Alex Isley started planting her musical seeds nearly a decade ago with her debut EP, Love / Art Memoirs. Released independently on May 12, 2012, the project included the standout track “Into Orbit.”
Isley, daughter of Ernie Isley from the legendary Isley Brothers, had started working on Love / Art Memoirs a couple of years prior while pursuing her jazz studies degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
“I would find a classroom in the music building and play songs on the piano that I knew. Then I would create some new ones,” Isley tells Rated R&B over a video call.
Isley didn’t intend to produce her music at the time, but she was eager to share her craft. “It was getting to the point where I just wanted people to hear something,” she recalls.
“My mom helped me invest in recording equipment and software. Production was an unexpected part of my journey. I didn’t realize that I would be doing that but I’m grateful that I have that skill.”
Isley has consistently released projects over the years: Love / Art Memoirs (2012); Dreams in Analog (2013); L U X U R Y (2015); The Beauty of Everything, Pt. 1 (2018); The Beauty of Everything, Pt. 2 (2019) and Wilton (2019).
Slowly but surely, each project attracted more listeners and broadened Isley’s fanbase. Even Bryson Tiller, a newcomer at the time, took an interest in Love / Art Memoirs. The Louisville, Kentucky, native sampled the intro track on “Open Interlude” from his now 3x multi-platinum debut album, T R A P S O U L. “Open Interlude” was certified gold by the RIAA in November 2021. “It’s cool to hear myself sampled cuz I love the art of that,” she says.
Isley currently has more than 1.4 million monthly listeners on Spotify, an exceptional feat for an artist without a label backing her.
“I had a certain timeline of how things were gonna go and when things would happen,” she reveals. “I’ve been reminded of trusting its timing. I think everything is happening the way that it’s supposed to. I’m grateful for the time I’ve put in and for all the support.”
Isley’s Wilton EP was the first time she collaborated with producer Jack Dine, who she worked closely with on the entire project. “We had no track record together. We were just happy and eager to create together,” she says.
In 2020, Isley and Dine started recording more material. They shared three songs that year, including “Gone,” “Good & Plenty” featuring Masego, and “Mine.”
Around mid-2020, Isley and Dine started focusing on a follow-up project to Wilton.
Now, the dynamic duo is back with their new album titled Marigold. Like their first project, the two shared the same eagerness to create. However, this time they had an established sound to build upon. “I think there’s a bit more of a foundation that made it easier,” comments Isley.
Named after the beautiful flower, Marigold is deeply rooted in a variety of feelings. “It’s a lot of reflecting on this album,” Isley shares. “This album reflects memories — some pleasant and some not so pleasant.”
The album’s cover art, conceptualized and photographed by Jordan Pories, features a macro view of an orange marigold against a dark backdrop. “Everything that Jack and I have done together has been designed by Jordan. He’s a magician,” Isley says with a smile. “He’s very purposeful.”
Marigold opens with “Such a Thing.” If you listen closely in the beginning, you can hear Isley’s daughter quietly speaking. Although she makes a brief cameo, the delicate track isn’t necessarily about familial love. “I was just writing about love in general. It wasn’t directed towards a specific person,” explains Isley.
Lyrically, “Such a Thing” tells a heartwarming story about unexpectedly finding love. “Just one year ago / You couldn’t have told me / That this was a part of my plan / I never imagined such a thing,” Isley gently sings with her euphonious voice.
Midway through the album is “Under the Moon,” a fervent tune that describes the butterflies and “all the feelings of wanting to get to somebody in their space — and the anticipation of that.”
“I’m under the moon / Hoping that I’ll get over to you,” Isley coos on the nighttime anthem.
On the optimistic “Love Again,” which was released on Valentine’s Day, Isley remains hopeful about finding love again. It’s certainly a song anyone should play when feeling doubtful about love.
As noted above, Marigold also explores the downside of love. Grammy-winning musician Robert Glasper appears on “Still Wonder,” which was released as a focus track last November.
With Glasper on the keys, Isley ponders about a former lover who remains on her mind. As she tries to practice self-love, she can’t help but to think about the person who left a hole in her heart.
“How do I get to heal? / Hard to assess how I feel nowadays / Think in my mind, something changed / Struggling here, in the interface,” she sings on the somber track.
Interestingly, Isley reveals that she and Dine completed “Still Wonder” in one day. Even though they wrapped up their portion, they felt something was missing.
“At the end we were like, ‘This would be cool to have some kind of instrumental solo,” she recalls.
Dine suggested reaching out to Glasper, who had previously collaborated with Isley on other songs with Kaytranada (“No One Like You”), Derrick Hodge (“Main Theme”), Terrace Martin (“People Get Ready”), and Glasper’s supergroup Dinner Party (“Luv U”), which includes Martin, 9th Wonder and Kasami Washington.
“Robert has become like a big brother of mine, and I’m really grateful for that relationship. He was just very much on board and it was a lot easier than I thought to just tie everything together,” she says.
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Studies show that marigold, the flower, offers plenty of healing benefits. The same could be said about Marigold, the album. It’s as if Isley and Dine pulled these flowers from their musical garden and meticulously concocted a body of work that ameliorates any pain that one may feel. Isley’s honeyed vocals paired with Dine’s dreamy production will leave anyone hooked after the first listen.
Isley hopes that people can make a connection to Marigold in whatever way. She concludes, “I hope there’s inspiration. I hope there can be healing or encouragement. I hope that it’s something that adds to the listener’s life.”
Stream Alex Isley and Jack Dine’s new album, Marigold, below.