De’Wayne Finds the Right Fit in Rock Music with Album “My Favorite Blue Jeans”
De’Wayne doesn’t want to answer any more questions about being a Black man in rock. He wants to talk to you about what it means to be a rock star and he should know. Watching him take to the stage clad in sequins and glitter, he’s every inch a modern David Bowie with the swagger of Lenny Kravitz all rolled into one.
For a musician who counts his main influences as Lou Reed and James Brown, it may surprise some that one of his recent and most notable collaborations is with Good Charlotte but the combination of bravado and pop punk sensibilities make for a compelling listen. Working with the Madden brothers came about by chance. “Someone recommended I meet them and I’d never heard their music before but when I did all I could think was, ‘this is amazing.’” Many young artists might have felt compelled to brave it out and pretend to be more familiar but that’s not De’Wayne’s style. Authenticity is a driving force for him and his default is to be that way. “I’m from Houston. This is all a new world to me [so] I don’t see any point pretending.”
It never seems like he is. In fact, De’Wayne could have sprung from the womb wearing a corset and cradling a guitar for how natural it seems. He’s currently on tour in the US, having completed the festival circuit with a raucous performance at Reading Festival, that saw him named one of the weekend’s standout acts by renowned UK music magazine, NME. He’s elated about it. “I grew up seeing Radiohead and the bands I love on the cover, so to be recognized in that way feels amazing.”
In the midst of touring he’s still managed to release a new record, My Favorite Blue Jeans, on Hopeless Records. It’s a powerful, pop punk infused album that hums with frenetic energy. Unlike some of his previous releases, this one is purely and unapologetically rock. He credits his shift from rap-leaning music to rock with his move to Los Angeles, which was an “education in rock.” Before that, labels had made him feel—as a Black artist—that he had no place in the rock world. Of his previous record industry “stains” he says, “I think I proved them wrong but I still felt like I wasn’t fully part of the rock scene.” That’s all changed now and for him, this record is titled My Favorite Blue Jeans because he finally feels at home on his current label and in the world of rock at large. “Now, I’m focused. I just want to make incredible rock records.” The lure of rock for him is its power to inspire a crowd and express an emotion. We discuss Nirvana and the way Kurt Cobain learned the power chords first because, “they’re the only ones that matter.” He gestures wildly. “Exactly! That’s it, those are the ones that make you feel something. Nirvana are pop music. No one sees it, but those hooks, the catchiness of the music, how memorable it is–that’s all pure pop.”
In addition to moving to LA, another pivotal experience for him has been touring and working with his now-girlfriend, Willow Smith. “She’s just brilliant. The way her mind works in the studio is incredible. She’s been an amazing mentor to me.” He credits her incredible prowess with the guitar. “She’s a new hero in that world” but also falling in love has transformed his songwriting. “Love is the most powerful emotion. For the longest time, all the songs I listened to were about love but I didn’t know it firsthand.” Then came Willow. “It’s like damn! Love has me in a chokehold, in the loveliest way, and now I have all these beautiful experiences to put into my music.”
If love has inspired his sound, then conflict has inspired his stage persona. “I always felt like an outsider in so many ways. Where I’m from, and the world that’s inspired me— rock music—I didn’t see many people like me.” Part of what makes him a great rock star is the understanding of that, and the desire to audaciously stride up and take his place there. “Being able to do anything you want” and “not giving a damn” is all part of the rock star protocol. He wants his audience to feel something special while giving them an unforgettable experience through his energetic performances.
He’s also bored of the genre conversations now. As he puts it, “I’m a rockstar, ask me about that.” Beyond music, through his powerful stage presence and the chameleonic way he switches between tender tones and soaring screams on stage, highlight not only his talent or affirm his aspirations to be Bowie, but hint at a larger talent for performance overall. When asked if he has aspirations outside of music, he grins and answers enthusiastically, “I’ve been in a commercial and also there’s something coming. I can’t say much yet but yes that’s exciting to me. It’s a world I’d like to explore more.”
At 26, he’s coming up on a rock n roll milestone that he has no desire to join; the famed 27 Club. Nowhere is that clearer than on his track “DIE OUT HERE” where he has the realization that rather than “wanting to die in flames like my favorite artists, I just want to live long and live free.” @yeahdewayne