d4vd on producing hits from his sister’s closet: “I grew to like being alone and finding creativity in isolation”
The digital cover star chats to HUNGER to discuss his viral ascension with 'Romantic Homicide,' and why his authenticity separates him from the rest.
It was only a matter of months ago that d4vd found himself uploading gaming clips to his YouTube channel, where he had amassed over 50,000 subscribers at just 17-years-old. Despite his success in the gaming realm, even the most optimistic individual couldn’t have predicted the millions of eyes that would soon be upon him. Due to fears of receiving copyright strikes on his YouTube channel, d4vd began to create music himself to soundtrack his montages – and much to his surprise, fans were impressed. Armed with just his phone, BandLab (a social music-making platform) and a pair of Apple earbuds, d4vd recorded his eclectic range of raw early tracks in the confines of his sister’s closet – a much cheaper alternative to studio time.
His range of influences are sparse, which is shocking when you discover that he wasn’t raised on secular music. After growing up in a devout Christian household, d4vd was finally exposed to the music that all of us know in middle school – a discovery which would ultimately shape his music today. That introduction first came on a school bus where another pupil blasting Lil Pump’s ‘Gucci Gang’ on Soundcloud piqued d4vd’s interest, prompting him to download the music streamer – where he’d find most of the artists who inspired his versatility. Scouring through d4vd’s Soundcloud archives will present you with tracks ranging from New York drill and Jersey club to glossy, beachy indie cuts. From early on, d4vd never wanted there to be restrictions on his art.
Despite some success on his Soundcloud, it was the track ‘Romantic Homicide’ that changed everything for the young musician. The richly vulnerable emo cut provided d4vd with his big break. The track peaked at number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100, racked up over 220 million streams on Spotify alone at the time of writing, and became a viral hit on TikTok. Lyrically, the song sees d4vd express feelings of resentment as a result of heartbreak – and that openness has resonated with many. Openness and self-expression have never been foreign to d4vd; from a young age, he often wrote poetry and graphic novels that would shock his teachers with their graphic content. Thankfully, that never once dismayed the artist’s comfort in vulnerability.
Although still a teenager, it’s clear d4vd has a wise and humble head upon his shoulders. A self-confessed introvert, he finds solace in isolation – which he admits can be as much a detriment as a benefit. Despite a newly signed record deal with Darkroom, home to Billie Eilish, not much has changed for d4vd. He’s not in the studio with 20 others; he prefers the confines of the closet that brought him this success and where he finds unfiltered introspection. Here, we catch up with d4vd to discuss his journey from gamer to one of music’s brightest young stars.
So, starting from the beginning, I read that you only used to listen to Christian music in your house. Is this what got you into music in the first place?
d4vd: No, it never prompted me to try to make music. I always loved music but making it never crossed my mind at all. But I used to look up to my choir members and wish I could sing like them, but I never did when it came to my music.
When you explored outside the box and found all these other styles of music, how did it feel?
d4vd: I make this analogy a lot, but it’s like Skittles and M&Ms – biting a skittle for the first time and realising it’s not chocolate. It was the craziest thing to find out you don’t have to sing to make music. You can merge all these sounds and create new and unique sounds. It was just an amazing experience from a hearing perspective as much as a feeling perspective, too, because I was hearing all this new stuff. It was great.
You’ve also been homeschooled for the past few years. Do you feel as though that’s had a positive or negative impact on you?
d4vd: Yeah, since I was 13. When I first got homeschooled, I hated it because I thought I would get an influx of calls and messages from my friends asking ‘Where you at?’ But nobody called me. Nobody. I was a big Snapchat streaker too. I got no streaks after that [laughs]. They forgot about me and I went through a period where I just hated everybody. I was just by myself all the time. I didn’t even want to talk to anybody. I got really antisocial and I started playing video games a lot. I just indulged myself in gaming as an escape. I grew to like being alone and finding my creativity in isolation.
Would you say you’re quite introverted even now as a result of that?
d4vd: Yeah, I still have the introvert in me. When I need to speak to people, I do. But if I don’t have to, I won’t.
How do you get past that introversion when making your music, which is very personal and vulnerable a lot of the time?
d4vd: It started when I was writing poetry. I’ve been writing poetry since like third grade. I would scare my teachers with all the stuff I was writing because they would give these prompts and these things to write about, and I would do the exact opposite. I read a lot of gory science fiction, graphic novels and Japanese manga. But it came from all of that; I’d be writing my journals, letting them read them, and they’d hate my stuff sometimes. I think I just try to transfer that into my music. Lyrically it doesn’t happen, but idealistically it does.
I use a lot of old English in my poems. It’s really deep, fourth-wall-breaking stuff. When I’m in my sister’s closet by myself, with no engineers, no writers and no producers, it’s just me, my phone, my earbuds, and my thoughts. When I’m alone, it’s like I can articulate myself the way I want to, and I feel like letting people hear that is like taking a step into my journal. I can do that confidently because I shouldn’t be holding it in. The stuff I do put out is a fully rounded, visualised, fully fleshed-out version of the things I keep in my head.
You mentioned that you were recording in your sister’s closet using the Apple earbuds. Is that still your go-to?
d4vd: Yeah, I went to the studio not even five days ago, and I couldn’t do it. I don’t know. I do have songs from the studio, but when I get on BandLab, on my phone, in the closet, that’s my element right here.
Do you feel you need to be alone when making music? Does that confined space help with introspection?
d4vd: Yeah, I think that’s it, to be honest. I’m not one of those guys who want 20 people in the studio. That’s a whole bunch of different ideas coming at one time. I guess from a pop perspective, I can see why people do it, but it’s not for me.
Are you very meticulous about your music? Do you have a plan before recording, or do you go with whatever emotions flow at the time?
d4vd: I think I’m a paradox because everything I do is very articulate and strategic, but I don’t set goals; I’m a terrible goal-setter. Every goal that I’ve set, I’ve failed. So I try not to plan it.
Obviously, ‘Romantic Homicide‘ has been a huge hit; how have you adjusted to all those new eyes on you?
d4vd: I love talking to the people who listen to my music. I don’t want to call them fans, but they’re like my community members. Hearing the different interpretations they’ve gotten from the song more than the numbers is so cool. I was making music for my video game montages at one point. I’m still making music and the inspiration hasn’t changed, but the ears that are listening to it have changed. It used to just be my gaming friends and people on Twitter. Those people are actually taking things from the songs instead of it being just a soundtrack for a video game or something like that. It’s cool how people resonate with the music, the lyrics and the melodies; that’s my favourite part about it.
Would you say you had a different feeling when making that track? Did you know it was going to be this successful?
d4vd: I didn’t. I sat on it for about a week before posting it on Twitter. I posted it on Twitter before TikTok and captioned it, ‘this is so real.’ Then I posted it on TikTok and I woke up to like half a million views. I didn’t know until I put the snippet out; I was holding it so close to my chest for about a week. I know a week is not a long time to hold a song, but it wasn’t until I posted a snippet that I realised it could go somewhere.
How important was social media to your come-up? Was it a calculated attempt at going viral, or was that just a byproduct of what you were creating?
d4vd: It was very instrumental in the beginning stage because the Fortnite community is very big on Twitter. When I made ‘You and I,’ which is the first time I ever put my music in a Fortnite video, it blew up on Twitter and YouTube first. Other people started using it in their montages, which propelled me even more. It became like an algorithm song, which is what we call it, where somebody would take a mainstream song and everybody would use it to get the same views. The song wasn’t copyrighted either, so it got even more popular because people could make their money off it too. TikTok is super instrumental; you just have to be strategic in the way you use it because the algorithm can sometimes eat up content. Trial and error. I have like five accounts on there. The d4vd account is the one that just so happened to get a few numbers.
What do you think sets you apart from other artists who are coming up right now?
d4vd: I don’t even know yet. I’m trying to figure that out. I mean, I try to be as authentic as possible and not try to chase a hit. I don’t pursue a trend. That’s why I probably have so much unreleased because a lot of the stuff I make could be classified as that real music that isn’t just made for a trend. I want to make music that you listen to and resonate with. And not have to put a video to it or try to make some kind of content alongside it. It’s like a complete 180 from what I used to do. I literally used to make music for content. My focus has shifted, and I’m making purely just music; that is how I think music is supposed to be made.
Are there any genres you haven’t explored yet that you want to dive into?
d4vd: All of them. My test tracks after I made ‘Runaway,’ which is still up, were New York drill songs. I evolved and devolved so many times with my sound. I want to have an identifiable sound. But then I want people to be like, ‘that’s the same guy that made that?’ Somebody asked me the other day, ‘how do you define success or validation?’ I feel like that would be it: somebody would say there’s no way this guy could have made that. That’s the peak for me.
How do your parents feel about the music you make now?
d4vd: I think they’re proud. I mean, I know my dad is, but my mum hates ‘Romantic Homicide.’ I showed it to her before I released it and she was saying, ‘I don’t like that you said that.’ I just sneakily uploaded it without consent. But they are proud, super proud.
Were they always supportive of your aspirations, whether gaming or making music?
d4vd: Not gaming. I wanted to be an engineer at one point and I wanted to be a cinematographer; people always supported me on that stuff, but never the gaming. I don’t know why. It doesn’t rot my brain cells. I was making money off it, too; it could’ve been my job! But they’re super supportive of my music.
What do you like to do outside of music? Are you still gaming as much?
d4vd: I’m still trying to go pro gaming, believe it or not. I’m playing Fortnite, Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2.0 right now. I like to do gymnastics and parkour. I bought a whole bunch of instruments and I’m trying to be the greatest musician ever, so I’m going to get lessons soon. I’ve been self-taught on piano for the longest with YouTube tutorials, but I’m trying to get actual lessons. I’m just trying to get a bunch of instruments to waste my life on [laughs].
Another thing that you seem big into is fashion. Is that something that’s been a significant form of self-expression for you?
d4vd: Yeah, I used to just wear plain black t-shirts and sweatpants every day. Now that I’m starting to dive into it, I’ve seen a bunch of Timothy Chalemét stuff and boundary-breaking fashion. I definitely want to get into it more.
What advice would you give someone in a similar position to you a few months ago who’s still trying to make a career in music?
d4vd: I would say this is super cliche, but it’s very true: just be yourself and be authentic to who you are. Sometimes you might have to follow at the beginning to get things moving, but then after you start branching out, people identify you as you and you build a brand and world for yourself. Artist wise that’s the most important thing, building a world, an identifiable world.
What can we expect from you in the coming months?
d4vd: I’m working on an EP/album. I don’t know when it’s going to be out yet. A lot of visualisers and a lot of music videos are coming soon. The beginning of 2023 is going to be so crazy. I’m working on some live shows as well. The stage is going to be crazy. My plan is to put the closet on the stage and have a whole session up there.
Have you had the chance to perform yet? Is the performance aspect of music something you enjoy?
d4vd: Yes, it’s a huge thing. The majority of the music I make comes with that live sound; it’s not super robotic or anything like that. So it’s perfect for playing in front of a live audience, especially since I don’t use artificial sounds. It’s mainly guitars, drums, and real instruments, so it will be the same. I’ve not actually done a show yet. I did a showcase for tastemakers but for actual listeners, never. I’ve never been to a concert either, so I’m planning for my show to be the first one I ever go to.