The Meaning Behind Deep Sea Diver’s “Impossible Weight” and the Volunteer Work that Inspired It

Released seven months into the COVID-19 pandemic, Deep Sea Diver’s third album Impossible Weight struck a chord with fans of alternative rock. The Seattle-based band’s blend of textured synths, inventive riffs, propulsive beats, and Jessica Dobson’s expressive vocals deserved to be noticed, but it may have been Dobson’s introspective songwriting that caught the attention of new listeners. Deep Sea Diver’s album came out at a time when many were dealing with grief and heightened levels of stress, and the honest self-reflection that informed Dobson’s lyrics was just what some of the band’s listeners may have needed.

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One of those songs found a substantial audience far beyond Deep Sea Diver’s Pacific Northwest home base. The album’s title track, which features a guest vocal appearance from Sharon Van Etten, became Deep Sea Diver’s first national hit in the U.S. “Impossible Weight’s” relatable account of emotional struggle and message of self-compassion could have been a big reason why it became the band’s breakout hit. It was informed by Dobson’s own battles with depression and also by the struggles of those whom she encountered while doing volunteer work in Seattle.

Taking One’s Own Pain Seriously

In an interview with Kevin Cole of the Seattle radio station KEXP, Dobson summarized the meaning of “Impossible Weight” as relating to “everyone’s constantly battling against their critic … internally and externally.” The inspiration for the song was far more specific. As Dobson was dealing with her own depression, she started volunteering at Aurora Commons, a service agency for the homeless in the Aurora Avenue North area of Seattle. On the Deep Sea Diver website, Dobson said the experience of talking with women at the center informed the empathetic perspective she took for her songwriting for Impossible Weight. “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,” she explained.

Dobson’s takeaway from the experience was not to downplay her own mental health struggles, but to learn from the vulnerability of the women she met. Said Dobson, “In the past I’d often tell myself, ‘This other person is going through something worse than I am, so their pain weighs more.’ ‘Impossible Weight’ is about finding more compassion for yourself, instead of discrediting your pain in that way.”

“That Was Then and This Is Now”

So right off the bat, “Impossible Weight” takes us directly into a mind filled with negative self-talk.

This is what it feels like walking in a straight line
Stray talk clicking in my ear
This is what it feels like
Cliff dive, broken mind
Wondering how I got here

The second verse gets into the details of how negative thoughts manifest physically. Dobson—or whomever she is portraying in the song—acknowledges she is “addicted to the fear” she catalyzes with her thoughts, and as a result, she has created a Stutter in my heart / From the hurry up. Dobson gives listeners a sense of her ensuing depression and enervation when she sings Dragging my heels around.

Depending on how you hear it, the chorus could be an anthem for self-care and compassion or a white flag of resignation. If you put the emphasis on the first line instead of the last, it’s clear Dobson is singing about learning to put oneself first.

But that was then and this is now
I tried so hard not to let you all down
It’s an impossible weight
So I’ll just let you down now

Rather than “dragging her heels around,” Dobson is relieving herself of the massive weight she’s been carrying around. She is learning to ignore her critics, even if it means others will be disappointed in her.

Putting the Pieces Down

Van Etten picks up the lead vocals for the second verse, in which the lyrics reinforce the theme of patience and compassion for oneself.

Steady as the wheel turns
On my way, it’s ok
Picking up the pieces
Put ‘em down

In writing the lines Picking up the pieces / Put ‘em down, Dobson acknowledges learning to ignore negative voices can be a long and difficult process. Carrying around “the pieces” can add to the “impossible weight,” so sometimes you have to stop and put things back together at a later time.

The Impact of “Impossible Weight”

“Impossible Weight” was the first Deep Sea Diver song to reach a Billboard chart, peaking at No. 29 on their Adult Alternative Airplay rankings. Its success helped to propel the album Impossible Weight to No. 22 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart. Impossible Weight also went to No. 31 on Billboard’s Top Current Album Sales chart. KEXP’s listeners voted to make Impossible Weight their top album of 2020, beating out Phoebe Bridgers’ Punisher and Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters for the honor.

While Deep Sea Diver released “Impossible Weight” during a particularly stressful period around the world, its message about coping with negative messages is relevant, regardless of place and time. While the title may imply the song is heavy, it is ultimately triumphant in its assertion of the power we have to take care of ourselves. “Impossible Weight” is certainly a banger, but it’s not a “sad banger.”

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Photo by Jim Bennett/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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