Artist Interview: Ira Glass

Posted: by The Editor

Chicago’s post-hardcore outfit Ira Glass is composed of strangers who met by answering a flier, so the ease and cohesion with which they play and banter seems miraculous. Coalescing in October 2022, Ira Glass released their debut EP in July of 2023, and have been steadily establishing a presence in the Chicago scene, garnering attention for their bold musical innovations and, of course, their distinctive name. (When This American Life host Ira Glass was contacted for comment, he said in an email, “Even if they picked the name to mock me, I like it. Nice someone cares.”)

The three founding members are both cerebral and goofy, with strong opinions and a tendency towards deadpan banter. Lead vocalist Lise Ivanova is tall and willowy, and in conversation always seemed to be looking slightly over my shoulder. Guitarist Sunny Betz is tattooed and soft-spoken; he noted, “testosterone made my voice land at a tone only dogs can hear, I think,” and sported a silver tooth cover he removed and placed in a dime bag at the start of the interview. Drummer Landon Kerouac is a remarkably passionate and adept drummer, having a seemingly endless reserve of energy.

I attended their show at Avondale Record Breakers on November 5th, standing by a tank containing a striped turtle the size of a dinner plate which blinked whenever it poked its head out of the water. Clad all in black, the band performed songs from their most recent EP as well as a surprise Modern Lovers cover. Warbly, distorted audio overlaid the music, samples that ranged from dialogue from a Hoarders episode to serial killer Aileen Wuernos giving testimony. The water in the turtle tank shook as the band played. Lise and Sunny play their guitars slung low by their thighs, they say this is inspired by Kim Gordon. Lise grinned periodically between songs. When I asked her about this afterwards, she said, “I just felt so happy!”

There is more to their music than thrash and crash; the three founding members are grappling with the line between influence and derivation, how to create something fresh in the internet era where access is effortless and nothing seems new, how to express the political without being boring. I joined the band for mozzarella and jalapeño pizza, where we had a lengthy discussion of Mark Fisher, Hole, and more. We spoke for over an hour, and it was the most I have laughed in any band interview. “Sorry you have to type all this up later,” Sunny said afterwards.

The conversation below has been edited for length and clarity; claims from the band ranged from the factual to the clearly fabricated.

EP: What were some of your early aesthetic influences?

Lise: I posted gore. I had a gore blog.

Me: What kinds of gore?

Lise: Oh, everything. It was like people dying, and weird wounds. And Sunny too!

Sunny: That was in the running for our band name. Best gore.

Lise: Oh, NSFL was what we might have called it. Not safe for life.

EP: Why gore?

Lise: I don’t know, I just had a really dark life. [laughter] I had a really dark childhood, so it was a coping mechanism.

Landon: I had a very bright childhood.

Sunny: And you were still looking at gore.

Lise: Yeah, I don’t know what drives that.

Sunny: Abjection.

Lise: We’re obsessed with absolutes. Transgressive absolutes.

Sunny: Lise refuses to watch [HBO series Succession] because she hates Dasha.

Lise: We got in a fight. Put that in the article.

(Ivanova did not elaborate on her fight with Nekrasova.)

Landon: We’re conducting this interview now. Who’s Adam?

EP: What?

Lise: Who’s Adam? Who’s Adam?

Sunny: What are you talking about?

EP: What is going on?

Landon: We’re doing this interview now.

Lise: How’d you pick the name Elizabeth?

Sunny: What’s your deadname?

Landon: Where were you on July 18?

Lise: So tell me about yourself.

Landon: Why do you want to be in Ira Glass?

Lise: Do you have any band experience?

Landon: Do you play bass?

Sunny: Well, I saw your flier, and you talked about Hole, and I was like ‘I want to play in this band even though they’re looking for a bassist.’ And then I showed up and I was like, ‘sure I’ll play the bass,’ and then I was like fuck I’m going to have to play the bass!

Lise: I was like, do you want to be doing this?

Sunny: You were like, what would make you actually happy to play? And I was like not this, not the bass actually.

Lise: We thought at first we wouldn’t even have a bassist.

Sunny: Sleater-Kinney that shit.

Landon: Yeah, we might have Sleater-Kinnied it for a bit.

Lise: Then actually I did want a bassist, because I felt like we were all coming from different places compositionally, which was not a bad thing. But I thought we needed a bassist to hold us down.

EP: Why a post-hardcore band?

Lise: I find it to be a really compelling genre. It’s the kind of music I always wanted to play. I was raised by punk parents… that really influenced me as a kid. I was kind of already jaded by punk when I was like 13, because I had been raised with the Misfits and stuff. So I think I was looking for something more extreme or interesting. I just like it as a genre.

Sunny: When we all hung out for the first time, we played a demo of a Deftones cover, but all of us were kind of embarrassed to admit that we liked Deftones in the beginning.

Lise: I thought it was Tiktok music. Like, e-girl music. So I think I was pretty closed off to Deftones for a while. They’re actually really interesting.

Sunny: His voice is so beautiful.

Lise: So beautiful. I love his lyricism. His lyrics are almost written randomly, like they don’t have any intrinsic meaning, I love that kind of thing.

Sunny: I responded to the flier because you mentioned the first Hole album.

Lise: “Pretty on the Inside,” so good. I think that’s one of the most brilliant releases of all time. It’s so good. Landon doesn’t like it.

Landon: I haven’t listened to it.

Sunny: The Joni Mitchell cover at the end is the most genius song, cover, ever, in my eyes.

Landon: I’m just not a Hole-head. I’m not a Courtney-head as these folks are.

EP: What is your vision for performing and connecting with people?

Lise: I find that when I’m onstage, it’s very intuitive for me. I feel like sometimes I’m a really anxious person, but when I go onstage I’m able to embody a different person or persona.

Sunny: Medicine. Music is medicine.

Lise: Music is medicine. I would really like to make music that’s compelling to people in some kind of way. I think there’s too much boring, or derivative, or lame, or narcissistic music out there.

Sunny: Nostalgia-pilled.

Lise: Yeah, yeah. I would like to do something not to sound masturbatory, but I would like to do something really new and interesting, and something people can connect with. I have trouble clicking with things… especially in hardcore, noise, there’s a lot of weird nihilistic, misanthropic music that’s like “I hate my parents, I hate the world, I hate my job.” Or just too much music that’s really diaristic. I try not to write too much about that kind of thing. I think it’s kind of lame, boring.

Lise: I think we all have really strong sociopolitical beliefs, but if you try to express that too explicitly in music it just comes off really wack.

EP: Like all lives matter? [laughter]

Sunny: Yeah, we’re making conservative post-hardcore. You’re gonna be surprised when you hear it.

Landon: We each have a tee shirt that has one of the words from that line. And we line up so it says All… Lives…

Lise: Say the line!

Landon: It’s the balance between… like if you have something misanthropic to say, if you have something totally [self-hating] it’s just kind of boring to shout it onstage. There’s no real intention behind it.

Sunny: Post-hardcore people are not misanthropic people. I love people.

Sunny: Lise writes our lyrics.

Lise: Yes.

EP: And is the musical part more collaborative?

Lise: Yeah, at first we didn’t really know how to compose together. I feel like we would each write a song in its entirety, including other people’s parts, and bring it in for other people to learn, and we learned, maybe a few months ago, that it’s better to just write a riff and bring it in, and build collaboratively. I feel like we made a lot more interesting music more recently as a result of composing more collaboratively.

Landon: On the demo that we have it was like, this is a Lise song, this is a Landon song, this is a Sunny song.

Lise: We literally named our songs “Sunny’s first song,” “Sunny’s second song.”

Landon: Which was cool!

Lise: Yeah, I liked those songs.

Landon: Those songs were great, we got to see what each of our styles really were. And it was really important for us to do because now we can incorporate all those elements into all our songs. So now it’s not a Lise song, or a Sunny song, we have Sunnyisms happening to a Lise chord progression over a Landon drum thing.

Sunny: Sunnyisms.

Lise: Sunnyisms!

Landon: It’s a total Sunnyism!

Lise: Sunny comes from a band background?

Sunny: No, I come from… I played guitar the longest, and then I picked up banjo randomly.

Lise: I feel like your riffs are very banjo-y sometimes. [laughter] That’s a good thing, though!

Sunny: I’ll get the metal finger pick. I really don’t like bluegrass at all.

Landon: Put that on the record.
Sunny: I hate bluegrass. Anyways. I come from acoustic guitar, that’s mostly what I played.

Lise: And finger-picking, that comes off for sure.

Sunny: I have to take my mood stabilizer but I don’t have it with me.

Lise: I think you might die, then.

Sunny: Yeah, the interview’s about to get real.

Landon: Brother, this is your mood stabilizer. So, my musical background.

Sunny: Landon plays the violin.

Landon: I play the washboard.

Lise: Landon was at School of Rock. I feel like that’s very integral to your background, actually.

Sunny: Landon is a Chicago guy.

Landon: I think I was attracted to drummers…

Lise: Sexually?

Sunny: Physically.

Landon: Who added things musically who… I need to gather my thoughts.

Lise: I can answer! I didn’t learn how to play until I was 19, so pretty recently. Which I think comes through, because I’m not the most technically skilled. My first band was in Albuquerque, and it was called Thrush.

EP: Like the bird?

Lise: Or like the, yeah, yeast infection, but whichever way you want to take it. I was doing a lot of four-chord, punk kind of things. We were using a drum machine and I was just doing a lot of E-standard power chord progressions. But I really wanted to do something more interesting and technically skilled with a new project. I think I’m getting better every day.

Sunny: How long have you been playing drums? Now’s your time to answer.

Landon: A little over ten years now. When I was in grade 7, so I think 12 or 13 was when I got my drum kit. I think Jimmy Chamberland from Smashing Pumpkins is like the reason I started playing drums.

Sunny: That’s awesome.

Lise: That was a very sarcastic ‘that’s awesome.’

Sunny: Yeah.

Landon: At that time I was very obsessed with Smashing Pumpkins, and then I learned about Jimmy Chamberland’s life and like struggles with addiction and stuff.

Sunny: I can’t hate on you because I also really liked the Smashing Pumpkins when I was 13.

Lise: But we hate them now!

Sunny: I hate them now.

Lise: Because Billy Corgan… he wrote that shitty [sings the riff for “Celebrity Skin”].

Landon: Why can’t you write your own music?

Lise: Uh, she wrote all of Pretty on the Inside!

Landon: That’s why a woman… should not…

Sunny: Oh no.

Lise: Put that in the article!

Sunny: Hole is my favorite band.

Lise: Hole is your favorite band? I would say so too, I would say so too. I think Courtney Love, even her solo stuff is so brilliant. Even her weirdo solo stuff that came out after she got out of rehab, even that stuff is really good.

Landon: Drummers like Jimmy Chamberland, Keith Moon, and the drummer for Beach Fossils on their Clash the Truth album, I think those drummers look at the music that’s happening and add so much to it, but not in a masturbatory way. Not like a hey, I’m going to show off, look at all the sick fills I can do. Because I hate that. As a drummer, I hate drummers so much, that’s all they try to do. They try to show off to their little drummer friends.

Lise: Just like you!

Landon: It is true. So as a drummer it’s important to be that backbone of the band but I think it’s also important for you to fill in the spaces, not that the elements are leaving spaces, but to kind of pepper in these really tasteful things.

EP: Why did you choose the name Ira Glass?

Lise: Oh, here it comes. Here comes the question.

Sunny: I feel like we were shouting out names one time.

Lise: I feel like it does have a political meaning, but I don’t know if I could really articulate it.

Sunny: We could have done a dumb riff on his name, where we spelled it differently or something, but I feel like that’s not the point.

Lise: I grew up with him, having a liberal upraising in a way. He really symbolizes something for me. I don’t know what.

Landon: We don’t hate the man.

Lise: No, no. We respect the man.

Landon: As a band, in any of our aspects we try not to be gimmicky. That’s what we’re kind of worried about. We’re not trying to boost SEO or anything.

Sunny: I didn’t even think about the fact that he’s from Chicago.

Landon: I didn’t even know he was from Chicago.

Lise: It’s not even too deep of a commentary, or anything like that. I feel like it was almost arbitrary.

Landon: I sort of attached a meaning to it. I think the fun thing about the name for us is that we can attach a meaning after the fact. A posteriori, you know.

Lise: Wow.

EP: I don’t really know what a posteriori means.

Sunny: Me neither.

Landon: It means after the fact, like a priori, a posteriori.

EP: You’re so literary!

Sunny: He’s related to Jack Kerouac.

Landon: I am related to Jack Kerouac.

Lise: He’s very literary! Did you know he’s related to Jack Kerouac?

Sunny: His dad is Lori Lightfoot.

Lise: His dad is so rich. He’s got a little bit of land on the beach.

Sunny: Landon.

Landon: Stop talking about my three houses! Anyways, we were at my house in Vail [laughter] with these really rich people who don’t have to worry about much in their lives… they were just complaining about Donald Trump, and I don’t know why, it just made me really angry…It’s like the political path of least resistance.

EP: It’s a material contradiction.

Landon: So that’s the meaning I ascribe to it. I don’t know what that means for our music, but I like putting that meaning toward it. The lib parents, all they have to do to feel pleased with themselves is point and say these people are stupid. The complacency of the stupid.

Lise: [whispering] The impotence.

EP: Do you think they have a responsibility to do more?

Lise: I think everybody does. I think we’re all kind of complacent in a way. I’ve referenced it, like TRTTX is about Gen X, and the way the nineties alternative scene kind of fizzled out. We like Mark Fisher. We’re big Mark Fisher fans.

Landon: We’re Fisher heads.

Lise: He talks a lot about how the nineties was kind of the death of the counterculture, and subversion in general. The point where it was capitalized upon.

Sunny: Making music in a post-hardcore band is hard because the culture is so inundated with nostalgia. Like it’s hard to find music that is not post-whatever that isn’t drawing really heavily or trying to be a nineties band. Even using the label post-hardcore is kind of annoying to have hardcore have to be the reference point, even the genre name. But I don’t know how else it would be described.

Landon: How many posts can you add?

Lise: We labeled it post-post-hardcore on the Bandcamp.

Sunny: It’s hard because so much of the music we are drawing upon for inspiration is stuff from that era. So much culture is cyclical, everything goes so fast and so much is pulling upon nostalgia from some past.

Lise: I think about that a lot too. Like, what would even sound new anymore? What is countercultural anymore? It’s tough to navigate. I don’t think we’re doing it.

Sunny: Yeah.

Lise: I don’t think we’re navigating it, but in our hearts we would like to.

Landon: But what new things could we do with two guitars, a bass, and a drum?

Sunny: That’s so true. It’s hard. I think it’s a conceptual problem that many people are also thinking about.

EP: Are you really related to Jack Kerouac?

Lise: Yes.

Landon: Yes. He’s my grandpa’s cousin.

Lise: Wait, for real?

Landon: Yes, we have the same great-great-grandfather.

Lise: I thought you weren’t related.

Sunny: You didn’t believe him?

Lise: I didn’t believe that. You said second cousin twice-removed.

Landon: That is technically true.

Sunny: That’s where all the money comes from.

Landon: There are two valleys of things we’re trying to avoid, we’re threading the needle. Trying to figure out the balance between total isolation and, like, cringe. As a band that’s been our mission. How to take from nineties bands but not be derivative of them, and how to interface with the current social miasma.

Elizabeth Piasecki Phelan | @onefeiiswoop

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