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In House With Dawn Richard: Singer Channels Joan of Arc, Preps ‘GoldenHeart’ Album & Loves Diddy

Gino DePinto, AOL

Dawn Richard loves Diddy and she ain’t afraid to show it. Before the Cassie stans get their panties in a bunch, the former Danity Kane member’s adoration for the Bad Boy Records mogul doesn’t include feelings of the romantic sort — she just appreciates the opportunity he’s provided her thus far in her career. As part of the Diddy-Dirty Money trio, Dawn, alongside singer Kaleena, traveled the world in 2010, promoting their joint LP, Last Train to Paris. Though the train eventually came to a screeching halt last year and the group parted ways, the Louisiana native fought for her place on the R&B horizon and won the battle.

With the support of her Hearts — the name she dubs her loyal fans — Dawn, as a solo entity, released the Armor On EP earlier this year. The 10-track effort, featuring soulful ballads, pop tunes and dance vibes, debuted at No. 1 on the iTunes charts — a feat she prides herself on considering she and her producer Druski did much of the work on their own.

Explosive songs like “Bombs,” off the effort, serve as a prelude of what’s to come on the chanteuse’s forthcoming full-length solo album, GoldenHeart. Set for a fall release, Dawn’s touting it as a “movie” only because the soundscape is that grand.

Read on as the stalwart spirit speaks on Aubrey O’Day’s plastic surgery, transvestite rumors, her loyalty to Diddy, being “Smurfed out” and why her new LP is comparable to the greatness of Harry Potter and Joan of Arc.

Watch Dawn Richard’s In House Visit With The BoomBox

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Videography & Production by Elizabeth Bruneau & Kelly Mahan

You released “Bombs” as your first single off Armor On. What can fans expect as the follow-up to that?

I went on Twitter and said, “Fans, friends, family, what’s the next single?” I like to be interactive with the Hearts and I want to make sure I’m doing the right music for them. As artists, I think that is something we should concentrate on. Sometimes we pick singles that we want, not necessarily what the people want. So I asked them and it seems like it’s an overall consensus to do “Automatic.” It’s a high-energy record. The reason why I’m going to go with “Automatic,” not only is it the follow-up to the same sounds “Bombs” is, but I think “Bombs” was the preparation of the battle and “Automatic” is the start of the war.

I also haven’t fully exhausted the ability of choreography. I’ve only just opened up the door to what I can do with that. I love when [my choreographer] Othanne and I get together and we have these type of records to push the envelope with choreography as well as the look of what people don’t expect us to do. “Automatic” is one of the records we can do that with.

How will your GoldenHeart album differ from what we’re hearing with Armor On?

GoldenHeart will be released in the fall. I’m looking at the first week in September. I just want to make sure that everyone is ready and prepared and I don’t want to prematurely release something that isn’t ready yet. I think Armor On has to be exhausted. We keep putting things out and putting things out and everything seems to overlap. I want people to know I took my time with Armor On. I’ll do about two more singles from Armor On then follow up with GoldenHeart. GoldenHeart, the sound is similar to Armor On, but it’s more of a movie. It’s scored way bigger than what this was. This is just the surface for us with the production for Armor On.

Druski, the producer I work with, and I we wanted to put together a preface. Say if you put Chapters 1 through 24, that’s kinda what Armor On is. You hear three records that sound similar on Armor On, which that will be one record on GoldenHeart. “Bombs,” “Automatic” and maybe “Faith,” that dance feel, will be one record with a similar feel on GoldenHeart. “Scripture,” that eerie, uncomfortable jungle, that’ll probably be sonically one song on GoldenHeart. It’s nothing like it. It’s kind of like if you read Harry Potter books and you see the characters grow but in your mind you know the kind of person that they are. It’s really that kind of vibe.

So the GoldenHeart album is already completed?

Yeah. It’s funny, it’s completed in my eyes but I’m still recording. I’m always trying to outdo it. I’m always leaving open the opportunity for a better record. I don’t feel like you should ever feel like, “You got it.” I’ll be pretty much recording until someone says, “Dawn, if you don’t stop I’ll shoot you.” That’s how much of a perfectionist I am. I’m really excited about it. I feel like it has this modern-day, Joan of Arc, fight of the crusades kind of feel. That may be a little bit much for R&B but it’s what I feel like I need to go to. I think what’s surprising about the sound of Armor On and GoldenHeart is that people are jumping on that bandwagon. They’re saying, “Its not that over my head. In fact, it’s extremely relatable.”

Do you have any collaborations?

People think I’m overambitious but I would love to collab with people I’m a fan of like the Robyns of the world and the Florence Welches and Azealia Banks. Just these cool, new funky people. People I’m fans of and just make R&B have a twist. We shouldn’t be so linear in music. I’m gonna push for those collaborations. With Armor On, we had no collaborations and went to No. 1 on iTunes. So at least I know with none it won’t hurt us. If you look at Billboard and iTunes today, there are a lot of songs with features that the feature is pushing the record. I pride myself in knowing it’s just us.

See Photos of Dawn Richard During Her The BoomBox Visit

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With personal style, you experiment with your looks. How does that represent who you are?

Today I have blue hair. I’m Smurfed out. I’m a rebel at heart. I’m a misfit to the cause. I always felt that way growing up. I’ve always felt I had to be true to who I am. I grew up kinda like a punk, little girl. I had blue-and-green hair, pink hair. I listened to Green Day. Bush, Gavin Rossdale, he was everything to me. That grunge world was perfection. Gwen Stefani was the poster girl for my life. Why would I change that because I’m soulful and R&B? So should I change who I am to fit or conform to the reality of what they want me to be? Or should I just be me and it make sense and the music still be beautiful.

I think where music is right now, you can do that. Everyone’s experimenting. Being you is the new fresh thing now. It’s exciting for me because I get to grow in my music and be me and it still make sense. With Armor On and GoldenHeart, it’s that fight, it’s the rebel with a cause. It’s the cast out. The person that was always cast to the side, the one knight that chose to be different. That dreamer. That goes hand-in-hand with my fashion. I am that lost soul walking by herself and looking back hoping that one or two or three are following. Usually you’re not alone. I get to be me and still make great music.

What are your thoughts on current reality singing competition shows like “The Voice” and “The X Factor,” since you came up on a similar program like MTV’s “Making the Band”?

I think it’s brilliant. I can’t knock it because that’s what created and started my career. I just hope it consistently makes sure were giving the right people the right chances. You can always hope and pray that it’s not always about ratings and it’s more about the voice and the sound. These shows have really kind of captured that. I applaud it because a girl like me from Louisiana, that was the only outlet I had. They weren’t coming to our cities and telling us to audition and stand in line. I had to go to Orlando for “Making the Band.”

Speaking of “Making the Band,” how is your relationship with the other members of Danity Kane, like Aubrey O’Day?

We talk as much as we can. I think it’s a good place that we’re at. We’ve all reconciled with the idea that this world, this media thing and what people think we are is just not real. We know what we went through together. We’ll always have those moments and I think it’s love between all of us because of that. I’m proud of them. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and what they’re continuing to accomplish in this business. Life is too short to dwell on what 50 percent was not even our fault. We take credit for what happened and then we move on. It’s been a long time now. We’re grown-ups. They’re great and I’ll love them ’til the end of time.

What do you think about the focus on Aubrey’s plastic surgery and how the media bashes her?

People bash everybody’s everything. It’s not just Aubrey. [The media said] I was a transvestite for like two years of my life. It’s just sad. At the end of the day, it is what it is. I think it’s brilliant in the great ways you flip it. And Aubrey flips it great for her and I flip it great for me. They’re going to continue saying I have a third lip, eighth nipple, whatever else they can come up with [laughs]. It’s getting old now.

You went on a tangent earlier about Harry Potter. Are you a big book reader?

Yes! I’m a dork and that’s the reality of it all. I think stories like Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, Twilight, just brilliant. They are great books because they continue to create a fanbase throughout time. The reason why I compared Armor On to Harry Potter [earlier] and I’m an avid literature fan is because they keep you interested. I think that’s what music is lacking right now. [Artists] do an album then the next one is totally different and there’s no story behind it. I can’t follow it. I just love feeling like I have to follow breadcrumbs, figure out who’s the next character. I fall in love with a certain character and they become this family of mine that I grow with. This is what I want to do with [Armor On and GoldenHeart] so I compare it because I do love literature.

What are you currently reading?

Thelonious Monk. My father gave it to me. It’s a story about his whole life and what he’s done for jazz music. It’s new to me. My father loved him. I had no clue about his life. My dad said our struggles would parallel each other. My father is a huge musician. He’s always trying to show me a new light. I think he wants me to read The Autobiography of Quincy Jones next. He’s always pushing me to read about black culture and the stories of that. It’s a huge book. Thanks dad.

You just spoke about struggles you’ve experienced. Everyone knows you are no longer part of Diddy-Dirty Money. Let me know about your relationship with Diddy because I know people think you struggled quite a bit in that group since you weren’t able to be the solo artist you wanted to be.

I love Puff. Everyone has a boss. Sometimes you hate them, sometimes you love them. That’s the reality of a boss. Puff was great for me. There are so many times when Puff could’ve passed on me and he didn’t. No one will ever understand that loyalty that I have to him. They’d be like, “Oh, you’re sleeping with him.” Not really, I’m just loyal. If someone breaks their neck for me five times, that’s just the reality. For me, there are awful times but because I am who I am, I look at the great times and have to see that they overshadow [the negative times]. If someone invests their money, their time and their label into me, the least… that I should do is work hard and be a great employee. I tried to be the best artist I could be because of that. We left on terms that were great. He said, “I wouldn’t have this opportunity to give you what you need at this moment,” and I said, “OK, well can I leave?” and he said “Sure.”

What’s one thing Diddy has said to you that has stayed with you during your career?

There’s not one specific thing but what I can say is Puff is funny as hell. He’s so quick with things. I remember we were on the Euro train and he’s always in his draws [underwear], in the high dress socks. He’s always hype about something. So [he was on the Euro train saying], “I’m coming back like Lazarus,” ’cause he was so excited about the Dirty Money project. I have him on film. It was a great moment for me.

No matter how long he’s been in the game there’s still this passion for greatness. I can respect that. Nothing should excite you after a million dollars… Ciroc ads, producer of the decade. Nothing should really shock you. Yet, he’s on the Euro train in his draws, with two girls [Kaleena and myself], who he gave a chance to… [saying], “We’re gonna come back bigger… than ever.” That’s an exciting thing to see someone, who has so much, be so humble in that moment and love it still. When it’s all said and done, I’ll be just as passionate about [my music] as when I stood in that line [to audition] for “Making the Band.”

Watch Dawn Richard’s “Bombs” Video

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