Ahead of his headline show in The Academy on November 21, Hannah O'Connell catches up with DUCKWRTH to discuss the importance of patience.
“Blowing up overnight creates this false sense of success… But the people who take their time and really push for something different have fans for life and quality work.”
Growing up, DUCKWRTH could be found skateboarding around Los Angeles listening to music. At home it was gospel, on the street: hip hop, gangster rap and g-funk, and in high school he discovered punk. It was this musical education that formed his musical palette and output. A sound he has carefully shaped over the last decade.
“I feel like at this moment when people research who I am, or research my music, they’re like, ‘Ok, this is amazing. This is tight’, and that’s because I spent so much time working on my craft. I guess everything happens in its right timing and you just go for the ride. You could blow up tomorrow and that’s cool. Or you could blow up in five years and that’s cool too.”
I wake DUCKWRTH up for our interview. It’s 11am his time and he’s in the middle of The Falling Man Tour, set to play Rough Trade in Brooklyn that night. He’s a little sleepy at the start, but enthusiastically remembers that the tour sold out just the other day.
Speaking of blowing up, it feels like now is his time. He’s put out two solid releases this year and is about to embark on a string of European dates, most in cities he’s never been to before. Having patience is the biggest lesson he’s learned in his career to-date.
“Everything takes its time. Don’t force it. Work hard, work smart. If you want longevity, hop on for the ride and just take your time, because the people that do blow up overnight, they’re here today and gone tomorrow. They get so much success and so much love and attention, but then six months later you’re like, ‘Where the hell did they go?’. Blowing up overnight creates this false sense of success… But the people who take their time and really push for something different have fans for life and quality work.”
DUCKWRTH has been reaping the rewards of quality work in a big way recently. In addition to The Falling Man US tour getting a 14-date European leg, he now shares a label with Drake, Post Malone and Nicki Minaj. Republic Records took notice of him following the 2017 release of ‘an XTRA UUGLY Mixtape’.
“They’re supportive in the sense that they want you to prevail,” he tells me, but I wonder what impact a move to a large commercial label really has on an artist.
“Things changed because you have to think about how things are branded, what brands are a part of what I’m doing, scheduling, deadlines… But it’s fine because they give you funding that you may not have had access to. They have the bank of Republic where they’ll give you a lot of money to invest in what you’re creating. As far as my creative goes, I wouldn’t say it’s changed too much. I still create in the same way, but there are more people that I have to deliver it to and more people that have to check it off, because Republic is a radio and commercial label. They have the whole perspective of what’s going to crossover to the masses.”
The global, money-making labels are known to mould and shape an artist to suit their needs, however DUCKWRTH hasn’t experienced this treatment.
“I’m still explicit. Very explicit,” he laughs.
“They don’t make me censor myself, they’ll just say, ‘Give us a different version’. They allow me to be very creative, surprisingly for a label… Say for example if I have Nike sweats on, that’s where it gets specific. That’s where the censorship happens.”
Republic sounds like a perfect fit for DUCKWRTH. Chatting to him I get the sense that he isn’t an artist who would allow his creativity to be stifled. He’s put out three albums in three years and stand- alone singles, along with illustrating the accompanying artwork and directing the visuals for each.
“I love performing. I love creating. I love being in the studio the most,” he says starting to sound much more awake. Looking to probe deeper, I push to know the downsides of the job.
“I hate the demanding schedule it requires. The small work. The emails. I hate emails so much [laughs]!”
I might have started something.
“What else do I hate… Oh! I hate getting mixes back of music, because when you start with music and you start working on it, producing it, it sounds great. Then you send it out to the mixer and it somehow comes back different to what you were imagining it to be. It’s kind of heart-wrenching.”
I begin to wonder if this interview is about to start some major beef between DUCKWRTH and his team, but he reassured me.
“No, it’s not even that. I love the mixers I work with and we’ve created some of the most amazing shit. It’s just sometimes the translation gets lost, how they hear it, what they think sounds good. It definitely works out in the end, but both you and the mixer have to get on and sometimes it can come back a little crazy. I hate writing notes and shit like that, so if I neglect to write certain notes they can go on their own creative path. It’s hard to be very specific and write notes! I can do the creative, but I hate doing paperwork.”
In 2015 DUCKWRTH put out a politically- charged record titled ‘Nowhere’ with Cleveland producer The Kickdrums. He’s since launched his B.O.Y. [Being Only You] unisex t-shirt line which aims to blur the lines between genders. He tells me that “believing in something” is what’s most important to him.
“I want to be a catalyst for imagination and inspiration… I don’t want to give a person a whole fucking forest, a whole garden. I want to give them the option, which is the seed, and then they can go wherever they want to go. They can plant it, find whoever they want to be.
“I want to give people the inspiration to be brave, so they can do what they want to do, so they don’t have to fall in line with everybody else. If your parents say, ‘Work a 9 to 5’, or whatever, you can choose to do that. Or you can choose to go down your own path. A lot of people don’t know that’s an option.”
DUCKWRTH’s path saw him attend San Francisco’s Academy of Arts after school. He soon swapped his given name, Jared Lee, for his mother’s maiden name ‘Duckworth’ [no connection to the Kendrick Lamar ‘Duckworths’], but he explains there’s not much difference between who he is on and off the stage.
“DUCKWRTH is the brand name, the stage name, so when people hear ‘DUCKWRTH’ they expect what comes with it that. Being a cooler guy, or a performer who is super colourful and everything like that. With the numbers that I have through social networks and music you expect a certain type of celebrity, but I guess that’s the only separation. It’s quite literally me.
“If I tell a person, ‘Oh hey, I’m Jared’, they might not know who that is, but if I tell a person, ‘Hey, I’m DUCKWRTH’, they’re like ‘Oh my god, you’re DUCKWRTH’?’. It’s like ok, now I need to be this person.”
Before I let him go and grab a coffee, we briefly touch on new music. We’ve gotten two singles from the Californian this year in the form of ‘FALL BACK’ and ‘SOPRANO’ and he confirms that they are part of a larger audio and visual project.
“The singles were the taste test to say, ‘Ok so DUCKWRTH will be going in a different direction now’. I’m excited. The project will eventually drop, but the emphasis at the moment is just pushing this overall concept.”