D4vd became a musician by accident. In the truest of Gen Z career goals, he grew up wanting to be a professional video game player, and spent his early teen years uploading short clips of himself playing Fortnite to YouTube under the name Limit Ant, with his videos amassing over 15 million views in total. It was here where he’d begin releasing his own tracks, fulfilling the need for non-copyrighted music in his Fortnite montages by making his own tracks on social music platform BandLab, and it changed his outlook entirely.
Over the past year, d4vd (born David Burke) has continued to quietly upload music to Soundcloud. The beachy indie sound of his earlier cuts ‘Here With Me’, ‘You and I’ and ‘Take Me To The Sun’ is more in line with the likes of Wallows and Rex Orange County than the soaring, richly detailed emo of his latest single, ‘Romantic Homicide’. The track has been a breakthrough for d4vd: it debuted within the Billboard Hot 100 in the US, has surpassed 75 million streams, and is quickly becoming a trending hit on TikTok.
Yet despite his recent success, d4vd admits he only started thinking about music seriously a couple of months ago. “I didn’t even think about how far it could actually take me in terms of the numbers and everything”, he says over Zoom from his family home in Texas.
At only 17-years-old, not much has changed in d4vd’s life since the runaway success of ‘Romantic Homicide’, but it feels like it’s about to. Over the summer, he hit the studio in Los Angeles with musician Jim-E Stack, who’s previously written and produced for the likes of Caroline Polachek, Dominic Fike, and Gracie Abrams. Having recently signed with Darkroom Records – home to Billie Eilish and Holly Humberstone – d4vd’s striking bedroom pop with a nightmarish edge fits right in with the sounds of his new labelmates.
As ‘Romantic Homicide’ continues to race up the charts, NME meets d4vd for his first-ever interview – which takes place in the middle of homeschooling, in a slot that’d usually be reserved for spending time making new music in his closet – to chat about his breakthrough single, his unique upbringing, and his big plans for the future.
‘Romantic Homicide’ is having a real moment online. How have you navigated all of the newfound attention?
“It’s been amazing, actually. I’ve had small moments like this before with songs on SoundCloud, but to have a song take off the way it did and have it be as natural as it did without me pushing it in somebody’s face for a straight week is actually amazing. And the fact that people resonated with the music… it kind of promoted itself.”
What was it about ‘Romantic Homicide’ that you think has resonated with people?
“I think it’s so simple. [The song] is relatable in a way; it’s not crazy with the vocals, it only has two layers of background vocals for the harmonisation. It’s just a track that you don’t have to think too much about to listen to, you can easily connect to what’s being said because I’m not over-saturating the sound, and it’s just the feeling that anybody could have made that song.
“I mean, you hear music that’s mainstream now, and it’s like, ‘Man, I gotta have this voice to do this’ or ‘I really wish I could sing like that’. But honestly, you could pop into your closet, and literally just make a [song like] ‘Romantic Homicide’ and it goes straight to the brains of over 40 million people.”
You’ve been using BandLab to make music at home. What’s your relationship to the platform like?
“So my relationship with BandLab has been amazing in that I can make music literally from my closet. The CEO reached out a couple of weeks ago and said he was amazed that somebody who has used the platform he made has managed to get on the Billboard [200 singles] chart.
“[BandLab] has literally changed my life. I couldn’t ask for more – it’s allowed me to make music from my house without any professional mic, as I literally just use Apple earbuds and the app on my phone. I’m able to make the music that I like without compromise.”
Did you teach yourself how to make music?
“I didn’t even watch a YouTube tutorial, everything is really laid out for you on BandLab – kudos to the creators because the user interface is so user-friendly. I was able to just get on there with a stock preset, dabbled in EQ and reverb, and started making my own music. But I just dabbled in it myself and created a whole array of presets for myself to use.”
You’ve been homeschooled since the age of 13. How has your upbringing affected the way you’ve built your career?
“I think if I was still in public school, I wouldn’t have had time to play video games, and then I wouldn’t have had time to focus on having music for [my videos]. I don’t think that I would have made music otherwise. Now I can learn what is not being taught in regular school curriculums, and extracurricular activities; I can learn more about what I’m interested in instead of having somebody telling me what I need to know.”
Going into making music, were there any specific influences for you? There’s a lot of different genres that come through each song of yours.
“I grew up in a very Christian household, and we listened to strictly gospel music for the majority of my life. Lately, I started listening to secular [non-religious] music. Previously, I had the perception that all music outside of gospel was just rap, so when I found this music with instrumental production, I realised that you don’t even have to sing anymore to be able to make music. I’m making the sounds that blend what I’ve heard prior and new things that I’m interested in: I’m mixing them and I’m putting my own spin on it.”
“You could pop into your closet, make a [song like] ‘Romantic Homicide’, and it goes straight to the brains of over 40 million people.”
What was happening in your life when you were making ‘Romantic Homicide’?
“The song wasn’t [called] ‘Romantic Homicide’ until about two days before release. There was three other versions of the song because I found the instrumental by scrolling through YouTube, and I had an idea for it as soon as I heard it. It didn’t pan out and I didn’t like it. And then the second time, I tried to put a hip-hop verse on it.
“I got really bored one day and hopped back in the closet and then the initial ‘I’m scared’ moment came. I was like, I gotta keep rolling with this [music], and it just continued to roll out that way. I wasn’t even thinking about what was being said in my lyrics until ‘in the back of my mind’. As soon as I said that, it was like, ‘What emotion do I want to come back?’ And I realised it was a feeling of losing someone and having feelings of resentment towards that person, then they disappear from the back of your mind. I don’t really know what came over me to make that type of music that day, because the an early version of the song was very happy.”
You posted on Instagram recently that “’Romantic Homicide’ 2, 3 and 4 are done then I’m retired”. Is there truth to that statement?
“Yeah, that’s a lie. I never want to remake a song. If you look at my discography, I don’t have two songs that sound the same. But there’s more music coming that’ll contextualise the previous music as well. You can expect more from both sides: new releases and old releases, new visuals for old releases and new visuals for new releases.”
As a Black artist navigating the indie-sphere, is it important for you to pave your own way and create music on your own terms?
“I love it. The amount of DMs I get from people saying, ‘I thought you were white’… it’s so funny to me! And I like it, because it’s like I’m taking a spin on the stigma about what African-American creators’ music should be, and how it should be perceived, and what they should be making. It now feels like you can make whatever music you feel like making, you don’t have to be put in a box. You can be successful in your own lane, depending on who you are, and be true to yourself, and just do what you love to do.”
Has the success of ‘Romantic Homicide’ affected the way that you want to make music in the future?
“Not really. I went to the studio when I was in LA twice, I made three songs in the studio in May, and then I came back home and it was like I never left BandLab. So that [app] is my go to – I’m pretty happy making music in the closet. It’s not like, ‘Oh man, I’ve experienced the studio now I’ve got to go there all the time’. I have a studio when I’m in LA, and then when I come home, I’ve got my phone.”
What’s else can we expect from you soon?
“It’s whatever comes to me in the moment. I’ve been making a lot of happier music recently because my mom is like, ‘Why do you keep making all these sad songs?’. So whatever the instrumental tells me what needs to be said is what I say on it. We’re still getting ideas for an initial live show in the very near future, the first show is gonna be an experience. It’s going be amazing.”
d4vd’s new single ‘Romantic Homicide’ is out now