Note: this story comes with a content warning for suicide and mental health.
If you’re not aware of Isaac Dunbar—the internet’s newest teen bedroom pop darling—you’re about to see a whooole lot of him.
In his newest EP Isaac’s Insects, the 17-year-old superstar explores suicide, queer yearning and self-discovery in an experimental, eerie, dreamy pop soundscape. The TLDR version: It slips, slops and slaps. Hard.
There’s “Makeup Drawer,” the the bubblegum-synth-pop intro to the EP about abandoning internalised homophobia and embracing makeup and beauty; “Boy,” his upbeat ballad about queer yearning and heartbreak; and “Suicide,” Dunbar’s heartfelt slow jam plea to his friend to not commit suicide. The EP is pumped with synth beats and electro dream pop sounds and is, yes, unapologetically queer.
So of course Syrup sat down with him to talk about crafting the EP, its influences, a few of his favourite things, and the horror story behind the name, Isaac’s Insects.
How would you define your music in three words?
“Fluid, assertive and subtle.”
“I feel like those two, assertive and subtle, they’re complete opposites kind of but I feel like with my music I’m very honest and I talk about very strong things, but I do it in such a nonchalant way, I would say.”
IN THE SONGS, YOU EXPLORE MENTAL HEALTH, SUICIDE, QUEER HEARTBREAK AND YEARNING, WHAT WAS IT LIKE EXPLORING THOSE THEMES?
“It was very interesting. With “Suicide,” it was written about a friend at the time—I believe we were around 13 to 14 years old, just starting high school—and I wrote it trying to put my feet in the shoes of her. I wrote it as a gift to her, to show that what she was going through and those suicidal thoughts, I understood the pain and I was there for her.”
“It felt very wholesome to have her know that she felt good. Exploring those themes was a very positive experience for me.”
DID SHE FIND IT THERAPEUTIC TO LISTEN TO IT?
“Very, very much so. “Suicide” kinda popped off. I released it on Soundcloud before I put it on the EP as like a demo a long time ago and it popped off on YouTube.”
“And, just seeing so many comments about people explaining their stories and how the song was able to help them and explain things that they felt inside that they couldn’t really explain… I’m just so glad that her experience which inspired that song could help so many people and she’s very happy about it.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING CONSIDERED A VOICE OF OUR ZOOMER GENERATION, ALONGSIDE BILLIE, CONAN, TROYE AND BENEE?
“Do you think I am? That’s such a compliment, thank youuuu. I hope that I represent this generation in a good way.”
“I hope I can help heal the broken parts of this generation too, because I know that like, not every group of people is perfect. And I just want to help this world. That’s all that I need, through my music, as much as I can.”
“In my school at least, like homophobia, it’s very, very alive. Racism is still very much alive. Even though a lot of older generations, from what I’ve experienced, treat my generation as sensitive and snowflakes. But it’s not all that. There’s still people that have different opinions and I just want to help just bring the collective into a more accepting society because there’s no need to just have so much division.”
Where did the name Isaac’s Insects come from?
“I used to live in this old house and there were bugs in my room. Not like gross roaches, but they’re like bugs that would come out during the spring because there’s water and it’s more moist outside, so they like to come into the house.”
“And so one night, these bugs, like all crawled up from the four walls from the bottom, the four walls up to the ceiling, and it was really weird. And I wrote a song “Isaac’s Insects,” which is inspired by it.”
“I just thought it was cool that my name was there because they felt like mine. It felt like those bugs knew my secrets and it felt like there’s some sort of exchange of energy or something that night.”
What sort of secrets do you think those insects know?
“They saw me in my bed like my most vulnerable place where I’m not dressed up, my hair isn’t done fun. I’m looking a little busted. They’ve seen me do every embarrassing possible normal human thing and they now know me for who I am.”
“The people in my life would see me for who I am. Are they going to take that information of who I am and and spread it around and tell people That was something that I was like, definitely afraid of for a long time, especially being closeted. And it’s funny how like, all of that stuff connects, just as it does in Isaac’s Insects.”
FYI, it’s also why he calls his fans insects.
IT SEEMS LIKE THIS EP WAS VERY MUCH A JOURNEY OF SELF-LOVE AND SELF-DISCOVERY. WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU LEARNED WRITING IT?
“My whole life I’ve kind of just focused on learning about who I am and my identity and what role I play in all the people in my life, lives and the role that I play in the world. Just my psyche and just learning about what I like and what I don’t like.”
“And it was a beautiful experience writing this EP because I got to explore a lot of different topics and parts of my life that went abandoned and unattended for a long time and I finally got to address those things now. It was very, very therapeutic.”
What were some of those things?
“Self love. Just like not being insecure in finding confidence and growing up. Being a teenager and just trying to form my own thoughts and my own beliefs and not being scared of my own thoughts and just being confident in what I believe in.”
What three things inspired you with Isaac’s Insects?
“The first thing that came to my mind was like movies. And the first movie that came to my mind was Coraline for some reason. A lot of that film’s eeriness and whole claymation aesthetic was what I was thinking about when I made this so definitely Coraline and a lot of King Princess.”
“I took that EP cover on film. And that was very much inspired by King Princess’s album cover because like her Cheap Queen album cover was shot on film.”
“Also scary movies inspired me with this and building atmosphere. With the song “Colony,” it’s very much like an Armageddon end of the world type movie like 2012, I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie, it scared me as a kid. It’s about like the end of the world.”
Favourite brand you’re loving rn
Song you can’t get out of your head
“Unison” by Bjork.
A TikTok you think about at least once a day
Conan Gray singing “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj but in his indie girl voice.
“He’s really talented. He has a beautiful beautiful voice my goodness…”
super bass by nicki minaj but ur indie♬ original sound – conangray
Twitter or Instagram?
“Instagram has been making me depressed. So Twitter. I just Look at hot people that I can’t be and it just makes me sad sometimes. So I just go on Twitter for the humour to suppress my insecurities.”
Last show you binged?
American Horror Story.
What’s something you can’t live without?
“My cell phone. Like I would die. I truly would. I just can’t without it. Should I say something more interesting like my crystals? I really love my crystals. My crystals are like my children, my amethyst and my stalagmite, I can’t live without those.”
What’s a fashion trend you wish was back in style?
“Low rise pants. I’m actually really digging low right now but only if they’re baggy.”
If you or anyone you know is feeling distressed or has experienced a traumatic event, know that there are people who are ready and willing to listen. Contact Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800) or QLife (1800 184 527). If you feel your life is in danger or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please talk to the folks at Lifeline (13 11 14), 1800Respect (1800 737 732) or 000.