“Folky, poetic lyrics sung in a slightly jazzy voice, which is easy to listen to. Dancing is encouraged, but optional.” Such is the description of Ivory West’s music by West herself in a recent interview. “Amazing,” “catchy” and “surprising” are common descriptions by just about anyone else who has heard her perform.Sixteen year-old Ivory West has been singing for as long as she can remember. “I sang my first solo in church when I was two years old,” she said. “My sister had been practicing with an accompaniment track at home, and I had been listening. So come Sunday, I clapped for her when she finished and proceeded to yell out, ‘My turn, my turn!’ After some time of me annoying the church with my loud request, they gave me the mic, and I sang the very same song, thus starting my musical life.”
From that very first musical experience, West has continued a road that has brought her to the forefront of the Fort Wayne music scene and caught the attention of many of the influential people in it. Though it wasn’t necessarily her first choice of expression, music became a natural extension of her love of writing.
“I loved poetry all through my first few years in school but really settled on songwriting in the third grade,” she explained. “I began to write some simple love and Christian songs based off of things I learned in Sunday school. As I approached the sixth grade, boys entered my songs. I wrote about relationships I saw playing out, such as those of my older siblings, friends, television and of strangers I’d infer about – and eventually my own.”
West’s music has matured greatly over the years as she has worked to improve and find her own sound. From her first album through this year’s release, the progression of musicality and maturity is evident in both her playing and lyrics. “
“My first album, Mixed Emotions, was a simple recording, done at Sweetwater simply so I wouldn’t forget my songs,” she said. “I didn’t know how to read music at the time, and my parents worried that I would forget the melodies and strumming and picking patterns of my first real songs. The album was completed as nothing more than a memory jogger for my parents and me down the road, as kids’ interests can change so quickly. But as we looked into how affordable it all was, we thought we might as well [go for it], and that’s how it all started. I put it up on iTunes to see what would happen, and I fell in love with performing.”
“I was 13 years old when I became serious about music,” West continued. Her second album, entitled Watching Trains, is a collection of songs about the cycles of love, life, nature and faith and where West first experimented with backup vocals.
She went on to make Ode to Autumn, a four-track album that is available for free on her website, www.ivorywest.com, and Records and Cassette Tapes, which featured her first ukulele song. Her newest album is called Ivory West: The Chicago EP. This five-track CD features a full band sound for the first time and captures West’s biggest influences – Hugh Laurie, Zee Avi, Jason Mraz, NeedtoBreathe and Michael Buble. “This is, lyrically, in my opinion, my strongest album,” she said.
Inspiration for West’s songs, she says, “can come from obvious places such as the thrills of young love and trying to figure out what life’s about. But sometime’s it’s as simple or strange as this: I once said it was pretty cool how I’ll be able to tell my kids that I can remember before the Beatles were on iTunes, and so I wrote ‘Records & Cassette Tapes,’ a song embodying this idea that music lives through all technology changes and that a classic is a classic. No matter the medium, a great song will always be just that. There are the countless numbers of times I’ve been heartbroken and a particular time when I dated a guy for about nine months, and so did two other girls. This particular experience gave me the song ‘Graves.’ Along with all the emotional and observant songs, I like to write about my spiritual side as well and am getting more in touch with that as I grow older.”
Despite her young age, it seems West has already accomplished a lot. Being young, she says, has not been a hindrance to acceptance but may actually have been an asset.
“My age has honestly not given me too much trouble. I must say, the only negative effect I’ve felt from my age is a few doubtful looks when I mention that I’m a musician. However, it’s given me more time to develop a sound, learn some responsibility and express myself through the lyrics that I write. It has benefitted me for the most part, and I’ve been incredibly blessed to share the stage with experienced, polished musicians. And those few unsure looks I received motivated me to be better and take myself seriously.”
In order to inspire the next Ivory West, if he/she is out there, West recently gave a motivational speech entitled “Pursuing your Dreams” at Lakeview Middle School, her old junior high school, for an ISTEP pep rally/convocation.
“I’d like to do this type of thing more to inspire the younger generations and tell them you’re never too young to start doing something you love,” she said.
You can check out West when she opens for Collin Raye at The Wagon Wheel Theatre in Warsaw May 18. While you’re there, you can also pick up a CD and support a young talent with a very bright future.