Dawn Richard, the trail blazing indie pop singer/songwriter known as D∆WN, is at an interesting place in her life, “I’m so sure of who I am.” It was about a year ago that the warrior queen released Redemption, the closing album of her ground breaking trilogy which explored her relationship with music.
Since Redemption DAWN has had the opportunity to “sit in myself for a while.” And this has led her to her next big thing: “I really want to disrupt pop. I want to be honest about what it means to be a woman, black, and a disruptor.”
I sat down with DAWN moments before her photoshoot for this magazine. We discussed a wide range of topics, including her early interest in science, her journey as an artist, and how music both impacts and reflects culture.
I read somewhere that you intended to be a marine biologist in college.
Biology was always a thing I loved, I was good at it. I had a thing for manatees and dolphins. But then I worked at Sea World for a semester, for an internship, and hated it. I wasn’t prepared for how horrible the animals were treated. My eyes were opened.
Was that a factor in you going vegan?
My father got diagnosed with cancer and I wanted to figure out how to save him. I’m a daddy’s girl. [He] was so healthy, [the cancer] was out of the blue and it devastated us. I found out diet has a lot to do with your body and things that are cancerous. I told him I’d go vegan if he could try vegetarian. He did. We did the work together and he’s in remission. I couldn’t tell anyone else how to go about their journey through cancer, I just know what we chose to do saved my father.
Being from New Orleans do you miss seafood?
Hell yes. Being African-American, it’s almost taboo to be vegan. [If you don’t] eat the food that’s in front of you, it’s rude. But, I love the karma and feel of my spirit every day that I wake up and know that I’m not hurting anyone. It’s awesome. Seeing my dad in remission, it’s worth it.
You’ve recently been featured in a PETA ad that’s been called too graphic to publish in certain-
– everywhere, yeah. So tell us about your relationship with PETA.
I told PETA that story [about my father] and I think they appreciated how real it was. I’m not on a mission to preach to people. I’m like everybody else, figuring it out. I love fashion and didn’t think about what I was wearing, but realized I needed to start caring about not only what goes inside my body but outside as well. You’re starting to see designers get that hint. Stella McCartney has been pioneering vegan fur and cruelty free clothes for a long time [and] we just saw Gucci this year say ‘we’re going to stop fur.’
Do you like making people uncomfortable?
Yes! Uncomfortable not in a bad way, but forcing them to think about it, ’do I like this,’ ‘why does this make me feel that way?’ Uncomfortable is a new feeling for people. What comes from [being] uncomfortable is evolution.
Tell us about your evolution as an artist.
I have an unconventional story. I don’t think a lot of people get an opportunity to see the manufactured world, to live in it, and then to be Indie, and stay in that. In Danity Kane, which was manufactured on a reality show, I had the opportunity to see money and crowds that you only dream of. Having access to any producer. Having the best around you.
How did that feel?
Incredible but it’s also dangerous because if you’re not prepared for the whirlwind, you can get caught in it and think it’s forever and it’s not. Both those times [in Danity Kane and Dirty Money], I didn’t quit my career, my career was quit for me. I didn’t have control over that process. Now as an independent artist I am able to understand underground culture.
Can you clarify underground for me?
Underground where you got to burrow to find what you love. Soundcloud creates a hub of underground artists that have no albums, only mixtapes. Some love to be in that level. I don’t think it’s necessity to be mainstream. I’d love to see more color in pop, electronic, and different genres beyond our own. In underground culture you have a freedom to express yourself and go all out the lines and the more out the lines you are, the more you are respected.
Are you anti big labels?
I don’t say ‘f- labels.’ I don’t think labels are shitty. They have a plan. They look at numbers. If a black girl walks into a label and says ‘I want to do electronic music’ and they’ve never seen a trend that looks like that, they’re not going to take a chance.
Talk to me about the pros and cons of doing this by yourself.
The pros are you get to have creative control and bend and stretch and disrupt. I love disrupting people. I want to create a space where everyone can understand something that may be uncomfortable, not in a bad way, but forcing you to think. What comes from that is evolution. The cons of being like this is that you risk being new. That is dangerous in a world built on trends. When you’re doing something innovative and different, you don’t have access. I don’t have a machine behind me, so I don’t get TV shows, awards show performances [or] the radio spot that you hear over and over.
Do you want those things?
What I would love is to expose [underground] so that they have more of a platform. I’d love for an independent awards show.
Do you feel music impacts or reflects our culture?
Nina Simone said it best, music should represent the sign of the times. The last two years, music has evolved. The topic of racism, of being black, we’ve seen albums coming out like [Solange’s] Seat at the Table and [Beyonce’s] Lemonade that speak to culture. My album, Redemption is about the political climate of our times. Racism is not gone [and] sexual assault is happening. This isn’t new. My hope is that people are genuinely listening. We’ve got to start telling the truth about what’s going on and not pissing on the person who decides to speak about it.
You recently released a song with Machinedrum called Stopwatch.
And that video is coming out soon. I always appreciate artists and producers who take risks and Machinedrum understands what we’re doing. He’s been super awesome with his new label IAMSIAM. I really love what we’ve developed.
What’s next for DAWN?
I have a new album I’m recording, but I’m taking my time. I think this album really embodies who I am. It’s less about the relationship between me and music and more about the relationship with myself.