Indy Yelich on “Threads”, NYC and finding his musical identity

Indy Yelich O’Connor is missing in New York. When the 23-year-old Kiwi native flashes on Zoom on a recent afternoon, she’s backlit by the glow of a sunny New Zealand winter’s day, but her mind is still on the city which she considers her home. “I’m so jealous that you’re in New York,” she tells me straight away. “I’m right here [in New Zealand] sort of… while this release happens.

She references the arrival of her very first song, “Sonwill be released on Thursday, September 15 under its new moniker, Indy. There may have been good reason for the New York transplant wanting to dodge her release into the familiarity of her hometown — she is Lorde’s little sister, after all — but right now, the overwhelming emotion that she feels is a sense of relief. “I’m really ready,” she said. “I feel like I’ve lived with this song for so long, and I’m just glad I released it. I’m really excited.”

Besides her relationship with the pop star, the world has come to know India first as a poet. Self-proclaimed “writer above all else”, she published her first book of poetry, Sticky Notesin 2018, and continued with his second, Dudette, in March 2022. But she’s been writing songs for much longer than that. Growing up with musician and writer parents, Indy cites her childhood listening to Annie Lennox and James Taylor and singing in the car as what led her to write her first song when she was just seven years old. After graduating from high school – between stints in LA to become an actress and in New York where she largely focused on her poetry – she slowly picked up the songwriting torch again, this time with much more self-assurance.

“I feel a lot more confident in my identity,” she says. “I certainly owe a lot of that to New York. I feel like I’m 23, you know who you are way more than 20.”

She cites her time in the city as deeply formative. Indeed, the story behind “Threads” stems from an extremely New York experience: “Winter in New York, bar-hopping with friends. It’s kind of the slight chaos of how a night could unfold, for me, and then it’s toxic and messy miscommunication.

“Do you know the Yuca Bar in Alphabet city? she asks me. “I had their frozen margaritas and walked around town saying, ‘Oh, my god’ and just in love with everything or crying or something.”

Unique art for “Threads”.

Like the powerful emotions of being in your early twenties that Lorde’s pop songs can produce, Indy’s “Threads” also excels at conveying that hopeless, nostalgic chaos of adolescence. The bright, strobing pop song, anchored by her rugged voice that sounds suspiciously like her sister’s, is built on vivid imagery that reflects her poetic roots. “I’ve been fascinated by other bodies/And stories before/Cold conversations turn to flames/All tangled up on the floor,” says a captivating verse of the song.

Produced by Josh Grant and co-written by Lizzy Land, “Threads” is the first single from an upcoming EP, a project that will surely prove that the songwriting bug can bite two siblings just as powerfully. For Indy, its exit is just the start of a world of possibilities, although it is keeping its goals small for now. “I just want people to listen to it in their car,” she says. “And maybe this feeling can hit you, from what I tried to describe.”

Tell me a bit about your stay in New York. It seems like it was a very formative place for you. Is that where you felt your curiosity to start writing music?

I live in the East Village and in New York everyday culture is a mush. And I was really, really inspired by his story. My favorite poets are all from New York. The 60s, the 80s, Alex Demetra, Frank O’Hara. This kind of story. Patty Smith. I fell in love with the history of New York in the 80s. And honestly, what’s crazy is that an 80s bar is still there, so you can still go there, and you can still feel this experience, and you can still feel young and hungry even in a very digital and modern world. I feel like I needed to be in a big city to slow down, personally, ever since I moved to New York at 18.

Do you feel like songwriting and poetry trigger different parts of your creative brain?

Totally. Well, honestly, I’m first and foremost a writer. I love reading. But poetry and storytelling have always been the first thing for me. And then I guess I just progressed because songwriting is a form of storytelling. It’s just different mediums. But writing poetry is so free. You can sort of get out what you’re trying to say, but songwriting is a bit more specific. I had to learn, honestly, how to write a pop song. Poetry is so different. You get the feeling, and I can write a punchy chorus, but it took me forever to figure out the real indie pop sound. I think poetry and free writing really, really helped me form a cohesive song. It was really the best thing I could have done because it’s like a poem.

In one of your previous interviews, you mentioned that your sister, Lorde, helped you find your voice. While you were developing your songwriting and writing music, did you ever talk to your sister?

Honestly, we’re sisters; I steal all of her really nice clothes when we go out to dinner. But having an older sister in the music industry really helped me give me some really good advice. The main thing I felt was forging my own path. We are different entities. If anything, it really helps to have someone who is in the music industry who can help and support you with advice. But the main thing is to be true to yourself, and I really wanted to chart my own path because I feel so young and hungry for what I want to say. If anything, it’s a big help for me. It’s an advantage. I’m really lucky.

“I really wanted to chart my own path because I feel so young and hungry for what I want to say.”

What other mentors do you think have really helped you find your way to your musical identity now?

My EP… I worked with a few people. I should give this guy a massive shout out, Dave Longstreth. He’s from Dirty Projectors, and he’s done some of the Kanye [album]. He is incredible. And this other guy, Miro Mackie. I think he’s an engineer from St. Vincent, if I’m not mistaken. He’s a Kiwi guy, and we’ve worked on a lot of things together, and it was really helpful to have another Kiwi who knew the story of what it’s like to go from a suburb to a big town. He was amazing.

And then I wrote… Oh, I shouldn’t… I’m spilling the tea on things. I wrote a specific song, I’ll just say, with this amazing songwriter called Kasey Smith. She helped me so much in terms of… I brought her a crazy big poem, and she said, “Okay, that’s how we’re going to structure it. And I was sitting on the floor playing the piano, and she was just helping me train. It was a big moment in my life. I’ve been with real G’s, honestly.

Did you always know that you would like to make music with a pop sound? Have you ever thought of other genres?

I would say that the pop influence of the 80s has always been very important in my life. I’ve always been a fan of Madonna, Tears For Fears, even Caroline Polachek. People like that. Holly Humberstone. I like all kinds of different types of music. And I really feel that, on this EP, I wanted different styles from the start. While it’s all pretty upbeat and fast-paced, I wanted to try a ballad. I wanted to try a 70s banger because, even though the pop influence is so big in my life, my musical tastes are scattered. Pop influence but maybe a little left. Maybe more indie pop.

You have your career as a poet, and now you begin this musical journey. Do you envision a life as a pop star? When you think about your life in five or 10 years, what do you envision for yourself?

Honestly it’s hard to know because I’ve been living with these songs on the subway, Citi bike and my friends cars for so many years it’s hard to think about the future because I’m so focused on a world I’ve created now. But I like people. I love interviews. I love photo shoots. I find it really fun. And it’s really fun to… When you have a product, or you have a project that you love and believe in and have created, who knows what the future holds? But I mean, yeah. But also, I’m really trying to live the moment of this project too and I’m glad I finally released a song that I really believe in.

Is there anything you can tell us about your EP?

OK. I can say a few things, and I don’t know if I’m allowed to, but I’m going to say it anyway. Well, this EP kind of pays homage to the sounds I’ve heard all my life. The EP’s themes go from suburban to big city, love and loss, the gritty kind of thing from the early 20s. I’m honestly just really excited for… I really feel like that each song can have a different sound. And so hopefully if a person can relate to just one song, that’s great. I’m really happy to have tried a lot of things. I just thought, shit. Try it.

Indy’s “Threads” is now available.