Genre-bending poet: A conversation with DE’WAYNE

Pictured is DE’WAYNE, a rock artist/poet/lover. Photo provided by author.

I had the chance to sit down with the musician DE’WAYNE at The Governors Ball Music Festival following the release of his new single “DIE OUT HERE” featuring Grandson. Known for his eclectic mix of rock and rap, he is bent on making the best music he possibly can. 

“My name is De’Wayne,” he said. “I am a rock artist/poet/lover.”

J: One of your most recent songs, “DIE OUT HERE” talks about a man trying to make it out in Los Angeles. Is this related to your struggles moving from Texas to LA?

D: Yeah, so it’s kind of tough 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 make it and seeing your heroes make it and then get[ting] crushed by what Hollywood does to you.

At any point, were your dreams crushed?

They were crushed for five years in LA. I feel like with “DIE OUT HERE,” it was the first one that connected with people. A little bit before that, I got a record deal. And that’s when I was like ‘I think I can make this into my profession.’ But before that, I was crushed every day. It was so hard, but that also drove me to have an insane work ethic.

You have this infectious optimism and total self-confidence. How did you build that up?

I think it comes from being in LA and just convincing myself that I was. My family loves it now, but they were never like ‘Yo, you should do music.’ They wanted me to play sports and go to church most importantly. And I actually started singing in church. But coming to LA man, I found myself there. I really felt like I’m more of a searcher than an artist. The everyday grind gave me that optimistic energy.

They say it’s not about what you do, but who you know. What kind of connections did you make to achieve success? 

[Meeting my managers] allowed me to work in music. Then, I met Charlotte, Joel and Benji Madden. They were like, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing, but keep doing it.’ And then when I got signed, I started to meet artists that wanted to take me on tours, like Willow and Chase Atlantic. The Willow tour changed my mind and I got to play a lot of these major festivals. So, it’s not like I’ve met people who try to do me dirty. 

Can you talk about your inspirations? 

My partner’s a big inspiration for me and so is my family. The Buzzcocks, the Strokes, Joey Ramone and lately, the Cars.

A close-up of DE’WAYNE, a musician who is known for his “eclectic mix of rock and rap” and blends genres together in hopes of “making the best music [he] can.” Photo provided by author.

You blend a lot of genres, specifically rock and hip hop. There’s a lot of people that came before you who innovated in that way. Who do you look up to when it comes to genre-bending? 

I listen to a lot of rock music, but I think where I am from seeps in there a bit. My dad would rap to me everyday when I was a kid. I will say Childish Gambino does a really good blend that inspires me.

At what time did you become more comfortable with mixing genres?

It was “National Anthem,” but that was one thing where “DIE OUT HERE” felt like the start of the second trajectory of me being like: Oh, this is how you blend these things, you know, me still kind of having a little melody. But I think with this new record, I really tap into what I want. When I was younger, I was just quiet. My parents were always telling me what to do.

What are some of the little moments that resulted from the creation of the EP?

It’s definitely cool to be out and get recognized for being such a small artist. To be honest, the biggest thing is we’re on the first headlining tour and to have kids come in wanting to see just the De’Wayne show. That alone is amazing.

I think you’re unique in the fact that you were kind of able to say, ‘Screw the record labels.’

We got turned down so many times. And I knew what I was doing was good. I was just confused. And now, you can’t go to a festival or be by the radio without hearing what we’re doing on it.

What was the first song that really got you hooked into rock?

“Rock ’n’ Roll Suicide” by David Bowie and “Wake Up” by Arcade Fire. And then I learned that Win (the lead singer) was raised in Texas and I’m from Texas. I literally heard those two songs and I said, ‘I am gonna study rock music for the next five years and become a rock artist.’

What does a typical day look like for you when you’re producing music? 

Wake up, run three miles and have a cigarette. Listen to the Ramones. And just sit down on the couch and see what Heiser can do, maybe bring my partner over. She’s always very inspiring to my new music.

Where do you get your fashion style from? Do you have tattoos? 

I got a Jimi Hendrix on my thigh. I got the one on my arm, which I call the family that listens to my music. I just wake up and put on whatever makes me feel good. I have a butterfly pin on my ear that a fan gave me.

The author (left) talks to DE’WAYNE, a musician that performed in the 2022 Governors Ball Music Festival in New York. Photo provided by author.

How is your partnership with your current record label, Hopeless Records?

I love how honest we are with each other. They’re really a huge step for me to get to the next level. And they’ve changed my life, man. Like we’re on the radio every day and we’re touring. I have fans. I did not have that before I was with them. You know, I was just a kid that had a lot of energy that was open enough for 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 are your thoughts on representation in rock ‘n’ roll and hip hop?

My best friend Heiser, who produced the new album, said, ‘When you look back in 20 years in rock, you’ll see a lot of people that look like you.’ And I broke down. A lot of my favorite artists are white. If I can have kids in the next 10 years that look like me that dress sexy and have an afro but rip on stage and people accept it, that’s the highest representation to me. I cry every time I think about it. So, it’s very, very important to me and I really hope there can be more of us going in.

What other topics do you hold dear to your heart or that you want to talk about that you haven’t gotten the chance to yet in your music?

Love. Falling in love over the past six months. I’ve never felt this way before. It’s still that storytelling of what I’m trying to pursue and trying to be the greatest artist ever. I’m that insane that I think I’m gonna work that hard to do that.

In a previous interview, you talked about how you developed relationships during the pandemic and that that was going to be pivotal to your music. Can you talk more about that?

As a young person, my dad never apologized for not being a good dad. And he wasn’t. And I didn’t know until I was 24 that that was trauma. I don’t want to talk crazy, but where I’m from, dads be like that. And he said sorry to me and that I want to do better for you, to me. I took that with all my heart because he was always my hero. And he really is better now. And that makes me want to have a way better relationship. You know, I love that he’s 46 and he’s able to grow better every day and not be stagnant.

In another interview, you said that you wouldn’t stop until you got a Grammy. Which Grammy would you prefer?

I would love to get the Best Rock Record. The Best Alternative Album is one that I would be after, but that would be hard.

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