Dreamer Isioma Finds Intergalactic Freedom On ‘Princess Forever’
Written by Morgan Ciocca on May 1, 2023
Chicago artist Dreamer Isioma released their sophomore album Princess Forever on April 21 — a work which showcases their vast artistic growth over the years, even in comparison to 2022’s debut Goodnight Dreamer. Shortly following the release, they stopped by the Vocalo studios to discuss the album and their artistic evolution with digital producer Morgan Ciocca.
Dreamer Isioma is the true definition of a genre-bending artist. They fuse influences ranging from pop, rock, jazz, Afrobeats, R&B and even electronic music to create their multifaceted sound — perhaps best exemplified by their 2023 full-length album Princess Forever.
Released on April 21, the album follows titular character Princess Forever as they aim to escape their planet and its corrupt rulers in search of freedom across the galaxy. On this journey they find an escape, return home, reconnect with nature and recruit like-minded young people to confront their leaders in pursuit of change. Princess Forever ultimately goes on to meet the creator of the universe, finding the reasons they need to fight for freedom on their own planet.
This storyline is visualized through five music videos — for tracks “Dumb In Love With You,” “Fuck Tha World,” “Technicolor Love,” “Touch Your Soul” and “Gimme A Chance” — released over the span of six months. Dreamer noted the videos’ storyline actually influenced the album’s creation process more than the other way around; though all its songs had already been recorded as demos, the story of Princess Forever guided the album’s track listing.
“I like to think of the music as a soundtrack for the storyline,” they said. “Once I came up with the concept for the visuals and stuff, that’s when I went back into the process of making the album more cohesive and the way it blends matches the vibes of the videos.”
Princess Forever takes listeners along for an intergalactic journey throughout its 13 songs, with guest appearances including Merlyn Wood of Brockhampton (“Touch Your Soul”), redveil (“Technicolor Love”) and Dante Swan of The Celestials (“Why Pray To God”).
Making their debut as Dreamer’s live band in 2022, The Celestials have their hands in much of Dreamer’s recorded music. Dreamer said just they and the band made the first five songs on their debut Goodnight Dreamer, and notes members of the band are also present throughout Princess Forever; Dante Swan, of course, plays guitar on “Why Pray To God,” Brooklynn Skye plays the bass on “Gimme A Chance” and “Starz,” DJ Izaya Versus recorded all of Dreamer’s vocals, Antonio Romello plays drums and Saint Lewis plays keys and produced more than half the album’s tracks.
“It is definitely a team effort,” Dreamer said. “I literally would not know so much about music without them.”
Dreamer and The Celestials are about to head out on their “Love & Rage” tour in support of the album, kicking things off on May 10 in Minneapolis and concluding back in Chicago on June 8 at Reggie’s. Their longest headlining tour so far, Dreamer noted they’ve already been training to give listeners a memorable experience.
“This feels like a first headlining tour for me, very much so,” they said.
In their conversation, Dreamer Isioma and Vocalo digital producer Morgan Ciocca discuss the initial reception to Princess Forever, prepping for tour, ideal collaborations and adventures filming music videos all over the U.S. — literally, from the Alaskan wilderness to the Utah salt flats to abandoned airports in southern Illinois.
More information on Dreamer Isioma and The Celestials’ “Love & Rage” tour is available online at dreamerisioma.com. Tickets are on sale now.
Morgan Ciocca: You’re listening to Vocalo Radio 91.1 FM, Chicago’s Urban Alternative and only NPR Music affiliate. My name is Morgan Ciocca, and I am in the studio today with a very special guest. We have Dreamer Isioma in the studio. How are you doing?
Dreamer Isioma: I’m vibing. Thank you so much for having me.
MC: Thank you so much for stopping by! We’re so excited to have you in, especially because you just released your brand new album, Princess Forever, last Friday [April 21]!
MC: I have to say, I’m really excited to be talking to you, because I’ve kind of been following your music for a while now. I started to get in tune with you back in 2020, between the release of “Sensitive” and “Stop Calling The Police On Me,” which is, coincidentally, when I started as an intern with Vocalo. Of course, Vocalo has been in tune with your music forever. And it’s great to have you in the studio!
DI: Yeah, it’s a long time coming. Definitely a full-circle moment, for sure.
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MC: And it’s cool seeing your new releases, too, especially having listened to your old releases at the time that they came out. And I really feel like — kind of in the same way that I see in the fashion world, that the trend cycle is breaking down and it’s sort of becoming more focused on personal style and emphasizing that and people exploring that. … In kind of a similar way, people are straying away from focusing on one specific genre, and going toward a more genre-fluid, multi-genre sound.
I feel like you do that so well. You exemplify it, especially in your new album. You blend so many genres like pop, rock, funk, Afrobeats, sometimes R&B, electronic. All that being said, how do you feel that all of your different influences blend together? And how do you approach incorporating so many different sounds and influences? Or does it just kind of come to you naturally?
DI: I just do what feels good. I don’t really think about … I don’t really have a goal or anything. I’m just having fun, just making what feels right.
MC: And you can really hear it in the music, too. It’s just authentic. It doesn’t sound like you’re trying to do anything interesting or new, but you’re just doing it.
DI: Yeah, I’m just doing me.
MC: And I guess that brings us to now. You did just release Princess Forever, like I was saying.
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MC: And it feels even like a maturation from last year’s Goodnight Dreamer, which we loved here at Vocalo, you came in here to talk to Bekoe about it — or I guess, you virtually talked to Bekoe about it. But looking back, “Sensitive” was your first release that really blew up, right?
MC: How do you feel about that song now, looking back, having grown and evolved so much as an artist?
DI: It’s silly. It’s just a silly world and it’s a silly time, but of course I’m grateful. It still slaps. It’s just funny, ‘cuz that’s really a rough draft. There’s no BPM for the song. The beat was from YouTube. It doesn’t make sense. But I’m still happy about it.
MC: Before we dive into the album, for anyone who hasn’t listened yet, what should listeners go into the album kind of expecting?
DI: Nothing. Expect nothing. Lower your expectations to zero.
MC: I think it deserves more than that. It’s good! [Both laugh] I really, really love the album. I guess also, what’s been the reception so far? What have people been saying?
DI: No, yeah, people really like it. I knew they would. I wouldn’t drop something that sounded bad or anything. The response is expected. Looking forward to more.
MC: And I mean, it’s already — it was on a giant billboard in Times Square, I saw on your Instagram.
DI: Still out there.
MC: It’s still out there? If anybody’s in New York listening, go check it out! And the last time you chatted with Vocalo — last February with Bekoe — around the release of Goodnight Dreamer, which is mostly what you guys touched on, you mentioned that project was very DIY. Would you say the same about this project?
DI: Yeah, I think that’s the best way to do things nowadays, independently.
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MC: I wanted to get into the music videos that you’ve released …
DI: Let’s do it.
MC: … for this album so far, because I love them. I watched them all in a row multiple times, I think they’re so great. The storyline follows the character Princess Forever, which is also the name of the album, and you’ve slowly been releasing bits and pieces of this storyline since the video for “Dumb In Love With You,” which you dropped about six months ago. Can you break down the storyline for listeners?
DI: Yeah, okay, let’s see. So, boom, Princess Forever, they live on this planet called Terra 2000, and basically it’s ruled by a bunch of dumb idiots, kind of parallel to the universe that we live in together right now. So Princess Forever, they go on this mission to find a planet that they can be free in and they stumble upon this planet called Diaspora X, which is what you see in the “Dumb In Love With You” video.
So from there, they come back, and they just want to get the word out and let people know like, “Hey, there’s an escape, we can be free of this.” But society, the dumb world rulers, world leaders of Terra 2000 are like, “No.” And they basically are like, “If anyone sees these people, they’re going to jail. They can’t be out here.” They basically write them off as criminals in the media and stuff, which is what you see in the “F Tha World” music video.
And from there, Forever just kind of feels lost and frustrated with the rulers of their world, so they go on a walk and they kind of become one with the Earth, they begin to love the Earth again, which is what you see in “Technicolor Love” video. So now they have, I guess, a reason to fight to stay and so what you see in the next video, the “Touch Your Soul” video, is them developing, essentially, a militia of young, like-minded people from all different backgrounds to essentially find the truth and defeat these world leaders.
And at the end of that video [and in the video for “Gimme A Chance”], Princess Forever ends up meeting the creator of the universe, and they kind of help explain, I guess, why things are the way they are and help them accept the universe and universal balance and that’s kind of how it ends. Well, it never ends. It never stops. They’re still fighting, always fighting, but at least they know why they’re fighting.
MC: I was gonna say, is that the end of the storyline? Is there gonna be another video? What can we expect, can you give us any hints?
MC: Okay, cool. Good to know. [Laughs] So there’s a storyline for all the music videos, is that the same storyline that the album follows? Is there a different storyline for the album? And did you kind of come up with … the ideas for the visuals around the same time as you were writing the album? Or what was your process there?
DI: Um, I would say they’re definitely in the same world … I like to think of the music as a soundtrack for the storyline. I think that … I had all these songs demoed out previously, but they weren’t together the way you hear them on the album Princess Forever. Once I came up with the concept for the visuals and stuff, that’s when I went back into the process of making the album more cohesive and the way it blends matches the vibes of the videos … it all just came together.
MC: I love that. And also, last thing on the videos, where’d you film them? Because I saw some of your videos [posted to social media] just on — I don’t know if you can even call it the “set,” but just out in the world.
MC: Where’d you film that? It was so beautiful.
DI: Yeah, so the “Dumb In Love With You” video, we went to Alaska.
DI: It was so crazy. I’ve never been to Alaska, I’ve never had a reason to until that video. And it was honestly insane, it was so nice. The people were nice, the food was bomb. The scenery was beautiful. It was daytime all the time … from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m., so any nighttime shots, just imagine me, half-naked in the woods at 4 in the morning trying to get nighttime shots of the moon, that’s what’s going on. In a tent at like 4 in the morning, freezing but like, I suffer for my art, you know what I’m saying? We got to get the shot.
And then … the spaceship scenes were shot in southern Illinois in an abandoned airport. We just got the plug on the abandoned airport, which was a nice location to build a rocketship, of course. We shot that out there. the “F Tha World” and “Technicolor Love” videos, those were shot half in Chicago, half in like the Illinois ‘burbs of just nature. There’s a lot of beautiful nature in Illinois, so that’s where we were at. “Touch Your Soul,” Chicago.
“Gimme A Chance,” Utah. We went to Salt Lake City, they have this place called the Salt Flats, it’s beautiful. That’s what you see in like the table scenes, with Princess Forever and the creator of the universe having their little tarot card reading, that was shot in the Salt Flats, then we drove four hours east of Salt Lake City to this place called Moab, and it was like the desert. It literally was the Wild West, apparently they have shot so many Westerns here, I had no idea I just Googled stuff and it looked cool. So we went there and yeah, we were climbing mountains and doing a lot of dangerous out-of-pocket things for fun.
MC: That’s so amazing. I’m just imagining a tumbleweed rolling by mid-shot.
DI: It was literally that, there was — oh my gosh, yeah! All the animals that you see in the “Gimme A Chance” video, that’s not AI, those are real … This is me, and then a foot away from me is a moose. Or there was antelopes running along, it was crazy. We saw bears. We literally had to have bear spray with us when we were in Alaska. We had to stop shooting at one point, because everyone was like, “Turn back. There is a bear.” [Laughs] Yeah, vibes.
MC: I don’t know what I would do. I simply don’t know what I would do if I encountered a bear in the wild.
DI: Dog, just imagine, I’m in a pink space costume, pink hair, full makeup. I’m Black in Alaska, it’s not making sense. I’m with a crew of white boys, but also a bunch of Hispanic people and … it doesn’t make sense. Like, what is going on? What is life? I don’t know. It’s hilarious.
MC: I wanted to ask you when you were talking about Alaska, what kind of food did you have there?
DI: They have such good seafood there, of course.
MC: Yeah, that’s not surprising!
DI: Yeah. Shout out Seward, Alaska. Y’all, I’m gonna be back. It was a beautiful trip, honestly.
MC: Jumping back into the album itself, you’ve got some really great collaborations with a couple of bigger names on the album, like Merlyn Wood of Brockhampton fame and redveil, who actually just played a show in Chicago on [April] 20 with fellow Chicago artist femdot. How do you usually approach collaborations with other artists? And what’s something that you most ideally look for in a collaborator?
DI: Well, normally I’ll just hit ’em up, I’ll just shoot ’em a text or a DM and be like, “Yo … you might be fire on this. Let me know if you want to do this.” And … it’s either a yes or no, and it’s whatever, but I knew I wanted veil on this one, so bad. He’s so talented. And he’s so … I really appreciate what he stands for. And we’ve always supported each other. So it made sense, but I don’t really expect nothing except maybe just go crazy. Just do what you do best, do a raw verse. That’s it.
MC: I loved both of those tracks. Going off of that, who’s an artist that you want to collaborate [with] that you maybe haven’t worked with yet?
DI: I want a Tyler, the Creator beat so bad.
MC: That would be crazy.
MC: That would be so good.
DI: That would be hard, right?
DI: He needs to text me back.
MC: Tyler, text Dreamer back!
DI: Yeah, stink! Come on, stink.
MC: We need it.
MC: We need this collaboration in our lives. I was kind of thinking, some of the tracks on this album, I was like, “This would be a cool collab.”
MC: And I did leave out one artist that was featured on the album, but that’s because I wanted to talk about that song and that artist specifically. So Dante Swan, who’s featured on the track “Why Pray To God” — first of all, the guitar on that was insane. It was so good. I was sitting on the bus listening, like, “Who is this playing the guitar? It’s so good.” The solo at the end. Oh my God, it was insane. I wanted to discuss Dante a little bit and get into the band The Celestials, which Dante plays in. In terms of The Celestials, how’d you all get connected?
DI: [Laughs] Just life, just on some Chicago stuff. Just bumping into each other and just being silly. But yeah, we’re all just really close, the best of friends. I think they might be rehearsing right now, actually. Which is hilarious. But yeah, no, Dante is so amazing. He’s so talented and sweet and chill. And I made him record this solo so many times. There was many different versions, and I was like, “No, I need to feel it in my soul. You need to unlock this thing.” And he got it, he snapped with it. I’m really happy with how it turned out, it was produced by Saint Lewis.
MC: The band, do they mostly just perform live with you, or are they on some of the recorded tracks, as well?
DI: No, yeah, they’re definitely all over the album. Well, for Goodnight Dreamer, we made the first five songs as just only us. And then for Princess Forever, “Dumb In Love With You” was The Celestials. As you know, Dante plays guitar on “Why Pray to God.” “Gimme A Chance,” Brooklynn does the bass on that. Brooklynn also does some of the bass on “Starz.” And then Izaya Versus, who’s the DJ, records all my vocals, essentially. And I think that’s it, if I’m not forgetting … and then, yeah, Saint Lewis, who does the keys in the band produced more than half the album, the majority of that album was produced by him. So yeah, we’re all pretty close-knit. We all gang gang, you know the vibes.
MC: Totally. It’s like … a team effort.
DI: It is definitely a team effort. I literally would not know so much about music without them. So very grateful to have actual musicians around me.
MC: What are you talking about? You’re an actual musician, I would say!
DI: I dabble! I try.
MC: You are also about to head out on tour with The Celestials, for the “Love & Rage” tour, which starts so soon!
MC: On May 10, in Minneapolis, and then it ends back home in Chicago.
MC: On June 8 at Reggie’s, and we were saying earlier, you’re playing a lot of dates. This is the longest tour that you’ve been on, right?
DI: Not the longest tour I’ve been on, but the longest tour I’ve headlined.
MC: Okay, yes.
DI: This feels like a first headlining tour for me, very much so.
MC: How do you stay healthy and rested on tour? I feel like I would be — I mean, as a non-musician, but I would be totally wiped out.
DI: Oh, no, yeah. I feel blessed that I’ve had a lot of training in the past, of doing a lot of shows back-to-back. And now, I’ve been literally training, at the gym almost every day, going ham, really focusing on getting myself there, so that way, when I’m on tour and doing crazy performances every single night, I’m good. And the band is also training, as well. We’re all getting thick, on our healthy stuff.
MC: It sounds like the shows are going to be crazy, though. I’m excited. What should people expect or go into the shows …?
DI: They’re gonna be wowed. They’re gonna be like, “Wow!” That’s exactly what they’re gonna say.
MC: They’re gonna say, “Wow,” all at the same time. Just a big, “Wow.”
Dreamer Isioma and The Celestials will be touring in support of Princess Forever beginning May 10, concluding June 8 in Chicago. Morgan Ciocca/Vocalo Radio
MC: What do you hope people walk away from the shows with?
DI: I hope they feel inspired. And I hope they want to come to my shows again.
MC: What song are you most excited to perform live, if you can pick one?
DI: All of them. I’m actually just going to perform “Sensitive” 20 times.
MC: That’s what the people came for.
DI: To be honest …
MC: You know, there’ll be some. There’ll be some who are like, “Oh, I know this artist from this song,” but …
DI: Maybe I’ll do “Valentina,” too.
MC: Oh, that’d be amazing.
DI: But “Sensitive,” just back-to-back.
MC: At least once. I have to say, my favorite song is “Gimme A Chance” on the album.
DI: Thank you.
MC: So I’m definitely very excited to hear that one live. There’s just so much detail … There’s a lot going on. Plus the music video is super cool, as well. Anyway, let listeners know where they can find you and where they can find more info on the tour, and how to get their tickets.
DI: Yeah, so if I’m not in your mom’s bed, you can find me at @dreamerisioma on everything.
MC: And are tickets on sale yet?
DI: Yes, they’re on sale. Go get them before they sell out.
MC: All right. You heard it here! Chicago, June 8 at Reggie’s, Dreamer Isioma will be in town. Thank you again, so much, for stopping by!
DI: Thank you for having me.
MC: You’re listening to Vocalo Radio, 91.1 FM, Chicago’s Urban Alternative.
Dreamer Isioma and Vocalo digital producer Morgan Ciocca outside the Vocalo studios on April 24. Joshua X. Miller/Vocalo Radio
Keep up with Dreamer Isioma through Instagram and their website.
Interview, audio editing and production, transcription and written introduction by Morgan Ciocca
Photography by Joshua X. Miller and Morgan Ciocca
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