Interview by Ed MacLaren
In the evolution of metal, one of the most lastingly popular genres is arguable the glam metal sound of the 80s. While the look of those bands is long gone, their pop metal sound and melodic influence is still felt decades later. Turn the spotlight from LA’s Sunset Strip to Oslo, Norway where Isabell Oversveen aka Issa is turning heads with her second album, “The Storm”. Brimming with catchy hooks with a roughly polished sheen, “The Storm” gives a subtle nod to the past while driving headlong into the future. Femme Metal got a chance to talk to Issa about “The Storm”, growing as an artist and avoiding the sophomore slump.
Congratulations on “The Storm”! It must have exceeded all your expectations – you’ve gotten pretty close to creating the perfect pop metal record.
Your music is anthemic and high energy with a real positive vibe to it. What do you want people to hear when they listen to “The Storm”?
I want people to really just enjoy the music first of all, but as I’ve written some on this record I feel like that’s been extra special this time – they’re songs from the heart and it’s been nerve wracking to see how it would be received.
There’s always talk about the “sophomore slump” where second albums don’t live up to the promise of the debut. It’s certainly not the case with “The Storm”. How do you think you’ve progressed as an artist and how is that revealed on “The Storm”?
Well, I think when it comes to music you just have to follow your heart – you can’t always please everyone but as long as I follow what I believe in I can’t go wrong. I also think everyone has their own view on how I should do things but it wouldn’t be an Issa album if I just did everything to please everyone else when it comes to me as an artist. I think this album shows more of a personal me – you’ll see songs written by me and I even produced my own vocals on “The Storm”.
Did you have any worries that “The Storm” wouldn’t live up to expectations after the success of your debut, “Signs of Angels”? There’s a lot of pressure for a new artist in this highly competitive market.
Yes – like everyone else you do sit with this feeling that hmmm is it good enough and does it live up to the first album? But all in all you have to try to stay focused on the important thing – making good music that you like.
You’ve been actively pursuing a career in music since your teens. Have all your experiences over the last 10 years been a build up to now? Is there anything you would have or would have done differently?
Yeah. I’ve been working so hard all these years and I just wouldn’t do without it. It’s part of me and it’s made me just who I am today. (Laughs) Just looking back makes me smile – and I think for sure I’ve done it the hard way sometimes but then again if I didn’t have the “I’ll do it all” attitude I wouldn’t have been in contact with Frontiers and I wouldn’t be writing this right now.
Is there one moment in your career that would stand out as your “big break”?
Well I can say that my first album was the first time my name was put out there – but I’m so realistic that I know it’s hard to get that one big break that will make you world-famous overnight. I’m not really sure I would have liked to be in the spotlight all the time but if the music can be heard I would definitely love that more than anything.
On “Signs of Angels” your record label shopped songwriters to contribute to the album. On “The Storm” you’ve started to actively contribute to the songwriting. How do you think your songwriting skills have progressed since “Signs of Angels”?
I’ve always loved to write music and I have lots of songs recorded at home – but when it came to “Signs of Angels”, I didn’t feel like they were as good as I wanted them to be. On “The Storm” I was more prepared and I did work with the Martin brothers that year writing and singing songs for other acts. To be honest we didn’t have any songs for this album as we had given them all away – lucky for me Frontiers pulled my favorites at once from the albums they were placed on for me to have them myself. I was so happy for that.
When you were writing for the album did you have a point of view or part of your personality that you wanted to show? Did your writing input have an influence on the overall feel and tone of the album?
Yeah it has. When we decided to do an album I’m in constant contact with the record label – and we both want to find the songs that will suite me and that we both like. As far as personality, I had a crazy year last year so the songs I’ve written on are taken straight out of my life. (Laughs) The title “The Storm” tells you just how last year was.
What was your experience working with producer and label-mate Daniel Flores on “The Storm”? He’s had more than a bit of experience working with a female vocalist in his own band, The Murder of My Sweet.
I can’t say anything else then a pleasure – Daniel was just fantastic on every point. I loved how Daniel knew just how to make a female voice sound just right – many producers today can run over you a bit with their opinions leaving the artist feeling like its produced how they personally want it rather than how you want it. That was not the case with Daniel – he wanted me to be happy with everything and we were in constant contact making sure we agreed on the progress.
A duet with TMOMS’s Angelica Rylin would have made for a great bonus track. Have you thought about working with any other vocalists?
Yeah. The thought is there all the time – I think when I got asked to sing “Hold On” on the same album as Robin Beck I couldn’t resist saying yes. I’ve always wanted to do something with Robin and who knows maybe in the future we could work more together. (Laughs)
You’ve gotten a lot of development support from your label Frontiers Records. Many companies have a “sink or swim” attitude towards new talent but they really got behind you. How important is it to have that kind of support from your label?
It means everything to me – I look at Frontiers as my own family. They have taken so good care of me and I love working with them. I also had the pleasure preforming live for them in Napoli when they had a meeting with all the European label managers last year and what more can I say – it was fantastic!
You’re a young woman learning your craft with the support of many talented people. With that said, do you have any long-term goals in terms of the control and independence you want to have over the direction of your music?
Well, for now I’m just concentrating on an album at a time but my biggest goal for the future would be to be as blessed as I am now and do music and more albums to come. It takes time to build up a reputation and I hope over the years that I’ll only get stronger as a writer and singer.
You work with a lot of well-connected members of the metal community yet lyrically and melodically your music has a real pop sensibility. How do you reconcile the two?
Well I look at it as I’ve always had a love for songs with attitude and guitars but combining those two makes it just a little bit different from all other albums – I think the production has a lot to say because even though some songs might be more poppy as an demo we sure know how to give them that little extra… (Laughs)
You walk that tightrope between pop and metal like a gymnast. In a way it brings back the pop/hard rock sounds of Bon Jovi and Heart from 25 years ago. What music do you enjoy and what elements of those influences do you try to bring to your music?
(Laughs) You just mentioned some of my favorite artists here – I love Heart and Bon Jovi! I love their music and that feel they have performing their song – its energy and feelings all the way. I believe these artists will never just fade away like some might in this pop culture we have now – they have something that just can’t be forgotten about.
Tracks like “Looking for Love” and “Black Clouds” have one foot firmly in pop territory and the other in the rock/metal vein. Have you ever thought about moving in a more pop direction and make a run at international top 40 successes?
Well from a young age I have always had a love for a bit more rock/metal vibe on things and I just don’t think I can move on from that just for the sake of being a top 40 success. (Laughs) Don’t get me wrong – I would love to have a song on top 40 but I believe in sticking with what I like might get the same result. I have to say as a live performer I love having the rock/metal feel.
You’ve said that you feel most at home touring and performing on stage. What is it about live performance that excites you?
Ah! There’s just something very special with preforming live. Doing an album gives you the chance to read what people say but live you can see on their faces just what they think – it’s just amazing.
Does performing your songs live bring out different elements of the songs than on the album?
Yeah, in a way it does because seeing someone preform live can be a stronger experience then an album – it’s like a story being told. The songs are being influenced by the people playing the songs and you can give it that little extra.
Do you think that live feel gets captured on “The Storm”?
Well, I’ve tried to not make a perfect smooth album – but have a bit of the blemishes there. With that I mean that sometimes a feeling in how you sing things can be stronger than a perfect line. That’s so important to me.
How would describe an Issa show? Do you get a mix of pop and metal fans?
Yeah, definitely. I think with me you will get a good mix. I love to focus on having a strong show – not a show where the middle is “let’s go and get a drink” time. (Laughs) I think I’ve performed so much live in my time that I know just how to keep the crowd hanging around until the bitter end. I love big songs and big outfits and its worth watching as much as listening.
Where are fans going to hear the new songs live?
Right now I’m already planning my next album leaving a little time in the middle but my Facebook will tell everything so please go to Facebook and you’ll get all the info there..
(Famous) Last words?
I just want to say thank you to everyone that supports me – it means the world to me! I just couldn’t do without you! Thanks so much!