Out-of-Body Experiences with Izzy True
The body and the pleasures of the body are often a central subject in popular music. So much rock is just an energetic proxy for wanting to have sex. Some people have gone so far as to suggest that the whole build and release inherent in a lot of (male) music is about mimicking the arc of achieving a male orgasm. It’s a theory. And dance music â€” funk, disco, EDM, early jazz, etc. â€” only really works if it compels people to move their bodies. But Izzy True, an indie rock band fronted by artist and songwriter Isabel Reidy, explores â€” at least in places â€” the idea of not having a body at all.
“Total Body Erasure” is an excellent song off this band’s very good debut full-length album, “Nope,” which just came out last week. I spoke with Reidy by phone as the band made their way from their home base near Ithaca, New York to a show in New York City on the day of the record’s release. Izzy True plays Greensboro’s Urban Grinders on Aug. 13. Like many of the band’s tunes, “Total Body Erasure” â€” a song about craving energy obliteration via alien laser beams â€” is kind of funny and slightly alarming in its suggestion of vulnerability and existential fatigue.
“I’m finally ready for total body erasure,” goes part of the refrain. “I’m standing before me, my inferiority screaming/ I’m begging you please do the only thing that’s redeeming.”
Reidy, who sings with an energetic, off-the-cuff lilt, says the idea for the song flowed from a joke about wanting to start a petition with clipboards outside the grocery store, asking the citizenry to endorse total body erasure. I said that the song seemed like it might suggest a longing for ego death, but Reidy points out that it’s not about moving beyond the self, it’s about moving beyond the body. “The flesh, the whole meat space â€” being done with it,” laughs Reidy.
Set to catchy and slinky post-punktinged riffs with coiled stereo-chorus effects â€” equal parts Tom Petty, the Cure and Liz Phair â€” Izzy True works through songs about ghosts, ghouls, demons and spirits. But the spectral creatures in the songs are often caught in the middle of some bodily transactions â€” a sex ghost that hovers over some physical intimacy, trying to make sense of it (“Sex Ghost”) or a “makeout ghoul” that seems involved in the probing of a partner’s lips during an intimate kiss (“what will it find in this mouth/and what does it think will come crawling out?” from the song “Cruel Kings II”).
Izzy True just formed last year, and they released their first E.P. in 2015 as well. But the band didn’t spring fully formed from Reidy’s fevered imagination. Reidy comes from a family of musicians, with a father that’s been active in the old time music scene in the Northeast for years. (She cites the work of unclassifiable tireless naive-genius artists Jonathan Richman and Michael Hurley as inspirations.) Reidy played in a punk folk band in high school and in another band, The Realbads, with her brother Silas, which rematerialized in a new and augmented shape as Izzy True.
Reidy, 24, has alluded to mental health problems that led to her leaving college and returning home. She (along with her brother) lives with her parents, whose generosity and support allowed her to make art and music with more focus. Her artwork, informed by the imagery of Tarot cards or of mythical beings, adorns the cover of both Izzy True releases, and her illustrations of strange, porpoise-like creatures, weight-lifting reptiles and rotund wrestlers were used in one of the band’s videos. The songs have an impressive range of heft and gravity balanced with an appealing lightness of touch and humor. The lyrics are all worth paying attention to. While the words to the songs don’t exist in a zone of complete inscrutability, they’re mysterious enough to reward extensive pondering.
“Tapping into something archetypical: that’s something I aspire to,” says Reidy.
Her artwork, which sometimes involves creatures she’s had dreams or nightmares about, is a little more exploratory, expressing and purging thoughts about a sense of self-worth that’s occasionally in the gutter, or about what look like predatory mud monsters that radiate bad psychic juju.
“This is something that you learn in therapy â€” being able to observe the negative voices in your head,” says Reidy about her ability to zero in on a variety of psychic assailants.
It all seems to be about self-knowledge, in some way, but the songs are perhaps less murky than the art.
“My impulse to write and perform music specifically comes out of this desperate need to explain myself,” says Reidy.
The music itself, with stripped-down parts and a kind of exposed ductwork, is revealing and clean, too. Like the lyrics, it’s strong and distilled to its own essence.
“I think there’s something kind of wimpy about trying really hard to not say something directly,” says Reidy.
The subject of occult powers links much of Reidy’s work. The song “New Age” has some great lines about wanting to cultivate power. “I read that energy surrounds us and patterns are all anyone can do/ And what you did is coming back to you/ I want a ritual of feeling to banish the emptiness that comes/From doing, but not fully believing/From falseness and going through the motions,” she sings.
When I suggest that some of the lyrics could be interpreted as a sort of plea of helplessness, an expression of powerlessness, Reidy corrects me again.
“I’m trying to increase the amount of powers,” she laughs. “I’m potentially power-hungry.” !
JOHN ADAMIAN lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courantand numerous other publications.
See Izzy True at Urban Grinders, 116 North Elm St., Greensboro, Sat. Aug. 13 at 8 p.m., $5, 336-907-3291.