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, Dobson 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. The band went on to release two albums and an EP — 2012’s self-released debut History Speaks, 2014’s Always Waiting EP and 2016’s acclaimed Secrets.
Last October saw the release of the band’s critically applauded third album Impossible Weight through High Beam Records/ATO Records, and the album followed after a busy year of touring with Wilco and Joseph. Sonically and thematically, the album stemmed from a period of sometimes brutal self-examination — a process that began for Dobson, not long after Deep Sea Diver 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 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.”
Now, if you were following this site last year — bless you for that, seriously — you may recall that I wrote about a couple of the album’s singles:
“Lights Out,” a track that contained multitudes, as it was deviant and anthemic yet delicate. Centered around Dobson’s expressive guitar work, a thunderous rhythm section an enormous raise-your-beer-in-the-air-and-shout-along worthy hook and Dobson’s equally expressive vocals, the song featured a bold and fearlessly vulnerable, who seems to say to the listener “It’s okay to admit that you’re not okay and that you may need some help to get you out of life’s dark places.”
Album title track “Impossible Weight,” a track that’s one-part New Wave and one-part arena rock with enormous hooks, twinkling synths, Dobson’s expressive and explosive guitar work rooted in heart-fully-on-sleeve songwriting. And while revealing Dobson’s unerring knack for crafting an anthemic hook, the song captures a narrator on the emotional brink with an novelistic attention to psychological detail. A guest spot from Sharon Van Etten, managed to add an additional emotional punch.
Deep Sea Diver recently filmed a NPR Tiny Desk (at Home) Concert in a space that the band built to recreate the iconic Red Room in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. “There were countless times this past year that I wanted to be transported out of my house and into a different world,” says frontwoman Jessica Dobson. “One of my favorite and most inspiring worlds is that of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, which was filmed very close to where I live in Washington.The band is joined by Joseph’s Natalie Schepman and Megan Closner, who contribute backing vocals for three songs of the live set — and there’s a guest appearance from Dobson’s adorable beagle Henry, “the one being that was happy we weren’t touring,” Dobson says.
The live set features joyous and heartfelt versions of the aforementioned “Lights Out” and “Impossible Weight,” as well as “Wishing” and the standalone single “Stop Pretending,” which was named one of NPR Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2020 — and evokes the despair and unease we’ve all felt over the past year or so.