Uprooting yourself to follow a dream is no easy feat; leaving everything behind in the hopes of the idea in your mind will sprout and take you on a journey is a risky move. It was one that De’Wayne Jackson made years ago when he moved to LA “with a homie… [but] he dipped out after like 10 months.”
Finding himself all alone, only the dream for company, while he “hustled, and worked shitty ass jobs, and made shitty ass songs”, the heftiness of the situation was always there, like an unwanted roommate, but now it’s all paid off.
Back in March, he signed to Hopeless Records after a stint supporting Waterparks on their UK tour, and many more support slots before that, even including a collaboration with previous Upset cover stars Chase Atlantic (‘Adios’). With the release of ‘National Anthem’ comes a new tide for De’Wayne, one that’s full of opportunity for this renegade mind to explore and indulge himself in.
Making this victory all the sweeter is just what De’Wayne had to leave behind when he made his big life choice. “I come from a big family… there are eight of us siblings, and then I got my mom, my dad, my stepdad stepmother… and I left everything thinking I could do it,” he says. “Being insane enough to believe in yourself, it was very heavy, man, but that’s why [with] these wins that we’re starting to get, I can look at it and be thankful, and be like, ‘Yo, I’m never stopping’.”
Repeatedly tripping over his words to try and put a voice to his journey and story, with all the blood, sweat and tears alongside to prove it De’Wayne’s excitement is palpable in his voice. Even from halfway across the world, the proof is there – this is someone who truly believes in what they’re doing.
Everything started for De’Wayne ‘the artist’ back when he was 14/15 in Texas, when, as he puts it “making music wasn’t cool.” In the days before social media being the fairly useful tool it is now for burgeoning acts he would pass CDs out, and finally found himself supporting some “pretty good acts” after pestering some promoters for slots.
“I was just getting in front of people and performing my ass off,” he shrugs. “I have the same energy today, but it was a little bit wilder. I did a lot of shows throughout high school. The music wasn’t there, but I could rock a crowd for some reason, and people took to that. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
Initially rapping “about how [my] dad would upset me or I want him to be a better father, or you know my girlfriend was manipulating me,” to the newer life experiences after his move to LA, De’Wayne has always strived to keep both the personal and relatable in a happy union.
“When I came here and started to actually gain life experiences, it was like now I have something to talk about other than high school blues,” he laughs. “Being a fucking emo, you know, being so emotional, helped me tell these personal stories.”
De’Wayne’s live show is certainly where these stories come to life amidst a flurry of bodies and sparkling outfits. Unhinged to a degree, the fact this is the way he’s always performed, even when the rooms were empty, or people were staring into their cups, is just why he felt the confidence in shaking his life up in such a dramatic fashion.
“I remember at 18, I opened up for this guy, and the merch lady told me ‘You could do something with this. I’m in LA, you should come’, and that was it,” he mentions. “Those years of people not caring helped me hone in on how I want to perform, how I wanted to get like a reaction out of people and get a reaction out of myself. With performances, you can give it the whole thing. You can dress up in glitter, in a dress, in a gown, in a suit and then go the fuck off. It’s fucking art, it’s tight!”
The musical beginnings of De’Wayne the artist lie in his parents and their love of R&B, soul, “or completely gospel music”, really whatever they were listening too, while it’s his dad who showed him “a lot of great Houston rap”, which helped him put those feelings he felt into words. The alternative side of things – those Marilyn Manson, ‘Fight Song’-esque drums, the palpable energy of a guitar bleeding through your speakers – didn’t manifest till De’Wayne touched down in old LA.
“I was chillin’ and got a rock album recommendation, and I heard those guitars and those lyrics and the hooks – I was literally hooked,” he says. “I was like, ‘This is how I feel having $12, a week for food living in a studio apartment in Hollywood at 19’. I’m a little angry, I’m a little pissed off about coming from a place that’s nothing like this and thinking I can figure it out. Being stupid enough to think that you can do it and the alternative music and that energy just gave me that. I feel like, you know, like a… like a black punk!”
He goes to mention the likes of Arcade Fire, Radiohead and then Nirvana as very introductory alternative artists; with little in common than their own ideas, De’Wayne’s “alternative college” as he puts it, is all based around that palpable feeling – that fire.
“I feel more like a sponge than an artist,” he exclaims. “I search for things that make me feel something. I’m finally getting to a point to where, after all these years of being so lost and not knowing who De’Wayne is, and what the music that he wants to make, a light bulb came in my head, understanding what I want to do and what I want to say.”
For artists like De’Wayne, it simply is all about energy – but that doesn’t remove the human side of the process, be it making that call to move across the country, or just admitting that “I’m scared as fuck before I go on stage.”
“I think the kids will look at me and be like, ‘What the hell? Of course not’,” he continues. “But it’s the scariest thing to me, but also it feels so natural. I know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
It’s even scarier going through these motions when nobody knows who you are, but as long as you anchor to the idea, the energy you’re harnessing, the rest will fall into place. “Nobody knew who the fuck I was, but I was performing this certain way that they hadn’t seen you know, like a black dude in rock music,” he says of his experience, even up to the most recent Waterparks support slot. “Or whatever this shit is, [this] underground thing. They hadn’t seen that so I kind of got confidence from these people not knowing who I was, messing with me and my energy.”
So, where does that energy come from, then?
“I don’t know the formula of it, I just know it is this complete freedom, being on a stage,” he chuckles. “Your managers can’t tell you what to do, the label can’t tell you what to do, you’re just going off. I don’t know what makes me, but I love it. You get up there, and you can be free. I’ll jam Bowie, or Kanye put on my ‘fit, and just be in the mirror. I get so amped up before a show it’s kind of insane.”
Being the kind of person who grew up cutting his teeth on stage, laying things down in the studio took a bit longer for De’Wayne to master, but with the experience of his support slots giving him the confidence he knew how to carve his space. “Not that there’s a formula!” he assures, grinning. “But I understood better that this is what people jump too, this is what people go crazy to, and if I can keep my same message with that, but still make them dance and make ’em feel, and make ’em cry, you know, then maybe we can do something.”
Truthfully, the idea of De’Wayne is all about living your best life. The restrictions of growing up in Houston meant that his move to LA did more than just follow a dream, it opened more doors of self-expression and greater understanding that there is more to the world than whatever your parents say.
“It inspires me now, but when I was growing up in it, I didn’t have the words or the life experience to understand why my parents are showing me that this is the only way,” De’Wayne admits. “I saw things one way before I came to LA. I understood that this is how my dad was, and my mom, you know cut my hair this way. When I came [to LA] I was fully understanding that I can do whatever I want after a few years of really searching.
“It motivates me now. I went and got a manicure the other day and, and I feel great about it. I love it, there’s no rules, bro!” he exclaims. “That’s what it comes down to. Last year I would be ashamed about it with my parents because I was like, I know they’re judging me. But at the end last year I saw ’em, and I was completely myself, and that part is liberating, beautiful… I don’t give a fuck, now!”
Taken from the September issue of Upset, out now.