Nobody’s going to steal the thunder from this Toronto-based electrorap duo (frontwoman Isis and soundsmith Grahm Zilla). Thunderheist turn out “fun” music with undertones of disco, funk and R&B. In the past two and a half years they’ve rocked the stage and the Net with danceable, attitude-filled tunes like “Jerk It”, “Bubblegum”, and “Sueños Dulces”. Their relationship was born out of a MySpace interaction and although the first self-titled LP hit stores in just March of this year, they’ve been playing tours and festivals for quite some time. This year they’ve already completed a European tour with the addition of a live drummer and they’ll be back in North America for the rest of the summer. We chatted it up with Isis on a rare day-off in Washington, DC.

“I think theres a fine line between empowering sexuality and just straight-up using it as an excuse to be a ho.”

Format: So you’re in Washington right now?
Isis: Yep, we’re in DC. It’s pretty good, we played last night at Black Cat, pretty cool show. Before that we were in Baltimore, before that we were in Philly so today’s a day off after a 5 city back-to-back tour. We continue the madness tomorrow.

Format: Could you start off by telling us who and what is Thunderheist?
Isis: Thunderheist is a duo consisting of myself and Grahm. Grahm’s from Montreal, I’m from Toronto and we currently live in Toronto. We make fun music and we encourage people to explore their boundaries and have a good time.

Format: We already know that you’ve been raked over the coals with questions about what genres you are, what genres you aren’t but could you tell us about your musical backgrounds before becoming Thunderheist?
Isis: My musical background… I dunno… does playing the sax in middle school count? I started mainly doing what would be considered contemporary hip-hop. I’ve been writing since I was about 13 years old, performing since I was 16 – mainly along the lines of hip-hop and spoken word. Three years ago I started working with Grahm making more dance-floor music.

Format: What’s the story of how you and Grahm met?
Isis: Our current manager introduced us, or rather introduced our MySpace pages. He liked my MySpace and my music and I liked his. We started working together on my solo stuff and then one day he accidentally sent me a remix he was working for a competition. I really liked it and decided to record over parts that didn’t already have rapping and sent it back to him and Thunderheist was born.


Format: Besides the two of you, was anyone else really instrumental (pun intended) in the formation of Thunderheist?
Isis: [Laughs]. No. Right now we’re working with our friend Jamal on the live aspect. He’s out with us as our drummer. But in terms of what goes into the creation of the music, it’s just me and Grahm.

Format: Hip-hop and the related genres and subgenres have always gotten a bad rap (this one was a mistake) for the over-sexualization of women, and the, you know, un-empowerment of women. But you guys seem to sort of turn sexuality into a tool for the empowerment of chicks.
Isis: I think theres a fine line between empowering sexuality and just straight-up using it as an excuse to be a ho. I think it’s important for women to embrace what God gave us and to explore our sexuality. However there’s a woman who can get on stage butt-naked and no man would touch her. That’s power. But then there are other women who just flaunt it around, so there’s a very fine line and I guess I’ve been able to walk it.

That’s thanks to women like Debbie Harry, Betty Davis, and Grace Jones. For me, those women are icons, as is Madonna who’s able to explore sexuality but still keep power. It’s a very tricky line to walk and I find some women don’t walk it very well. Little Kim, some people will consider empowering but I don’t see her as empowering. Men see her as a sexual object and that’s it. There’s a difference between being seen as empowering and being seen as a sexual object.

Format: You guys also talk about how you want people to dance to your music and that’s really one of your main goals in creating your music. Do you have a dancing background?
Isis: No, I don’t have a dancing background and I don’t think you need to in order to dance. I’ve seen some people do some funny dance moves but I think dance is therapeutic. You don’t need to have any salsa or classical dance training. You’re supposed to just move your arms and let the music lead you.

Format: One of my friend’s MSN names has been ‘Dust it off and Jerk it’ for a few months now. How do you feel about creating quotable lyrics?
Isis: [Laughs]. That’s awesome! Last night I was trying to fix the mic stand because it was super-tight and the room was super-humid, and some guy in the crowd screams out “You should dust it off… and jerk it!” I was like oh my God… what have I started? It’s flattering though, to think that people quote me. I don’t go out to try to write quoteable lyrics. I just write because I’m writing and if it ends up that way, then that’s a score for me.


Format: You’ve said before that in the beginning of your professional relationship, things were a bit rocky. What’s your relationship like with Grahm now? Who wears the pants?
Isis: [Laughs]. I don’t think I’m legally allowed to answer that question. It was tumultuous at the beginning and it’s a working relationship now. We’re both still alive.

“If you’re in it for the art and the longevity then you need to spend time with your music and yourself.”

Format: How was your recent European tour?
Isis: Crazy! We switched up the live performance aspect of it. We’ve been touring for two and a half years. The album came out just this March but the material’s been touring for some time so it got a little frustrating for us. We decided to throw a live drummer in, which brought a new life to it for us, and at the end of the day it’s new for the audience. A lot of our fans have been following us since day one and they know all the songs so the drummer is also a treat for them to kind of re-vamp the whole thing. The European tour was crazy!

We played for like 2000 people and it was just insane. Playing Europe is always awesome. They treat you really well out there and people always just kind of lose their shit. The Social Club in Paris was insane. I crowd surfed when we played with Birdy Nam Nam at this huge club. I almost lost my body because they took me way too far. It was like a 2000 or 3000 capacity venue and it was packed, so I’m getting taken way too far from the stage. But eventually they brought me back. It was just insane and we always love playing Europe.

Format: Can you tell us about some future endeavors you’re planning?
Isis: Right now we have an EP that you guys should be getting soon. We know that our fans have been waiting a long time for this album so we plan on not making them wait much longer for new material. Be expecting that sooner than later. This album is a great introduction to Thunderheist for those who have never heard us. It’s sort of a great appetizer before you see us live. We definitely hope more people will learn the songs and sing along when they come out to our shows.

Format: Do you have any advice for people who maybe have a passion for music and want to make a career of it but don’t know where to start? Does or should technology play a big role in this (like it did with Thunderheist)?
Isis: It’s funny actually. There’s this girl I met last night, a rapper based in Baltimore who is phenomenal. Grahm’s computer crapped out during the set for like 2 minutes. Thank goodness I had a freestyling background so we were able to keep the set going with the help of Jamal on the drums. I asked for anyone who wanted to freestyle to come on stage with us. She came out and she killed it. After the show I had a sit-down pow-wow with her and basically broke it down. There’s 2 simple parts to this thing. One part is being an artist, and that’s the first step: figuring out what your sound is and what you want to do as an artist. Then there’s the other side of it and that’s where a lot of people lose themselves and go crazy. Being an artist is the easy part.

Getting your music out there takes an amazing team, and using avenues like MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and things like that also helps. At the same time, when we were coming out those avenues were fairly new and it wasn’t as oversaturated. Now I can tell you to go get a MySpace page and that’s a good start but it really takes building things on a grassroots level and getting your stuff on blogs, in DJs hands so they can play it, and created buzz that way.

But really, making your music is the first step. Once you know what it is you want to do as an artist, then it’s a matter of getting your stuff into the proper channels to get it out there, and you’re still not guaranteed to blow up. That’s why it’s important to spend as much time with your own art first and foremost to make sure your art stands on its own before you start putting it out there. It’s about knowing what your in it for and loving that. If you’re just in it to make money then take the Lady Gaga route. That’s easy. Find a label that will push your shit. But if you’re in it for the art and the longevity then you need to spend time with your music and yourself.

Format: Is there anything else you’d like to tell our readers?
Isis: Just thank you for all your support over the last 3 years. We’re really glad that people stuck it through. We know it took forever for the album to come out. Now we’re coming back to Canada and playing all this major festivals like Virgin, Jazz Fest of Montreal. Just keep checking in with us and we’ll always be here.

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Ally Duncan

Ally Duncan

Ally Duncan

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