There are few artists that have floored me as much in the last two years as Isaac Dunbar.
Currently seventeen, but upon us finding him, fifteen – I’d love to say that the age is irrelevant because the music is just so objectively good. But the self-discovery through music of a young man of his age is important to this story.
When we came across him, Pharmacy was one of very few records finished and on the internet, the catalogue at the time an incredible and broad view into his heart and the way he interacts with the other humans around him. Fast-forward to 2020 and it’s less of a foggy window – the song he came out with, songs that speak to hiding his true self and the comments on the world around him.
In this chat we talk about the influence of one particular EDM genius on the way he approaches not just his production but his songwriting, the sessions that helped him process his truth, Sam Smith being among his fans and the fucking unhinged Twitter account of the artist that is Isaac Dunbar.
Nic Kelly is in bold, the amazing Isaac Dunbar is in not-bold.
Hello King. I want to go back to the very start, because we share a mutual love – and I think an introduction to EDM pop – we both are big Madeon stans. It was a song called The City…
THERE IS A PLAAAAAAAAAACE! IN THE DISTAAAAAAAAAANCE!
I’m SO glad you know that song, because I don’t think it was like a very big hit or anything, but what is it that got you about Madeon? What is it that struck you? I still hear elements in your production of his amazingness.
Oh my GOD. Every single thing. Okay, look, his album Adventure completely changed my outlook on music. The chords that he chose, even his vocal melodies that he writes, he’s a really good songwriter. I’m so glad that you hear the influence in my music. That is such a compliment. I just absolutely adore the way he structures his music. In fact, I learned the French language, because of him. In seventh grade, I loved that kid so much, I wanted to learn French because I wanted to understand the interviews that he was doing. So I taught myself French, and I took it until I was about fifteen years old.
I love that so much. Have you ever been to France to be able to flex your French IRL?
I have, once, and it was SO fun. And the Parisians – I thought they would judge me – but they all thought I was cute and they said my accent was cute, so like, ugh, oui oui.
Do you ever think about like… because like obviously we hear like, a French person, trying to use an American or an Australian accent… Do you ever think about what your accent might sound like to a French person?
I actually ask a lot of my fans, and they say it’s definitely an American accent. I was hoping for, like, “oh you sound perfect… king…”
Yeah, but that’s okay.
Okay so going from the Madeon thing, to a song that I reckon is probably your most Madeon-esque EDM bop moment – I’m talking about Makeup Drawer – I loved everything about you and I felt like I knew little bits of you but I didn’t know everything. As soon as that song dropped I was like, “oh, this is a comment on, like, masculinity,” then it was like “oh no, it’s a big gay song,” which made me so happy. Why did you wait until this big bombastic banger to talk about the queer experience for you?
Because for a long time, I didn’t love the queer part of me. I rejected it, I repressed it and I tried to go about my life. And that did not work. And I had to face the “demons“. I had to tackle it and I had to love it. And it was really, really, really, really, really hard. Because when you grow up and you have things ingrained in you, it’s very hard to unwind that train of thought and I wanted to wait until I was at a good enough place to share this part of me with the world. My main goal was releasing it was to just help people that felt like they couldn’t be themselves in their own homes or in their schools. I’m so glad that people really resonate with it.
It’s such an easy song to connect to and I think you broke down some barriers for people that day, when you put it out. Not to mention, the video, holy shit that video.
Thankyou. It was so fun to shoot.
It looked it. Just looks galore. And then, like, throwing makeup shit around everywhere and oh, it looked heaven.
Oh you’re so kind. I’m so glad that you like it. Thank you.
See, I try and not get all, “oh, well done! Congratulations,” I try and just talk about things… but I don’t know. With you, I’ve just been so fucking happy with everything you’ve put out and this is like my big moment, after eighteen months, of gushing to you about how good it all is, so I semi-apologise. But also I don’t apologise. ANYWAY. The day you put up Makeup Drawer, obviously you said it was a really fucking hard thing to build up to, but that day you put it out, that first 24 hours, the reaction. Talk me through that day in your head; what your brain was doing.
It was thinking “what does my family think, what is everyone from school saying, are they passing the video around, are kids talking about it,” I was honestly thinking about all the kids that like… When I was younger, when I got bullied for being gay, I used to be like, “nah I’m not gay,” I was just thinking whether those people were, like, “I… KNEW IT!” And also I was thinking about all the girls that have a crush on me on social media. I was thinking, “what are they thinking… now that I’m ~gay~.”
I feel like there’s so many “queer artists” where their labels and teams are being like, “don’t say you’re gay or straight either way… just keep it ambiguous… so you don’t turn off the ones that have a crush on you…”
Yeah… Like, it doesn’t matter. I don’t care.. At all… You either like me, or you don’t… you can still have a crush on me… It doesn’t matter…
What’s interesting to me with that, is that your first thought didn’t go to the fan reaction, the fan conversation. For you, on the first day, it was really on that micro level of “what does my immediate community think of this? What do the people that have led me to putting this song out and putting this part of me out into the world think” and that’s a really unique perspective to have.
I never thought about that. That’s a very good way to put it. And you’re right, you’re very right.
Thankyou. That’s what I live for, to be right. Okay let’s go wider on Isaac’s Insects. We get to explore this whole damn personal world of you, we’ve got these big, gut wrenching songs like Suicide and Scorton’s Creek, then Comme Des Garcons, which I love. I know you wrote that with Rory Adams, who is a king in his own right. Tell me about the experience of writing all these different songs and obviously revealing all these really personal parts of you to the people you collaborated with?
That’s a very good question actually. It was very… interesting, talking to these people, about what I was going through in my life. I feel like with some producers and writers, they definitely aided in my personal therapy and as I get things off my chest, and speak things out, and release them, it was very therapeutic and them trying to dive into my mind made me feel really special! I know with producers, they definitely wanted to convey the emotion that I was feeling and with the writers they wanted to say what I truly felt and it made me feel very good. That they cared. Like, I know that they’re writers and they kind of have to, but it just felt good.
Absolutely. I think a lot of artists will go, “it was a cathartic process putting pen to paper on this,” but no one really talks about the conversations that happen in the writing rooms when you’re the kind of person that writes with other people? Those are really powerful, aren’t they?
Sam Smith liked Scorton’s Creek, which is blowing my mind. Did that blow your mind?
Yeah, I freaked out. Oh my goodness. I was walking in the woods, actually, there’s a trail behind my house and I got a call from my manager and he was like, “LOOK AT APPLE MUSIC.”
That’s interesting that you were walking in the woods – I know Scorton’s Creek is about this secret spot you and your ex used to go, was that like a serendipitous moment to be in this private secluded place at the time?
Yeah, I didn’t even realise that until you just said that, that’s actually kind of weird. Like it’s so weird!
It’s all coming together! Okay, they’re going to cut me off in about two minutes I think, so I’m gonna end this by asking you about some of your tweets. Is that permitted?
Great. Because your tweets are fucking cooked and I love them all very, very much.
Great, let me start with this one. No context.
Okay so my friend and I went into, I believe, a grocery store and we got in the car, and she poured an entire globgogabbolab of hand sanitiser in my hand, like just way too much, like WAY too much, to the point where I had to put it on like, my knees and elbows. So that’s where that tweet’s derived from.
AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! Oh my God, thank you that. Okay I know what this is about obvi, but please speak a little bit more to it.
I was in the car with my friend, that same friend and she put on Anaconda by Nicki Minaj. And I really analysed that song for some reason. Just the song structure, the lyricism, her diction, I just really hyper focused on everything. It made me a Barb, I couldn’t resist.
The diction on that song is phenomenal.
Yes, I truly respect her, I respect Nicki SO much more, like to be honest, I slept on her. When I should not have.
That’s respectable. I mean, when she was really popping off you will literally – I feel like I’m old, but I’m only 24 – you would literally have been like, eight, when Nicki started to pop off.
Yeah. I was just focusing on like Gaga at that time. Everything else I ignored.
Final tweet, your first one in four days, on April 22.
I think I was thinking about this time when I was at my grandmother’s old house. And I have a lot of family members, so it was like some Uncle that I had, made like a really, really good lasagna. And I was watching this episode of Victorious that same day, and they said lasagna, and it had me thinking about this lasagna that Uncle made me, and I just tweeted lasagna. Because it was so, like, present in my mind. I just had to release it.
Isaac Dunbar’s music is incredible, and on the internet now.