Interview: Izzi Dunn, Cellist

Interview: Izzi Dunn, Cellist
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Music is in Izzi Dunn’s DNA. Her mother an opera singer and her father a singer and radio presenter.
At the age of fourteen she was awarded a scholarship at the prestigious Trinity College of Music playing the cello, where she studied before embarking on a career in recorded music.

Izzi has worked with various artists from Natalie Imbruglia to Roots Manuva, George Harrison, Chaka Khan, and has been a key element in the live shows of pop’s most credible names from Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz to Mark Ronson.
Izzi’s bow as a solo artist was 2004’s The Big Picture, a gutsy, understated album marking her arrival as a vocalist to be reckoned with. Her second album was Cries & Smiles followed by the critically acclaimed acoustic EP, Visions, in 2013.

We catch up with Izzi for a conversation:

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

My name is Izzi Dunn. I’m a cellist, arranger, vocalist and songwriter. I’ve worked with loads of different people over the years from big pop acts like Duran Duran to underground acts like Roots Manuva. My own personal musical ethos is to never stop learning and making independent music for independent thinking people.

Who inspires you?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most inspirational artists in the world and hopefully have learned something from each of them, along the way. From artists like Bobby Womack to Cody Chesnutt, Jay Electronica to Damon Albarn.

I’ve also always been inspired by lyrical content and artists who are willing to stand for something in their music. I’m a big fan of Beck, Gil Scott Heron and of the newer acts definitely Kate Tempest and Kendrick Lamar are definitely shining a light.

How did you get into music?

I came from a musical family, with both my parents being singers. I started playing the cello around the age of 9 and was lucky enough to get a scholarship to Trinity College of Music. I trained as classical cellist but soon discovered the dance music scene and UK Soul. I began working as a session musician from an early age and was soon playing regularly with some fairly big acts. I released my first EP in 2004 and have since released 2 albums and another EP.

Music, like all art, is about communication and expression. How does your work fit within our cultural conversation? And do you ensure the conversation carries on with your work?

My music is mostly observational so it’s impossible for me not to comment on our current cultural climate. I think as an artist it’s important that we’re reporters on the times that we live in and that we capture that in our music. To evoke emotions through music is a powerful thing, love it or hate it, to create a debate in the listener, to potentially change the way we see and hear things.

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Chocolate and red wine (not necessarily in that order)

It’s an exciting time for UK music and its diverse sounds: you’re noted as collaborating with the likes of Kano and Little Simz. Can you tell us your thoughts on grime and why you feel its such a UK sound?

I’ve been lucky enough to work with both Kano and Simz and they are definitely the two most talented UK MCs at the moment. They are two of the most genuine people I’ve met in the business and deserve all the accolades they are currently receiving.

The grime scene itself is a testament to vibrancy of UK culture and tenacity of the independent UK music scene. The fact that it’s grown out of the Independent scene, not controlled by major labels, means it’s had a chance to create it’s own identity without the manipulation that inevitably happens with large commercial corporations. That has enabled the scene, in it’s own organic way, to grow to the point where some artists don’t feel they need to sign with a label.

What’s your earliest childhood memory?

Sitting on my Mum’s knee listening to her sing to me

How do you relax?

See answer 5.

Can you give us your top 5-10 tips for budding musicians?

1. Practise
2. Practise
3. Practise
4. Practise
5. Practise
6. Practise some more.

Could you name your top five musicians – and explain why they impress you?

Prince – for his sheer genius of songwriting , musicianship, prolificness, longevity and utter uniqueness.
Bob Marley – for his incredible power of communication through amazing melodies and universal messages of protest and unity.
Shostakovich – for his incredible tenacity to write such powerful music at a desperate time of war during the Leningrad Siege that empowered and represented the struggle for so many people.
Nina Simone – her playing, her voice, her words, her grace and poise, her mesmerising performances and her bravery for speaking out during the time of the civil right movement.
James Brown – for generally being a badass and all the above!

How would you define creativity?

For me creativity is what happens when you let go. When you stop thinking about how things should be and let them be.

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

Turn off my phone and breathe.

As far as making my creativity heard I try and make sure that I’m always true to myself and hope that that the honesty of the message carries enough weight and resonates loud enough.

What’s next in terms of future projects?

I’ve just finished another album, which will be out this summer. And am currently working on visuals for the record, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ve also got a couple of side projects on the go so watch this space…

One comment

  1. Jackie Spriggs says:

    Hello Izzi!
    Don’t know if you remember me at Helenswood?So glad that you have found your niche in the music world…I have a couple of your CD’s! Am curious to know if the ‘cello you use now is the one I sourced for you from a lady who wanted to give her late husband’s ‘cello to a deserving young musician? Would you believe that music is no longer on the syllabus at Helenswood, like so many other state schools. My last school, Battle Abbey, is now almost a music specialist school…shame it can only happen where parents can afford to pay. Am lobbying anyone influential to try to rectify this…it’s a crime against a full education and depriving so many from experiencing music.
    Do you ever get back to Hastings? I am now involved with the Hastings International Piano Concerto Competition which is second only to The Leeds in Europe. This year 146 from all over the world applied, whittled down to six finalists over two evenings accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic…amazing talent.
    All good wishes to you. x

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