Rising Star: Isis Destiny

ACC student and independent musician, Amira Armstrong – or Isis Destiny, as she’s known in the industry – sat down with us for an interview before her upcoming tour. The multi-talented artist lets us in on the creative influences for her recent EP, “Scorpio Rising” and her experience with ACC’s music department.

Photo from Amira Armstrong’s instagram, taken by Amy Primrose (ig: @theprimrosephotography)

Written by Josie Hurt

From her formative years in Austin’s music scene to her struggles with imposter syndrome and other roadblocks, Amira’s story is a testament to her passion for music and the triumph of artistic expression over any obstacle.

So, starting off easy… what initially sparked your interest in music and how did your journey begin as a musician?

I can’t really think of a time that something specific sparked my love for music. At a very young age I was writing my own songs and singing for fun. It wasn’t until I was about 12 that my mom got me guitar lessons over the summer for  my birthday. Once I learned how to put chords to lyrics, it was kind of game over, so I took it a lot more seriously at that point. I was like I’m going to be a pop star! I’ve always had big dreams for sure. I’ve always very much been a music lover.

So you’re around 12 years old and you’re getting into guitar and then you go into fine arts school?

So after the lessons were over I just kept practicing and practicing. Then I started going to open mics. The year of 8th grade, the middle school I was at became a fine arts academy. At that point I applied and I got in. I went for orchestra. I was playing viola, so it wasn’t really for singing or songwriting. I will say that learning how to do classical music and instrumentation at a larger scale definitely added to my style and added to the way I look at creating music. 

Do you feel like going to school for music gave you an advantage as a musician?

Yes and no. Yes it did in a way because I felt a lot more secure in the way I was creating my music. It gave me a lot of structure. Without that structure I think I would have a hard time making songs. So just being in that orchestral setting there’s a lot of layering going on. There’s the viola, the bass, the cello and they all have different instrumentations happening. Being able to observe that did give me an advantage when it comes to the way that I make my own songs. I just felt a lot more secure.

How do you feel like growing up in Austin has impacted you as a musician?

It has done wonders for me! A family friend had opened up the skylark lounge, a blues bar off of airport, around the time I was in highschool. Both of my brothers were working at the skylark lounge, so I grew up going there. They always had amazing blues musicians coming in and performing and just being able to see them perform and then just being in this city where there was constantly music going on, constantly festivals, south by, fun fun fun fest. The moment I was old enough was going and running around those spaces. That was very inspirational to just be able to see other people creating and see other artists in the flesh. I definitely also would say that it inspired me and it made me just kind of visualize “Oh, what do I see myself as? Which of these artists on the stage would I want to be?”.

Is there something that you pick up on as a person who plays live music when you are watching other people’s live performances?

Oh everything! I am analyzing everything. The lights, the sound, if there’s choreography. I really like when there’s a live performance and the artist is singing, and there’s choreo, and there’s background singers, and there’s all the instruments. That’s definitely my favorite to observe. I get most inspired by artists who really make it this full experience, like you’re being entertained, you  know? Then on the other hand, I also love someone who just gets on stage and pours their heart out.

Where do you think you fit on that spectrum of very performative and very raw?

I think I started off very raw. I would say I fit on that side more but I am pushing myself to fit into that other area where there’s a lot going on, there’s the full band, there’s the choreography. I just think it looks very thought out and I personally like the way that it feels when I’m going to a live show. I think people that have that whole spectrum of different things happening during their show. It’s just more entertaining unfortunately. I hate that it’s about being entertained but at the end of the day I do want music to be something that I am doing full time so I feel like it’s good that I can tap in and be raw and just play with my guitar but I want to be able to do the full thing. The choreo, the band, and everything. Because long term I think it’s more… profitable. I hate that word.

You touched on ways that you’ve changed as a musician, what other ways have you evolved over the years?

I used to hate social media. I was anti-instagram. I still haven’t folded and gotten a twitter but through being in school, especially taking PR and marketing, hearing about how people in that world look at musicians, it was really scary because it just makes you realize that as a musician most people aren’t even going to look at you unless you have at least 5k to 10k followers. My teacher told me “You could be the best musician. You could have an amazing voice, but if we go to your page and you only have 400 followers, you’re not getting a deal!”. I’ve had to adapt. I’m always on my phone now, which is something that I don’t love. I live in this world where everything is about creating content and I think as musicians that is a huge thing that a lot of us are having to adapt to.

In what ways do you think ACC has contributed to your evolution as an artist?

It contributed in a lot of ways. Before I was in school, I was definitely still taking my music seriously but once I started, it became a snowball effect. A lot of the teachers at ACC are music professionals themselves, in whatever area they specialize in, so there’s a lot of networking opportunities. I would say that I also learned to take myself more seriously since I’ve been at ACC. That’s just benefited me greatly because I’ve gotten involved in a lot of programs, I’ve gotten a lot of internship opportunities.

Now I’m interning at Space Flight Records, which is a non-profit record label. I’m helping them with their marketing which is really cool because I’m around a lot of musicians while I’m helping them out! My teacher was talking about how badly you have to have a website so now I have a website. Honestly in almost every single way it has pushed me. Even today being in ensemble, I’ve never done that before. The music program here has been amazing and I wouldn’t go back. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be here.

What inspired you to come to ACC in the first place?

I tried for a very long time to teach myself. A lot of people in the music world who haven’t gone to college for music will say “You don’t need school to do it, just use youtube academy.”. Girl, I need school. Because I tried youtube and tried googling things but it just was not happening for me. I think it was post-covid and I wasn’t doing shit with myself. I was just working at a bar and only sort of taking music seriously. I wasn’t going and performing much. There were just a lot of things lacking in the music world for me. Ultimately, I decided to go back because FAFSA had offered to support me going to school. I just felt like it was a really good opportunity. I wasn’t doing anything else and I wanted to make the most of being able to go to school and not be financially burdened. The worst that could happen is I hate it but I’ve loved it so far.

Changing gears a little bit, what is the origin of your stage name Isis Destiny?

Isis Destiney is part of my name! My full name is Amira Isis Destiny. I decided to go by that because no one has called me that name before. Honestly when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to be called it came out of nowhere. Isis is an Egyptian goddess. She’s the goddess of maidenhood and a healer and I really like that. Destiny… well, we all know what destiny means. For my music I try to stay very positive and although some of my songs are sad I try to be very uplifting and choose my words wisely because I think music is powerful. I want my music to be healing for those who listen to it which is why I thought I would go with that name. It’s like “destined to heal with my music”.

Do you feel like there’s any themes you return to in your music besides mental health?

Besides mental health. I sing a lot about love. Not necessarily relationships but I would say loving life. At the root of it though a lot of my songs are about mental health, just finding yourself and your journey in life.

What do you hope people take away from listening to your music?

I hope they hear my lyrics and they can relate and maybe feel less alone. Then also what I’m trying to focus on more so with my music is I want people to feel super pumped. I want to make more dancey music so I’m working with a band right now to make my music more upbeat. I would love it if people were dancing. If they were like “we gotta groove to this”. That’s what I’m going for.

What does the music creation process look like for you? Do you start with writing lyrics or the instrumentation?

It goes all over the place. There’s been times I’m on a walk and lyrics will come to me. One time I was hiking and a full song came to my head. I pulled out my phone trying to record the lyrics so I didn’t forget them. There’s times like that and then there’s other times when I have more intent. I’ll sit down at the piano and find some chords and usually if I sit there and meditate enough lyrics will come to me. I would say that it’s all chaos. Usually lyrics come first. Sometimes when I can’t think of lyrics I’ll start with chord progressions. I’ll use a book of poetry I’ve had since I was a kid and flip through the pages then piece together words until they feel right.

Is there a part that you like the most about making music?

I would say performing. That’s not even the actual making of it. I would say the mixing and mastering. When I’m in the studio and doing the fine details, hearing the whole song together. I also love dubbing like when you add harmonies on top.

What do you like the most about performing out of all the different parts of music?

Because that’s finally when you get to share with other people and see what they think. It feels really good because when you’ve worked really hard on something for so long it’s just nice to see other people enjoy or relate or connect to something I’ve put a lot of energy and time into.

What are some of your biggest musical influences?

People that inspired me the most are probably Erykah Badu, Kali Uchis, Lauryn Hill. Her MTV unplugged acoustic album specifically. I grew up listening to that album and it changed my life. Some of my youngest memories are listening to that album. That whole album is very spiritual. She talks about her connection with God. That is one of those experiences where it is very raw. There’s times where she is on stage and she’s doing the choreo and she’s singing and doing the full band but that album it’s just her and her guitar and she kills it. That album is so inspirational to me. Then there’s this underground disco house music called social lovers. It’s funny because when I found them I thought they were huge but when I checked their instagram they only have a thousand followers. Their songs are very thought out and vibey and makes you want to dance but they’re also deep and relatable. I definitely try to combine a lot of influences from those that inspire me. My music is very much a mesh of those artists.

Do you have any defining moments for you as a musician or experiences that have had a significant impact on you?

The first thing that came to my mind is when I was about 15 I did my first real performance where my name was on the roster and I got to perform with Margaret Wright. She was definitely an Austin blues legend. So that was very influential for me. She had a residency at the sky lark so I got to spend my years as a teenager watching her perform. Being able to sing with  her on stage and then her complimenting me made me feel like I had something. Another turning point, which is darker, is when I was 17 there was this guy, a teacher, who was inappropriate with me. He was very creepy and because I had a shitty experience with him I got really depressed. I was working on an album and was really excited to put out music so I felt really taken advantage of in that situation. So it deterred me for a second. For a moment I thought maybe I wasn’t supposed to do music, maybe the music world is just toxic. That’s something I hear about is that it’s a very male dominated industry. A lot of the time these men are trying to take advantage of us. That ended up giving me this weird determination to prove that wrong. So I felt very determined to be successful without the help of a man.

I think that determination has pushed me in a lot of ways to grow independently as an artist. He was teaching me a lot about music theory and that honestly partially made me think I don’t need anybody. I can go to school and do this by myself. That was definitely a moment where my determination came from anger.

What other challenges have you faced as an artist and how did you overcome that?

As an artist one of the biggest challenges I faced is imposter syndrome. Honestly there’s so many amazing talented people that exist so the world is big and I’m just a little speck in the sky. Part of me is like why would I be deserving? I mean I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression, I was diagnosed bipolar when I was about 12 years old. As an artist I’m constantly having to eb and flow with that manic depressiveness. I have really good weeks and I have really bad weeks. During those bad weeks my imposter syndrome gets really bad, but I’ve gotten to a point, especially through ACC, where I feel like I’m past that. I feel like my dreams are attainable. I think that really what it is is like what my marketing teacher said. That you could be the most talented person in the world but there’s certain things that people look for so you can be sustainable in something you’re passionate about. I feel like I’ve gotten to this area of confidence where I think it’s realistic as long as I put in the work to get anything I’m wanting. That’s definitely something I still struggle with. My down weeks I could literally just sleep in bed for a week. But I do have a really good support system.

With a tour coming up and an EP that recently came out, how do you balance the stress of being a musician?

I don’t sleep as much haha. I spent a lot of my younger life doing whatever I wanted. I dropped out of highschool at 16. I did get my GED but the point is that I wasn’t doing anything I cared about, I wasn’t chasing my dreams for a large part of my life. There was a lot of time that I feel like I’ve wasted. Now that I’m in school, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m just going to be busy. So I don’t really hangout with my friends as much. It’s about school and it’s about music. So if I have to stay up until 3am several days a week to get the tour flyers done then so be it. That’s why you have to put in the work. Management wise it’s not sustainable, but I know that school isn’t going to last forever. Once school is over I’ll be able to breathe a little bit easier with it just being music. I’ll have all these tools that I learned from school to just continue pushing. As far as balancing it, I drink a lot of yerba mate. I pray a little bit. Even on the days where I’m really having a hard time I still do what I need to do.

Do you feel like spirituality influences your music?

I would definitely say so! I was kind of talking about my name and how my name is based off of the goddess of healing so when it comes to my music I want it to be healing for people to listen to my music. So I am a spiritual person and I want that to resonate with people in my music.

So you have a pretty big tour coming up, how have you been preparing yourself mentally and physically for this?

Honestly I’ve had to force myself to take a few down days because it has been nonstop. This month every single Saturday I’ve had a gig. So I’ve been performing a lot this past month. I’ve also just been trying to get through my classes. Tourwise, I have two days a week that are dedicated to band practice and one day a week dedicated to choreography practice. I’ve definitely put a lot on my plate. All of the venues I created a lineup of artists. It’s delegating with the artists, and checking to see if the sound is good. It’s like every aspect of the tour I put on myself but I’m not mad at that. It’s been a really good learning experience. Everything feels like it’s falling into place. Initially finding band members and people to do the choreo, and the lineup for the show, was initially stressful but once I got all of that settled I’ve been like lets just prepare and promote. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about touring and I hope to potentially help other artists in future  since I know what needs to be done. 

Are there any cities or venues that you are particularly looking forward to?

I’ve never performed in San Antonio so I’m really excited for the show at the happy times bar. It’s going to be a full fem showcase so everyone is going to be super feminine. I’m excited to see how that plays out since a lot of people on the showcase are from San Antonio.

Final question, if you could collaborate with any musician, living or dead, which one would you collab with?

Kali Uchis! I would love to. I just love her music and she’s still very much in the world of pop and she definitely inspires me a lot and feel like our music would go really well together.

Additional portait photos of Amira Armstrong at ACC’s Highland Campus, taken by Collin Eason

Check out Isis Destiny’s music on Spotify, Soundcloud, Bandcamp and Youtube! Her upcoming tour dates are…

5/31/24     San Antonio      Happy Place Bar

6/01/24     San Antonio      Reggae Bar

6/02/24     San Marcos       Alchemy Records

6/03/24     Austin               Volstead Lounge​

To find more information about Isis Destiny check out “isisdestiny.com”