Mira Van Lierop

2 Apr
Music

Isaac Dunbar: “I Hate Being a Teenager Right Now”

Isaac Dunbar is only eighteen years old but don’t let his age mislead you. The upcoming artist knows exactly where he wants to go with his music and blessed us in February with the release of his third EP ‘evil twin’, which already indicates that he’s up for something big. In our interview, we discussed influences like Lady Gaga’s pop monument ‘Artpop’ and how it is to be a teenager in 2021.

Where are you at the moment? 

I’m in Brooklyn, New York. 

Ooh, I have to admit I’m a little bit jealous of that. 

(laughs) I love it here. I’m moving here very soon, in about two weeks or three weeks. Like literally two days after I turn 18. 

That sounds super exciting! So let’s dive into your music. I was going through your Spotify profile, and there isn’t a lot of information in your bio except for one sentence. It describes you as a complextro artist. I was so intrigued with that word. What do you mean by that? 

(laughs) Thank you so much. So … (laughs) when I first started making music, when I was about nine, I made this genre music called complextro music. It’s quite dated to like 2013-2012 and is like very complex electronic music. And so, me and my manager were together one day— we were just talking about all the old, shitty EDM we used to listen to—and I wanted to update my bio. So I was just like, “Put ‘17 complextro god’” or whatever I said, and that’s that. 

It’s a great bio. Now you’re still quite young; you recently turned eighteen. Are you happy to be a teenager during these times? 

No, I hate being a teenager right now. I wish I was a teenager five years ago, maybe? I really hate what social media has done to my generation and done to myself in regard to like instant gratification. I’m just worried about all the repercussions of social media because I spend so much time on my cell phone. It makes me nervous. So no, I wish I was a teenager like five or ten years ago. 

Do you think that you are looking for validation as well because of social media?

Totally. A 100 percent. I’m looking for validation. I’m looking for attention. I’m looking for things to not make me feel alone. I’m looking for content always. I’m always looking for a way to distract myself from thinking a thought. So, I always have like four screens open at the same time. It’s so bad.

As a teenager, you talk about quite heavy stuff on social media, which is beautiful and interesting. Do you think that it would be different if you were, for example, five years older? 

Definitely. It would be different. I’m very glad that I do get to talk about those things. Of course, there’s a polarity—a good and bad to everything. So, as much as there are negative parts to social media that I believe exist, there are also the really good parts. You can find community on social media and like Twitter and stuff. There’s a lot that’s being destigmatized, and lots of mental health awareness and marginalized communities finally getting to have voices. Those are things that I’m very happy about in regard to social media. 

Yeah, I think that’s a very important step we’re taking. I’m also wondering because you’re 18 now, do you think that you will make different music when you’re an “adult”?

I think just topics of songs and the way that I approach things. I feel as I grow, I cannot predict how the music’s gonna sound because I’m constantly changing, but my prediction is that I’m going to like reference more. I’m gonna be going back to my roots a lot with my music. I’ve been making a lot of dance music, even though I was joking about the complextro shit, I’m kinda going back to my roots. Like things are coming full circle. 

I’ve been really inspired by Lady Gaga’s Artpop and all of the complex synth lines and drums. I don’t know, but as for songwriting, I feel as though my topic of choices will get a bit more serious. Not every song is going to be about love. I’m gonna approach serious subjects with a very beautiful instrumental or a really depressing topic with a really upbeat dance track or something. I’m just ready to evolve.

Well, I’m looking forward to that! Talking about Artpop, what’s your favorite track on the album, and why is it such a groundbreaking album for you? My favorite track on Artpop is “Scheiße”. 

That’s from Born This Way! That’s from Born This Way

Omg, I meant “Aura”!

Yeah, that song is crazy. My favorite song is the song right after that: “Venus”. I think it’s just one of the best-written songs ever. All the vocal harmonies and the production is incredible. I think the reason why it’s such a groundbreaking album for me is because of the theatrical approach to music. How unhinged it is but at the same time so put together and collected. I think it’s just Gaga’s strongest body of work. 

During the cycle of that album, she lived, slept, and breathed art. Like she was the embodiment of art. She used her body for art. Her emotions like … it’s something I’ll always look up to. I’ll never forget how I felt when Artpop was released and all the press she did and the concerts and how all her live shows looked. Oh my gosh, when I was like ten years old, discovering that I like shit my pants! I’ll never forget it.

Now you released an EP in February called evil twin, which represents your duality as an artist. You’re dealing with that line between your fascination for pop music and experimental music. Why are you so torn between these genres? 

A lot of it has to do with my ego getting in the way of things and how people view me, honestly, and credibility as an artist. Not wanting to just be a pop-music generator—constantly making circus-level, down-the-middle pop music—and me being somewhat pushed to do that to a certain extent. And me just not wanting to do that all the time but also loving pop music. 

During the process of making evil twin, I didn’t listen to any pop music at all. I listened to things like Cocteau Twins, Slowdive, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, and Aphex twin— just weird techno music. I was just so inspired by them. My sense of reality is always changing; what I view as cool and what I sort of hyper-fixate on. (laughs) It happens to me often. I felt as though this experimental music was the coolest thing in the world. I hated pop music, but then I recognized pop music is cool, and I like the experimental music, so I put them both into one. 

Where would you situate yourself between experimental and pop music?

Actually, now looking back and after creating this EP, I consider all of my music to be pop music because I believe that pop music can be whatever you want it to be. As long as there is clear confidence about the music, and you can understand the message of the artist, and you can make it into something cool then it’s pop. It’s pop culture. You’re accepted into pop. So, I consider myself pop.

You have an amazing song called “fan behavior”. Does it bring pressure knowing that you have a growing fanbase all over the world, or is it something you don’t really think about?

Thank you. I think it’s a little bit of both. It’s kind of terrifying but also really exciting. I think one of the coolest parts of what I do is having the platform that I have and being able to have music that helps people. That’s all that I care about. Like healing through music that’s—my entire career will be based on that healing through music. It’s something that I never stop talking about because music is so powerful. 

The pressure happens once in a while, but I just ground myself and remember that every single person that listens to my music has a story and is going through something. Remembering that sort of brings humanity back into those numbers because sometimes I see numbers of fans, and it’s just numbers on a screen. But knowing that everybody has a personal story brings back the sort of human quality to it. Do you know what I mean?

Yeah, I understand that because you’re becoming quite popular during a pandemic, so you aren’t able to meet a lot of people and realize that there are real people behind every number. The second song that I really like on your EP is called “intimate moments” because it’s quite melancholic. Would you describe yourself as a melancholic soul? 

Very, but I have so much love to give … I’m very melancholic. Ever since I was a little kid, in every single photo that you would see me in, I would just have a straight face—always looking a little bit downtrodden. I’ve always been existential too, as a kid. Always wondering what happens when I die? It was so bad like 4-year-olds should not be thinking about that shit, but I was. I think a lot of that melancholic sort of vibe that I had let to music that’s quite introspective and self-aware and observant, I guess.

I loved the artwork of the EP! Does it have a special meaning because we see you four times? Why did you decide to put four different Isaacs on the artwork? 

Well, thank you. The reason why I did that is because the first single is the “love, or the lack thereof” and there were two of me. The second single was “intimate moments”, which is three of me. And then I decided for the grand reveal of the EP—for the art—I would have four. There’s no real symbolic meaning. I just love the composition. I told the people I was working with “I want four of me, so it fills up the entire square”, and I’m obsessed. I’m so glad you love it too!

I have a feeling you are an artist that puts a lot of effort into his visuals. Do you like to compliment the story of the music video with the meaning of the song, or do you try to get two different perspectives? 

Oh, that’s a great question. Visuals have always been intuitive for me. For example, when I write a song, I see something visual at the same time. I’m sort of cultivating two buildings: making the song also happen with this visual escape. So really, I based the visuals off of whatever I feel from a song, even if it’s not about the meaning of the lyrics. Sometimes I just see colors that remind me of different synths from songs that I made. It’s always different. Always different.

For your song “pink party” you used a fisheye camera. Is there a special meaning behind the choices you made there? 

Honestly, as I said, it’s all so intuitive; I just do it randomly. I remember I made the “pink party” deck—that’s where I put all the different scenes and what I want in each shot—and so I just thought fisheyes. It gave me the feeling of the intro of the song because it felt very curious sounding. The synths just spoke to me in like a curiosity-killed-the-cat kind of way that reminded me of a fisheye for whatever reason. It’s a very strange process I have. (laughs)

Well, the EP is out, you’re almost turning 18, you’re moving to New York … what else will 2021 bring you as an artist?

Oh, my goodness … I hope to achieve a better sense of self. I’m always working on self-improvement, and I’m gonna be moving to New York, which is terrifying as shit but very exciting. Of course, release new music! I’m gonna be releasing music all the time and, hopefully, it’ll lead to another project!

Pictures by Harshvardhan Shah

Interview by Maxim Meyer-Horn

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