What will She teach me about love? Montreal producer and vocalist Esther Isabel speaks from Los Angeles
by June Moon
There’s an ephemeral silence found in loneliness. Outside my window, a tree made visible by the light swells with life. Beyond the leaves, I see the sky. Whether or not you believe in love, the complexities of our desires make us ache. I talk with Montreal musician Esther Isabel, who performs under the moniker Dreamboy, as She experiences a new phase of life that has brought her to Los Angeles to perform and rejuvenate. Her Endings EP leaves me in a bodiless state vast in the nature of Self. Up close, I see that endings are a process of becoming.
June Moon: You’re taking a creative rest in LA right now. Are you also feeling an abundance of inspiration being outside your regular Montreal life?
Esther Isabel: It’s true, I feel more aligned with my purpose. I feel we get overwhelmed with small things that don’t matter, like interpersonal relationships and social drama. There’s so many of these teeny distractions that aren’t really meaningful. LA is big enough for everyone who wants to be here, whereas Montreal you’re always bumping into your ex, or his girlfriend, or the guy that you had a really weird time with.
JM: I wanna get into Dreamboy. Did Dreamboy start in Montreal?
EI: It started when I moved to Montreal. It was like early 2012, and I was obsessed with Tumblr. It was the first time ever that I had moved away from my parents’ house, so I was a bit shy and on the computer a lot. My roommate and I became friends and started jamming, and that’s how the project started. It developed into a solo thing. I guess it was always a solo thing, and just some ideas were passed back and forth.
JM: The aspect of the project being a solo thing, is that conscious or casual?
EI: Pretty consciously solo, I think everything I do is solo. When I was younger I wanted to be in a band like the Mars Volta or something, [and] that’s not my strength, per se. But I think musicians and the music world are always mistaken about solo stuff anyway, ‘cause no one really makes anything in a solipsistic void. Once you’re done your songs, you always collaborate with people along the way in the different processes of finishing. It’s definitely an expression of me solo, but it is still a casual project, and I don’t know how long it’ll be around for. It’s very specific in its world too, I think it has a universe surrounding it of feelings and visuals.
JM: Can you describe that world for me?
EI: I think before I started it I was actually making visuals, I was painting and doing collages, sculptures and installations, and they were really steeped in this idea of the archetype of Ophelia, the tragic female figure. I was involved in this art collective at the time, and I think Dreamboy, She’s less of a tragic figure, and more someone who accepts the tragedy in relationships and in life and is empowered by them. I think that projects are really interesting when they’re multi-disciplinary, when they are a world, as opposed to one-dimensional. When people are listening to Dreamboy I want them to feel like they’re there, in a world that has touch and smell, and a feeling to it. That’s why the visuals and the videos are important. I’m actually really excited to work on merch.
JM: In turn, are you, Esther, empowered by the experience of Dreamboy finding that sense of empowerment?
EI: Doing Dreamboy definitely made me more empowered cause it got to the bottom of those Ophelia ideas, that weren’t actually Ophelia ideas, but more like Joan of Arc. I was young when I was exploring those earlier ideas, I didn’t quite understand the scope of my emotions.
JM: Understanding my desire is a predecessor to actually going deep and figuring out what I really desire because there are so many veils and layers of armour that I’ve inherited from being born a woman.
EI: That’s what those early sculptures are about, they were steeped in that idea of that inherited pain and sadness that women have.
JM: Tell me a little bit about the live aspect of the project.
EI: I’m kind of into this idea that my physical body, and my look, are signifying to a certain type of woman. I’m blonde, I wear short skirts, or whatever, and I play the guitar and sing in a way that’s really ethereal or in a way that’s really aggressive. I’m into challenging people, I’m actually really happy to embody a certain look, but I do like the idea of a “Playboy blonde”-type girl playing the guitar. This live show is about dancing and having fun, but also about having a woman guide you through the experience. I think anything that I do will inherently be from a woman’s perspective, at least at this point in my life. Seeing me live, seeing me sing, is seeing me be very vulnerable, but also super strong. I think it’s a badass show for sure.
JM: Competition – I think that’s one of the things I’m letting go of this year. The weight of jealousy, and comparison is inevitable, but letting it pass through me is something I’ve been trying to do because there’s always going to be people who are above you, and people who are below you.
EI: Comparing myself in any way shape or form to anyone else is something I’ve definitely let go of, and it’s made my life so much better. Everyone has their path. You can’t be on someone else’s path – it doesn’t work. Everyone has their own lessons to learn in time. I don’t even perceive people as being above or below, everyone’s just walking side by side, some faster, some slower. It’s cheesy, but what people say about the journey being the destination is true.
JM: I’ve been trying to grasp the notion that things are non-linear, you have no idea where your opportunities are going to come from or where you’ll find inspiration. Letting go over and over again.
EI: It’s the best.
JM: So, channeling that energy into your project, how is it collaborating with people along the way? Is that the fun part of releasing something?
EI: The fun part for me is showing myself how much I do myself, and how all the ideas and concepts are mine. One of the most fulfilling parts is mixing and mastering ‘cause then the songs really come to life. Hearing them actually step into your vision, and spending hours and hours in the studio. Making music videos is fun, ‘cause it’s bringing your visual world to life, and it’s a challenge ‘cause you always have a budget. So it’s like, how are we gonna make this happen with ten dollars, and then we did, with, like, eight dollars. [The video for] “On That Dark Cold Morning” turned out exactly as I pictured it, which is so satisfying.
JM: More about “the inheritance”. Do you feel like because you’re a woman, and you’re putting yourself out there artistically, that you feel you’ve inherited the body politics and feminist politics, and if so how do you engage with those?
EI: I got people being surprised that I produce my own music. That’s so offensive. I wonder if men ask other men “Oh, did you make that, or did you have a girl helping you?” It’s just unfortunate when people ask questions like that. But people have been very supportive with the whole project in general; everyone’s been so nice. The main thing that speaks out to me is making sure that women are supportive of each other in the music world, and not being competitive or catty.
JM: I think the cover of the EP is so appropriate, and tying that into you wanting people to feel like they’re there in a world, when I listen to the EP I feel like I’m in the sky. The songs reminded me of all the possibilities that exist in the sky. Sometimes you’re floating and it’s ethereal and weightless, and other times it’s stormy, scary, and dark.
EI: Those purple skies where you’re like, am I gonna die today? Those skies. I snapped that photo, and the inner cover of the actual tape copy has another sky that people might recognize. There’s two skies, east coast, west coast.
JM: What are you trying to let go of in 2016?
EI: Not anything in particular. In 2016 what I’ve been into, is being smarter, which is being kinder to yourself and others, not being closed-minded, and taking it easy. Taking it easy is so important. I feel being a control freak and being stressed out about situations all the time is not gonna make them good. As The Eagles say, “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy”.
JM: Before saying goodbye, what’s next? What are you dreaming of for Dreamboy and Esther?
EI: I’m really excited to do a full-length, more piano-based. I’ve been really craving to be near the piano. I don’t know if it will be under the name “Dreamboy”, but just aligning myself more with the idea of integrity and truth. I think truth is key word for me, I don’t think anything I do is untrue. I feel like the project made up for being misled.