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IDA interview
By Holly Day
(more articles from this author)
2000-10-11
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Formed in New York in 1992, Ida started out as a project between singers/guitarists Daniel Littleton and Elizabeth Mitchell. "We started playing together around the time we first started seeing each other," explains Mitchell, now married to Littleton. While this might have been the first time they were playing music together, neither were exactly virgins to the music industry. Mitchell had formerly been performing with Lisa Loeb, while Littleton had been in several groups including Slack, which featured future Tsunami frontwoman and Simple Machines founder Jenny Toomey. After signing to Simple Machines label in 1994, Ida made it's official debut with "Tales of Brave Ida," a luminous collection of languid, minimalist pop songs. Six years and three albums later, the couple—joined by Michael Littleton on drums and former Beekeeper bassist Karla Schickele—have released their newest album, Will You Find Me (Tigerstyle Record). I spoke to the couple about the making of the new band and Ida itself.

[Holly Day] How did you first get into playing music?

[Dan Littleton] I grew up with it in my house. My father played jazz piano and also played the organ in church. So I grew up with his music all around me for as far back as I can remember. He was always playing Thelonius Monk tunes, stuff like that, on the piano, and he really loved classical music and taught music privately. So there was a lot of that going around in our house. So me and my brother and my sister all played instruments from a pretty early age. But I didn't have any training, like formal training. I just got home training, in that I got exposed to music constantly. When I got older, I just met some other people who were into playing guitar, and we taught each other how to do stuff and started our own bands.

[Elizabeth Mitchell] I've always sang and tried to play music, my whole life. When I was three, I used to follow my mother around singing "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer" and made her record me doing it.

[Holly] What's does the band's name come from?

[Elizabeth] We're named after my friend's grandmother, Ida. She was a wonderful, crazy, brilliant woman who told all these stories about her life that were half fiction, half truth. She would talk about going to China on a boat, which she did—she took a trip to China by herself when she was 80—but then she'd talk about sitting next to Elizabeth Taylor on the deck, and Kadafi was there with all his girlfriends but he was still flirting with her. We appreciated her ability to weave fiction into the truth and come up with just wonderful stories. So we named ourselves after her.

[Holly] What exactly is a Wurlitzer? It's listed as an instrument in the liner notes, and I'm only familiar with it as a brand name.

[Dan] It's an electric piano. It's one of those kind of famous vintage electric pianos, like a Fender or a Moog. When I was in junior high school, Wurlitzers were kind of the bottom of the line, student model piano, and usually only found in public school music classes. In my school, there was a music room full of these crappy little electric pianos for the students to use. They don't do much—they've got a volume control, and a little plastic speaker built in, and they've got a little vibrato, but they've got a really beautiful, kind of dirty sound that I really love. So we borrowed somebody's Wurlitzer and played with it while we were making this album, and ended up buying one ourselves, we just fell so in love with the sound. I know Wurlitzer made a bunch of other instruments, too, like accordions and organs, but the Wurlitzer on the album is an electric keyboard.

[Holly] And what's a mimbal?

[Elizabeth] There's a song on the record—I don't know if you'd call it a Low tribute or a blatant rip-off, but it's the song "Encatada"—but I'm playing a cymbal in it, and we renamed the cymbal a "mimbal" as a tribute to Mim from Low.


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