Issa Rodriguez is only 22 and has just launched her EP. To celebrate the end of her bar tour, we caught up with her at Backyard Kitchen and Brew at The Grove Rockwell. Issa is seemingly quiet and reserved while waiting for her set, off to one corner, her face barely discernible through long hair and black frames. But onstage, she surprises with the depth, variation, and complexity of her vocal range, her capacity to draw the audience in with and through her stories, and the different themes and genres she is capable of pulling off. She relates that her songs are borne from real life experience, and she is brave enough to recount this to her listeners, how one is about battling depression, or about the struggles of the heart. She says that as a performer, she feels the need to bare herself and become vulnerable, because everyone in the audience is a friend, and if she can inspire or even help one through music, she has done her job. A huge fan of Ebe Dancel, Up Dharma Down, Jason Mraz, Allen Stone, and Tori Kelly, she has taken their influence and turned them into her own. And as her EP title suggests, she is only just begun.
How did your journey into making music begin?
I used to write poems back in grade school but my songwriting started in Grade 4 when our adviser asked us to perform a song for an outreach program. I couldn’t find a song that would fit the message that I wanted to send so I made my own.
What were the challenges that came up into making and releasing your EP?
It was definitely hard to filter the songs that would fit the EP. Since it’s my first release, I wanted to include the songs that would introduce me as a musician and as a songwriter. It was also hard to fix the schedules of all recordings, shoots and the meetings since I’m also a graduating student at MINT College. And of course, all the doubts and insecurities held me back for a while but then I realized that if I keep pushing it back, I’ll never be able to release anything because in reality, I’ll never be ready.
Describe your audience.
Once in our music marketing class, our professor, Sir Mony Romana, asked me what my followers are like. I told him that I noticed how they’re more of listeners- they focus on the music, the lyrics and the message of the songs. I remember Sir Mony’s response: “maybe your followers are just like you.”
What do you love about what you do?
Songwriting is an escape and an outlet for me. Whenever I go through something, I pour out my emotions into the songs I write. Performing these songs is like baring yourself to strangers. I love how I can be so vulnerable in front of people I don’t know and I love knowing that I can find comfort in the presence of unfamiliar faces. I love inspiring people and it’s a different kind of joy whenever I hear people singing my songs with me.
What song is the most memorable to you and why?
They all hold a special place in my heart. I don’t really have favorites, but I guess in terms of how the song makes me feel, I’d say Stuck is the most memorable because it’s the most personal song in the EP- it’s about my depression and how I fight to get through it. I still have those moments and this song has been my anthem because of how I used contradicting statements like ‘despite the uncertainty, I’m certain’- this just shows that everything is temporary- pain is not an exception.
Describe your writing and musical process.
I usually start with the concept and storyline of the song. I want to make sure that the message I want to relay is clear, then I work on the lyrics along with the melody. Then I revise as much as I can until I feel like the song is ready.
Who are your influences and if you could choose any artist to collaborate with- living or dead, who would it be?
I’m a big fan of Sir Ebe Dancel, Up Dharma Down, Yosha, and Sir Jungee’s songwriting. If I could collaborate with them… Asskfjfhldla. Kinikilig na ako just thinking about it. Haha!
Describe yourself in three words.
Genuine. Passionate. Awkward?
Where do you see your music going in the next 5 years?
In 5 years, I’d still be writing songs and performing. Hopefully, I could reach more people with my songs in the next 5 years. I would want to release an all-original full-length album someday as well.
Would you describe your music as Hugot music?
I think all music is hugot music. My songs are honest and genuine, so yeah, I would consider it as “hugot music.”
What is “hugot” for you?
Anything that’s genuine and heartfelt is “hugot” for me. As long as a work of art comes from an experience or an emotion that’s real– whether it’s happiness, anger, heartbreak or longing, then it is hugot.
Interview & Text – Jenette Vizcocho
Photography – Cris Legaspi