With 'Stains,' De'Wayne Aims to Become a Generation-less and Genre-less Star [Q&A]
Photo: Jordan Knight
A lifetime in the making, alternative pop superstar in the making De'Wayne has officially released his debut album Stains via Hopeless Records. The eleven-track album blends the incendiary nature of his live show, a story that needs to be told, and genreless freedom. Instead of fitting into an already-made scene, Stains is driven by energy, emotion, excitement. “Every song on this record is urgent because it has to be,” says the Texas native. “I want to put out music that feels like you have to listen to it right now.”
The record dives into themes of identity, love, loss, and the come-up journey. Ones To Watch had the chance to talk to the rising artist about their early days in LA, what it was like to discover Nirvana, and what they hope to manifest for the remainder of the year.
Ones To Watch: I can imagine that with this being your debut album, the marketing and premiering process has been quite fun and maybe intense. What has been your favorite part so far about this whole process for you?
De'Wayne: With the album coming out Friday, we have to do a shoot this weekend. I’m going to be getting my first magazine cover, which is like - I have manifestation, long-term goals, and I wasn’t expecting to get a magazine cover with this album. Also, for Spotify’s "New Music Friday," I’m going to be on their billboard in Times Square, which is exciting. I honestly get emotional and happy when I think about that happening and that people may like the record. I’m just ecstatic.
This album feels like it shows the evolution you’ve gone through as an artist since 2016 and shows how much you’ve embraced who you are as a “genre-less” creative force. How did we get from 2016 De'wayne to here? What have been some highlights along the way?
I found rock music kinda late, and I’m not ashamed about that. Before coming to LA, all I knew growing up was hip-hop, church music, and soul music. After I found rock music, it took me five years to get to making my album, and when I was nineteen, I thought, “Oh, I wanna get a deal. I wanna rap,” but I didn’t know myself. I didn’t know who I was. I needed the time to develop and go through the evolution of who I was as a person, most importantly, and then who I was as an artist. And that’s how we got Stains.
Some highlights of that, I guess, were me just coming from Texas to LA and embracing who I was becoming fully. I heard Nirvana for the first time at nineteen, which, once again, I’m not ashamed about. I studied alternative music, and I fell deeply, DEEPLY in love. Then I heard Pink Floyd, and honestly, after those two things came into my life, it completely changed after that. I just kind of really honed my craft over the last few years and was putting out songs that were like, whatever. I searched for my sound, but once I got to “National Anthem,” it was like an oh shit moment. After years of practicing, I knew how to make alternative music the way I wanted to and learned how to use my voice, mixing those genres while still having a strong voice and a strong message.
“National Anthem” is not only the first single you released for this record, but it’s also its opening track. Was there a purposeful intention behind the tracklisting or was it more of an instinctual feeling based on what sounded best in sequential order?
I think the way that I lined it up just tells my story. It didn’t go in a particular order of like me when I was a kid to now anything like that. Every song is a De'wayne bit or a story of mine, and I just wanted to set them up like that. I knew “National Anthem” being the top, and then “Me vs. You” would be me saying, “I’m coming for everything. I want to compete. I want to be here for a long time.”
So it’s more of a De'wayne anthology versus it being a sequential story?
Yeah, exactly. It’s like, this is De'wayne, and these songs, to me, represent leaving a stain on the culture.
Who or what inspires you to create, and did any of those inspirations go into the making of Stains?
So many people and things come to mind. James Baldwin, a great writer from the '60s and a lot of the Freedom Fighters, black artists, and black activists. I read so much on Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, which was my only inspiration for “National Anthem.” Patti Smith and her book Just Kids spoke to me too, and I read a lot of Steve Jobs at the time. I was trying to fill my mind with things. Music-wise, The Strokes definitely come to mind. I mean, for “Walking To Work,” I got to the studio, and I was like, “Hey, let’s make a 15-second intro that’s a fucking pop song, you know, with sexy guitars. So yeah, The Strokes, The Ramones, Patti Smith’s music as well. Also, I idolized and took to Kurt Cobain’s ideal of writing gangster ass pop songs. I mean, Nirvana had like the best riffs that you could sing 20 years ago and today and 20 years from now. Basquiat, the artist, inspires me as well, and then, of course, my family influences me too. I was taking in a lot. I was like, every day trying to, but I will say that these were kind of my main core of it.
At this time, you’ve released five singles, all of which are unique and sonically stunning in their own way. Out of those, which one are you most proud of?
I kinda wish we were doing this interview tomorrow now because I wish I could say "Super 8” just because of what it’s about to do for my life. But for today, I’ll say “Perfume.” First of all, when I got the mix for “Perfume,” I was driving down a freeway, and I was crying because I knew that it was going to be the song that people were going to be like, “Oh, I guess I will take him seriously because he has Awsten Knight on it.” But I knew it was a good song, and I knew it would get on the radio, and all those things have happened. And I would have to say just because it’s so good. And it’s just an awesome and beautiful thing.
What was it like working with your fellow Texan Awsten Knight?
I mean, he’s literally like my boyfriend if I can say that. I mean, it was great working with him. He pretty much executive produced this album. He pretty much gave me a career. He took me on tour when nobody would take me on tour. It was great. We help each other in so many ways. He’s my friend, and it was easy to work with him. “Perfume” wasn’t going to come out until he yelled at me and was like, “De'wayne, you’re an asshole.” He wasn’t even on the song at that point, but he was just like, this song is so good. Put it out. I was like, you want to get on it? And then he sent me a verse the next day, and that was that.
So far, you’ve released a coinciding music video for each of the singles you’ve released thus far. Which one of your music videos has been your favorite to shoot?
My favorite so far has probably been the video for “Walking To Work” just because I think that song is so good. I was able to just perform and have facial expressions, and you can tell I’m having fun with it. I look, and I felt sexy. Like it just felt good to me. So that’s my favorite! For the “Stains” music video, we had this amazing artist from Berlin named Ainissa V. Honestly, for this album, I’ve been able to work with so many dope women for like visual things and like mixing things, and it’s just been fantastic to see a woman’s perspective. All the people I’ve worked with before were like men producers who are dope, but I just don’t know. I feel like I trust women more for taste things. Anyways, she was excellent, and to be honest with you, I have to give her all the credit because she asked me questions like, “Where are you from? What is the song about?” and then she just went to work and we got that out of it. I was ecstatic about it.
Out of all the songs which one are you most excited or most anxious for people to hear?
I would say I’m most excited and anxious for “Super 8,” because it’s such a pop song, but it’s such a real song to me. I know it’s kind of going to open some more doors for me, but I hope people can still understand that it’s a very real story, even though it’s about love and about making my partner happy. I hope people can dig that and dig deeper than me just talking shit on the hook.
What is your songwriting process? Has it changed over time as you’ve experimented and changed your sound, or has it generally stayed the same?
I would say it’s stayed the same. It always starts in my diary, and I pick up my guitar and play four chords and try to write it out that way. It always starts with real things and just how I’m feeling, and then I’m like, “Maybe I can turn that into a pre-chorus.” Hopefully, I’ll evolve, and maybe I’ll get into more of the Bowie thing or William Burroughs thing and start cutting words and placing them here and there and seeing if they match. But I just like the idea of going from my brain to the diary and being like, yeah, it’s always the most raw.
That rawness is very evident in all of the songs that you’ve written. For me, “The Jungle” really hit home, especially on the chorus, “Look how far we’ve come / watch how far we’ll go / the jungle is all that I know.” Are there any lyrics that hit you emotionally or speak to you when you listen back to them?
First of all, I’m thankful that you feel that way about that one. I wrote that one with grandson, who I’m a big fan of and a friend. When we wrote those lyrics, I immediately was just like, yeah, this is the one. Then on “Radioactive,” I say, “I’m not blonde enough for rock and roll, so I won’t get no radio.” That to me, even though we’re blessed enough to where people do play us on the radio now, I was really, and I still fight these - not demons, but just these stereotypes of stuff like that, and I talk about it on the whole record. That line to me, it’s just like, man, you know, it’s a constant fight, and it’s something that I’m here to do. You see, I’m not backing down from anything. So those two lines are my personal favorites.
While you’ve spoken about the adversity and stereotypes you face as a person of color in the alternative music scene, that’s not the totality of you as an artist, even though I’m sure it gets brought up a lot in interviews. What’s one question you get asked constantly pertaining to you being a POC that you’re growing tired of? And what are some things that you wish people would actually ask you?
I do get tired of people asking me if “National Anthem” was about last year. I’m not upset about it. That question makes me think like, you got to open your eyes and your ears and understand that I’m twenty-five and that’s a song about any time, any moment. Whenever, no matter what’s happening, that can be a song that can exist because I wrote it inspired by things going on in the '60s. So that’s one that I’m a bit tired of. One that I wish people would ask, I guess, would be, “What do you like?” or “What do you like about just being an artist?” and not just a POC artist or being a black rock artist. When people do stuff like that, it puts us in all the same fight where there are 800 bands and 800 artists who can look alike, say the same thing, have the same guitar riffs, and exist and make a lot of bread and feed their families. But there are only five POC artists, five women artists, or five trans artists who gotta kill each other to get to this one spot. Like, we’re just artists. And I wish people would just ask that and have that approach.
Earlier, you spoke about the goals you have been manifesting for both the short and long term. What are some music-related, or life-related, goals that you’re manifesting for yourself?
I’ll start with music first. I really wanna manifest a million monthly listeners on Spotify by the end of the year. I want to manifest a Top 30 on alt radio. And, yeah, just a Grammy nomination. I want to tour with Twenty One Pilots and maybe The Strokes too. And then, outside of music, I have a huge family. It’s eight of us, brothers and sisters. My mom and I are best homies, and she wants new furniture, and I want to supply that for her. Like, I really, really want to do that for her!