Led by its accomplished, Los Angeles-born, Seattle-based singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and frontperson Jessica Dobson, the Seattle-based indie rock act Deep Sea Diver can trace its origins back to when Dobson was 19: Dobson, who has had stints playing with a who’s who list of contemporary acts, including Beck, Conor Oberst, Spoon, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Shins signed with Atlantic Records. And while with Atlantic Records, Dobsons wrote and recorded two albums that she wasn’t completely satisfied with — and Atlantic ultimately shelved the material and dropped her from the label.
After leaving Atlantic, Dobson wrote and recorded her official solo debut EP New Caves under the name Deep Sea Diver. The project expanded to a full-fledged band with the addition of John Raines (bass) Dobson’s spouse Peter Mansen (drums), Garrett Gue (bass), and Elliot Jackson (guitar, synth), who helped to flesh out the project’s sound. Since then the band has released two albums — 2012’s self-released debut History Speaks, 2014’s Always Waiting EP and 2016’s acclaimed Secrets.
The band’s third album Impossible Weight is slated for an October 16, 2020 release through High Beam Records/ATO Records, and the album follows a busy year of touring with Wilco and Joseph. The album’s sonic and emotional expanse reportedly stems from a period of sometimes brutal self-examination — a process that began for Dobson, not long after the Seattle-based indie quartet finished touring to support Secrets. “We went into the studio pretty quickly after the tour ended, and I sort of hit a wall where I was feeling very detached from making music, and unable to find joy in it,” Dobson recalls in press notes. “I realized I had to try to rediscover my voice as a songwriter, and figure out the vocabulary for what I needed to say on this album.”
Stepping back from music and the studio, Dobson focused on dealing with the depression she had been struggling with, and soon started volunteering for Aurora Commons, a drop-in center for unhoused people, most whom are drug-dependent and frequently engage in street-survival-based sex work. “I spent a lot of time with the women who frequent the Commons, and it taught me a new depth of empathy,” she says. “They’re people who don’t have the luxury of going back to a home at the end of the day and hiding behind those four walls, so they’re sort of forced to be vulnerable with what their needs are. Talking with them and listening to them really freed me up to start writing about things I’d never written about before in my songs.”
Co-produced by Dobson and Andy D. Park and recorded at Seattle’s Studio X and The Hall of Justice, Impossible Weight finds Dobson and company digging far deeper emotionally than ever before — and pairing it with a bigger, more grandiose sound. While revealing Dobson’s dexterous and powerful guitar work, the album’s lush textures and mercurial arrangements allow room for Dobson to fully demonstrate her vocal range in a way that she hadn’t before. “’I’d never produced a record before and I started out with low expectations for myself, but at some point I realized, ‘I can do this,’” Dobson recalls. “I decided to completely trust my voice and make really bold decisions in all my production calls—just push everything to the absolute outer edges.”
Interestingly, for Dobson redefining the limits of her artistry goes hand-in-hand with deeper identity issues that came up while Dobson and her bandmates were working on the band’s third album. “I was adopted and just recently met my birth mother, and found out that I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish,” Deep Sea Diver’s frontperson explains. “Discovering my heritage and learning things about myself that I never knew before really fed into that question of ‘Where do I belong?’” Simultaneously, Dobson rediscovered the sense of possibility, adventure and joy that she first felt when she started out as a 19 year-old. “I think being signed at such a young age messed me up in terms of the expectations I put on myself,” she says. “Somewhere along the way I lost confidence in my own vision, but after making this record I feel a much larger freedom to go in whatever direction I want with my music.”
With Impossible Weight, Dobson hopes that others might reclaim a similar sense of freedom in their emotional lives. “Especially right now when the world is in disarray and there’s so much fear, I want this record to give people room to feel whatever they need to feel,” she says. “I hope it helps them recognize that it’s okay to fall apart, and that they’re meant to let others in instead of trying to work through everything on their own. Because the point is that the impossible weight isn’t yours to carry alone—that’s why it’s impossible.”
Last month, I wrote about Impossible Weight‘s third single “Lights Out,” a track that managed to be defiant and anthemic, yet delicate and vulnerable, centered around a slick studio sheen, Dobson’s expressive guitar work, a thunderous and propulsive rhythm section, an enormous raise-your-beer-in-the-air-and-shout-along worthy hook paired with Dobson’s equally expressive vocals, which alternated between an achingly tender croon and a self-assured, courageous growl. And perhaps unlike many of the songs I’ve previously written about this year, the song features a bold and fearlessly vulnerable narrator, who seems to say “It’s perfectly okay to recognize and admit that you’re not okay and that you need help to climb out of dark places.”
Impossible Weight‘s fourth and latest single, album title track “Impossible Weight” continues a run of slickly polished material that nods at New Wave and arena rock with enormous hooks, twinkling synths, Dobson’s expressive and explosive guitar work paired with urgent, heart-fully-on-sleeve songwriting. While revealing Dobson’s unerring knack for crafting an anthemic hook, the song captures a narrator on the emotional brink with an uncanny psychological attention to detail. And the song features a guest spot from Sharon Van Etten, which gives the song an even bigger emotional punch.
Co-directed by the band’s Jessica Dobson and Peter Hansen along with Tyler Kalberg, the cinematically shot visual for “Impossible Weight” features Dobson taking her light box, which is a big part of the band’s live shows to a variety of gorgeous and untraditional places — including the desert, the woods, a city rooftop, in front of a suburban house, as well as an empty concert venue. “For this video I thought, well… if we cant play shows right now then I’m going to take my light box (a prop we bring on tour that I stand on top of when I play guitar solos) and I’m going to bring it into a myriad of untraditional places,” Deep Sea Diver’s Jessica Dobson explains. “We wanted to create scenes of absolute beauty, of loneliness, of power—of the human spirit being fully alive, even in a time of sadness and uncertainty.”
“I chose The Neptune as the final shot because that is the venue in which I saw Sharon Van Etten play at the night before we recorded the song,” Dobson continues. “I’ve been a huge fan or hers for quite some time and I was deeply moved and inspired by that show. The next day, I literally said out loud as we were recording, “I wonder if Sharon would ever sing on this?” Having never met her, it was definitely a pipe dream question that somehow ended up working out and I’m eternally grateful for it. She brought so much to this song and brought it alive even more.”