Isaac Dunbar is marvelously magnetic. Penning and producing songs ranging from the synth-pop hit “Makeup Drawer” to the sad, slow burn of “Pharmacy,” Dunbar demonstrates a distinct vibrance and wisdom well beyond that of a standard 17-year-old.
Dunbar, who is from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, has been earning his high school diploma while simultaneously shaping the future of alternative pop from his bedroom. Self-described as multifaceted, his music is a morphing art form that reflects his own personal changes.
“It’s going to change up a bit as I grow,” Dunbar said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “Hopefully, the people that support my music will follow along this journey and be open to any changes.”
Though quarantine did force Dunbar to postpone his U.S. and Europe tour scheduled to begin last spring, his journey is only just beginning. He’s currently gearing up for the Feb. 19 release of his third EP Evil Twin, a profound product of imagination and isolation. The EP, he explained, is the amalgamation of his divergent musical passions.
“I wanted to make strictly the experimental music that I love to listen to, like, alternative rock and stuff, but I also have this love for pop music,” Dunbar said. “It was really eating away at me because, especially as a developing artist, it’s important to stay consistent and have your brand 100% cultivated and just cohesive. And that was really hard for me. I’m constantly changing, like, by the week. It’s kind of scary.”
Learning to embrace these changes, Dunbar eventually developed Evil Twin. “I got to have my ‘evil twin’ sing all the experimental records on the EP, which is the first half of the EP,” he described. “Then the second half of the EP is the ‘normal’ Isaac singing the more melodramatic pop music that people are most familiar with me singing.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, Dunbar initially struggled with writer’s block before thinking of his EP’s concept. “I couldn’t write a single thing,” he acknowledged. “But I adapted.”
And adapting to quarantine doesn’t just apply to songwriting — it also applies to wellbeing. Though Dunbar admitted that he’s become quite the procrastinator during this time, he’s also taken up some healthier practices like exercising and meditation.
“I go on YouTube and I just search up guided meditation, but I change the upload date to today so it’ll only show videos that were uploaded that same day that I look it up,” Dunbar said. “I feel like it’s a way that the universe, like, wants me to see this certain meditation.”
Before using YouTube for meditation, Dunbar used the platform to teach himself music production basics around age nine. He practiced production techniques by recreating songs from Lady Gaga’s album Artpop, and around age 15, he uploaded original songs and began attracting a fanbase on SoundCloud.
“I was like Hannah Montana,” Dunbar said. “At school, I would just, like, do work. And then at night, I would go on social media and constantly be going live and doing Instagram covers, or interacting with people and going on stan Twitter.”
Dunbar released his debut EP in summer 2019, and later that fall, he toured with Girl in Red and began completing schoolwork online. Even though he’s still catching up on schoolwork to meet graduation requirements for May, Dunbar shared that the transformative touring experience was most definitely worth it.
“I grew up in a small town, which meant I had a small mentality,” he said. “Getting to go on tour and see so many different people … it was so cool to see all of that. It really alleviated a lot of my anxieties too for whatever reason. Just being able to venture out, it was just very relaxing. And I feel like it was sort of a breakthrough.”
Though it might be a while until touring is a possibility again, Dunbar, now signed to RCA Records, is finding things to look forward to. He recently finished filming a music video in Los Angeles for one of the songs off Evil Twin, and next month, he’ll celebrate his eighteenth birthday.
“I’ve been looking forward to being 18 for so long,” Dunbar said. “I love my parents so much, but I’m just ready to live by myself … I still don’t have a 100% clear vision as to where I’m gonna go, but I’m just taking it day by day.”
Although he’s taking life one day at a time, Dunbar already has a clear image of his future. And, much like Dunbar himself, it’s halcyon and lighthearted.
“I wanna move to like Oregon or something and have a really cool house,” he said. “I want to churn butter, and have a farm, and like a bunch of chickens. And I really want to do that and, like, just make really cool music, and just live very peacefully. I just want to be at peace.” He paused. “That’s my main goal.”
Taila Lee covers music. Contact her at [email protected].