History - Then
Ida formed in 1992 as a duo. Elizabeth Mitchell, a kindergarten teacher, and Daniel Littleton, who worked in a bakery, were living in Brooklyn. They covered songs by Prince, Big Star , Richard and Linda Thompson, Gram Parsons and Joni Mitchell and played for their friends. Then they started writing songs together. Dan had been in hardcore punk bands and played in a P-Funk cover band in Annapolis, Maryland. Liz had played in folk-pop bands and played in a r&b cover band in Providence, Rhode Island. Both of them wanted to "get small". While on a road trip in California, they met Ida Machado Schafer, the grandmother of Liz's old friend, the artist & playwright Erin Courtney. Ida Machado Schaffer was, at the time, a 92 year old artist and sometimes clairvoyant lady who traveled much in her later years and told stories about growing up on a ranch in southern California. She often blurred the lines between truth and fiction and her stories were startling, funny, often inspired and poignantly ambiguous. Whether or not her "tales" were based entirely in the realm of "fact" as such, didn't seem to matter all that much. After hearing her speak, her narratives seemed to become true, as if her words had somehow opened up a portal and pulled you into a world right next to the "normal", visible and verifiable world that you saw around you. Ida's world felt familiar, but was somehow altered by the way she expressed herself and her experiences. In Ida, Liz and Dan had found both an inspiration and a namesake.
On their return to Brooklyn, Rick Lassiter started playing stand-up bass with them. Ida recorded a cassette, "Songs From The Ranch", that winter and played a handful of shows during 1993. The drum-less trio played their songs in "open", non- standard tunings on electric and acoustic guitars with fuzzboxes. Daniel's old friends Jenny Toomey and Kristin Thompson at Simple Machines heard the tape and offered to put out a full length.
In the spring of 1994 Daniel, Liz and Rick recorded "Tales Of Brave Ida" in Brooklyn with Bruce Hathaway (Love Camp 7). After Rick moved back to North Carolina, Daniel's brother Michael "Miggy" Littleton (The Shit, The Hassassins) joined as drummer and multi-instrumentalist. That summer, opening for Tsunami on their first tour, Ida played quiet, slow, spare songs for confused and sometimes intrigued pop-punk Tsunami fans. Their car was stolen in Quebec City while playing a questionable show in a video-dance-party club for 3 people. Piling into Tsunami's van, they finished the tour, but the last show had a sad, depressed kind of sinking feeling. Downer that it was, Montreal gave Ida its first ever encore. What could this mean? Days later, Ida return home to the news that the Canadian authorities had located their car. Everything was stolen except for a Verlaines tape under the front seat. "Verlaine-Verlaine-Verlaine-Verlaine..." Liz and an ex-boyfriend drove for 16 hours straight to reclaim Ida's vehicle. Returning to NYC exhausted and ready for the funny farm, Liz went straight to Maxwells in Hoboken where Tsunami had asked Ida to do one song before their set. Liz, Miggy, and Dan launched into a legendary version of "Equator" after announcing to a confused crowd that they were Tsunami.
Ida had "arrived".
1995 was relatively quiet on the Ida front. Dan toured extensively with Liquorice, whose album "Listening Cap"had come out on 4AD. Ida's "Its Not Alright/ThankYou" single was released by Simple Machines. It got played a lot on a college radio station in Connecticut.
Ida played some shows in NYC, sharing bills with Elliot Smith, Mary Lou Lord, Mountain Goats, Scrawl, Trenchmouth, and Antietem. Ida toured with Retsin from Louisville, KY, the beginning of a lasting alliance that would eventually culminate in The Ida Retsin Family, Vol.I and many live and recorded collaborations.
During this time, Fred Armisen, of Chicago's Trenchmouth, had a brief run playing bass and drums with Ida for a short northeast tour. Fred told Liz "You know its all about you..." and Liz said "Fred, you're hilarious, you should be on Saturday Night Live...".
In the winter of 1995, Ida started writing the songs that would become their second full length album. In January, during the blizzard of ‘96, Ida recorded " I Know About You", with Bruce Hathaway (again) in Brooklyn. Rick Lassiter and Cecilia Littleton played strings, and Rose Thompson of Babe The Blue Ox played bass. The album received much critical acclaim in the independent music world. Ida toured nationally that spring with Steve Immerwahr (Codeine) on bass and Elaine Ahn on cello. They shared bills with bands that played a lot louder than they did, but increasingly and steadily Ida was finding an audience. While in the southwest the band saw UFOs and fantasized about having a generator so they could play "free form freakouts" in the desert.
In the fall of 1996 Karla Schickele (from NYC's Beekeeper) joined the band. Dan and Liz had seen Beekeeper play and were completely stunned by the power of their songwriting, playing, and complex, tight harmonies. Karla came on board as the bass player for a west coast tour and has been in the band ever since. Over the next few years Ida and Beekeeper toured together many times in the US and in Canada, and frequently collaborated in performances. This intense camaraderie led to a split single for Simple Machines, the "Maybelle/Wait Til' Then" "7. For Ida's second full U.S. tour supporting "I Know About You" they played shows with Mavis Piggott, A Minor Forest, Catpower, Dub Narcotic, Ui, Trans Am, Heavy Vegetable, Portastatic, and Lori Carson. Violinist Ida Pearle started playing with the band 1997 brought heavy touring and an album, "Ten Small Paces", largely recorded while Ida was on the road. 1997 touring band included Ida Pearle on violin, Sue Havens on accordion, and Elaine Ahn on cello. Ida also released three split singles that year- with the Secret Stars, Portastatic, and Beekeeper. They also released the "Poor Dumb Bird" single, which found them covering Prince and Richard & Linda Thompson songs. Over the years Ida has covered songs by Joe Bataan, Robert Wyatt, Arthur Russell, John & Beverley Martyn, Popul Vuh, The Everly Brothers, The Minutemen, The Carter Family, Sade, Sir Douglas Quintet, Billie Holiday, The Buzzcocks, AMC, Fats Domino, Townes Van Zandt, Michael Hurley, The Stooges, Ornette Coleman, The Band, The Grateful Dead, Dolly Parton, Neil Young, Dock Boggs, Secret Stars, Fleetwood Mac, X, Blue Oyster Cult, Anne Briggs, The Shaggs, Brian Eno, Al Green, Elizabeth Cotten, Bob Dylan, The Left Banke, and The Roches, to name a few.
In the fall of 1997, knowing that the end of Simple Machines was near, and itching to get into the studio with a budget for the first time, Ida signed with Capitol Records. It seemed like an excellent opportunity to reach millions of people, exploit the youth market, and make more of the blatantly commercial, hook laden, combination of trip hop and country that had taken them to Canada and back, twice. Ida played a couple of shows with Elliot Smith in NYC, and played shows with Mark Eitzel, Bob Mould, Dirty Three, Retsin, and The Magnetic Fields. Also in the fall of 1997 Ida toured the East and West coast with Low. The tour ended with a show that Low set up in their home town, Duluth, at the Norshore Theater. While they were in town Ida recorded 'Walk Away Renee" for DJ Starfire at his pirate radio station. The song came out later on the Random Acts of Radio compilation.
Ida finished 1997 with a New Years Eve show at the Charleston in Williamsburg. They covered all of Prince's Dirty Mind LP, with help from some feathered boas, Rose Thompson (Babe the Blue Ox) on bass/keys & vocals, and Matthew Schickele (Beekeeper) on guitar. Beekeeper took on all of Brian Wilson's Smile music, with help from various Malarkies, Idas, and VPNs who tried to play and sing along on "Heroes And Villains", "Fire", "Our Prayer", "Good Vibrations", and "Cabin Essence".
Ida released two EPs in 1998, "The Ida Retsin Family Volume One" (Muss My Hair Records) and "Losing True"(Bingo Records). They closed out the Simple Machines Festival with The Shipping News and The Whales, and played Derby in Louisville, KY with sister-bands Retsin and Beekeeper. That show goes down in history as one of the funnest Ida shows ever, complete with covers of "Head" and "Sister" by Prince, "Mendocino" by Sir Douglas, "Sail Away" by Neil Young, and "Sweet thing" by Rufus & Chaka Khan. Members of Retsin and Beekeeper played along on the covers. That was the night that Miggy sang "Uptown" on a catwalk and people put money in his pants. Ida toured again with Low in the fall and paid back dozens of Al's guest melodica solos on "Shrug" by joining them onstage to sing a Spacemen 3 cover "Lord can you hear me when I call". Al dubbed them the "Ida Retribution Choir".
In October 1998, on a day off after some shows with Sunny Day Real Estate, Liz and Dan recorded a children's record at Warn Defevers House in Livonia, Michigan. They covered songs by Woody Guthrie, Elizabeth Cotten, Leadbelly, and the Carter Family. Warren joined in with some wood flute, Miggy sang some "yes mams" and "You Are My Flower" was recorded and mixed in a day.
In November of 1998 Ida began work on their first full length album for Capitol Records. Working with engineer/co-producer Trina Shoemaker they recorded 19 songs in upstate NY. They came back to NYC for further collaboration, mixing and recording with Warn Defever and Tony Lash (Elliot Smith,Richard Davies). Along the way they recorded at Bill Laswell's studio in Orange, NJ. It was there that they met P-Funk's keyboard genius Bernie Worrell, who played wurlitzer and moog on "Shotgun" and "Shrug". They finished their album in May 1999.
Given the changes that took place at Capitol Records since their signing (the president was fired and significant changes were brought about in "the company" right around the time that "Will You Find Me" was being mastered) Ida spent the next 6 months in limbo, working on getting out of their contract. After all was said and done, Ida retained ownership of the master tapes for both "Will You Find Me" and what would later become "The Braille Night".
Michael Littleton left the band in the fall of 1999. He has since played and recorded with White Magic, Blood On The Wall, Tara Jane Oneil, Samara Lubelski, The Mad Scene, Lois Maffeo, and Ducks on the Pond. He's also a sought after DJ, and an all around tastemaker dude. For years he ran a now legendary used record store "Big Deal" out of his apartment, an old storefront in Brooklyn. Countless numbers of hipsters walked into his store looking for indie rock 7"s and walked out with Albert Ayler LPs, 70's dub plates, Marley Marl 12"s, Tuvan throat singing records in hand and a new lease on life. Hats off...
For their Fall 1999 tour, Ida got quieter than ever with a super minimalist "chamber" ensemble consisting of Karla on piano and bass and vocals, Liz - guitar, vocals, accordion, percussion, & viola, Dan -guitar, piano, vocals, Rick Lassiter on stand up bass, Ida Pearle on violin, and Sue Havens on clarinet and accordion. The sound became more dissonant, songs morphed into extended drones and arrangements became more complex. The vibe was a little more Morton Feldman meets Brian Wilson than indie rock wedding band. Ida's audience was growing with each tour, and shows got longer, with sets changing night to night and often stretching out to near the 2 hour mark. Several of the shows were part of a series of benefit concerts for Low Power Radio and the grass roots movement to save and support community-based free form radio from the dominance and power of corporate radio stations. They toured with the incredible Warn Defever and the I Want You To Live A Hundred Years Band. Many people who came to these shows noticed that a strange looking " log", which appeared to be made of painted cardboard, was passed around the stage every night. The bands seemed to be drinking from it and offering the log to people in the audience.
In December of 1999, Ida played a benefit for The Anthology Film Archives in NYC. The band performed vocal and instrumental music to accompany films by Stan Brackage, Harry Smith and others. Before the show, in a stunningly beautiful introduction of the band, legendary avante-garde film-maker,and founder of the Anthology Film Archive, Jonas Mekas, led the crowd in a chant of "Dan and Liz" to celebrate their recent marriage. It was a beautiful way to end an entire millennium of Ida shows. Uh… I mean it was a great night for the last Ida show of the century. As Karla said at the show "The Anthology is one of the best things about NYC". You should go there to see films and find out about and support this lifeline for truly independent, avant-garde cinema.
2000 was a busy year for Ida. Joining up with indie label TigerStyle, they finally released "Will You Find Me". "Will You Find Me" received greater recognition than any previous Ida album, including glowing reviews in The Village Voice and The New Yorker. "Will You Find Me" landed on year end "Best Records You Didn't Hear" lists in both Spin Magazine and The New York Times.
For their record release party in July, Ida asked friends Low, His Name is Alive and the Secret Stars to join them for a night at The Angel Orensanz Center for the Arts in NYC. The show was a benefit for Brooklyn Legal Services HIV Project. The space, actually the oldest standing synagogue in NYC, was breathtaking, and had amazing acoustics. The Secret Stars got back together for this one night. It was a beautiful, unforgettable evening. The show was documented on "Angel Hall", the first release of Ida's own record label, Last Affair Records.
Ida spent most of the year touring and sharing bills with bands like His Name is Alive, Low, Pedro the Lion, Death Cab For Cutie, Ted Leo, Karate, Broadcast, Shannon Wright, Julie Doiron and others. They did many interviews and Daniel used words like "structure", "defect", and "stuff" a lot. Ida brought out different ensembles on every leg of their tours. Musicians included were longtime member Ida Pearle (violin,viola), and newer collaborators Luther "Tripp" Gray (drums,percussion, sax, clarinet), Zach Wallace (double bass), Dave Curry (viola), Fred Thomas (guitar, vocals), Jacob Danziger (violin), Warn Defever (guitar), Andrew Hall (double bass), and Amy Domingues (cello).
Also released during this time was "Ida Live at Carnegie Hall" (Insound Tour Support Series Vol.11), a limited release 18 song live CD with lots of covers, liner notes, and other crap. I mean, who cares, really. Wow, this story just keeps on going doesn't it… Is anyone still reading? la-la-la la-lala-la
On days off from touring, Ida put the finishing touches on "The Braille Night", an album made up of songs recorded or conceived during or right after "Will You Find Me". It wasn't quite done yet.
Have you ever seen that movie "Human Highway"?
As 2000 came to a close Ida found themselves at a creative peak of sorts. Their records had found critical acclaim and their consistent touring had brought them a larger audience than they ever had before. The different members of Ida could move easily between singer songwriter world with sparse, minimal arrangements to full-on guitar noise and spacious grooves, echoplex jams, and acoustic drones. Ida Pearle played with "extended techniques" that had more to do with free improvisation than indie rock, folk or classical music for that matter. She had played with NYC free jazz giant William Parker, and was experimenting more and more with the sonics of playing harmonics and rapid rhythmically free bowing,. She played with her bow upside down on the strings to create the sound of a violin "recorded a hundred years ago". It worked, too. Drummer Tripp Gray also pushed Ida further into extending or blowing up the structures of the songs when necessary, with energy, dynamics, and bursts of improvisation.
In the fall of 2000 original drummer Miggy Littleton returned to the band for an east coast tour with Low. The shows were some of the best the band had ever played, with Ida Pearle and Zack Wallace joining them for the last show of the tour. They played an all Neil Young cover show in Boston (also with Miggy), and a show at the first Future of Music Conference in DC with Amy Domingues and Andrew Hall on cello and upright bass, respectively. Shortly afterwards, a few significant cancellations were announced. Ida dropped out of a European tour with Low, and cancelled an appearance at a world music festival in Japan with the likes of Arto Lindsay and Carlinhos Brown. The cause of it all? Dan & Liz were having a baby and the road warrior era of Ida was apparently coming to a close.
It was January 2001. Depending on your vantage point, this was either the worst time or the perfect time for Ida to take an extended leave from playing shows. "Quiet" was becoming "the new loud". Hipsters were listening to old time folk music and minimalism was cool again. Even songs on the radio sounded like one big droning blip with super sparse fucked up beats. Sometimes punk kids recognized it when you did a Townes Van Zandt cover. Bjork did songs accompanied by only an acoustic harp. Music fans started to seem more and more receptive to stripped down, quiet, adventurous music. Maybe something was in the air, or the water. Those were almost the days. The presidential election was decided by one vote on the Supreme Court. A secretive council of greedy fuckers consolidated their control of our country and pledged allegiance to their greedy friends while waging an endless media campaign for their war profiteering corporate death cult and its super paranoid fear monger bad trips scene. War and rumours of war, everywhere. Nina Simone and Joe Strummer left this world.
Prince took his name back.
Ida played in Detroit (and nowhere else).
The show was a sold out evening at the much missed CPOP gallery. Ida was joined by long time violinist Ida Pearle and bassist Zach Wallace. There was also a rare appearance by the Electric Bear, aka Detroit noise/visual artist Davin Brainard, who had made an enormous, magical backdrop of the night sky which was hung up behind the band as they played. The Electric Bear joined Ida for a one time only performance of "Braille Night/Blizzard of ‘78". The whole place was lit up by christmas lights, and the evening was filled with celestial drones, electric and acoustic noise, and rarely played covers of Elizabeth Cotton's "Going Down The Road Feelin' Bad" and Brian Eno's "By This River". TJO, Fred Thomas, and Warn Defevr played as well.
The time off of the road didn't slow the members of Ida down. They wrote and recorded "solo" records, "side project" records, "remix" records, "children's" records, "free improvisational" records, "minimalist/drone/noise" records. Dan went to Italy improvising to avant garde films with Geoff Farina (Karate, Secret Stars, Glorytellers) and Luther Gray (Joe Morris, Ken Vandermark). He also went to Japan and toured with Tara Jane ONeil. Karla went to Europe and played keyboards for Low when they toured with Radiohead. Her solo project K. toured all over the states. Then the new Ida songs started coming around. Dan, Liz, and Karla started jamming, singing harmonies all night, Warn Defevr (producer and mastermind behind His Name Is Alive) moved in to Dan and Liz's attic and they started to kick around ideas, sounds, songs, and arrangements.
"Heart Like a River" was recorded (mostly) at Kimchee, Andy Hong's studio in Boston and at ON-ME Sound, where the final mixes took place. The album title - part Cassavetes "Love Streams", part Neil Young "Time Fades Away" and "On The Beach", part McGarrigle Sisters tragic honky blues, seemed to suggest an endless interior expanse of sadness and joy, forgiveness and love. A cosmology of stars, a quiet respite from the tyranny of time. Plus it conveyed a strong seventies singer songwriter vibe without the slightly problematic overtones of the other working title for the album, "Ida – Greatest Hits 1970-1973".
Tiger Style stopped putting out records during this time. Saddened, but hopeful, Ida sent copies of their songs around to some labels who still put out records. Some folks courted them with come hither looks and big ideas. Some were way too cool for school. Polyvinyl stepped up and won Ida's hearts with their fearless "emo" vibe and their dangerous "we still care about what we do" world view. Their enthusiasm was infectious, focused, and awesome to behold . Ida's friend, and sometimes drummer Fred from Saturday Looks Good To Me, declared his love for Polyvinyl and told the band "you should sign with them, then we'll really be friends forever". Though Ida wasn't exactly sure what Fred meant, they took his advice anyway. (SLGTM has since left Polyvinyl, but Fred and Ida still remain friends, ed.)
Ida started playing shows again with their new "we are basically a girl band" attitude, blowing people away with their new songs about falling in love, sex, death, birth, art, ordinary language philosophy, Pedro Almodovar, eschatology, drinking, and spiritual transcendence. One night in May 2004, at a benefit for the Rock n Roll Camp For Girls, they played all of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" LP live, along with some Peter Green-era Mac and a Buckingham-Nicks tune. Jean Cook and Ruth Keating helped the band sound (and look) better than they ever did before. Tours were booked, countless recording projects were planned, hearts were broken, hopes were destined to be dashed, songs were sure to be sung. Ida was back and heading towards your town, headlights on, baby in the backseat, "Box of Rain" and "Slippin' and a Slidin'" in the cassette deck. Oh, babe it ain't no lie…
After the release of the "Heart Like A River"LP in early 2005, Ida went on their first full US tour in 5 years. Ida played shows with a ton of great bands/folks including The Mates Of State, Regina Spektor, The Rachels, Xiu Xiu, The Reputation, Thalia Zedek, Bird Show, Tara Jane ONeil, Michael Hurley, The Levon Helm Band, Ollabelle, Liarbird, Cloud Cult, Mascott, Jodi VB, The Retribution Gospel Choir, Steve Malkmus, Rebecca Gates, Jason Molina, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Antietam, No Wait Wait, Erin Mckeowen, Jennifer O Connor, San Serac, Geoff Farina & Chris Brokaw and more. They released "The Bottom Of The Hill", a double live CD on Last Affair Records, and a 3 song, 3 inch mini CD on Dark Beloved Cloud. One of their songs was included in "The Believer" 2005 ‘music' issue. Elizabeth made a children's music record for Smithsonian Folkways called "You Are My Little Bird". "New Salt", a CD of improvisations by Geoff Farina, Dan Littleton and Luther Gray came out on Xeng Records, Dan Littleton's "Nobody's Fault But Mine/Down By The Riverside" finally received a US "release" as a double CD on Last Affair Records.
Ida started recording songs at a barn somewhere in the Catskills…
Ida's seventh full length album, "Lovers Prayers", came out on Polyvinyl in early 2008. The record was produced by Warn Defevr of His Name Is Alive and featured collaborations with Levon Helm and Michael Hurley.
Ida's music has been featured on "This American Life" (both the radio and the television show).