On the record with Jillian Medford of IAN SWEET | Music | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

On the record with Jillian Medford of IAN SWEET

“I have always been prone to spending a solid amount of time alone.”

IAN SWEET began as the solo project of Jillian Medford, a singer who took inspiration from Boston’s underground noise-rock scene. As time went on and her ambitions increased, Medford brought on two additional members, Tim Cheney and Damien Scalise. Together the trio worked to bring Medford’s thoughts on loneliness, displacement and depression to life. In celebration of a new record, Shapeshifter, out Sept. 9 on Hardly Art, IAN SWEET is hitting the road, making a stop at Black Forge Coffee House on Sept. 11. Medford took some time to talk to City Paper about the album, pop culture and preparing for the road.

As bandmates, you’re described as polar opposites, but you created something cohesive together. How did you combine your personalities, elements and ideas into one?

We all have the same sense of humor. I think that is one of the strongest driving forces in our very loving and honest connection. 

What inspired the name change from IAN to IAN SWEET?

Our label, Hardly Art, was a little worried we might get in some hot water with just the name IAN, since there’s some people in this world already existing with that name. It was a little bit hard to find us on the internet, too, so we added a simple word to the end. Sweet is one word that describes the things we like, too.

A lot of the album is about loneliness and finding one’s place. Do you think that, in an age where so much communication isn’t face to face, that loneliness is even more prevalent? We can surround ourselves with followers and Facebook friends, but we need true friendship.

Definitely. I have always been prone to spending a solid amount of time alone and knowing when I need to be alone, but now with so much social media, we are able to feel surrounded, encouraged and supported at all times, and it can be hard to separate the physical from the online. It’s important to do both and be present with both, now more than ever, and that is something I have accepted. And [I] also enjoy reaching out through the web, but I have to remind myself to be present physically as well. As someone who struggles quite a lot with depression and anxiety that can sometimes be very hard for me.

Is there one particular track on the album that the band is really fond of, or that really demonstrates the true meaning behind the album?

Collectively, our favorite song is “#23.” It represents the themes of darkness and playfulness from the record throughout the song.

For me, my favorite song is “Shapeshifter,” because it truly ties in the entire theme of the record, and I wrote and recorded it after the entire album was already finished. I felt like something was missing, so I went back and busted “Shapeshifter” out. It was the most natural song I have ever written, and it came together in about five minutes. The track’s lyrics represent the anxiety surrounding spreading yourself too thin and struggling with knowing your place and existence. 

Is it ever daunting to share that darkness, or those thoughts or anxieties with a live audience?

It’s the most perfect way to share my experience. On stage with my boys, who understand and support me more than anyone I know, is the most comfortable place for me to do it.

Your music takes a lot of cues from pop culture. Was there any particular pop-culture item that inspired the direction of the album or inspires the band creatively in general? Are there any basketball stars, candy or childhood shows you love that might make it onto the next record?

This is something I latch onto in songwriting. Particularly in this album, I was latching on to inanimate things because of my struggles to connect physically with certain aspects in my life. 

I’m really inspired by the child actor in the movie Free Willy — maybe we’ll make some Free Willy references.

How do you prepare for tour, and when you’re on the road, how do you stay creative and manage to bring the same energy to a performance every night?

We prepare for tour by making a playlist consisting of only Steely Dan and Young Thug songs. We are always feeling inspired by the new places we visit, and by the people we meet before the show and during. It brings us to new levels every night and pushes us to try new things, depending on the audience and the people we are surrounded with. 

Now that the album is out and you’re hitting the road, what’s next for IAN SWEET? You could maybe try a career as a candy taste-tester.

We are already working on new songs and preparing for a Steely Dan cover set, Oct. 8 at Shea Stadium, which is probably the highlight of our lives up until this point. We plan on touring a bunch this year because we just want to travel and dance in a van together. Candy taste-testing would be ideal. Maybe when we retire.

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