De'Wayne Talks "Top Gun," Jimi Hendrix & Radiohead, Finding Himself In L.A.
You can't contain De'Wayne. His energetic, raw sound evokes old-school hip-hop, punk, psych rock and '90s R&B, giving texture and grit to personal lyrics about family, growth, disappointment and uncertainty. As he explains, he's reinvented his sound several times over, given the time and space he took to explore and find his identity as a young man on his own in the City of Angels.
At 19, he left behind his close-knit family in Houston for Los Angeles, and now, five years later, he's really found his groove.
At Dr. Martens Presents: De'Wayne, the second-ever L.A. show in the new music and film series hosted by the London shoe brand, the rising artist brought rock star swagger and energy as he jumped and grooved around the stage at the crowded warehouse-turned-experimental-gallery, Superchief L.A. Along with the drummer and guitarist in his live band, De'Wayne performed an upbeat sampling of his music released the last few years. Before they ended with his latest track, "Top Gun," they took their time jamming out to Jimi Hendrix's "Red House."
The L.A. Dr. Martens series (there is also one in New York) is curated and documented by his friend, another talented up-and-comer, vibrant filmmaker/music video director Erik Rojas. In true punk fashion, this event featured impromptu live art in the form of free flash tattoos, by Jane Lee Hernandez, a San Diego-based tattoo artist De'Wayne had recently met and invited.
The Recording Academy caught up with De'Wayne shortly before his explosive show. Read on for our full interview with the burgeoning talent.
De'Wayne at his L.A. show
You're about to go on stage here at the Dr. Martens Presents show you're headlining. How are you feeling?
It feels like it's about to be something special for me, at least because we just put out new music. We kind of started a whole new scene with what we're making and how I'm feeling, where I'm trying to go with it. It was perfect timing. I'm nervous but it's going to be great. I think that [Dr. Martens] is making something good for us.
thank you to everyone who came out tonight and made today so special for me! shit was beautiful. people raged and thanks to everyone who got tattoos. hope it was an experience you won’t forget it.
— de'wayne jackson (@idewaynejackson) October 24, 2019
What's your biggest hope for this live performance or even going on stage in general?
It's just to show people a great show. I just pride myself with putting on this show and giving people something great. And just to have, I'm more thankful as well that we could get this platform to play the show and to have people come and give them more of an experience. I'm hoping to give them an experience. Honestly, something special.
Exactly. I love the commitment that they have to make. It's a free show, but it's still a commitment. And I want to give them more than they're expecting.
What does it mean to you to be a part of this new event series?
You can't really downplay the opportunity. When I heard about it, I was very stoked and, like I was saying earlier, the fact that it's even lining up with us putting out music and it's just perfect. It feels really good. I feel really thankful, a lot of gratitude around it, honestly.
You've been working with Erik Rojas on a short film around it. How has it felt to work with him and tell your story that way?
It's been amazing because Erik's been my friend for about four years now. He saw me when I was still working multiple nine-to-fives and figuring out my sound. I really had a long time, like two or three years, which a lot of artists don't get, to develop, understand myself and what I want to make it my art. He was there through that.
So to see us both meet at this point feels great. he's doing his stuff on a high level and we want to take it to that level as well.
And it's probably nice to have someone helping tell your story who also understands you on a deeper level.
Exactly. When we were filming, we were going back to my old apartment and my old jobs and he knew the right questions. Even me telling my story to him again, he was just like, "Damn, that was some real stuff going on that we were dealing with," getting to this place right now. For us to tell that story together visually, it's beautiful. All the shots are really great too.
I'm excited to see it. And then yesterday you dropped your new song "Top Gun." Can you give us a bit of back story on it?
Yes, "Top Gun" dropped yesterday. It's my favorite song, honestly. I just started working with these producers that I love and have helped me create this [new] sound. It was the first song we did in our session. We met on basically a blind date and we ended up creating "Top Gun." So for it to be over a year now and finally putting it out, just makes so much sense for us. It's all lining up. You never know, but it lines up really perfect.
What was the emotion or the mood that you were putting out when you were writing the and recording the song?
I don't want to say angry, but I feel like my music is always me watching what's going on, having empathy and being able to understand it. You know, to tell stories that I see on the daily. And the air is so heavy nowadays. It's just meant for me to speak on the story of a "Top Gun," somebody who can't even understand or deal with middle class or lower class [people]. This person is so high above us, and doesn't even understand what we go through.
So it was more like, you got to stop being like that, the separation. So that's where it came from. And being from Texas too, I was able to dig in a little bit deeper into that. I was trying to stop the division with the song, that was the main purpose of it.
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last night was a dream bro!! entertainment tour ends in houston texas the place that raised me and the venue ive been wanting to play since i was 13. my mom in the crowd. my dad there, we shared a moment i don’t think ill ever forget. i left everything on stage plus a few tears. this run i will forever be thankful for. thanks @waterparks thank you @awstenknight for the opportunity. i love you foreal. my brother @domstepanian went crazy on the guitar! THE [circle] forever and ever. p.s everyone on this tour was pretty
How do you feel that Houston influences your style and your sound?
I love being from Houston, especially where I'm from. But as far as sound, it was never much of an influence for me. It was more how we were living and more my family, growing up religious, and having a dad who was the total opposite of my mom, who was such a Southern belle. That's all my music is, inspiration from my family and life. So Texas, it's done a lot.
When did you move to L.A.? And how has it shifted your music career?
I moved to L.A. four years ago, not knowing anything, not knowing what I was doing. I was 19, straight out of high school, so I pretty much grew up here. A lot has changed. I was from a family that kept everybody very enclosed with a lot of rules. So L.A. has also done a lot. It was a huge transition and huge, huge transformation.
I really became a man here, like understood who I was, because I didn't know who I was at 19. I mean, you still don't know, even as 23 or whatever. But L.A. has been a big thing for me. I'm thankful for it, even the pain and the bad sh*t.
Who are your biggest role models and musical influences?
Role models, that's still my family. They give me so much inspiration on what I say and write about. And my influences are just life, and also legends. [I listen to] a lot of Radiohead, I love Thom Yorke. I got Jimi [Hendrix] tattooed on my leg and he's also playing right now. [De'Wayne smiles and points to his phone.] Kendrick Lamar, you know?
Living life gives me so much inspiration and so much of what I need to say. So that's where I get it from, just taking it day by day.