Most teenagers spend a lot of time hanging out alone in their bedrooms. Sixteen-year-old Isaac Dunbar produces music out of his, and it’s resonating with fans everywhere.
Isaac is yet another young pioneer in the genre tentatively nicknamed “dark pop,” alongside artists like Lorde and Billie Eilish. Isaac’s lyrics explore the angst of navigating his teenage years, battling against self-doubt and longing to fit in with peers. His first single, freshman year (2018), gained immediate momentum with teenage listeners and cultivated a loyal following of fans. Isaac followed this single with the moody, almost melancholy self-produced EP balloons don’t float here (2019).
These days, Isaac is preparing for the release of his first album since signing with label RCA Records, Isaac’s Insects (due in April 2020), as well as getting ready to kick off his first national tour in the same month.
We sat down with the Massachusetts-native to talk about creativity, inspiration, and the unexpected challenges facing a young artist.
Isaac, what are you up to today?
I have to go to Boston because I’m building a home studio. I’ve been producing music on my computers for the past five years but I’ve never actually had a studio.
And is it your parents’ house? Do you still live with them?
Yeah, I’m not eighteen yet. It’s in my bedroom.
That’s so cool that it’s in your bedroom! I love the idea that a bedroom is a place where you’re supposed to feel comfortable, where you’re supposed to feel like you can get away from everything. I think it’s such a beautiful place to create.
For the past three months, I was in L.A. and I’ve been working with a bunch of producers. Some you might say know more about music, and they’re much older and wiser, obviously. But during those sessions, being in the studio, I felt like I never could be my true self and express weird ideas. So now that I’m back home, honestly I feel like I’m going to release my best stuff out of it. Because I just had so many days of sitting in studios where I just feel like I can’t truly like say what I have to say because I have such weird concepts and cool ideas in my head.
That’s awesome. And I love how you trust yourself because I feel like for a lot of people who are just starting out it can be hard trying to say, “Actually, I want to sound like this,” and take ownership and be assertive. It can be kind of intimidating.
Definitely. Definitely. And that’s why I released balloons independently. So I could get as much leverage as I can, so I can stand up for myself to a certain extent. Like, recently I’ve been going through a couple of weird obstacles with certain creative differences. I’m learning more about fighting for myself.
What was the first song that you posted on SoundCloud?
Pharmacy. Like, I posted stuff on SoundCloud before, but only my schoolmates would hear it. This was the first one where people were like, “Oh, this song sounds good.” It was fun.
And how did you get into music?
I looked at this producer, and I looked up what programs he used to make music and what was at his studio. So I went to my local Barnes & Noble, and I recently downloaded it and I taught myself through YouTube tutorials on how to compose music and about song structure. I started off making EDM music. I was just so into club music, and I think that influence is still in my music and I think it really jumped out.
Where do you find your inspiration now? Where do you find a good space?
In my bedroom, I’m always just thinking about my phone because I’m constantly getting messages about my music.
Messages from people who are telling you, “Thank you for making the songs. It’s really helped me.” How does that make you feel?
I just feel so good. I just want to be attentive to my own phone and create my tribe.
And do you feel like you started creating that already? Do you feel like you have your tribe?
Yes. It’s just so amazing to just see their names every day on the phone. ‘Cause I know a lot of artists don’t feel that way.
I really like the path that you’re on. Keep making the music that you want and pushing for your art and working on yourself. You’re going to change a lot of people’s lives and your own.
I receive that.
Yellow suit, Jeremy Willard. Spiked choker, artist own. Mesh turtleneck, ThehouseofPhil. Latex gloves, Busted Brand. Shoes, Dr. Martens
Silk shirt, Norblack Norwhite. Pants + hat, ThehouseofPhil.
Black top, Jimmy Paul. Pink turtleneck, Karlito Melero. Jewelry, ThehouseofPhil.
White outfit, Knorts. Shoes, United Nude.
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