words: Alex Wexelman
Every Thursday night for the past year has followed the same pattern: I arrive to work late, get stoned in the parking lot and then proceed to explore as much music as I possibly can for the five hours I work as a Thai delivery driver.
Nearly two months ago, I was cycling through Donovan’s Sunshine Superman when I was struck by something the Scottish folkie sang on closing track “Celeste”: “My songs are merely dreams / visiting my mind.” The elusive state of inspiration can often feel like a moment of lucid hypnagogia and Seattle’s iji further blur the distinction on their most recent effort, Bubble.
For the album, creative force Zach Burba mined the band’s dream journal in order to enter the headspace of the unconscious mind.
“I don’t think any of the lyrics on the album explicitly pull any direct images from the dream journal,” Burba clarifies, “it was more that experience that inspired the ability to write in a dream poetry language.”
The songs that make up Bubble have an amorphous, playful feel to them. They’re fluid and float like, well, a bubble. At once, they sound like they are being written while they are played, but also like they have been rehearsed to Steely Dan-esque level of obsessive precision.
“Everyone in the band is a very skilled and interesting improviser, and has a great sense of humor about improvising, and it creates this group dynamic that we have that is able to riff off of whatever we’re viewing or thinking so I think it definitely influenced the music,” Burba said.
iji (pronounced ee-hee) has been making music for more than 10 years. As Burba puts it: “For a lot of people they have their embarrassing band that they were in in high school, and for me that band just had the same name.” The lineup has shifted over time and for the writing of Bubble, Burba wanted all hands on deck.
“I tried to hold back from explaining what I wanted any of the songs to sound like and I just [said], “here’s the words, here’s the melody, here’s the chords, it’s like this kind of tempo and let’s see what you guys do.” And so in that way everyone co-wrote the music together and if needs be I’ll step in and guide further or dictate further but I’ve been trying to with this iteration of the band deviate from this one-person songwriter-arranger. I’m trying to deviate from that and just be a band.”
Letting go, Burba said, was ultimately a fun experience. Bubble was recorded over five days in mostly live takes with Burba giving little direction and allowing the band to interpret the songs as they saw fit.
“Everyone in the band is also a songwriter and composer in their own way so they all have great ideas and they made the album very different than I would have made it on my own,” he said.
When discussing influences Burba mentions Joni Mitchell (“she’s always just changed and always been completely her own super song freak, but also just done whatever she’s wanted even if like people hated her for it”) and Arthur Russell, the latter of whom is often cited by Greta Kline, the songwriter behind Frankie Cosmos.
iji and Frankie Cosmos recently toured together. The two groups don’t have much of a sonic similarity but their friendly relationship has driven them to split bills together. The origin of their friendship is one that began with a stint in jail.
“We became friends with [Frankie Cosmos] a couple years ago on a trip. We had been arrested for swimming in a pool that was closed, like a public pool in New Paltz, New York, and this arrest was like really weird and surprising and we couldn’t believe we were actually taken to jail and shit. They made us come back for a court date the following week so we had to cancel shows to re-route our tour to New Paltz a week later. Respectfully, we jumped the fence, but other than that we were just swimming in our swimsuits like sober, chilling, respectful of the pool and everything, and the locals told us to do it. They were like, “We’ll meet you there. You guys can go jump into this pool. It’s totally mellow,” Burba recalls.
As to make the most of the time in New Paltz, iji got on a ticket with Porches, of which Greta was formerly a member.
“It was a lot of fun so we met Greta that night and continued to play with them whenever they came to Seattle with Frankie and Porches and just stayed in touch with them,” Burba said.
It’s strange twist and turns like these that occur when bands last long enough to claim a decade of existence. From the beginning, Burba established a guiding ethos for the project.
“Pretty much right away I decided “well what do I want to do as a band? What do I want to get out of this?” The thought that I had in high school was I just want to start a band that can make music that means as much to other people as some of my favorite music means to me and that was pretty much the goal.”
Bubble is a great piece of pop. I’d say Zach has exceeded his goal.