[Interview] Isabel Thottam Keeps Boston Strong With Hold On Another Day

Photo: (Isabel Thottam)

Photo: (Isabel Thottam)

The Boston Marathon bombing showed how brave and strong the people of Boston can be, but there is still a lot of emotional and physical healing that needs to happen. Isabel Thottam, who started the org Hold On Another Day to brighten people’s days through music, has created the Boston Strong Music Project specifically for this recent tragedy.

MTV Act interviewed Isabel before, so we wanted to get the need-to-know info on her latest endeavor. She’s collected music from Boston musicians, and the compilation is now available for digital download. It gets even better: Every penny earned from this goes straight on over to One Fund Boston, which was created specifically to help those affected by the bombing. Isabel filled us in on the deets.

ACT: What can you tell us about the Boston Strong Music Project?

ISABEL: When the Boston Marathon happened, we wanted to do something powerful to support the victims’ families financially, but to also make sure our city was thinking about how they were personally affected or dealing with their mental well-being. So many people have come together to raise funds for One Fund and that’s so great, but what we wanted to do at Hold On Another Day is help people find a way to channel their emotions and address their individual struggles with what happened.

So, when we knew we wanted to do a mix CD, we didn’t want to just collect songs from musicians — we wanted people to tell stories and share their thoughts through music. This way people could resonate with the songs and hopefully find some comfort. With this in mind, we reached out to WERS 88.9 at Emerson College and asked to open their studio for musicians who wanted to come in and record a song. We had about 15 artists come in and record new material; a few artists had already written and recorded songs about the tragedies, and other musicians donated a pre-recorded song of theirs that they felt was positive and fitting for the project. The result is a 41-track music compilation titled “Boston Strong Music Project” that is meant to be inspiring and give us hope. We’ve put the CD online for digital download with a “pay what you want” model because we want the music to be affordable and accessible to many. At the end of the day, we just want people to listen to the music and hope that it comforts them. I like to think of our CDs as hope in the form of a mixtape, and that’s exactly what we wanted to do with this project!


Photo: Isabel (on right) and Hold On Another Day business partner, Emily Smith. (Isabel Thottam)

ACT: Where did you find the talent for it? Who are some of the people involved?

ISABEL: We put a call out in the city of Boston for local musicians. We used social media, connected with local music blogs and asked friends to tell anyone they knew who was in a band or knew a Boston band. We also reached out to musicians who got their start in Boston but have since moved away and have held successful careers. For example, Amanda Palmer donated her track “Massachusetts Avenue,” John Keefe of Boys Like Girls donated a song from his new band, Best Of Friends, called “To All My Friends,” and Bleu donated his track “B.O.S.T.O.N.” There’s a very cool mix of sounds on this album, so there is something for everyone, which is what we try to do since everyone responds to music differently.

ACT: Looks like you got a lot of people involved for Boston Strong. Is this the biggest compilation CD you’ve done so far?

: There are so many people involved with this project! This is double the size of the other CDs we’ve produced, so it was a lot of work, but so worth it. It’s funny because when we initially started we weren’t sure if we’d generate enough interest from Boston musicians to get involved, but we received so many submissions that we had to cut it off once we started to hit 40 so we wouldn’t overwhelm people with the amount of music. I actually still get emails from people asking if they can be involved, which is hard for me because I never want to turn people away from supporting a cause they care about, especially this one. But it’s been a really positive experience, and outside of the musicians involved, there’s also a lot of people I’ve been working with who have been so helpful — especially Julian Weisser and Danny Kirschner, who founded Bundio.com and are helping us with the donations and downloads.

ACT: You were in Boston on Marathon Monday and had friends running in the marathon. Does that make this project all the more personal to you?

ISABEL: It really does. The marathon is a very special race to me because I ran it last year and raised money for a suicide prevention organization in Boston, Samaritans Inc. I also knew friends who were running for a charity or for their first time, so my heart was heavy knowing they would not get their moment crossing the finish line. But what’s so beautiful about this project and other efforts people have done to raise support for Boston is the fact that so many people have come together. I think these people tried to take something positive from us, but they really failed at that because in the end, they only made us stronger and brought so many people together who proved that love is always going to conquer evil.


Photo: Isabel and Emily posing with some of the musicians who contributed to the Boston Strong Music Project. (Isabel Thottam)

ACT: What other ways can people help out Boston?

ISABEL: There are so many creative projects going on in Boston to support the city! A friend of mine, Nick Reynolds, and his friends started the original Boston Strong campaign using T-shirts to raise funds for One Fund and they’ve almost raised 1 million dollars! There’s a variety of benefit concerts and events happening around the city as well. Also, I think just loving people helps. That sounds simple, but I really believe that just showing people love every now and then or reaching out to people who need help coping can do so many wonders. Sometimes people just want to be listened to so I think a big way to help is to just be there for your friends and family who may have been affected by the tragedies and just listen to and love them.

ACT: Can you tell us what’s been going on with Hold On Another Day since we last interviewed you?

ISABEL: Well, I just graduated college so that’s been the biggest thing that’s changed for us! Now, I’m experimenting with other ways we can help people in creative ways and am deciding what the next big steps will be for us. In February, we released our second compilation, “Songs For Project Believe In Me,” which we raised $8,500 on Kickstarter to do! That was a big milestone for us because my business partner, Emily Smith, and I flew out to Portland, Oregon, where Project Believe In Me is based and hosted a bully prevention benefit concert with Kimya Dawson. We’ve also gone into some middle schools with our CDs and discussed bullying prevention with youth and how music can been a form of coping. I think that’s been my favorite part about all of this — going into schools or Boys and Girls Clubs and sitting down with kids, just having conversations about bullying and how they can make a change in their life or at their school. In the future, we hope to work with more organizations and work in other areas of the arts to support mental health.

take action

Boston Strong

Boston Strong

Get Hold On Another Day's Boston Strong compilation!

take action

The One Fund

The One Fund

Give directly to Boston's One Fund.