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Dora Jar

Meet Dora Jar, Billie Eilish’s favourite new artist

Ahead of the release of her EP Comfortably In Pain, the artist lifts the lid on her colourful creative world and discusses the support she continues to receive from her peers, from Grimes to Remi Wolf

Dora Jarkowski was in New Orleans, preparing to open for Billie Eilish, when she tested positive for COVID. “I gave myself five minutes to cry, and then I slept for three days,” the 24-year-old singer-songwriter smiles, her disappointment ultimately assuaged by the fact that – at the time of our conversation – she’s set to rejoin Eilish’s arena tour in Buffalo the following evening. 

It’s not the first time the Happier Than Ever-star has shown Jarkowski support: in September of 2021, she and Finneas attended Jarowski’s debut London show, remaining impressively incognito amongst an 120-cap audience. And yet the presence of the world’s biggest pop star was still only the second most remarkable thing about the gig, which saw Jarkowski carried onstage in a bodybag, packed with soil. “The element of surprise is everything,” she says, with a grin.

This off-kilter creative outlook could well be Jarkowski’s super-power. Putting a psychedelic slant on brilliantly genre-agnostic bedroom-pop, the California-raised songwriter’s compositions bring to mind some glorious cross-pollination of Sgt. Pepper and ATLiens, by way of The Muppets. With songs inspired by Hawaii-shaped leg wounds (“Scab Song”) and the mermaids of Neverland (“Lagoon”), these surreal flights of fancy serve as a prism to examine starker truths about the human psyche; which is just as well, as Jarkowski’s journey to this point has been anything but conventional.

Born in New York – where her mother worked as an actor on Broadway – her family relocated to California when Jarkowski was four, so as to better support her older sister Lueza, who was born with cerebral palsy. When Lueza passed away in her mid-teens, Dora dealt with the grief by moving to the other side of the country for school, followed by spells staying in Poland with her father’s extended family, and in London. It was during this period that she sowed the seeds for her acclaimed 2021 collection Digital Meadow, and for her brilliant new EP, Comfortably In Pain.

Here, she digs deeper into her journey so far, lifts the lid on her colourful creative world, and discusses the support she continues to receive from her peers, an ever-growing list which so far includes Grimes, Remi Wolf, Holly Humberstone, Ellie Rowsell of Wolf Alice and Tendai.

How did Billie Eilish discover your music?

Dora Jarkowski: So there are a couple of interesting coincidences. First of all, my mom and her dad were in a play together in the 80s or 90s. And so I remember my mom calling me in my first year of college and she was like, “Oh my friend on Facebook posted a video of his daughter singing – I think you would love it.” And it was “Ocean Eyes”. 

Time went by and I went to see Billie play this 200 cap venue in New York, and I met her mom, Maggie. Then 2017 happened and Billie obviously became the biggest thing in the world, so I was very shocked when I released Digital Meadow and Billie DM-ed me on Instagram out of nowhere with, like, seven messages about how she was listening to the EP on repeat for a week. I don’t know who sent her my music, but to have a mutual love of each other’s work is absolutely amazing. The first time I actually met her was at her album release party [for Happier Than Ever], and she’s just the sweetest.

Grimes is a fan too, right?

Dora Jarkowski: Yeah! I haven‘t heard from her personally but her adding me to her [Ethereal] playlist was crazy, because her album Art Angels really changed my life. It got me thinking, “Oh shit, I want to make these songs that are only on guitar go somewhere that is extraterrestrial and glitchy and weird”. And she was the artist that planted the seed that it was possible.

Which other artists have shaped you as a musician?

Dora Jarkowski: You know how all four-year-olds listen to “Baby Shark” now? My version of kids music was “Yellow Submarine” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand”, so the Beatles are just in my DNA at this point. Foo Fighters were major too because they were the first concert I saw live. When I started playing guitar I would learn half of a Foo Fighters song and make up my own song over the top. And then Outkast ATliens was the first CD that I bought. I remember the realisation, like, You can say ‘cooler than a polar bear's toenails' in a song?! Ok!’ That was very liberating.

“I'm just so much more interested in what no one can figure out, and what is beyond the veil of reality” – Dora Jarkowski

You can see that surreality bleeding into your own songwriting. Where does that outlook come from?

Dora Jarkowski: I think I’m drawn to things that confuse me. Like, some people love math, because there's one answer, and it makes sense. But I'm just so much more interested in what no one can figure out, and what is beyond the veil of reality. The word ephemeral comes to mind: something that can't be grasped, but you can dance with it. 

I’m one of those people who feels kind of awkward about superficial conversation, and so I love being able to just dive in deep. I think that's what my music does too, hopefully: it just cuts through the layers.

Listening to Comfortably In Pain I was struck by how colourful it sounds. Do you experience synesthesia?

Dora Jarkowski: Yeah. I think naturally I have a very trippy brain, and I’m very sensitive. Like, I remember when I was three or four – when we still lived in New York – and I was listening to this very scary song from [the musical] Into The Woods, sung by the witch. And at the same time as I was hearing her terrifying scream, I was looking out the window at a lightning storm, and it was like time slowed down. So ever since I was a kid, music has always been really visual for me.

Do psychedelics play any part in your creative process?

Dora Jarkowski: No, I had my moment when I was 19, where I was stoned the whole year. But I reached what I could reach from that. 

But shrooms were instrumental in your decision to pursue music professionally, right?

Dora Jarkowski: Yeah. So I went to school in Connecticut when I was 14, just after my sister passed away because I was like, I cannot stay in California. I went there for four years, and didn't talk about my sister or my past, and I didn’t process anything. And at the end of that four years, I had this crazy trip on shrooms, and it brought everything up. I was hearing the mushrooms say, ‘You‘re a performer.’ And I was like, ‘Yes! I'm a performer! I need to get out of here and perform!’ But then I was like, ‘Oh shit, I've been performing the whole last four years because I‘ve not been real with myself. And I‘m heartbroken about so many things. And what do I do with all of this pain?’ So I moved to Poland to live with my half-brother, and from there I got in touch with producers in the UK and very gradually started recording in London.

Does losing a loved one at such a young age motivate you to grasp opportunities, or is that too simplistic a reading?

No, it‘s definitely not too simplistic. I think there is probably a truth there that just resonates. And there‘s probably some psychological things going on that I don't know about yet. Like, my sister was two years older than me and while we led very different physical lives – because she couldn‘t walk or talk – we were psychic. We spoke with facial expressions. I knew what she wanted, and I could always tell that she could see through whatever act I was putting on. So she‘s just with me all the time. 

Comfortably In Pain takes its name from a lyric in “Lagoon”. Why did that phrase resonate as a title for the entire collection?

Well, in “Tiger Face” I talk about singing through the pain, and “Scab Song” talks about making something painful into a beautiful thing. But I liked the duality of meaning too. Because I‘ve always felt that I have all these comforts in my life and yet sometimes I can forget to appreciate them because my mind is in so much pain. And that’s hard to reckon with. But then on the flipside, by learning to accept our pain, we can find comfort in the fact that we're all in pain, and hopefully move through it and transcend it together.

What do you hope listeners take from your music? 

I like thinking of [my music] like a house that has many different rooms that are decorated totally differently. And you can be so immersed in one room you totally forget that there's a whole house to discover. But yeah, I want you to see colours and to feel like your imagination is brighter, and that you know something nobody else knows. 

Comfortably In Pain is out now