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Indie-Folk Duo Ida Has a Split Personality

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Indie-Folk Duo Ida Has a Split Personality

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Indie-Folk Duo Ida Has a Split Personality

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(Soundbite of song by band Ida)

IDA (Band): (Singing) Standing at an impasse, where nothing shows...

ALISON STEWART, host: As we continue the best of the Bryant Park Project, the band Ida came to our studio recently for an interview and a performance. Let's check it out.

STEWART: That's the band Ida, and over the course of a 15 year career, the group would add members from diverse corners of the music world from the punk band, the Hated, to the lady bassist from The Bee Keepers, to the violinist from the Mekons. OK, so there was a deal with a major label that didn't suit the band. So, they went back to their independent roots, and now they're set to release they're seventh full-length album, due out tomorrow. It's called "Lovers Prayers."

Now the band has been praised by the New York Times, Spin, and Mothering Magazine. Now, you see along the way life happened and the lead singers of Ida married and had a child, and launched an alternative career making music for kids that didn't make parents want to run screaming into traffic. It turned out to be as successful as their, everybody in the van, rock, lock style. Here's a track from "You Are My Flower."

(Soundbite of song "You are My Flower")

IDA: (Singing) One day, two days, three days old. Four days, five days, six days old. Seven days, eight days, nine days old, 10 days, 20 day, no days old. I'm little baby one-day-old, I'm little sweet thing, two days old, I'm little bug three days old, and I'm little cutie pie four days old.

STEWART: In studio today to chat with us and play for us, music from their dual careers, Liz Mitchell and Dan Littleton who are also a husband and wife team that front Ida. Thank you for coming down to New York City, you guys.

Mr. DAN LITTLETON (Indie Band, Ida): Thank you.

STEWART: From the woods.

Ms. ELIZABETH MITCHELL (Indie Band, Ida): That's right, from the mountains, down from the mountains.

STEWART: So, how long has it been since the last Ida record?

Ms. MITCHELL: I think, three years.

STEWART: And what's been going on in that span?

Ms. MITCHELL: Well, there's still a lot of music. The children's music definitely took the front seat for a while. We made an album for Smithsonian Folk Ways. That's been an incredible, unexpected adventure working with them. So, that's called "You are My Little Bird." That took a lot of time. Wouldn't you say Dan?

Mr. LITTLETON: Mmm hmm.

STEWART: Were you still writing Ida songs the mean time? You were still doing children's music, but spending other time on music for your band?

Mr. LITTLETON: I think it's more like we're in a perpetual state with that. It just keeps - we keep doing it all the time. So, we were writing this whole time.

Ms. MITCHELL: We made "Heart Like a River" mostly when we were living in Providence, Rhode Island. We moved there for two years after leaving the city. And then, we moved to Woodstock in the summer of 2004, and I think the songs for Lovers Prayers started to emerge around then.

Mr. LITTLETON: Yeah.

Ms. MITCHELL: And, so then, we also started to record them up in Woodstock at the barn.

STEWART: The barn is a very cool thing. Dan, explain what the barn is for people who don't know.

Mr. LITTLETON: It's Levon Helm's, the band's, home studio. I mean, it's where he lives. He puts on shows there. It's big enough that, you know, 150 people maybe can come in. He has shows there almost every weekend. And he opened - we heard that he opened it up to the public for recording.

STEWART: Was it set up in such a way that you could tell that a musician has created the studio? Was there something special about it?

Mr. LITTLETON: Oh yeah, there was, you know. It's all wood. It's a perfect sounding acoustical space. It's so, it's got such a warm, full sound in there. I don't think there's any metal nails or anything. It's all wood nails, and there's a fireplace in the room. You just - you can feel that people use this space to play music.

STEWART: Lovers Prayer has a ton of tracks on it?

Ms. MITCHELL: I think it's 14, perhaps? Is that right, Dan? Yeah, 14.

STEWART: Well, which one of the 14 songs do we get to hear?

Ms. MICHELL: Let's do, "See the Stars."

Mr. LITTLETON: All right.

(Soundbite of song "See the Stars")

IDA: (Singing) See the stars, look at the stars, they're the only light left in the sky. There's a girl with the darkest eyes I have seen, she makes sure that I say what I mean. She's the sun in my heart, she's the cool running stream. Day is done, when day is done, don't you know you belong here with me. In your heart, I'll come to rest don't you know you're my girl, and I love you the best. You know you're my girl, and I'll love you the best.

STEWART: That was Ida. You're listening to Liz Mitchell, Dan Littleton and Jean Cook on violin. That was beautiful!

Ms. MITCHELL: Thanks, Alison.

STEWART: What prompted you to make the transition into deciding to record children's music?

Ms. MITCHELL: I had been a teacher at the Roosevelt Island Day Nursery School here in New York City before Ida started touring, and I loved working with kids and singing country blues and folk music with them in the classroom. And Daniel and I had made a tape of that stuff at the end of the year, that year of teaching, for the kids, just as a gift. In the back of my mind, I always thought, you know, I really would like to re-record those songs, do them properly. And one day, that opportunity just emerged. We had a day off from a tour, we were in Livonia outside Detroit.

Mr. LITTLETON: We were touring with Sunny Day Real Estate.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MITCHELL: Yeah, that was a funny tour we did. And so we made our first children's album, "You Are My Flower," in one afternoon at Warren's house. And we, again, just intended to give it as a gift, but we got a really amazing response to it, very unexpected. And thought, OK, maybe this is something we pursue. And when we had a child, and Storey was born, and it became clear that this was a really beautiful part of our lives, and why not express it musically as well? So, then came You Are My Sunshine, and we just kept going.

STEWART: You also tour with the children's music. I'm curious, can you compare and contrast what it's like to play in the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. versus playing at a library in a room full of kids? I could imagine the kids might be the harder audience.

Ms. MITCHELL: It's definitely much more unpredictable. It requires much more thinking on your feet. You have to be much more flexible. The whole thing - it's very challenging and equally rewarding, I think. How about you, Dan?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LITTLETON: No comment.

STEWART: No?

Mr. LITTLETON: I just wanted to say, actually, that it occurred to me just the other day that we'd been doing music with children for as long as Ida's been a band. You know, I don't think we ever actually made some kind of conscious decision about doing it as a career or anything like that. It just kind of - for me, they're so connected.

Ms. MITCHELL: And we've played the midnight rambles up at Levon's as Ida and we've also started doing kids' rambles with Levon as well, which are incredible. The kid's rambles actually get a little more...

Mr. LITTLETON: They're kind of rowdy.

STEWART: Are they?

Ms. MITCHELL: High energy on our part than when Ida takes the stage at a ramble. It can be a real somber situation, and then we get up with Levon at the kid's rambles playing Mystery Train, and it's so exciting.

Mr. LITTLETON: Yeah, I think that's about as much fun.

Ms. MITCHELL: As you can have as a musician.

Mr. LITTLETON: There is no question. It's so much fun.

STEWART: Let's get your other band member here. Please introduce who's coming on in.

Ms. MITCHELL: Ms. Storey Lee in the house.

STEWART: Storey Lee. And how old is Storey Lee?

Ms. MITCHELL: She is six and a half.

STEWART: Six and a half. And I think we might have part audience. Is Cassie going to come in and watch? Cassie, do you want to come in? We've got a guest audience member. Cassie is - how old is Cassie?

Ms. MITCHELL: Hi, Cassie.

TRICIA MCKINNEY: Cassie's four.

STEWART: Four! Wow. So what song are you going to play today?

Ms. MITCHELL: We're going to play a song called "Green, Green Rocky Road."

(Soundbite of song "Green, Green Rocky Road")

IDA: (Singing) When I go to Baltimore, need no carpet on my floor, take my hand and go with me, we'll go down to Galilee, singing green, green rocky road, promenading green. Tell me who you love, tell me who you love. Red, light green, light brown the town, found a penny on the ground. Met a friend I never knowed, walking down that rocky road. Singing green, green rocky road. Promenading green, tell me who you love, tell me who you love. See that bird up in the sky, she don't walk, she just flies, she don't walk, no she don't run, just keeps flying up to the sun, singing green, green rocky road promenading green. Tell me who you love, tell me who you love, green, green rocky road. Promenading green, tell me who you love, tell me who you love. Tell me who you love, tell me who you love.

STEWART: Is Storey's mike still on? Storey, is that fun?

Ms. STOREY LEE LITTLETON: Yeah.

STEWART: She nods. OK, yes. The name of the new album is Lovers' Prayers. It's in stores tomorrow. Are you going to go on tour?

Ms. MITCHELL: We're hoping to tour this summer in conjunction with a children's music tour. So, it'll be a twofer. STEWART: Liz Mitchell, Dan Littleton, Storey Littleton. Ida, the band. Jean Cook. Thanks for coming in!

So there you have it. The best of the Bryant Park Project. At least some of the best. There's more best stuff where that come from. We are always online at npr.org/bryantpark. I'm Alison Stewart. Thank you so much for spending part of your day with us. This is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. A little Ida takes us out. "What Goes On" from You are my Little Bird.

IDA: (Singing) I am falling down, what goes on in your mind, I think that I am upside down....

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