Music — January 20, 2021
Rewriting Self-Limiting Narratives with Unstabile
After the release of their latest single “For That Dream,” Massachusetts-based artist Unstabile met with Aislin to discuss what inspired the single, how they’ve been dealing with feelings of loneliness, and the importance of recognizing and rewriting self-limiting narratives.
Interview & Photography
by Jasmine Jones
Unstabile is used to being labeled as “dreamy” when it comes to categorizing their music. But the 23-year-old is more interested in rewriting self-limiting narratives and finding a balance between relaxation and productivity than pinning a genre to the type of music they create. Their latest single “For That Dream” explores these ideas, reminding us that we don’t need to put ourselves down for not having achieved certain things.
I was excited when I first heard your music because it’s the type of music that I find myself listening to the most these days, sort of dreamy and calming. How would you describe your sound?
I always struggle to describe it. I know I get thrown the word dreamy a lot, and I’m fine with that (Laughs). I’m trying to access that place, you know, where I’m thinking less. Even if my lyrics end up being me talking about something I’m thinking about, or talking about struggling with my thoughts, I feel like I’m usually trying to get into the so-called dreamy headspace.
What drew you to creating this type of music? You say you’ve been making music for a long time now, is your early work reminiscent of your sound today?
I would say yes and no. Some of the things that make it dreamy or textural have always been there, and maybe just the vibe being somewhat mellow, a lot of those elements have been there. Also trying to be spontaneous and doing as much as I can with the track in a sitting. Not rushing it but trying to follow a thread of the moment as far as I can. So that stands out, but I will say I think I’ve wanted to be more direct in lyrics or in just having lyrics, because I used to do a lot more instrumental stuff. Even if the lyrics remain abstract at times, I’ve wanted to be more intentional in writing songs and that’s what brought me to where I am right now and with that track [“For That Dream”]. It was still a pretty spontaneous piece, but I sat with it longer and put more subtle care in over time.
So you’d say your music now puts more of an emphasis on lyrics?
Yeah I would say so, and more of an emphasis on consciously having a vocal melody. In the past, vocal stuff was never in the forefront for me and I still don’t want it to be automatically the forefront, but I’ve come to a place where I want to express with my voice more deliberately.
When you first started releasing spontaneous songs back in college, what platform did you use to share your music?
Bandcamp. And also just, you know, .wav file in texts (Laughs). Just texting people.
That works too! Do you think your approach to sharing music had an impact on how you continued to move forward as a musician?
Definitely. I mean, it boosted my confidence just to get any sort of response. Just getting it out of my head, even a little bit, made it feel more real. It was funny because in school I had to do a presentation and I didn’t really want to do a concert, or I didn’t feel ready to do a concert. I wanted to share this music that I had recorded which didn’t feel performable because it was so based on having like, this weird rain sound and then there’s, you know, whatever else, just not standard instruments. Basically, I didn’t know how to perform it, so I didn't. I just had people listen to it in a small, contained space. (Laughs) I tried to set the space acoustically, and just see how people responded to it. I think having it in that kind of intimate setting was really helpful for me because that’s how I wanted to reach people, as much as I love shows and stuff, early on I was attracted to that sort of image. As if you’re just in your room listening to this person, and...how does it make you feel in that space?
“I think sometimes we feel the need to overcome the fear before we even say anything about it.”
Your latest single, “For That Dream” is an appropriate song for what many of us might be feeling right now, especially as we begin a new year. Can you tell me more about what inspired it, and what went into creating it?
Yeah, where to start… I think because it’s something that I think about myself doing and other people doing, it inevitably came out in the music, but I kind of put myself down a lot for not having achieved certain things. Or like you said, in the context of everything it can feel like, how can you achieve anything at this time? Being in constant tension between trying to let myself relax but also wanting to be productive is kind of a big force behind the song. And I wouldn’t really say it has a hook, but I heard the first few lines and the shape of the melody one morning and just got to work. The lyrics are inspired by me feeling behind in life and wanting to remind myself that I don’t need to feel that way, which is why that kind of detached voice comes in later like, “It’s not too late!” When you’re kind of on your own in a goal or vision you want to bring to life, it’s hard to see what’s ahead, and that’s even more so during this pandemic, but you have to keep dreaming.
The idea of creating our own narratives and rewriting any narratives that may be self-limiting comes through in “For That Dream.” Do you find yourself rewriting self-limiting narratives often?
I definitely try to. (Laughs) I think honestly the song was, even though that’s a language that I’m familiar with, it was just a way of trying to [rewrite self-limiting narratives]. At the very least, before you write a new narrative you have to kind of acknowledge the ones that you’re preoccupied with. At least that’s how I feel, and I’ve been stuck on a lot of things, so it’s a way of being like, alright, let’s look at what’s on the table so that we can then clear it off to see what’s next. I would say that I’m good at identifying narratives that might kind of grip me, but writing new ones is another story. (Laughs) I like to think that I try to do it through music and this song is the start of that process. Like, come on, you can come up with something new, a new way of thinking about life.
Yeah, it’s definitely hard but important to take some time to rewrite or reframe personal narratives that have become limiting. And not to really punish or blame yourself for it, but to recognize when it’s become what stands in your way.
Yes, and I really like how you put that because I would say that’s kind of the purpose of the song. Like, alright, let me allow myself to express these fears. I tried to add in the contrast of the things that could be better or the things that aren’t “positive” to just let myself have the fears. I think sometimes we feel the need to overcome the fear before we even say anything about it. Like, “I can’t express that I feel this way because it’s putting negativity into the world. I need to just work it all out and then speak.” But if I did that then I would never put out a song, you know?
You released two projects in 2020, Moss Well in August and Glimmers back in March, right near the start of the quarantine. For an artist who makes a lot of their music alone in their bedroom, did COVID and the isolation that came with it impact your music or your creative process in any way?
Definitely, for a long time it just made it a lot harder. As much as I make most of my stuff alone in my room, I definitely thrive off of either blatant social interactions or even just chance encounters. In the past, I’ve come up with songs or ideas for songs from just something someone said at work. It could be from someone cool I met or it could just be from someone who was just kind of a dick when I was serving them their lunch (Laughs). Whatever it is, that stuff really helps me. It makes me want to have the contrast, to be alone and work on music. But to just be alone a lot of the time, period? I’m spending way more time in the space that I create than I used to, so yeah that definitely has an effect that can be difficult. But I mean, a positive thing would be, and I’ve heard this from other artists as well, it does encourage you to just allow yourself to not make stuff. We often have a kind of grinding mentality where we always have to be making something, and I know I felt that way pre-COVID. I still have that pusher in me, I guess, but I feel like it’s changed tacts because I’ve realized that I can’t necessarily expect myself to make a new thing every day, and that demandingness isn’t gonna help me feel.
How do you handle feelings of isolation, especially during a time when it’s so hard to avoid? Is making music a part of that?
Yeah, making music is definitely part of dealing with it because it’s a grounding thing. Grounding but more outward than something like sitting and breathing. Just having something literally under my hands really helps. I’ve been picking up instruments more, I play bass more than I used to. And all the regular stuff, I try to get outside, I call friends. Something else that’s helped me deal with isolation is detaching fault from it, or not blaming myself for it. So in that sense, as much as isolation has been harder during COVID because I can’t see people as much, I’ve experienced a lot of feelings of isolation and loneliness prior to COVID. But back then I used to make it feel more like it was because there was something wrong with me, like, “Why don’t you just go out and do this thing?” And now that I can’t, and so many other people are in the same position, I feel like I finally let myself off the hook and realized that these feelings are hard and need to be dealt with, but it’s not because of anything about me. It’s not personal, it’s just a feeling, really.
“I feel like a lot of songs and great ideas in general are lost just to overthinking, you know?”
You’ve stated that with “For That Dream,” you’ve focused more on songwriting and balanced it with spontaneity, as opposed to your usual approach of prioritizing spontaneity and immediacy. What caused you to make that shift?
I guess just changing my values around what working on something means and recognizing that I can put care into something with patience and over time without it disrupting the original vision. I think in the past, trying to go back to a track to add a part or to mix it felt like it wasn’t coming from the right place, it was kind of judgemental and critical. It became this thing that I avoided so I just said, “Let me try to do as much as possible as soon as possible and let it be that.” I value that vulnerability but now I’m seeing that it’s a whole different kind of expression to put care into something over time, and to consciously push against that judgement. I guess I used to think it was almost sacrilege to add something to a track outside of the first period I worked on it, but now I realize that there’s always a flow to tap into and if I can get into it again it’ll be something new and that’s fine, but it may also make the track more well-rounded.
Were you worried that you might overwork yourself? Is that part of why you changed your approach?
Yes. And it’s all mixed in my room and I don’t feel like I really know what I’m doing when it comes to mixing, so honestly it could have also been an excuse of sorts. Like, don’t judge me for my mixing, this is about the fact that I just did this in one sitting. Now I know I don’t need to be afraid of that.
Would you say that was one of your self-limiting narratives?
Yeah, and I think that’s one that I still kind of have to deal with. (Laughs)
So is this an approach that you plan to use more often, moving forward?
I think I’ll always have a place for the spontaneous. Even with “For That Dream” despite putting a lot of time into it over a solid chunk of time, adding a thing or two later, I still pretty much wrote it in one day. So I value that, I think I’m just trying to find more balance between the spontaneous and the more patient. And also I’m trying to find a way to record a lot of songs. Usually because of the spontaneity, the songwriting and recording process is blended together. Now I’m in a place where I have a handful of songs written and I may have recorded something with them or I just wrote them sitting at the keyboard and singing. So, I definitely think there will be new ways that I’m approaching things because I want to take songs that might just be sitting in my head and find ways to record them. Rather than going to record and saying, “Alright, what’s it gonna be? Who knows, we’ll see.” (Laughs)
What are some recurring themes or feelings that new listeners can expect to find in your music?
For lyrical themes, you can expect depression, (Laughs) and kind of just dealing with mental health. For me, it’s a lot of internal dialogue and giving room for different voices. One song might be more positive because it’s this voice that I need to lift me up, but for other songs I’m going to let the voice speak that says something that doesn’t feel great. I’m just trying to externalize my shadows, if you will, and hopefully in a way that’s helpful to other people, and not just like, putting darkness out there.
If you could create your own perfect narrative for yourself in 2021, what would that include?
For me, I’m just gonna say more ease in the process of what I do. Less inner blockages that prevent me from getting what I want to do, done. I want that for everyone. I feel like a lot of songs and great ideas in general are lost just to overthinking, you know? Moments where I could have just written something, but I just let my thoughts get the best of me. A lot of my music that makes it out of me and into the world is despite the overthinking. So yeah, more room for that. Ideally, it would be playing a bunch of shows. It would be meeting a lot of people, and just having a lot of new, nourishing experiences.