Interview: Southern Belle & Isom Innis Interview: Southern Belle & Isom Innis

Southern Belle

Southern Belle

When the going gets tough, the tough get robotic. Isom Innis, the man-machine behind the Boston upstarts, Southern Belle recently underwent surgery as a result of heart arrhythmia. Doctors successfully replaced his aortic valve with a mechanical valve. Isom has since been balls to the wall busy, prepping his unique blend of melodic robo-rock for the road, recording material for a full-length debut, and offering up his production skills.

The Southern Belle Interview

PP: How did CMJ 2009 compare to last year’s festivities?

Isom: Last year was my first year, and it was the first year that my old band played

CMJ. Ironically, the band fell apart before the show. So CMJ last

year was a crazy time for me. But this CMJ was awesome because I wasn’t playing at

all. I spent a lot of time seeing bands and hanging out. I got to meet

some cool people – I had a conversation with Bradford Cox and Kip Malone.

PP: Were there any bands that blew you away?

SB: Rain Machine blew me away. James Murphy DJ’ing was really good. I was

standing right next to him, at one point, checking out the different records he was


PP: What was he spinning?

SB: He was playing a lot of stuff I had never heard before. The guy next to me said

he had apparently gone out and bought all those records earlier that day. Mostly

disco-funk and the occasional 80’s track.

PP: Can you reiterate your SXSW Kanye West experience?

Isom: I was working backstage at the FADER Fort while Kanye was playing, and I got

this call asking me to bring a car to the backstage area. So I go to the back

and meet two rappers – GLC and Big Sean – who needed me to drive them

to their next event. Standing next to them is Kanye, his girlfriend, and Kid Cudi. So

it’s me, Big Sean, and GLC following Kanye’s

escalade, and Kid Cudi is behind us in a party bus. We eventually realized we were

lost after driving aimlessly to the outer limits of Austin. All ended well – I got

everyone to the Perez Hilton party, along with some aggressive driving tips from

GLC. Truthfully, Kanye seemed really cool. For all the Kanye-haters, that night

he had a really inspiring energy on him that has rubbed off on me since.

PP: How would you describe the Boston music scene to someone who has never

experienced Bean Town?

Isom: The Bean Town scene is very different from what you would think it is. You

would think Boston being such a big college town would have all the college kids

going to the shows, but the college kids aren’t really the fans supporting the Boston

bands. It’s more like the college kids are making the Boston bands, and I feel like the

people coming to the shows are the locals that have lived in Boston all their lives.

There are a ton of different independent scenes – electro, folk, indie-rock, house,

PP: How long have you been living in Boston?

Isom: This is my fourth year here. I came here in 2006.

PP: How old were you when you first began playing music?

Isom: My dad bought me a drum kit when I was six years old. I started taking

piano lessons when I was 8, but my teacher would become really frustrated with me

because I would play the sheet music by ear. I stopped taking lessons, but kept

playing piano. And then I picked up a guitar in 8th grade, and I began writing music

in 9th grade. My foundation in music would be drums, but now I feel more inspired

by piano and guitar. In Southern Belle, I’m playing bass, piano, and guitar.

PP: How do you manage to play all those instruments when you are up on stage

in front of an audience?

Isom: There are four guys. John Ryan is playing guitar, and I play bass on most

songs. I also play guitar and rhodes on some of the stuff. Patrick is playing synthesizers, bass, and triggering the samples. Erik plays drums.

PP: Has it been kind of difficult adapting the studio material to your live


Isom: I got really lucky in that when I came back to Boston after recording the songs

the people I asked to play with me had heard all the music and knew it already. So

the first rehearsal was really smooth. Now we are working on a couple new tracks to

play live. Personally, I just like playing as loud as possible…

PP: What was the first live show you ever saw?

Isom: This is pretty cool and you are gonna like this because you are from San Diego.

My first live concert was P.O.D. I will never forget that.

PP: I feel so alive…For a while, those guys were ruling the charts.

Isom: I was a huge P.O.D. fan at one point in my life.

PP: Southern Belle’s EP contains three songs — “Walk Out”, “Just Friends”, and

“Conditional Love”. Based upon these song titles, is it safe to assume that you

wear your heart on your sleeve?

Isom: The whole EP is kind of about losing someone whether it is a family member,

friend, or a relationship. Last year was a transitional year for me, and most of that

music came out of isolation. A lot of it is about loyalty and trust, and it was

kind of my own way of working out the changing of relationships in life.

When I’m really happy I tend to write really depressing things, but when I’m really

depressed I write happy songs because I want to cheer myself up. When I’m isolated

my writing tends to reflect on different people. When I was a kid my parents got

divorced. The first song, “Walk Out” is about people making mistakes in life and

walking out on the ones they love. My dad walked out on my mom a long

time ago, but then he cam back into our lives and he amended everything that he

had broken. I think it is really a sign of genuineness when people want to make right

by their mistakes. But the song is also about people walking out, and

never attempting to rectify their mistakes.

Isom: I’ve kind of had this obsession with being genuine. People spend years

learning to be genuine, and some people are naturally genuine.

PP: How did you decide upon the band’s name?

Isom: Southern Belle is named after my sister, Isabella. We’re both from Nashville,

and she is the southern belle in my head that I was thinking about when I named the


PP: On your myspace page, you had described your music as “electro-thrash”. How

did you settle upon that description?

Isom: I think I was just looking through the myspace adjectives, and there were so

many descriptive words that would have worked. Yes – It’s electronic, but it’s also

rock, pop, and ambient. I don’t know what thrash really means. It just sounds like

when you play, you play hard.

PP: Would you rather be associated with rock or pop music?

Isom: Pop music, but pop music that is rock n’ roll. I think the songs

have a pop formula. They have choruses, but I feel like the intensity is more rock n’

roll. I want to approach electronic music like a rock band because at the end of the

day, I want to go out and play the stuff with a full band instead of being just a DJ.

PP: Do you feel like when you are DJ’ing your creative boundaries are more


Isom: It’s funny because I was watching an interview with DJ Shadow and he was

asked a similar question. He answered, “No because my taste is really left of center

so I just play whatever I like and if people are into it, then that’s fine”. When I DJ, I

always try to play whatever weird taste I have at the moment.

PP: How does sampling influence your creative direction with Southern Belle?

Isom: Heavily.

PP: Are you ever concerned that copyright infringement could become an issue?

Isom: No. If someone could identify what I’m using I would really be impressed.

I mess with the original samples so much that you wouldn’t be able to recognize

what it was if I told you. It’s actually Elton John singing everything.

PP: Were you familiar with Neon Indian before booking the upcoming support gig?

Isom: I actually hadn’t heard of them. I think I had heard the name because I follow

Ed Droste of Grizzly Bear on Twitter. He posted their links this past summer. I’ve

since listened to them on Myspace and I really like the song, “Mind Drips”.

PP: Would you say that electro-pop music is poised to take over the world right


Isom: I feel like right now with computer programs being so accessible, it makes

music so much more democratic because it gives so many more people an

opportunity to have their ideas be heard.

PP: How many bands does an artist have to be apart of before they find the right fit?

Isom: A lot. I used to want to be the band that grew up together and conquered the

world, but the older I get I’m learning that you have to just express yourself in as

many ways as possible in order to find out what you want to do. My first band

covered Metallica and Creed!

PP: Are you still entertaining plans of western migration after you finish school?

Isom: Yeah, Silverlake is looking pretty tempting right now.

PP: What is it about California that inspires you?

Isom: I’ve never had a bad time there. And movies are really loud in California, and a

loud sound system makes a movie so much more entertaining.

PP: Please do me the pleasure of answering several either/or questions:

Rhodes or Worlitzer: Rhodes because I’m looking at one right now.

Fender or Gibson: Fender

Elvis or Michael Jackson: MJ

Mac or PC: Mac

ProTools or Garageband: Logic, so Garageband

MPC or Laptop: MPC

Studio or Live Show: Live Show

Beatles or the Stones: Beatles

Zeppelin or Sabbath: Zeppelin

T. Rex or Bowie: Bowie

Animal Collective or Grizzly Bear: I can’t answer that one. It’s a tie.

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