Photographer: Brandon Hicks
Welcome to the “Wonder Series,” my new series featuring some of your favorite musical creatives and what you may wonder about them with original photography and exclusive interviews. The next featured creative is Dawn. Many of you are familiar with her rise as she was on the popular MTV reality show called “Making The Band” as Dawn Richard with Puff Daddy at the helm and from that show rose the pop sensation “Danity Kane” that was signed to Bad Boy Records. When the group disbanded Dawn, Puff Daddy and singer-songwriter Kalenna Harper joined forces as a group called “Dirty Money.” When “Dirty Money” parted ways Dawn was born and her solo career began. Dawn’s successful foray into the EDM realm as an independent artist has revealed a candor and passion for the craft that is refreshing and uninhibited. She has molded a sound that is celestial, bold and all her own. So delve into the exquisite and captivating plane, captured by photographer Brandon Hicks, that is Dawn. You may think you know everything about this talented beauty but you’ll find she has some thought provoking, intelligent, forthright surprises up her fashionably well adorned sleeves.
TK: Your cross pollination of R&B and EDM within your music, sonically, feels like a seamless journey. In the beginning was the journey itself easy or a difficult transition when people expected a certain type of sound from you? If difficult why do you think people had a hard time accepting your evolution?
Dawn: It has always seemed seamless. The love I have for music as a whole made it comfortable for me to take a little from everywhere. I never expected people to expect a certain sound because my journey in music has been so diverse already. I guess I expected people to respond to music and the art the way I do, lol. Naive thinking.
TK: Perhaps most would be surprised to know that you have a minor in marine science, you’re a certified Scuba diver and your major was business marketing. What elements of marine science and business marketing did you love? Are you able to apply anything you learned within your studies towards your music?
Dawn: I studied the behavioral patterns in manatees and dolphins. I appreciated the communication between mammals and how incredibly smart Dolphins are. I think the ocean taught me patience and to respect the unknown. Marketing is something I apply everyday. My business law class is still saving me more than my microbiology lab ever did, lol, but I can apply it all. Embracing the unknown sonically was explored through my love of the ocean. The tenacity to learn the movement of technology in film and music stems from many days in business class.
TK: As an independent artist do you find you’ve become a stronger business woman and has it helped you grow as an artist? If so how?
Dawn: Absolutely. I’m relentless. Some say bitch or overwhelming, but that’s the title they give all women with big ass balls. I’ve grown because of failure and defeat in the business. I’ve felt success because of recovery and risk and I apply that all in my music and visuals. It’s all my story.
TK: Your mother has a master’s degree in reading comprehension, your grandmother was a library science major and you’ve spoken about your deep love of literature. Why is the art of storytelling so important in the fluidity of an album in the age of the “hot single?”
Dawn: Singles to me are like footprints in the sand next to an ocean at high tide. They will wash away at some point but an album that has a story is classic . “Thriller” is forever, “Songs in the Key of Life” is timeless, Shakespeare is still used as a common literature reference and that’s what I’d love to leave as a legacy. Something timeless. Something honest. A piece of my better self.
TK: What five albums integrated the art of storytelling and connected to you as an artist the most?
Dawn: Not so much albums as literature and dance; Barishnikov’s solo work in “Coppelia,” Gustav Klimt’s Judith series, I know Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet verbatim, Bjork’s Post Album and Michael Jackson’s Live in Bucharest “The Dangerous Tour.”
TK: In a world of social media the visual is just as or more important to some concerning the music. Do you think we are falling into dangerous territory when the visual becomes more important than the music?
Dawn: I think you adjust with the way the market moves. I’ve learned to use my visuals as art and make it just as important as the music in a positive way. I feel instead of seeing the negative in the way things have shifted I rather counter with molding and shaping it to work for me.
TK: You have an appreciation of manga, for those who don’t know about manga what is it and why are you drawn to it?
Dawn: Manga is a style of Japanese comic books, graphic novels and cartooning. I’ve always appreciated Japanese anime and the use of storytelling with illustration. It’s a large market and cult following that I fell in love with as a teen and it stuck. Osamu Tezuka created Astro Boy, which was as fav of mine, because the hero was small but packed a punch.
TK: One of the common denominators that an artist in the public eye will experience is criticism. You grew up in New Orleans and recently in a Saint Heron interview you’ve spoken about how your great uncle created all the Indian costumes, he’s in the Mardi Gras Indians Hall of Fame and that is part of your culture. When you’ve chosen to don Native American pieces during performances you have received criticism. Does a certain amount or type of criticism ever seem overwhelming and how do you move past that when you are misunderstood and not let it affect you as an artist?
Dawn: I think ignorance is the king of today’s opinion. Most people have done zero research before typing out paragraphs of incorrect thoughts but that’s the society we live in. When people addressed me wearing Indian garb they had no clue of New Orleans culture, Mardi Gras Indians or my background for that matter so of course it will cause debate. However I’ve come to terms with the fact that people don’t care to know, they prefer the ignorance. I will always stay true to me and where I come from. I’m proud of my New Orleans background and what we’ve contributed to the culture.
TK: In an era where people are hesitant to even broach the subject of race, music is a great platform to bring awareness or start a discussion. Growing up in the South did you experience racism? If so what was your most daunting moment and do think music has the power to evoke change?
Dawn: My music always speaks on the sign of times whether industry versus woman, woman versus industry, black versus industry or black versus life. I’ve had serious racist experiences growing up in New Orleans whether it be me being “darker than the brown paper bag,” which if you’re from the south you know this term well, or being the only black girl on every team; dance, sports, etc. I’ve encountered black against black and black against white. I played softball for most of my life and was really good at it, I was going to try out for the Olympics in the sport. When I was younger I was the only black player on the team and my team had to stop many of the games as I was spit on, stepped on and cursed at. I remember we played a team in south Louisiana that had the confederate flag airbrushed on their helmets and this is what I knew growing up so I’ve always had to be strong in all situations. I’m no stranger to the disrespect and as a woman in this industry, being independent and a black woman in electronic music, I face profiling regularly. My own culture seeing me as one thing and me seeing myself as so much more. Records like “Blow” speak on the rise of our culture and records like “Phoenix” speak on others trying to dim your talents so you don’t outshine those who prefer you to be less. Artists should never be afraid to speak on these matters. Nina Simone stated it best “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times.”
TK: I loved your cover of Adele’s “Hello” because you made it your own without losing the continuity of the original. I could see you creating a cover of “Black Velvet” by Alannah Myles. Is there a song you’ve had in mind for a cover that might surprise people?
Dawn: I’d love to cover “Addict” by K’s Choice but completely breakdown the melody and redo the vibe. The tone of the record has an haunting feel to me.
TK: Besides your love of Bjork, Crystal Castles and Bat For Lashes, what other artists are you inspired by in electronic?
Dawn: Not inspired by anything new these days. I’ve been listening to Portishead as of late. Good memories in those downbeats.
TK: You’ve said, “The cussing sailor who eats candy, only six people know that person,” alluding to being open and how you prefer to expose people to your business side. This does not mean your business side is not friendly or charismatic but implying you keep a part of yourself private from most. When you’re onstage do you have moments in your music when you feel like your audience are those six people?
Dawn: That’s the only time people see the personal side of me if they aren’t those six. They become those six in that moment, yes, that’s why I believe my movement is so amazing. They know me because they get to see it. They believe in it because they see the real me. Something about the stage feels safe, it always has been that for me.
TK: What gems have you come across in your travels? Could be a place, person, food, etc., that left the biggest impression upon you?
Dawn: New York somehow always proves to be my best shows. The people receive me so well and the energy at every show is so amazing. I never forget that. I always have sold out shows no matter how many times I come and that’s always big to me. I appreciate the love and I guess the fact that I got my start there somehow always brings it full circle.
TK: Do you find that sometimes people are obsessed with labels and find cons in not fitting neatly in into genre boxes whether it be the electronic box, the R&B box, rock box, etc.,? Does this only pertain to artists depending on the artist or their style of music? Or is this problem a thing or becoming a thing of the past?
Dawn: I think people are starving for something new but have no idea what it is because we’ve been force fed what to like for way too long. I think we need to be reprogrammed. We need to start thinking for ourselves and going out, seeking what we want. Labels are seeing this shift and artist are as well. Change is inevitable, boxes are ancient. No need to live in them anymore. Technology has broken that mold for us.
TK: How do you want people to feel after listening to your music?
Dawn: Like they were transported to another world.
TK: What is the greatest piece of advice you’ve received from another artist you admire?
Dawn: Still waiting on that. I’ll let you know when it comes, lol.
TK: What would you say to those who are having a difficult time because loved ones or friends are not supportive of their choice to make their passion a career, particularly in a creative realm whether it be an artist, musician or actor?
Dawn: Fuck them. Do what moves you. They’ll kiss your ass when you’ve built your version of success.
TK: Upcoming projects you’re working on?
Second Single coming in a few, visual for “Not Above That” coming in a fewer and album coming in a fewest. lol.
Dawn is currently on her “Redemption” tour:
5/13 • Arizona • Form Fest
5/21 • North Carolina • Moogfest
5/27 • San Fran • Folsom
6/10 • Brooklyn NY • Market Hotel
6/11 • Montreal Newspeak
6/16 • Lisbon • ZBD
6/17 • London • Rockfeedback
6/18 • Stockholm • Fasching
6/23 • Siestes Eleectroniques
6/24 • Manchester, UK – Band on the Wall
6/25 • Bristol, UK – Colston Hall
6/29 • Scandinavia • Rockslide
7/15 • Piercy, CA • Northern Nights Festival