Isaac Dunbar may only be 19, but he’s got the ponderous attitude and patience of someone who doesn’t mind taking the time to break down the “whys” of life, and how people get to the point where they are currently. Isaac’s new album, Banish the Banshee is a narrative-driven project about identity and departs from his previous projects in that it takes a more direct approach to addressing those key moments that have defined his perspective through the years.
Reflecting back on his past year, Isaac walks LADYGUNN through how he got to his new album through a more open approach to his vulnerability and shares with us the coming of age moment that has thus far defined his life and career.
Full look, JOHN MANGRU. Collar, Vintage / NEW YORK VINTAGE.
How has your move been from the east coast to the west coast?
It’s been so good. I say this every time they ask and it’s so cliche but the weather and the sunlight is everything for me. Because on the east coast, there isn’t a ton of sunlight through the year and I find that it really affects my mood and when I’m in the sunshine, I feel very uplifted. When I’m in overcast weather, I feel like shit.
Regarding your new album, Banish The Banshee, I’m curious how you feel about the record now that it’s been out in the world. How do releases feel for you, in comparison to the creation process?
The creation process is very personal. It’s a bit chaotic, it’s beautiful and it’s everything. I think the most important thing is that it’s very personal. As I release something, of course it gets released out into the world for everybody to have and it’s a very vulnerable process and at times it can get really difficult. Especially with Banish the Banshee because the songs are very direct in comparison to a lot of the older works I put out. There was a great amount of fear I had, essentially telling the story I had, I felt it was necessary because through my story, somebody’s gonna feel heard and seen, that’s why I make music.
I know you’ve mentioned that you didn’t like the music you created before Banish The Banshee. What was different about your approach to this album? What about this album makes you love it so much?
When I first started writing for this project, I had sort of an amount of disdain for my previous music because I was in a really insecure place. I started the writing for Banish the Banshee literally on my 18th birthday. I moved to New York impulsively and I was really insecure. I love my vocals, if we wanna get very picky here. Honestly, I love my vocals. I was really insecure about my voice on my older records. I started taking vocal lessons. I love the writing on this record, I love how unafraid it feels to talk about things. I feel like in my older music I would almost walk on eggshells on topics and cloak them with metaphors. But for this record I wanted to have a healthy balance of metaphorical language and direct language. I’m really proud of it. Also to touch back on how I didn’t like the music I put out before, I have a completely different perspective on that now. With Evil Twin and Isaac’s Insects and balloons don’t float here, I was a kid that was just really passionate about music and it all felt right at the time. It got me to where I am now and I have absolutely zero regrets now and I love who I was.
Jumpsuit, PLEATS PLEASE ISSEY MIYAKE. Hat, Vintage / THE HOUSE OF PHIL. Shoes, Vintage / NEW YORK VINTAGE.
How do you think your perspective on life has changed as you’ve grown older, is there any point where you feel like you’ve had your coming of age moment?
I feel as though my perspective of life has changed a lot as I’ve grown older. I’d say the biggest theme of my life has been learning to think for myself and make actions for myself. I feel like there’s a lot of doubt in myself and how I approach things and situations, decision-making, etc. The biggest theme is learning that I’m the leader of my life and I can live my life as I please. Growing up, there was a lot of suppression of things in my life. Things I was interested in, how I acted, what I was into sexually, ‘cause, I’m a little fruity. There was a lot of suppression and a lot of shutting down certain parts of myself to fit in and I think that’s the root cause of it. I would say that where I am in my journey now, I think my coming of age moment was when I turned 18 and moved to New York. And it’s definitely still a work in progress, but this cycle that’s happening is coming to an end a bit. I see the progress I’ve made and I’m very proud of myself, and I just wanna be the best version of myself I can be.
If you could pinpoint one experience in your life that has been key to your growth as a person and change in perspective, what would it be?
I’m gonna piggyback off what I said before– moving to New York. It was very impulsive of me. When I tell you it was literally two days after I turned 18. I didn’t tell family members, I was in quite the mindspace at the time. I was really stressed out, I wanted to leave Massachusetts and the small town I lived in. I felt really ready. Living in New York is no joke. You have to be on fight or flight mode all the time, you have to have street smarts and I learned so much in the summer I lived there. I lived there for the summer of 2021 and I met incredible people, I met terrible people, I discovered new subcultures, new music and it was just so eye-opening. And living in New York definitely changed my perspective because it aided in the fact that I am the leader of my own life. I guess I wanted to move to New York because I wanted to take control of my life. In that, it seems like the universe or whoever was like, “okay you wanna see that you’re the leader of your own life, you have to live in New York and look over your corner every two seconds, you’re gonna have to pay bills and make sure you lock the apartment. Yeah, it was definitely an eye-opening experience for me in many ways. And it may sound kind of surface level, but the effects of living in New York run quite deep.
What’s your approach to writing like? Do you feel like you’re a reactive creative in the sense that things happen that you feel you need to speak on, or more of a reflective creative? An impulsive or really focused creative with a schedule?
I would say it’s different every time but the main way that I create music is I usually start off with production. I start off with something that will inspire me, whether that’s a chord progression or a drum that sounds really cool. I like to let everything flow out of me, and then I am the one that has to decipher what I’m trying to say. For example, I’ll write down a bunch of phrases, have no idea what it means, but have to figure out where it came from. Because I personally feel that there’s a magic in making music where I have to decipher the song’s meeting and whatever I write. I let everything flow out and sometimes I`ll just be like, what am I saying, and really cool concepts come out of it. Whenever I free-write like that, I know that I’m trying to tell myself something, subconsciously, through metaphorical lyrics about what I’m talking about.
It’s easy to put on personas but I think it’s harder to stay authentic to it even when you’re playing a character. What do you feel like is your truth as a person?
My truth as a person is my vulnerability. It’s my downfall and also my complete source of confidence. I find that through my vulnerability there is a confidence and I don’t know how that happens, but that’s what happens. The truth of who I am is my vulnerability. I think that’s my biggest strength. I found that with vulnerability, whenever I’m vulnerable, the good outweighs the bad. Because people are afraid to be vulnerable. I find that since I’ve been hurt by being vulnerable so much that I started to feel confident about it. I started to talk about my failures and my losses in my music, in that, I’ve found my confidence.
How do you approach living life? None of us chose to be born, but yet here we are. Do you live like every day is your last or is it more relaxed than that? When you wake up in the morning, do you just see it as another day?
Every day is so weird for me. The best way to put it is that something weird happens to me every single day. I find that my day to day is full of oddities, in the interesting and strange people that I meet. I approach life in a somewhat childlike perspective, I’ve noticed whenever I compare myself to others. To be honest, I wear rose-tinted glasses sometimes, and that’s something I’m aware of in that I have to remember what is real and what is fake, and that’s definitely something in my life. But the beauty is that I’m very easily excited by things, by little things, and I would say I approach life from a very child-like perspective.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by what is real and what is fake?
I tend to almost romanticize life sometimes, which I think is a good thing and a bad thing. The good part about that is that anything can be beautiful. For example, I’m looking at this tree right now and somebody may say that it’s ugly but to me it’s pretty because I love how the leaves fall off it. I don’t know, because I love this shade of green, or whatever. I find that I’m attracted to the “ugly things” that people don’t like. Like you know how Balenciaga will have an “ugly cute” type of aesthetic, it’s very polarizing. I’m really into the weirder stuff. Because I try to find beauty in everything. It sounds kind of stupid and poetic–
–No, I don’t think so, it’s because you give meaning to things, things aren’t just black and white for you and even the idea of what beauty is, changes with every generation. So something that was ugly is now beautiful and vice versa. I look at Greek statues sometimes in museums and I’m like, okay so that was the concept of beauty, you know, thousands of years ago, and it’s not what we would see now with our filters and stuff.
Exactly. I find that the root of that is I tend to look for the benefit of the doubt in things. Sometimes, let’s touch on the bad side of this, I could tend to trust people that I shouldn’t trust, because I have an idealized perspective in my head and I put them on a pedestal, because I wear rose-tinted glasses sometimes. So I find that in this childlike perspective of life that I want to have, I have to have a very grounded approach to it, and a realistic approach to it.
Full Look, COMME DES GARCONS / NEW YORK VINTAGE.
Has there been anything difficult about embracing this career since you’ve been in it, do you see being a music artist as challenging or do you have things that you have needed to get used to?
It’s a mix. I would say the biggest challenge is relationships and trusting people for example. I only have a very select group of people that I truly trust. And I would say that’s the most difficult part of it. But I think that it’s all worth it. I have a very weird, strange sense of optimism, always, with this and I feel like everything’s going to be worth it and the people who are meant to be in my life will be in my life. I can’t control everything so I just let go. I have goals that I want to attain. I want to be a musician, and there are things that come with it. Just like any job you have to make certain sacrifices. Sometimes I get down because I’m human.
How do you find balance in your life— or is this still something you’re working towards? Are there any anchors that you have to have in your life in order to stay afloat, and stay yourself every day?
I love having friends with me. I love a good friend. That is something I need all the time. Friends keep me grounded. People that I can see, have familiar faces with, and have a rapport with, that’s really really important to me. Also writing new music keeps me grounded. Because it’s the one thing that has been consistent in my life. I used to quit a lot of things growing up. Like boy scouts, quit that. Football quit that, basketball quit that, soccer quit that, karate, quit that. What else… theater, quit that. And it’s always been music that has been around and things that remind me of the past keep me grounded. Where I come from. Things that remind me of where I come from.
How do you think people are able to make a voice for themselves to stand out in the traffic of all the things we have access to now?
Consistency is so important because, like you said, there’s so much oversaturation of content on the internet. You have to make yourself known and establish a presence for yourself. So getting over mental obstacles is really really important in making it. How you view yourself and your mindset is so important. It plays such an important role in being a recording artist. And I would say the biggest obstacle is mental obstacles. Because if you’re posting every single day on TikTok for example, you’re gonna get an audience, people are gonna listen to you. If you do it consistently and just push and push and push, the algorithm is gonna find you and you’re gonna start to get views. Every 100 views you get on a video is a new 100 people who are gonna discover it. So I would say, luckily with TikTok, it offers a chance for someone who is independent to break through. It just takes a lot of consistency and hard work and rolling with the punches. And if a TikTok doesn’t succeed this time, you have to keep going, you just can’t stop.
Blazer, MICHAEL CHAMBERLIN. Shorts, TEDDY VONRANSON. Boots, vintage archive / NEW YORK VINTAGE.
Is there anything you wish you could talk about in interviews but never get asked? Anything you would want to say in interviews that you wish you had a chance to before?
Actually, yes. It’s the philosophical questions like the ones you are asking me today. Precisely that. Because I get off to this shit. I love talking about the mind and why people do things, and why we think the way we think. It’s my favorite part of life, to be honest.
We’ve talked about how your truth is your vulnerability, and how all your previous music has led up to this project. And you’re proud of the fact that you were able to do these things to get here. I was curious, do you have any final words or a quote that you’d like to sign off with?
I guess I just want to say that I created Banish the Banshee for people to understand who I am and where I come from, and in that I just want to resolidify that I hope people can see themselves through my vulnerability and connect to the stories that Banshee has to tell. And that’s all I want to say.
CONNECT WITH ISAAC DUNBAR:
Photos / @shervinfoto
Styling / @styledbyphil
Styling Assistant / @_meekahh
Makeup / @cylersays
Hair / @erickinvisible
Story / @25percentcrisis