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Sonoma-based indie musician Lia Ices releases new album

The nine tracks on Sonoma-based musician Lia Ices’ new album feature confessional crooning, whimsical layers of voice and sound and folksy instrumentation all coming together in harmony, making for a singular tribute to family and her new home.

Ices’ life has transformed in big ways since her last album, “Ices,” came out six years ago. She describes “Family Album,” released on Jan. 29 on her newly-founded label Natural Music, as first a “California” album, capturing the experience of moving to Sonoma, starting a family with Scribe Winery co-founder Andrew Mariani, and cultivating a community of collaborators on the West Coast who have become a second family of sorts.

“The California mentality where you can create whatever life you want for yourself is something to celebrate,” Ices said in a recent interview outside at the MacArthur Place hotel, with her 10-week-old second daughter, Alice Moon, swaddled to her chest. Ices, 35, lives by this mantra, and the vivacious freedom and excitement of new beginnings rings true throughout “Family Album.”

Lia Ices performing in Big Sur, September 2019.
Lia Ices performing in Big Sur, September 2019.

According to Ices, the psychedelic, piano-heavy album was inspired by the uncanny natural beauty of nearby Moon Mountain, the community she has fostered in Sonoma and the profound transformation motherhood can bring. She draws inspiration from far and wide, seeking out any and all music that makes her feel something. For this album, she was listening to a lot of Ethiopian music, Chilly Gonzales, the Grateful Dead and, as always, record digging for undiscovered ‘70s sounds.

Lia Ices (given name Lia Kessel) grew up on the East Coast, in Connecticut, basking in the spotlight of theatrical productions. She followed that path first to high school at Walnut Hill School for the Arts, then to the Tisch School at New York University. When the hustle of auditioning and rehearsing caught up to her, Ices transferred to the experimental school at Tisch, where she was encouraged to explore and use her voice in entirely new ways. Instead of playing to the gold standard of a classic theatrical voice, she was able to harness her unconventional range and define her own sound, thus embarking on her career as a recording artist.

Ices pounded the pavement for many years in New York City, playing open mic nights and networking around town until she was signed to indie label Jagjaguwar in 2009. She released “Grown Unknown” on Jagjaguwar in 2011 followed by “Ices” in 2014. She launched her new label with her husband, Andrew Mariani. She says the label will be westward-leaning and she and Mariani hope to sign authentic artists “who are doing their thing and want to join into a community with her” and her fellow California collaborators.

“Family Album“ was written from Ices and Mariani’s home on Moon Mountain. She started work on the album when she found out she was pregnant with her first daughter, Una Lou, and continued writing it throughout the pregnancy. The album was then recorded in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Stinson Beach. Chris Coady mixed the record at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles and it was produced by JR White of Girls. JR, one half of the San Francisco indie duo, Girls, passed away recently and will be missed by the California music scene he was a part of.

On top of her musical career, since arriving in Sonoma, Ices has collaborated on projects with Mariani. The couple launched a rosé line named after their daughter in 2016. Ices conceptualized the look and feel of the brand.

As the resident musician of the Scribe family, Ices curates the music visitors hear at the winery on Denmark Street. When the winery was closed during the pandemic, Ices started a playlist series called Scribe Hacienda at Home in which she shares monthly mixtapes in lieu of gathering together at the winery. These playlists offer a peek into her inspirations.

Ices couldn’t be happier to have found a home here, gushing that, “Sonoma is such an inspiring place ― filled with bounty and beauty.” She looks forward to raising her daughters here and building her musical community tied to Sonoma and Scribe. She loves visiting the Friday farmers market with Una Lou, eating at Valley, opened recently by friends of hers from Scribe, hanging out at MacArthur Place and, of course, being at Scribe, where Una can run free and her family gets to meet all sorts of interesting people who come through.

Ices has played at the Huichica Festival, held both in Sonoma and in Walla Walla, Washington, and was lucky enough to squeeze in a tour with Connan Mockasin during the summer of 2019 before COVID shut down the live music world indefinitely. While plans for a release show are up in the air, she hopes to play live shows again in the area as soon as possible.

“Family Album” was released Jan. 29. You can buy a copy of the vinyl locally at Valley Bar and Bottle and Jacks Filling Station in Sonoma, or online at liaices.bandcamp.com/album/family-album.

En ’Vogue’

Read a 2019 profile of Lia Ices in Vogue magazine at vogue.com and a 2014 profile in Elle magazine at elle.com.

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