Music

Don’t Put Dawn Richard into a Box

Music

Don’t Put Dawn Richard into a Box

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In “Nexus Re-Morph,” a R&B opera for Pérez Art Museum Miami’s WAVES series last month, a vortex of light illuminated post-apocalyptic visuals, while a powerful vocalist slashed around her heavy hair. The unlikely performer? Dawn Richard—the same show-stopping Danity Kane member who first debuted on MTV’s “Making the Band.” Yes, Richard is now wearing Hood By Air, performing in art museums and collaborating with Fade To Mind’s Kingdom. If we didn’t see this coming, though, it’s only because we didn’t know her better.

She’s been TMZ’s dress-up doll in the past, but through her solo career has introduced us to the real Dawn. With more museum performances in the works, an eyewear line and the last of her album trilogy, Redemptionheart, on its way, Richard has steered herself far from the Diddy-endorsed Danity Kane pop star we once knew. We caught up with Richard to discuss girl groups, humanism and why everyone should stop drawing musical comparisons.

On her album trilogy:

Blackheart is the second installment and Goldenheart was the first. They’re three separate albums with three separate sounds. I wanted to create a story of love, loss and redemption through what my experience has been with the music industry, and how we’ve had this love/hate battle for a very long time. After you fall and lose everything, there’s this new sense of knowing yourself. It’s this feeling of wildness in your heart that you get when you realize after losing everything you can still exist and move on. With Redemptionheart, it will feel like jubilation, excitement and freedom. That album will sound lighter; the music is more fun and upbeat—more self-aware.”

On her solo career:

“It’s great that I’ve been able to do music in both solo and group settings. A lot of times artists are boxed and limited to one sound by what they’re told they have to be. I feel lucky enough to be able to be as free as I want with my sound. I’ve made mainstream pop with Danity Kane, electro-soul with Dirty Money and Puff, and now I’ve managed to do this solo sound that’s really the most like what I grew up wanting to do. What I did with mainstream pop was amazing, but it was also with a girl group and limited to what the label and their money wanted. It was good to have a large label’s support and be on the radio every day, and have that sense of a fanbase. But it’s been incredible to break ways and go from something like, ‘Making The Band,’ where people thought I was only a reality TV artist, to go to playing in museums like Pérez Art Museum Miami. Most artists who start out doing TV don’t get the opportunity to cross over.”

 

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On establishing her sound outside of Danity Kane:

“It was always me, to be honest. When you’re in a group, you give the best of yourself, but it’s always limited. When I started my solo work, I was finally able to play the music that I was in love with. I have always been an alternative, indie kind of girl—always. But no one has known that girl, because I’ve always just been exposed as what TV and Danity Kane showed the world. It was a personal choice to show who I really am with my solo project, because I felt like people had me misunderstood sonically. I knew it would be confusing for people because it was such a drastic difference from what I was doing before, but I was up for that challenge. I took the risk with no budget or team—just doing it on my own badge, carrying this entire project in my own hands.”

On returning to Danity Kane after the first breakup:

“I thought the fans deserved a finishing chapter. The way we broke up was just nasty all the way around, so it was an opportunity for the fans to get what they wanted out of it, because they didn’t have a choice in the matter. We just broke up in front of them and it hurt them. There were no girl groups out at that moment, and I thought we could do something really groundbreaking because of that.”

On girl groups:

“It’s not that girl groups offer more, or solo artists offer more, I think it’s about if the music is good or not. Great music is great music whether it’s in a group or a solo project. But I think I’m done with groups for now. I’m tired of people being distracted by the craziness outside and missing the music and the message that’s happening. So, for me, groups are over because it’s been too much of a parade, a charade and a circus, and I really just want to get down to the great stuff, the music. I think doing another group would just cause another circus.”

On making music for everyone:

“There is no color, no genre and no gender to my music. I think people so badly want to box me in. I think if you take away the dynamics of everything else and you just close your eyes and listen to the music, none of that other shit matters. Music is not about what you look like or what clothes you wear; it’s about what it makes you feel. In black media, they say, ‘Your voice sounds like Brandy’s,’ but then in something like Fact Magazine or Pitchfork, they say it’s similar to Björk or Kate Bush. It’s funny to me, because people’s comparisons are all over the place, and I think if they stop comparing and just start listening, they’ll find the music has no lane.”

On feminism:

“I think I express humanism—it’s beyond feminism. I think there is some feminism within that; there’s a sense of strength that’s presented very largely in every song. I think I’m reaching people on a level way beyond just a feminist act. This is showing anyone in this business that there is another way to reach success and another way to break through music. You can do whatever the hell you want to do, and say, ‘fuck the people who don’t get it.’ I think that’s way bigger than feminism; I think that’s humanism. It’s way beyond, ‘I am woman hear me roar,’ it’s, ‘I am human hear me roar.’”

On working with Kingdom:

“The collaboration is really organic, and when you have something like that you can’t deny it. Within a day of meeting each other we were already recording. I think Kingdom and I do really well in the studio together, and it shows I can come into this world people may not have thought I would be in. This is the endgame; this is really where I wanted to be: performing in museums, doing visual content, and sharing that with the world—and I hope it expands with time.”

On “Nexus Re-Morph” at the Pérez Art Museum Miami:

“It was a visual orgasm. It was basically three pieces of art blending together to make this wonderful performance art piece. Instead of it feeling like a concert, the music became like a piece of art on a wall. It was very different than my normal performances. I really loved it because we didn’t have to perform to anybody, we just had to fit our pieces together and have people watch us evolve, and that was amazing.”