“When you’re Black and you try and do alternative music, you’re going to have so many stupid opinions from other people,” De’Wayne sighs. “I don’t give a fuck: I just want to write good songs.”
Raised in Houston, Texas on a diet of church music and the hip-hop might of J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar and André 3000, De’Wayne discovered rock music after moving to L.A. and has since spent the past few years toying with genre. His early singles took the form of rock-infused freestyle raps: ‘Top Man’ is a Slowthai-style punk rager, ‘Let It Be’ is full of soulful catharsis while there’s flamboyance and ambition at the heart of the poptastic ‘Top Gun’.
It’s his breakthrough song ‘National Anthem’, a furious blend of hip-hop and rock, that sees De’Wayne really find his voice, though. A cry for unity that possesses a similar energy as Yungblud or Idles, the track sees De’Wayne confronting a lifetime of racist inequality. Written last year, its release date was pulled forward in response to the murder of George Floyd and ensuing Black Lives Matter protests. “It was very important that I plant my flag in the ground and let people know that this is where I fucking stand,” he declares.
The track is also De’Wayne’s first release through the pop-punk label Hopeless Records (the home of New Found Glory, Taking Back Sunday and Neck Deep), and with another fiery new creation on the horizon, NME caught up with De’Wayne to find out what’s coming next from an artist who’s never really bothered with finding their comfort zone.
What inspired you to write ‘National Anthem’?
“I just wanted to say my piece. I had Fred Hampton and Malcolm X on my mind and wanted to talk about what I’ve been dealing with my whole life. Right now, if you get pulled over by the cops and told to get out of the car, then you’re done for if you look a certain way. I can’t not talk about those things because it’s who I am and it’s what we know. But also, the U.S. national anthem isn’t a good song. It doesn’t bang. Let’s not jam to some fake shit that talks about how people are equal when that clearly doesn’t match up to what’s actually happening in America. Let’s make a national anthem we can rage to.”
You shout out Matty Healy on the song as well. Are you a big The 1975 fan?
“I had to say Matty’s name on that song because he’s spoken on people killing Black people while stealing everything else from them [“Selling melanin and then suffocate the Black men” on The 1975‘s ‘Love It If We Made It’]. I thought that was powerful and I just wanted to say hi. I love The 1975: they’re a rock band, they’re cool, hot and they play guitars, but they do so many other things as well. They keep evolving, every album is a leap forward and that’s a place I really want to get to.”
You’ve dabbled in so many genres. Do you feel like you’ve found your sound with ‘National Anthem’?
“That blend of guitars, hip-hop and hooks is 100% what I want to do. For years I was scared to be real. I felt like I had to do hip-hop because I look like this, but now I’m not afraid. I feel confident in wearing whatever I want to wear, writing a song that says whatever I want it to say and knowing where I want to go with this in the future. Sometimes when people blend rock and hip-hop it can sound trash, but we’ve got a record of that energy and it feels fucking good.”
Nova Twins told us in July that “being black women doing punk music is political”. Do you see your own artistry as being political?
“It’s definitely political. I don’t want to make it that way, but it is. When I was touring with Waterparks, I’d be performing in front of thousands of kids every night and maybe two of them looked like me. That fucks [with] you, but the thing that made me feel good about it is that I have not changed or done anything to cater to them. They accepted me and I accepted them. I love challenging people. I love coming onto a stage and bringing so much energy that people have to either love it or hate it. These kids just want to be moved by something and we really did that.”
Your new track ‘Radio-Active’ touches on that feeling of not being welcomed, right?
“I say it in the song: ‘I’m not blonde enough for rock’n’roll, I won’t get no radio / My big hair and my dresses just won’t fit inside ya stereo… When I’m flipping through the channels it’s the same ol’ formula again / They don’t give a damn about us.’ Look at what’s happening out here in music. Don’t all the people look the same and don’t they all sing about the same stuff? I’m not trying to cap on nobody, but tell me you don’t see it. They don’t care about people like me. I’m banging on that door and if you don’t let me in, I’m going to kick it down, come in and say my piece. Our music is about rage and hope. It’s me being completely optimistic, but also feeling completely fucked and thinking maybe I can sing myself out of this depression.”
“The U.S. national anthem isn’t a good song. It doesn’t bang”
Do you feel like an outsider?
“I really used to care about whether I was on the outside, but now that people are listening, it’s different. We all want to be accepted and understood, but once you grab onto a group of people who get you it doesn’t bother you as much anymore. It’s all about unity for me. When we’re together, we’re stronger. Not to be on some corny shit, but it’s true. If people don’t come together, then you’re on some silly shit like we got going on in America right now.”
You’ve spent lockdown working on a new record. What’s been inspiring it?
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Fiona Apple and I adore Arcade Fire, Joy Division, The Strokes, Iggy Pop and Radiohead. I need music with some emotion in it, and I tell people all the time that I’m just trying to write shitty Nirvana songs. Sometimes you create the best stuff and go your hardest when people aren’t listening. It feels very raw but I want to have the world sing my songs, so I try and say something that comes from the heart so people can really feel it.”
Back in 2016 one of your first songs, ‘Therapy’, addressed your desire to play in stadiums. Are you still that ambitious?
“I’m not trying to say I’ll take over the world straight away, but I think about the people we touched on that Waterparks tour when I had no label and I was just getting my ass on stage and going nuts for 30 minutes a night. With the support I’ve got now, I have a real chance. I don’t want to be hanging around for the next few months just ‘cos people think it’s cool, I want to take it really far. I’ve got big goals and I want to take them all down. Growing up poor, you just want things more than other people do — and I really want this.”
De’Wayne’s new single ‘Radio-Active’ is out now via Hopeless Records. Picture by Lizzie Steimer