I start the song with “I swear that I get sick sometimes, when I think about all there times I tried to fly away…” which can also mean stray away, but it also has a double meaning where…if I didn’t fly away I wouldn’t have discovered anything. Because the next song, after Eagles, I Do, I said, “I should have stayed there in my cage”. The chorus is the part I think makes the most sense to people that aren’t me, or my inner circle, and its real simple – I made a promise to God that no matter how much success I got, no matter how much recognition, I’ll never be higher than him. I think that’s what drives me, I think that that’s what fuels me. Most of the things I attach myself to are bigger than me, and I think that’s the moral of that story. Really focusing on the success part of being “high” not necessarily the “high” that comes from drugs. But I promised that I wouldn’t get so high that I forget what He’s done for me. When you listen to the verses, you’ll realize that they were for me.
Part of the problem I had with getting my music in gospel circles is that I feel gospel singers write for a large mass of people and not enough gospel singers write about personal experiences that could help more people. It’s one thing to sing together, but if’s we’re all singing together broken, what are we singing together for, you know? That was a problem I had with my earlier music – I’ve always told my side of the story in hopes that people would listen to it and connect with it and YOUNG is no different, even though the album isn’t completely Christ-centered. It’s definitely my story – there isn’t a song on the record that isn’t about me or connected to me. It’s all real. That’s what I think makes the album unique. Even the songs that sound like a fantasy – like SOCA – SOCA sounds like it’s a story about a fictional character, but it’s not. It’s about a real person in a red dress. I think great storytelling etiquette is including yourself in the song, so people don’t feel alienated by your story. I like the fact people are connecting with my real story.
Stanley: It’s ironic you mention telling your story, in your own way. When I was listening, I kept saying to myself – this feels very autobiographical, and in some ways, like a form of therapy.
Darius: Yeah, in fact, as a theatre person, there’s this idea of catharsis. Some people can see it in one way, where you leave the theatre or performance feeling some kind of way and that’s the way the director wanted to guide you. If you’re an audience member and you experience catharsis its usually an emotion related to what you just saw. For artists I think, you’re always searching for those cathartic moments. And I think you can almost cross out cathartic and call it therapeutic.
You think about how many times a singer has to record a line in a song and that particular line can be the line that hurt them the most. You think about saying something thirty times in a recording session, and how the first fifteen, you’re just trying to get over the line you just said. By line sixteen, you start to get over that hill and by the twentieth line you’re soaring past it. It’s therapeutic.
Even for me – making the music – there are certain records I can’t remember making, like the step-by-step process. I think the catharsis, the therapy, happens in the recording process and in the production process. And I will say, recording this album didn’t make me more closed off, its kind of freed some areas for me. Just getting it done, unlocked a lot of things in my mind about my capabilities and strengths. But then some of the records – the recording, the mixing – really helped me, and I hope it helps people as well.
I made the first version of YOUNG, and I played it for Pharrell. And he told me to go back to the drawing board. I was hurt, man.
Stanley: Man, you talk about listening to something over and over again. Ex-Nihilo was that for me. The blend between you and Inida Shawn’s voice is incredible. I really don’t have a question about it – I just want to hear you talk about it lol - how the song came about, themes within the song...
Darius: It was definitely a work in progress. It was laborious. Mainly because India and I had a hard time scheduling a recording time. There aren’t any parts of the record that we didn’t watch each record. It’s a duet, and we needed to be together for it to happen. There are a lot of duets where they’ll fly to where ever the artist is, and then they fly to the producer, and the producer will piece it together. Well, I didn’t want to do it that way. This record happened over like 4 sessions, over about a year and a half. The first time we met up – it was actually my first time in the studio with India, because I had reached out to her about 3 or 4 years ago when Outer Limits came out, I bought the most expensive pack, and wrote her an e-mail, like I’ve been a fan of yours since your first project, and I just want to send you some records.
I sent her my first verse, just the demo, and she immediately hit me back like, “I love this! I just keep playing it over and over again. It’s just speaking to me. I’m down.” So, I went to Atlanta and we recorded the first draft of the verses. We hadn’t quite put together the parts where we’re singing together because we ran out of studio time. I went back to Dallas, worked on it some more and we met up again in Atlanta. Then she moved to LA. So, we had more months go by where we didn’t finish. We eventually got together and finished it, but I still didn’t feel great about my mix. I realized that it was missing something, and that was the guitars. So, I called my boy Mike Clouse, and I’m just like “yo, I’m going to send you a record – just play it how you feel it.” He sent a bunch of different versions and I just figured out how to maneuver all of them into the record.
The concept came from Ex-Nihilo’s Latin origin – which means “out of nothing.” When I read about the term – there are some many different interpretations of it often used in the Catholic Church to talk about creation, where out of nothing God created the earth – but from a creative standpoint, I realized that I had been in a place where felt like I couldn’t climb out of. I made the first version of YOUNG, and I played it for Pharrell. And he told me to go back to the drawing board. I was hurt, man. I didn’t tell him I was hurt, but I really thought it was something special. But it wasn’t the album everybody ended up hearing. So, I’m grateful for him telling me to go back to the drawing board, and tighten somethings and write some new songs, and that’s what I did. That song means a lot to me because out of what feels like nothing came something. Even with the smallest budget, at the bottom, with limited resources, you can still make something great. I think that’s something India and I can relate to because we’re both independent, and we know that better than anybody – how to make something out of nothing.
Stanley: You mentioned Pharrell. He was your coach on The Voice – how has he impacted your career, your approach to music, and just his overall influence on you?
Darius: His influence is strong. He’s the kind of mentor, though, where he goes away to let you discover, which is great. I’m not going to lie and say we talk every week, but when I see him he always has the next move. I think that’s important where you mentor respects your process, and who you are as an individual, but also has the knowledge and the wherewithal to push you forward, and I think he’s done that. I’ve been fortunate to work with his company i am OTHER on some projects as a producer, and these projects he had nothing to do with – it was just me. He doesn’t give you all the answers and he expects you to know what you want, so he can help you figure out how to accomplish it. Very grateful for him.
I’ve been a Pharrell fan since the NERD album – In Search Of. My friend Jamal bootlegged a copy because my parents wouldn’t buy it for me. And it completely changed me as a person. After In Search Of, I injured myself playing basketball and I had to make a very serious decision about my life and whether I was going to fight through the pain of playing on my injured leg, going to rehab, or if I would just pursue what I knew I was called to pursue, and I think that album directly spoke to that kid on the come up. My first tattoo was the NERD brain symbol. I’ve been into the ethos of what Pharrell does for so long, it was just a natural fit that we would meet each other and understand one another. I learned production by what the Neptune’s did, and figuring out how to decode what they did and make it my own. I owe a lot of my success to him and his music. I have a lot of respect for him.