“Life’s too short,” sings alt-pop artist Iris on new single “Today,” as she encourages the world to seize the day. It’s perhaps a message that we need to hear right now, as the pandemic continues to force us to spend much of the day isolated from the outside world and having to innovate – finding new ways to work and create.
That upbeat, super-positive vibe isn’t particularly typical for Iris; the musician of Icelandic heritage grew up on the Jersey Shore and started off playing in rock bands.
“I started pretty young,” she says. “I grew up in New Jersey, and I started off singing in choirs and talent shows. Then I got into musical theater, and I was randomly in a friend’s ska band in high school. They wanted a girl singer. We’d play shows in the local Jersey Shore bars, and that gave me the itch – it was cool being in front of people with a band. I went to a musical theater school in New York called AMDA and I went to L.A. from there.”
Iris describes the Jersey Shore music scene as small, influenced by the nearby New York scene but also very much of its own too. Lots of bars catering to punk, emo, metal, rock. She loves that music, she says, but as an artist it wasn’t the right fit for her. Eventually, she arrived in Los Angeles.
“I’d never been to L.A. before I moved here, but I loved it and realized that a lot of the music industry was here and it was a lot easier for me to meet people and integrate myself into the community,” Iris says. “I just put myself out there. I didn’t know anyone but I was feeling things out. I met Malay who produces all of my stuff. I knew I wanted to keep doing music, then come back with a solo project, because that’s where I started – as a solo artist. It took time to find my grounding, but about a year and a half ago is when everything started coming together finally for me again.”
In the middle of all that, Iris (using her full name Iris Belson) was in the indie rock duo Linus Young alongside Joseph Walker. That band built a buzz, performing at major festivals and releasing some critically acclaimed records. Iris says she enjoyed the camaraderie that came with being in a band, but enjoys the control of a solo project.
“I appreciate both for what they are,” she says. “I feel like now I definitely have more of a say and more of a voice in what I’m doing. I don’t mind sharing that with people, but now I feel more like myself than I ever have as an artist. The band was a cool and amazing experience for me, but now I feel like I’m getting my true self out there.”
Iris describes her solo sound as “eclectic,” heartfelt and passionate, and blending pop, rock and R&B. Her Icelandic heritage plays a part too.
“I’m such a big fan of Sigur Rós and Bjork,” she says. “For me, those ambient sounds that I love in their music, I try to integrate into my sound as well.”
People really started paying attention when Iris’ song “Crazy” was used by Netflix for the Drew Barrymore dark comedy Santa Clarita Diet. Sadly, the show was axed way too early. But still, Iris said that it was a great experience.
“I loved the show,” she says. “I was super bummed that it got cancelled. I love Drew Barrymore, and I thought it was super funny. A little satire on death. It came through my friend who has mixed a bunch of my music, Manny Marroquin, who is an incredible mixer and musician. He came to me and said, ‘I know you’re working on music – my friend is a part of Netflix music casting so I wanted to see if you had anything and see if they’d be interested.’ It just happened that they liked that song, so it was good. It was funny – I was watching it and then, ‘Wow, that’s me. Pretty cool.’ If I didn’t know it was me, I’d still like the song.”
Her new single, the aforementioned “Today,” is a more upbeat, generally positive song than anything she’s put her name to before.
“I wrote the song with Malay and Trey Campbell (Celine Dion, John Legend), an incredible artist and songwriter,” Iris says. “I got in the studio with them that day and just said, ‘I really want to write a song about being true to yourself, not holding back, not being scared to be who you are.’ Something that’s inspirational. We came up with that and it was super fun. Production-wise, it started out with a darker sound, so after living with it for a while, especially during the beginning stages of the quarantine, I revisited the song. We sped it up and Malay did different production – the production that you’re hearing now. I felt like the message was so inspirational and positive, I wanted the music to reflect that.”
Indeed it does. Iris has an EP in the works for next year, and will be releasing more singles before that. She says that she has four or five songs ready to go, and is currently in the studio working on more.
“I’m trying to do more fun pop-disco inspired things but also integrate more soul and rock vibes into it,” she says. “But definitely more upbeat than what had been out before ‘Today.’ Everything else was like a little midtempo of ballady. So more uptempo, positive and fun.”
Besides that, as we approach the tail end of 2020 she’s looking at ways to get her music out there without the luxury of gigs. Livestreams are an option.
“I have a couple of online performances that are going to be coming out in the next couple of weeks,” she says. “I did an online streaming concert to get people out there to vote. I’m trying to stay active online because we don’t have any live performances. I want to livestream because I want to release more music. I did a couple during quarantine and they’re super fun. I didn’t realize who was watching and paying attention, and it was good to realize that it was helpful for them, and for me too. Get that creative release out.”
Iris’s “Today” is out now.