In an ongoing effort to highlight Ithaca’s thriving alternative music scene, we wake up local Ithaca musicians at their homes (or touring artists on the couches they’re crashing on) and have them play their music for us. From The Ithaca Voice and Ithaca Underground, it’s the Bedhead Sessions.

TRUMANSBURG—Izzy True has performed over a dozen shows in Ithaca since 2015, most often at The Haunt, Cayuga Lodge, and various house show venues scattered around Collegetown and Fall Creek. If you’ve caught even one of these performances, you probably know that singer-songwriter Isabel Reidy has an uncanny ability to cultivate an atmosphere that engages audiences—especially those who might be looking to make an emotional connection.

Reidy often appears shy when they begin a set. They corral the audience’s attention politely, but with charming wit and intimacy. They might let us in on the fact that they don’t feel totally confident about the impending performance, or they’ve been having a particularly difficult week dealing with their health. More than once, I’ve seen Reidy launch a set by requesting the crowd close their eyes, take in a deep breath, imagine all of their negative thoughts and feelings coalescing into a little ball of energy, and then send that ball straight to Reidy to transform into “real rock and roll”.

And, true to their word, a transformation begins.

Izzy True, full band lineup (from left to right): Silas Reidy (guitar), Angela DeVivo (drums), Isabel Reidy, and Jon Samuels (bass). Photo by Benjamin Torrey

Musically, Izzy True provides a comforting mix of classic rock guitar riffs and catchy vocal hooks, gently distinguished with retro reverb. Lyrically, Reidy’s songs reveal internal struggles sparked by mundane day-to-day activities. Whether singing about day jobs, social insecurity, exercise, illness, baking, self-improvement, or the occult, Reidy approaches songwriting with the same mesmerizing mix of quiet observation and wild, comic bravado that characterizes their crowd work.

It’s a winning dynamic for a live show, and Reidy has developed their stage presence consciously. “I’ve always found the most memorable experiences for me—when I’ve most enjoyed going to see music,” Reidy tells us, “is when the performer makes the space, pulls you into it, and makes you feel like you’re participating in the show.”

Watching Reidy perform isn’t merely a chance to see a songwriter make a musical confession; it’s a chance to have a conversation and confront one’s demons in a safe space, surrounded by others eager to discover their most troubling thoughts can be transformed into real, genuine rock and roll.

Music, comics, activism, and mental health

We caught up with Reidy on a break in-between tours at their family home in Trumansburg, preparing some coffee and oatmeal. Like many who grew up in the Ithaca music scene, Reidy’s family is full of musicians. Their father Jim Reidy has spent decades as a performing musician, and when brother Silas Reidy isn’t playing bass in Eamonn McCarthy-fronted rock band Pure Gems, he provides lead guitar in the full-band iteration of Izzy True.

Reidy themselves has been performing in bands around Ithaca since they were young. Those familiar with the history of the alternative scene here still speak fondly of Reidy’s folk punk band, Fight a Scary Dog—a band successful enough to release a couple of albums and tour out-of-state as Reidy was just finishing high school. Others may have been introduced to Reidy by their role in the short-lived but well-received rock band The Realbads, which dissolved shortly before Reidy began performing solo as Izzy True.

As Izzy True, Reidy has cemented their reputation as an Ithaca Underground favorite and as a supportive, active member of the community whose passions reach far beyond writing and performing music.

Reidy performing an Izzy True set organized by Ithaca Underground at The Haunt in 2015. Photo by Benjamin Torrey

In July, when Reidy wasn’t selling copies of hand-drawn comics and buttons at the 2016 Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE), there was a chance you could have run into them marching in solidarity with Black Lives Matter Ithaca, carrying a hand-painted portrait of Alton Sterling. This last June, Reidy hosted a rock show at the Bowl-O-Drome—not as a musician, but as their über-suave narcissistic alter ago Mr. Romance. And back in May, Reidy organized a concert to benefit the Mental Health Association in Tompkins County.

Mental health is a topic of particular concern for Reidy, who has themselves been struggling with their mental health for years. Reidy credits not only family, close friends, and Izzy True bandmates Angela DeVivo and Jon Samuels as being supports when needed, but also the work of other local artists—lately, local rapper-producer Enongo Lumumba-Kasongo, better known as Sammus.

“Seeing Sammus play that song ‘1080p’ and realizing how important it is to hear people talk about going to therapy and taking their meds because they’re doing it too… it’s very powerful,” Reidy says. “I feel that so much of being healthy is having friends that can support you and being around people.”

“The best part of having a mental breakdown was learning how to reach out to my friends that I already had. I didn’t realize that you can call your friends when you’re really freaking out and they’ll maybe come over and maybe give you a back massage,” they laugh. “That’s what happened to me yesterday!”

Reidy in character as relationship expert “Mr. Romance”. Photo by Benjamin Torrey

New album, new tour, and new horizons

Izzy True is set to release their debut LP, Nope, at Sacred Root Kava Lounge & Tea Bar on Thursday, August 4. The band will be headlining a show supported by Sammus, Binghamton psych-folk band Underground River, and electro-artpop solo project Tender Cruncher.

After the show, the band will embark on a tour that will take them through cities spread throughout 15 U.S. states, Toronto, and Montreal, before culminating in a performance at the three-day New Alternative Music Festival (NAMF) organized by the band’s label, Don Giovanni Records.

And after that? Three-quarters of Izzy True, Reidy included, are planning to move out of town to Philadelphia.

Reaching out to Ithaca Underground President of the Board Bubba Crumrine to comment on Reidy’s departure, he submitted the following statement:

It’s always an honor to have a front row seat to an artist’s growth and see their aspirations realized. I’ll never forget finding out Isabel was a musician in addition to a great young artist (designing posters for some of the very first shows I booked), discussing having them play a show, and having what would be Fight a Scary Dog debut at the house those years back. The bands they’ve fronted have always held a special place in Ithaca Underground’s evolution, encouraging their friends and those around them to engage in our mission and events. Izzy True has grown into such an enjoyable band and have been such a perfect fit on so many of our shows. It’s always hard to see see a person and group leave that’s permeated so deeply into what we’re doing. If I could snap my fingers to have all the logistics work for Izzy True to stay in Ithaca, would I? Of course, but trying to hold anyone back from bigger and better things is plain selfish. My partner Mel and I both love Philly and used to visit frequently before things got busy. It might just mean getting back into some old road trip habits! We wish them the absolute best and send our love.

So Ithacans: you can still see Izzy True perform here in Ithaca while we still have them. And Philadelphians: look out. You’ve got a multi-talented artist heading your way, and they mean to transform your negative energies into real rock and roll.

Sponsoring this installment of the Bedhead Sessions is Gorgers Subs, a sandwich and soup shop located on 116 West State St, Ithaca, NY.

Reidy hugs DeVivo after performing at a house show in 2016. Photo by Benjamin Torrey