The off-kilter pop songs of Seattle’s iji, like their name, are nearly impossible to forget. Led by Zach Burba, the group has been releasing funky albums with equally funky titles (UNLTD. COOL DRINKS, World of Gecko, just to name a few) for over a decade. The West Coast mainstays are now prepping to release a new album, Whatever Will Happen, with the East Coast label Team Love. Their new video for “Parking Lot Palms” is a mellow jammer that steadily builds momentum before bursting into a celebratory guitar shred. The steady energy of the song works perfectly with the video, a documentation of a cross-country tour in 2014. Through the eyes of iji, the mundane parts of traveling become beautiful: a row of trucks appears oddly color coordinated, roadside bins of fruit look right at home, a piece of paper on a soda fountain. We caught up with Burba about the history of iji, Whatever Will Happen, and roadtripping.
iji has been releasing music since 2007 (at least according to bandcamp) and has featured a large and rotating cast of musicians. Can you give a little history about the origins of the project and what has remained consistent?
iji’s actually been going since around 2003. (There’s something like 5-8 pre 2007 albums out there that aren’t readily available on the internet). Most people I know who have been making their own music since they were kiddos have gone through several bands or projects by now, cutting ties with previous monikers. I came out swangin with iji right off the bat. Making albums, touring, playing shows. I was full of conviction and passion and just never felt like I needed to change my band name or start over. I tried to build in the idea of embracing change and new ideas from the beginning so that every evolution of the band would still just be iji. I like keeping a solid line up and collaborating with other musicians but I can’t expect anybody to follow me around for 12 years so I embrace the fluidity.
Can you elaborate a bit on the name?
I took on iji as a solid moniker when I was learning how to write. As soon as I drew the little picture on paper I knew it was meaningful to me and wasn’t sure why. I was interested in palindromes, I was interested in the idea of words as images. The word contains a “…” when written in all lowercase letters, this element of the name has become meaningful to me. The pronunciation, “eehee”, comes from how I imagined you would speak the word in Spanish. I grew up in Arizona, both my parents speak Spanish and I have some Mexican heritage. The idea came easy. I feel lucky to have a name that has no obvious meaning. I like to let things sink in, discover meaning as it grows.
It’s been two years since UNLTD. COOL DRINKS. Have has the time in between records influenced Whatever Will Happen?
For sure. Unltd. Cool Drinks was one that I made fairly quickly by myself, the songs were all pretty fresh. The songs on Whatever Will Happen have been stirring in my brain for much longer and I felt like they deserved a different recording approach. I find just as much merit in first-thought best-thought quick and lo-fi home recordings as I do in long, drawn out studio productions so I try to keep working at both. The lyrics for Whatever Will Happen were all born from a year of touring house shows, taqueria’s and gas stations, which also accounts for that time between records. All that aside tho, the 2 year gap is a little bit deceptive. I usually do one big album a year. Whatever Will Happen was my album for 2014, it just took longer to come out. My 2015 album is already underway, hopefully we can get that one out this year too to make up for space.
So the “Parking Lot Palms” video shows footage from a tour across the U.S. What was the basic path you guys followed? Also, was this the tour that ended with you guys getting caught trespassing in New Paltz?
On this trip we cruised down through the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains, into the South through Texas, dipped through Florida and zig-zagged the Southern states before spending a significant chunk of time in heavenly New England. It was in New York State that we were arrested for taking a quick dip in a pool, yes. It was a surreal night! In many ways, the climax of the trip. After that we ducked into Quebec before rolling around the Midwest and back home to the West. There is no West Coast footage in this video which is strange considering that the song was written on the portion of the I-5 that rolls through Mt. Shasta. I do think it adds to the vibe that we feel so far away in all of these shots. No matter where I am on the West Coast I tend to feel at home.
iji’s Whatever Will Happen is out June 2nd via Team Love Records