This story is part of Billboard‘s 2022 Grammy Preview issue, highlighting the artists, issues and trends that will define awards season. Read our cover story on Halsey, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross here.
In August 2019, D’Mile received a fateful message from fellow producer James Fauntleroy. “He texts me out of the blue on a Wednesday and asks me what I’m doing on Friday,” recalls D’Mile (real name: Dernst Emile II). “Luckily I was free.” As it turns out, Bruno Mars had personally requested him at the studio — and they soon embarked on making what would become An Evening With Silk Sonic, the highly anticipated album from Mars’ supergroup with Anderson .Paak out Nov. 12. The duo’s first single, “Leave the Door Open,” topped the Billboard Hot 100 this spring, and given the artists’ Grammys history — they have 15 wins between them — the song is a likely nominee for song and record of the year, among other possible awards.
D’Mile, of course, is already a well-decorated hitmaker. This year, he won both a Grammy (for song of the year) and an Academy Award (for best original song) thanks to his work on a pair of tracks with longtime collaborator H.E.R. Still, he describes his time with Silk Sonic as a career highlight unlike any other: “It’s probably going to be one of the biggest things I’ve been a part of — if not the biggest.”
What was that first day in the studio like?
I was literally in my seat working on whatever [Bruno] had probably started, and I just did not get up. I didn’t get up to use the bathroom. I didn’t get up to do anything — I was in the zone. He’ll still talk about that even today. Now, I’m just like, “When are we done?” (Laughs.) I guess I wanted to make a good impression and nail the task at hand. And he was like, “Man, listen, we’re here all the time. I would love for you to come rock with us.” And that’s the beginning of us working together.
Bruno is known for endlessly tinkering with songs. Was that challenging?
Sometimes I would feel like, “Man, we did it!” But then he doesn’t feel like we’re all the way there yet. There are certain songs with literally four versions that I like, and I would have been happy with any one of them. But that is part of Bruno’s method to his madness, because he wants to make sure we all unanimously feel that in the room — from him all the way to the engineer and the assistant.
How many tracks did you work on for the Silk Sonic album?
We made just about as many as there are on [the album]. Maybe there was one more we tried outside of it. We were kind of going one by one in a way. So it wasn’t like we did 50 to 100 songs to get one. Instead, we do 50 to 100 versions of the song to get the right one. (Laughs.) I’m exaggerating, but yeah.
How has winning a Grammy and an Oscar changed your career?
It’s hard for me to pinpoint what made the new calls come in, or the old calls that I hadn’t heard from come back. Winning the Grammy and the Oscar a month or two later, then “Leave The Door Open” being No. 1 — it all happened around the same time.
My followers went up on Instagram even more. I remember one day I saw Calvin Harris had followed me. I was like, “What the heck?” Ryan Tedder from OneRepublic reached out, and the list goes on. Some of them even reached out. Calvin said some nice things to me, but I think he was just responding to the fact that I let everybody know that he follows me!
Are there any projects that intimidate you?
I’m scared of the Oscars, because I feel like there’s going to be a lot more movie people calling me, and that’s a whole different beast right there. Which I want to do, but I’m also nervous about. I would probably have a team help me with that. It’s time-consuming, but you have to do everything fast. I want to make sure I’m ready for it.
As a relatively new Grammy voter, how do you feel about the process — and the changes the Recording Academy is making?
I’m still learning how it goes. It’s kind of weird for me to vote for my peers. It’s a lot of music that you might not know, especially in that first round [of voting for potential nominees]. I would think everybody’s only voting for what they know. But there might be incredible artists that don’t get the chance because nobody knows who they are. Whereas, what happened with The Weeknd, I personally did vote for him, and it was surprising that he didn’t make it. So I get it. But at the same time, it doesn’t take away from what he has done.