IZZA faces down fears of loneliness through her songwriting. As evidenced with a slyly end-of-days chant “Apocalypse,” she burrows through deep emotional earth as a way to come to grips with the world and herself. Say I needed space / But the space feels lonely / Would I ever tell you over my dead body / No, I don’t wanna leave you here, she sings.
Co-written with Zach Said, “Apocalypse” drifts between emotional numbness and electrifying catharsis, born out of lockdown and lack of human connection. Describing 2020 as “an emotional rollercoaster,” the London-based singer-songwriter wrote the jangly, R&B-flecked track to rally herself into a state of positivity. “Often, I write positive songs because I need to hear them, not because I feel positive myself,” she tells American Songwriter. “I feel this has definitely been the case with [this song].
“I’m so happy that so many people are feeling the positive message. The fact that the live music industry stopped has left a big black whole inside me. I miss making music with people so much, being on stage and performing, feeling the energy of an audience, seeing the smile on peoples faces while they’re dancing and singing and having a good time,” she continues. “It’s a big part of myself that has been put on hold, and I sometimes don’t recognise myself anymore.”
Ironically, the last 13 months brought a weirdly intense connection to other people. “We’re going through the same problem at the same time. It’s a nice and comforting feeling to know you’re not alone,” she says.
Despite it all, however, finding those positive and inspiring connections has “been really tough,” she says. With many of her family and friends living all over the world, IZZA, like many of us, hasn’t been able to see them face-to-face since the pandemic first began. She reached out through video chats, but even that became “tiring to look at a screen,” she reflects, “and let’s be honest, it’s just not the same as sitting next to each other or having a laugh together. There has been a lot of loneliness and a sense of not belonging. I am the kind of person who likes and needs their own space.”
A self-described introvert, she felt the four walls caving in on her. “Last year got too much,” she admits. “It was forced on us for a long time, and there was no balance with socialising.”
With the song’s first verse (referenced above), the singer-songwriter tackles this emotional push and pull head-on. “Still, I feel that during this time the true connections become even stronger. Maybe you don’t see the people everyday like you used to, but you feel them, and you miss them. And you can connect without having to call each other everyday. Connections that can survive times like these and become stronger are the most important ones. They will stay for life.”
“Apocalypse” unpacks a similar temperament through its structure and arrangement, often switching between organic, quieter sections and more lush soundwaves. Initially, the track began with the rumbling bass line, found embedded within the hook, to amp up the “big sound,” as IZZA puts it. Wanting “something powerful and positive that people could sing along to and connect with,” the switch-ups offer the best of both worlds: hope and distress. “The reality is that there’s been a lot of pain and vulnerability last year, so this just naturally came through when we wrote the verses,” she offers. “I think showing the dark and the light in this song was important, because you need one to have the other one, just like the stripped-back section needed the full production and the other way around.”
IZZA’s expedition to sift through life to discover joy leaps beyond her songwriting, as well. It’s a never-ending journey, but one onto which she firmly grasps. “I try to listen to my gut instinct, surround myself with people that bring positive energy, and travel the world. Sometimes we are so stuck in our own head and our little bubble that we forget that there’s so much more to life. Travelling gives me a different perspective. It makes me feel small in a good way, because it also means that all my problems become smaller. I miss travelling a lot.”
With a childhood centered around the piano, IZZA’s entire story begins in her family’s garden where she’d spend her days “making up songs about butterflies,” she recalls. Her mum would frequently play the piano, and her father, a guitar player, often showing her his favorite music videos. Soon, she picked up singing and piano lessons, and it seemed her fate had been sealed.
“I would say music, writing songs, and singing is part of my identity. It is the only thing I’ve always been sure about,” she muses, quickly recalling once recording an acoustic cover of Britney Spears’ iconic debut single“…Baby One More Time.”
Drawing upon vast influences, from Amy Winehouse to Bill Withers, IZZA stamps her own brand of pop music with life’s innate duality, light and darkness both intertwining through much of her work. “I think what feels most ‘like yourself’ always changes, and that is also okay. Although independent artists have to focus on their branding and marketing, I don’t want to have a set aesthetic forever, because I will change and so will my music and my aesthetic.”
“Apocalypse” samples a forthcoming debut EP, slated for later this year. Across the project, IZZA sorts through the “thoughts and emotions I’m dealing with on my journey to become the person I want to be,” she says. “I feel that is something a lot of people can relate to—struggles with mental health, making big life decisions, trying to stay positive, connecting with people and yourself. I have a lot of questions that I haven’t found the answer to yet, and the EP might help myself and others to find some answers.”
Photo by Sam Rockman