Alex Isley is the daughter of Ernie Isley, longtime member of soul legends The Isley Brothers. In the '70s and '80s, the group had hits like “Footsteps in the Dark,” “For the Love of You,” and “Between the Sheets.”
For Isley growing up in Los Angeles in the '90s, however, those revered voices were simply the sounds she heard daily. Watching The Isley Brothers perform publicly and in rehearsal subconsciously affected her style. “I was like a sponge when I was little,” she says. “I feel like I inherited a lot of the same musical mannerisms… I write similarly sometimes to my dad.”
Still, there's no group dynamic when it comes to her music. Isley is a one-woman army, with her MacBook and midi keyboard as her weapons. Her debut project, an EP released earlier this year called The Love/Art Memoirs, was completely written, performed, and produced by her in her bedroom.
She graduated from UCLA in 2009, after studying in the jazz department and performing on the same stages that Maroon 5 and Sara Bareilles once graced. Learning to producer her own album so soon after graduation wasn't easy. “It was really hard initially for me. I was like 'I don't know how to do this!' I came to my mom crying one day because it was so hard and I didn't know what I was doing.” But her desire to self-produce won out, and she created a project that could have been crafted by any of neo-soul's top producers.
The Love/Art Memoirs is a sweet mix of hip hop-tinged beats (think J. Dilla), neo-soul, and classic R&B. “Don't/Do” is laced with spacey synths and reverb that conjure Little Dragon. The harmonies floating through “Into Orbit” are reminiscent of Brandy's signature layered vocal arrangements.
Isley's senses enhance her craft — she has perfect pitch, and can instantly identify any musical note. She also has synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon that causes the engagement of one sense to trigger another sense. In her case, she sees colors when she hears sound.
“There's a canvas in my mind, and the whole thing is painted, or it's a continuous wave of color. Each key or chord is always the same color,” she says. “Sometimes I'll start composing something and I'll have to change the key because the color won't sit right with me… like, I'll want this to be blue or red. Or sometimes I'll be exploring different illustrations, and I'll say wow, I want to build a song off of that and match these colors.”
Isley seeks to make a mark on music that is her own, and feels no pressure to eclipse the Isley Brothers' legacy. “I don't think it ever could [bother me] because I know that's where I come from… The idea is to expand on what I've been given and what I've absorbed, and add something new to the music, and have it evolve from there. ”
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