If you’ve listened to R&B at all in the past year, you’ve likely heard Alex Isley. Whether a single or a feature, the artist on the rise has worked with iconic musicians such as Robert Glasper and Ninth Wonder.
With silky smooth vocals that ride neo-soul melodies and tell tales of love, loss, and more, Isley’s music is healing and transformative.
Coming from the iconic Isley Brothers legacy (her father is Ernie Isley), music has been a part of Isley’s life ever since she was born. And though she comes from a legendary family, Isley’s talent has paved the way for her to be the star she is now with nowhere to go from here but up.
Though she shares weekly song selections with her fans on social media and is a busy mother, we caught up with Alex to learn more about her inspirations, visions, and art.
ESSENCE: What has self care looked like for your during these pandemic times?
ALEX ISLEY: I’ve become really aware how my body is moving and what I put into my body. I’ve been working out with a trainer and although it’s only been a short while it’s been going great. I definitely notice a change in my energy. I just feel better overall. This year I just wanted to make some changes for myself … I just want to be the healthiest that I can. It’s also teaching me a lot about consistency and discipline.
What has it been like creating during this time? How has quarantine impacted your artistry?
ISLEY: It’s been challenging to not be around people; not to be able to go to studio sessions and to not have an audience in front of me. As an artist, I thrive off of that– other people– so that’s been hard to adjust to. Before all of this happened, I was scheduled to open for Leslie Odom Jr. on tour so that was a bummer. But I’ve been adjusting to the new norm (for now). I’m grateful that I have my own studio equipment at home. I have had a setup at home for a few years now and I’m investing more in it. Whether it’s equipment or software, I’m enhancing my setup to be able to make great projects from home. Honestly, I’ve just been reminding myself of my purpose, creating, and continuing to share my art no matter what. You know it’s easy to be discouraged and feel like what you’re creating isn’t good enough. I remind myself of my purpose every day so I can continue to create.
You shot your performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert from home. What was that like?
ISLEY: That was actually a lot easier than I thought, but there was still a lot that went into it. It was recorded on my phone in a corner of my house. I was nervous about it but just kept telling myself “just be you”.I kept reminding myself that they want to see me and my art. I didn’t need the fancy bells and whistles, I was just myself. It was so much fun. I’d love to visit the NPR Office and do another one day but that was great for sure. It was a bucket-list dream come true.
How else have you gotten creative with content and keeping touch with audiences?
ISLEY: I’ve definitely been racking my brain trying to brainstorm ways to stay engaged and connected with people out there. Of course, I do things like Instagram Live. I’ve been trying to commit to posting singing videos on Instagram- I’ll ask my followers to post song suggestions and then I tackle them acapella. Just little things to stay engaged.
R&B is having a big moment in pop culture right now. What do you think is causing folks to once again be interested in R&B?
ISLEY: I think I don’t think R&B necessarily went anywhere, I just think people weren’t paying attention to it. So instead of rap or pop, R&B is really at the forefront. I think streaming platforms have helped bring R&B center stage again. Either way I’m definitely happy that R&B is having this moment and those artists are getting more exposure.
Who are your musical inspirations?
ISLEY: I think by default, my dad and my uncle, with them being the Isley Brothers. I grew up with their sound so that was just inevitable for me to be influenced by their sounds and music like theirs. I also loved the greats like Stevie Wonder and Prince. I loved a lot of Ella Fitzgerald, Toni Braxton, and Mariah Carey growing up. In college I went down a J. Dilla rabbit hole, so that definitely influenced a lot of my sound and songwriting in my early days.
How would you describe your sound?
ISLEY: I would say my foundation is definitely R&B. I’m influenced by jazz and hip hop and I think that comes through in my music. But honestly I listen to a little bit of everything- I take pieces here and there.
You come from the iconic Isley family. What has their impact been like on your career?
ISLEY: I’ve learned so much indirectly just watching them, so I haven’t really had to verbalize too much. I always knew that I wanted to do this but I really started to take it seriously (as a professional) in high school and college. In college was when I really got into songwriting and production. They’ve always been super supportive and encouraging about me pursuing music professionally. I recently had a conversation with my dad and he was telling me how proud he was of me and what I was doing and how this was only the beginning. I’m super grateful for the longevity that they’ve established because that’s what I’m aiming for.
Coming from a musical family, did you lean into a career in the music industry or did you think you were going to go down a different path?
ISLEY: Oh no- I’ve loved performing for as long as I can remember. My mother was super supportive of that and sacrificed a lot to get me to rehearsals and into talent shows and the whole nine. My mom even suggested I look into a performing arts high school. I auditioned and got in and it was one of the most amazing experiences. It helped shape me as a vocalist. So aside from my dad and uncles, my mom supports my dreams and I did the work to make it happen. I’ve always wanted to do this and I’ve done it my own way with my own talent. I’ve always appreciated the way my dad and uncles paved for me.
Who are some artists you’re loving right now? Who is on your personal playlists?
ISLEY: I have this one playlist on Apple Music that I literally play at least like a handful of times a week. There’s an artist named Blxst that I really love. TianaMajor9 is another one in rotation. Right now I’m really into listening to hip-hop and R&B artists from L.A, but I have a ton of different genres and sounds on my playlists- I listen to everything.
What would be your dream collaboration?
ISLEY: I just want to meet Stevie Wonder. I don’t know what a collab with Stevie would look like, but I mean, I would be open to it for sure. DeAngelo is another one that I’d absolutely love to do something with. Babyface is another dream collab. I actually met him before when I was younger, so I’d love to be able to reconnect with him musically.
Would you be interested in curating a soundtrack playlist for film or television?
I definitely have thought about that. I think it would be a lot of fun. I’ve been watching different shows and thinking about the music behind it. It’s something I’d like to explore at some point for sure.
Do you have any projects that you’re working on right now?
ISLEY: I don’t want to give too much away, but I am super excited about a few things in the works. I have an EP that I believe will be starting to roll out soon. I also have some stuff coming out with Ninth Wonder as well. He’s another one of those icons that it was a dream to work with, so what we have coming out is a full circle moment for me. I’m so excited for everyone to see what I’ve been working on for this year.
When you’re not creating music, what else are you doing?
ISLEY: I have a four-year-old with nonstop energy from the time she wakes up until the time she goes away. I’m usually doing something with her. This is a crucial time for her social development, but COVID makes that hard, so I get real creative with ways to keep her engaged. I’ve been enjoying the time with her and doing things like teaching her right now how to ride a bike. Aside from that I’ve been deep cleaning my life- it feels amazing to clear my space. Also, I’m like, 15 years late, but I just got into Grey’s Anatomy so I’ve been binging that.
What cities do you love/would you love to perform in?
ISLEY: I love New York! I’m originally from New Jersey though I’ve lived in LA most of my life, but I always love going back to the East Coast. I love Europe as well- the vibe in Copenhagen is incredible. I would love to one day visit and perform in Rome and the Carribean. When life opens back up I plan to travel and perform anywhere I can.
You’ve also collaborated with a lot of artist from the U.K. What has your experience been like working in an international space.
ISLEY: I love it. I’ve always been a fan of artists to come from across the pond. The amount of love and support that I have gotten from the UK has been incredible. When I was on tour with Meghan Trainor in London a few years back, I decided to do a small show on an off day. I literally just made a post about it on social media and we ended up packing the room. I couldn’t believe it. This was 2015, before a handful of my most recent projects, yet everybody knew the words and knew my music. The love was so genuine and heartfelt. I’ve always loved their energy over there and I cannot wait to get back over there!
What are some of your manifestation practices?
ISLEY: I’m a firm believer in speaking things into existence. I created a vision board for myself this year- I’ve done one for the past few years actually. And, you know, even with all of the craziness last year, I checked off some things that I wasn’t expecting to check off on my vision board. There is so much power in your words, and everyday I try to be mindful of how and what I speak.
What is your hope for your music in the next five years?
ISLEY: I’ve been thinking about this. My mindset right now is that I’m just grateful for where God has placed me and has brought me to. So I don’t know. I know that I have certain visions and goals or myself. But even where I am now, I hadn’t imagined this for myself. I think putting a timeline on my goals puts limits on my vision. I know that God’s vision for me is so much greater. So I don’t have a timeline per se, but I will say that I hope in the next five years I’m still creating and sharing music. I hope we can get back to traveling safely. I want to be touring and connecting with audiences around the globe. I want to try my hand at scoring and curating soundtracks or TV and film. I am aiming for longevity and I hope God allows me to have that.