A Sit Down With Izzy True at The Birthday Celebration of The Year

Vrinda Jagota

photo by Katrina Barber

At Izzy’s birthday party, they burned a life-sized straw replica of themselves in effigy. Everyone at the party wrote wishes or regrets on pieces of paper and added them to the flames. The fire burned high and sparkled audibly because the wood came in part from the previous year’s super-dry Christmas tree. The statue had been covered in Crisco to make if more flammable, so beforehand, Izzy’s dogs kept circling it and smelling it in a hilariously perverse way.

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It was a beautiful and funny moment, the kind that made me thankful to know someone who had created such a fantastic spectacle and who had invited everyone to engage with it.

In a quieter moment, as I was eating a slice of cake on the porch, they sat down next to me and said, “I’m glad you’re here. It’s so nice to see everyone together. I feel loved.”

I know it is dangerous to reduce people to metaphors, to deny them nuance and agency. Still, I couldn’t help feeling that this intrinsic Izzy-ness, this awe-inspiring energy foiled by quiet moments of heavy emotion, shimmers throughout Izzy True’s work, too.

Izzy asks, “How does this feel? How does that feel?”, as if they are waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror to check if they twisted their ankle or bruised their ego or broke their heart last night. In this self-examination, they strike my emotional-funny bone, unpeeling my exoskeleton of calculated composure to reveal my ugly-cry snot-soaked lonely feelings and my saccharine love feelings and my Sunday morning bittersweet feelings in ways I do not myself know how to articulate, that I am not always ready to look in the eyes.

And yet, I am also calmed by their music. Izzy holds my hand through these journeys in their characteristic goofy way. Rituals of feelings, emptiness that comes from doing and not fully believing, these experiences become Monday afternoons eating push pops in the New Age section of Borders. When my ex is a make-out ghoul and my friends are clairvoyant cyborg espresso experts, it’s hard not to laugh no matter how emotionally sunburned I feel.

And, in moments of vulnerability, pinnacles of power shine the most. I return often to the last few seconds of Nope, the last song and also the album name. Izzy’s voice builds and builds towards the end until they remind us that, “When we die, well, you can’t say that we did not try to hurt each hurt we can hurt before we die.” There’s no doubt in their voice, no trepidation. “Here is my pain, here is my hurt, but let me show you how it is beautiful, how I know it to be, not how I fear it might be” it feels like they are saying.

Of course, every musician is influenced by their experiences, so an artist’s personality is always relevant to their work. But unlike the Taylor Swift genre of confessional lyricism that excels in the precision with with it relays the universal experiences of crying at your birthday party or waiting up late for a phone call from your crush, Izzy True’s music brings the listener to profound understandings of self not entirely by representing the mundane, but via Izzy’s fantastic imagination and sense of humor.

Their personality shines in a way that leaves me curious, rather than assured that I totally understand who they are. As I prepared to call Izzy, they were on tour. I had typed up questions about method and style, how long it takes to write songs, who their influences are. But as we began speaking, I realized that I wanted to learn, more than these technical aspects of their music, what Izzy does in their free time. What they do to feel powerful. What their teen angst was like. If they like lip synching.

I began by telling them that after most social interactions I had recently been reassuring myself, “I love the Internet. If no one gets me in real life, at least I have Facebook.” I wondered what Izzy’s affirmations had been like on their most recent tour. Whispering into the phone, they told me,

“I guess I have a really corny one. I have to speak quietly because this is really embarrassing and I’m in a car full of people. But recently, I’ve been saying, ‘Thank you thank you thank you.’ Over and over in my head.” Before I could respond, they added,

“But then the other one that I always think to myself is… you know, ‘Murders have to live with themselves.’ So that’s my other affirmation.”

“That’s really good. And it can be applied to everything. Like, really funny people have to live with themselves? Good people too. Karma, I guess.”

“It’s a dark one. At the end of the day, all you have is yourself. A sort of ugly affirmation. At the end of the day you are alone and you have to live with yourself.”

It is difficult to translate their tone- they were serious but also laughing a little, like “Aren’t the things we say to ourselves true and weird and hard to convey to another person? Isn’t it crazy to be speaking on the phone like this for half an hour when we both have intricate histories and daily experiences and interests occurring in the background?”

Izzy once sent me a birthday card with a drawing of a potion for “terrible power” on it. They also sing about the occult, about cultivating power in their bedroom. I asked if they had made any potions recently, partially because there were no fewer than 3 people I wanted to trick into falling in love with me, and also because I wanted some life direction so my parents would stop anxiously telling me my latest Tarot reading was looking pretty dismal.

“I’m really superstitious. I do a lot of spells. I make potions. One time I made this thing called moon tea, where you take tea and you leave it in cold water out in the light of the full moon overnight and then in the morning you drink it. The last time I did it, it gave me really bad heartburn, which is…a really beautiful metaphor for the physicality of emotional pain.”

After that supremely casual mic drop, I told Izzy that I had seen Snapchats of them lip synching, and that for me, lip synching is really ritualistic, like I’m doing it to save everyone I love and a camera is there recording every second. I wondered what they had been lip synching and dancing to on tour.

“When we started out, we were listening to NOTHING but super super pop music for the first couple of weeks. Justin Bieber, and then a bunch of top hits thru the decades. At some point I annoyingly showed everyone all of my high school band, because I need to share every facet of myself to other people. We listen to a lot of the bands we’ve been playing with too which is really cool. We haven’t been dancing once, which is a shame. Every time we get in the car I’m like ‘Tonight! Tonight I will dance.’ But, I don’t know… I like to dance to the hits. Give me the hits.”

“The hits?”

“All of the hits.”

“That’s a pretty good affirmation.”

As I imagined Izzy dancing to the hits on tour, my mind made the natural leap to a younger Izzy at prom, a coming-of-age pinnacle of primal pop music consumption. Call it a journalist’s intuition, or the strength of Izzy’s aura, or just good luck, but I asked,

“Did you go to prom? How was that experience?”

“Have I not told you this? I was prom queen, dude.”

I screamed.

“Yeah. Most people scream when they find out they’ve been talking to a real live prom queen. This was, like, when everyone had just gotten Facebook, so I made a Facebook group and I campaigned. For a few years, it was the first thing I told anyone about me.”

I guess that explained a lot of the mic drops and the terrible, terrible power. Prom queens are a spiritual force if I’ve ever heard of one.

I wondered, also, about emotions. How Izzy gets into theirs, if their music is an emotional outlet, how they write songs. We talked a bit about loving Amy Winehouse’s music, and I said I always listen to “Will you still love me tomorrow?” during breakups as a weird masochistic ritual because I know the person doesn’t or soon won’t love me. We agreed that sometimes you have to really dig into your emotions and let them marinate, that the things that make you feel the most pathetic have a strange magnetism.

In respect to their own work, they told me,

“I’ve been playing music for my whole life and have been writing music seriously since I was in high school. There was a point as a teenager that I felt self conscious about my songs- I stopped writing in a very direct way. I still feel that I mask a lot of stuff in my songs. It’s what’s comfortable for me. Partly because I want to make things more universal or more open ended. It would be really hard to do something really raw if it wasn’t also funny. The actual song writing for me is pretty reptilian. I don’t really know what I’m doing until I’m done. I feel compelled to write music because I feel the need to explain myself to people. It has made me much more open in my day to day life.”

Eventually, Izzy had to leave and we hung up. As with every other time I interact with them or with their work, I was struck by the half life of their presence, which is exceptionally long. The memory of the worlds they build through language, flame, dance lingers inside your eyelids, knocking around in your brain, leaving you a little unsure how to be anything other dazzling.

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