Half Gringa on Family, Separation, and The End of the World (9/28 at Johnny Brenda’s)

“A lot of bands that are in our bracket have a checklist, like what venues they have to play or whatever but, for me, just being able to put...

“A lot of bands that are in our bracket have a checklist, like what venues they have to play or whatever but, for me, just being able to put out a second record was a big highlight for me,” says Isabel Olive, perhaps better known as Latinx indie folk artist Half Gringa.  The Chicago artist’s sophomore LP, Force to Reckon, has been out for just over a year now and has received praise from the likes of Chicago Tribune, Audiofemme, and The Line of Best Fit.  And just this Tuesday, Half Gringa released a follow-up single, “Sevenwater,” which features Olive on piano, guitar, and synths, accompanied by Abby Black on drums and Ivan Pyzow on trumpet.  During a recent phone chat, Isabel tells me that the track was one of many that she wrote when she was holed up in her apartment during the pandemic: “I wrote this song during the half of 2020 when we were all very much separated…  Because I was separated from the band during quarantine, I decided to work on a set of songs on my own, just in my apartment.”

According to Isabel Olive, “Sevenwater” was inspired by thoughts and fears of the end of the world, particularly as they relate to both the fantasy novels that she was reading throughout the pandemic and also how she imagines her ancestors would have handled such a situation: “I was really into fantasy novels for a while and Juliet Marillier, this writer from New Zealand, has The Sevenwaters Trilogy, so this was a nod to that.  And also thinking about how my ancestors would’ve felt during the 1918 pandemic, and how my ancestors’ experience informs my experience.”  She also notes that this consideration of her family is far from new to her identity and her art: “I think I’ve been pretty upfront about what my cultural background is, being bi-cultural.  My dad grew up in Philly and my mom was born in Venezuela and grew up there and moved here as a grad student…  That’s a very much ingrained part of my existence and my reality.”

Isabel admits to me that she’s not sure what she’s going to do with the rest of her quarantine songs yet, but that she’s excited to have not only the material, but a new way of making music: “I don’t really have a plan for them yet.  I just got really excited thinking about this song and how it informs how I work and how I might work in the future.”  However, Half Gringa do have a small run of dates beginning at the end of the month, which includes a September 28th stop at Johnny Brenda’s and which Isabel tells me she and the band are exceptionally excited about: “It’s gonna be super high energy; the whole band is very excited.  We’ve been in rehearsal this whole time and the comment we’ve always gotten is how much fun we look like we’re having, and that’s just in our practice space [laughs]…  We’re hoping this is a prelude to touring in 2022.”

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.

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