Singer-songwriter Isabella Tang performs original pop songs in an intimate setting
By Michael Aushenker
Isabella Tang is not one of those who are easily amused.
“I’m the kind of person who has to work on being happy,” she says.
Her therapy of choice: music.
On Saturday, the singer-songwriter performs a concert of her compositions (plus a couple of covers) from her newly released debut recording, the EP “If I Could Tell You,” at Hatch Studios, an intimate West Los Angeles startup co-working space in the Cross Campus and Playa-Jefferson mold.
Joined by percussionist Ryan Mowrey of the Ska-riginals, Katie Stump on guitar and background vocals, bassist Genna Projansky and violinist David Cano, Tang performs with a full band for the first time since last June at the House of Blues’ Voodoo Lounge in West Hollywood. A few months before the May demise of the WitZend in Venice, Tang also performed during Twenty Minute Tuesdays at the now-defunct Lincoln Boulevard club.
Tang was scheduled to perform a full concert this Saturday at the WitZend before a situation with the lease abruptly pulled the plug on the venue, but she wasn’t about to let something as small as a major Westside music hub going under stop her from following through. Tang simply found a new venue and preserved her exact performance date.
Still in her 20s, Tang is from Santa Clarita, where she started playing piano at age 8 and was weaned on Chopin and Debussy with twin sister Elizabeth (currently wrapping up her law degree at University of Pennsylvania’s prestigious Wharton Business School). Tang has been writing songs and reading poetry since she was 15. In fact, the lyrics for her EP’s title track directly from a T.S. Eliot piece.
“It’s a love poem, but I can’t tell you who he’s talking to,” she says. “It’s ambiguous. I like the sadness in it.”
It was while attending Stanford University that Tang began exploring her creative side even as she studied economics, debuting as a singer at Stanford’s Fro Sho and performing at fundraisers.
Her song “Everything at Once” landed on the university’s “Stanford Soundtrack.”
“I was able to write a lot,” Tang says of her college experience, there being a piano in the lounge of practically every dorm.
At Stanford’s Black Love Celebration, Tang opened for singer Jasmine Sullivan, whose music was featured on TV’s “Glee.”
Since graduating, Tang has worked as a management consultant for a Century City-based company where colleagues are so supportive of her side endeavor that they play Tang’s “Passenger” video on the lobby’s digital display.
Tang believes that majoring in economics has served her music-industry ambitions well.
“It’s about the study of decision-making and tradeoffs,” she explains.
In late 2012, Tang scaled back her work hours to put more time into her music. A UCLA Extension songwriting class taught her “to be less cerebral and use more imagery” in her lyrics, she says.
These days, Tang enjoys the sounds of Ingrid Michaelson, Bon Iver and John Mayer: “Singer-songwriters are a lot more introspective with lyrics.”
The upbeat highlights on Tang’s new album include “Passenger,” the first single for which she shot a video (see it on YouTube), and “Photosynthesis,” in which Tang pursues “more of an electronic sound” and uses the solar-powered plant-greening process as a metaphor for love. The ballad “Many Waters” turns a phrase from the biblical “Song of Solomon.” “Passenger” and “We Can Sleep On the Plane” were inspired by an ex-lover who traveled a lot.
“The idea is to have someone beside you to travel with through life’s adventures,” she says. “Everything is a beautiful journey with the right person.”
“Everything at Once” is a love song Tang composed while visiting Paris. Tang recalls how a man contacted her to learn how to play it for his college sweetheart on their two-year dating anniversary. Tang later learned online that the couple wed, so she likes to think her song played a part in that.
Tang officially released her EP (its cover image inspired by Henri Matisse’s “The Fall of Icarus”) last Tuesday through various platforms, including Amazon and iTunes, and this weekend begins her celebration.
For the moment Tang is happy. She’s earned it.
Isabella Tang plays at 9 p.m. Saturday at Hatch Studios, 2260 Centinela Ave., West L.A. $10. Visit isabella-tang.com.