When it comes to pushing the creative boundaries, one cannot leave out the name Dawn Richard. She is one of the few artists that constantly reinvents her style and music. One can never tell what to expect after she had gone solo through her exploration of sounds, which is why it is important to acknowledge and celebrate her artistry with the release of her latest album titled, Second Line.
Dawn first stepped into limelight as a member of the R&B girl group Danity Kane, on the MTV reality TV show called ‘Making the Band’, created by music entrepreneur Diddy in 2005. After the group disbanded, Dawn Richard joined Diddy in his music trio project named Dirty Money in 2009. That is when this New Orleans native took control of her creative process with her solo career. And as an independent artist, she went on to produce continous refreshing sounds that impresses the massess.
With six solo albums, one Dirty Money album, three Danity Kane albums, a few acting roles including a cameo on the TV series Insecure, plus dabbling as a content creator for 'Adult Swim,' the nighttime identity of Cartoon Network in her resume, Dawn Richard is a force to be reckoned with. With the release of Second Line, she celebrates black artists who developed the sounds of electronic music in the early years for a musical experience like no other. Let's delve deep into the album that celebrates New Orleans and learn more about her astounding creative process.
Hi Dawn. How's 2021 been treating you so far?
It has been amazing. The reception of the album has been spectacular. It feels like this album can be an opportunity for people to step out of this pandemic with positivity and just dance. I'm also excited to see the push for more black women in the electronic or dance space.
You have always been fearless and innovative when it comes to music. What was your goal going into creating Second Line?
My goal was just to create. That's always my main focus. We were kind of stuck in our homes during the pandemic, and I was in the middle of finishing my album, and I was inspired. I realised that we still haven't had the conversation about the lack of diversity in a lot of other genres. And I really wanted to make it a point to show cultural creativity history heritage in a space where it sometimes is lacking. I wanted to show New Orleans in a way it hasn't been captured.
Since Second Line is based on electronic music, what were some of your first memories of it?
I think some of my favorites were sequencing this album, producing with the incredible Ila Orbis, and applying Analog, Moog, and sound design to this project. The use of Afrofuturism and post-apocalyptic references was really exciting to apply to the visuals as well.
Was there a specific moment that triggered you to take on this direction for Second Line?
Actually no, because I've been doing this sound and sharing this message since my first solo project. This has been eight years in the making, so it felt natural to proceed in this direction. I think the new element is the ability to be home in New Orleans to create it.
What's the process like working on this album?
The album took about two years to make. It started before the pandemic and then during the pandemic, and then post-pandemic, so it kind of went through a lot of stages. I had the project finished before I even spoke to Merge Records, so I knew where to go with this project. I knew what I wanted to say and how I wanted it conveyed, and I was lucky enough to build the pieces on my own in a private sanctuary. I went through my downs, ups, and in-betweens and grew with this album because so many things happened in the span of two years. I recorded in LA and New Orleans. The majority of it at home in New Orleans.
Were there any artists you were listening to during the process of this album?
I wanted to study the early dance and house soundscapes. So Larry Heard, Crystal Waters, and then Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans for cadence were some I was revisiting. I wanted to make sure I paid homage to those who elevated dance music and show that black culture has been on the pulse of it from the very beginning, whether it's from Detroit, Washington D.C., Chicago, or New Orleans.
You're known for some of the most exciting album artworks with each project, and this one is nothing short of amazing. Tell us about the concept behind this album cover.
I knew that I wanted a local artist to do the cover. I'm a huge fan of Ceaux; he is an incredible artist out in New Orleans. His eye captures New Orleans and its culture in such a beautiful vibrant way with the color choices, and also the way he paints the Mardi Gras Indian has always been incredible to me. We sat down, and I told him the concept of King Creole, what she embodies what I wanted to look like. We did sketches and came up with the vision for the cover. I wanted to combine machine, which represents the mainstream part of my career, and then the human side, which is the DIY-independent side of my career. And the feather representing the carnival Indian in New Orleans within the peace.
Do you have any particular artists who come to mind when preparing for performances, photoshoots, fashion, and music videos for Second Line?
No, I've always wanted to just do me. I never look at trends or other artists for ideas. I'm more driven to do things that just feel good to me. It's more about the story I'm telling and how I create a visual vision to make sense of the sonic experience.
What would you say you are most proud of when it comes to the evolution of the Dawn Richard sound?
That I have my sound, I feel like I've created a lane for myself. And it was a hard struggle to do it.
Looking back at your projects, what would you say is the one running theme you have going into each release?
That a black person in music can be a versatile artist, they can be in any genre and thrive.
Having been in the music industry for so long, what would you say is the biggest lesson you have gained that you put into good use today?
Be your own cosign. Be your own cheerleader. Be a brand. Be your own narrator of your story. No one can deliver your vision better than you.
We are already mid-way into 2021. What have you got planned for us for the rest of the year?
It's time for the tour, baby. I'm going on the road with Purity Ring, a band that I've always been a fan of, so I'm excited to take the album and bring it to a live experience.
Here's a Dawn Richard exclusive you'd love to hear. Press Play.
Cover Image: Petros Koy / Alexander Le'Jo
Writer | Kevin Yeoh
Kevin is a Malaysian who spends way too much time on Twitter and YouTube. He has also been listening to the same podcast since 2016 on repeat.