• Sophie Smith

"I Don’t Exist Without Writing" How Isabel Abbott Uses Songwriting To Get By



Isabel is holding the back of her head looking off to the side
Image via Isabel Abbott

"I would love to see a world where women don’t have to put in twice the work for half the recognition."

Songwriting is a musicians greatest tool to reflect on their own experiences. For Isabel Abbott she has used her angsty songwriting skills to form a beautifully curated EP called 'Tales'. I caught up with her about the stories behind her EP, how she wants the music industry to change and about writing in her mother tongue.


What was the inspiration behind the EP?

The horrendously beautiful inspiration came from my first love and my first break up. I thought I’d experienced pain and then I got my heart shattered, many times, on and off for years. As the angsty songwriter I am I had to write hundreds of songs about the occasion, ‘Tales’ will tell you the story with 4 summarising tracks.

What is your favourite track from the EP?

When I wrote most of these songs I was going through a tough time so if I get carried away. I can be taken back there. The real answer is, I can't listen to any of these songs without associating them with weird times, my judgement is clouded. However, the quick answer would be ‘Lover’, it makes me feel nice inside, for a bit. Most of my songs turn dark, but I think this track has a nice way of filtering between feelings of love and regret without getting the mood down.

Your EP touches upon love and breakups in your early 20's. What lessons have you learned along the way?

I'm still very much learning I guess. I’m a 21 year old who just finished uni, trying to figure out how adults do this life thing. Although, if I had to share my two cents on the matter, I don’t think anyone knows what they’re doing really. If someone has a magical way to get over a break up or offers a cure for grief in 3 easy steps, they’re lying. The power for us to get over things can only come from within, so spend time with yourself and find what works for you. Sure, collect advice and apply what feels right, but don’t let people dictate how or when you get over things.

You combine latin, pop, modern r&b speaking your mother tongue in some of the tracks too. Talk us through how you weave all of these together.

It’s always intriguing to people how both languages seamlessly coexist in my songs, it’s hard for some to notice I’m even switching between them. Basically, my whole life I’ve lived in Spain with an English father and I would always write in English, so my friends at school wouldn’t understand what I was writing about. But, when I moved here 3 years ago, I started writing about my boyfriend and people I knew, so some lyrics came out in Spanish, avoiding again their knowledge about my song lyrics. This has created the perfect mix of my usual English writing with a little bit of Spanish spice, and although google translate is so easy to use now a days, I still feel sneaky. When producing, the mix of all my influences comes together. I love old RnB but also listen to reggaeton and jazz, I feel like its a nice blend of music to have inside a creative mind.

You self-produced your EP! What do you like about self producing? Do you feel there is more pressure? How/where did you learn to produce?

This is something else that came natural to me in my songwriting development. Just as I discovered the piano and the guitar at a younger age, I discovered the art of recording and sound manipulation in my teenage years. I never thought of the hundreds of songs that I was making on Garage Band in my childhood room as self production. But looking back I was doing things at 14 that I then got taught at university level, just by simply exploring these modern tools alone. I learned how to do everything I know just by searching on Google and looking at tutorials on Youtube, which just makes me so excited for future generations and what we will be able to achieve. I believe it’s important to no longer judge creatives on how they learned their craft and what studies they carried to do so, everyone has the tools to do what ever they want to do, it’s all a matter of passion.

For women that want to get into production- do you have any advice/tips/tricks?

I could be the one asking this question, as I think I’m still struggling with the effects of misogyny in the industry. In fact, I have asked this question to other more established female producers and have received more or less the same answer. Be aware that there is a great majority of men in the music industry, especially within production, and that there is a massive misogyny problem. Do as much as you can to assert yourself as a great addition to any team and help women along the way. If you ever find yourself in power bring women up with you. These are things that I try to keep in mind, like I have done with the release of this EP. The art work has been done by a female graphic designer from Spain (Rocio Vallejo: @rvallejo.art) and the music videos have been recorded by an all female production company (@grl.london). Small things can trigger big changes, so let's all try together.

Go Away is about mental health and suicidal thoughts, an ode to yourself that you're not too much. What do you want listeners to take from it?

When you spend most of your life thinking that you are too much for everyone to handle, it’s hard to break the pattern. I’m still very much figuring out my mental health, so I’m probably not the best person to give positive advice. All I can hopefully do is make people feel seen and not feel alone and maybe some day inspire all of us to get out together. For now, the message is to keep it moving, no matter what comes your way, keep swimming.

Tell us a fun fact about yourself!

I’m 21 and already have my own cat. My mental health had been plummeting since I moved out and away from my kitties. I love animals more than humans, so I’ve always needed a furry friend with me. It’s a lot of responsibility and money but I love my son Pepper.

What is your favourite thing about songwriting?

Songwriting has always been a part of me, more like breathing or eating rather than a fun activity. I don’t exist without writing, as it literally is my only way of processing emotions. The best thing about it is that even though people try and put restraints and conditions to writing, there are no rules. You can literally say what ever you want, and it’s important to remember that as a musician. For me, the less structure, the better.

Who are your musical inspirations?

The answer to this question always surprises people, maybe because they don’t see in my production style anything remotely jazzy. However, my favourite artist since I was little has been Jamie Cullum. He was the first person I saw live and I can sing all his songs by heart. As a matter of fact I think you really can hear him on my voice, but people never seem to think thats the kind of music I would listen to. I also grew up on old Craig David RnB and long road trips listening to Frank Ocean. Its a strange mix of people I used to listen to in my childhood that I believe shaped my voice and writing style. However, in production I’ve learned a lot from FINNEAS and Amber Mark.

What advice would you give to a woman or gender minority entering the music industry?

To always assert yourself as a powerful figure in every room, or unfortunately people will walk over you. Bring women up with you to positions of power when ever you can.

How would you like to see the music industry change for women and gender minorities?

I would love to see a world where women don’t have to put in twice the work for half the recognition. Where men don’t take for granted that work place interactions have some sort of flirtatious tone to them. A world where all genders will be judged the same and only based on quality of work, instead of the baggage that now comes with stereotypes and norms.

Why do you love Cactus City?

I love that you are striving to make these things happen. To make creative spaces more inclusive and safe for us. All we can do is help each other out, so it’s nice to have a platform to do that.




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