Article by: Frank Memmesheimer
Concert Photos by: Jens Memmesheimer
The New Yorker singer/songwriter Ignacio Uriarte did it all backwards. His musical career began where few musicians ever arrive in theirs. As a child, he sang and performed in The Metropolitan Opera and Carnegie Hall with the great singers of our time, before adolescence and a changing voice set him on the sobering path of traversing the worst clubs and bars in New York, trying to make it as an artist. Following a creative opportunity to Germany, Iggy met likeminded artists. Together they formed Lions Head, an energetic duo that blends guitar sounds and electronic music. Since 2015 they take to the stage, eager to make music and make it to the top – this time around from the ground up.
MonkeyGoose Magazine met with Iggy, the voice and face of Lions Head prior to their concert in Frankfurt, Germany to talk about his musical journey.
Convinced he wanted to be an actor at the age of seven, Iggy had his mother take him to The Met for an audition. A simple demonstration of singing “Happy Birthday” was enough to immediately have him accepted into the Met’s Children’s Chorus. Until age 12, the opera provided him with a musical education and introduced him to the boards that mean the world, as he shared a stage with Pavarotti and his peers. Memories are scarce when one is young. An opportunity of this magnitude, though vigorously enjoyed, yet taken for granted by a child, took the grown-up years to fully realize and appreciate.
How did you find that making music was something you had to do?
Iggy: “I think it started when I was at the opera. I knew I had to sing for the rest of my life because of how happy it made me to perform and to sing. I always heard music in my head. Once I started playing the guitar, I started writing songs with what I heard in my head. Once you start songwriting, it never really stops. It became an outlet for this need I had to want to perform and to write music. I wanted to write pop songs that everybody could sing.”
It would be a rough road until then. Growing up in New York City in the 1990s, Iggy embraced all the Upper East Side had to offer him; the art museums, restaurants, mom-and-pop shops, and, of course, the music. He went to the same school as the couple of years older Chris Baio, who would go on to became the bass player of Vampire Weekend. “I caused a lot of trouble [in school] but I had a great time”, Iggy confessed to UNSERDING.
His musical education continued to grow, as he expanded his range of instruments. Playing the piano since he was ten, Iggy took it upon himself to learn to play the guitar, bass, and drums.
Once finished with school, Iggy played in several bands, leading the life of a talented, ambitious, yet undiscovered musician among the many other talented, ambitious, yet undiscovered artists in New York. The routine was simple: work any job during daytime and play music in bars and clubs after dark. Seize every opportunity that presents itself. One such (most likely unpaid) evening changed it all. The stories vary on who met whom first and where, yet their very essence is consistent. It all came down to a chance encounter, when Iggy invited strangers in off the street: “I’m playing music inside, why don’t you come in?”
One of them happens to study business in New York and audio-engineering in Vienna, Austria. Freddy Todenhofer likes what he hears as Iggy takes to the guitar. He brings business partner Hubertus Dahlem on board; together the three start writing songs. Initially, they collaborate over the internet to bridge the distance between the continents. It’s 2011 and that’s what one does when an opportunity presents itself: go for it. Two years later, they send in a song for a contest. Iggy remembers: “A couple of weeks after we sent in the song, I get a call [from Freddy or Hubertus]: “It’s on Bayern 3 and N-Joy.” I was like: “What the f— is that?” Both are German radio stations that keep playing “So Hard” by “Iggy & The German Kids” on their program again and again. The song earns just shy of half a million views and streams. It is Iggy’s first hit.
“The name was even just a joke. I was in New York, working on my music and I said “I’m doing a show with these German kids.” We wrote “Iggy & The German Kids” as a joke because we didn’t have a name before it got on the radio and the name stuck.”
It’s on. In early 2013, a few weeks after the phone call, Iggy packs his bags and bets what little money he has on this chance. He moves to Germany, a foreign country with a strange language, knowing but a handful of people.
“I told myself I had to get out of my comfort zone on a regular basis. I figured that was a way to develop as an artist, to become a true artist and develop your artistry. However ridiculous it sounds, it’s true. You have to make yourself uncomfortable to find your voice.”
New songs are in order (“Mary Jane”, “Diamond”, “Follow the Sun”, …), public appearances become more frequent, interviews follow. A New Yorker singer/songwriter starting a promising career for himself in Germany? A story worth telling. The music is solid, yet still intangible. Some songs are dominated by electronic beats and melodies; others rely heavily on electric guitar sounds and drums in the spirit of rock music. “Iggy & The German Kids” haven’t found their distinctive sound, yet.
In the meantime, Iggy keeps busy: collaborative writing sessions for labels (Sony, Universal) and artists (Alle Farben, …), songwriter camps in Berlin and Munich, improving upon his own music. Iggy is not unhappy; he just wants to take his music in a new direction: “more toned down, honest, vulnerable. I wanted it to be more based around my guitar, my songs, my voice” Iggy told TV show Puls.
In 2015, Iggy meets producer Filip Bakija (aka “Chrome”) during a writing session. They click. Filip knows to give Iggy’s vision “a beat and a structure”, knows how to turn the singer’s ideas into a recognizable sound. Together they write “Begging”. Most of “The German Kids” are not enthused.
“I remember showing them “Begging” and they said it “It sucks.” – “No it doesn’t”. Then I recorded it with Doni [one of “The German Kids”] and we started Lions Head. He was the only one worth bringing with me. Take the best and move on.”
The decision of the now duo pays off. “Begging” becomes one of the hits of the memorable summer of ’15 that sent record-setting heat waves all over the globe. It is onwards and upwards for Lions Head, whose catchy name and distinctive sound now start making waves in the musical scene. “Begging” is an outrageously confident “first” record. Over three million streams later, the dividing song turned out to be the necessary stepping stone for what comes next: Lions Head join the tours of Joris and Milky Chance as support act. (For the uninitiated: that’s a big step forward.) In 2016, Lions Head have their biggest hit to date. “When I wake up” receives well over 6 million streams and resides high in German airplay charts for weeks on end. The dreamy (and way too short) song accompanies the duo, whichever festival stage or club floor they play.
As an American living abroad, what do you like most about Germany?
That’s a safe answer.
“It’s true. I’ve met some of the people I love the dearest in the world here in Germany. People who believed in me at a time when no one else did. I love my fans, many of them are German. I feel at home here, I have a craving for the food now, the beer. I like driving in Germany way better than in America. Every time I go back I get a speeding ticket.”
You travel between Berlin, Munich, and New York, you’ve been all over Europe. Is there a place you consider home?
“Right now, I consider Berlin home because I live there the most and I have an apartment there. Also, home is where my mom and my dogs are. So, New York as well. I feel at home in Munich, too. I’ve spent a year in Rome, I always feel good in Rome. Maybe I’m a troubadour, I feel at home in a lot of places.”
Their first album, released in November, is self-titled: LNZHD. “You don’t earn the right to name your album until people want a second one”, Iggy told JOIZ, a German TV music station. Quite contemporary, the capitalized spelling introduces a mirrored “Z” and foregoes all vowels – any crash case offers only so much space to bear a band name.
old crash case vs. new crash case
How would you describe your album?
“At the end of the day it’s a road trip. In the last two years, my life has been about inbetween moments: life, loss, love, parties, happiness, sadness; in between moments where you have to make a decision: do I go this way or do I go that way? The middle of the road is not an option. [The album] is about what happens when you make those decisions.”
So, “Inbetween” is the flagship song of your album?
“Yeah, it incorporates all the things Lions Head is musically: a soft guitar, my voice, a pulsating beat with tasteful synths, usually analog synthesizers. Also thematically it’s about [being] in between moments. Inbetween breaking up, inbetween countries, inbetween careers – there was a point where I didn’t know if this was my hobby or my job. I knew it was my passion but it wasn’t my job to the outside perspective. So, “Inbetween”, and maybe “The Morning After”, they sum up the album.”
The second album is already in the making, Iggy told MonkeyGoose.
“Now that the album is out, I can think about new songs. It’s almost like a page was turned in my mind. I started hearing new songs more frequently again.”
How do you and Doni collaborate?
“I think about a song, I write the idea for all my songs myself. Doni will help me record it. Then we’ll make a beat together. That’s basically it.”
How do you communicate your ideas? “This song needs more oomph? Give me a little more yellow? We need more summer in here?”
[Laughs.] “No, I don’t do that. If it needs more of a particular instrument, I’ll say so. I studied music most of my life, I can write music and read it, I can talk about musical theory, so I try to use the language of music to talk about music. If I wanted more “oomph”, I’d go with “more percussions”. If I want more harmony maybe I’ll use strings. I’m not like “I need more yellow here.” – but that is also unique to each person. I know Skrillex, for example, sees music that way but I’m sure he’s not telling his engineer “I need more red here.” He’s probably telling him “put 2dB more of this.” There are technical terms to use. How I interpret music personally [is different]. I hear voices in my head. That’s where my songs come from. There are these weird ghost sounds I hear in my head. Finding them and pulling them out becomes the melody of a song and I follow it until it becomes a song. That’s how I relate to music. Some people chase colors, I chase sounds that I hear in my head. It’s almost like wandering around the house looking for a sound. I think it is important to speak the language of music, though. When you communicate with producers, engineers, and band mates you need common ground.”
Come January and February, Iggy will focus on writing more songs and recording a few demos. The “See You” club tour is set to continue in March; festivals will follow in the summer. The second half of the year will see another tour in fall and the release of the (as of yet still untitled) second album. 2017 is going to be a busy year for the 28-year-old who is making his way in the world of music. Again. Only this time, every stage is earned the hard way. After years of uncertainty, effort, and defiance, the pieces that make a musical future seem possible, fall into place. In his vulnerable song, “Free”, Iggy allows an honest glimpse behind the busy appearance and right into the mind of a young artist, who set out on a journey to grasp every opportunity that would present itself. On and on and on and on.
Maybe I’ll stay
Maybe I’ll wander, I’ll wander all my life
Free as a bird and light as a feather
If I know where I’m going, I won’t get there alone.
Left to right: David Sevenich (lighting), Doni Kalbarczyk (the band), Ignacio “Iggy” Uriarte (the voice and face of LNZHD), Florian Hammer (sound), Lars Hoffmann (tour manager). Front row: Tim Kamrad (support act). Photo taken by Erik May (Lions Head manager).