Q and A with Darian Rodriguez
By Brian Tucker
Darian Rodriguez recently turned twenty-one. You might see her perform stand-up comedy in downtown Wilmington. She found Wilmington by chance and decided to stay for a while. Her last home was Los Angeles where recorded her first EP, Holiday, released around Christmas 2017. Its summer 2018 and she’s set to release her first full album, Transparent, recorded with Rocky Hirajeta.
The show, at Athenia Book Store, is her debut she says. “Me stepping out for the first time. This album is me coming out with my music.”
Transparent is an auspicious debut, done with strained resources. Its mix of music styles (sultry jazz, spare instrumentation, Cuban rhythms, R&B, orchestral, dance) and lovely melodies with the singer front and center. In a short span of time she’s come a long way, evident on the album’s sixteen songs.
What resonates most about them are those strong on mood and ambiance (see the excellent and gripping “Heidi’s Song”), elements that lift up already engaging lyrics. She sings on “Bruises,” “I got bruises where kisses should be, You got bruises where kisses should be” and it just cuts deeps, no matter how beautiful the singing.
Below is my conversation with Darian.
What brought you to Wilmington?
I’ve been here almost a year. I went with my mom went on a road trip and the nearest airport where she could pick me up to join her was Wilmington and I just fell in love with it. After the road trip I moved here from Los Angeles. My mom wanted to take a trip from New York to Florida, she was turning forty and wanted to find her female independence and bring me along and explore it. She’s always raised me to be independent so this trip cemented in my mind that she is a woman that takes charge for herself and does explore, and goes after what she wants. It kind of reassured me that if I did the same I’d probably be just fine.
What I like about Wilmington…I’m a very hard working person. I’ve worked very hard to save up to move from London, to Paris, to L.A. I’ve always been drawn to these big cities but I grew up in a small town. Something about growing up in a small environment is at the roots of who I am. The deepest parts of me crave a small community. When I came to Wilmington, I went out to a couple of shows, seeing what people do here. I instantly found familiar faces, everybody is hard working at what they do but everyone likes to have fun with each other and relax. That whole balance between artists and entrepreneurs in town really inspired me to feel like I could be comfortable here. It felt like home the second I got here, and that’s not something I’d found anywhere else in the world.
You’ve lived in varied cities, how does it relate to what you’re interested in?
I work a couple of months and save and go live there as long as I can, and then move. I think it’s a way to fight resistance, the desire to sit back, be comfortable. I fight that resistance and go after these lofty goals, be it traveling or now it’s this album. But there’s that same quality inside me that will work relentlessly to bring it forward, buying a plane ticket to go to France, whatever. I just happened to have directed it towards this project that’s so important to me.
I went to Paris before I went to L.A. and that was the first time I was welcomed into a studio environment. That was the first time I heard myself recorded, I just soaked up the environment. When I was in L.A. and when I was approached about recording I had enough understanding to know that that was a better opportunity than what I had out there so I went for it.
Is discomfort is a good catalyst for you?
Oh yeah, the more uncomfortable I am the better. I really like to be pushed. I push myself. No one puts this pressure on me. It’s more in my own head. The more uncomfortable I am the more I see what I’m about. The more challenges I face the more my character comes through. I like to just do my best.
You recorded Holiday before moving here. Can you remember your headspace writing the EP?
The songs I had written maybe at sixteen or seventeen, songs that were just in my head. When I was in Los Angeles I met with somebody that had heard me singing in my church. They asked if I would be up for them practicing sound engineering for a class they were in. I agreed, so we recorded the songs I wrote on my own, maybe three years before. Having carried them with me for so long, hearing them in a studio environment for the first time really gave me the drive and courage to take it with me when I came to Wilmington. That first EP was well-received so I thought why not do the same thing again, just a bit bigger.
I’ve always sung along to the radio and things. We had a noisy household, three brothers and a sister, there was always music on. I first began singing around the house; me and my brothers would just make noise. I would say that’s more foundation to singing in the church or anything like that.
The EP, now a new album, what do you see looking back?
I felt that in the recording process for Transparent what happened was, you begin to hear your own similarities, your own repetition, the more I was writing I was able to see what made my sound unique, very specific styles of bass accompaniment to my singing specific melodies and the tone of my voice. So in making this body of work, I think that during this process it taught me more about my sound than anything else. It’s not going to change. I think that’s how you know when you know you hit it, not in a place to change what you’re doing, you’re just making more and more of it. Those consistencies mean more to finding my voice, I think.
For the EP, how much were involved musically?
The only say I really had were in the lyricism and the melody. I didn’t know what I was doing in that environment, but luckily I was with people I trusted and respected or I wouldn’t have agreed to have them kind of build songs for me. It taught me about how people spoke up in the studio, hearing how producers took command of the space.
Two songs were direct holiday songs while two were more intimate, yet holiday songs?
I’m pretty conceptual with my music, I think its more fun that way I think. “Holiday” speaks to Christmas, holiday seasons, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Some speak to more of the heart matters around the season, “Cute” is about bringing home a crush, people just seeking out family or love where they can. “Clock-In” is about working really hard for the things you want, try to buy gifts for your family, put in that overtime. “Snowmen” is about longing and mishandling relationships. I think around the holidays everybody thinks a little bit more on what-if’s and woulda-coulda-shoulda’s. “Is It Too Soon” is more of a Thanksgiving song.
Was that one a response to negative complaining about holiday music?
Yeah. I wrote that song as a Thanksgiving song, everybody’s wondering is too soon to sing Christmas songs. It’s just a joke; I say a lot jokes in songs. Music is fun, made to be listened to. In “Snowmen” there’s a line, “he called me once or twice while I was busy/Didn’t know if it was a booty call or a butt dial.” If I can get people reacting its more fun.
The new album’s sound? You’re almost done?
Holiday was recorded with live musicians and for the upcoming album Transparent it’s all electronic. I’ve produced the project alongside Rocky Hirajeta who is my co-producer and partner in this. He’s been in Wilmington twelve years, just passionate about music. When we met we shared ideas, our own music, and everything just clicked. We both poured everything into this project, which is just our time, we don’t have that many resources. I sold my mode of transportation, I moved into a friend’s living room. I cut my overhead as low as I could to make this happen. My desire to be uncomfortable, I think. It’s really exciting that it’s done, it’s a crazy feeling.
We recorded it in Rocky’s bedroom. He saved up for the equipment we need. We spent a month getting microphones and speakers and things. Then we made the album in two months. I wrote all the songs while living in Wilmington, wrote them for the concept of album. Transparent is all about being honest, about the deepest, most secretive sorts of me, putting my foot forward as an artist. With that concept in mind I wrote sixteen songs with his musical accompaniments.
What are you planning for the upcoming show?
It’s at Athenia Book Store, 2231 Wrightsville Ave., these women put together this safe space, what they’ve done there is gorgeous. The show is going to have me, lights, me dressed up. I just want people there meeting each other, hearing the words. I have a line of pajamas coming out on the 30th as well. I don’t think artist’s creativity shouldn’t stop at their merch.
And your merch?
I don’t like band tees. I like to wear pajamas because I like to work from home. So I designed a bunch of pajamas, I’m very excited about that. Somebody said, is there going to be merch? I want a t-shirt. I would never wear a t-shirt, so what would I sell that I would want to wear? I looked at my closet and its 75% pajamas and house clothes. I figure, go with what you know. So I designed a top of bottom and there will be six pajama sets. I cannot sew but I bought fabric and I hired a woman to sew my designs for me with elastic and everything. They’re real clothes, people can wear them and wash them. Sustainable fabric and artisan made.
There’s dichotomy, that someone who likes to travel a lot but likes the comforts of home too.
“When I was in Paris, I didn’t leave my apartment that much. I just liked being there. Something about being there seemed like a big deal. Whenever I have to go out for groceries or I want a night out, I take those experiences to heart more. I definitely have more to draw from, quality over quantity. 90% of my time is filled with researching and reading.
Are you nervous performing?
I’m not nervous. I have this joke where if you put me on a stage I’ll do anything. I do stand up comedy as well, at Dead Crow, I’m just sort of out and about. Just practicing my stage presence, it all ties back to the music for me. When the EP came out that was when I first started with my name on the flyer, its not even a year yet. It came out in December 2017. I sang at school talent shows growing up. But with my name on something, not even a year.
How much has changed with this album, given the electronic tableaux?
It’s still my voice, maybe a couple months older. The qualities haven’t changed too much. Still a lot of rhythmic bass and breaks. Something very true to my sound is I’ll begin singing and twenty seconds in the entire song will come forward. The album holds true to that live sound instilled in my EP, that’s my preference. I love that live sound, but what we’ve done is, we’ve gotten those sounds electronically. We haven’t had any musicians play on this album. All sixteen songs, they’re made from keyboards, synth pads, things that can be transcribed into different tones. We’ve worked really hard to make sure those tones sound as if you’re in the room with musicians.
I play around a lot with genre bending, something I’ve seen a lot in pop culture. The album takes you from hip hop, folk or country ballads, other songs will pull more from jazz and R&B. Because it’s a conceptual album you’ll be pulled along through this story, this story as I learned it and me being transparent about it. That story is me learning about love and at some points the style of music will change and yet the storyline is still there. At the end you’ll have a very well-rounded picture of love as I’ve learned it.
Growing up, what were some lessons learned?
My parents loved me very much and they wanted me to be a good person and be hard working. In my household, it was fend for yourself. You want to do something. get it done. It’s a big family. I didn’t grow up rich or anything like that. If I wanted anything, a phone, I got a job. Whereas all my friends their parents would get them a car or a phone. My parents were like, don’t be ridiculous, we feed you and put a roof over your head. You do the rest. It doesn’t teach them the value of fighting for something you want. I’ve learned so much in fighting for what I want. It enriches my life that my parents weren’t in that financial position, because I get to enjoy everything that much more.
What were some challenges making the record?
The biggest was equipment and using what we can afford, being recorded on what we can afford and doing the best with what we have. There was a lightning storm the other day and luckily Rocky saved everything. It’s quite the scene. Everything that can go wrong, does. Rocky is mixing and mastering it. He bought the good speakers, he soundproofed his room by moving his mattress up tot he door, put blankets everywhere. He’s up there sweating, grinding, making the best mix he can.
Looking back on that EP, what do you see?
I think the mixing could be better. I hear things I would do differently so I am doing this album differently. The lyrics and the melody I wrote, so I still love them. I still love the words because I still say what I’m trying to say. Like “Clock In,” who rhymes the word afrastic in a pop song? Nobody does that in pop music. I still stand by it. When people are using very colorful words to describe something, afrastic is a type of poetry where you’re being very colorful in your description. So the line is, “afrastic pages we call cover letters will never upgrade this,” its people tooting their own horns trying to make their resumes better.
Calling out those being pretentious?
It’s survival. I mean, I don’t know about pretentious, they’re just trying to get a good job.
Tell me about the song “Clock In.”
I wrote it while working at a Dunkin Donuts where I had to walk home about a mile and half to and from, rain or shine. I’d come home with tip money, change in my pocket, tips from people, quarters and things. Pockets full of change. I wrote the song to the rhythm of me walking with a clinking noise, the whole song has that metronome, clinking kind of feeling. Just one day being sick and tired of working at Dunkin Donuts. I wrote that song, then I went right back to doing what I had to do.
Writing a song it’s more about what I need to hear at the moment, it’s usually me processing something out loud. When I have the words for it I can get over things. I was singing out loud. The more I’m saying the more I like, it’s just like writing, and by the time you get home you have a song.