WHRB Interviews Seattle DIY Artist Ingrid Chiles
In this precarious and uncertain time, moments with live musicians seem far and few between. After SXSW was cancelled, I was devastated, but I knew it was the right choice on behalf of public health and safety. That still didn’t stop me from listening to and learning about the musicians I discovered in anticipation of the festival. During my pre-festival search in the sea of SXSW acts, I became enchanted by Ings, also known as Ingrid Chiles, and her delicately soft yet electric energy and compassionate and personal lyrics. Ever so fortunately during this time, I sat down with Ingrid to discuss the fallout of SXSW and COVID-19 and its impact on musicians, her perspective on love songs, haunted performance venues, and of course, her iconic yellow glasses.
WHRB: There's been so much that's happened in this past month. How have you reacted to all of it?
Ings: I had been on the fence as to whether I should just preemptively cancel [SXSW] anyways and then they decided to cancel the whole festival. We had to cancel the tour dates that we would have played on the way there. And then we were debating on whether to still do the tour dates that would have taken us back up to Seattle. Some people had reached out and offered to include us in unofficial stuff in Austin, but they didn't want people to come to Austin. So we're like, whoa, maybe we shouldn't descend upon the city, especially now that there's not the structure that the festival would have provided. We ended up canceling the whole tour and lost a few thousand dollars of income doing that. After that, I decided to apply for as many emergency artists funds as I could to try to recoup some of the income. All my shows are canceled until further notice so I’m trying to figure out what to do with my time really.
I'm trying to produce masks for this local homeless shelter. Oh, and I started this project called Lullabies for Grownups. It's an offshoot of a residency that I had gotten where I was recording an album of lullabies for grownups. I don't know when that will come out cause the residency included having a public concert to show the work. Instead, I'm just doing nightly lullaby concerts on Instagram live. And I also have this commissioned love song business that I had prior to COVID-19 that I'm leaning into.
WHRB: Can you tell me more about Lullabies for Grownups?
Ings: I got a residency with this local arts foundation to write this album of lullabies for grownups and I was planning on releasing it this summer. I realized quickly as this whole thing began to unfold that I was not going to be able to do that. I still wanted to provide that as an art slash service of sorts because I just feel like grownups need soothing too, and what better time start. It's every night, every weeknight, Monday through Friday at 9:00 PM Pacific and it's a 20-minute concert of a third original songs and then some Scandinavian folk tunes and soft American folk songs and stripped-down versions of rock songs that have comforting lyrics. Just me and my guitar on my bed.
WHRB: How do you find these cool Scandinavian and American folk songs?
Ings: The Scandinavian songs I am familiar with because I lived in Norway. I went to this high school for extreme sports, but they also had lots of folk music. It's kind of like a boarding school and there's folk music and a bunch of skiing. I wasn't very good at skiing, but I really liked the music, and so I brought that with me. Then in general, I've just always been drawn to folk melodies and ancient haunting melodies, but they can also be quite comforting at the same time. It kind of helps that they're not in English too because people need a break from hearing words and they understand comforting sounds.
WHRB: What's one really universal thing about lullabies? For both children and adults?
Ings: This might sound strange, but I think that everyone is a baby in their hearts. Everyone is still learning how to live without adults in some way. The world can be very scary place, so I just wanted to create a space where it felt safe to relax. I was really inspired by my favorite podcast ever, she’s called Sleep with Me. You really should listen. I tell everybody about it cause I love it so much. Basically, this guy is very self-aware and has what he calls creaky dulcet tones — his voice is like really monotonous and boring. He tells these long rambling bedtime stories that are just engaging enough to get your mind off of anxiety brain, but still not interesting enough to keep you awake. His podcast has had over a hundred million downloads. I was like, wow, there's really demand for this. People really need something like this, so maybe I can help in some way and offer that.
WHRB: Regarding your new album, Lullaby Rock, can you tell me about the process of making the album and how you chose to name it?
Ings: So yeah, there's a lot of lullabies in my art practice, but basically lullaby rock is the genre that I feel like I exist in because there's a lot of dynamic contrast. There's a lot of soft sounds and, I mean, I play electric guitar. There's some distortion and loud and quiet and so the combination just felt like the union of opposite extremes. The album came together over a few years, between 2016 and 2019. I was writing and recording — recording in my bedroom, recording my basement, recording in friends' houses. Some of it was done in studios, but most of it was DIY. I produced and arranged the whole album down to the string arrangements and drum parts. I'm really proud of it and I'm already working on the next one. It’s kind of interesting because you're probably familiar with the whole framework of producing an album, which is, you make it and then you hold onto it for six months while you plan the release. Then you release it and you tour on it for a year and a half and then you start working on the next thing. COVID-19 being right in the middle of the cycle that I was planning has been quite disruptive but also kind of liberating. I don't really have a choice other than to just provide music in other ways and try to start working on my next album that I already have all the songs for and I'm excited about.
WHRB: What is something new that you tried to do in your next album that was different from the one you just released?
Ings: Well, this next one is rougher around the edges simply in the fact that there's swear words in it and there's going to be a little bit more twang to it. It's more Americana, like tropes of American guitar music, and probably more guitar centric. My last one was guitar centric but not in a way that was obvious, and I think this one will be more like focused on shredding probably.
WHRB: When did the idea for commissioned love songs come up and have you always been writing love songs? Why do you gravitate towards love songs?
Ings: I've been writing these commissioned love songs for, I want to say, four years. I think I started doing them in 2016. I got the idea from my friend Chris Staples who had a fan who commissioned him to write a song, but it ended up being on Chris’s album and then Chris asked me to sing on the recording on his album. Maybe I'll offer [a love song] up and see if people want it. I said that I would do three of them and I offered them up on my Bandcamp and they sold out within a few hours. I told myself I should just keep doing this, so since then I've done 20 or something, but I would like to do more. I started a little side website called commissionedlovesongs.com and there's all the info and testimonials and clips from some of the other songs I've already done. Basically, the process is that you fill out this questionnaire and I use the answers to write the song. You get to gush about the person that you love, and I try to create a love song that spells the arc of your story. You get to see a really sweet, pure side of humanity. People are so excited to gush about the person that they love, and I get to be there for that and hear people celebrate all the best parts of the person that they love. A lot of them are romantic, but not all of them are. I really like writing platonic love songs for friends. I've written bereavement songs. I’ve written ballads that tell the story of this person's parents. Pet bereavements. All kinds of ways to love people and I want to write songs about all of them.
WHRB: Do you have a favorite love song that you've written for someone, or one that comes to mind?
Ings: All of them are so special and unique. I can't really think of a favorite, but there is one that was quite distinctive because it was these two self-described nerds who love Jurassic Park and Dr. Who and they a really, really sweet and that the husband commissioned the song as a gift to his wife. He told me all their favorite things to watch and listen to and the style of humor that they had. I put lots of inside jokes about Dr. Who and I quoted, musically quoted, the Jurassic Park theme in the song.
WHRB: Do you yourself have a favorite love song?
Ings: I have a whole playlist of my favorite love songs on Spotify. It's a playlist of healthy love songs because I think a lot of love songs are quite unhealthy actually. Codependency and possessiveness are glorified in most pop music, I would say, so I carefully curated this playlist. Whenever you're listening to something, it's subconsciously informing who you are, so I tried to be very careful about what I listened to. This playlist has songs that I feel like are safe and good and healthy to sing over and over and over again.
WHRB: Do you have a favorite love song on that playlist?
Ings: One of the conceits of the album is that songs are like software for your brain so any mindset you want to have, you can just listen to a song that has that mindset distilled into it and it will bring you to that place. All these different love songs have different purposes in bringing out the ways for me to think about love and show love. But let’s see here. Oh, I think probably this Mr. Rogers Song. It's called “It’s You I Like.”
WHRB: Where are your favorite performance venues?
Ings: I really like DIY venues. There are some nice official venues around, but I really love playing living room shows. People are quite attentive in those physically and there's room for the music to be heard and for people to receive it in a way that isn’t sonically cluttered by bar noise. I’ve been to some real wild spots though.
WHRB: Tell me about those!
Ings: I played shows in people's kitchens where there’s not even room to turn around and it's just a tiny, tiny space. I played shows in really sketchy warehouse venues. Most warehouse venues are fine, but this one had almost all the windows smashed out. And in the bathroom, there were no paper towels or soap or anything. It was so sketch. Oh! I've played in this one place that was definitely haunted and was filled with taxidermy. I don't want to dishonor the people running but it was a wild spot that had more than two human skeletons and several candelabra, bear rugs and velvet curtains and wild Victorian oil paintings of children. Anyways, it was a wild scene.
WHRB: Who is your dream collaboration?
Ings: Blake Mills. Blake Mills is a guitarist and producer. He's based in LA and he used to be in Dawes and now he's a producer. Her produced a couple of Perfume Genius albums and the Alabama Shakes album Sound and Color. He's one of my favorite musicians of all time and I would collaborate with him in a heartbeat.
WHRB: A final question for you, but also, I just have to know. Where did you get your iconic glasses?
Ings: I think you can buy them at a lot of different random websites. I think the first time I bought them from Amazon, but I no longer shop at Amazon. I think I just found them at random stores since then. I have a graveyard of these glasses because they tend to break quite a lot. They are prescription, which is something that people ask me about a lot — whether or not they're real — to which I say, “What is reality?” and also, I'm nearsighted.
Jess Eng is a DJ for Blues
Thumbnail Photo Credits: Andrew Vasco
Album Art Photo Credits: Haley Freedlund, assistant: Warren Woo
Lullabies for Grownups: https://www.instagram.com/lullabiesforgrownups/
Commissioned Love Songs: https://www.commissionedlovesongs.com/