Isaac DeBroux-Slone | Madison, WI
In the babysitting co-op I grew up in, I was also always around other musicians and instruments. I would be hanging out at my parents’ peers’ houses and, if there was an instrument, I would much rather be playing music than hanging out with the kids my age. By the time I was five years old, I had saved up $99 of Christmas, birthday and lemonade stand money and went to Ward Brodt Music Mall to buy my first electric guitar.
The babysitting coop had several musicians in it and they formed a band that played kids’ music called the Madgadders. I started playing with the band around age five and kept at it till the Madgadders stopped playing when I was in my late teens. They would set things up so all the kids could play shakers or something, but I was always serious about my part in the band. Once I had my electric guitar, I started learning how to play the guitar parts.
The Madgadders didn’t play a ton but playing music with a group of people and starting to understand band dynamics was a huge part of my musical development. I’ve been thinking recently how grateful I am for these experiences. From a very young age, I was taught to work the microphone. The adults would say, ‘Isaac, pretend the mic is an ice-cream cone—you need to eat the ice-cream cone!’
Later on, a bunch of the same people formed a disco band called VO5. When I was around thirteen, VO5 started bringing me in when they needed a guitar sub. That was when I really started to learn more about how to act on stage—the protocol of what to do if you mess up, reacting in the moment, how to keep up stamina—all that kind of stuff. Playing music with a group of people is something that I’ve done from a very young age.
I formed the band Disq in 2014 with my childhood friend Raina Bock when she was fourteen and I was fifteen. More recently we’ve signed to Saddle Creek Records, toured around the country, and just finished recording our second album. When playing on stage with Disq, we get a lot of energy out, we’re sweating, everyone’s having a good time. Sometimes we look at each other and smile. Maybe I smile because I made a mistake, and my bandmates are the only ones that caught it. There are also moments where someone did something really cool and unexpected. Or we smile simply because we’re sharing an experience. It’s like two fishermen happening upon each other in their boats and they’re both like, ‘Yep. Hey, we’re doing the same thing here and I enjoy it.’
Spending time together and enjoying yourselves is such a huge part of making good music. There are stakes other people have in the music and legal and personal responsibilities of being in the band, but you have to have fun and just appreciate being around each other to have a healthy and good music life.
One thing that has really brought me a lot of joy is a bluegrass jam I’ve been playing at since the spring of 2021. You can just sit down with some people and have a good time taking part in this time-honored thing. There’s something great about everyone participating and being on equal ground. Another huge part of it is putting faith in other people and feeding off what happens. If you make a mistake or miscommunicate something, it just gets laughed off and we just keep playing. You know, even though every mistake you make in life might not be okay, you’re going to have to be okay with the fact that it happened.
Music is a lot of things to me. It’s about having a community; it can also be about creating something, sometimes just for yourself. Personally, it’s the thing that brings me the most happiness. Music has been my life and it’s the only thing I’ve truly thought about besides developing personal relationships and surviving.
When I was in high school, and I still do this, I would record something and drive around and listen to it on repeat just to revel in the emotions of what I’d made.
Now what usually happens when I write a song is it’ll come to me in separate parts. So, I’ll have a riff that I am writing or a chord progression and record that into my voice memos. When I have ideas for some lyrics I’ll write those down or I’ll make a voice memo. And if everything comes together right, I’ll be working on the chords or the riff, and then I’ll think, ‘This reminds me of this concept that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently.’ I’ll take a chord progression that I like and merge it with the notes on my phone and sometimes that is a song.
Last year, over the pandemic, I made a song called ‘It’s a Beautiful Day’ and it’s sort of Beatles-y, kind of cheesy song about how it’s a beautiful day outside. I was writing it to be a commercial song. Writing something like that is pretty easy for me. Once I’ve got the concept and I’m like, ‘Okay. Well, I’m letting go of my own preconceived notions of what Isaac songs are supposed to be. And I just write this silly song and get that done.’ And it’s really nice. It’s a satisfying experience.
As a songwriter, I like to write about what’s going on in my life. It can be a good coping mechanism. There’s a song I wrote called ‘Communication.’ The whole concept of the song is in the first line of the chorus, ‘And again, communication takes me farther away.’ This song came from a place of frustration and expressed the challenges of getting meaning across when talking to people. You know, modern communication and the internet is supposed to be bringing us closer together by making it easier to communicate, but in reality, it has become harder. With music, though, there’s something grounding about it and something that can bring people together.
Once the pandemic hit we had to cancel the US and European tours Disq had scheduled to promote the release of our album. Sometimes during the pandemic people would ask me, ‘So are you writing a lot?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, no. Are you doing a lot of creative, fun stuff right now? I don’t think so.’ There is still plenty of pandemic happening right now, but as I personally come out of a pandemic depression lull, I’m finding that I’m definitely more inspired now than I have been for the last two years because I’m doing stuff again. And it’s not that I’m even really doing that much stuff, but I just feel like my life is moving forward again. I started playing in a bluegrass jam. I don’t want to do that in place of playing indie rock, that’s the live music scene that I love. It is super fun to perform my own song and hear people in the audience singing the words. It’s crazy and I love it. But the one thing about that is it doesn’t really feel very community-oriented. Not that I need everything in my life to be community-oriented but playing in the bluegrass jam has really brought me a lot of joy.
When I play a show with Disq I have to give it my all the whole time. And so does the rest of the band. And we’re happy to. But it’s nice to make bluegrass music with people and not have the stakes be so high, to not be invested in getting it perfect before you play. I just love being with people where the goal is to enjoy yourself, play good music and have a good time. So that’s been a huge thing for me in the last year.
When I was younger, I thought the logical conclusion of being a musician was to be famous. While it might be great having tons of people love my music and have an easier time supporting myself, there are also things that now seem so awful about being famous. There are plenty of people who sustain themselves off of music healthily and happily for their whole lives and they’re not famous. I’ve learned that what’s important to me is having the ability to create the music that I want and have a good community around me. I realize this is a big luxury, but on a basic human level, there’s just something about the ability to contribute to the community, making the whole a little bit better.
Photos of Isaac playing in the babysitting coop band, The Madgadders