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Medford, IAN find their sound in diverse Boston scene

Mona Maruyama/Photo credit: Mona Maruyama

When the Boston dreampop outfit IAN hops on bills around town, a bit of confusion sometimes ensues.

“I remember we played a show, and one of the guys in the band before us came up to me afterward and was like, ‘I thought you were going to be my friend Ian [of Guerilla Toss]! I was bummed, but now I’m really happy,’ ” vocalist-guitarist Jilian Medford recalls, laughing, over coffee at the Pavement near Avenue of the Arts. That sad-then-pleased reaction is appropriate to IAN’s music: The trio specializes in feedback-drenched, taut rock given a twist by Medford, whose girlish vocals manage to sound effervescent even when she’s singing of heartbreak.


Medford moved to Boston from the suburbs of Los Angeles, which was where she also picked up the name for her eventual musical project. “Everyone asks me, Where did you get the name? and I’m like, Jil-ian. When I was in high school, a friend of mine started calling me Ian and it caught on. I moved here and it didn’t, but I wanted to bring it back.”

She came here to study at Berklee, but Medford’s journey to Boston’s DIY scene took a little bit of time. “At Berklee there are a lot of singer-songwriters, and I was trying to force myself to write that way, but it wasn’t really working for me,” Medford says. “In my second year here, a friend of mine told me about a show that was happening [in Jamaica Plain]. Designer and Japanther were playing — it was a stacked lineup and I met so many people, and I knew that was where I was supposed to be. It took a year to find it, but it was worth the whole uncomfortable time to get there. I started phasing out the singer-songwriter stuff and transitioned to a realm that I had always been comfortable with.”


Medford, now in her final year at Berklee, released the solo EP “Have You Ever Loved Anything This Much?” on Blood Oath Slumber Party in March; some of the songs on that album also appear on “IAN,” which came out in August on Bufu. She met drummer Tim Cheney around the time she released “Loved,” then brought in bassist Damien Scalise and reworked the songs for a full band.

The differences between Medford’s solo versions and those played by the group are stark, but both provide rich listening experiences. Take “If You’re Cryin”: The earlier version is a warm blanket, with Medford’s distortion-shrouded voice murmuring promises of fealty while waves of guitar roll through. On “IAN,” though, the song is a sweetly rolling ballad that sounds rescued from a college radio station’s mid-’90s time capsule; Scalise’s bass line and Cheney’s precise drums recall A-sides from indie stalwarts like Tsunami and Velocity Girl. Medford’s singing is still veiled in reverb, but it soars as the song shuffles and stutters around her.

IAN is still a fairly new project, and Medford and her bandmates aren’t averse to adding new bits of flair to songs during shows. “It’s continually evolving, because every time we play, it’s different, and we realize things about ourselves,” Medford says. “Like, ‘You did that weird thing — do that forever.’ ”

Reworking existing songs is a bit different from songwriting, but Medford is pleased with the gradual manner in which the band members are getting to know each other. “We’re all figuring out if we can write together, because before it was like, Here are the chords! But it’s great that we can go through these phases,” she says.


Over the coming weeks, IAN will play a handful of shows in Boston and New York; the itinerary includes a set at Boston Hassle Fest VI, a two-day underground rock celebration at Cuisine En Locale in Somerville on Nov. 7 and 8 (IAN plays on Nov. 7). In December, Medford, Scalise, and Cheney will head to the West Coast for six weeks of shows; Cheney, a freelance film editor, will stay in California, while Medford and Scalise will return to finish their studies at Berklee.

After that, the future of IAN — and its geographic location — is up in the air. But Medford treasures her time in Boston, particularly its cassette-and-house-show-filled DIY scene.

“There’s this crazy noise scene with the Guerilla Toss people, there’s an electronic scene with Couples Counseling, and then there’s this pop scene where we try to fit in,” she says. “I feel like I’m influenced by every single one. Everyone is so supportive, and it’s really unbelievable that I can be a part of it, and that I have been a part of it.”


On Friday evening, Somerville’s Cuisine En Locale hosts Map of Monsters, an event claiming to be “so far beyond a mere ‘concert’ it actually will constitute a mystic rite of transformation.” The squalling Gondoliers, the spaced-out Planet of Adventure, and the poppy Shepherdess will play as cameras roll and patrons dine. “There will be a pyramid! (Or three),” warns the invite. . . . Also on Friday, the Boston Does Boston series, for which local acts like Ruby Rose Fox and Hallelujah the Hills cover each other’s songs to benefit the Animal Rescue League of Boston, throws a release party for “Boston Does Boston, Vols. 3 & 4” with Cask Mouse, the Rationales, and others at T.T. the Bear’s Place in Cambridge. The cover charge gets donated to the Animal Rescue League, too, and there’s a second party at the same spot on Oct. 24. . . . On Tuesday, mood-music specialist Matthew Connor celebrates the release of his new album, “Farewell Motel,” at Atwood’s.


Maura Johnston can be reached at maura.johnston@gmail.com.