TH/E FREETHINKER: Isabella Summers
Isabella Summers grew up in Hackney, achieving OG East London status long before the hipsters shipped in. Aged 10, she moved to remote Aldeburgh where, for lack of anything better to do, she began sowing the seeds for what would later become a hugely successful music career. Isa has since become known for putting the Machine in Florence and the Machine, alongside her work with many other major artists. She prefers to start her mornings with popcorn and Liberace, and can currently be found either in her Bloomsbury studio, or on the top floor of her grandmother’s house in Highgate.
Name all the places you have lived. What’s one good thing and one bad thing about each of them?
Hackney. I was nought to ten so it was great. I guess the bad thing is that I couldn’t go anywhere by myself so I couldn’t really enjoy Hackney. Then Aldeburgh, which is in Suffolk by the sea. A good thing is that it’s beautiful, and the bad thing is that it’s pretty far away from actual London civilization. Then I lived in South London in East Dulwich. That was good because I was a student, and then Crystal Palace, which was really magical. I lived in LA for 5 years. I fucking loved LA. I love the sunshine, hate the traffic. Just the vibe of living in Beachwood was amazing, but it’s too far away. Now I live in North London, which is definitely the best part of London that I’ve lived in.
She had to start somewhere... this is her first piece of kit.
Where do you have the most fun?
In my studio.
What are you making right now?
What kind of record is it?
It’s quite dark actually. There are a few collaborators on it but it’s mostly me right now. It’s going to be really cool, if I do say so myself. I’ve never tried to make a record before. I’ve always been part of other people’s records or other people’s worlds, and brought what I do to them, so it’s really cool to be doing it for myself.
Can you talk about how your music career unfolded?
When we moved to Aldeburgh as a teenager there was nothing to do in the evenings. My best friend, who was a local, had decks. He had a proper thick Suffolk accent and he used to beat juggle. We would just listen to records, sample them, listen to rap music a lot. By the time I was 19 I was pretty determined to be a girl music producer. Then I was at art school in London and DJing and sampling on my MPC. I got a studio in Crystal Palace. Then I met Florence, and I said: “Do you want to come and make a song with me in my little studio?” And she was like “Yea, alright, I haven’t slept,” and the rest is history!
The Machine's studio
You wore TH/E FREETHINKER T-shirt for the shoot. What is freedom?
Being able to do whatever you want whenever you want!
Who is the most enlightened person you’ve ever met?
I’ve met the Dalai Lama… he blessed me. That was backstage at Glastonbury with Patti Smith.
With regards to music, do you think there’s such thing as a guilty pleasure?
No, I don’t. I love everything! I used to listen to Liberace in the mornings in the canyon. I loved that.
If you were to mix a scent that smelled like you, what would you put in there?
Flowers. Maybe honeysuckle?
Do you have a motto?
Everything you ever wanted in your life is in your mind.
Isabella Summers interview and self-portrait