Dawn Richard doesn’t move forward, she evolves. Since our introduction to the singer over a decade ago as a contestant and eventual champion on MTV’s Making the Band, Richard has run through the cycle of artistic birth and death innumerable times–first as a member of the Diddy-assembled girl group Danity Kane, then as a member of Puff’s side project Dirty Money, and now as a visionary solo performer. It’s no surprise, then, that her current, futurist spin on R&B takes considerable cues the phoenix–a mystical beast legendary for its regenerative powers-–inspired her breakthrough single titled after the beast, and accompanied by an attention-grabbing visual depicting the singer as a cybernetic, feathered, awe-inspiring beast.
Ten years after making her public debut on TRL with Danity Kane, Richard’s lifelong dreams of innovation–heretofore fallen on deaf ears–are finally coming to fruition. In 2013, she released Goldenheart, the first in a color-coded trilogy of solo albums exploring love, sexuality, and the human-experience from a post-modern, post-internet perspective. The project went global last year with part two, last year’s Blackheart–a labyrinthine collection of brittle R&B and off-kilter IDM arrangements light years away from the formulaic bangers of her group material. This fall, she’ll release the trilogy’s conclusion, REDemption: and if the songs and visuals released in recent months serve as any indication–not to mention INFRARED, her recent surprise EP with producer Kingdom–it’ll be her most magnificent rebirth yet.
Richard took the stage at Rough Trade last Friday for a sold-out Northside festival appearance. Instead of her usual backing band, the singer was accompanied by DJ Earl (of the celebrated footwork crew Teklife), Kingdom, two back-up dancers–and a 9-foot tall, rainbow-lit triangle that pulsed in time with the beat. Despite some less-than-ideal surrounding circumstances–a venue swap from the far-more-intimate Market Hotel, a mic setup incongruent with Richards’ dance-heavy performance style–Richards marveled, delivering a dazzling set spanning her young-but-fruitful solo career. I sat down with Richard shortly before the much-anticipated show to discuss her new song “Serpentine Fire,” the next frontier of virtual reality, future plans, and much more.
You just released a new track for Adult Swim, “Serpentine Fire.” Is that track indicative of what we can expect from your upcoming album Redemption?
Yeah. “Not Above That,” “Wake Up,” “Dance” kind of resonate with what the sound is going to be, just for the red era.
The new album’s coming out in the fall, right?
Yes. I know the date that I want, but the reason why we can’t announce it is because the technology we have built around it has to be built.
Speaking of technology, you just did that 360 degree concert for YouTube. What was that like?
It was amazing. I think I was already on their radar when I did the Motion Capture video for “James Dean” last year. We had already hacked into the Kinect system to do mo-capping and I think they saw that I was into technology in a different way.
This next premiere that I have literally coming up in four days [6/14] will have another big announcement that nobody’s expecting, which is even more innovative. I had announced on YouTube that I was going to do a VR piece, so I have a VR piece coming out, and it’s going to have a 2D companion piece to come with it.
What do you find most interesting about virtual reality as an artist?
It’s connecting on another dimension, on another level. I think it’s activating more senses than normal for people, and I think it’s bringing a brand closer to you in a way that is creative and innovative. There’s something disruptive about it that I like. It’s activation that you aren’t necessarily ready to work with in that kind of way and I like that uncomfortable feeling. I’m more prone to the design, and the sound design within VR. That’s what I would like to concentrate on: spatial sound, and how that’s going to connect with VR. That’s an exciting project for me: hos spatial design will be part of VR.