Earth Collective’s ‘Interviews with the Collective’ series is a collection of interviews with likeminded souls from around the globe, who are working towards a better future for the planet and people in it. This week, we hear from Amy Woodburn and Lizzie Freeborn from climate-conscious musical collaboration ISYLA (iz-eye-la). The duo are currently celebrating the success of their song “Children Of The Revolution” in the highly competitive international song contest Mello Rebello, hosted by Extinction Rebellion Sweden.
What was your catalyst to diving into the world of sustainability and climate consciousness?
Amy: It was the February 2019 speech from Greta Thunburg that began: ‘Our House is on fire’. I had spent many years with the C word looming in my periphery. But I had pushed it away, frankly because it was too hard for me to process. I looked at this child, Greta, so cool yet impassioned, articulate and informed, telling me to face the monster and for the first time I couldn’t look away.
It was very painful for me to open my heart to the truth, which was as bad if not a lot worse than I had imagined. I became involved with Extinction Rebellion, driven by a need to act for the future of my own children and the present of so many already suffering.
‘The truth cannot be unseen’ is right. Knowing the fate of life on Earth hangs in the balance, understanding the scale of the crisis and the scale of the inaction is hard to bear. I am grateful for the space and the freedom to fight it and to the communities that share my hopes and fears. It is incredible that so many young, lone strikers persevered and continue to persevere without being ‘held’ by a community in this way. I owe them so much.
Last week we played at a Fridays for Future strike in line with the G7. I had the great privilege of meeting a teen striker Anna Kernahan whose placard ‘Children of the Revolution’ inspired one of ISYLA’s songs. It was a very special moment for me.
Lizzie: Sustainability is something I have always been aware of. I was so small when I first heard about it as a concept I don’t even remember! As I have got older, I have been able to engage more and more in climate actions.
Tell us about your journey so far with ISYLA
Amy: The seed of ISYLA was sewn with one song ‘Change is Coming’, written on a train ride up to the XR October actions in London and before I ever met Lizzie. It was my first song for years. Keen to share this new climate anthem with the XR community I played it to a small bunch of people, of which Lizzie was one, at the end of a local meeting. Lizzie and I later met for a coffee to share ideas about songwriting for change and that day we agreed, pretty much spontaneously, to work together to make an album. It was certainly a leap of faith on both sides. Lizzie jokes now she was kinda dreading what I would come back with. Luckily – she liked the songs! I write fast so it was about a month later, and right before Lock Down the First, that we were in the studio putting it all together. I cried when I heard her sing the material. Her voice is just incredibly beautiful to me and if you can believe it, it was pretty much the first time I heard her sing! It was so moving to hear what we could do in combination, knowing that we had both taken such a chance on life and each other.
It’s been such a topsy turvy journey. Covid and its fragmenting effect on the production of the music meant that we had released an album having never jammed together and never performed to a live audience. We went from strangers to developing a firm friendship and close working relationship in weeks, but were not allowed to hug or stand close to each other for a year. Our first video for I Want was filmed solo by Lizzie on her iPhone and professionally edited together.
We went from strangers to developing a firm friendship and close working relationship in weeks, but were not allowed to hug or stand close to each other for a year.
In July 2020, I quit my Speech Therapist role due to both push and pull factors – my weird brain struggles to juggle admin tasks at any sensible rate, plus ISYLA and songwriting was just taking over. I am so lucky to be able to do the thing I love every day.
Our latest chapter has been live performance. Really it’s incredible that the journey has been so exciting before we even got to this stage since many would feel performing is the starting point and the heart and soul of making music. But I think I’ve been performing in my head the whole time anyway!
What has been your proudest achievement to date for ISYLA?
Amy: I think it is the arranging of the string parts for the new album. This is a new skill for me. I would spend a whole day coming up with something and making a million tweaks, only to find the next morning it had mysteriously gone bad overnight. However I am really pleased with the final parts and feel like it is what gives those songs that extra romantic lift.
Lizzie: Last year Amy and I wrote a song collaboratively. It was based on one of the first songs I ever wrote, but it had always been a bit unfinished, so Amy worked some of her magic on it. It can be difficult in song-writing to work with somebody else and both Amy and I are naturally quite solo workers, so it was a great achievement how well it ended up working out!
What do you think is the biggest threat to our planet and the people on it today?
Amy: Well, it’s either the fact that the people with the most power to change the systems currently don’t have a plan (that will save us), or that not enough of the rest of us will realise this in time to insist that they do. Division is also huge. We can’t do it if we can’t do it together.
Lizzie: The values that are held in most societies are not aligned with our true purpose or potential as humans. Greed, ego and selfishness are fuelling this disconnected, money orientated system, which is catastrophically affecting the future of our planet and the well being of all our souls. With all our time and energy taken up slaving to these values and systems, for many there is so little energy left to connect with the values that should be at the core of our being: gratitude for the natural world around us, devotion to our divine souls, and a duty of care to protect and love the very planet on which we stand.
…the people with the most power to change the systems currently don’t have a plan (that will save us), or that not enough of the rest of us will realise this in time to insist that they do. Division is also huge. We can’t do it if we can’t do it together.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Amy: The smell of coffee, my daughter who likes me to count to ten while she races to put each item of clothing on, remembering that I don’t have to ‘go to work’ and can do song stuff all day and did I mention the coffee?
Lizzie: The morning sun pouring through my window! There are infinite possibilities for a new day of creative living.
Who/what has been the biggest influence in your life?
Amy: My rock guitar playing Dad and my classical violin playing Mum brought music into the fabric of my home every day growing up. They both passed away before their time in the last few years. I am so sad they never found out that I returned to singing and songwriting in later life. They were so encouraging of it when I was a kid.
My parent’s music library was all I heard until the age of 11. At nine I was sat in a baking parked car for most of one summer camping holiday running the car battery down listening to Joni Michel’s Ladies of the Canyon on cassette. Like everyone else who discovers an artist for the first time that reaches right into their soul it was like she sang to and for only me.
I think I must have a long dead relative to thank for my usefully stubborn gene: Being told something is unrealistic to achieve generally has the effect of making me more determined to achieve it!
What book(s) are you reading and/or podcast(s) are you listening to right now?
Amy: I have begun listening to the ‘Sounds Like a Plan’ Podcast from Fay Milton, who has founded Music Declare Emergency, which fits beautifully into the centre of the climate/music Venn Diagram. I am dyslexic and I can take in information from actual books, but struggle hugely processing longer texts on a screen. Podcasts should really be my best friend, but I make excuses not to listen. In truth I have been staring at this paragraph for some time now and I conclude – I don’t know why I don’t listen to them more! And now I feel like I need to address this as there are so many very interesting looking podcasts out there.
Lizzie: I’m currently listening to the audiobook of ‘Entangled Life’ by Merlin Sheldrake, a book about how an extensive network of underground fungi essentially rules the planet. Fungi are intelligent beyond what you can imagine, they have memory and are responsible for some of the biggest changes in the world. It’s a truly fascinating book, one that totally changes your perspective on the world. I also recently discovered that the Author’s brother is Cosmo Sheldrake who was one of the other musicians playing at the climate protest where we had our first gig the other day! What a crazy world…
What does the word ‘community’ mean to you?
Amy: A group of people who share something meaningful. I think the planet would thank us if we invested more in the communities geographically around us. But lives are often so scattered and geographically big these days, and I cannot argue this doesn’t gift us many wonderful perspectives and experiences. We somehow need to rebrand our idea of ‘living big’ being the dream when ‘living small’ can be just as meaningful. I wonder what ‘community’ will mean to my children.
What advice would you give young people who are worried about the future of our planet and want to take action?
Amy: I would say, do it. Any peaceful way you can. Doing something feels much better than not doing something. Sometimes when I feel that despairing ‘What’s the point…’ feeling, I say to myself: I fight because I can and because I should and maybe that will have to be enough.
I love the Mary Heglar quote: “The thing about climate is that you can either be overwhelmed by the complexity of the problem or fall in love with the creativity of the solutions”. My anxiety around climate change would certainly be much higher if I were not dedicating so much time to writing the songs on climate and trying to give them a platform.
I tell my five year old: ‘Be kind to yourself. Be your own best friend.’ It’s hard to put positivity out into the world if you are racked with the toxicity of self criticism or guilt heaped on top of eco-anxiety.
Sometimes when I feel that despairing ‘What’s the point…’ feeling, I say to myself: I fight because I can and because I should and maybe that will have to be enough.
Where are you heading to next in your journey?
Amy: We want to play live and then play live some more! We have no shortage of ideas and material as the Amy and Lizzie song-writing factory never closes. Ask my husband who gets woken up at midnight when I sneak out to record a song idea on my phone so it’s not gone forever in the morning.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know?
Amy: If you want to support us DO have a listen to our music (Where She Walks out now on all platforms) and get on the socials and comment etc! We are really receptive to feedback about our songs – we are writing to engage people so it’s very helpful to know if we are on track.
ISYLA is an unusual equal partnership between songwriter and lyricist Amy Woodburn (42) and singer-songwriter Lizzie Freeborn (20), both Cornwall-based musicians with a passion for music and the environment. Formed in January 2020 around a cause, ISYLA bring the topic of climate consciousness to the forefront of the listening experience.
With lyrical themes often paying homage to the natural world, ISYLA’s compositions journey through a musical landscape of contemporary folk, pop and electro, incorporating influences ranging from Joni Mitchell and The Staves to Billie Eilish and London Grammar.
Their 2020 debut ‘Where She Walks’ has featured on BBC Introducing, Climate Live, FATEA, and Blues & Roots Radio.
ISYLA made their live debut at the 2020 VOXJAM event, a virtual festival hosted by Oxfam and broadcast globally.
A unique musical pairing, ISYLA have collaborated with a who’s-who of top musicians for their upcoming 2021 album ‘Of Blood And Star’, with producer Gareth Young (Sugababes) and featuring Lukas Drinkwater on bass (Emily Barker), Evan Carson on drums (Kate Rusby), Kit Hawes on guitar (Seth Lakeman) and Rob Pemberton on keys (The Staves).