From Gamer to Alt-Pop Star: How D4vd is Conquering Music One DIY Hit at a Time

Tired of being pinged for using music in his gaming videos, Texas teenager David Burke — professionally known as D4vd — decided to make his own. Armed with only BandLab and an iPhone, he started scoring gameplay montages. Early virality encouraged him to think bigger, and by the end of 2022, D4vd had landed global hits with “Romantic Homicide” and “Here With Me” without ever stepping into a recording studio. Both feature on his hotly anticipated debut project “Petals to Thorns,” out today via Darkroom/Interscope Records.

Like many teenage boys, D4vd was obsessed with “Fortnite” when it came out in 2017 and he began posting videos on YouTube like his gaming hero Ninja. “I saw the videos he was making and I used the same music,” the 18-year-old recalls. “Only mine would be taken down for copyright infringement.” He complained to his mom, who suggested making his own songs. Inspired, he fired up Google: “I searched how to make music on a phone.”

Early compositions like “You and I” soon found love in the gaming world. “I would get in my Hans Zimmer bag and start composing songs for the ‘Fortnite’ montages,” he says. Last year, he joined TikTok and got off to a rocky start when a pitched-up cover of Beyoncé’s “Blue” went viral for the wrong reasons. “I got so much hate,” he laughs. “The comments were saying things like, ‘Yo, unrelease this,’ and, ‘You have a hidden talent, keep it hidden.'”

Instead of giving up, D4vd turned the haters into fans by releasing more pitched-up covers. “It became this huge phenomenon,” he says. With momentum on his side, the internet-savvy teen pivoted again. “I used the fan base that I gained off of a gimmick to propel my actual music.” His first track to connect beyond social media was “Romantic Homicide.” The gloomy breakup song went viral, reaching number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100 and amassing more than 590 million Spotify streams. He then backed it up with another smash, “Here With Me.”

“I wasn’t even focused on becoming an artist back then,” D4vd says. “It meant the world to me that people saw what I was doing and understood it.” Inspired by the thematic symmetry between “Here With Me” and “Romantic Homicide” — the former documents new love, while the latter is a raw anthem for the brokenhearted — he carried the relationship concept over to his debut project “Petals To Thorns.”

The EP tells the story of a love affair, from the initial rush to the crumbling aftermath. “It’s a different vibe every time,” D4vd explains. “Just like the ups and downs of the relationship — getting to know the person, the talking stage, intimacy, and then the point when you lose them.” To convey that emotional rollercoaster, he dabbles in a wide variety of genres including pop, rock, shoe-gaze, indie and hip-hop. “You get a little bit of everything.”

Falling somewhere between Bruno Mars and Lord Huron, the drowsy “Sleep Well” showcases his staggering versatility. On it, he encourages a lover to ignore the negative thoughts swirling around their head. “I’m really speaking to myself and promising to be there for myself,” D4vd admits. He then envisaged a romance where he could provide the same solace for someone else. “I’m making sure that my future love will not feel that way about herself.”

Most of D4vd’s lyrics are similarly theoretical. “I was homeschooled, so I don’t really have a lot of personal experience to grasp onto,” he says. The singer-songwriter takes his inspiration from everywhere. “For ‘Romantic Homicide’ it was my love for manga and then for ‘Here With Me’ it was ‘Up,’ the Disney movie,” D4vd reveals, listing people-watching, movies, TV, and books as other sources of inspiration.

When an idea takes root, D4vd heads straight to his sister’s closet — where he has macgyvered his own DIY studio. He recorded every song on “Petals to Thorns” there with one exception.

“The first couple of times I stepped into the studio, it was hard having so many people there,” D4vd admits. “I was in the booth with this $4,000 Norman mic in front of me, and I’m on my phone using BandLab. I was like, ‘Man, what are you doing?’ We paid for the session and everything.”

Intent on being more collaborative, he DM’d singer-songwriter Laufey after hearing her “Harlem In Love” EP. “I said, ‘Your music sounds like a warm hug.'” She responded three months later and they decided to make “This Is How It Feels” together. “Laufey did all the piano and it came together as this beautiful piece,” he says of the project’s only studio session. “I would’ve never thought of doing something like that on my phone.”

The wildly eclectic sound of “Petals to Thorns” is doubly remarkable given that D4vd exclusively listened to gospel music growing up. “It was strictly gospel ’til I was 13,” he says. That changed when he heard a kid blasting Lil Pump’s “Gucci Gang” on the bus. “I was like, ‘Yo, what in the world is this?’ So, I downloaded SoundCloud, got into Pump, XXXTentacion — all of the underground guys.”

He had another awakening when “Fortnite” fever took hold in 2017. “I was watching all these ‘Fortnite’ montages and somebody used the Neighbourhood’s ‘Sweater Weather,‘” D4vd remembers. “I’d never heard anything like it before. After that, I started delving into all these different bands like Fleet Foxes and Wallows. I love all kinds of music, but that’s the music I listen to all the time.”

His love of indie-rock was initially a source of polite confusion among fans. “I started out with no face, my videos were just BandLab screen recordings,” he laughs. “There were so many comments saying, ‘Oh my God, he’s Black!’ Which is the most hilarious thing. It was a two-month period where everybody found out what I looked like.” Not that he minds. d4vd thrives on subverting expectations and rewriting the rulebook, one DIY hit at a time.

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