Maria Isabel grew up in a household filled with Dominican music and from a young age knew she always wanted to make music herself—it was just a matter of time. Staying true to her word, she ventured into songwriting and recording sessions during college in her hometown of Queens, New York. She discovered that songwriting gave her an outlet to express her thoughts and feelings, something she could lean on during hard times.
Connecting with others isn’t something new for Isabel, she’s built a large social media following over the years by candidly being herself. Releasing music has given her a new way to connect with her followers and she often puts her vulnerability and openness on display to discuss mental health. Having experienced anxiety and depression firsthand, she hopes her vulnerability will shine a spotlight on these issues with the intent of letting others know they are not alone.
Fast forward to today and Isabel has moved to LA to further her career and recently released her debut album, Stuck In The Sky, a collection of lofi R&B songs that speak to the hardships of a long-distance relationship. The album’s release comes during a time where the concept of separation is amplified due to the ongoing pandemic, making her heartfelt lyrics that much more relatable.
Isabel is only at the beginning of her career but it’s clear that she’s a star in the making with her angelic vocals, vintage aesthetic, and ability to connect with others. We caught up with the young artist over Zoom to discuss the meaning behind her debut album, her dream collaborations, and mental health.
How has your lineage and upbringing shaped you as an artist?
Dominican music was the first thing I was exposed to. It was always playing in the house. I think sonically that’s definitely had an influence and will come through in the music a bit more going forward. Honestly, more so my appreciation for it because it’s such a big deal in the Dominican Republic where there’s music playing everywhere.
Which artists have inspired you throughout the years?
Mariah Carey, Sade, Lauryn Hill, and Alicia Keys. The commonality is powerful women who aren’t afraid to say what they want to say.
When did you decide to pursue music full time and start working towards your debut album?
I’ve been singing my whole life but I didn’t start songwriting until [my] junior year of college and it was then that I started doing sessions and meeting people in the industry. Pursuing music was really just a matter of finishing school for me, so after I graduated from NYU and I had a part-time job, whenever I was free I would do sessions and work on music.
What was your creative process for Stuck In The Sky?
Stuck In The Sky came together in a weird way that it wasn’t sessions lined up to write the first project, it was more so exploration with the first few songs that I wrote [and] I really loved. “The 1” was the first one and then from there it was songwriting as much as I could and I kind of realized that’s the story I was telling and it all came together.
How long were you working on all the songs that came together to make the album?
About a year. But honestly, quarantine—from March to release—was the most productive time for it. When it came to writing and recording that was really easy to do while hunkered down at home.
Is there a meaning behind the title Stuck In The Sky?
I was trying to find one phrase; it also ended up being a lyric in a song, but I was looking for something to sum up the feeling of literally flying back and forth from New York to LA. Also, the idea that a long-distance [relationship] is harder to propel forward because you’re never in the same place doing the same things. It’s hard to feel a relationship is growing, so that stuck feeling felt the same as literally being in the airplane with no capability of doing anything else but waiting it out.
What do you hope that your fans take away from the album?
I didn’t expect for this [pandemic] to be going on in the world when it came out [but] finding solace in the fact that more people than ever are separated. So finding some comfort in knowing they’re not going through it alone [and] some sort of sense [that] they can see themselves in the music. That’s been the best part of getting messages and responses back to the music like, “Omg I’m going through this,” and feeling [as if] anybody can relate.
You’ve spoken about how mental health is an important topic to you. What mental health issues do you want to further explore through your music?
Depression and anxiety primarily. So many people are widely affected by it and if not themselves directly then somebody they know, but we never really talk about it unless it’s using it as a more powerful adjective for when you’re really sad or nervous. So I think bringing more awareness to mental health and trying to destigmatize it, truly just [talking] about it so that people know they’re not alone.
What would be some dream musical collaborations for you?
James Blake is my number one right now [and] Bad Bunny [is] a big goal.
How does it feel to be debuting your music during a time where live performances aren’t possible?
It’s very strange, I only had singles out at the time when all of this started, so I wasn’t stressed on that end. I felt like I got to play catch-up and finish the project but now that it’s out it feels really weird. Now watching people interact with the music, I wish we could all be in the same room so badly. [There’s] so many live streams going on and [I’m] trying to do it differently but still reach people.
What was the inspiration behind the visuals for Stuck In The Sky?
The biggest influence was that I was writing most of these songs in retrospect, so singing it back felt like a memory. I wanted all the videos to feel that way too like you were watching the memory I was singing about with me.
You have a large following on social media and you’ll often preview your music there first, why did you decide that was the best way to connect with your fans?
Ease of access, it grew within itself with the explore page. As long as I was consistently posting and honestly posting so it’s not super curated. [My instagram] feels like me and I’m talking to people all the time so it felt like the easiest way to reach everybody.
Do you have any upcoming projects?
I just started writing for the next project, so hopefully that’s coming very soon.