Multi-instrumentalist King Isis – whose name pays homage to their great-great-grandmother Omega King, one of the first Black opera singers in Chicago – seems to thrive in the uneasy space between indecision and taking action. The Oakland-based artist explores the gaps between these feelings on their upcoming debut EP, scales, which is set for release on 29th March via Dirty Hit/No Matter. Through a mix of shimmering guitar sounds, driving beats and relatable lyrics, King Isis balances feelings of frustration and apathy alongside buoyant melodies in order to overcome the barriers holding them back, whether they’re self-inflicted or otherwise.
An ardent believer in the empowering and healing nature of music, King Isis uses their artistry to enrich the lives of others too. They volunteer teaching music classes for low-income communities in Los Angeles, and have worked with the FreeStudio Program of Rikers Island, which creates a safe creative space for incarcerated youth and the children of incarcerated adults.
We think one of the best ways to get to know an artist is by asking what music inspired them to write in the first place. We caught up with King Isis to ask about their “Five Favourites” – five songs that have inspired their song-writing techniques. Check out their choices below and scroll down to watch the video for their latest single ‘taste of u’.
1. King Krule – ‘Czech One’
This song has been one of my favorites for a looooong time. I can’t recall exactly where I heard this for the first time, but sometime in college sounds right. King Krule has consistently been my favorite artist for the longest, specifically for the instrumental arrangement and the authenticity of his voice. This song is definitely different from a lot of his tracks, as it’s driven by keys instead of guitar, but the minor, moody melodic chord progression that carries the track has a special place in my heart. It feels like a dream to me. I feel like a lot of King Krule’s songs – including this one – have influenced the chords and shapes I use in songs and in my guitar practice.
2. Lauryn Hill – ‘I Gotta Find Peace of Mind’
Whenever this song comes on in my car, I gotta listen to the full 9 minutes. Her lyrics really resonate with me on this one. I feel like this song has influenced me specifically with lyric writing and strong melodies. Also her performance. I think a lot of what draws me to certain songs/artists and what I strive to do with my music is delivering authenticity through song. imperfections create perfect moments. The guitar is fairly simple, kinda going between two chords, yet is still super captivating because of her vulnerability both in her lyrics and performance. She’s repeating what appear to be simple phrases, but it carries so much meaning in how she shares these words. I think it brings me a sense of hopefulness and peace in moments of calamity. Her delivery and the repetition of certain phrases has definitely inspired how I create and share music. If you haven’t heard this song, listen!
3. Yves Tumor – ‘Gospel for a New Century’
I heard this song for the first time around the drop of this project. I started listening to Yves Tumor during college and was kinda infatuated with everything they were doing. I think what initially drew me to their music was the instrumental – I love a good bassline. When I’m listening to new music, I’m definitely drawn to the instrumental first, that’ll hook me in and eventually I’ll start hearing what they’re saying with their lyrics. If the music itself doesn’t catch my ear, you probably won’t catch me listening to it. I think Yves Tumor’s music in general and this song specifically has helped me be more open in my sound, they continue to inspire with their artistry. I have a couple songs on my next project that are influenced by the grunge-y, crunchy, darker melodies that flow through Yves Tumor’s music.
4. Hiatus Kaiyote – ‘The Lung’
I have a super distinct memory attached to the first time I heard this song. I was a sophomore in college, going through changes, discovering love, learning a lot about myself as a person. I was in my partner’s dorm room during a shroom trip and I fell in love with the magical energy of this song. I didn’t know what Nai Palm was saying for a long time – and honestly still don’t know what she’s saying – but that introductory guitar line instantly captivated my attention. And then she comes in with some infectious harmonies that still bring the same feelings it brought me the first day I heard it.
Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of Hiatus Kaiyote and Nai Palm. I think this song specifically inspired me to explore more harmonies within my songs and voice. In this song, her voice felt more like another instrument, moving in tune with the drums and other instruments in ways that still hold me more than the lyrics. I think that also inspired me to play with my voice more, explore the different ranges, sounds, and places my voice can exist in song.
5. Kanye West, Kid Cudi, 070 Shake – ‘Ghost Town’
I don’t remember the first time I heard this song but I included it in this list because everytime I hear it, I still wanna scream and cry with 070 Shake at the end. I love the rest of the song too, but when she comes in with “and nothing hurts anymore I feel kinda free,” it takes me out of whatever else I’m feeling and makes me feel like I can keep pushing through it all, like I can keep going. Something about this song feels familiar, like it’s all gonna be ok. In a similar way to how Lauryn Hill’s ‘Peace of Mind’ makes me feel, 070 Shake’s part of the song makes me feel hopeful, reignited, and alive. I think this song encourages me to dive deeper into writing and into myself, to continue to find freedom in creating music.
Thanks to King Isis for sharing their favourites with us!
Watch their video for ‘taste of u’ below
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Photo Credit: Richard Mwanthi