ian sweet turned depression into one of the year's most honest rock records
Jilian Medford escaped a toxic relationship, moved home to L.A., and discovered a newfound love of tennis.
Photography Alix Spence
Sometimes the best things in life come from taking time out to self-reflect and reexamine your priorities. That’s exactly what Jilian Medford did after she released her debut album Shapeshifter in 2016, and before she began work on her follow-up, Crush Crusher (out now via Hardly Art). Jilian started IAN SWEET five years ago as a solo project in her college bedroom in Boston, and later evolved it into a full band before recording Shapeshifter. But the experience was bittersweet; while she enjoyed having band members to bounce ideas off and make memories on the road with, she also found herself subjected to misogynistic comments and was “belittled for being a woman.” At the same time, she was battling serious depression, and eventually it all became too much to handle.
In order to regain control of herself and her band, Jilian decided to head home to Los Angeles and go quiet for a while. She took time out to self-evaluate and eventually discovered the person she wanted to be, which was a more optimistic, self-assured version of herself. Speaking to i-D on the eve of launching the latest chapter of IAN SWEET (the following day was the band’s first live show in support of Crush Crusher), Jilian says moving back to LA “was just hugely beneficial to separate from [the past] and get back on track with being proud of myself.”
She likens Crush Crusher to “ripping off the bandaid,” and admits that in the past, she has unintentionally candy coated some lyrics to make her battle with mental health seem less of an issue. “With this record I think I felt less afraid to express things in a more real way,” she says confidently. Through this more honest approach she seems to have found her true voice. Crush Crusher is full of blunt edges and Jilian seems at ease revealing more of her own complexities. “I think the record shows both lots of confidence and lots of insecurity at the same time,” she says.
Crush Crusher is both a form of catharsis and a reawakening. It’s less about airing her dirty laundry, and more about voicing the emotions that were weighing her down. On “Spit,” she sings about participating, willingly, in what she describes as a “toxic” relationship. In the chorus she sings, “You’ll go and I’ll get swallowed by someone else’s spit.” The song was written while the relationship was unraveling, and Jilian remembers thinking, “I’m still going to do this to myself for some reason. I’m still going to let him fully consume me and spit me out.” On a more positive note, the song ended up being an exercise in self-awareness: “What’s cool about songwriting and making music is that you realize things about yourself. Through ‘Spit’ I realized that that relationship was extremely toxic.”
“Bug Museum” finds Jilian singing from the perspective of a friend who once declared his love to her. “Don’t assume that love is personal / It’s the death of me / It’s the death of you,” she sings in the second verse. “I remember he would be like, ‘I’m in love with you,’ and I’d be like, ‘I love you, but I’m not in love with you.’ It was sort of our whole dynamic,” she explains. It’s a good reminder to check in and to never take someone’s affection for granted. The title also has a rather dark comedic backstory.
“I think I thought of ‘Bug Museum’ because he and I had been hiking one time and when we got home he found a tick on himself. We had to spend hours trying to get this tick off of him and we were screaming and freaking out, and after that he told me that he was in love with me. And I was like, ‘Why? Through the experience of us having to get this bug off of you?’ So that moment is really fossilized for me.”
While the lyrics on Crush Crusher provide the album with a powerful narrative, it’s the guitars that give it teeth. However, Jilian finds this statement to be kind of ironic in 2018, and jokes, “there’s so much technology to end guitars forever.” Though she admits to being inspired by revisiting seminal records by Slint, Duster, and Helvetia. “I was really inspired by the light and dark of things, and when it gets dark, it gets really dark, and when you have a light moment you just really sit in that,” she says of those bands’ key moments. Sonically, Slint’s influence shows up on songs like “Holographic Jesus,” “Falling Fruit,” and “Ugly/Bored”, where the guitars get a little sludgy. Elsewhere, you can hear elements of Nirvana, Sonic Youth, and the climactic moments of Nada Surf.
IAN SWEET began in Boston while Jilian was attending Berklee College of Music (IAN is her childhood nickname, while SWEET was added later because another artist already owned the rights to the first name). But it was in Boston’s DIY scene that she found a community of like-minded artists who encouraged her to pursue a style of music that was less popular at school. “The best part about living in Boston was the way I interacted with people in the DIY scene,” she says exuberantly. “Getting involved in that [scene] absolutely changed my life… by involving myself in Boston’s DIY scene I was meeting people that knew about music, but I was also meeting people that knew fucking nothing about music but who were playing some of the best music that I’d ever heard.”
The DIY spirit stayed with Jilian when she moved to New York. “After school I moved to New York and was going to Shea Stadium and Palisades, and those places were just totally home. I felt like I’d taken a staircase to the next floor from Boston,” she says, adding, “The New York DIY scene is where I think IAN SWEET came up and really had the support. New York really supported us, so did Boston, but the come up as far as people wanting to be involved and know what we were making was really special in New York.”
Now located in Los Angeles, Jilian says she spends more time with artists during the day than at night. “It’s weird to say, but in LA I’m more involved in being active, like doing outdoor activities and stuff with fellow musicians,” she says. “I play tennis every other day with my friend Courtney, who plays in the band The Courtneys.” Admitting that you like sports might still be perceived as uncool by some in the music scene, but it’s certainly not weird to want to maintain a healthy well-being. Especially when your life depends on it.