When the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic separated Isabel Thomas ’20 from her musical engagements at Bowdoin, she had to assess how seriously she wanted to keep pursuing singing. A year later, she has grown her confidence as a solo artist, creating an Instagram account for her songs and gaining recognition from some of her favorite artists.
“When I graduated, I had a choice of, ‘do I keep doing music or do I stop,’” Thomas said in a Zoom interview with the Orient. “I decided to keep doing it, even if it’s just for fun.”
Thomas was highly involved with singing during her time at Bowdoin, but she was no stranger to the stage when she started college, either. Thomas had a passion for singing from a young age—her first concerts took place in her own home, where she performed for her family and friends.
“I’ve never had any sort of formal training, but I just loved it a lot when I was little,” Thomas said. “I would put on concerts in my basement and force my family to come down and listen to me sing.”
During her first year at Bowdoin, Thomas joined Bear Tones, one of Bowdoin’s tenor a cappella groups, during its inaugural year, as well as the Bowdoin Music Collective (BMC). As a member of both groups, Thomas enjoyed the collaborative setting of the former and the solo opportunities of the latter.
Thomas was also part of a student band at Bowdoin called Lemon Drop. When she was a junior, Lemon Drop placed second in Bowdoin’s Battle of the Bands, which gave her the opportunity to open for the headliner at Ivies.
“That was definitely the highlight of my time at Bowdoin,” Thomas said. “We performed Thursday night, so it was in Smith, and it was very legit lighting and sound systems—you just felt like a rockstar.”
During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thomas knew that she could not abandon music and decided to make an Instagram account to showcase her covers and original songs. In contrast to the formal arrangements that she performed in Bear Tones, Thomas posts spontaneously on her account, hoping to use the posts to stay connected to the music community.
“Every so often I’ll just sing a short bit of the song and post it on there,” Thomas said. “It’s very low-pressure and very low-key, but it’s a way for me to keep doing it and sharing it..”
Given her extensive background performancing with groups, Thomas believes that the new direction she has taken with her music is a welcome change. While she enjoyed the structured music setting at Bowdoin, she has grown fond of the flexibility she now has with her Instagram account.
“It’s nice, that immediacy of it,” Thomas said. “It’s like ‘OK, they’ve heard me sing, it’s not that big a deal, so I’ll just post something random at midnight on a Tuesday night and see how it goes.’”
While most of her songs tend to revolve around themes of love and heartbreak, Thomas has recently been shifting her songwriting focus to platonic friendships and other human experiences. Thomas also hopes that adding instrumentals to her songs will allow her to continue evolving her sound. Although she did not play any instruments prior to creating her account, she has begun to teach herself piano.
“This is kind of my start to figure out how basic chords work, and hopefully I can build from there to try and create something bigger and bigger,” Thomas said.
In addition to learning piano, Thomas is also collaborating with her friend and fellow songwriter Parker Lemal-Brown ’18 on additional instrumentals.
“We’ve been working together to build out instrumentals and make songs that go beyond just singing a cappella,” Thomas said. “So that’s been really great, trying to take it to the step of more like a completed song.”
Thomas’s covers and original songs have also garnered attention from her favorite singer-songwriters, including Kathryn Gallagher, Leah Cappelle and Matt Gould, the vocalist of her favorite song, “Invisible Thread.” Not only have these artists reposted Thomas’s covers on their own social media accounts, but they have even reached out to Thomas personally to commend her on her singing.
“They will reach out to me, and we can have a conversation about making music,” Thomas said. “It’s just really great to hear them say that they enjoy my take on their song and how I’ve performed it.”
Although her musical career at Bowdoin has come to an end, Thomas will always consider her fellow performers at Bowdoin some of her greatest inspirations.
“I learned so much about music and about passion for the craft through people I performed with in a cappella, or in band, or in BMC,” Thomas said. “So I’m just really grateful to those people for inspiring me and for pushing me to take it further.”