From Classical Training To DJing Outside Lands: A Q&A With dwilly

Photo: Ryan Watanabe

College is a time typically associated with academic rigor and the exact opposite of the previous statement when the weekend comes around, but for David Wilson, college was a time to find and hone his musical calling. 

Adopting the stage name dwilly during his time studying at Berklee’s Popular Music Institute, Wilson began heavily experimenting with musical production and collaborating with fellow artists across the country. Now, as a sort of spiritual culmination of finishing his time at Berklee, Wilson found himself playing one of the largest music festivals in the country: Outside Lands. 

We spoke to the recent college graduate following his festival debut at this year’s Outside Lands to get the inside story on the journey so far and what the future holds for dwily. 

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OTW: You just finished playing your first ever music festival. Any thoughts? How do you feel?

dwilly: Damn, it’s been overwhelming from the moment I landed in San Francisco till now. It’s just been amazing, honestly. I think most of the energy I accumulated was immediately when I hit the stage, and fortunately I was able to convert my nervousness into pure “litness.” Because I had no other choice. People were out there having a good time, and I wanted to have a good time, and I think the crowd reacted positively to my music. It was amazing.

OTW: Was the giant inflatable ball flying around your set your idea?

d: Nah, I have to give credit to my boy Hunter Lamar. He came up to me and was like, “Yo. We got to buy some big ass inflatable balls from Amazon.” So, we bought these balls and we couldn’t even blow them up, so we had to run to Target and buy a mattress pump. So maybe 20 minutes before the set starts, we’re just there like we really hope this works, and it happened, so it was great–people were going nuts.

OTW: How did you first get started making music and producing?

d: Well, from ground zero, it comes from me playing piano as a little kid. My parents put me through classical training with probably one of my biggest mentors–Steve Griner–back in South Carolina where I’m from. So, I took classical piano for about 18 years, and while I was playing piano, I was developing an interest in creating my own songs, since I was never really satisfied with just playing other people’s songs. I eventually signed up for a few courses in high school where I learned to use DAWs (computer software programs for building songs), and from there I auditioned for Berklee and got in as a percussionist weirdly enougg–I played timpani and triangle. Then I studied production at Berklee and was fine tuning my skills there, and now I’m definitely 100% in it.

OTW: You were also a classically trained jazz drummer?  

d: Yeah, I had a short phase where I was really into jazz. I don’t know why. I had a metal phase, a hip-hop phase, I’m still in a hip-hop phase. I did study jazz when I was 16, and I played in a couple of trios and performed around my hometown of Greenville. I think it really developed my ear as a musician, because jazz performers have the incredible ability to improvise on the spot, and what I really took out of jazz was more complex musical melodies. And, a lot of music today in my opinion, lacks depth melodically, so I’m really trying to make sure I’m making music that people can understand, but at the same time I’m pushing it a little bit so they’re forced into accepting a more complex music structure. So, I want to make music that resembles aspects of jazz but is still commercial.

OTW: Who are some of your biggest musical influences and inspirations?

d: Porter Robinson got me into making music, because I was a big SoundCloud nerd back in the day. I never put stuff out, but I was always looking around. Today, I really look up to Boombox Cartel, Getter, and you’ll hear a lot of their songs in my set. Skrillex is number one cause he’s basically the dad of EDM. It’s crazy, because I used to listen to him, and I was always like damn I’ll never know how to make this shit, but as I kept on studying the process of sound design, I’m getting to that point where I’m understanding the ability to make all these sounds. Basically, glue all this shit together and make these sounds.

OTW: On a more somber note, as someone who found inspirations on and came up through SoundCloud, how has the recent news been hitting you?

d: I cried. I don’t think it’s going anywhere. There’s a lot of speculation as to what’s to come. I think Soundcloud has nurtured so many artists and fans, so it would suck to see it cease to exist, but I think they have so many active users that if anything they’ll probably get bought out. I fucking love Soundcloud. I feel like I have a family of other artists that I’m constantly talking to, so hopefully things turn around and we can see the light on the horizon for Soundcloud.

OTW: Being from Greenville South Carolina, which has more of a harder rap and trap scene, how did you get into making your particular brand of electronic music?

d: Well, I think the South itself has a huge emphasis on dirty south and trap, cause I’m from outside ATL. I love rap, hip-hop, hard shit, so I’m really trying to merge both, because EDM relly evolved from hip-hop and trap. I think I personally went into EDM after I came to Boston, and I started getting involved in the club scene and going to these shows and feeling the energy of the crowds – I thought this is something else and I need to be a part of this. When that bass drops, everybody goes nuts and that’s something you have to experience. I know it’s not for everybody, but it’s for me.  

OTW: How did your time in Berklee influence you as an artist?

d: My time at Berklee fine-tuned the more scientific skills I have as a sound designer. It was a very relaxed program. I was just able to breathe and apply what I worked on at Berklee to my career. A lot of what I worked on at Berklee are the things that are up on Spotify.

OTW: Did you have the time to feel like a normal college student?

d: I just graduated, but when I was at Berklee I used to play a couple of house shows out in Boston, which was fucking so fun. It was a more intimate experience, because it wasn’t like I was on the stage, I was down there with everybody just playing good music and having a good time. But yeah, I felt like a normal college student, because everybody at Berklee has a crazy story. Everybody is doing amazing things. I just happened to be involved in electronic performances. It’s kind of weird, because most artists at Berklee have a huge band, and there’s not a huge bass or electronic scene in Berklee or Boston, so it’s really cool to see people who don’t know a lot about it and see them feel the energy when I’m playing.

OTW: We did some digging on your twitter and wine hangovers are the worst apparently. Any hangover remedies you’d like to share?

d: Oh god, but yeah I do. First of all, drink water while you drink wine, because I didn’t drink any water and I ended up regretting it so much. All my buddies say, if you’re drunk the next morning and have a hangover, have a Pedialyte. Gatorade, get those electrolytes. Maybe a little cardio, some sauna in the morning, sweat it out.  

OTW: Love the “Birds and the Bees” track. How did that came about?

d: This past Christmas I was at home doing nothing, just tinkering around. I suddenly heard these ideas come to my head, sat down and recorded them on my laptop, and sent them to my boy Jake. He’s a published songwriter in LA, who’s working with crazy artists like Lupe Fiasco and other cats. He wrote this hook and sent it back to me, and I was like, “fuck this is dope, I need to find an artist that has an R&B/soul vibe.” I was playing around with having a couple of artists come on that track, but at the end of the day Kyle was the best choice for that, because Kyle himself is a soul artist, and he dug the track. The writing process was incredibly smooth, we sat down and finished it in one day then hit the studio the next day. It came out sounding great, and were fortunate enough that it got picked up by Majestic Casual. Definitely going to try and keep on creating music just like that.

OTW: Does your grandma really make the best cookies?

d: Oh my god. The best.

OTW: How do you define success? What are your goals for the future?

d: Honestly living the dream right now just by doing music. Specifically, my goal is to get a Grammy one day. I’m going to make it happen, I know I am. Also, I just want to put food on the table as a musician, which is pretty tough, especially if you are an artist and performer.

OTW: Fidget Spinners or Hooverboards?

d: Hooverboards for sure. I never got into fidget spinners, which is weird cause I’m so ADD, and I feel like I would have needed one. I could never afford one, but I fuck with Hooverboards.

OTW: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten relating to music or the music industry?

d: Be humble. Honestly, I’m not kidding. It goes along way just to have an open mindset and communicate with other people. Also, take a risk, because I see so many artists that I know their capabilities and their skills, but they don’t want to make shit that’s weird. You got to make some weird shit if you want to stand out, so don’t be afraid to really stretch the boundaries. If you’re going into unexplored territory, fuck it, that’s how the greatest emerge. That’s what I’m trying to do.

OTW: Anything in the works you want to share with us?

d: Yeah, I’m working on this remix for Kygo that will hopefully be out in the next month or two. I have some cool tracks I’m working on as of the moment. My goal for the next year is to put out a couple singles and maybe an EP by the end of the year, so that’s definitely something to look out for. And then just more performances, I want to perform more and keep on gigging cause it’s just fun honestly.

OTW: Anyone you’re excited to catch at Outside Lands?

d: I’m looking forward to the headliners, because I could never afford to see big artists, and now that I have this artist pass I can see everybody. So, I really want to see Metallica, The Who, Lorde, Louis the Child, everybody. On the hip-hop side, I really want to see Schoolboy Q cause I’ve always been a big fan of him, and Noname for sure. I fuck with Noname. She’s actually in the tent next to us.

OTW: Last question. Who are your Ones to Watch?

d: Bandlez. Really small group, they deserve a lot more attention than they have right now. I added a couple of their songs to my set. They make a lot of hard dance-y music, they’re amazing. Emilia Ali. She’s an amazing artist that I work with. She’s featured on a couple of my tracks, and she’s going to do huge things. Lexxi Saal, she’s an amazing pop singer. There’s a lot of homies in the Berkleee community that are doing some crazy shit. My friend VALNTN, also another electronic DJ/artist who just moved to LA with me. This one other artist who I’ve been keeping my eye on–their name is THANKS. They’re making some cool, funky upbeat dance music that’s really dope. So, I’d say those are some people to look out for.

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