Sunday 7 February 2021

Sadgirl in the Abyss: An Interview with Isserley (by Mikey Ortega)

My introduction to Australia’s Isserley was from a previous incarnation called Girlflesh. It was an electronic/experimental project that was dark, raw and uncomfortable. It was the music equivalent of extreme/transgressive cinema – similar to the likes of Baise Moi and Melancholie der Engel.  Later, Girlflesh started to go through a transformation and became Isserley – an even more aggressive sound than her previous work.


On this interview, I got to chat with Isserley about music - especially her new direction to Doom Metal.  Also chatted about her work doing soundtracks, horror films and plans for 2021. It was a blast to do this interview and hope you guys will enjoy it.


Mikey:  So how have things been since you started Isserley? It's a huge step from Girlflesh. Was Isserley something you've been brewing for a while?


Isserley: Things have been good! Though Isserley is more of a stage name than a project, I've gone under a few monikers while producing music. When I started releasing music as Isserley it was because I wanted to rebirth myself. I guess I thought I was doing a better job than what I was making in my more amateur projects, and I wanted to take a step into considering myself more professionally.


Mikey: I remembered a while back, you've mentioned on social media that you got some new gear and/or programs. By any chance did that help you to take that next step in being a more serious artist?


Isserley: Not really, but I've always been predominantly unprofessional in how I make music. It's such a raw thing for me, and honestly, I'm not a great producer in a technical sense. I like to make a mess and then arrange it into something tangible, I guess that's my thing. The gear can make it sound cooler or cleaner or whatever but my strength is chaos more than anything.


Mikey: Would you say "controlled chaos" or is it something more than that?


Isserley: Probably something less really, there's minimal method to whatever I'm doing. It comes from how I feel. I make my worst music when I go in trying to make it sound like something specific, and my best music comes from just doing whatever comes natural.


Mikey: Totally understand that. In pro wrestling, there's a saying: "less is more". When it came to making INSIDES, was Doom Metal's minimalism sound made you feel like you can do well in the genre?


Isserley: I had no idea if I'd do well, but I knew I wanted to try. I love metal, doom especially, so just having the opportunity to make that album was something I couldn't pass up. Insides was really exciting, I worked with my close friend Ripley Sterling on it, and we put so much time into it. I spent most of the album doubting myself, since I'd never worked in that genre, I always felt like I was just cosplaying or something, but we pulled it off and I'm really proud of the end result. Doing that gave me the confidence to work even more in that genre, and a lot of my best work is metal now.


Mikey: So how did Ripley get involved? Were there some bands that you used as references?


Isserley: I can't remember it too clearly now but I'm pretty sure it was just me being like "Hey, wanna do a doom metal album?" and he was like "Yeah, sure" and then we just kinda did it. Jucifer and Chelsea Wolfe came up a lot during production.


Mikey: TAPEWORMHOLE sounds like your early work with a heavier (even darker) approach,  What was the idea behind this album?


Isserley: The main idea was to embrace anger and aggression. I think if you spend enough time being disappointed, that disappointment becomes so familiar that it inevitably turns into frustration and anger. TAPEWORMHOLE was my way of exploring those feelings and giving myself permission to just to just be angry, be misanthropic, be all of those aggressive things and take it out on the music.


Mikey: This past December you put out SADXMASS, which was a nice gift for the fans.  It was a perfect album for us who spent Christmas alone because of lockdown. Was doing a Christmas/Holiday album something you've wanted to do? I see a song title like "Gingerbread Housefire" and it sounds like it's a title you've had for a while.


Isserley: I love Christmas so much! I used to hate it more than anything, and It'd send me into a several month long depression. We're meant to celebrate family, love, togetherness, all this stuff that a lot of people just don't have, and for most of my life Christmas was the most isolating and painful part of every year. I've learned to look at things differently, and I have a really different outlook on it now, but I thought it would be really fun to do a Christmas album that embraced all those darker parts of the holidays. I wanted to make Christmas music for people who still feel that alienation and isolation at that time, and I don't think I could do anything genuinely festive if I tried.


Gingerbread Housefire was the first title I had written down for the project too, so good guess!


Mikey: When doing soundtracks for movies, is it a different approach to when you're working on an album?


Isserley: Absolutely, my albums are always about me or an idea I've had, some kind of concept or allegory for what I've been going through during that time. When I do a score or soundtrack, It's usually for someone else's vision. It's something I have to compliment, and it isn't really about me at all. Usually I'll ask the creative director a lot of different questions to figure out where everything is at, and then I try to create something that I see fitting into their world. Since I work almost exclusively in horror, I still get to embrace all that noise and darkness, and it never feels like much of a stretch, but my mind is in an entirely different place.


Mikey: So, when a filmmaker asks you to do a score, do they give you creative freedom - most of the time? Or do they try to give you an idea of what they want? 


Isserley: It really depends on the project. Sometimes they know exactly what they want, other times they need someone to help them figure out what the vision is before trying to achieve it.


Mikey: Does it make things easier when they know what they want the score to sound like, compared to helping to find the right sound? Or does someone like you, also enjoys that challenge?


Isserley: I usually prefer having more control. I think I conceptualize things well and create something that fits and tells a story alongside the film or game. Much like all my other music, I work better with less restraints or external guidelines.


Mikey: After those questions, I would like to ask if there’s been any horror/extreme films that’s caught your radar? Anything you’re anticipating?


Isserley: I haven't seen any recent extreme cinema that was super impressive to me, but I have been rewatching some of the classics like the Guinea Pig series. Stephen Biro just released a new cut of A Serbian Film which I'm curious to check out too. I watch like at least one movie every day, and It's almost always horror, but I've been on a bit of a losing streak. I did discover Doom Asylum for the first time late last year and I'm absolutely in love with it!


Mikey: The Unearthed Films release of A Serbian Film looks really good. I ended up getting the blu-ray.  There’s no added “violent” scenes in the new uncut version.  Just some flashbacks when Milos was trying to figure shit out. But it’s worth getting for the special features and commentary, which weren’t in the first release.


Did you get a chance to check out any of the American Guinea Pigs and have any thoughts on it?  Or their Too Extreme For Mainstream library?


I don’t think I’ve come across Doom Asylum. Any chance you can tell me about that flick?


From what I heard, some extreme cinema that has been creating a buzz is Truama (from Chile), The Painted Bird and 29 Needles.  Have those films caught your attention?


Isserley: It's so cool that you're into that stuff! I barely know anybody who is..


I've seen all the AGP movies! I think Bloodshock was my fave, it was kind of like a weird combo of Tetsuo and some of the older Guinea Pig movies.


Doom Asylum is an 80's slasher that embraces all the goofy 80's slasher stuff, It's super funny and cheesy, but It's really brutal and gory as well, which is super fun. There's a blonde girl in it that basically plays harsh noise music in a band, which was rad.


I've heard of 29 Needles, and I'm really excited to see Trauma! I'll have to check out The Painted Bird though, I haven't heard of that one


Mikey: I’ll definitely have to look up Doom Asylum (and hopefully anyone that’s reading this when the interview gets published). Not sure if you’re familiar with a Russian war film called Come And See, but from what I read, The Painted Bird shares that bleakness. I haven’t seen Trauma, but it is on my watchlist on Tubi. Heard a lot about the beginning, the rape scene and the baby in the end.


I’ve heard stories about how tough it is for extreme cinema to make it’s way to Australia. There was a incident where someone got arrested for ordering August Underground, that Fred Vogel flew over there to support the guy in court. Then there was that film festival, where the organizer got arrested for showing Bruce LaBruce’s LA Zombie. And I’m not sure if A Serbian Film is banned or they just cut out a lot of scenes. So I have to ask, does Australian censorship laws make it hard to hunt down extreme cinema? Does this make things even harder to make extreme cinema in Australia? I would think you can find many people into extreme cinema online or is it you don’t come across interviewers who are into extreme cinema? Are there extreme cinema Facebook groups or message boards that you are in? How do you stay in touch on upcoming horror films and extreme cinema?


Isserley: A lot of the time now, extreme cinema is super indie, so you can usually find region free DVDs or Blus from their official stores, if not Ebay or something similar to that. Unless It's super rare, It's only as hard to get as the movie itself is. I generally don't know many people who enjoy extreme cinema, but I do follow some on Letterboxd, and I'm Facebook friends with a lot of people involved with all that stuff. I really badly wanna do the soundtrack for extreme cinema so that's something I'm super interested in right now, so if anyone has a lead on that..


You'll pretty much never natively find extreme cinema unless it was something with major cultural impact, like Salo or something like that. You're definitely not gonna find August Underground or Nekromantik on the shelves here


Mikey: Would you know if a Australian filmmaker were to do a movie like A Serbian Film or The Guinea Pig series in Australia, will there be any legal trouble?


Isserley: As far as I know, censorship only becomes a thing if the ratings board gets involved, so if you release stuff completely indie, I doubt they'd have trouble.


Mikey: Yeah, after hearing about that August Underground story, it did make me curious.


So, how was 2020 for you? Other than your music, did you have any big plans, but got ruined because of the pandemic?


Isserley: I'm a total recluse with very little ambition, so the pandemic barely impacted me at all. I do everything from my house, and I'm pretty happy just doing what I do. 2020 was fine for me, maybe even slightly better than a normal year since everyone else was online all the time. Weirdly, it made my year less lonely.


Mikey: For someone that doesn't do live shows and just keeps to themselves, what has been your thoughts on the people in the music industry getting called out by women, for abuse and sexual harassment?


Isserley: I don't really have a specific opinion on that. If someone wrongs someone, they should absolutely say or do something about it.


Mikey: I guess I kinda wanted to know if you feel like not playing live shows and being involved in your scene was probably for the best? I’m not sure how often you get shit from creeps online, but would those events have discouraged you in getting involved with music, when starting out?  Do you see the #SpeakingOut movement getting women even more involved in their music scene?  Hope these questions don’t seem too personal.


Isserley: I'd like to be more involved in any scene really, but I'm not really close to anything and even if I was, I don't think I'm really ready for that stuff. It's never really been a choice but whenever I've been asked to play live I've shied away. I think just existing publicly on the internet is enough to draw in negativity from other people, so dealing with that is another day to day tool you pick up, like spelling or how to make a mean sandwich. It's never made me reconsider music at all.


I'm not really sure what anybody's motivation for getting into music is, but my own was an emotional outlet. There was a lot of anger and pain in my earliest music, so I suppose It's possible that people will use whatever anger they have from those kinds of situations to fuel some form of art.


Mikey: So what do you have planned for 2021?


Isserley: I'm working on a new album at the moment, as well as a few side projects and remix compilations. I don't really plan ahead, so I have no idea what will come out of 2021, but hopefully people dig whatever I end up doing.


Mikey: Awesome. I was gonna ask if you ever interest of doing a side project. Any details you can give and when will we be able to hear it? On the new Isserley album - did you just started working on it or do you have some of it completed? Do you have a title for it? And how are things with your remix work?


Isserley: It's all still Isserley stuff, but I have some scoring and smaller EPs I'm working on, as well as physical merch. I'm not sure when the new album will be done, I'm chipping away at it whenever the mood strikes, but I'm not very good at forcing myself into it, I don't work well that way. A few songs are finished already though, and I think I have a working title but I don't wanna announce it yet since I change my mind a lot. As for remixing, I don't have anything planned right now, but always open to it if the song resonates with me.


Mikey: And finally - is there a subject/concept and genres you would like to explore? Also, is there anything you’d like to add about your creative journey?


Isserley:  I'm definitely wanting to get more into rap! I love doing it but I'm not really that great at it, even the production for it is kinda tricky for me, but I'm really determined to do a pop and rap thing at some point! I don't think I have anything to add, but I really enjoyed this interview!


Isserley’s latest album, SADXMASS, is available now on Bandcamp for “Name Your Price”. 

Be sure to follow Isserley and stay up to date on releases and future projects. You can find her on the links below:-


Facebook -

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Bandcamp -

Soundcloud -

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