I was lucky enough to sit down with musician DE’WAYNE at the Governors Ball Music Festival after the release of his new single ‘DIE OUT HERE’ featuring Grandson. Known for his eclectic mix of rock and rap, he is determined to make the best music possible.
“My name is De’Wayne,” he said. “I’m an artist/poet/rock lover.”
J: One of your most recent songs, “DIE OUT HERE” is about a man trying to get by in Los Angeles. Is it related to your difficulties in moving from Texas to Los Angeles?
D: Yeah, so it’s kind of hard for me to talk about other people in my music. Everything comes straight from my heart. “DIE OUT HERE” is totally a story about coming from Houston at 19 and moving to LA and trying to do it and seeing your heroes do it and then get[ting] crushed by what Hollywood does to you.
At some point, were your dreams shattered?
They were ground for five years in Los Angeles. I feel like with “DIE OUT HERE” it was the first one that connected with people. Shortly before that, I had a recording contract. And that’s when I said to myself, ‘I think I can make a career out of it.’ But before that, I was crushed every day. It was so hard, but it also caused me to have an insane work ethic.
You have this contagious optimism and complete self-confidence. How did you build this?
I think it comes from being in LA and convincing myself that I was there. My family loves it now, but they never said, “Yo, you should make music.” They especially wanted me to play sports and go to church. And I started singing in church. But coming to LA man, I ended up there. I really had the impression of being more of a researcher than an artist. The daily routine gave me this optimistic energy.
They say it’s not about what you do, it’s about who you know. What kind of relationships have you built to be successful?
[Meeting my managers] allowed me to work in music. Then I met Charlotte, Joel and Benji Madden. They said, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it.’ And then when I signed, I started meeting artists who wanted to take me on tour, like Willow and Chase Atlantic. The Willow tour changed my mind and I got to play a lot of those big festivals. So, it’s not like I’ve met people trying to smear me.
Can you talk about your inspirations?
My partner is a big inspiration to me, as is my family. The Buzzcocks, the Strokes, Joey Ramone and lately, the Cars.
You mix a lot of genres, especially rock and hip hop. There are many people who came before you who innovated in this way. Who do you look up to when it comes to gender warping?
I listen to a lot of rock, but I think where I come from seeps into that a bit. My dad rapped me every day when I was a kid. I will say that Childish Gambino makes a very good mix that inspires me.
When did you become more comfortable with mixing genres?
It was “National Anthem”, but it was a thing where “DIE OUT HERE” felt like the beginning of the second trajectory of me: Oh, that’s how you mix these things, you know, I always a bit of a little melody. But I think with this new record, I’m really tapping into what I want. When I was younger, I was just calm. My parents always told me what to do.
What are the little moments that resulted from the creation of the EP?
It’s really cool to be out there and be recognized for being such a little artist. To be honest, the most important thing is that we’re on the first headlining tour and kids are coming to just see the De’Wayne show. That alone is amazing.
I think you’re unique in that you were kind of able to say, “To hell with the record companies.”
We have been refused so many times. And I knew what I was doing was right. I was just confused. And now you can’t go to a festival or be on the radio without hearing what we’re doing there.
What was the first song that really got you hooked on rock?
“Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide” by David Bowie and “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. And then I learned that Win (lead singer) grew up in Texas and I’m from Texas. I literally heard those two songs and said, “I’m going to study rock music for the next five years and become a rock artist.”
What does a typical day look like for you when producing music?
Wake up, run five kilometers and smoke a cigarette. Listen to the Ramones. And sit on the couch and see what Heiser can do, maybe bring my partner. She is always very inspiring for my new music.
Where does your clothing style come from? Do you have any tattoos?
I have a Jimi Hendrix on my thigh. I have the one on my arm, which I call the family that listens to my music. I just woke up and put on what feels good to me. I have a butterfly pin on my ear that a fan gave me.
How is your partnership with your current label, Hopeless Records?
I love how honest we are with each other. It’s really a huge step for me to take it to the next level. And they changed my life, man. As if we were on the radio every day and we were on tour. I have fans. I didn’t have that before I was with them. You know, I was just a kid who had a lot of energy and was pretty open to people. They put me in front of a lot of people.
Representation matters. A younger generation of musicians will look to you as a future role model. What do you think of representation in rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop?
My best friend Heiser, who produced the new album, said, “When you look back on 20 years of rock, you’ll see a lot of people who look like you.” And I cracked. Many of my favorite artists are white. If I can have kids in the next 10 years who look like me who dress sexy and have an afro but tear it up on stage and people accept that, that’s the highest representation for me. I cry every time I think about it. So this is very, very important to me and I really hope that more of us will participate.
What are the other topics that are close to your heart or that you want to talk about and that you haven’t had the opportunity to address in your music yet?
To like. Falling in love in the past six months. I never felt like this before. It’s always that storytelling of what I try to pursue and try to be the greatest artist of all time. I’m so crazy that I think I’m going to work so hard to do this.
In a previous interview, you talked about how you developed relationships during the pandemic and that was going to be essential for your music. Can you talk more about it?
As a youngster, my dad never apologized for not being a good dad. And he wasn’t. And I didn’t know until I was 24 that it was a trauma. I don’t mean crazy, but where I’m from, dads are like that. And he told me sorry and that I want to do better for you, for me. I took that with all my heart because he was always my hero. And he’s really doing better now. And that makes me want to have a much better relationship. You know, I love that he’s 46 and able to improve every day and not stagnate.
In another interview, you said you wouldn’t stop until you got a Grammy. Which Grammy do you prefer?
I would love to get the best rock record. The best alternative album is the one I would look for, but it would be difficult.