Yacht Club — Thursday, Nov. 30 at 7 p.m.
Chicago native Fiona Grey is excited to be back in the Midwest.
She’s bounced between Los Angeles and Chicago for several years now, and her music career is based in LA. But, “I still consider myself a Midwestern girl,” she said in a recent conversation with Little Village.
Grey’s current tour brings her through Iowa City on Thursday, Nov. 30 with a 7 p.m. show at the Yacht Club. Tickets are $8.
“I always joke that I get my sanity back when I come back to the Midwest, but I think that I obviously write with the backdrop of the Los Angeles culture,” Grey said of her split residency. “I feel like it’s really important to have a place outside of LA to write about LA, because you get so caught up in what you think is normal and what you see every day.”
Of course, Chicago does find its way into her songwriting as well, but when it does, its with a sense of what she calls “groundedness.” And it’s subtler and less frequent: “I think it’s much more obvious when I write about LA,” Grey said. “LA is a more toxic and crazy place at times, so maybe there’s more to write about.”
That groundedness that her hometown provides serves her well. Despite her performative theatricality (“I was really big into musical theater when I was a kid,” she said), there’s nothing arch to her; she’s always fully aware and thoroughly embedded in the moment. She graciously gives complete credit to her upbringing — her father is musician Ralph Covert of Chicago band the Bad Examples, and her mother was in clowning.
“I think the most important thing about having parents who have made their careers out of their art is … I never glamorized the idea of being a musician. I never thought of it as something that was so luxurious and fun,” Grey said. “The thing that keeps me the most grounded is that I have realistic expectations of the amount that has to be done for this life in the music industry.”
Although her work ethic is practical and realistic, it’s Grey’s playful sense of humor that serves as a throughline in all of her expression, from interview to songwriting to videos. It’s evident in her self-definition: She calls her style “dirty pop,” she said with a laugh, because she “wanted people to be so confused about what my music was that they’d go listen to it.”
Playing with expectations and setting up and knocking down tropes seem to be what Grey does best. She’s persistently self-aware and self-effacing, and simultaneously wildly fun. Her vocals are paradoxically sultry and almost lounge-y, yet precisely controlled and strategically deployed — situating her perhaps as the rising princess to Amanda Palmer’s theatrical pop queen.
Her background in musical theater is always on full display. It’s as much a part of her live show as of her videos, Grey said.
“I hated that so much of musical theater was sitting in the mold of another writer, the story they were trying to tell, a box of what this character had to be,” Grey said. “The thing that inspired me most in the beginning of my career was that I wanted to … have my own musical theater show.”
She doesn’t discount the possibility of turning her songwriting skills to the stage, either. Still in her early 20s, she has the vast majority of her career ahead of her yet, and she’s not counting anything out. Grey just wants to create.
“Art is made to develop and grow into different facets,” she said. “I have a lot of other artistic endeavors. I’ll never stop putting out records and being a musician in this way, but I still act, I’d still love to develop a [musical theater] show — all different creativities that I enjoy.”
For the immediate future, though, it’s music on the horizon. She’s got a new EP coming out in early 2018. A series of videos based on those tunes will follow. And of course she’ll continue discovering new and new-to-her music (Foxygen is her current obsession).
“The thing about musicians and music is that it’s not like acting,” she said. “It’s not like we’re competitive in an unhealthy way — we want to discover and support other artists. When I find new music, it gives me more faith in what listeners are excited about and what great music is being made.”