Zach Burba started making music as iji (pronounced "eeh-hee") 12 years ago, when he was 15 years old. Burba moved to Seattle from Phoenix in 2008 and has been involved in the local underground and DIY scene ever since, putting out numerous singles, cassettes, splits, and something like 11 full-length albums as iji, with an ever-changing carousel of bandmates and collaborators. He has also toured as much as possible. "I've been around the country probably like 20 or 30 times, and it's just been great," Burba says. "I don't really expect anything out of it, I just like to do it."
Naturally, the music has changed over time—endearing bare-bones bedroom indie, dance-party synth-pop, tropical dub-dipped smooth rock laced with the sincerest of sax solos. Burba's voice warbles out cuddlesome lyrics ("I love music so much and I always will, I know!") like pastel tennis balls bouncing off Jell-O. Themes include dancing, friendship, music, seltzer water, and snacks ("Food is a big influence—whenever there's one line of a song missing, I always go to a food lyric," Burba says). It's genuine and unabashed—Daniel Johnston and Jonathan Richman influences are present, but so are Steely Dan and Luther Vandross. Burba's current infatuations include Arthur Russell, Kevin Ayers, and Laurie Anderson, whom he credits with "pushing me in a weirder direction. Not just her music, but everything she's done."
Iji songs are usually some combination of Burba tracking every instrument himself or enlisting musician friends on his DIY recordings. But the forthcoming Whatever Will Happen was recorded at The Unknown in Anacortes, the first iji album made in a proper studio. The aesthetic breadth suits the band's dexterous, poly-instrumental approach as they venture deeper into avant easy-listening pop, shimmying groove fountains, and wacky/freaky experimental tracks. "To me, hi-fi or lo-fi isn't that important," Burba explains. "I would like to make really hi-fi recordings that are incredibly strange in other ways."
Whatever Will Happen is also iji's first release on a pro label (it comes out June 2 on Team Love Records—cofounded by Conor Oberst). Burba describes the process of how the signing occurred as "kind of an incredible story," which is something a lot of musicians say, though in this case, it happens to be true. It all started while iji were on tour in New Paltz, New York, where Team Love is based. After a great show at the label's record store, the band went for a night swim at a closed pool and invoked a disproportionately severe police response. "We were being very respectful, wearing swimsuits, not trashing the place, not being super loud, just appreciating the pool. The cops came, but we thought we were so fine," Burba says. But before they could apologize, the whole band was handcuffed and taken to the station where their fingerprints and mug shots were taken while they were still freezing in wet bathing suits.
"They didn't let us get our clothes or towels," Burba says, "They were just like, 'You can get one thing out of your car and that's any money you have to pay bail.' And so I grabbed our tour fund. When it was time to make bail, they asked, 'Okay, how much cash do you have on you?' And I'm like, wait, we could have just had like 15 bucks each on us, but now we actually have an envelope full of $700. They flipped through it and said 'That'll probably do' and took it."
The tour was rerouted to accommodate their New Paltz court date the following week (charges were dropped after additional fines were paid), leading to a chance second encounter with one of the Team Love guys on the street. Burba says, "He asked what we were doing back in town, and we're like, 'Well, let us tell you all about it.' He couldn't believe it and just felt so bad that he had to put out our record [laughs]."
Of course iji has more music in the works—Burba explains his current idea, "I want it to be, in its own weird way, kind of a punk album. I'm not sure how that's going to be yet, but that's the idea."
The next tour starts in June.