Stay tapped in with Our Generation Music.

d4vd Interview: ‘In a sea of fish, you have to be a shark sometimes’

Enter the ‘d4vdverse’ / photo courtesy of PR

In the weeks leading up to his debut EP, Petals To Thorns, everything seemed to come full circle for d4vd.

His sister’s closet, which was labeled “Studio” scribbled in black sharpie on a taped piece of computer paper, wasn’t just the backdrop of our scheduled Zoom call, but is the entry point of his musical origin. Equipped with his phone, ear buds and Bandlab, the Queens-born, Houston-based singer unknowingly revitalized a sound forgotten from a walk-in closet — introducing it to a new generation altogether.

It hasn’t even been a full year since the 18-year-old star broke through with his dreamy, alt-pop anthem “Romantic Homicide” — the true catalyst to his ascension as an artist. Yet, David Anthony Burke (or d4vd) thinks well beyond the music, looking forward while holding a bouquet of white roses. “You look at a rose at face value. It’s really beautiful,” he said, donning a white sweater and a pair of chains that glisten in the sunlight. “But then, you go to pick it up and it stabs you. This is the foundation of my art.”

It’s hard to believe the first-ever concert he attended was his own, embarking on a sold-out six city tour earlier this year. His mother was the first to push him into making his own music, not knowing of her son’s success until the acclaim of “Romantic Homicide” set in. Faceless until its release last September, he describes it as a “boomerang effect,” admitting to his track record of “not listening to my mom” only to reach stardom stemming from copyright strikes on his Fortnite montages. An avid YouTuber-gamer turned bona fide trendsetter, d4vd’s prior efforts of trying to get into FaZe (one of the most prestigious professional gaming clans) shifted when he realized music is his true calling, despite nearly quitting just before he saw success.

“I felt like I was in an either/or situation for a while… I was just in a tightrope battle between gaming and music where I would spend too much time on one thing and not the other. So, I took a step back and thought ‘let me just go back to what made me, me,’ because I felt like I was stepping away and catering to a lot of people’s opinions. I really brought it back to me, and finally made music for what I intended to do with it and started playing games just for fun again — not worrying about the numbers, streams and all that. I’m happy I did.”

d4vd to OGM

It isn’t only music for d4vd either, with plans to build a multiverse of content surrounding his character IT4MI — the antagonist of his ever-evolving grand narrative. Heavily inspired by Japanese art, manga and anime, d4vd’s influences all find a flow in one another, using his cinematography background as a guide for the “d4vdverse” he’s cultivated. Also writing poetry, a book and working to include more visual aspects in his art, d4vd sees the bigger picture even if he wasn’t initially looking for it.

Storytelling is his forte, finding relatability by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes. “I would build these characters for my songs where I would place myself in the shoes of different people and have a different mindset,” he said. “I try to have a different outlook on life, that’s how I feel I’m able to collect these lyrics and not have them be specific to me, but then they can apply to other people’s lives.”

Petals To Thorns is an embodiment of his thematic lore, with highlights like “The Bridge” and “Backstreet Girl” proving to be heavenly yet hard-hitting. Alongside singles in “Sleep Well,” “Worthless,” “Don’t Forget About Me” and “PLACEBO EFFECT” (which was purposely left off the project), whether it be d4vd’s raw, somber vocals or emotional electric guitars, each song elevates the Houston singer by way of grandiose, beautiful sounds. “The Bridge” encapsulates this best, proving to be gateway to greener pastures that d4vd isn’t rushing to get to. He lives for the moment, as the emotional brevity of Petals To Thorns epitomizes self-reflection at its core — falling in and letting go of love.

As the rising indie-alt phenom kicks off his headlining “Petals To Thorns Tour,” we spoke with d4vd about his debut EP, inspirations, gaming, artistic intent, social media, “Romantic Homicide” and more in this Our Generation exclusive.

Listen to ‘Petals To Thorns’ below!

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Don’t Forget About d4vd…

JB: I know it’s a bit of a loaded question, but tell me as best you can the emotions you have going into your debut EP? How has your life changed over the past year?

d4vd: “It’s been a whirlwind bro… I went from being homeschooled and making music in my sister’s closet to meeting a whole bunch of different people because of it. I was getting copyright strikes for my Fortnite montages out of nowhere, and I’m telling my mom about it and she said ‘make your own music.’ So I’d be making music in my sister’s closet, that you see right behind me, with earbuds in and my phone… on BANDLAB. It’s interesting because my mom found out about everything I was doing when the rest of the world did. Mind you, I had a track record of not listening to my mom, and she had no idea I was making music up until [‘Romantic Homicide’]. It was like a boomerang effect.”

JB: Fortnite is where it all started, but when was that first ‘oh sh*t’ moment that really made you feel like you could pursue a career in music? What was that turning point for you?

d4vd: “I started doing meme covers… Like I’d take popular songs and I’d pitch my voice up to sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks. So I’d post those on TikTok and essentially gimmick my way through the algorithm… I was getting thousands of people to use my sounds. I was silently spread across the entire platform at that point. I got around 500,000 followers off of it… Boom, it’s the target audience that I wanted: The kids that just want to have fun, and the kids that don’t know nothing but memes and stuff like that, right? And I’m working that until I made a Chipmunk cover of ‘Poodle Projector’ by Rex Orange County, and Kai Cenat reacted to it. People thought it was my song, because Kai’s audience doesn’t really know about indie music. I thought that this is a perfect opportunity for me to release an original song — and say it’s mine instead of doing it for memes. So the next snippet I posted was ‘Romantic Homicide.’ I wrote in the caption, ‘This is an original song. This is not a cover.’ And all the comments were like ‘Oh, what genre is this’ only because people didn’t know what this kind of music was. It was an entry point to the genre and me as an artist. At the same time people are finding out about indie, were finding about me as like the gateway to that genre. So I was putting on myself and putting on the genre as well.”

JB: With ‘PETALS TO THORNS,’ what were your thoughts and intent behind putting the songs you did on there? There’s nine tracks, and four of them were unheard. Tell me how you formulated the EP off the back of the singles you’ve dropped, your overall feelings and your creative vision for it?

d4vd: “I work best under pressure. So when I’m making music, I really don’t care what project I gotta make or what deadlines I have. If I gotta make something in a specific area, I’m not doing it until I feel like it’s crunch time. I like to tell stories in my music. The first seven songs I made, I was still homeschooled — an independent artist doing whatever. And I would build these characters where I would place myself in the shoes of different people and have a different mindset in every song. I try to have a different outlook on life, that’s how I feel I’m able to collect these lyrics and not have them be specific to me, but then they can apply to other people’s lives. So within this process, I wasn’t even thinking about a project or the bigger picture of my career. But the message fit together down the line. The story I wanted to tell was a delusional relationship: Like ‘the love you thought you had’ plus heartbreak and the things you thought you experienced, but it was all in your head. I was like, how do I express that? But then, I thought about the white rose. I’ve been using it [as a symbol] forever. You look at a rose at face value. It’s really beautiful, but then you go to pick it up and it stabs you. This is the foundation of the art. The tracklist was the hardest part, we did that like two weeks ago I can’t lie.”

JB: You said it yourself, you work best under pressure. As an outsider looking in, it’s always the best when you can tell something is super fresh. I got that effect as soon as I listened to the EP, that you made these new tracks more recently than others.

d4vd: “That’s awesome! So you notice that because I’m talking about themes of dreams and things not being real, that there’s always an aspect of delusion in your relationship. Or there’s a piece of something that you thought was there that wasn’t there. ‘Placebo Effect’ isn’t on the tracklist. It was the first track I dropped in the six months after ‘Romantic Homicide.’ So as you’re going through the EP and you listen to every track, you notice that something is missing. You have to leave the project to go hear ‘Placebo Effect.’ I feel like that was the connecting dots between just being music and this being an experience. Like, If I can’t drop an album, I gotta drop a piece that has to be intricate. I left ‘Placebo Effect’ out because it’s really a placebo effect. You thought it was gonna be on the project, but it’s not”

JB: I never thought about it that way… The cinematic essence to your music is truly above and beyond. I know you’ve said in the past that the “4” in your name represents the four different universes or characters you’re planning to build around your art. The blindfold character we’ve seen in your music videos, who or what does he represent at this stage of the game and what other characters can we expect?

d4vd: “The blindfold character’s name is IT4MI, which means ‘pain’ in Japanese. He’s very inspired by Tokyo Ghoul and Jujitsu Kaizen. He’s the main antagonist… To be real, a lot of this stuff I’m doing is from my failed cinematography career, and he was a part of that project I worked on. I was writing a book at the time, that I’m still trying to finish along with my other poetry, and I always wanted a story where the main character is the antagonist, but not have the antagonizing force be anything [external]. It’s a personal battle. Everything is like you against you. So if I could embody the enemy, and the enemy is myself, I feel like a lot of people can relate to that.”

“IT4MI’s the one that’s really creating these music videos. He’s the one that’s tormenting me inside my head, making me think that all these things are real. He pops up in like little cameos and spots in different aspects of my life. And I feel like that’s how it happens in real life, too. It’s like parts of your soul that leave you going back to a conversation you have four days ago and ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?’ What came over me?’ I wanted to play with the concept of a multiverse and differing timelines. Like imagine if I never did music, I got the gaming character that I’m trying to build on. Or imagine if I never did music or gaming, but I was a social media influencer because I gotta a lot of TikTok humor. So I was like, ‘Man, I’m gonna create that as a separate character.’ Then maybe down the line, I can have them release music with different genres of music under every name. I want to get super ambitious with it.”

d4vd on ITAMI

JB: I wanna touch back on ‘gimmicks,’ because your ascension doesn’t feel like that at all. You’ve been so intentional with everything that you do. When you speak on using social media as a gimmick at first for people to find you, what are your thoughts on the social media generation that has ultimately propelled you to where you’re at?

d4vd: “You have to recognize your target audience because you can have the best content, but it goes out to the wrong people. Especially with being a gimmick too, I didn’t want to push it too far. I was noticing dips and things like that in different songs and the way I was approaching it with memes and screen recordings. But knowing how to use the algorithm to your advantage is everything. With my sound being nostalgic, but also being current in the moment, it was something that I did subconsciously not even attempting to bring anything back. It was kind of a forgotten sound like Radiohead, but kind of Nirvana-ish, very stripped back. I think bringing it to the new audience and the new generation and people that haven’t even heard it yet allowed it to revive itself [in the mainstream]. It’s cool to see it slowly come back. But then also too, [my music] is a little antiviral. You got to fight the current. You got to be the person that goes the other way.”

JB: I mean, that’s what makes you so different. I feel like you’re one of the more promising young artists out that is going one way while everyone else is going another. You talk about the nostalgic factor and you talk about bringing a sound back unknowingly. You mentioned Nirvana, Radiohead: I get a lot of those notes when I listen to your music. I get Linkin Park, maybe some U2 with those flanger grunge guitars. What have you listened to that feeds into this side of your sound?

d4vd: “It was so weird because the first indie rock thing I heard was ‘Sweater Weather’ by The Neighbourhood. But it wasn’t until ‘You & I’ that I discovered the fast tempo in my songs, and the reference for that was Wallows. I was listening to a lot of Wallows at the time. I recently just got into rock music like Deftones, Evanescence, Paramore.”

JB: You’re like a musical filter. It’s hard to believe you just turned 18. I’m sure there’s a few misconceptions about you with you being so young and being a new artist… What were some initial challenges you faced transitioning fully into music?

d4vd: “I think the biggest thing for me was that I was faceless until the ‘Romantic Homicide’ music video came out. Being faceless up until that point, when people are only really hearing your voice, it really lets the music speak for itself. It wasn’t me doing anything funny or gimmicky in real life. Like people didn’t know I was Black. But I don’t think it’s been challenging per se. I’m growing with my audience and they’re growing with me. I take criticism very, very seriously, though. It’s been all good feedback I take into consideration.”

JB: With you growing alongside your audience, they’ve been with you since you were ‘ANT’ making Fortnite montages on YouTube. Throughout this evolution, they’ve been there for every moment. How important is community for you as you get into this next era of your artistry? Considering what you’ve said about your book, poetry, a cinematic multiverse etc.

d4vd: “It’s super surreal. I’ve tried to get as many people in my Discord as possible because my Discord is like the fam — that’s like the core. I’m in there. I’m talking to them in voice chat. We’re talking about different ideas, music videos. If my audience wants to give input on anything that I do and have their ideas be heard, pop into discord and just hop in voice call. They help with elements of everything because I want to listen to them. I don’t want to be like, ‘Okay, this is my stuff. I’m pushing this or an agenda or this message.’ If I can have my audience be heard, then they feel appreciated and part of the process. Also too, just trying to be available. I’m not trying to be too far up there. I make the music, but it’s not like I’m not accessible to you as a human being. Playing my first show on February 17 — which was the first time I’ve been to a show, ever — even though I was an audience member and the performer at the same time, I felt like that built another level of community between me and the audience. The next tour is going to be crazy. People were wearing bloody shirts and blindfolds out there. Really excited for the next one.”

JB: Watching IT4MI perform will be surreal for fans when you’re on the ‘PETALS TO THORNS’ tour. Speaking on him, I know anime has been a huge inspiration for your music. In what ways has anime helped you with your world building and with your sound? Any anime soundtracks you draw inspiration from?

d4vd: “Every single day, bro. J-Rock is my driving inspiration. Like the ‘Attack on Titan’ soundtrack lives rent free in my head. A lot of my inspiration derives from Japanese music. A lot of it is aesthetics as well. Building anime style videos, everything is like a dance. Everything has a flow. Even before music, I read a lot of mangas and I just fell in love with the storytelling and how they would build characters.

JB: Have you ever been to Tokyo? Do you plan on going?

d4vd: “Yes, bro! I’m going in June or July I think. I don’t even know what I’m going to do there yet, but I just basically want to run around the city and geek out. There’s this district where there’s an entire exhibit that gives you the history behind manga, the artists, illustrators, writers and everything. It just gives a whole rundown of all of my favorite stuff. So I definitely need to go there.”

JB: That’s super exciting, I’m sure it’ll be everything you’ve dreamed of. Switching gears back to music, while you’ve cited anime as a reference point, Clairo has also been a big inspiration for you. Have you had any correspondence with her? I know you just met SZA, perhaps a path of what’s to come?

d4vd: “No, not yet. I’ve been listening to Clairo since I was 13, and it was purely gospel and jazz at my house at the time, but I was sneaking Clairo in there when I could, you know? I remember watching her on YouTube and being such a fan. I had never heard anything like her voice — it is so calming. I heard “Bubblegum” and then “Pretty Girl” and then everything else. I figured out what an album was because of her. Aside from being forced to play piano at 5-years-old and singing in church choir, Clairo was where it started for me.”

JB: When artists come around once in a generation like you, it’s hard to not notice. To see songs like “Here With Me” and “Romantic Homicide” reach over 600 million streams… it seems impossible. Do you even pay attention to that as a new artist? Has that level of notoriety started to settle in?

d4vd: “I try not too honestly, but it’s hard. I don’t want that song to affect this song because then it will take away my formula. I think I’m just going to create and keep creating, then sit back and look at everything [when it’s done]. I’m just locked in.”

JB: I know there was a time where you contemplated quitting music altogether. This was amid your efforts to try and get into Faze. What kept you coming back? What was the moment you decided you were going all in on music?

d4vd: “I felt like I was in an either/or situation for a while. It was a point where the gaming wasn’t pushing the music anymore and I found myself being a little captious about it. I had to bring myself out of that mindset of like, ‘I wasn’t even planning to do this. I should be grateful for what I have.’ It was a moment of self reflection where I realized nobody owes me anything. I felt like I was just in a tightrope battle between gaming and music where I would spend too much time on one thing and not the other. So, I took a step back and thought ‘let me just go back to what made me, me,’ because I felt like I was stepping away and catering to a lot of people’s opinions. I really brought it back to me, and finally made music for what I intended to do with it and started playing games just for fun again — not worrying about the numbers, streams and all that. I’m happy I did.”

JB: And music never felt like you were chasing something, because it’s evident in how much you love it. ‘PETALS TO THORNS’ really speaks volumes to your talent and passion for the craft. “Backstreet Girl” is probably my favorite song. It’s like I’m watching a movie in my headphones. That’s how the EP makes me feel, but how does it make YOU feel?

d4vd: “Man, it makes me feel like a rollercoaster. I took the basis of storytelling, like the rising action, the climax, and the falling action, but then I flipped it on its back. I turned it around and had the climax at the end because of ‘The Bridge.’ That’s where all the tracks are headed.”

JB: It’s the standout track on the project. With that being said, what do you hope your fans gain out of the project? What do you hope to accomplish with it being your first full-length body of work?

d4vd: “I hope they personalize it. I don’t think there was specific message that I was pushing with it. I feel like they’ll just continue to do what they’ve been doing and using each song to apply to their own situations. It’s not perfect. There’s a lot of flaws in it. A lot of it was made in my sister’s closet on my phone… A lot of self reflection too.”

JB: Whether it’s in the studio or your sister’s closet, how are you able to walk through these complex emotions and package them into your music? How has that evolved over time for you?

d4vd: “I don’t know it’s really weird. It’s like a stream of consciousness. I still don’t know what my creative process is — I haven’t even cracked my own code yet. I remember being in the studio two days prior to a session with [my friend] Noah, and that was the first time where I fully spit out a song and didn’t make any changes to it. A true freestyle, melodies and all. What I want to say is very different on every track. The emotions are different. The feeling is different. I don’t even know how I’m able to make cohesive projects with how fickle everything is with me. Especially in real life too. Everything is different every day and I want to do a different thing every day.”

JB: That’s special, don’t lose that. The fact that you can’t crack your own code is what makes you different… Drawing from those differences, where do you see yourself in the next five years when you’re 23?

d4vd: “PSSH. I try not to plan things too far ahead, I thought I was gonna be the biggest YouTuber of 2022 — and that didn’t happen. The only thing I got control over is the music. I’m focused on that, and also too, having my art live outside of myself. Like, you see a rose and think of me or see a ‘4’ and think of my name. I just want to evolve and create my legacy.

JB: In your own words, what do you think someone being a d4vd fan says about them?

d4vd: “A d4vd fan is definitely smart. Definitely knows what they want to do. I feel like my music is very attentive. I made a couple of songs you can vibe to, and I experiment on that too, but the music — especially the music that’s on the EP — is very attentive listening. So if you listen to my music, you definitely have a heart and an open mind.”

JB: Message for Our Generation?

d4vd: “I would say in a sea of fish, you have to take risks and be a shark sometimes. You got to be willing to fight. The whole social media thing is you fighting everybody else. It’s really what it is, until you can pave your own way. And sometimes you might have to follow a trend. And then you breaking off of that trend is what makes you different. Sometimes you have to advert expectations. Be true to yourself, but also know your strengths and your weaknesses. Take advantage of what you do best, and what other people don’t do as good. Always stay humble. Don’t think of yourself as higher than anybody else because we’re all human. Express yourself in a way that only you can do that can’t be replicated.”