Singer, songwriter and pianist Izo FitzRoy returns with her third album “A Good Woman” and impressively proves that she is one of the great voices of the British soul and gospel scene. The album is her most personal to date and reflects her development over the last few years, and is not least an examination of the roles women have to play in our society. WEST COAST SOUL spoke with the artist about the making of the new album, how the experiences of the last few years have influenced her songwriting, her collaboration with Oscar de Jong of Kraak & Smaak, feminism, the healing effect of gospel music and much more.
Izo, the last time we spoke, your second album “How The Mighty Fall” had just come out and we had talked about a long German tour you had planned. Then Covid came along. How have you experienced the last few years?
Goodness that feels like such a long time ago. The three years since 2020 have been hectic, but for the most part highly enjoyable! I feel like I got the most out of being stuck at home by digging into some creative pursuits outside of music – lots of drawing, film composition which I absolutely adored. Once we were able to travel again, I was so lucky to play in some incredible places all over Europe and enjoy performing so much more post pandemic. I don’t think I’d realised how much I would miss it.
You call “A Good Woman” your most personal album. Did the music help you come to terms with the cuts of the last few years?
It took me some time to start figuring out what the third album would be. I have always been a highly introspective person but with the added weight of the pandemic, it felt like I was viewing every piece of myself under a microscope. Music has always been my easiest way of communicating my thoughts and emotions so that I can understand them more fully, but I think I felt braver revealing more of myself musically and lyrically with this album.
In the new songs you deal with the roles that women have to play in society, what is expected of them and what limits them. How important is feminism to you? And what does it mean to you?
Up until this point I have never thought of myself as a feminist. I’m fairly quiet and rarely outspoken but I am a woman, and by proxy I have been impacted by my upbringing and by patriarchal parts of society. I was curious that these themes bubbled up in my music both consciously and unconsciously. Feminism to me is women being given the freedom to be their most powerful, brilliant, expansive selves without fear of being demeaned or shamed.
Would you say that the music industry is still dominated by men?
It is still dominated by men but it seems to me that the gap is decreasing. I’m pleased to be seeing a lot more women working as sound engineers, FOH, producers.
Izo, you are deeply rooted in gospel music. On “A Good Woman” you use elements of this genre again and again. Especially in gospel, it is often about a spiritual resurrection after experiencing injustice, about redemption. Is this an important message for you?
Gospel will always be a huge part of what I do. It resonates deeply with me, mostly because it lifts me out of my suffering, and connects me with something much bigger than myself.
One of the central, strongest and most touching songs on the album for me is “God Gets A Little Busy Sometimes”. Could you please tell us a little bit about the creation of this song?
I wrote ‘God Gets A Little Busy Sometimes’ about feeling deeply unsafe in my skin as a woman. I had a realisation that I had been operating from a place of deep fear which made me look for a feeling of safety in other people and experiences. I wrote the song at home on my piano, but when I added the band and choir from the bridge all the way to the end of the song, it just soared and became something much more powerful.
Like many other songs on the album, you wrote “God Gets A Little Busy Sometimes” together with Oscar de Jong of Kraak & Smaak, who also produced the album. How did this collaboration come about?
I was delighted to be asked to write with Kraak & Smaak in 2018 on a couple of songs for their album ‘Pleasure Centre’. It was a really enjoyable process and Oscar and I share a lot of the same musical influences. He asked if he could produce my album and I’m so pleased he did.
Unlike “How The Mighty Fall”, this time you only worked with one producer. Did that make it easier to create the album and the concept behind it?
There was definitely more of a journey and a flow with this album, compared with my last two. The concepts for all my albums primarily come from autobiographical experiences but the sonic moulding of the album was so much easier between two.
Musically, “A Good Woman” is very varied and follows on from your previous album. Soul and gospel, but also pop and even bossa nova and folk elements can be found on the record. How do you approach songwriting? For example, do you specifically plan to write a soul song, or do the songs develop their own momentum during the creative process and then surprise you?
I never work with a specific genre in mind. With every song on the album, once Oscar and I had an arrangement in mind, the style or genre would usually present itself fairly quickly. ‘Keep Your Light On Me’ was a lovely surprise. It started off as a Motown duet and became much more of a West Coast rock n roll tune.
How important is it to you as an artist not to be pigeonholed?
It’s so important to me, to have the freedom and flexibility to write what comes naturally. I always want to feel like I challenge myself with each project and step away from what I’ve created before. That’s what keeps me motivated and also nervous at the same time.
How long did you work on the album and where was it recorded?
I started writing the album in 2021 and spent the majority of 2021-2022 writing in Leiden in the Netherlands. Oscar and I took a lot of care to fully flesh out the demos before we drove the band over in April 2022. A lot of time spent playing with various synths and drum machines layering my vocals on top. We spent a week with the band tracking the album in the most beautiful school.
Hand on heart, do you have a favorite song on the album?
I have a real soft spot for ‘Somewhere Beyond The Wreckage’. I wrote the song cooped up in London during lockdown but it never quite worked. When the band headed to Leiden to record, we rearranged the track between us, focusing on a more stripped back acoustic guitar sound and simple drum sound reminiscent of ‘Les Fleurs’. It musically hits the very core of what I was trying to say.
The album ends with “Love & Affection”, a love songs written by Joan Armatrading. What fascinates you about this song?
I think Joan Armatrading has way of making the mundane sound like the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard. She manages to capture the essence of what it means to be a vulnerable human who just wants to be loved.
What’s next, Izo? Will there be a tour for the new album and can we maybe see you on German stages soon?
Oh I do hope so! I miss playing in Germany so there will most definitely be some German dates on the horizon.