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Deep Sea Diver

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The third full-length from Deep Sea Diver, Impossible Weight is a work of sublime highs and mesmerizing lows, its restless intensity both unsettling and transcendent. For bandleader Jessica Dobson, the album’s sonic and emotional expanse stems from a period of sometimes-brutal self-examination—a process that began not long after the Seattle-based four-piece finished touring for their acclaimed sophomore effort 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,” says the vocalist/multi-instrumentalist, whose bandmates include her husband Peter Mansen (drums), Garrett Gue (bass), and Elliot Jackson (guitar, synth). “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.”

 

As she stepped back from the studio, Dobson focused on dealing with the depression she’d been struggling with, and soon started volunteering for Aurora Commons (a drop-in center for unhoused people, most of whom are drug-dependent and 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 (Pedro the Lion, Ruler) and mainly recorded at Seattle’s Studio X and The Hall of Justice, Impossible Weight brings that emotional excavation to a more grandiose sound than Deep Sea Diver has ever attempted. Along with revealing the limitless imagination of Dobson’s guitar work—a prodigious talent she’s previously shown in playing lead guitar for artists like Beck and The Shins—the album’s lush textures and mercurial arrangements more fully illuminate the power of her vocals. “’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.”

 

For Dobson, redefining the limits of her artistry goes hand-in-hand with certain identity issues she faced during the making of Impossible Weight. “I was adopted and just recently met my birth mother, and found out that I’m half-Mexican and half-Jewish,” she explains. “Discovering my heritage and learning things about myself that I never knew before really fed into that question of ‘Where do I belong?’” At the same time, Dobson restored the sense of possibility she felt in first embarking on her music career, which included landing a deal at Atlantic Records at the age of 19. “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 the release of 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.”

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