It's the glorious return of the London vocalist…

Lockdown has brought more than its fair share of challenges for everyone.

In Izzy Bizu’s case, however, it was particularly acute: she was moving house. Speaking to Clash on a Zoom call from her new abode, the background is framed by unpacked boxes and empty shelves, her answers resonating around the bare walls.

She’s excited, though. It’s a new challenge, a fresh opportunity, and it comes as she closes in on her second album.

With glorious new single ‘Tough Pill’ out now, there was a lot of chat about.

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How does it feel to come back? Do you feel pressure to live up to your debut?

It’s nice to focus on something new, as much as I really enjoyed working on the last album. At first I did feel a lot of pressure starting the second album, but I’ve been working on it for a while so now I’m really enjoying settling into it. Now I just can’t wait to show people new music as I’ve been sitting on it for a while now.

How long have you been working on this?

I wrote one of the songs – ‘Healthy’ – a long time ago. Like, right after I released ‘A Moment Of Madness’… and then I wished I had put it on the album, but I never did!

It’s a cute R&B acoustic track, which I wrote after my first break up. It means a lot to me, so I’m glad there’s a bit of older stuff in there! When I say old, though, it’s only like a year, a year and a half or something like that. A lot of the tracks that will be coming out this year I wrote in February, when we were coming to the end of that process.

What will the theme of the record be? What will differentiate it from your debut?

I feel like the last one was really innocent and talking about issues that I had never experienced before, and the excitement of love and all the confusion that goes around it. And I was quite needy. The songs were quite needy… I was a very needy person at that point!

This album is more about me trying to find my own way, trying to break out of the bird’s nest without trying to lean on somebody. But there is still a melancholic, vulnerable side to it. There’s a lot of ballads on the new record… that no one has heard yet! The realise that you lose innocence as you get older.

Ballads are a difficult thing to sing, do you feel your experiences as a vocalist have allowed you to get closer to who you really are?

I definitely think I am. I get really close to everyone I work with, and everyone I enjoy writing songs with I have a really good friendship with, which creates a lot of trust and freedom in the studio.

Then they see me at my high and low points – when I’m laughing, and then when I’m crying! They never get surprised, and I think that’s why I write better songs with people who I know well as I feel more comfortable to be myself with them. Whether that’s up or down!

Which of the new ballads taps into what you’re currently feeling, then?

I would say… ‘Rules’. The song is all about my first love… and when we first broke up we kept tapping into each other, like we were half-together and half not together. So the song is about breaking the rules when it comes to the boundaries you have to have with people you shouldn’t see any more. Not being able to cut the ties.

It’s quite a cute song… because although we know the right thing to do, sometimes we just want to do what makes us feel happy. Which isn’t necessarily right.

‘Faded’, by contrast, is basically a disco tune…

Yeah! There’s a lot of upbeat songs as well! ‘Faded’ is really upbeat… and while it sounds upbeat, it’s about the frustration I had with someone where the conversation was going round in circles and we couldn’t come to an agreement on something. So that’s why I wrote the song. Now I listen to it and it just feels euphoric. I’ve got another really upbeat one, as well, which is quite innocent and cute.

Which is more challenging as a vocalist? Performing a ballad, or a disco track?

It really depends. I feel like if you’re on a break, then doing a disco tune can be difficult. But sometimes if you’re performing a ballad, the sadness of the song pushes your sadness out. But when you’re trying to be happy – and singing a note that’s difficult to sing – it sounds a bit weird if you’re screaming it out. I find faster songs harder to sing, but I’m sure other singers feel a different way.

You’ve been working a lot with the charities Ethiopaid and Studio Samuel.

I wrote a song for them, we’re figuring out when we’ll release it. I really want to go visit, but we have to wait for this all to settle. I usually do my projects when I’m out there, and I’ll go visit. And get involved! But obviously you can’t travel that much right now.

You’ve been out on the ground with them?

It’s amazing. Studio Samuel is an arts school, and in-house they also have a psychologist. It’s a school for girls, who have been bringing themselves up, either due to disease or they haven’t been able to be part of a foster family.

They haven’t been given a proper education, and something I believe in is that lack of education causes poverty. So they get given this education, and it’s just… it’s amazing. And then the fact that there’s a psychologist in-house really, really helps the girls develop. It’s a cool concept.

Do these experiences inspire your work in any other way?

It does. It makes me realise, that it doesn’t really take much to feel passionate or feel inspired. You don’t really need that much to be happy. And the reason these girls get through each day is that they’re able to be who they are, and someone will listen to them.

They were inspiring me because in the West I feel we’re always afraid of what to say, a bit more timid… but they’ve been through so much they don’t care about that. It was watching these girls come of age, really coming into themselves. That’s what was inspiring for me.

The new single is ‘Tough Pill’, how was that one to write?

It was really funny… basically, I wrote that because I was jealous that my boyfriend was speaking to this really beautiful girl and it’s all about those stupid moments when you’ve had one too many, and you feel as though someone is really getting on with someone else… And there’s this novelty that you can’t get back. Y’know, when you first meet someone? And they share that same novelty with a new person… so it’s a tough pill to swallow! It’s literally about that, and how silly I am for even thinking that’s a problem. But I guess we all go through these things!

Do you think those experiences help you as a person, and then enable you as a songwriter to view yourself in that full 360 dynamic?

Yeah. I think the fact that I said it… now I look back and I laugh at it! I find that in these situations where I did feel that way, I don’t feel that way as much any more. I feel way more chilled because I can recognise… that’s silly. I think once you can say how you feel about an awkward situation that makes it less awkward. It does really help.

Was there a song that gave you some amount of difficulty? Or was it a more stress-free project?

Yeah. There was! That was a ballad and it was called ‘Hurt’. The first verse and the chorus came so easily… and then, for some reason, we couldn’t finish it! The first verse was so good, but we wanted it to keep getting better… and it wouldn’t get any better! So we left it for about three months, went back in… and we got it. It’s really annoying when that happens, but I learned my lesson: make sure you finish the song in one day!

Is working quickly a hallmark of these new songs?

I think it’s best to do it when it’s fresh. You can re-imagine an emotion, but it’ll never be the same, so it’s best to capture it when it’s there. I’m sure a lot of songwriters have done that classic thing of stopping, relaxing… and getting too comfortable. So this time, most of it was done in one day.

What did you learn this time round that wasn’t apparent on your debut?

I think to trust myself more. I used to be really insecure about what people would think. When I wrote my first album I was really free, and I had nothing to compare it to. And then I wrote with different people for the second one – and some I connected to – but everyone has their own process, so I was always trying to follow someone else’s process, and it kind of messed with my creativity.

So I started to write a diary everyday, and found myself writing how I used to… so I needed to re-learn my own process, while also adapting to these other writers. I learned to be open-minded, but to also trust the way I do things as I didn’t want to lose my style.

You keep a diary? I do! I keep a diary because it keeps things real. I feel like it’s really easy as a writer to worry about what people want to listen to, and then you don’t write about your truth, or what is actually happening. So I decided to keep a diary, just to keep my head straight. Especially through lockdown! And it also helped me find my voice again, it helped me be more honest with myself and others.

Surely your diary during lockdown is just: Day 13… nothing happened!

Yeah! I think I went up to Day Eight and I was convinced I would write a lockdown book… but then I stopped and just started writing random shit! I read it back the other day and I was like, this is so dark! It sounded like I was in a prison cell! I’m used to it now… I don’t know anything else now. I feel like if we went back to normality, would we even like it?

So what is your tip to get through lockdown, Izzy?

Make sure you keep showering! Some people really let go! So keep that going. And get good at cooking! Cos otherwise Deliveroo will bankrupt you.

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‘Tough Pill’ is out now.

Words: Robin Murray

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