Artist Profile: Isabella Farmer is fiercely inspired and independent | Arts


Since his youth, Boston-based singer-songwriter Isabelle Farmer was an itinerant creative. As you would expect from an aspiring songwriter and musician, she grew up performing in choir recitals. As Farmer danced and did gymnastics, she knew singing was her calling. “Music is the one thing I never got tired of,” she said in a recent interview with The Harvard Crimson.

In fourth grade, Farmer’s family moved from Virginia to Bogotá, Colombia, and she got her first acoustic guitar. During this time of great change—living outside the United States for the first time in a completely new environment where she didn’t fully know the language—music, as Farmer put it, “became a massive creative outlet.” .

She credits a particularly influential music teacher in Colombia with helping to imbue her with that spark for music: Mr. Alberto. According to Farmer, many music teachers lack that kind of “joie de vivre” when it comes to their work, because they just go with the flow. Mr. Alberto was different. “I could just tell he loved the music so much,” Farmer said.

At the same time, Farmer’s spark also comes from something intensely intrinsic. “I was always so keen to find a sound that really inspired me,” she said. The radio songs and buzz sounds were good enough, but Farmer found herself disappointed in their superficiality. “I would hear it and leave – that’s cool, but, what if it was like that?” Farmer said, describing his initial interest in songwriting.

Now Farmer is studying voice and songwriting at Berklee College of Music here in Boston. But, by her own admission, she is still learning to improve her craft. Music playback, for example, stands out as something she works on. “It’s something I still struggle with for my assignments at Berklee,” the singer said. Despite this small detail, Farmer managed to develop an in-depth method for creating songs.

For each song, Farmer begins by writing the lyrics first. “I’m so, so strict about it,” she said. “I like the lyrics to read like poetry on the page.” The ideas and inspiration for these lyrics, meanwhile, can come from really anywhere. “It’s a pretty seamless mix of personal experience, a bunch of mixed up stuff, and then some childhood stuff,” Farmer said of his process. “I try to create a story in my head.”

Despite his own attention to lyrics, however, Farmer acknowledges that this same sentiment isn’t true for most music listeners these days, who may focus more on the sonic elements of a song. “Especially the first time you hear a song, you’re not necessarily drawn to the lyrics, you listen more to the overall vibe,” the singer said.

Therefore, this knowledge informs how she approaches the musicality of her songs. “I write the lyrics first and try to create an atmosphere that those lyrics live in, along with the music,” Farmer said. “I like the music to support the feeling of the lyrics.”

In order to create that vibe and develop the instrumentation of his songs, Farmer has a unique process of first putting his guitar in a random tuning to avoid sounding like something off the radio. “Once I have something guitar-level that sounds like the vibe I want lyrically, I’ll just sing along to it,” Farmer said. “I always like to sleep to tunes and see if I remember them the next day, because if you remember them, it’s probably better.” From there, it’s just an editing and assembling process.

His latest single “Airsick” is made with this process in mind. It all started with a class she took in high school called “Elements of Poetry.” About a year ago, Farmer started having writer’s block. And so, the poems she wrote in class were a big inspiration for her songwriting. “I kind of found this poem and thought, I should run with this,” the singer said. “I took another poem I wrote for this class too and used some of those lines.” From there, Farmer combined all of these lines to ultimately create a story.

As for plans after graduating from Berklee in 2024, Farmer wants to regain his fluency in Spanish. “I’m going to take care of the language first and get inspired by new music elsewhere,” she said. “I think it’s going to give me a lot of new writing material.

After that, she plans to move to a city — an “up and up” city, like Austin, Texas — to continue pursuing music. While the LA industry standard is still on the table, Farmer is hesitant about this type of environment. “It’s very superficial. And I know a lot of people say that, but it’s on a different level,” Farmer said.

It’s this superficiality and the hunt for influence in the industry that Farmer doesn’t care about. Her main goal is simple: “Let’s hope it’s enough to try to make it a little bit as an artist,” the singer said. “I know…there are different definitions of that. I think that would just mean to me that I’m able to support myself by playing music and performing live.

As for the possibility of signing with a label, it is clear that Farmer has also given a lot of thought to this question. She certainly recognizes that labels bring stability, marketing and connections. But there is also a certain loss of originality in the artist. “Obviously it’s a business,” Farmer said. “They want money, they want you to be placed, they want you to be able to get on the radio. And radio music is very specific; it’s almost algorithmic.

In the end, his desire for integrity as an artist wins out. “I’m not really ready to compromise my lyrics and I’m totally fine if I never blow up,” Farmer said. “I like the way my stuff sounds, and it feels very authentic to me.”

Music by the singer-songwriter can be streamed here.

—Writer Derek Yuan can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @ByDerekYuan.

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