After an eventful two years, US singer Dawn Richard kicked off the New Year with a bang and released her highly anticipated third studio album, Blackheart. She notes the significance of even making it to the album’s release date, January 15, as it was originally scheduled for a 2013 release, but put on hold in favour of reuniting with her former group, Danity Kane.
With the group now having parted ways, Dawn continues with the second installment in her planned album trilogy, following 2013’s critically acclaimed Goldenheart and ahead of the final release, Redemptionheart, which she says is already halfway complete. We caught up with the singer to discuss the album, surviving in the industry without the backing of a record label and her love for the UK.
Congratulations on Blackheart. How does it feel now the album is finally out?
Oh my god, it’s like having a baby! I’m so excited. It’s a relief. I’m pleased with it being critically acclaimed and for a second time that’s pretty gnarley, so I’m just excited for what’s to come.
The response has been crazy and you’ve been getting really good reviews from the likes of Pitchfork, is this the kind of response you expected and hoped for?
Yeah, I was expecting people to appreciate it as art and see the vulnerability and honesty. The [publications] have all been extremely incredible in their reviews and what they’ve had to say about the album, which makes me feel over the moon, because it means people get it, they see me.
Now that the album is out there, what are your long-term goals with the project?
We were just trying to get to this moment, honestly. It’s not your usual team where it’s a label. It’s literally just two of us controlling this whole project. So, I was just trying to get to January 15 and do all the promotion, all the artistic visuals and everything that goes with it. I guess maybe touring next.
Yes, a lot of fans would love to see you touring. Can the UK hearts expect to see you over here anytime soon?
Absolutely! We did really well and came in at number eight on the electronic charts in the UK, so that’s awesome! I’ve always loved it out in the UK. I’ve been there multiple times and the fan base out there is amazing. We have some amazing UK hearts, so I’d love to get on a tour there. I’m friends with a couple of artists who are UK based that I would love to come and do some shows with.
I love Daley. He’s amazing. I love Dora Martin, and Cherri V was a friend long before she was even background singing for Jessie J, and we actually did some stuff together already. I’m also a huge fan and friend of Kimbra, who’s from New Zealand. I really really love her and I would love to do something with her. So, there are a few people that I admire as artists that I’d love to come and have some fun with.
For those that haven’t heard the album yet [where have you been?], how would you say Blackheart differs in sound to Goldenheart?
As soon as you listen to the album you can hear the electronic and triphop influence this time around. ‘Goldenheart’ was still within the lines of the R&B genre, playing a little bit with electro, but still hanging on to the same formulas of R&B whereas with ‘Blackheart’ there is no genre. It’s really genre-bending a lot of different influences between drum, synth and vocal that sets it apart from ‘Goldenheart’. And, I’m pretty sure, sonically, if people listen to both the albums, they will hear a very distinct difference.
Both albums are very distinctive in their sound and not the typical R&B we hear on the radios, why have you decided to go down this route?
I didn’t decide to go down any route, I just wanted to make some dope music. Everyone keeps putting a label on it. Even with ‘Goldenheart’, it was never really R&B to me; it was just some cool ass music. And it’s the same thing with [‘Blackheart’], I’m just doing what feels good and then people are choosing to put the labels on it. I just knew that this time around, with this album, it definitely wasn’t an R&B album and to put it there [on iTunes] would make no sense. It would almost be disrespectful to the R&B artists who are out right now, because they’re making some really great music – Jazmine Sullivan and D’Angelo – what’s coming out right now is good R&B music. So it wouldn’t even make sense to put ‘Blackheart’ against it because they’re two different sounds.
So, the closest [genre] that I could put it in is electronic, but it’s not even really that either. ‘Blackheart’ really sits on its own. Everything we’re doing to me doesn’t sound like anything remotely close to any artists out right now. It has its own lane and that’s awesome. I wasn’t trying to do that. I kind of was just doing me, but it’s cool… They just don’t have that genre on iTunes, “Dawn music” [laughs]. They would have to make a genre called “heart music” and just make a random place for it.
Which track on the album is your personal favourite and why?
Oh, it changes every day. ‘The Deep’ will always be my all-time favourite, just because it’s of personal value, but we had rehearsals yesterday and I’m really loving ‘Calypso’ right now. It takes me back to the time of jungle and house beats that I’ve always loved growing up, which is really cool. The fusion of that and the vocal elements are similar to ‘Crimewave‘ with the electro vocoder, so [we were] just having a lot of fun experimenting with this record.
An early fan favourite seems to be Billie Jean; do you plan on releasing a video for it?
Now wouldn’t you all like that? [Laughs] we shall see, we shall see…
Speaking of videos, we just saw you drop the video for Tide, which has also had an amazing response, what was the inspiration behind it?
Art imitates life… I’ve always felt that musically we’ve been a bit ahead, and I kind of live somewhere in the future. I feel like I was supposed to be born in 2030 or 3030.
[The video shows] this elemental situation where this woman is walking through all of the elements and she never falters. Her purpose is to bring light and drain all the darkness what we live in. She just gravitates to light. The song is speaking of the relationships between the moon and the tide. If anyone knows meteorology or they’ve learned about the ocean the way I did when I studied Marine Biology, they know that the tide coincides with the moon – low tides and high tides are based off the moon.
In the video she’s walking from the darkness and captivating the sun and taking all the light. It’s a metaphor; her being the tide and the sun being the moon, showing the relationship and how everything reacts like a marriage. When the sun is low she is drained and when the sun is in full bloom she is at her best. When you have this light you can see all things and become all things. So, [the video] shows this beautiful metaphor of each other and this marriage that causes people to visually be stimulated in a way that seems almost cinematic.
Outside of your solo efforts, we all know you from Danity Kane – DK. How did the collaboration with Aundrea on Phoenix come about?
Originally ‘Phoenix’ was for DK, but ‘Drea asked to stay on it and so of course, in respecting her wishes, because she really really loved the record, I kept her on it and she sounds phenomenal. It was a great record to do and it’s so fitting for what [the group] went through, what we all had to overcome in our obstacles in the industry. It’s a great record to talk about, not just DK, but also everybody who has to deal with their situation and rise out of it, out of the ashes.
It’s a record that’s super relatable to everyone. I think right now and what we’re going through in society, people are really rising and overcoming their situations. The freedom of speech with Je Suis Charlie, and [in] Ferguson and the freedom of being your colour and being able to walk down the street and not get shot. The freedom to be a police officer and not be afraid for your life that someone will kill you because of what police officers have to do. There’s freedom right now for people to rise out of their situations and find their Phoenix.
Will the fans get to see the two of you perform the track together?
I don’t know. If it’s organic, then yeah. I’m not trying to push anything or force anything. If it’s cool and she’s down for it then we’ll see.
Are there any other artists you would love to collaborate with?
If I want to collaborate with someone I would. I’ve never been a fan of collaborations, and in my past stuff, I’ve never really had features just because I’ve always wanted people to understand the music beyond just trying to co-sign it.
Now, we know you’re an independent artist, can you tell us a bit about what the process entails and how it differs to being on a major label?
Yes, it’s psychopathic insanity [laughs]. It’s crazy. People would almost say it’s impossible to be able to do all of the [business functions] and still try to be a creative and be an artist. Most times artists have to study their craft. They have to vocally get better, musically get better, performance, rehearsals, let alone having to fix your financial, making sure your lighting is handled, production is handled, booking is handled, so you become an all-round entity and everything depends on you. And also you have to make sure you’re still delivering the most important thing out of the entire product and that’s the music.
So, it’s been a bit of a feat to deal with and being a woman of colour in this industry is extremely difficult, and not even to make it about colour, because as a woman people don’t take you seriously or they think if you become a little bit too stern that you’re a b****, so you have to fight all those battles of people taking you seriously, respecting you and then also on top of that knowing your s*** so people don’t think that you’re coming into this irresponsibly or not knowing your business.
It’s a bit of a trial, but it’s nothing we can’t handle and it’s nothing that I’m not willing to take on. I think because our work is so clean and chic and delivered in such a way, people often forget that it is only two people doing this. When you look at a video like ‘Tide’ and you see an album like ‘Blackheart’ no one would ever know that beyond that and behind the scenes it is only my money as an artist and only two people handling this entire project.
Do you think you would ever go back to a major label or do you like having the creative freedom as an independent artist?
I’ve never had a problem with wanting to go back to a label. I would applaud the label that would want to take the risk and see the rewards of working with an artist like me. In the meantime though we’re doing just fine. I actually love labels. I respect their process and the assembly line that goes with it. There’s value in having that type of team, but it is beautiful for us to set a precedent so that people understand that it is possible to do the music without [a label] and not only possible but do it in such a way that it can compete with any mainstream artist.
I think what we’re doing here is groundbreaking and it would be beautiful to see headlines such as “Dawn Richard defies the ideas of the music industry” or “defies the idea of what the music business should look like”. Those are the headlines that I would one day love to read, because we are doing something extremely rare and I would rather see those things than the messy stuff, because it would really encourage artists out there to really take a chance and a shot at themselves in taking their art seriously and branding it and marketing it in a way that can ride with any artist out right now.
As you said, everything is so slick and developed; most would probably assume you are on a label.
And I think that’s the point. I would never want anyone to say, “Man she’s awesome for an independent artist”. I want people to say, “She’s an awesome artist”. If you’re great, then you’re great. My father has cancer, but no one wants to say, “He looks good for having cancer.” No, you just want to look great.
It’s one of those things where I just want to be a great artist… So we work really hard for people to just see great work and for fans to be excited for the project. They don’t have to know the messy details. As long as they love the product, then we’re doing our job.
Just before we wrap up, we know the title of the final installment in the album trilogy is Redemptionheart. Can you give us any details about that and when we can expect it?
It’s already almost halfway done. I’m kind of in my element right now and I feel good about what I’m doing. I never really cared about numbers, but we were excited about being number one with ‘Blackheart’, but we didn’t even know or think we would be. We just put it out and thought if it goes to number one it’s dope, but we were cool with top ten, because we didn’t really have any TV promotion and with the break up of DK and how negative it was, we weren’t really expecting anyone to follow it, to be honest, and we were okay with that, so that’s kind of where I am.
I’m just going to put out [‘Redemptionheart’] and see if you guys like it. The point of a trilogy was for people to choose whatever they like the most. They will be three completely different things and people will gravitate towards which ones they like. People who love R&B more will probably love ‘Goldenheart’ a bit more. People who are a little bit open minded and love electro will probably love ‘Blackheart’ and for the third chapter, when that sound comes, we’ll go there and see what they like. But, I might just throw that one out there. There probably won’t even be any promo or anything; I’ll just put it out there.
We love you guys. Thank you for giving us the opportunity. The UK is like a second home. I told my friend I would move there and just do music out there and wouldn’t even care or second think it. I would just get a flat. I enjoy the energy out there and always have. Between the UK and Paris, you can have me forever and I would be quite fine with that.
Every time I go I’m in love. When we did the ‘Last Train to Paris’ album I didn’t even want to leave, because I felt the energy and felt that you guys really understood that album and what [Diddy-Dirty Money] were trying to do. It’s the same thing with my project. I think you guys just get me in a different way, and I enjoy being out there and feeling that kind of love.
Dawn Richard’s Blackheart is out now. Purchase the exciting new record here.
February 2015 Tour Dates:
Thursday, February 5 The Viper Room, West Hollywood, CA, US
Saturday, February 7 Slim’s, San Francisco, CA, US
Tuesday, February 17 Howard Theatre, Washington, DC, US
Wednesday, February 18 World Cafe Live – Downstairs, Philadelphia, PA, US
Interview by Nathan Miller