BY. SESSIONS has been a long time in the making. I just wanted to start by saying thank you for being the first of many to do this with us! How are you?
Doin’ good! Gettin’ back into the swing of things after a 3-month tour and spending this last month in reset mode trying to a get grounded again.
Who did you just get back from tour with?
Oh, hell yeah! How was that experience?
It was fantastic. It was a lot of an experience. I’ve never been on the road for that long with one band. Being able to really get to know the guys, go through all the venues and meet all the people was awesome. I can’t complain.
I feel like Sports is a little more well known around OKC and now the country, does that have any added weight from other gigs?
Yeah, but it’s just music. If you’re making music with buds then it doesn’t matter where you’re at, it doesn't matter the context, the job is simple. It’s just good times.
For those who might not know who you are, can you give us a quick intro to who Isaac Stalling is? Where are you from, how old are you and what do you do?
I was born in the Chicago area and then pretty much raised in Norman, Oklahoma. My dad is an OU professor and my moms an artist. I just kind of did the Norman thing and started playing guitar when I was 12.
Does art run in your family?
Yeah! My mom, well, both of my parents have always loved music. My dads a poet and we would write a lot of songs together when I was growing up. Both my parents have always been very supportive, I’m very lucky. My grandpas also a guitarist and he kind of got me into the whole thing.
So, your first instrument was guitar and you started playing when you were 12 right? How old are you now?
When you first picked up guitar did you know it would become the obsession it is today, or has it been a growing love affair?
I was kind of getting out of a lot of athletic stuff and I needed something to fill my time so I kind of swapped as soon as I picked up guitar. I mean at first it was learning Sweet Home Alabama and Stairway to Heaven like all the, you know, guitar player things haha.
Right, the Guitar Center employee nightmare haha
Yeah, 12 bar blues in E haha, but I don’t know, around 6 months or so into it I started to notice like oh, I really love this. I sunk all my time into it and when I was 13, I started doing home school so I could play for like 10 hours a day. Wake up, play, eat and go to bed and that lasted for 2 years or so.
I imagine transitioning into home schooling from public school allotted to significantly more time to practice.
Oh yeah. I could knock out schoolwork in 2 hours and then start practicing.
So that’s the secret sauce to be a great musician!
The first time I saw you play was about 2ish years ago at The Speak playing lead with Keathley and I was immediately in awe, then the next weekend I think you were playing with Thunder Jackson. Both times I watched you perform, something I was most struck by was how comfortable you were on stage. There is a certain ease to the way you play. Where do you think that comfortability stems from? Is the stage your safe space?
It has definitely turned into one. It didn’t start out that way. I had a ton of stage fright growing up, but I was also put on stage at a very young age. I started playing in youth group whenever I was like 12. Immediately as I started playing guitar I got into live playing. I started playing at bigger services and I don’t know, it became more comfortable. For the first 3 years of playing on stage I was terrified, but it’s slowly whittled into this thing. You’re in the same room as a ton of people but it doesn’t feel that way. I’m just as comfortable on stage as I am walking into a living room filled with a bunch of my buds. It’s not that I’m not connected to the audience ‘cause I can feel the energy and all that energy from the people in the room becomes its own energy source for me. It’s not this intimidating thing of thinking about what the audience is thinking about. But once I’m up there I’m zoned in and over time the stage is, or has become, like a job and with any job, whenever you first start it, it’s scary and intimidating but once you get acclimated to it and find the people that make you comfortable it makes it easy. Thunder, Keathley and all those other people are really good friends and badass musicians. I just feel like I can go up there (onstage) and do whatever, they give me the license to whatever and that is why I play with the artists I play for now.
That in mind, does that make you a little more cautious about who you play with?
Yeah, I started playing out and kind of doing runs to Texas with a lot of red dirt country and I loved those opportunities and I’m really glad I got them but that’s just not the kind of music I wanted to listen to whenever I wanted to listen to music and enjoy it. After quarantine I kind of had this switch where I’m just going to focus on the stuff that I want to listen to. I want to take pride in the things that I do and work with the people I want to work with. I’m very thankful to be in the place that I’m in now because there isn’t a single artist that I am playing with now that I wouldn’t want to play with. It’s all just good times.
This BY. SESSIONS is the first time I’ve had the chance to hear you perform any of your originals. Have you been writing your own music this whole time and this is an unveiling of that or is this a new thing that’s happening?
I started writing whenever I was like 15. I wrote songs with my dad a lot. I actually put out a song when I was 18 and I ended up taking it down because I was insecure and all that fun stuff. I’m just finally getting to the point now where I’m ready to unveil it. I’ve been very privileged to work with a lot of badass singer songwriters and it is intimidating playing with them and then being like oh I also write my own songs but then being surrounded by all these people who are immensely talented. I’m finally at a point where I’m just like screw it.
Is there a pro’s and con’s list that goes into working for yourself versus with others?
You can look at it the same as a business. Where the employer carries out all the risk. So, the person who owns the business is going to carry out all the risk and if that business fails then all that falls on to them but if that business blows up and earns a ton of money then they benefit the most from that. So as a hired gun you can think of it more as like contract labor. You’re along the ride and there’s a little less pressure and you’re working more like an employee, almost. I don’t want it to sound super, super business-y cause it’s really not like that but it’s an analogy. So working on my own stuff is immediately like oh, I've heard about all of these things that I have to do and now that I’m actually having to do them it’s a lot of work. All of that said, I am excited to try it out. I’ve been on the other side, the instrumental side, the hired gun side, so being my own boss is an interesting experience.
As someone who has had many jobs and now working for myself going on 4 years it can definitely carry its own weight and pressures.
100 percent, you’re vulnerable. Singing songs that you write. Singin’ songs that are about my life and things I care about and I’m a very introverted person so having people listen to it and thinking “Oh this is what’s going through his head!?” is a crazy thought to me.
For listeners, I think it is that vulnerability that keeps us tuned in.
And I recognize that, with a lot of singer songwriters the more vulnerable you are the more beautiful it is. That’s how I think all art should be. Whenever people truly give everyone a good look in for the better and for the worse, that’s when you find really good art. I am not claiming to be there, I’m just trying to eventually get there. It’s a lifetime search.
After the release of this interview do you have any plans for project releases?
Stalling is going to have a lot of music coming out, hopefully at the tail end of this year. We're kind of working on getting the songs put together right now but we have a good chunk of material and I can't promise any exact dates right now but you know, follow the socials and all that fun stuff and we’ll keep you posted.
Who is accompanying you on Stalling?
The Average Ear people! Ashton and Ethan play in Chelsea Days and a lot of other amazing bands and Ethan Neel on drums as well. Ken Pomeroy is also a co-writer and she's a badass who’s going to be singing on a lot of stuff. There’s honestly a lot of people involved in this. I really like collaboration. I worked at a studio whenever I was 18 and my first boss would always say “you’re never as smart as two people”. Sharing creative input is always going to result in better things.
Interview by Elyjah Monks
Video recorded & edited by Aldo Delara
Music Recording from Average Ear Recording