Analogue Music | Deep Sea Diver

Deep Sea Diver

By Matt Conner

Jessica Dobson is trying her best to set it all aside.

The newest album from Dobson and the rest of Deep Sea Diver is aptly-titled. Impossible Weight references the negative self-talk, the shame spiral, the unfair burdens we place upon ourselves—all elements that came into play as Dobson tried to record the band's third full-length record.

With the success of the band's 2016 Secrets in the mirror, Deep Sea Diver should felt a surge of momentum. Instead, Dobson faced an identity crisis amid multiple failed attempts to "find their footing." At the heart of it all was a script that wouldn't allow Dobson to feel the personal and creative freedom required to move ahead.

Dobson's journey toward emotional and mental health is at the nexus of Impossible Weight, and it's also central to our conversation here. Her willingness to share her lessons learned and lingering questions have connected with fans in the lead up to Impossible Weight's release and it's why we think you'll appreciate today's feature interview.

Analogue: Were you ready or nervous to put out a new album into a world sheltering at home? Did you feel you didn't want to wait any longer?

Jessica Dobson: It definitely was a minute between Secrets and when we finally found our footing to record Impossible Weight. There was only really one song on this record that was older, one from 2017, but most of them were written in a pretty fast time. We'd tried to record this record twice, or at least attempted the start but it just wasn't feeling right, and then the bulk of the songs came after those experiences. Most of them are newer if you consider that 2018 and on, but this record was done a year ago. Then, yeah, the pandemic.

'Impossible Weight' cover
'Impossible Weight' cover

It's a stick in the spokes, but it felt right to release it this year even though there's no foreseeable touring in the future. Thank god we got to tour pretty relentlessly last fall—two Joseph tours and a Wilco tour. It was so fun to play those songs in front of people, even though the record wasn't out, but just to see people respond without knowing them was awesome.

Analogue: Did you learn something about the new songs when you were able to play them live?

Jessica: There was definitely a song that we loved playing on this record called "Eyes are Red" and it has this reprise or mantra-esque line that says, 'Don't be afraid. Don't be ashamed.' Every night when we sang that song—because it happens quite often in the song and there's this drawn-out hypnotic LCD Soundsystem outro we'd extend and have fun with it—I could see people mesmerized or crying or just coming up after the show saying, 'That really hit me. I needed that tonight.'

So there was a lot of that where we realized the songs were sinking in in a deeper way. I loved that because you shouldn't think you have that control over a song while you're writing it. It's yours to write and then it's yours to let out into the world and see what happens.

Analogue: Is that still surreal how that works?

Jessica: Definitely. Yeah, I don't think that's ever lost on me. It's those kind of moments I have to store away in my pocket for future writing sessions, all those moments where you're not feeling it at all. You realize you can't control this narrative. I just have to show up and try my best and write what I'm feeling and work on my craft. If that connects on a deeper level, then that's awesome.

I definitely adore the performance, the live aspects of making music. The hardest thing for me is to start a song and I tend to overthink it. But once I get past the hurdle and the song is done, especially when it's recorded, I thrive in the studio and I thrive in the live environment. I just love performing.

" You realize you can't control this narrative. I just have to show up and try my best and write what I'm feeling and work on my craft. If that connects on a deeper level, then that's awesome."

So those are encouraging markers for me to hold and know, 'It's okay if the song feels shitty right now. Maybe this shitty song will turn into something different in the future and I'll use a little element of it.' That's all over this record, moments where I didn't know where a song was going but I'm glad I played music that day. Then a little portion would show up in a different song. It's like, 'Well, I'm glad I banged my head against the wall that day because it was worth it even if it didn't feel like it at the time.'

Analogue: You said earlier that you'd made two failed attempts at recording in so many words. What was behind that? Tangibly, what did that look like?

Jessica: Coming off the heels of Secrets, we were dead set on the next record not taking as long to make. [Laughs] History Speaks came out in 2012. We released an EP in 2014 and then Secrets in 2016. So it's not like nothing happened in between but, y'know, there was some time. I felt some shame from that. So when we were coming off of Secrets, it all ended on a high note. One of the last shows we played was Wilco's Solid Sound festival. We were trying out some new songs and feeling really good and that was such a fun way to end that cycle.

Then we were going to go into the studio. We were just doing to demo, but I also thought it could lead into the next record. I put a lot of pressure on myself and, for whatever reason, I just completely hit a wall a month before we were going into the studio. I had a huge identity crisis and was dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression. Then by the time we got into the studio, it was the most lifeless experience. It wasn't right on all fronts. It's not that the people we were working with weren't talented. The alchemy was just not there.

I hit the brakes on that and we came home. We did five songs, I think, and I just loathed that experience. I came home asking, 'What am I doing?' On the way home, I was listening to a CBC interview with Feist. Her last record, Pleasure, hadn't come out. She releases a record every five years and I was like, 'Damn, that's cool.' I really respect people who own their own timeline and narrative, who are just like, 'Fuck you, this is my life. I'm doing it the way I want to do it.' So she's a badass and she was going through something similar before she made Pleasure. After Metals, she said she started building decks and taking a step back from music and working with her hands. She was like, 'I had to ask myself if 40-something Leslie wants to do what 16-year-old Leslie set out to do. And what does that look like for me now?'

I think it's really scary to ask yourself those questions. It's hard to peer into that because you go, go, go and fall into these deep tracks. You're on this train and all of a sudden, when you have an identity shift or things aren't working the way you want, it's so good to ask yourself those questions. It's also fucking scary. So that happened to me and I had to ask myself those questions. Do I want to play in this band? How do I want to do music? It didn't make any sense, because we were coming off of a high with Secrets. It didn't make sense on paper, what I was going through, but we had to do it.

"I would say this record was learning how to see myself with the same compassion for myself and others."

So then we kind of did the same thing with somebody else. We went into a studio and recorded three or four tracks and came out with "Eyes are Red". We thought it was the way we were going to make the record, but then came back and realizd, 'Okay, this isn't the way, but I think we're going in the right direction.' So then Pete said, 'Jessica, I think you need to produce this record.' He's my partner and plays drums in the band. I was terrified at first, because it's like, 'Oh shit, it all falls on me.' I just felt this blanket of shame covering me and thinking I couldn't handle that. But I also knew he was right.

After a day of freaking out, I said, 'Okay, but I'm also going to find someone to co-produce this with me that has different gifts than me, so we can strengthen each other.' I would say I'm not good at time management in the studio. I don't know when to stop pressing record. I will push something into the ground. There are so many things that I'm good at and then others I'm not. Andy Parks came in and he was great. We just finally found the right people and the right situation. We couldn't have planned it that way but it fell into place.

Analogue: When you say you halted the process a couple times, those are very real losses, right?

Jessica: Oh, totally.

Analogue: That's a much bigger decision than just, 'I don't feel like it.'

Jessica: Totally. It feels like such a waste of time, money, travel, all those things. But nothing is linear in music and the creative process. You just have to lean into that. We took some losses, but ultimately it was for the best.

Analogue: We can avoid this question if you'd rather. I don't mind. But the word 'shame' came up from you a couple times in that answer. Then you said Leslie Feist is a badass for owning her own timeline, while you feel shame for doing the same. Why aren't you the badass for taking whatever time you need?

Jessica: [Laughs] Good question. As human beings, we can respect those things and, at the same time, not be able to see ourselves with the same kindness or in the same light. I would say this record was learning how to see myself with the same compassion for myself and others.

Analogue: Is that the process of making the record or the actual substance on the record?

Jessica: I'd say both. Again, it's in the song "Eyes are Red". I constantly have to remind myself of these phrases or desires or emotions I want to be feeling even when I'm not. They're things I want to speak into my own life. It's not like I speak them and then it changes and that's all tied up now. I would assume for Leslie or any other woman in the industry who has felt ageism or sexism or misogyny, you have to remind yourself what is true and right for yourself. There are peaks and valleys to what you're feeling in those things but this record was a helpful reminder both in the songwriting and in the day-to-day relationships that I was working out.

VISIT: Deep Sea Diver

Photo: Matt Wignall