Izzy Camina is awake, but only just. After getting up and crushing some poorly-made coffee in her LA home, she stares up into the sky, hoping the blue light outside will offer some additional sustenance. When NME calls, the laughter on the other end of the line betrays a 24-year-old for whom four hours’ sleep is entirely manageable. “I’m a ten hour girl, but fuck it,” she giggles again, freshly caffeinated and ready to take on the world.
It’s the kind of energy that burns through ‘UP N DOWN’, the singer’s first single that dropped back in December. A paean to the saturnalia of youth and all the lows that come after, the bass-driven track captured something most of us were feeling: an unshakeable impression that we might be dancing through end times. “Humanity is sick,” she sings, “but it feels so much better when you seal it with a kiss.” It’s unmistakably the work of a young artist who’s already experienced her share of ups and downs.
Born in LA, Camina moved to New Jersey at the age of five, where she was raised and went to high school. It was there that she discovered a love of old-school hip hop (“I hated anything new,” she says), a self-confessed moody teenager who spent her nights listening to Mobb Deep and fantasising about making her own beats. Instead, she found herself finishing school and moving to study at a business school in New York.
“It was a very corporate environment, very chrome,” she recalls. “It wasn’t a fancy school. It was mid-town Manhattan, kids from the city, no real community.” Unsurprisingly, business school didn’t prove to be a fertile ground for Camina’s early musical dreams. “I was feeling a bit creatively low, and I guess I never really considered myself an artist – I wanted to be a businesswoman, a power bitch, which is why I was studying at this business school. I just wanted to get rich and work in an office.”
It seems the call to bark corporate jargon about maximising synergy and actioning high-payoff catalysts couldn’t entirely quell the call to make music. “I had this mini-dream where I was like, ‘Maybe I could just try?’ It’s pretty crazy to go from not being that arty kid, that music kid or that theatre kid, to go, ‘let’s just pursue this dream, I wanna be a pop star!’” After posting a demo online and getting interest from a London-based agency, Camina found herself dropping out of school and moving to an “insanely cheap” flat in Dalston.
“I got a job at some hipster brunch spot next to London Fields,” she tells NME. “Before I knew it, I was serving Arca fried chicken.” Come again? “I shit you not, dude! Chicken and waffles. I shouldn’t put her on the spot like that… I was surprised she doesn’t just drink, like, pomegranate juice. Some divine nectar of the gods.”
Aside from literally feeding the avant-garde, it was in London where the musician would do her best field research on the subject of her latest single, ‘Kill Your Local Indie Softboy’. Camina’s debut EP, ‘Nihilist In The Club’, often veers between her love of techno and her love of dream pop, and it’s the latter that dominates her most hilarious and incisive song; a sweet, synth-laden, fuck-off kiss to the legions of men who have tried to mansplain her own production back to her.
“Moving to East London, it’s a smorgasbord of these arty boys. And under the façade of being a sensitive, trendy, arty boy, there’s still so much shittiness, there’s still so much misogyny. Especially being a female producer,” she adds.
“I can sit here and use a lot of like – what wave of feminism are we talking about here, like fourth-wave internet feminism? – all that terminology, like toxic masculinity, because it’s true. The point of the song is just sometimes I just want a ‘Chad’. I just want a frat boy, a footballer player – American or English. I want a Chad who’s a dudebro and wears his shitty masculinity on his sleeve.”
At least there’s a sort of honesty there, right? “Yeah! But I’m also from New Jersey, dude. I’m not from London. I wasn’t used to these types of guys, all these manic pixie dream boys. It’s also me projecting my fantasies onto these guys that are a little bit different to my regular guy in North Jersey who vapes and wears basketball shorts, you know?”
Before long, Camina was chasing her pop star dreams back to LA – another industry figure promising success, another flight. The indie softboys (mostly) left behind, she started to focus on the positive role models she saw in the world. When we get onto the subject of influences, it seems another LA resident is pretty high on that list.
“I just think Grimes is an insane creative genius,” she says. “Her current brand is this amalgamation between cyberpunk and Lord of the Rings, and I love that. There’s familiarity there. If I was a little girl, she would be my absolute hero. And also the fact that she’s a female producer who had to deal with press that would always be asking, ‘Who’s the man behind this?’”
Camina doesn’t see any compromise when it comes to Grimes’ high-profile relationship with tech bro and burgeoning submarine inventor Elon Musk. “I think that makes her cooler to be honest. It makes her more complex. I’m not a dualist, you know? I’m very shades of grey. I don’t believe in cancel culture, because we’re all problematic.”
“We’re all navigating it, we’re all sorting it out. And when it comes to Elon Musk, capitalist or not, I’d rather him be spearheading out capitalist demise than somebody else. I think I like her more now. I like the blood-soaked dystopian princess thing…”
“I don’t think we should cancel people,” she elaborates. “I think we should be looking at people and saying, ‘How can we make you better?’ Because we can’t just delete people we don’t like off the face of the planet. We’ve got to co-exist, especially with these scary times ahead. We’ve got to work together and we’ve got to learn to forgive each other.
“We’ve become really good at checking each other, and monitoring each other, and not putting up with any bullshit. I think that’s amazing, and I’m happy to grow up seeing so much social progression, especially among young people online. It’s super inspiring. But I think we’ve got to realise that it’s all shades of grey; no one is good or bad unfortunately. We’re complex, and we have to navigate our complexities. As much as we question others, we have to question ourselves.”
Camina doesn’t subscribe to the view that ‘cancelling’ artists and celebrities provides any form of example for society. “I don’t believe in destroying people’s lives and leaving them to rot,” she continues. “Because people aren’t going away, you know? They may not be in the public eye, but they’ll still be somewhere making decisions, interacting with others. They’re still in the world.”
Izzy Camina certainly isn’t going anywhere. Speaking to NME just before the coronavirus pandemic hits, she’s already excited about where she might take her apocalyptic art next: live shows and an album are already being dreamed up, even as their execution takes a backseat for now. “Or maybe I’ll call it a mixtape, something more casual,” she muses. “I feel like I’ve been making music for such a long time, I’m ready to put more and more of it out. I wanna put it out! Fast-paced consumer culture, right?” Right. Camina is ready to soundtrack the dark times. You might want to put another coffee on.
Izzy Camina’s debut EP ‘Nihilist In The Club’ is out now
Subscribe to NME’s New Bangers, our weekly-updated playlist with the best new music on the planet