For its creators and connoisseurs alike, music intertwines itself with real world experiences on both obvious and subconscious, more visceral levels. Speaking with Melbourne-based musician Isabella Fortuna on subjects of death and spirituality is seeing the inner workings of an artist’s mind.
Her music is soothing and dreamy, and the words have a powerful beauty to them. Everything she creates comes from a place of pure love for the art. She is very much in tune with her intuition and spirituality, which makes for an interesting discussion with endless room for questions and their possible answers.
In our interview, we converse at length about the experiences that have shaped her view of death, how it pressures us to be productive, and the possibility of an afterlife that is in equal parts thrilling and terrifying.
Push up Daisies: What has your relationship with death been like? How do you perceive it?
Isabella: I think that that’s a big question. I have a fluctuating relationship with death. When I was younger, even the thought of death was just absolutely terrifying to me, so I avoided thinking of it at all but in more recent years, I have quite a curious relationship with death.
I suppose it depends on how I’m feeling and whether or not I can detach my emotions from the idea of death. When I think about it objectively I am just very curious about the physical experience of death, what it means to leave your body, and how it feels to be no longer in your skin. I kind of think of it as a visceral kind of physical thing. I’m just very curious, and sometimes I crave the feeling of being without skin. I feel like that sounds utterly morbid but it’s really not. It’s more just curiosity.
It’s so fascinating how death impacts us and it’s physically impossible for me to even fathom what death is, but when people that I have known have died, there’s an unexplainable feeling around it. It seems transformative, and every time that I know someone and they die, it brings me back into my life. Of course it’s horrifying and upsetting in some aspects but it makes you realise how strange and absurd life is and how weird it is that we are here with so much depth in our conscience and everyone has a different meaning of life, but no one can really know what the meaning of death is. It’s just so big and so unexplainable and no one knows what it is until it happens.
Push up Daisies: Are you religious or spiritual? Does that also affect how you view death?
Isabella: I am not religious, but I definitely would say I’m spiritual. I am quite connected to the energy that is around us and my connection with spirituality is almost unexplainable. I don’t really know what it is, but I believe in the universe. I believe there is no way that there couldn’t be intention with the way that the world has unfolded and how everything has been placed. There is energy around everything.
I was kind of introduced to the idea of spirituality though my mum, because she is a spiritual practitioner. She’s a medium and she has always been incredibly psychic. It’s created a really interesting experience for me growing up with her, because she is very hyper aware and I think that in some sense I have similar experiences, but maybe not to the same extent. She is really connected to everything and is a very fascinating person. That was definitely how I started to be a bit more in tune with the world around me. But I think that it is when we’re in line with our intuition and not blocking it out that we can feel the energy around us and we can feel death or the death of others in a way that isn’t just physical.
Push up Daisies: As a child, did you talk about death often at home?
Isabella: I don’t think it was a huge topic of conversation. My parents were always open with me, though. If I asked them about death, they weren’t hiding anything ever. My mum believes that we have lots of past lives. She believes that we go into a different body after we die, so I have pondered that because of her. It was never really taboo in our home, but we spoke about it more after mine and my brothers first experience with death. We unpacked it a little bit more once we felt the impact of it and what it’s like.
Push up Daisies: As a musician, does death or the fear of it inspire you or drive you to create more?
Isabella: I definitely think that death has woven its way into my music and my creations. More in the sense that I have, in the past, been very depressed and almost played with the thought of what not existing would be like, and that has come out through my creations. I have played around with the feelings of numbness before and I have reoccurring motifs in my music about my body, what it means to be in my body, and what it would be like to be without it. That has made it’s way into my music more than an explicit thought of death.
But often with any creative thing that I am doing, I don’t really understand it until after, a lot of the time. Once I pick up a path I can see a lot of influence and a lot of thoughts around what life is and therefore what death is as well because they are they very interlocked with each other. I have at least subconsciously spoken about death, but I find it difficult to consciously write or create. If I am too in my head and trying to write about something really specific, I stop being able to write at all.
Push up Daisies: How would you like to be remembered?
Isabella: It is most important for me to be remembered by the people that I love. I don’t really have the desire to be remembered, say, like Mozart was remembered.
Although humans are very unique in a lot of different ways, at the end of the day we are all the same. We are all sentient beings and we are all taking on what our surroundings are. The homeless man that you walk past on the street and Beyoncé – they both have souls and they both deserve to be remembered by the people that loved them. I just think that it is not necessary for me to be remembered as someone special. I’m not on a pedestal to someone else, we are all kind of finding our way. I would just like to be remembered by the ones I love as someone who loved them too. If I put out my creations and someone has felt impacted by it or has related to it, that is really rewarding for me to see and feel. It makes me feel really connected to a lot of people. But at the end of the day, I suppose I’m not really bothered how people remember me. I’m happy for anyone to interpret me in any way that they choose. Obviously, no one wants to be remembered as a bad person, but it’s not really any of my business.
Push up Daisies: How does the thought of death affect your everyday life? What are some healthy ways in which you contemplate death?
Isabella: There are some healthy and unhealthy ways I think about death in my everyday life. When I think of death, I often imagine myself in the moment where I’m about to die and I know that I will remember all of the little things that made my life what it is. I think it helps me appreciate the human connections that I have with people around me, because after all that is one if the most important things to me. Even if life is not feeling so good, other people is what we have, it’s what we’ve been given. The thought of dying kind of highlights what is good for me and what my privileges are, and makes me sync into my pleasures.
But I also have a little bit of a problem – or I don’t know what you would call it – I am often thinking of my productivity and what I’m getting done in life. I’m like, “okay, I need to do this and this and I’m spending too much time watching Netflix and I’m gonna die and I’ll have wasted this hour on a Sunday afternoon!”. And obviously, with COVID at the moment, things have been a bit thrown off. I’ve had to take a step back and be introspective and just not do very much. Sometimes, I have really toxic thoughts about how I’m wasting time and one day I’m gonna die and think, “Oh, I should have just written a million books!” We have so much pressure as humans to be brilliant, and get things done. In an ideal world, there should be space to be mediocre as well. Because at the end of the day, what we do remember about life is connection and little moments. I haven’t experienced death, so I don’t know what I will or won’t remember, but it’s weird and it changes everyday. When I’m lying in bed at 2 am and I can’t sleep, sometimes it’s like, “Oh God, I’m gonna die and this whole journey I’m on will be deleted.” But I think that if the universe intended for us to live forever, then we would. Obviously, we die for a reason. It just has to happen, and it’s a transition point. For me, it’s just best to let it be and think of it consciously and objectively and try not to get too existential.
Push up Daisies: Is there a film, book, or any kind of art that has influenced your perception of death?
Isabella: I listened to a podcast that was around death and spirituality. It’s called Bobo and Flex, where these two women discuss philosophy, relationships, and more. One of them was saying that she feels like whatever you believe in with your full chest will happen for you. Like Christians believe in going to heaven – whatever you feel like is going to happen will happen for you. I don’t exactly know if I believe that, but it was an interesting pointer. Another thing that they were talking about was different cultures. One of the women, Flex, is from Ghana, and in their culture, funerals are highly celebrated. It’s a big event that happens, the whole town is there, they get dressed up really fancy and colourful and extravagant, and people meet each other. It’s a big celebration and it goes on for a really long time. And I just found that really eye opening and interesting to compare to western culture. It’s something that we’re so afraid of, and the way that death is mourned is different as well. I think that in western society, death is just often avoided to speak about.
Where I come from, there is such a thing like a ‘birth doula’. It is someone who comes around when you’re about to give birth and supports you to understand the idea of bringing life into the world, bringing a sentient being into the world and what that means. I have known about birth doulas before, but recently I discovered that there is are also death doulas. Somebody who visits someone who may be dying and talks about what that means with them. I found it so interesting, and almost a bit comforting that that exists.
Push up Daisies: To you, what is an ideal way to die, and what’s a terrible one?
Isabella: For me, an ideal way to die would just be in my old age, in a bed, with people that I love there. Not being killed by something would be ideal.
As far as a bad way to die goes, I have a lot of different fears of particular ways of dying. For instance, I have this reoccurring nightmare of being in a tsunami. I’ve had it almost every second night for the last few weeks for some reason. I’m particularly scared of slowly having my breath taken away and feeling myself slowly die. I think that’s a true nightmare for me. Drowning, being burned, falling off somewhere, being murdered are all nightmarish ways I don’t want to die. I can’t imagine what that would be like. There are a lot of scary ways to die. Preferably, I would rather not be killed by anything other than age, and I would also not like to live too long. It just gets to a point in one’s old age where nothing is working for you and you’re in incredible pain and you can’t think straight. I would not enjoy that. I would rather die at a reasonable age.
Push up Daisies: Do you think about what happens after we die?
Isabella: Yeah, all the time. There isn’t one particular theory that I gravitate towards, but I often feel like I’ve been alive for a thousands years, like I am young, but in a sense I feel very old as well. I don’t know what it is about me that makes me feel like I’ve been here for so long. I wonder about reincarnation sometimes. I’m not really 100% sure of anything, but I definitely feel like when you die you go somewhere kind of in between, I suppose. And it also depends on the person and how they die. My grandfather died of cancer, and I feel like he was really not ready to die. Just before he died, my brother, my mum and I were in the hospital room and speaking to him, and he said, “When I get home from hospital, I’m gonna buy you guys a new TV, and I’m gonna fix up the garden out back,” and he was making plans for the future. That was one day before he died. I think that some people who are not ready to die, perhaps have a little bit of resistance within the process and hang around a little bit. Their energy is still very present after they die. I do believe in ghosts – but not in the theatrical way that it is presented in the media. Some people hang around, some people go somewhere else. I’m not sure if we come back here, maybe we go to a different universe. There’s endless possibilities.