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Since breaking out during lockdown, Texan rock star De’Wayne has taken the scene by storm. As he continues to rise, he explains how he’s exploded, the danger in his music, and “becoming an asshole onstage” – in a good way…
De’Wayne has, by his own admission, never done things the standard way. It’s how he likes it, and it’s a choice that’s serving him pretty well so far.
“I feel like that’s the story of my life and my career,” the 27-year-old Texan proudly tells Kerrang! today. “I’ve kind of never taken the route that other artists have taken, you know? It’s always taken way longer, and it’s like I’ve always just been in the corner or on the sidelines.”
This patient approach is working wonders. By the time you read this, the burgeoning star will have just played his first-ever UK headline date in London, as well as a pair of appearances at Reading & Leeds. Having broken through during the pandemic and caught the eye of Hopeless Records (plus a legion of fans, whom he calls The Circle), De’Wayne is currently enjoying a year in which he is finally seeing real, tangible success, following the release of his killer debut album STAINS in 2021. And, because of what he’d built in that time, he genuinely wasn’t worried about things not translating post-lockdown.
“I don’t know why, I’ve always been very confident, and I knew the kids that I was bringing along,” he smiles. “We would do Zooms, we would do Hangouts, we would talk to each other. It’s really more of a family thing, and so I was very sure that when I went on my first tour kids would come out – and they did. It’s awesome what we’re building.
“When people get to see me perform or hear my music, they’re seeing and hearing it for the first time,” he adds of this strange – but productive – period. “I really like it that way, even though it’s taken so much time! But it’s really special to me. I like the hard route; it makes me a bit, I would say, dangerous (laughs).”
Chatting to De’Wayne, ‘dangerous’ probably isn’t the first word you’d use to describe him. Unbelievably cool. Warm and generous. Ridiculously passionate and full of love. The musician has endless charisma and personality to match his genre-defying blend of alternative rock and pop-punk, and while he believes he’s still growing as both an artist and a human being, he’s humble and thankful for his story so far. Having said that, the De’Wayne you’ll have seen performing lately is a rather different entity – with more of a sprinkle of that ‘danger’ he mentioned.
“I get nervous before every show because I really care, but when the intro and the song comes on, I’m ready to freak people out,” he chuckles. “I think people see that I’m not an asshole, but when I get onstage, I do act like a bit of an asshole. I like to hump the stage and take my shirt off and cuss. But it’s so pure: it’s raw rock’n’roll to me, and people embrace that. I’ve been seeing thousands of kids just get down to it!”
Is that an alter-ego that comes out, or is it still you?
“Man…” he ponders. “I feel like lately – and this is not an ego thing – I have been more like that person off of the stage, too. And it’s not that I’m trying to be, it’s just really how I am. For a while I wasn’t confident enough, while I was still trying to get my life together. It was like, ‘I can’t be acting crazy in front of everyone!’ I wanted people to respect me and see that I’m a nice person. But lately I think the stage vibe has been coming out… in a good way!”
This is a journey of self-exploration that De’Wayne has been enjoying for several years now. Having grown up on hip-hop, gospel and R&B in his Houston hometown, he moved to Hollywood to realise his dream when he was 19. It was there in LA where he was completely transformed by rock’n’roll.
Things didn’t take off straight away, though, and he made a living doing “shitty jobs” until more recently, when his musical career began to really start moving during COVID. It was an opportunity he completely threw himself in to.
“To be one of those [pandemic] artists, I think it’s a blessing, because a lot of people really went in a different direction than I did in 2020,” he reflects. “I felt like I became a professional, but we were all in the house. It really inspired me and motivated me to do more, and to give more of myself, because I was in a very interesting position to have a little bit more freedom to create music. I never really had all day and all night before – I’ve always had to work, or just take care of things and figure out my next meal. So when I was able to create fully, and get my career going, it just felt really nice. And it felt like it was for more than me: I was doing it for my family, and doing it for people that really believed in me.”
Indeed, since the release of STAINS – as well as this year’s brilliant singles with POORSTACY (DIE OUT HERE) and grandson (GOOD MOOD) – De’Wayne’s been feeling the love from all angles. From his team, from his pals (like Waterparks frontman Awsten Knight), and from the scene as a whole.
“At the beginning, and with STAINS I really thought that people wouldn’t [embrace me],” he admits. “And that was not the case! In a special, weird way, I have a lot of people rooting for me, and I find that really beautiful. For 20-plus years it was just me. I was like, ‘I’m going to do this; I’m going to figure it out.’ But I feel like people opened their arms so wide for me, and with so much love and support. And, as I get better, I think it’s only going to continue to happen.”
From festival main stages to his first-ever De’Wayne’s World headline tour in the States, De’Wayne has been making up for lost time on the road this year. Ask him to pick out a favourite moment so far, and he’s simply got too many to choose from.
“I feel so honoured,” he grins. “I would say [festivals] Governor’s Ball and Lollapalooza, which were a chance for me to get on main stage with what I like to say is ‘the big boys’, and I get to showcase what I do in front of a huge crowd who don’t really know who I am. Those were very special, and I was full of emotions after Lollapalooza. Getting to play before Green Day – who are one of my favourite bands – and people just really reacted very well, moshing and doing things at one o’clock when they should have probably been at church or meditating (laughs). I love that!”
As for his debut headline run, he was “very emotional” about the whole thing, taking time out of his day on tour to write about these moments and be present and grateful for it all.
“Every night was like, ‘Oh my god!’ to be honest with you,” he says. “Man… to have my own people come out and rave with me is just all I’ve ever wanted, you know? Some nights it would be 70 kids, some nights it would be 100-200 – it was in that range, and I loved that. The bands that I dig so much had to do that groundwork, and I love just going to random cities and having kids come out. It was a special moment for me, because I had been waiting for that moment for so long.”
So many gigs also gave De’Wayne the chance to perform 2022 collabs DIE OUT HERE and GOOD MOOD – and they provoked such strong reactions, that he’s optimistically looking ahead to second album My Favorite Blue Jeans with “confirmation” that he’s on the right musical path.
“They really touched people in a way that I hadn’t done before, and to get to play them live at these festivals and shows really worked well,” he smiles of the tracks, which will both be on the upcoming follow-up to STAINS. “I think I’ve found a really good sweet spot in just making really great rock music, and telling stories, and doing poetry over these songs that are still catchy and you can sing along to them, but you can also really feel something. I think people are really gonna dig [my next album], and I think it’s a step-up from STAINS in a real way. This will be my second record, and I love that at the beginning I was really finding myself and maturing. I think that the shows, and me just hitting that sweet spot mentally, just really helped with this record. People are gonna be surprised with some of the things that are on there (laughs).”
So no ‘difficult second album’ experiences were had, then?
“Oh, no, not at all!” De’Wayne asserts. “I feel like with my favourite records, it’s really about that time in a person’s life. And there was a specific thing that I was going through, and learning, and experiencing, and it’s something that I really got to lay down on the songs with my producer. It wasn’t hard at all, because I was just living, man! I was experiencing things, and it was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never felt these things, so now I have new stuff to put on the record.’
“STAINS was me trying to break into the industry – literally as a poor kid from Texas, having to come to LA and make something of myself,” he adds. “It was like I was growling at people (laughs). But for the second album, I think the story and what I was going through really flows through nicely on it.”
Just as De’Wayne feels ready to lift the lid on this new tale, so too does he want to continue to strive to get his music out there for everyone to hear. It doesn’t matter how – he’s just ready to put the work in, as he always has done.
“We’re gonna tour a lot in the fall when we get back from England,” he shares, looking ahead to the rest of 2022. “And the album will be ready to come out. We’re gonna promote the hell out of the record, because the label and I, and my team, we really believe in it. So whatever that is: shows, radio, more TV commercials… I just want to get in front of people and really show them that my music is good. I believe it, so I want to promote the hell out of it!”
Here comes the De’Wayne…
My Favorite Blue Jeans is due out on October 28 via Hopeless Records. This interview was originally published in the autumn 2022 issue of the magazine.
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