The World According To Izzy True
When I hop on the phone with Izzy, they’re hand-painting illustrations onto a suit they’re planning to wear, in a vaudeville show, inspired by Alice In Wonderland. In addition to the Lewis Carroll classic, the show is also (somehow!) cowboy-themed, and Izzy will be performing a rendition of the old Western showtune “Cattle Call.” Izzy laughs off its confusing specificities, both amused and enthusiastic about the prospects of a live show. They’re most excited about the budget which included funds for “hobby horses, cowboy hats and full three-piece suits… obviously, I hope we can keep them.”
Izzy is always laughing, sometimes nervously and sometimes casually, filling in the pauses of our conversation with a nervous chuckle and an easy, earnest grin. In between self-deprecating jokes and character impersonations, their words seem tempered by hesitation. But when they’re singing, their voice is unwavering; it rings out clear as a bell.
Izzy True, the band, has had a different lineup every year, but Izzy Lou Reidy is the mainstay. Throughout their albums’ changing sounds, Izzy’s voice is the steady thread that holds it together, rugged at a track’s crescendo and remarkably soft during crooning interludes, with a tone described by music writer Sasha Geffen as “somewhere between Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker and Silver Jews’ David Berman.” Izzy is quick to attribute the band’s sound to its ever-shifting makeup: “I try to keep it collaborative. I bring a skeleton of the song and everybody slaps meat on there.” But it is Izzy’s earnest voice that strings the band’s diverse sounds together, encompassing muted indie rock, the classic country melodies Izzy grew up with in upstate New York, and a fun DIY sensibility.
Izzy is the band’s lead singer and composer, journaling lyrics first and reaching for instrumentation second over their last two albums. They describe their creative process through metaphor. “I’m just sitting by the river with a fishing pole,” Izzy says, “dicking around on a guitar.” When they catch an idea, they play it until it takes shape. But words are always the beginning: “I start songs with a sentence in my head. I get the lyrics before anything else.” The emphasis on lyrics explains the imaginative, quippy poetry throughout Izzy True’s albums. The band has given us such iconic lines as “I’m finally ready for total body erasure” and notable characters like Mr. Romance and Sex Ghost.
With lyrics down, Izzy will take the skeleton of a song into the studio to build it out. On Our Beautiful Baby World — Izzy True’s third full-length album, out this week via Don Giovanni Records — that process included friends Samuel H. Goldstein on drums, and Curtis Oren on bass, saxophone, and flute. Goldstein’s and Oren’s influence elevated the composition from pared-down guitar music and slacker rock towards something louder, with stronger punk influences and fuller instrumentation. This evolution of sound is best heard on “Gold Chain,” which culminates in a crescendo of saxophone and Izzy’s quiet falsetto, departing from anything they’ve ever done before.
Our Beautiful Baby World was written and composed during 2018 and 2019 in the band’s home base of Chicago, then recorded in February 2020 — right at the precipice of a brand new world. Izzy jokes that some songs felt bizarrely predictive, like in “A Thousand Years” where they confess, through breathy resignation, “I don’t wanna feel pain, I don’t wanna shed tears/ I don’t wanna hang out for a thousand years.” Suddenly, to their surprise and chagrin, no one was hanging out, shuttering inside and alone for months of lockdown. “Some things didn’t age well. It’s possible that everything is my fault, and I’ve spoken that into existence,” they plead. “Please, nobody sue me.”
As the world was crushed by tragedy, new ways of being sprouted from an increasingly claustrophobic hopelessness. People built mutual aid networks to compensate for an egregious absence of governmental assistance, and took to the streets with newfound time and renewed collective purpose. This album poked fun at a world order that was quickly disintegrating, and ambiguously accepted the reality of a future that would be harder to change. They’re resolute that the album “is about accepting the reality of things, even though they suck. It’s about not looking away from the burning pit of despair, just looking at it.” It’s not overwhelmingly optimistic, but it at least meets the future, offering a gentle political reframing for a realist outlook. They chose the title from a similar sense of bleak optimism: “I hope that the planet, and the human race, is young — and this is one stumbling block among many in the process of growth. It’s our beautiful, baby world — and it’s still learning.”
Izzy True songs tend to balance a tender verse and a heavier, fuller chorus, simple melodies coming together to unravel in an avalanche of guitar. In “New Fruit,” the new album’s lead single, Izzy sings about the world-altering experience of trying a new fruit. Building on steady riffs, careening guitar melodies and escalating drums, each moment of relief is punctuated by Izzy’s sweet voice, confessing earnestly, “There’s new fruit / I’ve never had before.” Like a rollercoaster, the band builds tension to let it go. Everything is full of wonder, peeling the layers on the mundane to see something more beautiful.
Izzy has fine arts training from the Art Institute Of Chicago, and illustration has long been as much a part of the Izzy True extended universe as songwriting. They channel their boundless imagination into both the audio and visual realms — the weirder, the better — as a means of emotional catharsis and introspection. Izzy describes themself as a vessel: “There’s like someone else who lives in my brain who writes for me, and I’m just a printer, just a little demon printer. There’s a demon in hell photocopying pictures of his ass, I write that, and now I have a poem.”
In reality, they do all of their best work by removing themselves from the process. “I draw a lot of pictures that I throw out,” they say. “Whatever I keep has this resonance that feels detached from my humanity.” But like every musician, their songs are coming from their personal experience. “I [also] write from this cartoonish oversimplification or amplification of whatever I’m feeling that feels easier to approach,” Izzy continues. “The more alien I can make something from myself, the more comfortable I am looking at it and engaging with it. Something can be sincerely felt, but if I don’t look at it sideways, it would be too much for me.”
This roundabout approach to communication — beating around the bush, speaking through metaphor and imaginary characters — defines their music and their worldview. Language can be a straight line to reach a point, or it can be a spatial conversation, meandering and expansive. They explain, “What I enjoy the most about writing lyrics, is that you can use language the same way you can use an abstraction. There’s a direct way you can use a sentence like ‘I’m upset’ and also, there are ways you can climb all over the words, flip them upside down and see them differently.”
Language offers a natural sphere for world-building, reflected in Izzy’s poetic, eccentric lyrics as well as their lived experience of gender. Historically, the English language has enforced strict gender rules, demanding that people are identified and divided by the binary — but as more pronouns are recognized, that’s changing. Izzy says, “It’s a concept that I’ve taken to heart in an extreme way, because my gender identity is largely informed by a linguistic shift — or that’s at least how it’s held and represented in the world outside of myself.” They reflect that when they first came out as nonbinary six years ago, it was a political statement as much as a personal one, compelled both by the dysphoria they experienced since they were a child, as well as a rejection of a system they deemed oppressive.
Trans identity is ultimately a personal declaration mediated through a sometimes-hostile public world, and pronouns are the necessary intermediary — even if language is just the beginning. Izzy says, “There’s often a straight line to communicate something — if there isn’t a straight line, you can have fun building it. Imagine a floating strip of road, you can go around it, but when you need a new path, you can build the linguistic scaffolding out. That’s something I was doing with images and words long before I knew why. In a lot of ways, you’re speaking something into reality.”
Between Izzy’s uncertain conversational rhythm and their self-assured singing is the dissonance they’ve alluded to in every part of their creative process. There is Izzy breathily singing the verse and Izzy shredding on their electric guitar. There is Izzy speaking with you, endearingly uncertain, acquiescently pulling the words out from their head to meet my questions — and then there’s Izzy, the demon printer, shouting into the mic with all the conviction of their imaginary characters. Between them, there is the portal of language. “Words are magic,” they say — so is Izzy True.
Our Beautiful Baby World is out 7/2 on Don Giovanni. Pre-order and pre-save it here.