Isaac Dunbar and Kerri Colby Were Built for This

Isaac Dunbar and Kerri Colby Were Built for This

Story by Justin Moran / Photography by The CobrasnakeMay 10, 2024

Isaac Dunbar really does something to his fans. “They scream until they pass out,” RuPaul's Drag Race superstar Kerri Colby noticed after attending a recent show in Los Angeles. “I’m like, ‘Baby, it’s okay. We love Isaac, but you gotta breathe.’”

The rising queer artist recently dropped a new EP, Beep Beep Repeat, which features Colby posing behind him against a yellow cab in homage to New York City, the place that Dunbar says changed his life. Singles like “Apartment A” and “I Love to Dance” reflect his coming-of-age story, with a sense of freedom and desire to experience life without any rules.

Dunbar’s live shows — between Echo in LA (April 23) and Elsewhere in NYC (April 26) — brought the spirit of Beep Beep Repeat to life, including dress codes for fans and an energy that transformed the 300-cap venues into wild house parties. Among all the sweat, glitter and balloons, Dunbar delivered a performance that’d make Freddie Mercury proud.

Below, PAPER caught up with Dunbar and Colby to talk about everything from fan stories to beauty tips.

The Echo (Los Angeles)

Photography: The Cobrasnake

How did you two first meet?

Kerri Colby: Baby, we met hot and ready to go at the EP shoot, baby.

Isaac Dunbar: It's true, it's true. We met the day of the Beep Beep Repeat EP motherfucking cover art.

Kerri: Exactly, but I also feel like that's sometimes the best way to meet someone because I'm able to get a little deep dive on who you were before. So the interest was there and then found out a lot about you and what you're doing and where you're evolving. And then right after I found that out, I met you. So it was like a double spectacular first impression.

Isaac: Literally incredible. I knew who you were as a Drag Race fan. So I was gagged personally and I still am gagged, but it was quite divine intervention. Thom Kerr, the photographer, really got the ball rolling and I had no idea what to expect of this shoot besides greatness.

Kerri: Major shout out to Thom. I consider him like a shepherd, he facilitates so much and keeps it so organized.

Isaac: I would describe him as an A&R of pop culture. He's a really multidimensional person that has so much to offer. He knows so many people, he loves art and he was a very huge moving factor in us meeting. Thank you, Thom [Muah].

How does Kerri embody the spirit of the EP?

Isaac: It goes back to my experience in New York. I'm from Massachusetts and, being in Massachusetts, you're not really exposed to too many different types of people. It's quite monotone in regards to expression and creativity. Going to gay clubs, seeing so many different forms of people and different embodiments of queerness was really inspiring. I was and I am a huge Drag Race fan, and having a trans woman who has also worked a lot in the world of drag is everything that Beep Beep Repeat is about. Kerri, you are a muse baby.

Kerri: Oh, thank you. That really makes me feel so, so special to hear because I feel like that's the goal: to be authentic. Do the best you can with what you got [to quote] Mother Mariah and meet other people doing their best. I felt like I met family when we shot.

Isaac: Yeah, it felt so natural and smooth. It was so fun, I don't know how else to describe it. But you're so right, that sense of authenticity really is what the EP is about and self-expression.

Kerri: And having fun because even though like yes, queer people can all relate on the struggle bus of at all. We can also just fucking party and be free. We get to set the tone.

Isaac: Precisely. In the past, I've been very emotional in my music and I wanted to take a breather to shake my ass instead.

Kerri: And that’s also part of being emotional. You know, you gotta give people the highs, the lows, it's a rollercoaster.

Isaac: It's true. It's very weird, but this time it's time for ass to be shaken.

Kerri: Period.

The Echo (Los Angeles)

Photography: The Cobrasnake

Jumping off the single “Apartment A,” what are some of your craziest party memories?

Kerri: My craziest party memories I don't really remember, but I've definitely been in a lot of situations where I’m like, “What is even going on right now?” I would say the craziest parties I've experienced are definitely split between New York and LA because the girls love to turn up. When you get enough of the girls together, the sky is literally the limit.

Isaac: For me, the craziest parties I've been to I should’ve signed NDAs for. So out of respect for those involved, I'm not gonna clock their tea. So let me keep some of those memories in my memory bank.

Kerri: I feel like you just started partying like last week.

Isaac: [Laughs] Yeah, that's true. Well, a girl had a fake ID for a minute.

Kerri: Period, same.

Isaac: But yeah, I would say definitely just getting into really interesting nooks and crannies of LA and New York have been some of my favorite moments because you could just go to a random house party and you will meet somebody that is really influential in your life, or you'll meet like the worst people you've ever met. It gets very interesting in these big cities. I wish I could go into more specifics, but like Kerri said, I don't really remember.

Kerri: That means you are doing it correctly.

Isaac: Oh, my gosh, can we talk about people that network at parties? That's something that pisses me off so bad. I came to the club to dance and you want to ask me about analytics.

Kerri: I feel like that might just be an LA thing. Well, maybe not, I don't know. My thing is if you're going to network, network with something great: like network your big dick, network a great ass, network having some money to spend. But don't network with an empty pocket, definitely not.

Isaac: That's a good way to look at it, actually. That's a really good way.

Kerri: We're all selling something at the end of the day.

Isaac: It's true, Lord have mercy.

How do you each prepare for live shows or performances?

Isaac: I don't do anything crazy. For this mini tour that I just did, I spent most of my time backstage before the show, like blowing up all the balloons that are gonna be on the stage and in the venue. And I'm putting together all the creative stuff: for the LA and New York shows, we had taxi cabs and it's all of that prep work. I'm very hands on because I'm really prideful and I don't trust anyone else to do things for me. So it's a lot of working: a vocal warm up, a little bit of the jitters from adrenaline and then I go on stage.

Kerri: And you fill it, your stage presence is something that is such a treat. Like people who get to listen to your music, it's already very emotive, expressive and there's so many dimensions that you tap into with your songs. But when you're live on stage, it's transportive, it really is.

Isaac: Thank you, but what’re you going to be doing before your gig today?

Kerri: My performance style is more performance art driven. I am not a natural-born dancer, so I have to heavily rely on repetition. I literally play the track or tracks on repeat, and not repeat like five times, repeat like 500 times, and try to get movement going. I set my intentions, I have a little conversation with the ancestors about what I'm wanting to do and how I'm wanting to do it. If my great, great, great, great, great Auntie can come and lend me a little bit of joint juice I will take it.

Isaac: Such a big gift of being a performer is the ability to make things look effortless on stage, but when you practice shit over and over and over again, that's when you get the fucking magic to be able to make it look like it's nothing on stage. What it can say is, “People these days don't want to work!” [Laughs] It just takes us so much practice and it takes so many bad shows to become an icon.

Kerri: It's true, I feel like the most someone can learn in any field, but especially art and performing art and music, is you learn so much when you feel like you fail. And keep in mind we're always so much harsher on ourselves than the people who love us, so they're just receiving our gift and we are getting through it, and then we just learn to come back better and better and better every time.

Isaac: It's true. Oh my gosh, you're a priestess.

Kerri: Baby.

Isaac: Crazy word, priestess.

Kerri: High priestess, I love it.

Elsewhere (New York)

Photography: The Cobrasnake

Do you have any beauty tips and tricks?

Kerri: You have to set time aside for me. There's no way for me to rush my process. I guess it goes into the ritual of at all: if I'm able to light a candle, if I'm able to set a timer two hours before and just slowly marinate into the beauty. Because you can paint anything you want on, you can curl anything you want, but if you don't take time to channel and become the vision that you're wanting to present to people, you are never going to feel complete and that missing piece aura will come with you. You’ve gotta put yourself in it, you have to go into your vision.

Isaac: That is a beautiful way to look at it. My beauty tips are quite surface level compared to that.

Kerri: Glitter! [Laughs]

Isaac: I was gonna say never use cream over a powder.

Kerri: Okay, tea. This is tea. Your skin’s amazing, my dear.

Isaac: Get as much sleep as you can, which is very obvious, but what you were saying about taking the time to get into your glamor mentally and spiritually is like, you do need to set that time aside because that marination process really is so important. When you feel like you look good, you look good. It translates to people and most importantly to yourself. You have to feel good.

Kerri: People who take their time like that I can always spot them from a mile away. Because I'm telling you they just glow differently. You glow differently, especially from other artists in your genre. You have a glow to you, but I can tell that came from work.

Isaac: It took a lot of work. That is such a compliment, coming from literally one of the most beautiful people I've ever seen in my life. Legs, body, face.

Kerri: Are we flirting? I love it.

Isaac: I'm obsessed with you.

What’s your craziest show memory from LA or NYC?

Kerri: They scream until they pass out. I feel like in the future instead of taxi cabs, you might have to have ambulances parked outside of the shows because those little bitches will literally scream so hard. I'm like, “Baby, it's okay. We love Isaac, but you gotta breathe.”

Isaac: I'm really, really grateful to have people that like my music, that's all I can say. But my craziest fan or show memory, actually it's not in LA or New York, it was when I was just in London a few days ago. My show had so many technical difficulties and I wanted to literally pass away, but after the show everybody in the venue stood outside and waited for me. It was the sweetest thing ever, I almost cried. I got in the middle of the crowd and it felt like a fucking mosh pit. What about you? I know you be getting up to shit.

Kerri: Number one, the European fans are amazing. To this day, I always think about this couple. When I tell you this couple has literally traveled across the US to come to multiple shows. They always buy merch, they're really, really nice. They were traveling all throughout the New England area. Then at one DragCon I noticed the couple, they were a heterosexual couple, and as time progressed I started noticing the couple was changing a little bit. Well, apparently, the wife’s partner ended up fully transitioning. When I really started to get familiar with them coming to my shows, I had a whole new person in front of me because the now wife in this wonderful lesbian relationship transitioned. It was so radical to see the magic in person that, I don't personally know these people, but what I represent and the authenticity that I try to always lead with fully took over their life and led them on such a beautiful journey. They seemed happy as ever and I'm just like, “Now wait a damn minute, I want to be this happy.”

Isaac: That's the power of authenticity and it rubs off on people like that. That's crazy, Kerri. You got good fans.

Elsewhere (New York)

Photography: The Cobrasnake

Isaac, the EP is an ode to New York City, which you said changed your life. How so?

Isaac: I grew up in a small town, so being exposed to so many different people and so many ways to live. Literally going to the gay club every Friday night with my friends was so transformative. I say it time and time again, but [New York] really just opened my eyes to all the ways that I can be and exploring gender, exploring identity, exploring sexuality. During that deep dive, it's really just a part of that coming of age process for me. Especially growing up in a conservative town with a conservative family, and then finally being able to go out and form the balls to make changes in my life that I never thought I could, it gave me a lot of confidence.

Kerri: That is so beautiful.

Isaac: I'm very grateful, a lot of people don't get to experience that. And since I make music and I'm lucky enough to have people that listen, hopefully they can feel the same transformative-ness that I felt.

Kerri: And the church says Amen.

Isaac: Wait, what city did you move to when you first left home? Was it a big city?

Kerri: I relocated to Dallas from the northern super suburbs, and very similar: very southern, there weren't a lot of people like me, especially being mixed race. It was very interesting, the ’90s and 2000s in Texas because it's very different now when I've been back, and I'm glad that it is different now. I just had to get to as big a city as I could and when I turned 18 I moved to LA. I was like, I need to shake it up completely and really transform my understanding of life because I think I've learned a lot about what is not for me, so now I want to find what is for me.

Isaac: Like you, literally two days after my 18th birthday I got a U-Haul, packed all my shit and moved to New York. That need for extreme change is so necessary and a lot of queer kids can relate to that.

Kerri: Especially anyone of color. We already have experienced radicalism, so we have to take the reins of our own radicalization and we have to get out and experience and feel love. I think you made the right decision, baby.

Isaac: You too, it's crazy out here.

Kerri: It is, but you know what? We're crazier. We were built for this, truly.

Photography: The Cobrasnake