The singer talks 'Goldenheart' and the fight of releasing music as an independent artist.
Dawn Richard's "Goldenheart" is a futuristic, frequently danceable R&B album that's already setting a high bar for the genre in 2013. The album melds soaring, ethereal vocals with genre-bending beats and frequent military references to inspire Richard's fans ("Hearts," as she calls them) to conquer any obstacle in their path. The album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard's Heatseekers chart and the Billboard 200 at No. 137 last week with sales of 3,000 copies — no small feat for a self-release, and even more impressive when Richard talks about the alternate path she could have taken with a label.
Listen below to an exclusive premiere of Dawn Richard's "NLX," from the deluxe edition of "Goldenheart."
A veteran of two high-profile R&B groups at the age of 25, Richard first came to fame as a member of MTV's "Making The Band" girl group Danity Kane and later partnered with the group's mentor Diddy as a member of Diddy Dirty Money, lending verses and sharing hook duties on many of the tracks on 2010's "Last Train To Paris." But when it came time to pursuing a solo project with Bad Boy, Richard was told she'd have to wait as long as three, maybe even four years before anything could reach the public.
"It was just because of the roster -- they already had people set to be released, there were other people in line. And Puff said, ‘I don't think you'd want to wait,'" Richard says over a lunch at Boka on NYC's St. Marks Place. "We knew we had something big and we didn't have time to wait. And that's what fantastic about right now. Think about it -- Miguel didn't wait, Frank Ocean didn't wait, The Weeknd didn't wait. It's in its own lane -- I think we can survive among everyone else."
"Goldenheart" is actually the third in a trilogy of self-releases Richard has issued in the last 10 months, beginning with last spring's "Armor On" EP (4,000 sales in its first week) and continuing with December's "Whiteout" EP. All three are musical collaborations with producing partner Druski, an intentional throwback to the days of 90s R&B. "We wanted it to be like the time of Aaliyah, where artists just worked with one producer," she says.
Empowering Richard in her solo efforts is a Twitter following of more than 1.1 million "Hearts," whose immediate support of "Goldenheart" sent it to the top of the iTunes R&B chart its first week of release and quickly prompted music retailer FYE to speed-release physical sales of the album across all its stores. "The reason we speak of battle in the music is that literally every time we do something we're proving something -- we have to fight," she says.
The fans are taking the analogies to heart, even showing up at a recent gig at NYC's S.O.B.'s in helmets and full chainmail garb -- a literal fan army. "We don't have a color. It's inside out ," Richard says of the Hearts. "And I think hey realize that and I think the music is helping them through really hard times. There are some things that people don't want to face -- it's too deep. This is music that can make you dance, it's relatable. It would be almost horrible to just do a regular record and not let them know I've been through things when they're going through it too. They talk to us more that this album is the soundtrack of my life, it helped get me through some really hard times. We wanted to do something for them."