“I’m not afraid to fuck up because when you’re doing new shit, sometimes the best things come from it,” DAWN tells Rated R&B over the phone. “I always like to try shit and see how it works, but I’m never afraid of failure. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I rather go at it.”
This month, DAWN intends to trust her ambitious intuition as she prepares to give her overseas fans a string of shows that will leave them amazed. The tour, which is in support of her latest album New Breed, will begin on April 7 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
While the thrill and excitement in her voice are distinct, the hard work it takes as an indie artist to make this concert experience happen lingers, too. Though her past shows in the states included a bevy of on-stage props like traditional headpieces, she has a special “installation” in mind for her fans aboard with turntable skills from DJ Tash.
“I’m doing more of a visual experience where it’s way more intimate,” she reveals to Rated R&B. “I always like to give people different experiences, so they never see the same show twice. I’m really excited because it’s just me. It’s great to sell dancers and bands and all this big shit, but I want to see if I can hold people with me on a stage by myself and give them something interactive and visually stunning that keeps it more intimate, while showing them a different side of me as an artist.”
Leading up to her 12-date spring tour, DAWN has been making headlines. From slaying magazine spreads like VOGUE where she tributed the Washitaw Nation tribe in New Orleans to continuing her content creator partnership with Adult Swim and bringing more people of color on-board, her work ethic is unmatched.
“I’m not doing my job if I’m not taking other people with me,” DAWN comments about her push for more Black creatives in animation. “It’s cool to be like, ‘Yeah, I got a platform,’ but it’s like what do you do with it? So, what I’m really excited about having the ability to choose different people of color to work with and collaborate with so that they are able to have their shit on Adult Swim with me. I want to be able to share that fun and glory with them. ”
In our exclusive conversation with DAWN, she speaks about her latest album New Breed, her fight for equality in the workplace, her push for more Black creatives in animation, women in music and more.
Congratulations on the success of your latest album New Breed. It has surpassed one million streams without a major label. How does this win make you feel?
I’m grateful. It’s hard when you have to do everything organically. I appreciate all styles of what music offers to the industry, whether it be mainstream or indie. I do want people to understand, for [indie artists], everything has to be done organically. We don’t get to buy our way into anything. It’s an honor when people just genuinely are searching for you and organically playing your music. We don’t have the ability to put our music on playlists. We don’t have the ability to pay for the pictures to be on iTunes, so you can see us every time you go there. We don’t have the ability to pay for radio, so we’re getting in those rotations. Though I am appreciative for that formula, it’s also rewarding when, even without all of that, people still rock with you.
From disco and blues to trap soul, New Breed takes on a number of sounds. Though, what remained dormant on this project was your love for New Orleans and the Wastitaw Nation tribe. While creating this work, did you find it challenging to make those hybrid of sounds and influences authentically click?
That’s a really great question. You know, I’ve always made this music, right? Even [looking back at] when I first did Goldenheart and A Tell Tale Heart, I’d always made a hybrid of genres. I always knew I wanted to do that and it stems long before my solo work. Whether it was with Dirty Money or with Danity Kane, we were always pushing for different sounds, different opportunities. Coming from New Orleans, when you see the gumbo pot of culture that’s there, it’s no surprise that I would cross genres and make those different types of sounds. It’s organic for me because that’s what I grew up around. We had trans culture, gay culture, white, Black, Creole, rock, pop, Baptist and Voodoo. We had all this stuff around us and no one ever told us that we couldn’t be it, right? We were all of it. We existed together. So, it’s no surprise that it trickled into my music and my fashions. There was no such thing as rules and boundaries.
What did you learn about yourself with each time you wrote a new track for the album?
I found myself having a bigger voice. I always knew who I wanted to be, which is why I was hurt when I did my first two albums — Armon On and Goldenheart – and people thought it wasn’t genuine. I was hurt that my culture didn’t embrace what I was trying to do. I was so excited to share who I really was with the world. I wanted to push Black culture forward and the things that I knew that we weren’t being represented in. I think with this album I found myself reflecting on all the times that I’ve had to be pushed into boxes. It made me reflect on the fact that it’s not about people accepting you, it’s about self-acceptance.
On “Vultures | Wolves,” it leaves an enduring impression on listeners who’ve ever dealt with fear in love and scare tactics in the boardroom. How have you been able to foster positive change within yourself during those moments of skepticism?
“Vultures” was a hard one to write because it’s you reflecting on your own demons and self-sabotage when you start second-guessing yourself because others are second-guessing you. I had to speak on how I was treated in the industry — a lot of times by Black men.
One thing I was never fucking scared of — and I had to pay for in Danity Kane — was we never let anyone belittle us as women. We paid for that every time because a lot of people caused us not to win with our teams because we were mouthy. We weren’t mouthy, though. We just knew what the fuck we were as women. I’m no different now. So, for me, “Vultures” and records like that, I really applaud women and the people that have been in the situation that I have been in, to be a fucking king. I see myself as a king. When I walk in a boardroom, I don’t see myself as a woman speaking to a man. I see two kings having a conversation.
A lot of times, men (and people of power) have problems with that because for us as women, especially, we have a mouth and we’re looked at as bitches. When a man is powerful and strong, he’s looked at as assertive and knows his shit. That comes with a cost, but I rather us, especially Black women, walk into these rooms and walk into our purpose as kings than being pandered. I saw what pander looked like and what if feels like and I wrote about it that in “Vultures.”
“Wolves” speaks on the level of what pandering is. We’re taught in any culture, especially the LGBT community, to pander. When you are something different, you got to maneuver, pivot, please and all of this shit. I say, “Fuck that.” I don’t think you should do that. I feel like if you’re going to go, go as honest and as royal as the fuck you came into this world and deal with the consequences of that. At least you don’t lose your dignity or your pride. I’ve seen both where you pander and you still lose your dignity because you have to go home knowing that you’re so much more. It’s a way to do it.
Is New Breed a project you want to expound on in the future like the heart trilogy?
Yes, I am but in a different way. You know I never do the same thing twice. I never revert backwards, but I do have a plan. This story isn’t done. I was going to make it done. I was only going to put New Breed out and be like, “Thanks, that’s it. Let’s move on my way,” because I have other plans and things that I want to do within the community of the artist culture. But I didn’t expect this response that I got. I saw a beautiful moment where the culture, that I’m very proud to be a part of, started to see that we are so much more than what society told us we should be. I do want to inspire people to continue to see themselves in different platforms as new breeds. Even when I made the [album] title, it’s speaking of the new breed of artists that are coming out. The new breed of women. The new breed of gay culture. People are being unafraid. I want to be a part of that voice. I’ve been saying it for a very long time, and I’m just happy to hear other people say it, too. With that, this chapter isn’t done.
Recently, there has been an influx of Black networks and publications like BET criticizing and downplaying the accolades of Black women. How does it make you feel when safe spaces like them fail the society that has pushed them forward?
It’s clickbait. Do you know what I mean? You have to support the big people who are out there. I actually love Ariana [Grande], so I don’t have an issue with her. I wasn’t even talking about her when I made the quote. I just didn’t like what BET was saying about a ponytail when I just released six albums that are all for Black growth and all this tech stuff I’ve been pushing for Black girls forever and they never not one time covered it. Then, all of a sudden you choose my entire name in a picture, which shows me you know who the fuck I am. So, you just chose to blatantly not to support whatever the fuck I was doing. I am not fucking anybody. I am not in the news for any crazy ways and I get that. I’m not like a clickbait type of bitch. I’m not doing shit that keeps me in the public eye beyond art. I get that, but still, it was a choice not to support. I don’t have the answers to why BET wouldn’t do that. I’ve always supported them. I support all artists in every facet, but especially Black artists who are pushing shit forward. So, I was kind of shocked by that. But again, I don’t know who is behind BET now.
What really makes me sad is that @BET has never supported my music or that I’m a black woman trying to break barriers for women in animation. Or that I’ve worked on advancing tech via VR and augmented reality. But you post about a ponytail i wore weeks ago and have already worn. https://t.co/otJt0J2VW6
— DAWN (@DawnRichard) February 27, 2019
We recently celebrated Women’s History Month in March. Who are three women in music – past or present – that inspire you to be a groundbreaking artist?
Sheila E.: I love what she was because there was no female at that level on the drums. What she did for choreography and for style in pop music was unseen.
Nina Simone: she was just different. Her unapologetic way of approaching music, but also [her] personality. If she didn’t really fuck with something, she was very vocal about it. She also made records that spoke to pain in a way that I don’t think anyone has been able to tap into quite like her. Her signature tone, too. It was less about how many runs and belts you can do and more about the style. For me, it’s always been about tone and style. The way someone stylistically approaches a record and Nina always approached [a song] like she was creeping at you. Like, she was telling you something, but creeping from behind the whole time. So, it made it eerie and uncomfortable, because she made a lot of people face things that I don’t think they wanted to face at that time.
Grace Jones: I was able to work with her, sing with her, vocal coach with her for Dirty Money, and she was every-the-fuck-thing I thought she would be and a thousand times more. She was just that bitch. There will never be another like that because she defied what a pop culture artist looked like. She was something the industry wasn’t quite prepared for, but had no choice but to embrace. Since her, we have not been able to have a black, chocolatey girl at that level, with that kind of ain’t, angry, sex and hardness since. The more chocolatey you get in pop culture, the more you got to be polished and sold. You got to look a certain way for them to sell it to the world. Grace wasn’t that. That woman had a bald fade (laughs). She was able to be her, and told motherfuckers to, “Take it leave it.” We haven’t been able to have another brown, chocolatey girl come at that place and be accepted like that with that look ever after her. For some reason, our society isn’t ready for another Grace. I don’t why because I’m fucking ready for that shit.
Will you bring the tour to the states soon?
Yes! It will probably be a massive ass production (laughs). I still want to take a little of what I do overseas here as well and collide the worlds. But, we’ll do something in the summer. I will never let you guys down.
Follow DAWN on Twitter/Instagram at @DawnRichard. Also, stream New Breed here.