Born in Florida and raised in South London, R&B singer DWY thrives in the throes of memory. DWY, choosing to keep the finer details about his identity to himself, makes music that is equal parts catchy and ethereal, with a real emphasis on the latter. On his latest single, “Latchkey,” out today, DWY’s voice floats above a wonderfully warm crackle and tepid percussion section. There’s a stunted bounce and swagger to the record as DWY sings, “Be careful of the shooter… When you Black, they want your future.” The depth of DWY’s writing on this hook—do remember, he entered the music industry as a songwriter and producer—can not be understated.
“I went to University at 16; everyone was making music, so I wrote my first song to just hang out and fit in,” DWY tells me over the phone. “It was the first thing I remember loving to do. Music was the first thing where I was, like, ‘Oh, this is for me!’”
DWY released his first single, “Over You,” in 2018. In the two years since then, he has amassed a steady following and has been tapped as an artist to watch. From “Over You” to “Latchkey,” DWY taps into the power of memory to make sticky music meant to make you feel as nostalgic as the London-raised singer.
“You can dip in and out of your past and certain moments,” he says. “I’m a pretty nostalgic person, and I think because I don’t talk that much, I’m a daydreamer. [I’m thinking about] something that happened, something I wish that happened. That’s always been my process, being in my head for a while and dipping back into those memories for ideas.”
As DWY’s voice thins out and fades into the production of “Latchkey,” singing of feeling nothing and rushing blood, we get the sense he is a shapeshifting artist, one to watch and grow with. To close “Latchkey,” producer Cronkite introduces a sweet piano melody, something to soothe the spirit in the face of the painful narrative DWY tucks beneath his silky voice. “Latchkey” is but one of a handful of singles marking DWY as an R&B breakout in London’s burgeoning scene.
“I don’t feel pressure,” DWY tells me to end our call. “It’s nice to be recognized for what I’m doing. It’s a bit of a reminder that [what] I’m doing is connecting in some capacity… I wanted to make a whole record before I put anything out, so that I wouldn’t fall into trying to make another ‘Latchkey;’ my process is pretty insulated. I go away for a while, write, and then put it out. It’s just nice to know people are listening because you never know if anyone is gonna care or not.”
Oh, don’t worry. We care. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: When did music first come into your life in a significant way?
DWY: I was around the age of 15. I used to write poems and stuff. I went to University at 16; everyone was making music, so I wrote my first song to just hang out and fit in. It was the first thing I remember loving to do. Music was the first thing where I was, like, “Oh, this is for me!”
A little birdy told me you began your career as a songwriter-producer. Tell me about those times. How did you start making your own tunes?
I remember distinctly, I had a meeting with a label. It was a song I had written that they wanted for an artist, and it was the first time I intently said, “No.” That record felt like it was mine. “Okay, I guess it’s time to figure out being an artist!” I took two years away from being a writer and disappeared into my flat and wrote. I put the first record out, “Over You,” and that was the first sign of, “Okay, I think I know what I want to sound like as an artist.” It was finding the confidence as a singer and expressing myself in that way. It was a fun journey!I still enjoy writing songs, and I still write songs now, but I took a period off to just [say] what I wanted to say, how I wanted to say it. Being a session songwriter and working with other people, it’s different. You have a bunch of opinions you need to cater [to] and listen to and working with myself… If I liked it, that was it! There was no compromise; no, “Oh, so-and-so wouldn’t say this, so we can’t say that.” It was liberating when I hit that moment of, “This is exactly how I would say it.”
In your bio, you say, “It took me a long time to be confident as a singer.” How did you overcome self-doubt to launch your solo career?
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I just took a leap of faith. It was a long process of transitioning… I have a little group of best friends, and we’d send each other demos, and [with] the first demos it was like, “Nah, bro, that’s not it!” I was just determined because I knew I didn’t wanna rap, so I had to figure [singing] out and find my voice. I just chose to let it go—I needed to let [my voice] out into the world and see what happens. No expectations, just trust in what I’ve been doing.
Your music has a lot to do with memory. What does the power of memory mean to you?
You can dip in and out of your past and certain moments. I’m a pretty nostalgic person I’d say, and I think because I don’t talk that much, I’m a daydreamer. [I’m thinking about] something that happened, something I wish that happened. That’s always been my process, being in my head for a while and dipping back into those memories for ideas. Real life is the best place to find those things because you’re connected to it.
What’s the most important memory you’ve written about?
A record called “Every Time I See You Again.” That’s about a friend of mine at University. I had a huge crush, and we were good friends [who] hung out all the time. Then you have those lingering moments that are there between the two of you… Then we’d graduated and gone off to live our separate lives, and you just get over it. Every time we catch up, I find myself back in that same emotion. That record takes me back to those days.
Do you ever worry you’ll get trapped, spending so much time in your head?
All the time. I make an effort to step out of it and go somewhere. Movies [are] a big way for me to get out of my head and go somewhere else. And my family and friends. It’s tricky because I’m always thinking about something, you know? It’s tough.
The new single, “Latchkey,” is a narrative track. Can you break down the story for me?
“Latchkey” is about a lonely kid whose parents work all the time, so he’s left to his own devices. The whole thing of “Be careful of the shooter” is his mom’s voice in the back of his mind, reminding him. You have that one thing your mom says to you in the back of your mind all the time. That was something my parents would tell me, growing up as a Black man. I was born in Florida, but I grew up in London. You have to be extra vigilant when you go outside because it can go left a lot quicker. So that’s this kid in his head, lost and frustrated, searching, and having his mom’s voice guide him back to where he needs to be.
I wrote it in one day. I had a session with my friend Cronkite, down in LA. It came together quickly. It was a fun mixing process. I’m pretty anal about mixes. I love when the vocals sit in the mix, and it all feels like you’re surrounded by everything.
Where does your love of storytelling come from?
I’ve always loved stories. As a kid, I loved to read. When I’d be sent to bed, I’d pull out [a] flashlight and read books. Before it was songs, it was short stories and poems. I love movies, too. I’ve always loved the narrative of films. I’m a big Quentin Tarantino fan. I wanted to bring that into the music as much as I can and have something to say with the record.
Lastly, you’ve been tapped by several publications as an artist to watch. How does that feel? Is there any pressure to perform?
I don’t feel pressure. It’s nice to be recognized for what I’m doing. It’s a bit of a reminder that [what] I’m doing is connecting in some capacity. For me, it’s more of a, “Don’t worry about expectations. Just trust your instincts and keep the same process as before.” I wanted to make a whole record before I put anything out, so that I wouldn’t fall into trying to make another “Latchkey;” my process is pretty insulated. I go away for a while, write, and then put it out. It’s just nice to know people are listening because you never know if anyone is gonna care or not.