New York band Ivy released the 25th-anniversary edition of their album Apartment Life today. The band featured musician Adam Schlesinger, who died from COVID almost three years ago. KEXP’s Janice Headley spoke with surviving band members Andy Chase and Dominique Durand about both the reissues project and their memories of Adam.
It’s hard to believe we’re coming up on the third anniversary of the COVID-19 lockdown. One of the earliest casualties of the virus was Adam Schlesinger, an immensely talented multi-instrumentalist. He died at the age of 52 in April 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.
His list of accolades is impressive. Adam was nominated for both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for composing the theme song to the 1997 Tom Hanks-directed film That Thing You Do!. He was also a multiple-Emmy Award winner for his work on the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and songs he wrote for the Tony Awards telecast; he was nominated for songs he wrote for Sesame Street and A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!. The accompanying album for that Colbert Christmas special won him a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album in 2009. He also won two Grammys in 2003 with his band Fountains of Wayne.
But before all of that, there was the New York trio Ivy.
While Adam wasn’t awarded any statuettes for his work with musician/songwriter Andy Chase and vocalist Dominique Durand, their beautifully melodic indie-pop has endured over the years. Today, the band celebrate the 25th anniversary of their acclaimed album Apartment Life with a vinyl reissue, complete with bonus tracks. For Record Store Day on April 22nd, they’ll release a companion LP on vinyl, titled Apartment Life Demos.
Band members (and married couple) Andy and Dominique told us there was instant chemistry when they first met Adam.
"I had put an advertisement in The Village Voice, which, you know, predating the internet, that was the only way," Andy remembers. "You know, the best local paper. You put an ad looking for musicians. So I put my influences: The Go-Betweens, Prefab Sprout, Everything But the Girl. 'Lead singer/guitar player looking for bass player/guitar player to form band.' And Adam came. He actually came with Chris Collingwood, who would go on to be the singer for Fountains of Wayne."
At their first meeting, they realized, Adam and Chris were looking for a guitar player for their band. Andy was looking for a bass player for his own. Meanwhile, Dominique was hiding in the bedroom, ear pressed up to the door, listening in.
"And so we quickly realized that they had no interest in joining my band with me as a singer, and I had no interest in joining their band with Chris as the singer," he continues. "Meanwhile, nobody knew that Dominique was hiding behind the bedroom door, and no one could possibly have expected that she would be the first singer in our band collectively when we became friends. So they left, you know, and I was like, 'Oh, so it didn't work out.' And as soon as they left, I open the door and Dominique falls out onto the floor. She's like, 'I heard everything. That guy's really cool.' I'm like, 'Which one? She's like, 'that Adam guy. You should definitely stay in touch with him.' So I did. And then the three of us became friends and the rest is history."
Ivy released their debut album Realistic in 1995, followed by Apartment Life in 1997.
With Apartment Life, they experienced the opposite of a “sophomore slump” – their second LP is their most masterful. While Bar/None Records will eventually reissue the band’s entire catalog on vinyl, it made sense for Andy and Dominique to start with Apartment Life, as it captured Ivy at the height of youthful exuberance, bountiful inspiration, and a healthy budget from their label at the time, Atlantic Records.
"We had this idea," Dominique tells us. "We wanted to make some kind of like a very lush, sort of happy record. There is some songs that are melancholic, but we had this idea of like just going for it, like using horns, using strings — and all real, real horns, real strings. And then singers. We used a lot of our friends singing and we're like, 'Just sing something. Just sing with us.' It was really like a collaborative record. We wanted to sort of like invite a lot of friends and just make something."
Eighties icon Lloyd Cole assisted with production. Guest musicians included Dean Wareham of Luna, Jody Porter from Fountains of Wayne, and James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins. While James is known for playing guitar, he surprised the band by improvising vocals at the end of the album’s gorgeous closing track “Back in Our Town.”
"We thought the song was done," Andy reflects. "Really, we did. And we were just, I think the end we were just going to like, do a long, slow fade and it was just going to be instrumental. And just to be polite and sort of welcoming, we were like, yeah, you know, James, you want to play guitar on that? And he's like, 'Uh, I hear a vocal thing?' And, he's not known as being a singer. So we're like, 'Oh shit, okay, yeah, sure. Do a vocal thing,' and he's like, 'Here I go... Nobody knows...'. We were like, Oh my God, right? It's really good. And then that inspired us to sort of fill other vocals around it. And he, you know, elevated the whole end."
"There were so many examples of things like that," he continues. "And like she said, the horns. When the horn players came in... Like, we were just like doing our typical like 'ba ba da da' stupid little 'ba ba’s' that we would do sometimes. But then, we were all like, 'What if we had a horn section come and go, ba ba da da'? I remember, when we were doing those horns, we were like little kids in a candy store, we were screaming like, 'YES! It's so good.' So we knew when we were recording that record, we were in heaven."
The making and release of Apartment Life was a glorious time for Ivy and a wonderful memory for Dominique and Andy to reflect on. During the subsequent tour, they landed themselves some famous fans: filmmaking duo The Farrelly Brothers, known for their movies Dumb and Dumber, Me, Myself & Irene, and 1998’s There's Something About Mary which prominently features Ivy’s music on the soundtrack
"Dominique didn't know who they were, but they were talking through the whole show," Andy remembers. "At some point, she just said — you know, because from the stage it's all dark — and she's like, 'Excuse me, could you guys shut up please?' And being the comedians, like the sense of humor they had, they loved that. They came backstage and they were like, 'No one's ever told us to shut up. We love that.' But, we were like, 'Oh my God, you told the Farrelly Brothers to shut up.' She's like, 'I didn't know that's who they were!' But then, a couple of months later, we find out that they put two of our songs in their new film called There's Something About Mary, and then they invited us to the premiere. It was at the premiere, when we saw the movie, we realized how significant it was. Because, okay, we have songs in the movie, it's great, but the movie's going to be... We felt like it was going to be one of the greatest comedies of all time ever."
Twenty-five years later, working on the album’s reissue and hunting down the bands’ old demos for the companion LP, was a bittersweet experience for the couple. Listening to those reel-to-reel tapes, they heard Adam’s voice again.
"First, it was sort of magical," Dominique recalls. "It was such a nice surprise. But it was also, in the process, very emotional because, you know, you could hear Adam. We had a recording studio in New York, so we used to record like a session, and we would have a conversation recorded or, um..."
Andy jumps in, "He'd sit down, okay, here, record this idea. He'd go into the other booth with an acoustic guitar, put the mic here, start playing, and then he'd stop. And we were in the other in the control room. He'd be like, 'Okay, Dominique, don't worry about it. I'm going to sing. Okay, don't make fun of me. You're going to love it, you're going to love it. It's going to be great for your voice.' And then he'd start singing again. He's like, 'Wait, hold on. I just want to say one thing. It's not going to be acoustic guitar and it'll be like heavy guitar, you know.' He'd have all these sidebar conversations with us through the microphone, right?"
"So, hearing his voice like that..." she trails off. "That was really hard. It was really hard. I mean, now it's OK, like now we can hear it with a little time, you know. But when we first did it, because it was still very, very raw, it was really rough... it was really, really difficult. Yeah."
Andy nods. "Yeah, you're fine, and then you hear a voice you didn't expect to hear talking, talking to you, not just something where somebody recorded him talking on stage for Fountains of Wayne. Yeah, it's still hard sometimes but… Yeah, it's been, what, three years? We couldn't be doing what we're doing now without breaking down and, you know, just even a year ago. So it's kind of like everything has its time and place. Yeah."
Adam had become far more than just a bandmate; he was family. In later years, Adam, his wife, and their children had even moved in across the street from Andy and Dominique.
"We were there first," Andy is quick to point out.
Dominique laughs, "They're so funny. They decided to buy their apartment right across the street. So we would wave every morning."
"I'd get a phone call, and it's Adam," Andy tells us. "And I'm drinking my coffee and I'm like, 'Hey,' and he's like, 'So, you've been in that bathrobe, walking around your windows for, like, an hour? Like, how many coffees?' Yeah. I'm like, 'Okay, what are you, a Peeping Tom? Like, what, are you keeping tabs on how many cups of coffee?' He's like, 'Not on how many cups, but on your bad style with that bathrobe.' And I'm like, 'Okay, Dominique got that bathrobe for me.' [ Laughs ] It was really like a sitcom in a way."
Not only has reissuing their catalog given Ivy a chance to reconnect with a dear friend, it’s also unearthed a wealth of previously unreleased recordings featuring Adam. Andy told us about their process of digging through reel-to-reel tapes with jokey song titles scribbled on them, trying to discern what was finished and what wasn’t.
"We hear a song and Dominique would be like, 'What is this song? Wait, did we release that?' I'm like, 'Yeah, we must of.' We can't remember. So we started taking our phones and putting it on Shazam, after exhausting all the Google searches with what could it be named. Then we realized, we never finished the song. It's all sounds finished to the untrained ear, but to us it's like almost finished. And she's like, 'Why?' I don't know. Maybe I was in a bad mood. I was like, 'Ehhh, I don't like it.' Or Adam was, but in the end of the day, we had 25 to 30 songs of varying degrees all with Adam and I — you know, most importantly with Adam — playing on it. Yeah. So, we've decided to finish them. Some are from 1994. Some are from 2011. And everything in between."
Dominique nods, "We have enough material for a double record for sure."
"So, that's at least given us an opportunity to have fun and go back and create again," Andy adds. "Whether something happens with it or not."
It’s often said when a beloved musician dies that they live on through their music. Not only is this true for fans, but for their bandmates, too.
The 25th-anniversary edition of Apartment Life is out now via Bar/None Records. The companion LP Apartment Life Demos will be out on vinyl April 22nd for Record Store Day, and available digitally on July 21st.
No plans have been announced regarding the previously unreleased Ivy recordings but for right now... those are just for Andy and Dominique.
The prolific songwriter passed away Wednesday due to complications from covid-19. He was 52.