O, to be young and ripe with potential. It’s the time when sleepless nights run into early morning wake-up calls, where first moments of success rush over like a wave of euphoria. It’s the time to feel alive and to be your best at all occasions, hoping to grasp the sight of that brief window of fame, that seductive satisfaction of a dream come true.
Too often as we dream of the life we desire, we sabotage ourselves with negative thoughts. We consume ourselves with reasons why things will not workout, postponing actions for better weather, greener grass, more money, whatever the list of excuses are to distract from our inner drought of hope. But when it comes to singer/songwriter D’Asia SImone, she’s finely tuned to the fact that dream-chasing is a hustler’s game and if you want anyone to believe in you, you must first believe in yourself. Her debut album, Element, crafts the ultimate soundtrack for the sedulous dreamer. This past October, Culture Jock, had a chance to catch up with the budding talent via FaceTime to discuss, among other things, the belle of the grind.
Culture Jock: Congratulations, on Element! Last time we spoke, you mentioned it has been in the works for quite some time. What’s the process been like for you?
D’Asia Simone: So, I’ve been working on this project for about a year. Being at the studio at first, I wasn’t too sure where I wanted to go. The first song I produced was ‘Smooth (The Way).’ My producer, Rocki Laurenc, and I just one day found my melody, it was amazing. We recorded that and we went to the studio again and recorded ‘SYS’ and I was like ‘ yeah, this is it.’ We were in the studio for quite some time. He did the music for some movie scores and some of the beats were about five years old. I would pick through some of those and just do a song from scratch. Sometimes I wasn’t prepared. I would go in and hear what he had and be able to write out a song or find a melody. We would be in the [studio] for 2 to 8hours just working on one song. I think the most frustrating part was when I sent it to Auzzie, my sound engineer. He added the instruments and help bring the song to the next level. It was a lot. You are working with two people: One, who produced the initial sound and the second added to it. I was like ‘ I want this instrument here and this here,’ but a lot of the hands-on work came from them. It was a journey.
CJ: You’ve discovered music through your family. What was it like growing up around musicians?
DS: I grew up learning by chance. My whole family is musically inclined. My uncle and his brother play over 20 instruments. Growing up, I loved instruments, certain sounds and how I could incorporate that into my music.
CJ: Have you had a chance to play the album for them yet?
DS: My Great Grandfather heard the project and he was shocked. He’s 91. He’s always been my biggest critic. He’s from a different time, ya know. He’s always been like, ‘enunciate your words properly. What is this song about? What are you talking about?’ He’d try to distinguish the different instruments and the sound. He dissects every song and it was cool to have him sit there and listen, just vibing with it. He was really happy with how it turned out. For him, to see how modern music played out, it was pretty cool.
CJ: I am so obsessed with ‘Wavelength.’ It’s kin to what we see in most social conversations these days, the attention to astrology and what energies we bring into our lives. Was this a part of your goal?
DS: On ‘Wavelength,’ I’m trying to remember how I started writing that song. It’s weird. I look at my songs and some of the recordings, some of the melodies and lyrics are completely different on the album. I think I was just feeling about someone being on your level. Keep trying to keep up with me when you can’t. I was really confident with that song. I was focusing on how I can put that into words without being too direct. Like, ‘ I’m on a completely different level than you. Get on my wavelength.’ I felt like I was the shit when I wrote that (laughs). Wavelength,’ is just one of those songs you can apply to anything. Sometimes I write something too specific, so I readjust and think ‘ How can I make it applicable to other situations?’ Some people may relate to it, some people may not. I can still take this and broaden it.
CJ: Isn’t the writing process just awful? It’s like trying to explain an emotion. How do you get yourself in the zone?
DS: I don’t know. I don’t have a specific ritual, however, one thing I notice is I’ll listen to some beats once I’m in the studio. If I don’t have tea, I’ll go to Starbucks and get some tea with honey. I do whatever I can to get into the zone. I go into the studio like I do this for a living. I put myself in the mindset that this is what I want to do with my life, this is what I do. Sometimes, if I get writers block and get frustrated, I’ll go to YouTube and watch visuals to get inspired.
CJ: What type of images inspire you?
DS: I am really big on visuals. Whether music videos, movies, whatever. There are a lot of times I watch music videos for their color scheme, everything is aesthetically pleasing. In my spare time, I watch a lot of movies. One of my favorite films is The Wiz. It is definitely in my top three, if not the first. The Moonwalker. I remember having it on VHS as a kid. [Moonwalker] is a collection of Michael Jackson’s music videos and they are essentially short films. Another one of my favorites is Kill Bill. And I know it’s odd but it’s one of my favorite films to watch. I’m just into cinema in general. That’s why I chose the beats ‘ Lights Off’ and ‘Free Tonight.’ They were originally meant as apart of a film score. I wrote those songs because they reminded me of a movie.
CJ: If ‘Lights Off’ or ‘ Free Tonight’ were your own personal movies, what would they be about?
DS: ‘Free Tonight,’ would be (laughs) wait, let’s break it down. It would actually be more like the love scene in Love & Basketball, like, when she lost her virginity. But more romantic, not Fifty Shades of Grey. The song is about just taking someone away for some personal time and being free with them. For ‘ Lights Off’ that would be, like, I don’t know. I think it would be some sort of badass scene with a woman confronting a guy and she walks off and at the end you realize she’s Catwoman. She’s like jumping off of buildings and walks off into the moonlight.
CJ: Why do I get the feeling that you just want to jump off buildings?
DS: I do! You caught me.
CJ: If Element were a mood, what would it be?
DS: If ‘Element’ were a mood, oh wow. I don’t think if it would be one specific mood. Once I put all the songs together, it gives you this House funky feel in the beginning, like, I can vibe and groove to this. Then, it transitions into ‘Smooth (The Way)’, which is moody and vinery. The album digresses into it being about love to being fed up with somebody. It’s a scale, a happy scale. It’s kind of like when you go to a psychiatrist and it’s like point to the face that shows your mood.
CJ: If not a mood, what’s the message you’d like to share with your listeners.
DS: The message is more so being able to be free, free yourself and have enough courage to do what you want to do in life. Me, being 22, it’s like I’ve been told so many times to finish school, you need to do this and need to do that. We can say [life] doesn’t work that way but, my parents have a perspective that is, ‘ This is the way to do it.’ I was actually on my way to law school, but I decided while I am young and have this motivation in me, I want to go for what I love while I have the drive. If it doesn’t work, I can go back (Pauses). It doesn’t matter the medium, just tell your story and do what you love. Life is short and you only get it once. I’m not afraid of dying, but I want to make sure I am doing everything I need be doing before my time comes. I want people to live in their truth, find their purpose and then execute it. You have to find it, you need to have enough courage to find it.
CJ: As a Black woman, if I can be real for a moment, I think our parents lecture us with ‘ This is the way to do it,’ play it safe plan because they want to protect us. They know we seldom are given big opportunities, but at the same time our security is never guaranteed. When you embrace your destiny, there is a phase where you have to unlearn those doubts. You’ve got to commit all the way.
DS: Wow, right. I think that is pretty accurate. My mom has always been supportive, but is still very ‘ just make sure you have a back up plan.’ She’s supposed to be like that, she is my mother. But I’ve always seen that in, just, tragic life experiences, where I’ve been able to find myself and my purpose. The best thing you can do is go out and find yourself, no matter what’s going on in your life, become at peace with the right now. I sometimes worry like ‘ oh my God, what if this doesn’t work out?’ I have to put myself in the present and just think about what’s going on right now. When I do that I’m not even worried. I just know that this is what I am supposed to do and I weigh the outcomes of that. Being comfortable with the present. That’s what is important.
CJ: Right, the obstacles are always going to come. Just depends on how you handle it.
DS: Being Black is one thing, but being a Black woman we have to work ten times harder to get the opportunities. It was something I heard when I was younger, but now I’m in it and it is hard. I feel like I am being tested all the time. Life is like a video game, it’s about leveling up.
CJ: What’s been an active reminder for you to keep pushing through with your music?
DS: I think in 2018 I moved to Cleveland. I lived in Arizona for about three years and moving back I didn’t know everybody for real, so when I felt like I was starting over. I knew I wanted to get back into music. I met someone, he was a producer and he did me dirty on the music. I got so discouraged, I stopped music altogether. It was my boyfriend, who was just a friend at the time, that got me back into music. Music was all I could focus on that I kind of got away from it at the same time. There was this one time I was in Los Angeles and someone [ in Cleveland] was doing a show at the Grog Shop. A friend called me and said there was a spot and I was like, “sure,” but I didn’t have anything prepared. I had one song I was working on and some covers. When I got back to Cleveland, I was in a rush. I was all over the place trying to get ready for this show and nothing was working out. I asked God to give me a sign. Tell me why, on my way, rushing, I get into a car accident. I was like ‘ are you kidding me?’ I just got back from LA, I got this show and I’m like ‘ what am I doing wrong?’ I am literally just all over the place. Then I got into asking God for another sign. I get into a rental car and got into another car accident. I took that as a sign that I need to slow down, be present and relax. I find myself being impatient. I need more patience. The two accidents were within the same week of each other, I had to take two sessions in order to get the lesson. (laughs) Be careful what you ask for because you are given them.
CJ: 2020 is being anticipated as the year of clear vision. What hopes do you have for yourself as we enter the new decade? DS: I think in this upcoming decade, you’re right. 2020 our visions will be more clearer. The past few years have felt like a test and this year has been rough for me mentally, physically, musically. I’ve had time to reflect on myself and think about what’s important to me. I see a lot of truth coming to light as well. Our generation is rising up and speaking out on doing differently. I think it has been an awakening for the world and for myself.