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Four Questions for Alt-Country Singer-Songwriter Half Gringa

Carbondale native Izzy Olive discusses her debut album Gruñona, her upcoming opening slot for the Flaming Lips, and more.

Izzy Olive of Half Gringa   Photo: courtesy of Elmer Martinez

Half Gringa is the musical project of Chicago-based Izzy Olive, whose introspective music balances full-throated alt-country a la Neko Case with tender folk music. Take her excellent debut album Gruñona (Spanish for “grumpy”), full of Olive’s piercing, self-lacerating lyrics: “Maybe I’ll do the right thing and stop / Maybe I will, but probably not.” Gruñona was one of our favorite local albums of 2017, and on July 14th, Half Gringa is opening for the Flaming Lips at Taste of Chicago. In advance of the show, which Olive says is Half Gringa’s biggest yet, the University of Chicago grad talks about growing up in southern Illinois, navigating her half-Venezuelan heritage, and her reaction to getting the Taste of Chicago call.

On her musical inspirations

Growing up in Carbondale, I was a huge LeAnn Rimes fan as a kid. She was actually the first artist I saw in concert at the DuQuoin State Fair in the late ’90s. I was also really late to the game on indie rock. I didn’t know who Grizzly Bear was until I was 22 but I started listening to a lot of music that had more textural differences. With Grizzly Bear’s album Yellow House, you could hear every room that it was recorded in and I was really drawn to that. I want to capture the room when I record.

On her “emotional scab-picking”

That sort of thing has always been my voice as a writer. At U. of C., I studied poetry and I was doing a lot of writing where I was examining my own internal stuff. With this music, I want to be more concise with what I say and more direct with the emotions I was trying to pick apart. “Peach Season,” the closer off the record, is the one that I thought the most about. I’m examining my own emotional processes there.

On her moniker and her half-Venezuelan heritage

It’s been a journey for me to try and develop the way that I talk about my identity. It’s really tough because there are so many layers to it that are really complicated and I’m always changing my perspective. I just want to absorb things like a sponge and I feel like I know so little about myself and the world. I’m still figuring it out. It’s an ongoing process and I think the reason I try to shift the band to being more extroverted is to focus on issues like race, sex, and class in an introverted way.

On opening for the Flaming Lips

I had applied for a slot at the local stage at Taste of Chicago; later I got an e-mail from the head of programming asking if the band was free. so I assumed he was talking about that. He called and then said, “We’d love for you guys to open for the Flaming Lips.” And I tried to play it as cool as possible like, “Yeah, that sounds good, I think we could make that work,” without freaking out on the phone.

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