London-born songstress Izzy Bizu has already seen a massive amount of success across the pond with hits like “White Tiger” and “Give Me Love.”
Now Bizu is part of a concerted effort by her label Sony RED to introduce her to a broader audience in the States. An expansive American radio tour has introduced Izzy to places like Washington DC, Harlem, New Orleans, and… Omaha.
After Izzy Bizu performed for an intimate group of friends, label members, and music heads at SOB’s on Thursday night, I caught up with her on Friday afternoon to talk about her musical journey, her impression of the States, New York, her greatest influences, and what’s next for her.
I meet up with Izzy Bizu during a day of interviews and press obligations. After waiting for a bit, her team asks me if I’m willing to do the interview in the car, I say that’s fine.
Izzy greets me with a warm hug and I notice that her commanding stage presence from the night before very much translates into her every day life.
Bizu has a magnetic, gregarious personality and you wouldn’t know she’s been giving interviews all day. She apologizes profusely for the circumstances of our interview and I ask her how it was to play SOB’s.
She tells me she was nervous to play in front of friends, “Nerve-wracking. No it was fun, but before I went on. It’s because my friends were there as well. And I was just like really nervous in front of them.”
This surprises me, as Bizu has opened for Coldplay and Sam Smith on tours before. Playing in front of maybe 200 very friendly (there was an open bar) friends and supporters doesn’t seem like that scary of a proposition for her, so I ask Izzy if it’s more nerve-wracking to play in front of friends.
She’s quick to let me know that yes, friends are harder to play for, “Yeah man, because you see them after you know and they’re like, I don’t know, it’s always easier to play in front of strangers.”
As we continue to drive through lower Manhattan on the way to Izzy’s next press engagement, I ask her about her recent radio tour of the states and her initial impressions of audiences here as opposed to those abroad. She tells me American audiences are very earnest and excitable,
“You guys are super enthusiastic and stuff, which is great. And like English crowds are super reserved, Japanese are just very polite, they’ll wait until the very last note to clap. They clap probably the most in time out of everyone else in the world. Very precise. Yeah, Germans are quite loud as well. So yeah, everyone changes, but so far it’s been cool. I’m really lucky to travel so much.”
Bizu, who is 23, travels off the power of two works, a 5-track EP called Coolbeanz, released in 2013 when Bizu was 19, and A Moment of Madness, a studio album dropped in September of last year.
Coolbeanz is a very stripped-down, acoustic project showcasing Bizu’s voice. It’s clear on the project that there’s just a very raw, impressive talent on the microphone, her voice floats cheerily at times, at others it drips in bluesy ooze.
“Fools Gold” is a standout from Coolbeanz.
2016’s A Moment of Madness is much more heavily-produced with many different instruments and a bigger sound, but within that instrumentation there’s still massive diversity.
“White Tiger” (over 7 million views on YouTube and 50+ million streams on Spotify) is a pop masterpiece.
“What Makes You Happy” is contemporary blues at its best.
Many woman singers from the UK automatically get compared to Amy Winehouse and Bizu has seen this same comparison, but on “What Makes You Happy” it’s clear to see exactly why that comparison makes sense.
I ask Izzy if the switch up in sound from Coolbeanz to A Moment of Madness was a conscious decision, she tells me it’s more a product of indecision and creativity,
“Not really, I mean I just change my mind all the time. So like with the acoustic EP, I knew like one guitarist and then like it was the first time I was writing any songs so it was very simple. I was very fresh to it and we were like ‘Ok let’s just record this’ and then when we put the album we got to know more people just in the studio jamming with bass and drums and built the track by doing that.”
A Moment of Madness is an extremely musical record. There’s instruments of all kinds, all genres, you get the feeling Izzy could basically do whatever she wanted to in music.
I ask Izzy if it’s a purposeful decision to bring in elements of jazz, soul, pop, dance music, funk, R&B, and hip-hop into her music and she’s quick to tell me it’s all just a product of what she likes listening to and how she feels in the moment,
“It’s just what I’ve been influenced by and how I felt during. But yeah, I didn’t realize there were so many different genres and stuff. I was almost scared that would be a problem, people would get confused.”
Izzy tells me that soul is the number one ingredient in her own sound,
“[My music] is overall soulful in whatever genre I wanted to go into. Like, now I’m getting quite interested in just some electronic stuff and the rhythms that some rappers have in trap music I’m quite interested in that so I’m like dipping my toe in the water a bit, I like to try new things as well.”
When I ask what trap musicians she’s listening to she tells me Goldlink, despite the fact that “it’s not heavy trap” and that she admires how the DC rapper draws from soul and gospel in his music.
She lists Anderson Paak, The Black Keys, Marvin Gaye, and Amy Winehouse as other influences and artists she’s listening to.
These guys…they helped me so much in this radio tour they have really shown so much care and appreciation to me and I’m forever greatful for this beautiful road trip around America they took me on! Thanks to the them and @ian_barter one of the first songs I wrote for the album is now playing in America! Charting at 17! Thanks for listening guys and I’m looking forward to writing more! Lots of love x
That’s a lot of Americans, so I wonder about the role that the city of London plays in Izzy Bizu’s (who is from Southwest London) music. At first she’s quick to say her upbringing in the quiet part of town didn’t really have much to do with her sound,
“No. Like where I’m from is really quite conventional, very beautiful, really nice, but it was like a lot of grandma’s and stuff. Actually, it may have inspired me in the way that it was so natural and far from everything else in London.”
But as she keeps talking about moving out of Southwest London to Hornsey Road and Finsbury Park, Izzy allows that her upbringing shaped her sound in some way, even if it was in moving away,
“But you’re right actually I think it in it’s own way did influence me in a weird way because I went from like secluded to like moving out to somewhere that was just like kind of like off the chain where I’d find someone lying on my doorstep like [mimics drunk person] and it was like ‘oh my god hi’ and I was like ‘cool I fit in here’ so it was just like I went from that to that and that’s sort of what the album’s about… That transition from two different worlds.”
Izzy tells me she wants to move to New York someday. In the meantime, she’s poised to take over American airwaves with her diverse but accessible sound.
Our Uber reached its destination and as she’s being whisked away to her next interview I ask her what’s next in her career,
“New music, I’m discovering new genres, ‘Diamonds’ is out now and yeah hopefully I’ll be back in New York soon, I like it too much.”