Heroes x Villains Talk Sobriety on 'Novocaine': 'Opiate Addiction Is an Absolute Epidemic'

White Sky Visuals
Heroes x Villains

When Daniel Disaster of Heroes x Villains goes to the bookstore, he can't ever leave with just one. When it's time to read said treasures, he goes equally overboard.

“I got the Kindle app on the iPad, so I get the digital book, and then I get the audiobook also,” he says. “I'll listen to the audible book and read along, and I can blast through books faster. I can comprehend it quicker, and it's like a sensory overload … It's such a fucking addict thing.”

Diving headfirst into a pile of books is better than drinking until you forget your own name, and it's insurmountably healthier than shooting dope. Take it from Daniel. He really knows.

“I still get people (telling me) 'Daniel, we have hung out, you got me backstage, we kicked it. I used to text you,' and I'm like 'I have no idea who you are,'” he says. “Or friends tell you 'um so, I found you, and you were collapsed outside on the street, and then I brought you home. I was going to take you to the hospital, but then I remembered there's not enough drugs and alcohol in Atlanta to kill you.' I've had those conversations verbatim ... but you can't hold me accountable for anything pre-sobriety. You just can't.”

Daniel has been sober for four years and counting. He's been quiet about it for the most part, “protecting” his very personal mission for the sake of its success. It's been four long years of struggle, but the bright side is newfound confidence and comfort within and around himself, all of which can be felt in raw display on Heroes x Villain's latest and most emotional single “Novocane.”

“I'm ready now to be more open,” he says. “It's such a huge part of my life, not including it at this point is actually more harmful than it is good.”

When asked how long he used, Daniel didn't respond outright. He's a product of the Atlanta rap scene, an environment that famously does not give one fuck about a sober state of mind. Whatever the situation, when he first found escape in substance abuse, it was the escape that appealed much more than the substance itself.

“The drugs and alcohol is a symptom of my being spiritually and emotionally unfit to handle reality. That's really what it's about,” he says. “I'll gravitate to anything to avoid reality. Whether it's drugs or alcohol is inconsequential, and to this day I still have that problem, but I try to manage it in a more productive way. I'm still a workaholic.”

His work might be his greatest sponsor.

“So many of my years where I should have been developing, I spent high,” he says. “I got sober in 2012, and my career took off end of 2013. It was almost immediate. Within three months, I was on the road constantly. It was crazy. It was literally like I got out of my own way.”

Success in the DJ career does not equate successful sobriety. It might be the farthest thing from it. Imagine secretly attending AA and NA meetings, grasping a soda water with lime to fend off friendly offers of shots and cocktails. Putting sobriety first is paramount, which means lots of emergency meetings as soon as planes land or calling a sponsor before and after the night's set.

“Just because you remove the drugs and alcohol from the equation doesn't mean you're not going to hit rock bottom again,” he says. “Every time that happens, it's an upheaval, a reassessment like, 'hey, dig deeper. Figure out what happened. That's where “Novocaine” came from. I bottomed out again in sobriety. I almost relapsed. I didn't go to meetings for nine months. I wasn't doing the work, I was coasting. I wasn't putting my sobriety first. I didn't go back out, but I almost did. For me to wake up one day, look at my phone and say 'I'm either going to go to a meeting or I'm going to go get high, I'm going to go use' – for it to be that clear, to be back in a place I was said I'll never be again – it was fucking scary.”

To convey that message, he worked with long-time friend and collaborator Naz Tokio. She plays the part of the disease, the constant, insidious voice that coaxes Daniel toward relapse. It's hard to get so open about something so horrifyingly personal, especially when the issue remains so real, but Daniel's known Tokio since before he was sober. He doesn't have to try to explain anything away.

“We've got a really close bond,” he says of Tokio. “I had different people with really big names try to get this feature, but I won't do it because of Naz. I've known this girl for eight years, and we worked on the record together. I want to go where the energy goes. I don't care about the name.”

“Novocaine” is also a musical exploration, the first step on a musical evolution after a year of self-imposed hiatus.

“I got really bored with where trap music was going and the music that was being made,” Daniel says. He traveled to Europe, started hanging out in dark underground clubs, getting lost in 8-hour sets of booming techno. “It was crazy to me. I didn't come from this world. So it was very new to me and very fresh.”

“Novocaine” is no techno anthem. That's not who Danielle is, but it is a bold move toward a stronger approach to songwriting, a new era of fully-thought out concepts far beyond the build-and-drop formula of trap at large. It's the new way Heroes x Villains operates.

“The whole shit of needing to be fucked up or high or drunk to be creative is bullshit,” he says. “I've been to those places, and now that I'm clear, I can still access that feeling creatively, I can communicate it clearer than ever before … I didn't do it to resonate with other people, I just did it out of integrity for myself and to be transparent about it. I'm tired of hiding.”

“Maybe this will start a conversation,” he continues. “Opiate addiction in America is an absolute epidemic, and it effects everybody. It's crazy. Maybe it will open up conversation and maybe other people will find strength in that.”