Bombshells, meet Bronx native, Isa Marina, an Afro-Latina singer, songwriter and model. The granddaughter of famous Cuban singer and actress, Isaura Mendoza, Isa is extraordinarily talented. Her sultry, yet powerful voice is classically trained and has been compared to Alicia Keys, Aaliyah, and the late Selena Quintanilla.
Isa’s self-proclaimed Opera and newest EP, Mirrors Vol. 1, showcases her eclectic musical style. The seven-song album has something for everyone with songs that range from the sensual track, “Good For Me,” to the melodic ballad, “Take it Slow.”
Marina recently stated, “’Good for Me’ is the climax of the Opera I created ‘Mirrors Vol 1’ to be… the unraveling of my briefly touched on love story in ‘Take it Slow.’”
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Isa Marina where she revealed the start of her career, what it means to be an artist, and how to survive your 20’s.
When did you decide that music was something that you wanted to do?
I think I knew very early on. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old, and I even still have the little journals that I had back then. I’ve been keeping journals since I was very young, and I wrote down that my goal was to be a singer and tour, and have a bunch of records out. It was just one of those things I always knew.
Your grandma was a famous Cuban singer and actress. Did she have any influence over your career?
Of course! Especially when I was really little. My dad has this story of when I was born where he says, “When you came out you screamed so loud that I just told everyone, ‘She’s going to be a singer.’” So, when I was little he used to get me little tape recorders, put me in front of the TV to watch concerts and performances, and MTV so I could watch the music videos. He would always get me karaoke machines, and I was taking dance classes, and chorus, so it was always there. Apart from the passion to naturally like it, know it was for me, and be good at it I just kept on going,
Have you done things to perfect your talent?
Oh, of course! When I was 14 years old I started high school in the Dominican Republic. While I was there I went to the conservatory to study opera. To this day I still take vocal lessons every two weeks. Sometimes more often if I have shows going on, but I’m always taking vocal lessons. I warm up my voice every day. I’m aware of what I eat and what can dry my throat out, what’s good for me and what’s not as far as my vocal chords go. I just got a CD the other day to get better at harmonies and doing more harmonic vocal exercises, which helps when you’re live and you have backup singers so that nobody gets tripped up. I’m constantly looking at things to get better just because it never ends. As you get older your voice also changes. When I was in high school I didn’t have to warm up to sing for a show. But now, like, yeah I kind of do have to warm up, especially if I want to do certain things with my voice, or if I have to sing for an hour or half hour. Even in the studio going over the same lines and songs for four hours you’re voice has to be ready for that.
You’ve been compared to Selena, Aaliyah, and Alicia Keys. Were they also influences in your career, and if not who was?
For sure. Selena influenced me a ton. Seeing her on Univision coming up—I feel like for a lot of Latin Americans growing up during that time she was kind of like the perfect mix of everything you liked. Obviously we grew up here, we love American music, so she had the flavor that Madonna and Michael Jackson had. She was singing in Spanish, but then her tone of voice was raspy. I love Aaliyah, like, forever! Mariah Carey, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson. I remember I had my mom buy his [Michael Jackson] album for me and record his music videos for me on the VCR so I could watch it everyday after kindergarten. I feel like I was that kid. Whitney Houston is my mom’s favorite singer. My mom loves En Vogue too, so I just naturally used to listen to them a lot. I like the harmonies and the style of singing. I could think of a ton of people, but pretty much in the 90’s it was Aaliyah, Selena, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Madonna, and obviously Alicia Keys. I love the fact that she was classically trained and was able to mix it in with R&B/Soul and make it apparent, known, and appreciated. It was a big thing for me. Beyoncé! If you’ve ever gone to a Beyoncé show you’ll stand there like, “Oh my god! She just keeps going,” I admire her charisma and her work ethic because it is hard even though we’re seeing it at the end. If you watch any behind the scenes of hers, she puts in so much work to get on stage and do what she does.
So, yeah there’re a few people [laughs].
Who would be your dream person to work with?
As far as production I would definitely say Babyface. Also, Quincy Jones if he decided to work with somebody because he cultivated Michael Jackson so I already know that he would be very particular about who he’d work with. With most recent producers I would say Metro Boomin for sure. That would just be fun to see what we could come up with. Benny Blanco as well. I love all his work. I feel like he knows exactly how to combine typical pop sounds, but make it different with a more street and soulful feel. As far as artists—there are so many. Rihanna for sure because im a huge fan. I really wish I could be her best friend. I really do. With that one I could just do a couple adlibs and be happy [laughs]. Beyoncé as a mentor. That’s somebody that I would love to sit down with and just talk about life and spill the tea on all your knowledge please. Also, The Weeknd and Halsey just because I’ve been listening to them a lot.
I also see here that you interned at Capitol Records. What was that like and what did you learn about the industry?
For me that was—back then I didn’t appreciate it then because I was like, “Oh my god! I just want my time to come.” Once I finished I had to figure it out on my own, I realized that was crucial, now that I am working with other writers and producers at a higher level, to understand that it is a job. Being an artist is a job. I feel like people think being an artist is that we just microwave music and that’s it. It really is such a process. Even just pitching a song can take months. Learning about budgets. Learning about the politics as well. Learning about how to market myself. You always start out with a niche target and then spread out and see how things go. I learned that this is an actual job and you have people to answer to because a lot of people depend on you to eat. Learning about the legal side and what to watch out for. People can be crazy shady. You have to keep all your receipts, as I like to say, and make sure you read everything, ask questions, take your time with things and people, and keep asking questions because you never really know. So, just realizing that it’s like a corporate job, but you’re just famous [laughs], but it is still a job. Obviously getting that knowledge and learning the hard work that other people put into it in the background so that when the time came for me I would appreciate it. You can’t just send people a ten-page to-do list and expect them to have it in a minute just because it’s you. No, it takes time and you have to be considerate of other people’s time and their effort and appreciate the people you are working with.
Speaking of the politics of the music industry, I know that it is tougher for women in the music industry, and I was looking at your IG and you’re so pretty. Have you experienced any obstacles because of your beauty or has it helped to propel your career a little further?
It’s a double-edged sword. I feel like you have to be smart about how you utilize it. I was always taught as a teenager if I were going to wear a crop top, I wouldn’t wear booty shorts. You have to kind of play with it in the sense that obviously sex sells, its just a fact, and you’ll even notice on an Instagram picture if I have a t-shirt it’s not going to get as many likes as the one where I have a bikini because people are like that. People like to say, “Oh no, that’s not the focus.” Well, yeah because those are pictures you like more. But for me, as far as fighting the obstacles, I just measure myself. I would never do anything that I am not comfortable with. Even for the “Good For Me” music video, I wasn’t comfortable with just being in lingerie from top to bottom, so I didn’t. You have to make sure that you are comfortable with it and be aware that it has to be about your music. Always steer it back to the music. For example, if I post a bikini picture the next day I am going to post a video of me singing at a vocal lesson, or giving you some knowledge on a book I’m reading. It can’t just be all about the way you look because that’s narcissistic anyway. Music also shouldn’t be that way. As far as dealing with executives, you have to let them know that its business. I’m here to work.
Lets get into the music. Congrats on Mirrors Volume 1. What was the process behind your EP?
It started off with the first song I did, “Harlem” and it was the first full-length song. I had just gone through a really crappy breakup. It was random. I just got a melody and I just unraveled it and recorded it. I sent it to a producer that I was working with at the time and kind of went from there. I had that song done and I was starting to figure out what I wanted my sound to be, and how I wanted things to evolve. I still didn’t have in my head what exactly the concept of the full-length project would be. It was just coincidental that in that time in my life I was going through a lot of transitions where I would just write, make demos, and send it out to see who could do what with what. Once I did “Harlem,” and I did “Take it Slow,” and “Money” I realized this is like an opera because these are all big changes that I’m going through. Maria Callas, she’s my favorite opera singer ever, and I was watching some interview she did on CBS years and years ago before she passed, and I started realizing that everything she was talking about paralleled to what I was writing about. I used that as my key point to unravel everything else. I did a whole brainstorming with a diagram of how I wanted everything to parallel to that interview and the concept of this being an opera, and how it would end. It really just started from there and then I got more specific with the producers I wanted to work with, and what songs I would be picking for the EP. With the last song, “Take it Slow,” I left it open ended. Every opera ends tragically and that was like my tragic ending because we don’t know what happens to that romance. It kind of just dissolves. I guess we’ll see, maybe with the next project how that opens up or how she changed, and what does she learn. So, that’s kind of how the EP came about.
I saw the video for ‘Good For Me’ and for ‘Take it Slow,’ and they’re very different.
Girl! I was all messed up watching ‘Good For Me.’ Explain it to us please. What was the inspiration behind song and video?
Well, it didn’t exactly happen to me like that in real life. We’re not out here just fooling around with everybody [laughs], but there was a situation where a big relationship for me was ending and I was super heartbroken. He actually did betray me with his ex. We were going through emotions, trying to work it out and get back together. But I ended up working with something and it was like, “Wait a second. Uh oh. I actually like this person.” That was the first time that I realized like, “Oh my god. I thought I was so tied up in this, but I actually like this person. What am I going to do?” Nothing ended up happening at that time, but I ended up unraveling that thought of what could happen. So that would go over in my head like, “What if this leads to something? Because that would be a mess.” I had somebody. This person had somebody. I was like, “I can’t do this. I can’t be that typical music industry story. This is not happening.” And it didn’t, but I wrote a song about it. And so with the video, the director and I sat and we brainstormed. I was like, “How can we make this fun?” because I had never done a video where it was just a crazy storyline. Even with my older videos. I wanted something that would leave people like, “What the heck was that?! What is going on here?” I wanted to do something kind of scandalous. We just sat and thought about it, and were like, let’s just go word-for-word with the song and literally play out the story. Then of course the ending, leaving it open ended like that when everything comes to light, it just shows that you can’t be shady in this life. When you do things, even if it’s out of spite, because [in the video] I’m essentially cheating on him out of spite, it will come back to you. It came back to him as well because he wouldn’t have thought that I would’ve done the same thing back. So, it’s kind of like when you do things like that this is what happens. Nobody comes out happy because nobody ended up happy. A fight was about to break out. We wanted to throw that little lesson in there. Even from our own personal experience people don’t realize, especially with this generation, when you do things there is a consequence so think a little bit farther ahead before you act out on somebody, or when you want to get back at somebody. Let karma handle it.
Do you like to tell your own personal stories or is it general story telling?
Well “Take It Slow,” word for word, that’s exactly what happened. “Harlem” as well. “Money” too because I was actually broke. I had to find a job at Spotify one time and it was $15 per hour, and I was trying to figure out how the hell I was going to pay for my musicians. My mom was struggling. My dad is retired, but was trying to help out. It was a mess. With songs like “Good For Me,” or “Lonely” I was just tapping into a feeling or a thought. A lot of the times I’ll just literally be in my room, or I’ll have a dream and a melody will pop into my head. I have to wake up and record it right away. Or I’ll be taking a shower and be like, “Oh crap! I have to record this.” I go from there. Sometimes those words and melodies become something. Sometimes they don’t, but they all came to me pretty quickly. I think the only one was “Good For Me,” but it actually makes sense because it was a seed that was planted by something I was going through.
What is the main takeaway you want your fans to get from the album?
That definitely, especially in your twenties, life is going to take you for a ride and you have to just let it rock. I’m the type of person that puts pressure on myself like, “I should be here in my career. I should be making this much. I should be having this many people at my shows,” but everybody is different and your time frame and God’s timeframe is different. With a lot of the themes in Mirrors Vol. 1, it was kind of where I was—not judging myself, but it was like, “Yeah, I’m in a relationship, but I’m kind of falling in love with someone else,” which is crazy, but it happened. And yes I’m broke. It’s okay to accept what it was, learn from it, and then move on from that. Not only do we need to take control of relationships, we have to take care of ourselves. You learn from it and you just keep going forward.