Interview: Izabel Finds Love and Light

June 09, 2022

Following her album release of Little Grown Up Child, Izabel has released a follow up – a comprehensive, vulnerable body of work, in which she dares to delve into the deepest tunnels of her soul. She has found Love and Light, and she presents it in this, her new album. 

In an exclusive interview, the deeply private singer bares all as she reveals details about the production process, balancing (family, music, and law practice), climbing out of a dark place, and so much more.

Two years after Little Grown-Up Child, here comes Love and Light. Tell us about this project- its inspiration, its title, the producers, and the studio.

This project was inspired by the peace, calm and clarity after the figurative storm of young adulthood. In LGUC, I had talked a lot about the dissonance and difficulty in just growing up and meeting life head on as an adult; and I just sat with the trauma of that experience for a while with that project. Love and Light was set in a different paradigm. It was about the internal rest I managed to eventually come around to enjoy- not because life was suddenly simple again, or all my coming-of-age issues had magically disappeared, but because I had chosen to befriend that inevitable reality, and managed to find the things worth celebrating despite everything else. I realized one of the things I could manage to celebrate without being completely cynical, was the story of love; finding love, losing love, remembering how much I had loved and fought for love. In 2020, I got married and throughout the year just really had my mind settled on that subject; how all those past loves had led me to my husband. So I got the songbooks I had written in during my University about all those crushes and almost relationships and that one boyfriend and felt I could share them now, because they were part of the story that culminated into where I was at finally. Wishing Star was probably the oldest, having been written in 2013. Why the project is therefore called “Love and Light” is because it is a story about the prophecy of love, and the light that goes with it, and that light is hope. All you can do after a failed relationship, after a fight with your significant other is try again. That has the light of hope written all over it. Love and its Light is the magic that pulled me out of that preceding darkness and I chose to celebrate it in word and sound on this project.

I have such a synergy with Sam Lamara (“Samurae”) musically, such that even if I woke up one day and decided that I’d be doing a punk metal rock album (which is a highly plausible scenario), I’d want to do it with him. He gets where my mind goes and is open to teaching and learning, to get to achieve and pull off the vision. For about two to three months, I just went to the studio everyday and we recorded a song out of this theme from already written songs. All in all we came up with about 22 songs, and chose these 14 songs that constitute the album eventually. We would just record and produce all day till we had a worthwhile demo, sometimes even doing up to two songs a day. The project also had great input from Isaiah Twongyeirwe (“theSeptembakid”) who also helped a great deal in affirming that the vision we had in mind had been met, especially around the mixing and mastering stage of the album. 

I’ve also been sharing a lot about the studio process, the meaning and the message of each song on my Instagram for anyone interested in knowing about the process more specifically.

Love and Light is a beautiful, bright project with a subtle undercurrent of horror, especially at the beginning. I’d say it’s a bit brighter than LGUC. What’s the difference between the states of mind you were in, as you made both projects

I am a very experiential writer and my music and projects usually reflect where I am at emotionally in life, something akin to what Taylor Swift does. I feel I had dwelt in the world of confusion and angst and existentialism for so long- literally, since I started songwriting. It was always a life question and some convoluted spectrum of the problem to go with it. For a long while, I had received a fulfilling catharsis from the process, but then lately and in a very long while-since LGUC, it was difficult to find. I had to find the outliers of that general process and bring them together because their theme would bring out something different, which is something I desperately wanted to immerse myself in artistically. So yes, the outliers had to be the songs about epiphanies and answers as opposed to the questions and problems I always write about which is why it is generally a brighter project than what I usually come up with, and perhaps why it has been received the way it has been. But as a descriptive and emotional writer, the project had to express life in a genuine realism. That’s why it has songs like “April” , a song about the risk and fears of love, “BP2”, about living and functioning with BiPolar 2 and “Emily Jane”, a song about feeling different and lonely. So yes, that gives it the undercurrent of horror as you’ve aptly stated. It was indeed very intentional to come up with something different and different in the sense of being brighter and “happier” or more hopeful sounding, Because as an artist, I needed it as well.

‘April’ is one of the sweetest melodies on the project – a deeply passionate song. What’s the story behind the song and its title

In April last year, my husband and I went through a really hard time in our relationship. I think it’s those experiences we have gone through that affirms the foundation of our love because it was really difficult. In the midst of that difficulty, I found myself defaulting to “safer” places of precaution that resultantly brought to the surface feelings of great fear and uncertainty because of what we were going through. For the first time in our relationship, I doubted if he had my best interests at heart, and If I had his at heart as well. It was the fear of being personally responsible for the pain of another life lesson. April was a song about being honest with where I had reached with regards to what we had gone through. Now, it serves as a reminder that we can get through anything and everything together because to love is to be vulnerable. If I had given into those voices in my head and the fear of being hurt, we wouldn’t be here. So yes, its passion came from great pain and fear. But looking back and having all that pain and fear assuaged and put aside, I’m glad I made the decision to be brave and courageous. I love my husband more than anything in the world.

‘Hold me fast’ is a very well-executed modern-day hymn. I can definitely picture it playing on the organs in St. Francis or All Saints. We don’t hear songs like this much in contemporary music. What was the reason for this endeavor? 

Fun fact. Hold me fast is actually based on an actual hymn by Ada Ruth Habershon that had its music written by Robert Harkness. This hymn was a promise I held on to through a very difficult past 5 years. I learned the song after it was made more well known by the contemporary hymn writers, Keith and Kristen Getty. I endured trauma and questioned the foundations of my worldview. Having been raised religiously, biblical faith and principles were the crux of my every outlook in life. But because of what I had gone through, I found that at the time, the bible and faith did very little to explain or justify my experiences. Little by little, I felt the truth and persuasion of all I had known slip from my grasp and as I realized what that forebode, I’d sing and listen to this hymn praying that I’d find my faith again someday. So in that time, I wrote two of my own verses to that hymn and maintained its refrain (the chorus) as well as some of the lines of its verses that formed what is the bridge of this song. Its melody is really captivating and the hymn itself is even much more relatable because of its message. I feel I was able to sing this song on this album because the hope and prophecy of coming through all of it in one piece finally came true in this peace and calm I’ve been talking about.

In the guitar-heavy ‘Evergreen’, you turn to your former Gayaza head girl, the very talented Afrie for the collaboration, why did you feel she would bring out that song better than anyone else

Another fun fact. Afrie and I were in the same music class throughout Secondary school so we learned and were surrounded by music and began to actually be creative with it in the same spaces and usually around each other. Yes she was my head girl and it was such an honor to serve in the same prefectorate as her. One thing I have always loved about her music is the fact that she always tells stories in it. Also, because of our shared background, I have always wanted to work with her. Evergreen was a fun story I was sure she could help me tell and when I reached out to her about it, she was super excited about the story. Her second verse is something I look forward to hearing each time “Evergreen” plays because of how playfully and yet genuinely she relayed the message and gist of the song. I couldn’t imagine having done this song with anyone else!

‘Bloodrain’ would easily fit in a big movie soundtrack. The triumphant drums remind one of some of Sam Bisaso’s work. Where did you draw the samples from

Yes. Many people have actually asked if “Blood Rain” was done by Sam Bisaso. While I did work with him at a very early stage of my time putting out recorded music (and by early I mean all the way in 2009), I did this whole album with Samuel Lamara. It was a completely “trial-and-error-until-we-get-something-that-sounds-not-just-correct-but-awesome” thing. We tried samples and plugins from almost all Sam’s Libraries till we found this. The harder part was actually organizing the structure of the song. The rest kind of naturally fell into place after that. And yes! my hope is that any of these songs land on some audio-visual work. What got me into songwriting as a teenager to begin with was the hope that I’d win an Oscar in the best original soundtrack category and be a Ugandan Lin Manuel Miranda or something. Still dreaming for that!

On ‘Love art’, you recruit the GOAT Tucker HD. What do you think makes his verses so technically astute? He seems to deliver every single time

I love everything that Tucker HD is a part of because he is such a proficient writer and artist. He always manages to consistently tell such a captivating and witty story with his words. He is also about one of the only Ugandan artists that intentionally leans into what some would find or call “heavy English Vocabulary” with his art. I do the same and completely relate to that. He is also a dear friend that sees first hand my life experiences become songs. Him writing and delivering so amazingly on “Love Art” was something affirmed by the way he was able to incorporate the titles of my some of past projects, that literally stand for the different epochs in my life and tie them, all the way from Chaotic Heart (my first EP and actual project) to Little Grown Up Child (my last album) and that whole journey to exactly what I was saying in “Love Art” and on “love and light” with very little or no explanation. It’s something I am so moved and impressed by. He has such a talent especially in his collaborations for not just understanding the art and what he needs to come up with, but more the artist and what they are trying to say. That’s gold.

As the comprehensive album comes to a close, immediately after the questions in ‘Dear God’, it climaxes with a song of Hope (or ‘Suubi’ as you sang). Is this the song that sums up the message of the album

Yes. If you notice, I try to end the album on a high and happy note with “Hope” and “Native Tongue” as the final songs on the album. These last two songs are the essence of the album “Love and Light” each song standing for each of those two words. Strangely enough, “Hope” is a song I wrote at one of the most depressing and despairing times of my life. To have it on the album now and to be able to relate with its message is like a prophecy fulfilled. Those last two songs are some of my favorite songs on the album.

You show us your other side, of poetry and big words, in the last track. ‘…A skin kaleidoscope. The attractive cacophony of diversity for the object of fulfilling synthesis…’ You evidently have a way with words, and a big vocabulary to choose from. What would you attribute that to? A love of reading?

Yes. I do love reading (although I haven’t read a book in a long while) and I think that love entered my life at a very proper time. As an 8 year old discovering English and European writers such as Charles Dickens and the Bronte sisters, I was thrown into a deep end of sorts with words from an early age. It made reading easier because the rest of the other books were not as complicated as 18th and 19th century writings. But I think it’s also because there is such a release in using the proper diction and arranging words in such a pleasant way that evokes such emotion for me. I get that with more succinct and precise words that are usually “less known” and therefore termed as bigger. I also have hypomanic episodes that take life to a hundred because of my mood disorder. I actually wrote this prose on a night I couldn’t sleep because my brain was racing with ideas about the title for the album that I had just come up with “Love and Light”. So I think, therein is also some sort of madness in the method you see on the outside.

How do you juggle family life, practice of the law, and writing, producing and recording music

There will be months I can’t put the guitar down and in that time I will write a bunch of songs that will later be an album a year later when I have the time and resources to produce and record music. I work a regular job that I am thankful excites and challenges me on a daily and that keeps me fulfilled as an intellectual and as someone connected to a purpose and a mission in society. I just live and try and be as honest with myself about where I’m at. If I feel the need to make the music, I will make that work around what my life looks like at the time. Work as a lawyer gets busy sometimes but is just a small section of the greater part of life. Life balances itself out for me.

How would you define your genre?

I like to state that I’m always making music in an attitude of non-conformity. I’m not trying to make a particular sound and God knows how inconsistent I have been if that’s what I was trying. But I know there are some things about the music I make that rarely change and that therefore push it in certain directions. I have a singer-songwriter background and this is how I always write music; descriptively, emotionally and so on. That always tends it to the alternative or if the sound is variated, sometimes pop genre, but that is almost always determined by how the song has been produced and the instrumentation around it. With the release of light and love, I’m sticking to the alternative genre as an answer to that question until I make something different.

More than anything, what would you like listeners to take away from this album

That there is a real and undisputed magic in the power of love. Like in the movies, and yes in real life, Love conquers all. Love moves mountains. And yes, like in the movie “Interstellar” by Christopher Nolan, love is the other thing that defies the forces of gravity and time. I have felt its power and been moved by all its holistic experiences. I want people to never forget that. I want people to relate to that. Another real and undisputed magic is the power of hope. It is like a light that shines through the darkness. Sometimes saying things like this to other people in real time is “cringe” but maybe telling them through an album like this is less cringe!

By Benezeri Wanjala, The Clan