Growing up, imaginary friends can be a source of great comfort, but when you still have one as an adult people tend to raise their eyebrows and cast aspersions. Who decided you can’t channel an imaginary pal as an adult? For her debut album, Lauren Isenberg, known professionally as renforshort, looked to an imaginary friend not just as a shoulder to lean on but as a driving inspiration. “I always knew this album would have something to do with mental health, because it’s me,” Isenberg says. “I got into a session with my producer Jeff Hazin and accidentally wrote a song called ‘amelia.’ It just sparked every idea involving this character in the album and every song being a letter to Amelia. I’d like to say Amelia is my therapist, but in the end, it’s actually just me.”
Mental health has been a central focus throughout Isenberg’s music since she made her debut in 2019 with the singles “waves” and “mind games.” She turned up the emotions for her first EP, “teenage angst,” which featured one of her most recognizable singles to date, “i drive me mad,” which delves into her history with anxiety and panic attacks. The track resonated deeply with Isenberg’s growing fanbase, showing the world she’s an artist who’s not afraid to be vulnerable. This unabashed honesty carried into her first full-length album, “dear amelia,” and the title track which started it all.
“The song ‘amelia’ is about losing someone to suicide,” Isenberg says. “With every passing year, so many people around me have committed suicide and it’s so fresh in my head that I was able to write it. For me, I think sad songs are always easy to write if they feel really true to you. In the song, it’s me and Amelia talking to each other and in the beginning it’s layered, but over the course of the song it’s vocoded with full vocoding on the chorus. This symbolizes losing someone and your memories of them fading over time. No matter how hard you try to hold on to those memories, they eventually disappear.”
After writing “amelia,” Isenberg knew she tapped into an intriguing concept and began crafting a narrative around the titular character. She kicks off the project with “i miss myself,” a song that sets up the story and centers on losing one’s identity. From there, the album embarks on a deeply personal journey and concludes with “not my friend” and “amelia.” “not my friend” is an ode to internalizing your emotions and not knowing who you are anymore—sentiments those who struggle with their mental health know all too well.
“The album ends up making you go kind of crazy as things get worse for Amelia instead of better,” Isenberg says. “I think there’s a lot to learn from being open and honest. You can’t bottle everything up because you end up losing bits and pieces of yourself that you need. Brain health is super important.”
A driving force of Isenberg’s songwriting process was making an album fans could go to during their most vulnerable times. Although there were many albums that made an impact on Isenberg during her upbringing, there wasn’t a body of work which directly addressed many of the mental health struggles she was going through. “I want people to really feel heard,” Isenberg says. “I want to make the music I didn’t have when I was younger. For me, that’s the honesty and rawness, because one of the worst experiences is feeling alone or feeling like you’re the only person who experienced something.”
While there wasn’t an album that mirrors “dear amelia” on all fronts, perhaps the closest comparison is Bon Iver’s “For Emma, Forever Ago.” The project was extremely formative for Isenberg, as it gave her the idea to create an album around a character. It also served as the inspiration for one of Isenberg’s favorite tattoos. Isenberg has a “For Emma” tattoo, part of a matching piece with a friend who has “Forever Ago.” This tattoo is one of many she’s gotten alongside a good friend, a tradition she started with her very first ink.
“My first tattoo was a stick and poke that I did with my best friend,” Isenberg says. “We were 13 and used a sewing needle with India ink. I got a sun and she got a moon on our fingers. After, I freaked out because I was only 13, it was on my finger and my parents were going to kill me. So I took sugar and lotion and scrubbed it off. Now I have a massive scar on my finger.”
Isenberg may have had some immediate regrets after her first tattoo, but she’s continued to give herself stick and pokes. Now at 20, she estimates that she’s done over 75 percent of her tattoos. And while she has no immediate plans to take on tattooing professionally, she can appreciate the painful process. “It’s one thousand percent therapeutic,” Isenberg says. “It gives me real quality time with myself. I just love doing it.”
“Dear amelia” may be Lauren Isenberg’s first album, but it certainly won’t be her last. Isenberg has only just begun delving into the minutia of mental struggles through music. She has a purpose and is doing her part, one song at a time.