn’t respond to my needs immediately, and my producer said “everyone has their own lives just as complex as yours. The world doesn’t revolve around you.” This realization helped me learn the power of communication and understanding and I am still learning those lessons today as my team grows. And my colleagues appreciate their time and flow being understood and respected.
2. Consistent practice is everything.
During the pandemic, my colleague, actress Camille Natta, and I started doing vocal warmups every morning. I’ve always practiced consistently, but the pandemic gave me a chance to hold to that will much less distraction. I also needed to keep singing even though performances were limited. Our voices have grown and deepened enormously and our approach to our craft has become more about showing up and experimenting and less about trying to get it “right”. Plus, it feels so good to sing every day. Nothing makes me feel better.
3. Own your values, and be honest about your needs and expectations based upon them.
If you don’t own your needs and expectations (and have a healthy understanding of what they are — thank you, therapy) then the people in your life don’t understand how something they are doing may be causing you stress. Once you are clear about what your needs and healthy expectations are, then people you can share these with your colleagues or personal relationships. They can let you know if they can accept and do their best to meet them and let you know theirs. And if your values don’t line up, then you can choose to let the relationship go or find different teammates. Our values define us, our needs, and our expectations and affect how we create our personal and work environments. Living in alignment with these values and with people who uphold them as well leads to clarity and fulfillment.
4. Keep showing up, no matter what.
It’s easy to get nervous or doubt ourselves when things go wrong. Still, mistakes, disappointments and failures are part of the path. Keep showing up every day and don’t expect perfection from yourself. The only way to play the game is to stay in it.
5. Failure and mistakes are part of the process, especially when you’re innovating as an artist. Keep going and be easy on yourself. All learning opportunities are worthwhile.
Rejection is part of the landscape, and we need help processing the shame that comes with it (therapy — it’s so good.) It’s not about perfection — it’s about awareness and taking the next steps towards what you want to do.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Have a team of people that cares for you and helps you care for yourself. I have an Alexander Technique coach, a physical therapist, a cognitive therapist, a massage therapist, a productivity coach, a voice teacher, a guitar teacher, and some very close friends, all who help me hone my craft, keep my body and mind balanced and build my self-awareness. We spend so much time working on our physical fitness, yet we need mental and emotional training as well, hence cognitive therapy. Also, it is important to have a lifestyle that serves your craft, so know what that involves. Singing is athletic and the body must be respected. I am sure to get plenty of sleep, regular practice, tons of water, healthy eating, and plenty of time to recharge on my own or with good people :)
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would encourage everyone to go to therapy to learn how to distinguish their authentic inner voice and live by it instead of trying to accommodate their environment. Pleasing and trying to uphold social norms and accommodate others is what caused me to be in an abusive relationship for many years. My therapists have helped me navigate some very difficult waters that helped me dissolve my illusions and accept what was real in my life. Awareness and acceptance allow us to find a balanced path. If everyone had full, healthy self-understanding and means to get help and heal, we’d live in a more peaceful world.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My voice teacher and mentor Kishti Tomita took me under her wing when I moved to Sweden. I was feeling lost in a new country and needed help finding my way both inside and out. She shared her immense insight with me and upheld me to my true self, and when that caused my life to take a new direction, she’d take me in as long as I needed to regroup. She is one of the most insightful, loving, strong and generous people I’ve ever known.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“There is no way up the mountain of truth but on the winding, challenging path.” My therapist and mentor Locke Rush told me this when I had to walk away from a man I loved very much because he refused to get help for his excessive drinking. Locke pointed out to me that I was willing to do the introspection necessary to know that the relationship would not work if he continued to drink, so I let him go even I thought I wanted so badly to help him and make the relationship work out. It actually wasn’t helping him for me to focus on his issues instead of on my own. I realized the only person that I can change is myself. I saved myself in that process and am living a much more fulfilling, balanced life as I take steps in the direction that I truly want to go, in line with my values and authentic self. I am writing an opera. Composing is daunting, involves a lot of focused work, and is about a messy time in my life. Yet I am showing up. I am doing it. I am getting the support I need and learning how to make it a reality.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
Paul McCartney. During the pandemic, he visited me in my dreams. The more music I play, the more he visits. He must be a spiritual father to me. I’ve looked up to him since I was five years old and saw “A Hard Day’s Night” for the first time. (I used to watch it every morning before first grade.) In the dreams, Paul looks out for me and helps me on tour and with my songs. The last dream I had he took me to his house and we helped Lady Gaga get ready for one of her gigs. Sometimes after the dreams, I miss the feeling I had when he was around. I’d like to know what he is like in person and ask him a question or two ;) I don’t expect him to fulfill the role he plays in my dreams, but I’d like to thank him for his walk up the mountain of truth as it’s been an inspiration to me.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on Spotify of Apple Music (I have a new release coming out this fall!) as well as on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. I post regular videos of the music I create. All the links are on my website (also my handle) www.ivavoice.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!