Finding Identities With Gina Izzo’s ladyybirdd

When I wrote about Gina Izzo’s spellbinding ladyybirdd project recently, I described it as the Wild West of solo flute music. The deeper I dig into her new album, Tomorrow’s Yesterday, the truer that axiom becomes. Izzo bends flute passages into dazzling, expansive sound worlds buoyed by dancing rhythms and gilded electronics. Adding to the mesmerizing arrangements, she is joined by a host of collaborators from Ambrose Akinmusire, Immanuel Wilkins, and Erika Dohl to Nick Dunston and Ian Rosenbaum. It’s an utterly remarkable record. The more I got into it, the more I wanted to know, so a conversation with Izzo was the obvious answer. 

Tomorrow’s Yesterday is out now via Innova and can be ordered HERE.

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What are some of your earliest memories or experiences related to music or sound? 

Coming from a family of musicians, I have been a part of the music industry my entire life. My father was a clarinetist in the 1950s New York City scene, and my mother a flutist, both deeply rooted in the arts education realm. They were my teachers. Their strong arts and education upbringing and support in a house flooded with classical and jazz daily, some could say, made my career path inevitable. My sister is also a clarinetist whose focus is on arts education and supporting young artists to develop their unique voices in our industry. Music runs in the family! I remember from when I was very young, running around the concert halls at their rehearsals and performances and meeting lots of musicians and composers! 

What are some of the real formative things from when you were young that have stuck with you?

That music and music education alongside mentorship changes lives. Growing up in a musical family, I saw the impact of arts and arts education not only in my own life but also in those who had an opportunity to engage in the arts from an early age. Both my parents were performers and music educators, and I learned from them. I watched them build music programs and communities, and the impact that arts and arts education had on their students. I still receive messages from their former students, those whom they mentored, about the significant impact music had on their lives. 

Mentorship played a pivotal role in my career from an early age, and in 2018 I co-founded bespoken, a mentorship organization for women in music. My organization has supported over 85+ women since our foundation by providing skill-building tools and support to develop successful ideas, goals, and projects in music–support that I found so valuable in my path. 

I am also currently manager of Learning and Engagement at Carnegie Hall with a specific focus on Musical Explorers, a K-2 grade program that introduces classroom and music teachers nationally to artists, their culture, and their traditions from all over the world. The program is unique by providing students, teachers, and their families with resources to teach them basic music, singing, and listening skills as they study songs from different cultures and reflect on the vibrant diversity in their communities.

Did you always want to be a musician or play music?

That’s easy. Ever since I was little, when someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up I would say, “I am going to be a flutist.” By the age of 10 (maybe earlier) I already self-titled myself a flutist 🙂 I used to skip lunch and gym class in school to find a small closet to practice flute near the band room, this was always my favorite part of my school day and it used to get me in trouble with my teachers! As I entered high school, I rallied to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school for young like-minded young artists for my junior and senior years – two of the most influential years of my life. I was surrounded by incredible young artists from around the world whom, to this day, I collaborate with and consider among my closest friends.

Photo by Shervin Lainez

What drew you to the flute? Was it your first instrument?

The flute was my first instrument. My mom was a flutist, so I heard her playing at home on a regular basis and I was drawn to its sound and how beautiful the instrument was. She also had a gold flute… and I love(d) gold. When I first started playing in the band around 4th grade, my band teacher wanted me to explore other instruments…and I refused 🙂 

When did you start composing your own music and was there a specific moment or experience you remember that really sparked that interest?

Oftentimes in order to create the sound you want to hear, you have to discover and create it yourself. For me, the interest in writing music developed over time as I began exploring sound using fx pedals. My curiosity with the kinds of sound I could produce from the flute and my interest in improvising led me to experiment with putting together musical frameworks using electronics as the foundation.

When I first approached writing my own music, I started by building a structure utilizing only a few pedals and experimenting with how they reacted to each other in various configurations. The possibilities are endless. Extremely unique to the process of recording “Tomorrow’s Yesterday,” was not bringing any notated music into the studio. In the studio, I would bring in gestures, a vibe, an atmosphere, a technique, or a sound that I wanted to explore, that I would create in real time utilizing my flute through my fx pedals. I was hearing the fx in my headphones and using them as a jumping-off point for improvisation. The line between engineering and post-production was blurred – a lot of the FX and sounds you hear throughout the album were recorded live to shape each composition.

Can you tell me more about the sound you have developed over the past ten years, and how you utilize the acoustic flute through a series of analog pedals and modular synthesizers?

Many performance spaces are not acoustically friendly. As a classical artist, I was used to performing in traditional concert halls and/or cathedrals – spaces with a long beautiful reverberant sound. In an attempt to counter dry acoustic spaces and create ambiance, I explored adding my own reverb to my flute to try to make spaces have the sort of concert hall effect. I began with just one fx pedal – reverb – on more acoustic pieces and learned how I could utilize that pedal to sustain one note on my instrument for a very long time. I played with this effect for years, layering notes on top of each other. Once I felt comfortable with the capabilities of that one pedal, I began experimenting with more fx in the chain – giving me endless possibilities with sound.

I still rarely use more than five fx pedals at a time. I go to great lengths to get a particular sound through a very specific pedal and setup – a sound on the flute that you can’t achieve any other way.

So you’ve got a new album, Tomorrow’s Yesterday, under your [ladyybirdd] moniker. First, I’m curious about the story behind that name. As someone who uses various project names for their solo work, I’d love to hear why you decided to use this moniker and if there’s a particular story behind it?

ladyybirdd is a character, a sort of musical alter-ego. It is useful for me when working on a project, to create a psychological space for my feelings unique to a project’s identity. ladyybirdd is the first project representing of my own music and allows me to be expressive in a different way. The name itself was a nickname given to me by a friend, and honestly, I never asked why. I imagine that the flute’s close connection with birds may have something to do with it. 

That being said, I feel like that nickname opened up space for me to take on a different identity. 

“ladyybirdd” is sort of black-swan-esque– a sort of musical physiological alter ego with multiple shades, making the flute a protagonist straddling a line between experimental electronic music and the classical avant-garde. 

Can you tell me more about the extended techniques and effects that you use on your flute on Tomorrow’s Yesterday?

My flute is altered through analog fx pedals such as layering, looping, reverb, distortion, granular process, and most often I am utilizing these pedals with extended techniques.

Extended techniques, which are more or less untraditional ways of playing the acoustic instrument, open up a larger canvas for engagement with the analog fx. For example on “Into What Is Wanted” and “when we say goodbye” I use a technique that makes the flute sound more like a percussion instrument, like a shaker, and very rhythmic. I am often also utilizing techniques on the flute such as whistle tones, flutter tongue, harmonics, and very breathy, unfocused air to sound more breathy throughout, which when used through pedals, take on a life of their own.

What is the significance of the title, “Tomorrow’s Yesterday”?

“Tomorrow’s Yesterday” signifies time as a continuous cycle, where each day is connected to the previous and the next. After my father passed away, in 2018, I thought a lot about what it felt like to say goodbye to him. A friend said to me, “Always keep in mind that Today is Tomorrow’s Yesterday,” and it brought me back to that moment, one I can never forget. What happens today impacts every step of our direction. Today is the future of yesterday, and tomorrow is the future of today – a gentle reminder of the cyclical nature of time and the importance of making the most of it.

“Threshold consciousness” is something that’s mentioned in the album’s description, and I find that really fascinating. What is your interest in this state of being and how did it influence your approach to writing this record?

Threshold consciousness is the state in which you are “half-asleep” or “half-awake.” For me, I mostly think about the state of transitioning out of a dream to being awake, more than transitioning into one. 

I am a very vivid and frequent dreamer. Oftentimes my dreams are recurring, meaning that I have the same dream, sometimes dreams within dreams, in the same place with a different storyline. Often, the transition out of these dreams is blurred and becomes sort of lucid in an awake state – where you don’t know if you are dreaming or not.     

On “Tomorrow’s Yesterday” this state of being is represented by the tracks that have lowercase titles – these tracks are all sorts of transitions in between consciousness and unconscious states before the more active tracks. Throughout the album, the sounds on these sorts of interludes represent the recurring dreams, utilizing similar material and sounds, with slight alterations. 

What was it like to collaborate with other musicians on this album (an amazing cast of collaborators!), and how did you give them the instruction to “stay until you lose the urge to leave”? I am so intrigued by that statement as a sort of collaborative jumping-off point…

“Tomorrow’s Yesterday” strongly focuses on breath, pulling synthesizers, and percussive peaks that create a layered sense of urgency and calming at the same time – as well as a resistance to moving forward. 

I regularly practice hot yoga, which is a silent meditative practice in a 105-110 degree heated room. At the end of one of my classes during “shavasana,” a pose most commonly used at the end of a sequence as a means of relaxation and integration, I was extremely eager to get off my mat and rush out the door. The instructor leading the meditation said, “I encourage everyone to ‘stay until you lose the urge to leave.’” Meaning, to go against your instincts and stay a little longer than you feel comfortable and/or sit in discomfort.

This is the feeling that I wanted to explore on this album. I really emphasized the artists to embrace what feels uncomfortable; i.e. sitting on a note for a little too long, leaning into a phrase or pattern, and going against their instincts to move onto something else too soon. It created a resistance to moving forward, a sort of push-and-pull effect, in ways that often music doesn’t allow space for.

What were some of the biggest challenges you had to overcome to get this record made?

I have been fortunate to work with an incredible team on “Tomorrow’s Yesterday” including photographer Shervin Lainez and visual artist Zlata Kolomoyskaya, each of my guest artists, producer Joseph Branciforte, as well as Dotdotdotmusic and Innova Recordings, who have helped in the efforts to support and release “Tomorrow’s Yesterday.” It is no small endeavor to put together such an incredible artistic team and well worth the effort to have everyone involved. 

For reference, I began conceptualizing and recording “Tomorrow’s Yesterday” in 2019 and a lot has changed since I began this process since its release in August 2023. This album is symbolic of about ten years of my sound’s evolution and is an excellent example of where I was at that moment. My hope is that my sound for “ladyybirdd” continues to evolve and I am excited to see what is next! 

What most surprised you about the process?

“Tomorrow’s Yesterday” is the first album I’ve done as composer/producer of my music and is in collaboration with Joseph Branciforte. The process was very experimental and collaborative. Joseph is an incredible engineer and well-of-knowledge surrounding FX and synthesizers, and he has introduced me to new ways to explore these sounds through my instrument. I went into the studio with concepts and ideas, which, when working with pedals, may often take new musical directions in the moment. Our ability to adapt and improvise around the unknown was perhaps our most significant, surprising, and gratifying part of our process. 

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