When I sat down with singer-songwriter Durand Bernarr after his One Music Fest set in Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, he was dressed in a white crocodile leather suit and sported chic, angular sunglasses resting on the bridge of his nose. Just an hour earlier, Durrand had wowed the crowd with his R&B and Hip Hop inspired music. Bernarr, resting afterward in the media tent took questions from various reporters with no signs of fatigue or tiredness — something I doubt many others would be able to do after such a powerful performance.
Noticing my nervousness at the start of the interview, Bernarr cooled me down for a few seconds with a promotional paper fan before answering my questions. Outside of Durand Bernarr, the artist, Bernarr the person was incredibly warm and welcoming. As a 17 year old girl in a media tent with established reporters and high-ranking artists, I’m sure my presence raised a few eyebrows, but I was treated with the exact same respect as every other professional in the space.
Bernarr was down-to-earth throughout the interview, cracking jokes and peppering films and other artists in his answers. As the staff gave me the five-minute warning and our time together was wrapping up, Durand thanked me for my time and I walked out of the tent in a quasi-daze, slightly starstruck by the sheer talent I’d witnessed both during and after his set.
How do you feel like your upbringing in a music-focused household prepared you to be in the industry today?
It was a huge advantage, for two parents to be musically inclined, singing and playing instruments. And also being in the industry, because it’s one thing to be able to play instruments, it’s another thing to be in the industry. So that helped propel my artist development if you may. From theatre to martial arts, skating, dance groups all those things, kind of home skills and build conditioning. So when it was time for me to step out, I was able to utilize those things that I learned, certain etiquettes and that would make space for me in those spaces.
What was it like to be on the road with Earth Wind and Fire?
It was like getting a front-row seat at how a production of that magnitude can operate: wardrobe, production, lighting. The background singers, the dancers, seeing people stretching, and warming up before they go on stage. Being prompt with the time that you’re supposed to be on. And also because I was 16 when I got on this gig so I was working as an assistant with the merch and taking people’s orders. It was giving me adequate responsibility but also letting me know this is work. I’m super grateful for that because it shows it in a way that I like to learn.
Do you feel like being homeschooled gave you the freedom to explore your interests and grow into an artist?
I used to think that I was missing out. I’d have to go back and review all the ways in which I’ve been socialized. Cleveland Playhouse Square, taking acting classes. I was in classes for movement, I was in the theater at 19 and I went to driving school. I had my cousins, I was in martial arts class. So I was in different environments where there were other children and other people where I could be socialized. Now I’m very grateful that I was homeschooled because my learning environments were custom-made for each level I was at. If I’m a musical auditory learner then my mother can give me lesson plans that have music involved so I’m able to remember certain things.
What was the process like of getting on NPR’s Tiny Desk?
So, number one? Be famous. I think I might have reached out to Bobby [Carter] who’s the producer over at NPR, either way, he wanted me to come and do the home NPR back in 2020, but then he changed his mind and said we’re gonna wait because we need you at the desk. So when they found out I was coming to DC in March of this year they said can you come after when you have a day off. So I did three shows in a row — Boston, Philly, D.C., and the very next afternoon after D.C. at 2 pm we were filming Tiny Desk. We had been locked in for about 3 weeks at the time so that’s why everything seemed very sharp and on point. We were locked in. As Edna said on “The Incredibles,” “Luck favors the prepared.”
How has your life changed since the Tiny Desk performance?
The impact was genuinely needing security *laughs* It’s one thing for me to do because I’ve been on the internet since I was 17 years old — started on MySpace, moved on to Tagged, and then moved onto YouTube. I posted my first video when I was 19, so I’ve grown up on the internet for the past 16 years. Even when I got with Erykah [Badu], even with releasing certain music it was still like OK… But Tiny Desk is what took it. It was that drop of nitrogen that took it to an already moving vehicle and now festivals want me. And you know what? I’m grateful because all people needed was to see me. After all, it was one thing to hear me but to see me in that setting.
Have you noticed a shift in the amount or type of listeners since Tiny Desk?
I was at brunch somewhere and this handsome white gentleman turned around at the table next to us. As he was leaving with his mother he said “Are you Durand Bernarr” I was like, “Yes.” He was like, “Oh my god, saw you on Tiny Desk. You were amazing.” I love that it was crazy, just doing this European tour all of the cities are sold out, even Paris .It’s just going to be so wild to hear all of these songs who have probably not even lived my experience but still connect with the music but that’s a really beautiful thing.
What do you try to accomplish through your styling
I want to have fun, I want to dress up. Sometimes my inner child gets into the driver’s seat so now we are doing Uncle Bobby or Beetlejuice or Popeye or Carmen Sandiego or The Mask. Freddy Krueger was another one that I did. It was just having fun but also figuring out where you want to go with it. Do you want to have fun? Do you want to look sexy? Do you want to be like a moment, whatever that is? It’s also getting with people who can look at me and can be like, “You know this would look good.” And even collaborating on certain things, there are some things that my stylist will be like, “This is it” and I’m like, “No, it’s not.” I love to just try stuff.
Do you have anyone you look up to fashion-wise?
I always like going back to the ’70s, Rick James, Freddie Mercury, even dipping back and going to Little Richard. A ‘fit that I just recently did that he’s going to be one of the inspirations for. You know, just anything that’s shiny, glittery. I’m also getting into leather now so I like black leather, you know, darker colors. So yeah, it depends. Grace Jones is another one, even Badu, even though she is more campy, but they’re just been such an evolution. You know there’s high fashion and then there’s her fashion.
You have had your fair share of internet clout, how has that affected your music and the way you carry yourself online?
It is a thing of being mindful of the things that you say and the things that you do where you’re doing them, and who you’re doing them with. It also is for me, at least good notoriety, where in another time it might not have been as easy for me to come across somebody’s desk. Whereas now, it’s just a link and then you see it, It’s very instantaneous these days. That’s why it’s kind of important to reel them in in the first 15 to 20 seconds like, “Let’s go, what are we doing?”
Have there been any key moments in your career where you’ve thought “Oh I’ve made it” or do you feel like that moment is yet to come?
I feel like there are layers to those moments, one moment could be sitting with Quincy Jones and being able to ask him questions. You know building a friendship with people I’ve admired musically. Working for and then working with, there are so many different — even a matter of someone trusting me — whether that be with music or their business or their brand and trusting that I’m going to deliver something quality. So that right there is the biggest for me to know that I’m considered in that way you know. It’s very gratifying.