An Interview with Chocolat & IVY
Two artists on opposite sides of the planet with a shared desire to keep pop music fresh and inspiring.
Model turned singer, Chocolat made her debut in May of 1997 with mini-album, Chocolat A La Mode. She uses a rich variety of songwriters/ producers that bring elements of jazz, '80s new wave, sixties girl group pop, psychedelia, and guitar-rock to her overall clean pop sound. Add her crisp, treble drenched vocals over the top, and you're left with songs that are distinctly Chocolat. Beginning with cute indie-esque tracks like "Blue mint blue" and "Like a Starberry," she has since ventured into more mature territory as demonstrated on subsequent albums like Hamster and Henry. Chocolat is currently putting the finishing touches on her latest album, Chocolate Notes, due out in October of 2003.
Of the 11 tracks featured on Chocolat's Henry album, four were written by Andy Chase, songwriter/ guitarist of New York-based trio IVY. As self-described purveyors of "smart, elegant, and bittersweet pop," IVY are one of the few American bands whom you can trust to deliver first-rate albums- strong from start to finish. Their skill lies in creating simple, refined pop songs that create a cozy atmosphere and a melancholic mood. However, the careful attention paid to the songwriting process keeps each IVY track diverse and wonderfully melodic. IVY are also in the midst of recording a new album, while Andy recently released a solo album under the name, Brookville.
I interviewed Chocolat and Andy on a gorgeous spring day in New York City.
CCC: How do you and Chocolat communicate? Do you have a translator?
Andy: We had a translator the first day, but since Oka (Chocolat's manager) speaks a little English we're able to manage. As long as you don't have to get into in-depth discussions about production, it works fine. And she's singing really well, so I don't really have to say that much. It's all just sign language between us (sticks his thumb up to indicate the "okay!" sign).
CCC: How and when did you decide to work with Andy?
Chocolat: Last year, my staff and I had a meeting to decide who should produce my next record. My staff suggested that I work with IVY, and since I was already a fan of IVY we all agreed that we should contact Andy. When Andy said he would be available in February for a recording session in New York, it became official.
CCC: How would you compare Henry with Hamster?
Chocolat: The obvious difference is that I recorded Hamster with a lot of producers. But with Henry I decided to use only two or three producers. Henry is much more focused.
CCC: Had you heard of Chocolat before she approached you?
Andy: Actually no. I had just finished working with Chara, and I was looking for another singer to work with. So our friend who signed us to East/ West Japan emailed me, saying she knew someone who would be perfect. So it was through her recommendation that I first heard Chocolat.
CCC: It is really an ideal collaboration.
Andy: Yeah, our friend at East/ West Japan just said to trust her on this one, since I didn't really know any Japanese singers. I mean, I'm learning as I get more involved in Japanese music, and I love it. But I haven't really been exposed to much Japanese music. But we really trust her taste- she has impeccable taste. She said "I think this will be perfect for you," so she sent me some of Chocolat's records to check out. And she was right. It was really a good call for her.
CCC: How are you collaborating lyric-wise? Is Chocolat writing the lyrics in Japanese?
Andy: Yeah, I'm not too helpful with the lyrics since they are all in Japanese.
CCC: So Chocolat is writing all the lyrics?
Andy: Oh yeah. I'm writing the music and the melodies, and she puts the words to the melodies. But she's changed some of the melodies somewhat, in order to make it more comfortable for her. It's really great for me as a writer because that's the vein of my existence. Getting bogged down with lyrics and having to write a second verse- if you talk to most writers they all agree it's just the worst. It takes months! So the idea of coming up with the music and melodies, and then working with a singer and a lyricist is ideal. I love it!
CCC: Chocolat, you and your husband released the duet single "Veranda" quite awhile back, how was it decided that you would do a single together?
Chocolat: Wow, you know a lot don't you? (laughs) My husband Akito was recording a solo album, and he asked if I wanted to do sing together on one of the songs, which I of course wanted to do. The song eventually became the theme song for a Japanese commercial, and we appeared together in the commercial.
CCC: Is this your first time to New York?
Chocolat: The first time I came here was in February 2001. I was so excited to come here, but it was so unbelievably cold!
CCC: What surprised you the most about New York City when you first came here?
Chocolat: The manholes. The smoke that was coming out of the manholes looked like something straight out of a movie!
CCC: So do you prefer New York or Los Angeles? Be careful with that answer- we're all New Yorkers here!
Chocolat: Well, I like both. But I like Los Angeles better! (laughs)
Andy: Los Angeles?!!! Get out! (points to the door)