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Issue 1084

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Feature

Izzi Dunn: Nothing but Izzi

Izzi Dunn @bluesandsoul.com
Izzi Dunn @bluesandsoul.com Izzi Dunn @bluesandsoul.com Izzi Dunn @bluesandsoul.com Izzi Dunn @bluesandsoul.com

Following prestigious collaborations and tours as a cellist with Gorillaz, Mark Ronson and The Good, The Bad & The Queen, West London-based multi-instrumentalist and singer Izzi Dunn this month follows up her 2003 debut LP âThe Big Pictureâ with the soulful grooves of her new, sophomore album âCries & Smilesâ.

A self-sufficient musician (she writes, produces and plays most of her own material), for âCries & Smilesâ Izzi arguably follows the proud tradition of seminal British soul acts like Loose Ends and Omar while also taking in the more alternative urban influences of acts like Massive Attack and Portishead. Meanwhile, with her skilful lyrics reflecting the hopes, trials and complexities of modern everyday life, she additionally brings on board such creative talents as US rapper Booty Brown of West Coast hip hoppers The Pharcyde (the anti-materialism-themed âLoser) alongside Mark Ronsonâs musical director Stuart Zender; disco/house producer Ian Middleton (the sensually shuffling new single âNothing But Loveâ); plus bassist Andrew Levy of legendary London funkers The Brand New Heavies.

Interestingly, it was following the criticsâ positive reaction to Izziâs aforementioned debut LP âThe Big Pictureâ that, in 2004, a mutual friend first recommended her to iconic British pop/rock musician Damon Albarn. Who - immediately impressed with her talents as a cellist - straightaway invited her to contribute to his world-conquering outfit Gorillazâ 2005 âDemon Daysâ album, before going on to ask her to lead up the string section - Demon Strings - for said bandâs world tours.

With transatlantic super-producer Mark Ronson next in line (Dunn spent an impressive nine months on the road as a cellist in his all-star revue), Izzi later also went on to perform with Albarnâs âotherâ supergroup The Good, The Bad and The Queen... Meanwhile, having additionally played on sessions for the likes of former Beatle George Harrison, Australian pop princess Natalie Imbruglia and London urban icons Soul II Soul, itâs hardly surprising that - alongside her sensual, soulful voice - âCries & Smilesâ throughout also showcases her established skills as a cellist and arranger, particularly on cuts like the blaxplotation-style, string-led funk instrumental âGangstar Bitchâ.

Speaking from her West London home, a fast-talking and articulate Ms Dunn hooks up with âBlues & Soulââs Pete Lewis for an informative introductory chat.

Titling her new, sophomore album âCries & Smilesâ

âThat title was actually inspired by a film called âTraining Dayâ, which starred Denzel Washington - he actually got an Oscar for it. And thereâs a scene in the film where, I think itâs actually Ethan Hawkeâs character who says âThe only thing in life you really control is your cries and smilesâ⦠Which I just thought was an amazing kind of IDEA - you know, that though thereâs so much around weâre NOT in control of, those things we ARE! And so it just stuck in my mind, to where I actually wrote the SONG âCries & Smilesâ... And, with many of the themes on this album encompassing the highs, the lows, the conflicts and the contradictions we experience in modern life, it just seemed a good idea to name the whole record after the SONG.â

How Izzi feels her new LP represents a difference and a progression from her debut album, 2003âs âThe Big Pictureâ

âLyrically I think âCries & Smilesâ is more personal - in that Iâm often expressing my really strong opinions about quite personal subjects and things that have happened. Plus I think production-wise Iâve taken my time and gone a lot DEEPER with it. You know, itâs not so much that Iâve kind of left the hip hop thing and the more sparse thing behind. Itâs just that, since making the first album, over the last four/five years Iâve been surrounded by these incredible musicians - Iâve toured with Gorillaz and Mark Ronson - and so I got really inspired by the way they were producing... Plus Iâve also gone further into listening to artists like Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye. So I think all these things made me, as I said, want to take more time and delve deeper into producing and looking at the way my real HEROES went about making albums. And so I guess in that way this album hopefully represents a natural progression.â

Her new albumâs most controversial track, the funky and confrontational âTits & Assâ

âYeah, thatâs definitely the track Iâve had the most interesting reaction to! It wasnât about a specific thing that happened to me. Itâs about more me reacting - just like Iâve done with a LOTTA the songs on the album - to things that are going on AROUND me. I think I basically just got frustrated with a lot of the things I was seeing. For example, for the last 10 years Iâve been watching videos with tits-and-ass all over them, on the premise that theyâre selling me a lifestyle, or an artist or whatever⦠Yet subliminally Iâm really just being sold SEX! So in that way I think âTits & Assâ was just a reactionary song. And, even though it was quite tongue-in-cheek, the reaction Iâve had to it has actually proved to me it kinda almost needed to be SAID! And the fact it still confuses a lot of people to me just goes to show the kind of world we LIVE in! You know, weâre fed this stuff every day - and yet people donât even REALISE that! So - in addition to it being something I just wanted to get off my chest - I guess another reason I wrote the song was to open a debate, but in a good way!â

How Izzi feels about being a musician living in West London

âWell, I wasnât actually BORN in West London. I moved here when I was about l7/18 - when I came out of college and started working. But, while as a kid Iâd grown up on the coast in Hastings, funnily enough the actual MUSIC that Iâd been listening to during that time, and that kind of introduced me to soul, was guys like Young Disciples, Brand New Heavies, Jamiroquai... You know, all those bands that kinda eminated from West London! And, so while maybe I am being biased - because a lot of people from South London argue with me on this! - I do think West London is an amazing place for diverse MUSIC! You know, just the sheer broad spectrum of music that comes out of West London is to me just INCREDIBLE! And so, as a musician, Iâm really pleased that Iâm living in this part of town! Because, if Iâd been living maybe in the north or the south of the city, the music Iâd be making may have been quite different! I mean, the cultural diversity of places like Ladbroke Grove just suits me down to the GROUND!.. So yeah, I LOVE being as West Londoner - or maybe I should say an ADOPTED West Londoner!â

How she feels about her experiences of collaborating with artists like Gorillaz and Mark Ronson

âTo be honest, Pete, thereâs not a day goes by where I donât actually pinch myself! Like I just got to do a gig in Damascus with Gorillaz, and Iâm sitting there onstage looking at Bobby Womack performing alongside me!.. I mean, some of these experiences Iâve had - even just as a string player - are enough to kind of last you a whole LIFETIME! You know, as an artist - or somebody that wants to make music and say things - I canât even TELL you how inspiring it is! Because itâs not just that you share stages with these people or that you get to do, say, Glastonbury - which is a once-in-a-lifetime thing in itself - itâs also the kind of place where Iâm SITTING, and the kind of VIEWS I get of these other artists! Like I get to see part of Damon Albarn and his processes that other people - and other artists - DONâT see... Plus itâs also very varied - from Damon Albarn and Gorillaz, right through to tours with Mark Ronson! So from my point of view, even on days when I donât think I AM learning, Iâm still picking up things about how these people WORK. Like how they rehearse; how they literally put things together; how their minds think about every aspect of the music... And, while it may sound cliched and cheesy, it really is AMAZING! I canât even BEGIN to tell you the difference actually being around these people has made to the way Iâve made my OWN new album! To me itâs so evident in the way âCries & Smileâ is produced just how much Iâve changed, and how these people have influenced me.â

Izziâs opinions on the current female Brit-soul movement, which she herself can now inadvertently be seen as part of

âI think itâs great! I mean, in Britain weâve always been strong in exporting incredible talents. And like you said, recently there has been this huge wave of female artists like Amy Winehouse, Duffy, Adele⦠All these people who are bringing soul back to the mainstream and literally carrying the torch around the WORLD! Which in turn is great for someone like me, because itâs opening doors for people to listen and delve a bit deeper to find other things that maybe ARENâT as big. You know, itâs always a positive when the music thatâs close to you is blowing up. Because, no matter how specialist or how low-down on the list or the radar you think you are, itâs opened peopleâs ears up SO MUCH!.. So yeah, to me the success of these artists not only has a great knock-on effect for British music in general, but also for independent artists like myself and even people whoâve been around for YEARS, like Omar, Mica Paris... You know, these incredible British soul artists whoâve been going for over two decades and arenât as massive as they should be, but whoâve laid the paths for people LIKE Amy Winehouse and Duffy.â

Izziâs album âCries & Smilesâ is released October 11. Her single Nothing But Loveâ comes out October 4, both through Idunnit Music
Words PETE LEWIS

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