We learn all about new single Walk Away, streaming sensation White Tiger, and writing songs in the Garden of Eden
Izzy Bizu’s new single Walk Away is the perfect example of her irrepressible talent. Co-written with Kal Levelle, featuring Joe Devlin, and with production duties from Lloyd Hinshelwood, her warm vocals cosily weave their way through the laidback pop melody. Over the last decade, that appealing voice has proven to be an especially versatile weapon, often best deployed on dancefloor bangers – recent drop If I Live Forever and 2015’s White Tiger (now clocking over 100 million Spotify streams) being just two examples.
You also get a palpable sense that these songs have huge crossover appeal, untethered by restrictions of geography or genre. With her childhood spent between Ethiopia and Bahrain, before her family eventually settled in London, a theme of unity and an essence of collective spirit guides much of the music Bizu makes. We recently had the chance to tap into her process and find out a little more…
Have performing and songwriting always gone hand in hand for you?
“Yes they have, in many ways. Sometimes it’s exciting to try an unreleased song live to see how the audience reacts, but I especially like it when I jam with my band before soundcheck and we voicenote an idea to maybe record later in the studio.”
We’d love to know a bit more about your process… Are you someone who’s always collecting ideas for songs?
“Yes I am. I’ve found trains, planes, car rides, traveling in general very inspiring. Anywhere that doesn’t have wi-fi is a great spot to let your brain run free and take in your surroundings, feelings about the past, or where you see your future going. I wrote the lyrics to the chorus of Someone That Loves You on a plane ride from Germany about a guy I had a crush on.”
Was there a song that you wrote/co-wrote which changed the game for you as an artist/songwriter?
“There was that one song called Someone That Loves You that really opened me up to the electronic world. It started with me writing lyrics about some guy I had crush on in Germany, to me tweeting [electronic duo] HONNE in the tourbus at 3am cos my drummer at the time was vibing out to their break up song Warm On A Cold Night. Long story short, HONNE replied and I wrote Someone That Loves You in their home studio. I went on to sing this on a Coldplay tour where Chris Martin asked if he could record a version and I thought, ‘Hell yeah!’”
White Tiger remains such an important song in your catalogue – what can you tell us about writing it?
“I wrote White Tiger with and for my first love Mika Barroux, and it started out as a high school assignment. We were told to pick a colour, an animal, a place, a source of travel… and I came up with the concept; his stunning and unusual chord progressions then led me to write the rest of the lyrics in a more natural sense, expressing my gratitude and love for someone who would push me out of my comfort zone, steering only excitement, positivity and spontaneity in my life!
“We were living with my parents at the time when we posted the video and watched the views on YouTube shoot up… it was unbelievable; we didn’t expect it at all. After that we wrote an EP, then an album, then toured and travelled the world for a few years. It was truly a blessing.”
When you have written a successful song, is there a temptation to try and replicate that success in the writing process?
“I think most writers are trying to find the answer to that one… the truth is, you can rarely predict what song will do well, so it’s best to stay true and honest and pure. My best songs have been written without thinking too much and letting the mind run free. It is very hard to create the same thing twice… however, Drake has a recipe I would very much like to know the secret to.”
With that in mind, how do you tend to start the process of writing a song and is it always the same?
“My favourite way to write is either someone jamming on a guitar or piano and they let me be free, or me with my laptop, Logic, headphones, vibing out by myself with a glass of wine late at night.”
If you could write a song anywhere in the world, where would you choose?
“I would write in my home town in Ethiopia! It’s full of nature, there is one place which looks and feels like how the Garden of Eden is described in the Bible. Whether you’re religious or not, it is a spiritual place, full of kindness but also a past history of loss and pain which in essence brings a certain positivity to the people as gratitude and generosity is a big theme there.
“I feel grounded in the midst of the trees and flowers and the hot spring water piercing the leaves as you walk in a circular motion getting higher up in the mountain. I would like to reach the top and sit there with a Dictaphone and my songwriting book. It would be quiet there, only birds chirping and the odd local offering a mango that would be the sweetest you’ve ever tasted.”
We’re loving Walk Away. Was that a fun one to write?
“I wrote it with some old and new friends about walking away if you’re not feeling appreciated… we were just having a little gossip in the session and the song came out lol.”
How do you find your co-writers? Are there specific traits as people/musicians that you’re looking for?
“I like to work with team players, ones who build each other up and can have a laugh together. I love working with people that wanna be free and are willing to let their true feelings show.”
Are you someone who likes to spend a lot of time on the editing process?
“I do enjoy comping vocals, I usually like getting most of the song written in one day but there are occasions where I do edit, especially if I’m writing to pitch for others or adverts etc.”
It’s a difficult time to try and make a living in the music industry – do you have any tips on how to do that, and what role does songwriting play?
“It is indeed as AI is coming into play… yet there’s one thing that can’t be replaced and that is honesty, integrity and feeling. Songwriting can get people through hard times, bring joy and help create memories; in fact, dementia patients can often remember a piece of music from their past even if all else is forgotten. It is also something that brings all people of all backgrounds together.”
What are your plans for the rest of the year?
“I think I’m going to finish my soul album and then I will be doing festivals with ODESZA, touring our song Forgive Me.”