Isla Craig

Breakout Toronto Bands: Isla Craig

Breakout Toronto Bands features local artists that we think you should give a listen to.

You probably never thought about it, but R&B and folk music go together like ice cream and apple pie (yeah, I just went there) — and this artist proves it. An R&B vocal master with the soul of a folk singer, Isla Craig brings a stunningly hollow and haunting sound to her most recent a cappella creations.

Who is she?

As she grew up at church with her mother, who is a talented organist, vocalist, and pianist, it's no surprise that Craig developed a strong love for choral music. But, as a child of the 90s, even at seven years old she had a collection of R&B tapes — Aaliyah and Whitney Houston, among others — that formed an even larger part of her musical development. "I'm an urbanite," she tells me. "I live with the feeling of live energy."

Living in Toronto for the last decade, she's been involved in many projects over the years, none more important than The Deeep, a synthwave/electro band whose album, "Life Light," was released on tastemaking label Not Not Fun back in 2011 (was it really all that long ago?). Currently flying solo to pursue her own sounds and goals, Craig seems to be going with the flow. "I like to see albums as a process. I don't really think of it as a definitive endpoint or an object and it represents you. I'm interested in a life of becoming an artist, not in a stagnant spot of being an artist."

She sounds like...

A droplet of soul into a bucket of heartfelt sound that pulses and springs like the ocean breaking on rocks. Maybe I'm getting a bit hyperbolic, but it's hard not to after chatting with Craig for a while. When asked to talk about her sound, she'll say, very matter-of-factly: "Contemporary folk R&B." But when push comes to shove and her mind starts to wander, she describes it quite differently: "When I sing it's a feeling and a release. It's the best health tonic for my body."

If you check her out on Bandcamp, Craig has released two sides to an album titled "Both the one & the Other" that focuses almost entirely on vocal production and the harmonies of either Craig with with four of her close and talented friends, Ivy Mairi, Daniela Gesundheit (of Snowblink), Tamara Lindeman (of Weather Station), and Felicity Williams, on the one side ("Both the One...") or with just herself on the other ("...& the Other"). Says Craig, "This tape was really about showing the process of collaborating. I wrote them by myself, then brought them to the ladies and developed them, and then went back and recorded them solo after we had worked on them altogether. It's kind of a backwards process."

But maybe this describes her sound best: "The creative process for me is really about doing a lot of different things and collaborating across genres and styles, being influenced and introduced to new things and new ideas. It percolates down into my own work. I'm a compound experience."

Given that she's also a member of OG Melody, a 90s R&B throwback duo with Thom Gill, Craig is a "compound experience" indeed.

Hear her / see her

If this appeals to you, you might want to find yourself at the Gerrard Art Space during Feast in the East on Friday night. Craig and Ivy Mairi will be performing a selection of folk tunes, both traditional and new.

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