Few artists—if any—go through a transformation quite like Dawn Richard's. Starting out as part of the reality TV-created girl group Danity Kane, Richard went on to form one third of the short-lived supergroup Diddy-Dirty Money. Now going under the mononym D∆WN, she's doing things 100% on her own terms (Richard runs her own label, Our Dawn Entertainment, as well as handling her own management and PR), and she's releasing the most thrilling and experimental work of her whole career. 2013's GoldenHeart contorted R&B into new shapes while establishing a fantasy-like narrative of destructive love; the follow-up BlackHeart, released earlier this year, dominated the iTunes electronic chart with its ambitious, dancefloor-ready sound, and portrayed Richard as a phoenix who was ready to rise up and fight back.
As she prepares to grab her moment in the spotlight at MoMA PS1's Warm Up series alongside Fade To Mind boss and producer Kingdom this Saturday, August 29, the unpredictable singer chatted to The FADER about how the third album in the trilogy is coming along, and the surprising places she gets her inspiration.
What are you working on right now?
D∆WN: RedemptionHeart, the last album of the trilogy. I’ve been traveling the world, on some super hippie shit, to get me inspired. Amsterdam, Paris, Brussels. I’m in a happier place than I’ve ever been, in a long time in my life, and I want to make that kind of music. I want to reflect where I’m at right now. But the reality is, the world is not like that right now—the world is a bit sad, a bit fucked up. So I was trying to find places that inspired me in the way I am right now, because right here in the U.S. it’s a bit crazy.
So is it going to be a very personal, happy album, or are you also going to delve into those wider issues?
It’s going to be honest, so it’ll be a little bit of both. I can’t make an album that’s not true to what’s happening. I was just watching Nina Simone’s documentary not too long ago, and she said something that was really real, like “how can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” So I think I’ll have a little bit of both. It is real to try to be happy in a situation that’s not at its greatest —and I think that’s what everybody’s dealing with right now, to try to cope with being happy and a whole bunch of sad.
Tell me about the happy place you’re in and how that’s impacting the music.
The RedHeart is red, it’s vibrant; it’s my strongest, I feel. I know what love feels like for the first time. My dad got diagnosed with cancer, and we’ve found a way to live with it. My parents are finally moving home, going back to New Orleans after 10 years, after Katrina and all of that shit. So it’s very vibrant, a lot of '80s, a lot of guitar. A lot of fun. And there will be those low moments where you realize that you’re having fun but the world is still stagnant, and you hope that the world can reach where you are in life. For some reason, most people hate artists when they’re happy because they don’t make the best music. Look at Amy Winehouse: when she was at her lowest we loved her the best. We gotta love people at their best too. There is great music in sadness, but there can be greatness in recovery and peace as well.
You’ve been working with NYC label Fade To Mind; how did that relationship start?
I was talking with Jacky, who works with Opening Ceremony, and I was like, “you gotta figure out how to get me in with Fade To Mind, because I think they’re fucking amazing.” A year later, I randomly see Ezra [Kingdom] and I’m like “Yo, we should do something, let me get in a studio with y’all!” The first day [in a studio], we did five songs. The rest is history. We did the PAMM Institute thing together, and we’re going to do MoMA together as well. That’s been the relationship ever since, we make sense. I think the way Fade To Mind works is brilliant. It’s organic, they only do it if it feels good, they don’t push it. And in the last few years, I’ve really been in that place where if it’s organic then I’ll do it, if it doesn’t feel good I won’t do it. I think that’s why we work so well.
Those songs you’ve recorded together, will those appear on the next album?
Oh, I’m definitely stalking them for that. Absolutely. They’re held at gunpoint for that. They think they’re getting out of that, there’s no way. “Baptize Me” and “Honest,” I performed them at PAMM, and people went crazy.
Who would you ideally like to collaborate with next?
I’m really, really in love with artists like Girlpool. With Arca. With SOHN. I wouldn’t even want to do anything other than just sit in the studio and smoke and listen to shit. I just think they’re innovative. Girlpool reminds me of the old girl bands who had the two part harmonies, and they were—not angry, but their voices just have so much in them they barely need anything else. Because everything is so processed these days, with vocals, it feels good to hear something so raw.
Your music draws on so many references, including Greek mythology. What’s your favorite Greek myth?
Calypso and Odysseus. That reality, that he spent years on an island because she would not let him go, and then that moment when she had to decide to let him go, because he was missing his entire family...In most past writings of women, they don’t have power. But for some reason in Greek mythology, women have power. Even the story of the Fates, and how the three women control the fates of all men. I think that’s why I gravitate so much towards Greek mythology. Calypso is a bitch, basically. But I think there’s something brilliant about that. There’s a feminist aspect to that—it’s almost angry. It’s this angry woman who decides to use her femininity and her sexuality to get back at the man...Calypso, Athena, all of them had backstories, all of them weren’t just mean. All of them had things that happened to them. And I think there’s some symbolism within that—shit happened to me in this industry, and it made me the woman that I am. Now I have balls. The woman that gets tainted and comes back with a vengeance. I love that story. That shit never gets old.
Warm Up line-up: August 29
Matias Aguayo (DJ set) / Cómeme / Santiago, Chile
Kingdom / Fade to Mind / Los Angeles, CA
D∆WN (Live) / Our Dawn Entertainment / New Orleans, LA
Murlo / Mixpak / London, UK
FALSE WITNESS / #KUNQ / Brooklyn, NY
Additional Artists to be announced