We spoke with Duckwrth about his new project Chrome Bull, merging his boundless interests in music and fashion, dance music, and more.
It’s mid-September, a week before Duckwrth embarks on the Chrome Bull tour to promote his upcoming EP of the same name (it’s out today), and the LA-based polymath is just leaving a workout before hopping on Zoom for this interview. The day before, he’d just returned home from New York Fashion Week, where he said he “had the time of my life” mingling with friends, supporting collaborators, and soaking in all of the enchantment that New York City has to offer. A nice respite from the work he has put not just into making Chrome Bull, but performing it, too.
“Rehearsing, training. It’s a new sound, especially for my band,” Duckwrth said. “It’s different with dance music because with soul, R&B, you can get behind the kick and that’s what creates the groove. But [with] dance music, that kick has to be damn near robotic. Everything else can be swung but the kick has to be robotic, so it’s us tuning our brain in such a different way to really be on the beat.”
Initially supposed to be released in late August, Chrome Bull builds on the ‘70s disco and funk-infused sound from his debut album SuperGood (and its followup SG8*) in 2020. The end result is grandiose dancefloor music: an eight-track project that weaves together funk, house, UK garage, rap and R&B, while leaning on messages that embrace inner healing and communal love.
“I had to get it right,” Duckwrth said. “I didn’t want to just put it out. I want it to be cohesive. Even though all of the songs are great, and even though it’s just an EP, I wanted it to have its greatest potential.”
Okayplayer talked with Duckwrth about Chrome Bull, merging his boundless interests in music and fashion, dance music, and more.
Talk to me about your fashion sense because I think it’s very eclectic. Who are your fashion inspirations and where did your love of it come from?
Duckwrth: I wasn’t really interested in fashion at first. I was raised by my mom and my sister, and they would be on my head if I left the house looking dusty. My sister would just expose me to different styles. She was very fashionable herself. I was always looking up to my sister, and I think that kind of just ended up being on me.
For my jewelry, I’ve always been into the punk aesthetic. Silver hardware, a lot of chokers, chains, links, and a lot of silverines. I love Vivienne Westwood and her interpretation of punk in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, so that stayed with me. I also like a bit of utilitarianism, so pockets and harnessing and stuff like that. Those general areas really resonate with me.
How do you think that blends with your music?
I definitely bring the worlds together. It started off this year with me wearing a two-piece suit, and I was just trying to figure out a way to make it more forward and futuristic like Chrome Bull. So, I put a harness over it just to give it an extra edge. Also, I was working with Levi’s and I made a sketch on the plane, but it was this longer, gladiator type of jacket that stitched in the middle. I was playing with a lot of lines to create shape, and it was inspired by this airplane bomber suit that I wore [when I performed] at Governors Ball. I looked like some sort of futuristic Mad Max. I’m always trying to find a way to bridge this world with that world in a way that’s seamless. Everything is reflecting each other, and I’m figuring it out as I go.
How would you describe yourself as an artist?
It’s whatever way the wind blows. I follow my gut intuition. If I wanna pull back and just focus more on garments at the moment, then I’ll do that. If it’s time for me to work on the next project, I’ll do it. Overall, I do R&B-ish. I do alt-R&B sometimes. Sometimes I rap. Sometimes I make dance music. It’s all about feeling, but my spinal cord is funk. When I write my music, record, perform, I’m always a bit behind the beat and that whole oneness that is the beat — the funk, the feeling, the soul.
How was this new project conceived? What was going through your mind when you decided to pursue it?
The whole chrome bull concept came from, one, I’m a Taurus. Two, I guess I wanted to make this Taurus logo that had very full, abstract horns and stuff. I was working on it last year and I finished designing it at the beginning of this year, and I needed visuals for this tour I was doing with Billie Eilish. So, I sent the logo off to my guy who does 3D design, and he turned it into a chrome bull. Then, I started wearing the suit and I felt like the sleekness — the real sleekness of chrome and how edgy it is — that’s where I was going musically, where I was going fashion-wise. Then, one day on Instagram, I was like, “I’m a chrome bull.” It just stuck.
It was just about going further into this chrome bull feeling of sleekness, edginess, and kind of leading toward the future. I’ve always felt like dance music feels like the most futuristic of music genres.
When did you start working on it?
It was really this year. I’ve been playing with sounds and teetering with BPMs. Whereas before, I was playing with an 80 BPM, I was wondering what does this sound like at 120, 116, 130, 140? And just seeing how the audience would respond. In the beginning of the year, I did “Power Power.” That was 120 BPM and that’s a straight house record. I thought that I should further explore this. And then Drake and Beyoncé got into it.
What did you think about those artists suddenly pivoting to dance music, considering yourself and other artists have been doing it for so long?
One, I think Beyoncé did it immaculately. I think she did that shit. She did her homework. Whoever was writing with her or whatever it was, she sat deep in that feeling because it came out with conviction. It felt good. It felt new. I liked that she called it Renaissance. Overall, I like that it’s going to take that type of music and open it up to the masses to people who would never listen to dance music. That way, artists who’ve been making that music can get a chance to be on the radio and appeal to the masses in that sense. It’s artists like Channel Tres, NEZ, Aluna, Austin Millz, and myself who’ve been making dance music for a minute. I’m actually looking forward to what happens next.
You mentioned that “1130” was one of the last songs to make the EP. How did that come about?
My homie made the beat for it last year. This was around the time when I was writing “Make U Go” [for SG8*]. He had the beat and I was like, “This beat is hard.” I took it home, and on my own set up at the crib I just made a quick demo, and I sent it to him last year. But I never actually went in the studio and made a quality recording for it. I think I took an Instagram story video of that demo.
Recently, I was looking through my archives. I don’t even know what the hell I was looking for. I see the video and think, “This is hard is fuck.” So, I hopped on it and finished writing it, and in six hours we had a full song. But it all came from me going through my archives and accidentally stumbling upon it.
Do you have a favorite song on the album?
I really like how I wrote “Super Saiyan.” That one is like, “You haven’t even seen me in full form yet, so just wait.” Then, I like “Pray.” The arrangement on “Pray,” and how we took a drum and bass beat and just put soul and gospel on top of it. I’ve never heard gospel drum and bass in my life, and we did that shit. It was crazy.
What are you working on now?
Trying to get my mind together for next year because it’s like, no more EPs. It’ll be a big project. This is time for the album.
When do you think that’ll be released?
I feel like it’ll be next year, but I also want to allow myself the space, time, grace, and the patience to make something amazing. But that means I’ll have to really dive into the deepest depths of myself. I want to spend some time in New York for six months, and do six months in London, and still be in LA and just explore and open my palette up.
I think that’s the essence of dance music, really. What do you think you bring to the genre?
I be rapping. Dance music is very minimal. You have phrasing and you repeat that phrasing. I think Azealia Banks is one of the only people that actually raps on a house beat. But the way that she does it, it’s her cadences that reflect drum patterns and percussive drum patterns. I don’t even know what she’s saying half of the time, but it’s her cadence that pushes you further into the pocket. I’ve figured out a way to live in both. I can be minimal and swim in the pillars of house music, but also be able to just go off really quick.
That’s really a question to ask me in six months because I have to experiment. I have to figure out what I’m going to bring that’s going to be so different. I will have an answer in six months.
What are you hoping people get out of this project?
I guess that it’s my intro back into dance. Also, it’s very international. It’s drum and bass on there, it’s UK garage on there — it’s kind of placing me overseas. It’s heavy London vibes, heavy Parisian vibes on this project. It’s a lot of French imagery on it. It happened unintentionally but when I heard it, it was tight. So, I’m hoping it continues to build that bridge for myself for like Europe and hopefully for Africa, too.