Aiming For Calm: d4vd Interviewed

Pan-viral aesthete breaks down his sound...

The music industry’s revolving door has been turning at an incredible rate in recent times, and with social media as one of biggest drivers we’re seeing viral sensations like never before. Cutting through in this climate – and subsequently holding attention – seems to be a feat of only a few. From getting his breakthrough via socials to now boasting the 130th position in the world on Spotify (and rising) – it’s evident that d4vd is one of the artists that has successfully staked his claim. 

The Houston teen has quickly risen through the ranks, seeing Billboard success, career elevating tours and gaining a cult-like following. Described as a visionary, his eclectic output spans across the soundscapes of indie bedroom-pop, alternative, rock and more. Ahead of the release of his debut EP ‘Petals To Thorns’ and a sold-out show at Islington Assembly Hall, we caught up with d4vd. 

When asked how he’d describe his music to someone un-knowing, after some deliberation he landed on “calming”, a fitting statement with many of his fans finding solace within it. The natural start to his career a possible link to that, we got into it some more. 

You had quite an organic start in music – started producing yourself on BandLab. What drove you to get into it all? 

So it’s like, November, December 2021 and I’ve had been making Fortnite videos on YouTube hoping to get discovered by the top gaming teams and go pro. But I would get a copyright strike for the music that I was using in my videos. So I’m making a video with like, The Kid LAROI ‘Stay’ and I’m getting copyright strikes, not making any money. So I told my mom about it and she was just like, how about you make your own music then? So the next day, I look up how to make music on iPhone and this app called BandLab comes up. I made my first song a day later in my sister’s closet with nothing more than my iPhone and some airbuds.

How would you say your process has changed since then, how important is it for to have a creative hand in your output?

Since the beginning, it’s always been me. It’s very much been all from the mind of me. I want my music videos to be self-directed and me self-sufficient with everything I do. So that excludes writers, I don’t like being in the room with writers at all. It feels like a block of my creative process in that too. I always it be so that you see my hand in all of it. I want to be like so ubiquitous that you like see your rose and think of my music or see like the number four think of my name.

You seem very refined in that sense, what was your relationship with music growing up – did you ever think you’d be an artist?

Not at all. Music in my house was like, predominantly gospel till I was 13, like nothing else. My mom forced me to play piano when I was five, but I quit four months later. And then I was in church choir for a bit as well and then I quit. Then I was in school band I was in sixth grade band; I played the flute for a little bit and I quit that [he laughs]. So just like some gaps of musicality in my life, I never had the drive to make music or create for myself. So when the drive came for me to do it with my videos, it was like a need because I needed the money for to upgrade my setup because if I was gonna go pro, I needed better computers. So it was like, a bunch of factors that weren’t music that made me make music.

From your first ever track until now, there feels like there has been a shift sonically and lyrically. Was there a conscious effort to do so?

It happened naturally. I’ve been writing poetry and spoken word since I was in fifth grade. So the lyricism came very, very naturally. And then melodies, I feel like you can never go wrong with the melodies, you just listen to what the instrumental tells you to say. You say, I’ve tried to force any specific messages in my song either. It’s like, I was just talking about life, creating characters, just me being a storyteller. And then even coming at it from an even more organic perspective was, I wasn’t even trying to make the music for it to be music. I was like a composer for my Fortnite videos, I’d make a Fortnite montage and then make the music for that, instead of making the music and then trying to see where it fit. Yeah that was my main inspiration, in the early days of music was literally just Fortnite and video games. It allowed me to look at music and like a different lens. Rather than, oh, I gotta make a hit, I was like, nah, I’m just gonna make it for this video, and just get through the day [he laughs]. And then my mom will stop yelling at me for being on the game for 12 hours.

Congratulations on the success so far, it’s been crazy. ‘Romantic Homicide’ and ‘Here With Me’ are two of your biggest tracks. Did you foresee either of them going how they did? 

Not at all actually. When I made ‘Romantic Homicide’ I hated it so much that I made ‘Here With Me’ to replace that song. I had been on a streak like I really, I’m very disciplined and a lot of things that I do especially not even being focused on becoming an artist in 2022. I still would push myself to release at least one song a week.

So when I made ‘Romantic Homicide’, I was like, man, this is a song I gotta drop, but I don’t like it [he laughs]. So I’m gonna hold it. That was the first song I ever held like, I would literally have music and it’d be out like I wouldn’t hold music […] I made ‘Here With Me’ because I hated ‘Romantic Homicide’ so much but I ended up caving because somebody said that they liked it on Twitter, I posted a little snippet. I posted the same thing on TikTok to see because TikTok is a little bit more brutal. So, if they hate it, then I know that is not a good song. I posted it and it ended up doing what like 750K views in six hours. I was like, okay, never mind, I gotta drop it. The approach that I took to the social media thing was people like to drag things out and I really caught on to the attention span drop in my audience and catered to that.  I wasn’t like, okay, well, if you guys want this, I need 10,000 comments and this and that and it’ll come out and five years after I’ve milked it till I can’t milk it no more. 

I literally dropped it two days later, I would dropped it the same day but my distrokid subscription at the time would have a two day delivery thing period. But the song dropped two days later. It was like it was cool, because it was like people’s introductory to the genre of music. And a lot of people hadn’t heard that sound in a very long time […] a lot of questions were asked and answered in the same song. 

Your music has an air of nostalgia to it, does that come from you going back and spending time with past eras? 

Not really to be honest with you, the oldest like the music that I listen is jazz, like Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, people like that. […] Whatever I feel like making when I wake up in the morning is what’s made the day. 

Your first tour, The Root of it All, how was that?

It was amazing. It was like the most insane experience I think I’ve had in my entire life, especially being a home-school kid and not going outside, but then going to do a whole tour in who knows how many different cities and countries and then doing another 150 shows. It was wild, especially having the crowd response to me as amazing as it was, especially in Melbourne and Sydney when I went to Australia they knew every lyric and I did not expect that to be happening overseas like this is not where I thought it’d be bubbling […] the listeners have been great. The audience has been amazing. 

Debut EP ‘Petals To Thorns’ feels like a symbolic continuation from his first tour, can we discuss the imagery you used?

I have a very floral aesthetic, especially with white roses. And that symbolism is very important to me. The first tour is the growth, it’s like the stems the roots, and then now we’re finally at the stem where the thorns are and at the petals. I am the flower and I’m evolving with every step that I take in this.

We noticed your single ‘Placebo Effect’ didn’t make the EP despite it being released not too long ago. How did you narrow down your track listing? 

This is my favourite interview now, no one has asked that question [he laughs]. It’s called ‘Placebo Effect’ and it was the first thing that I released as the EP rollout, right and it’s not on the EP. So I hope that people will get it when they hear the EP, and it’s not on the EP because it is a placebo effect, like you expect it to be on there and its not. That’s a part of the EP as well, like it lives beyond streaming services. It’s not just music, it’s beyond that. And the song too, there’s an element of a relationship that you thought was there, but it was not there. And you look back on it was like, yo I heard that but when I listen to the whole thing, it’s missing something. Yes, that piece! 

Getting into some of unreleased tracks from the EP, ‘Backstreet Girl’, ‘The Bridge’ etc. Talk to us about those? 

It was very interesting, the process of picking the songs to release beforehand and having the tracks that were going to be heard for the first time in coinciding into the project. ‘The Bridge’ I played on tour just to gauge people’s opinions, and they loved it. And ‘Backstreet Girl’ was one of the songs I had made around the same time as ‘Romantic Homicide’ and I felt like I had to just add a little bit of fanservice in there, it has bits and pieces of ‘Here With Me’ and ‘Romantic Homicide’ embedded in it.

The track with Laufey – I’m so jazz-centred, that was my music and gospel. Jazz was the only thing I was listening to when I was 13 so I had to bring that piece of me on to this project in some way. Some people said that it didn’t fit […] But I love classical music, and it has a very classical vibe to it. I wanted to have different aspects of music in the project. 

Touching on genre, you don’t seem like an artist that is tied to one set sound. Would you agree?

Yeah, I never once unboxed myself and especially when even when I was doing music for Fortnite it wasn’t like okay, this is what works for the first time and now I gotta keep doing it. I did a different track for my third song ever, it was like a post-punk track, ‘Dirty Secrets’. I went from indie rock to post punk, and people loved it too. 

‘Petals To Thorns’ EP is out now.

Words: Shanté Collier-McDermott
Photography: Eleonora Collini / @eleonoracolliniphotography

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