Dawn Richard Talks Being a Dancer’s Artist, Spirit-Killing Shoes, Her Pick For President, More

Dawn Richard is independent in more ways than one: stepping out on her own as a solo artist, and doing it without the backing of a major label. She’s an artist with a focus and message; that the little voice in your head and feeling in your gut is your passion, and it’s important to follow it.

Her own story is one of passion. A student of music and dance since a child, Dawn was an opening act for Anthony Hamilton and was a New Orleans Hornets Cheerleader, all while attending New Orleans University. Richard’s music and dance career was briefly placed on hold when her and her family was displaced by Hurricane Katrina, but her passion refused to stay silent, as she auditioned and was chosen for Diddy’s platinum-selling girl group Danity Kane, then going on to be a part of the trio Dirty Money. Now, Dawn’s passion has led her to solo pursuits without the help of a major label, just the support of her loyal fans, family, and team.

Her solo EP, Armor On, was released earlier this year to open arms and a warm reception; the project offering innovative sounds and music videos to match. Now enter Goldenheart, the singer-songwriter-dancer’s first full-length solo LP to be dispersed world-wide on January 15, 2013 thanks to a monster distribution deal. The title is a direct reflection of passion, and for those with just that, hearts of gold. “It’s important they get excited about this. This is a big deal for us,” she said, her passion evident in her conversation with Singersroom and the topics discussed: music, dance, fashion, and beauty in the success that passion built.

Singersroom: We’ve literally watched you artistically grow and evolve throughout the years. How’s the journey been?

Dawn Richard: It’s been exciting. The transition has been so different each time, going from one thing to the next. I’ve literally been through three different genres of music in three different stages in the music industry. From being in an all-girl pop group to being in a hip-hop/soul group with one guy and two girls, and then being a solo artist with no label and being independent. I feel like I’ve had the most drastic situations in each part of the music industry. But I think it’s been great for me now more than ever. I think it’s educated me on this industry, the business side as well as the music side. So it’s a great experience to grow and be challenged each time I’ve done it.

Singersroom: How does it feel to be a solo artist?

Dawn: It’s feels good to be a solo artist. I’ve always adapted well to any situation. The group thing was fun, but I’ve always been on challenges, I love to face things that may seem a little difficult. I found as a solo artist I never really lost that support on stage because there’s always a band, there’s always my dancers, there’s always a group of people that’s rockin with me that shares in on a dream. So it never really feels like I left that presence of a group around me because even when I’m alone on stage, the hearts and the movement that’s out in front of me is always in control of me. I ways feel like I have a presence of other people that believe in the same things that I wanna talk about, and singing and vibing to the same things that I believe in. So it always feels like I have that same type of energy of a group of people on stage with me.

Your “Armor On” EP landed on the iTunes R&B chart at No. 1. earlier this year to rave reviews. (“Bombs” is a definite favorite). Did you expect that type of response or were you surprised?

Well you hope, you know? When I spoke with my choreographer, we talked about wanting to change things. You never really had a new artist coming in trying to dance at this time, because all we really had were Ciara and Beyonce, but they were in the game so long, so we never really had no new artist coming in with that vibe. So I wanted to come hard, I wanted people to see me as a dancer because they hadn’t seen me dance since Danity Kane. That was something I grew up doing, and I really wanted dancing to be very important. Cause just as much as people see me as a vocalist and songwriter, I wanted them to see me as a dancer, because I was technically trained my whole life. I felt like that was in the back end of everything, and I felt like I needed to bring it to the forefront. So with “Bombs,” I want it to be something powerful, so I had the chocolatiest, most beautiful girls rock with me. And it seemed so strong, it was just fierce, man, just think it was something that needed to be done, especially with the record that was so aggressive and so in-your-face. I really wanted to make a big statement, and I wanted dance to be the forefront of the statement because I felt like we hadn’t embraced a new artist with dancing and singing for a minute. Everybody in the game that’s been doing that has been in it for at least ten years now. So I just felt like we needed to embrace a newer artist that’s doing that as well, and I wanted to be the one to do that.

Singersroom: Your style is so edgy. What or who inspires your fashion?

Dawn: Aaw man, it’s crazy cause I looove fashion, I’ve always been a fashion whore. And it’s crazy cause people always used to get on me, they’d be like “it’s so different, she dresses crazy!” But if you really, really look at my past, I’ve always had a thing about the way I dress, I’ve always been a little different from what everybody else has done. And sometimes I’d get murdered in the blogs, and sometimes people would give me my props. I think people are starting to be more accepting; it’s been consistent all the way through. People like Agyness Deyn, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Daphne Guinness, Karl Lagerfeld. These are fashion icons that I grew up in love with. Bjork. I just always loved people who push the boundaries on androgyny, men’s wear, push the idea of tailored suits. I always loved the ideas of people pushing the limits on “well she’s so comfortable with her fashion.” And I feel like people like Karl Lagerfeld, Grace Jones and David Bowie and Daphne Guinness, they just pushed fashion to a whole ‘nother level, and they never really care about people’s perspective of what they’re trying to portray in their visual. They never care about what people perceive it to be, they care about how they envision it. And that’s always how I dressed, how I cared about my style, I never really cared if people got it. I just wanted to feel good about it when I put it on.

Singersroom: Right, just wear what you feel.

Dawn: Right, I can look at certain artists and they’ll wear a thousand colors, literally, and people would be like “Oh my God, that looks so dope on her!” And then I’ll wear a thousand colors and they’ll be like “Dawn looks a hot mess on today’s show!” I think it’s interesting what we allow things to be and what we don’t. I’ve never really gone a red carpet dressed up. I’m always the girl that would rather do a jean short, a rocker jacket and a beanie on my head, and a dumb ass shoe, maybe an Alexander McQueen shoe, and would be like “She’ looks so raunchy” and “she look dirty.” But then you look at someone like Kate Moss who’ll walk on a carpet and she’ll have a white tee, ripped up jeans, and a $12,000 Fendi fur, and they’ll be like “THAT is the most beautiful sh*t I’ve ever seen!” It’s just interesting what people choose to like and what they don’t. I just gave up on trying to please everybody. I think what makes Kate Moss a rock star and what makes Agyness Deyn a rock star is that they really just don’t give a sh*t. That’s my style really. My style is “I really don’t give a sh*t what you think about it.”

Singersroom: What’s a staple you believe should be in every woman’s closet?

Dawn: A shoe, a shoe that will murder someone’s whole spirit! I’m a shoe whore, I believe you can literally wear a garbage bag, and if you have the right shoe on, it will change your entire life. Another thing that I differ from every other artist that I love most is my shoe situation. When I dance, I want the highest heel ever created to man on because it’s a challenge. In the Wild N’ Faith video, we did heel-toes in stilettos. You don’t even do heel-toes in boots, let alone in a 7-inch heal, know what I mean? It’s like you’re pushing the limit on what people say can be done and what can’t. So for me, if you have a shoe in your closet that will break hearts, then you’re good to go, and I stand by that. The shoes that I wore on the red carpet, I’ll probably wear it on stage and perform in it, and I won’t break my neck tryna do it. I love it. And if I don’t have a heel, it’s like the new fad right now that McQueen is doing, Giuseppe is doing; it’s the heel-less shoe, the shoe with the platform in the front but it has no heel in the back. And Jesse Campbell is even doing a mock of it. I call it them hoof shoes. I think it’s the dopest sh*t because that looks so difficult to walk in. How bout I try and dance in them? Let me try and see if I can do it, cause if I can, it’s another thing that’s beautiful that I’m fighting to change the perspective of what you think it’s supposed to be. Shaping the minds of what possible and doing it with ease, my biggest thing is to make it look effortless. When you watch the “Automatic,” video which was after “Bombs,” people don’t even know I was dancing in 7 ½ inch heels. I was dancing in heels the whole video, you just never saw my feet. But that’s fighting to make it look effortless, that’s fighting to push myself. I just think it’s something that separates us, and I think when people start to digest it and see me more and more live and see what the dynamic is, I think they’ll start to understand. Even with my girls, I’m forcing my dancers to no longer wear flats, I want them to wear heels when they dance. I want to push them, so when they’re able to go to auditions next time, and they’re doing the hoodest stuff, they’ll wear heels doing it and look effortless. We’re all just pushing ourselves to be just doper because, even if we just do the regular stuff, what makes us any different from the other artists that are doing it. Ciara’s kinda claimed that, she’s killed that, she’s doped on that with the boots, she’s known for it. What am I gonna be known for and how can I make my artistry different? And that’s something that I work hard at everyday. And I like flats, don’t get me wrong, cause I could kill sh*t a little bit better if I had them on, but it wouldn’t be challenging myself.

Singersroom: You mentioned that Goldenheart will be “a modern day Joan of Arc” type story. How so?

Dawn: It’s a journey of a message. You look at the story of Joan of Arc and what she was, that’s more religious and it was a battle for her, but it’s more the story of her having a message that she felt she needed to carry through, that she went about it by any means necessary, and it was almost borderline madness; she didn’t know if she was crazy, or if she really did have a message. To me, that’s the story of passion; you’re fighting for something beyond what you can even explain to people. And the only way to explain it is by saying, “I have something that I have to teach you, and I’m not retreating until you understand that this is important. And that’s exactly what this message is with this album, from the lyrical content, to the visual, to the dance artistry of it all. We have a message, it’s plain and simple: you have to fight for your passion, and you have to fight for your love, but we’re just doing it in a way that’s not preachy. We’re just doing it in a dope way that’s like an average, regular album, but we wanted to do it in a slick way that has you wanting more. It wasn’t like, preaching to you “you have to do this,” it’s more like yo, when you fighting in a battle, it’s ok to fight as long as you know that you’re the survivor you can win the battle. And that’s the battle with love, that’s the battle with this music industry, it’s whatever you choose it to be. But for me, it was my journey in the industry.

Singersroom: Yeah, it can be with anything, the music industry (which is tough) and life in general.

Dawn: Yeah, it’s tough but everything is tough. I want the movement to be, yeah life is tough, but it’s still beautiful, and it’s worth the fight. If anything, it’s not bad to fight for what you love, it’s a good things, that means you want it. So we’re making it a positive, it’s more like it’s a love journey, it’s a love story, it’s a love story of passion for whatever you’re fighting for.

Singersroom: Congratulations on the distribution deal that will put Goldenheart in stores worldwide as an independent artist. What does this mean for your movement?

Dawn: It’s huge, it’s huge for us cause usually, when ever your offer’s up, sometimes people don’t really take a change on you if you haven’t put an album out and they haven’t seen your numbers. We’ve only put out an EP and managed to make so much noise that we were able to get distribution before we even had our first album out. That means that we can sign artists if we want to at some point and distribute them through our company now. It just was a better choice for us, because as a business, we wanted to make the best move. We love labels and we would never mind a label deal, but getting a distribution deal takes our company and our business to a whole ‘nother level as an independent brand. And for people who know this business, they know it was a really good look for us; revenue wise, cost wise, music wise, we have the rights to all of our stuff, so it keeps our numbers big, but we don’t have to wait on a list to get the go ahead to come out. We don’t have to sit on a shelf waiting for someone to decide they wanna work with us. We move when we wanna move, and then we tell our company, and then we give it to the world. So it’s less politics, more music. That’s something our brand really wanted with this movement. We wanted it to be about the heart, the music, the fan base, less about “we’ll get it to you when we get it to you, when it’s on the radio, then we’ll figure it out.” It’s more about them. It’s something I think our movement will appreciate, because we’re putting them before everything else. When you do that in music, they feel like the story is for them, cause we made this album for them.

Singersroom: Is a world tour in the stars sometime after the album release?

Dawn: We’d try to do it now if we could! That definitely would be right after. Right now, this fall, we’ll probably do a small run to get people excited, but definitely looking at worldwide. We charted the EP in Australia, Europe, the UK, in Ireland, Germany, in New Zealand. So there’re places that we charted Top 5. We didn’t even know we had that much reach out there. These are places we definitely have to touch because they’re obviously buying and listening. So we’re definitely planning for a tour right after the album sometime in first quarter [of the year].

Singersroom: Many fans were rooting for you and Que (from Day 26). But are you dating anyone new now?

Dawn: Right now, I’m dating this thing called music, because clearly, I am a boss, slash janitor, slash accountant (laughs). Between my team, we’re doing everything so there’s little time to date, especially with this timeline we have. The thing about our company is, just because we signed a distribution deal, doesn’t mean we stop working; we work harder now. We’re just as hands on as we were before, so I don’t have the time to really date as much as I’d like, or would not like, cause it’s important this album get distributed the right way. But I do want to, at some point, have some sex, that’s real life. I know you totally get me on that one, it’s hard out here for a pimp! (Laughs)

(Laughs) What’s your secret to staying so fit? Is it the dancing, or do you have a specific workout routine?

Dawn: Well, my friends work out at 7 am, but I’m never invited to that. And they’re laughing, but that’s true. They don’t love me enough to invite me, so I have to work out by myself. (Laughs) But dancing is my number one, and yoga. I’ve been dancing with my best friend for a long time, so she stretches me out. She’s a dancer herself. We got this video coming up for “86,” the first single off Goldenheart. I’m really pushing my limits, and I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised, and I think a lot of it has to do with, we’ve been training, I’ve been back taking classes again, because every time I come out, I want them to see a different dynamic of the dance. With our music, we’re playing with genres every time we come out. Every time we release a single, we’re merging sounds together to create a new sound. The same thing is happening with dance. When you saw “Bombs” it was strictly hip-hop, we added cutting, there were all different forms of technique in that style of dance with “Bombs.” And then you look at “Automatic,” there was ticking, there was gymnastics. We had girls doing push-ups in a dance split halfway through the video. And then when you saw “Wind N’ Faith,” I was dancing in the stilettos and you saw more of a group choreography, dance team type of vibe, and now with “86,” you’re gonna see another style of dance. I think I want myself to be known as an artist that’s versatile in her music, but in her dance as well. We haven’t seen a new artist who’s technically trained in dance that’s also an R&B artist. Not since Ciara when she came with “Goodies,” but that was even different.

Singersroom: What else could be done?

Dawn: That’s exactly what I want y’all to ask, “What else could I possibly do,” and then I come back and show you, you know what I mean? That’s the kind of artist I wanna be. People who have never been in the dance world, they may not know what else can be done. I want to be a dancer’s artist where dancers line up to want to work with me because they know they’re gonna be able to be pushed. That’s the times of Missy Elliott, that’s the times of Aaliyah, the times of Janet Jackson when it was lines outside the door to try to get to them, because you knew the choreography was gonna push the limit of everything. That’s the kind of artist I wanna be. I wanna be just as excited to work with the dancers as they are to work with me. So when you see this “86” video, you’re gonna be like “I ain’t even expect that.” That’s something I want people to see as an R&B artist, because you haven’t seen any R&B artist do that many techniques and styles since really, Mya. She was tap dancing in one of her videos. She was one of the first artists to really push different styles of dance in her videos. In “[My Love is Like] Whoa” she was tap dancing and she did a little bit of hip-hop, then there was jazz moments. I saw her perform and she’ll vogue. So her an Aaliyah were really pushing the bar, you know that was Fatima as the choreographer. They were showing you different styles, then there was Missy, you know, from Chicago Footwork to partner dancing, it was just beautiful to see. And I wanna take it to those moments where you’ll be like “Yo, I have no idea what I’mma see next with her as a dancer, as well as an artist.

Singersroom: What’s your take on the current election? Who’s your candidate?

Dawn: Right now, I’m team Obama. I feel like both candidates, some things need to be touched on a little better. Definitely foreign policy is something that’s a little sketchy right now. I have nothing against Mitt Romney, the only difference I feel about him, I feel he doesn’t cater to the type of class that I’m in. I feel like, from gay policies to his idea of single parenting being the cause of gun violence, just those ideas that he has, I just don’t relate to that. Him wanting to take away loans for students, and having parents pay for your education. My parents are teachers. I feel like if you could give them a higher pay, then maybe my parents wouldn’t have to take out loans for us to go to college, you know? I’m skeptical about the choices that are being made. And then, of course, the flip-flopping, you know, saying I didn’t say one thing, and then agreeing to it later in this last debate. A lot of things he didn’t say he was for, it sounded like he said he was for now. I’m just a little uncertain like that’s not the type of America I would want from him as a president. So Obama just seems stronger to me in his choices. And I still feel like I need to see a little more, cause I mean, gas prices and jobs. But I do understand that Obama has only been here four years and I feel the economy has been messed for about 12 to 16 years. So how do you fix that in four years? I don’t expect him to. I wanna see what he does in another term these next four years, and then I’ll make my decision on whether or not I think he was a good president. But I feel for right now, I’d rather go with him.

Dawn is currently prepping a multi-city tour, new video for ’86’ and B-side single, “Riot”. Visit dawnrichardblog.com and dawnrichard.tumblr.com for dates, performances, and videos.

The first single from Goldenheart “86” is now available on iTunes.

Check out the Behind The Armor footage from her recent SOBs performance.