Let us introduce you to The Dame, Ivy Levan. This beautiful songstress hails from down south and has the soulful chops to prove it. Her EP Introducing the Dame immediately caught our attention with its no-holds-barred lyrics and gritty musical stylings. Oh, and the fact that Levan is a drop-dead sexy Amazon helps, too. Levan was signed to a major label in the past and basically did what everyone wants to do at one point in their lives—tell someone to fuck off when they try to change you. She dropped them and started from scratch alone. This is why she is our Femme on Fire.
Playboy.com: You have such an interesting story. How did you become the beautiful person you are?
Ivy Levan: I think it started when my mom and my dad met one day… [laughs] I don’t know! I really don’t know how to explain it. I just like certain kinds of things and never lied to myself or others about it. I grew from an ugly duckling into a swan. I definitely wasn’t the coolest or prettiest girl when I was younger; I got picked on a lot. I was thin, tall, with huge lips and a big head. I didn’t really fit in at all. In a way I guess I’m looking back now laughing at everybody. I’m finally having the last laugh!
Playboy.com: You had a shot at making music before this, but left your label because they were trying to reimagine your sound and look. How difficult was that situation for you? It must’ve been so strange.
Levan: Yeah, it was very difficult, but you know what? It’s easy to say fuck you and walk away from that situation rather than get into it.
Playboy.com: How did your Southern upbringing influence your music?
Levan: When you grow up in the South, life is very family oriented and infused with that good old home spirit. I grew up with a lot of strong women in my household. I was taught hospitality, how to be humble, how to do it yourself and if you start something you have to finish it! I didn’t come from a lot of money. I had to work my way up and along the way I definitely wasn’t given anything. I think that gritty, hardworking spirit is there in my music.
Playboy.com: What was the thing that kick-started your music career? Was it something you always wanted to do?
Levan: Oh yeah, ever since I could put a phrase together I’ve been singing. I did my first talent show when I was seven and I won and I was up against people three times my age! I just kept entering every talent show and pageant I could possibly get my hands on. My mom sat there and cheered me on the whole way. Then I got kicked out of high school when I was 16 for having cough syrup in my bag. It was a very conservative Bible Belt area, so having that did not fly. So we thought, screw it. Let’s go to L.A. Getting kicked out of school was our excuse to get out of there. So through connections and persistence I started modeling, and I knew that jobs would eventually land me meeting the right person to talk to at the right time. Then I got signed to Virgin, which really sucked because I didn’t really know myself well enough. I was singing about other people’s problems and not really being me. So I took a few years off and started up again. This album is 100 percent me and I’m kicking down the door. I’m doing it my way now!
Playboy.com: What was your favorite song to get off your chest from your EP?
Levan: You know what’s funny? The EP for me was more of an appetizer. It’s something we gave you before the main dish. It introduces The Dame. I’m actually going to pee myself waiting for this album to come out. I feel like it’s innovative and mind-blowing, so I’m more excited about the album. The EP is a teaser; it’s like, “You wait and see!”
Playboy.com: I know that you have a background in modeling and you’ve even done some shoots recently to promote your music. How important is fashion to you?
Levan: It’s very important. It’s been in my world for so long. Ever since I’ve started modeling it’s influenced me. It was shoved in my face so I didn’t really have any options but to love fashion. I love darker things, like the sort of pieces you would see in film noir. I’ve always been into that rather than pinks and pastels or whatever. I love black, I like darkness. I guess all of the textures and things coincide with the music.
Playboy.com: You do your own makeup, something I’m very jealous of. Are you an artist too?
Levan: Yes! I love to paint and draw fairies and Nordic elf kind of creatures. I love drawing women’s bodies; I’ve always been into that. I guess it’s because I don’t have any curves so I just draw them instead! I love doing that. But with my makeup I love using my face as a canvas, a big slate. I’m pale as paper so I can dream up anything and slap it on my face.
Playboy.com: I love the video for “Hang Forever”! It must’ve been a blast to shoot.
Levan: Oh yeah, it was definitely a blast. It was a lot of DIY, so getting our hands dirty was definitely worth it.
Playboy.com: Was it inspired by your real cat?
Levan: Yes, that’s my kitty! That’s my special girl, she’s a little slow. She had a stroke so she’s a little sideways and a little weird, so that’s where the inspiration came from. The cat with the mask on and the real cat are pretty much the same as far as quirkiness and being a little off.
Playboy.com: You say DIY; are you really involved with the artistic element of “The Dame”?
Levan: Yes, I’d say I’m 99.9 percent and then I have other people that I have around me and give me advice as well. As far as my image and my creative look, it all comes from my brain, then I have my stylist and hair people execute it.
Playboy.com: How was performing with Sting on Letterman?!
Levan: Pretty surreal! I was calm for the whole time because I just couldn’t imagine it was actually happening. It hadn’t really sunk in until after I had done it. There were a lot of “Did I just fucking sing with Sting? Did that just happen? Was it on David Letterman?” Yeah, it was definitely surreal, I can’t think about anything else but that feeling to describe it.
Playboy.com: What’s been your favorite concert memory thus far?
Levan: One of them is actually really funny. I was in Baltimore with Fitz and the Tantrums and they had this metal ramp going up to the stage to enter on. I always do this dramatic entrance where I run onstage and the lights flash on and I’m like “TADA!” So I’m preparing myself, and keep in mind I have massive hair for every performance, and at this venue there was this low ceiling and the fucking metal ramp that I have to run up. So I’m getting pumped up and I hear the cue to run so I take off like a bat out of hell and my hair catches the ceiling and my legs fly up above my head. I just eat shit in front of a thousand people. You just hear the loudest boom because I flew up in the air! So I jumped up and just screamed, “Yo! I just ate shit in front of all y’all!” and the whole place just roared in screams! It was great to have everyone come together and be like, “That bitch is so badass!” That was definitely one of the most memorable concerts I’ve done.
Playboy.com: What’s in store for the new year?
Levan: The record: we’re trying to get this shit done because I can’t wait any longer and I’m sure everyone else can’t as well. So getting that done is our first priority right now. Aside from that, we’ve done shows and Letterman, which was amazing, and we’re of course trying to make sure that everyone sees the video for “Hang Forever.” So when the time comes that the record is ready we can go full speed and get it to as many people as possible.
Playboy.com: What’s your…
Favorite food: I am a huge foodie. I know it doesn’t look like it. People can’t understand that I eat so much but I am a huge ball of energy so it makes sense to me! I love cooking but I don’t know what my favorite food is. If I had to pick it would be sushi. I love Japanese!
Favorite drink: I’ve been really into whiskey lately, but usually I stick with a vodka soda with a splash of pineapple or a Moscow mule.
The most awkward pickup line: Haven’t we heard them all, boys?! I actually heard one the other day—the whole “marry me” thing really grinds my gears. C’mon, take a girl out to eat, you got to wine and dine before… I mean, shit, I don’t get the whole “marry me” thing, it doesn’t make me want to jump your bones!
First memory of Playboy: I think I was at this gas station that was on the border of Arkansas and Missouri. We were a dry county so they didn’t sell any alcohol, which is why we were there. I was old enough to get in a car with a boy and drive around to get alcohol, so I was probably like 14. And at the gas station there were Playboy magazines that I had never seen before since where I lived was super conservative. They were just there in the open! I thought the women were so pretty, I remember wanting to go up and grab it but I was already too nervous. So yeah, not too glamorous, it was definitely in a dirty, grungy state line gas station or something. [laughs]