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When it comes to his music, Durand Bernarr isn't afraid to show up & show out

Durand Bernarr
Elton Anderson Jr.

In an interview with Out, Durand Bernarr talks new single, EP, and Tiny Desk anniversary: "I only have 20 minutes, I'm about to show my entire ass."

Anyone who thinks that "R&B is dead" clearly hasn't met Durand Bernarr. However, Bernarr isn't only an R&B artist — he's a genre-bending talent with stamps of approval from the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Erykah Badu, two legendary acts with whom he's worked closely.

Beyond his immense talent, watching a performance by Bernarr will make you feel right at home — even referring to himself as our favorite cousin on our daddy's side. His commanding energy showcases the theater roots that have crafted him into a skillful showman who isn't afraid to give the girls a show.

Namely, there is Bernarr's unforgettable 2023 Tiny Desk performance, in which he paid tribute to Disney Channel's The Proud Family by dressing as the eccentric uncle Bobby Proud. The singer's band and background vocalists followed suit and even dressed up as other characters from the series too.

"Looking back at [Tiny Desk], it was so much bigger than me. Because, when I look at it, I'm seeing not just myself, but I'm seeing other Black queer men who look and act like me and showing them that we can take up space. We can be sharp [and] we can be rehearsed if given that opportunity. We can really not only flip the table but set that ***** on fire," Bernarr tells Out.

Bernarr has been on fire for a while now, and he's not stopping any time soon. Following his last album, Wanderlust, in 2022, the singer is back with a new single, "Unknown." Out chatted with Bernarr about his new song, the upcoming album, and a lot more!

Out: You refer to yourself as 'our favorite cousin on our daddy's side,' right? I want to know where that comes from, and why the daddy's side specifically.

Durand Bernarr: When I first moved out here to Los Angeles, I came across [something] called 27Brand and my friend Mel was putting on these jam sessions called "The Juice Joint." It was like an open jam session, and it was structured like a big cookout.

There were folks that came to make food, and anybody would get on stage, from like tap dance, playing the violin, singing, rapping, poetry, and my homegirl would get on the mic and talk her ****. You know, make her church announcements. She would basically say, 'Listen, turn to your neighbor, because we're all family here. It's like your favorite cousin on your daddy's side.' That just kind of stuck with us because it's a family affair.

'Unknown' is a very vulnerable song. Can you talk about the inspiration for it?

'Unknown' is about someone who has found themselves in love with a friend. The most maddening part about it is the friend feels the same way, but they're just not in a position to take that next step. I'm kind of just venting about that and trying to find some middle ground. Because there's fear involved, and healing, and opening up; especially if we've been disappointed or let down. It's probably the most vulnerable record on the project.

What made you decide to make the most vulnerable track of the album your lead single?

Oh my god, that's a good question. The main thing that we were going for was something that [people] hadn't really heard from me. I don't even think I was with [Erykah] Badu yet the last time I did a song that had the ¾ [time signature]. So I was like, 'It's time to give them a little bit of that.'

Tell me about the EP. What was the vibe that you were aiming for?

The main thing is that we're going to have fun. I'm taking you guys on a little adventure. It takes you through a myriad of genres. We have the neo-soul R&B, and we have some upbeat funk. [It] takes us into jazz, and a little acoustic. I'm really proud of it, and the main reason is because of how quickly we had to put it together.

When you talk about recording music in different genres, it reminds me of Linda Martell on Cowboy Carter saying, 'Genres are a funny little concept.' As a Black artist who ebbs and flows through different genres, what does that mean to you?

It's interesting that you say that because I like to think that I'm just touching on genres that we created. Listen, R&B is beautiful, okay? It's gotten us through so much stuff. It has opened up so many doors. But there are so many other genres that we have created. It's creating all this different conversation, especially with Beyoncé doing the country album. People are just now discovering that the banjo is actually an African instrument.

I feel like my voice has a thick manual to it and the things that it can do, so I want to exercise that with other genres. Even though I do love these other genres, I haven't really been incorporating them into music as much. So now I'm really starting to do that and it's blending very well, actually.

Let's talk about the recording process compared to when you made Wanderlust. You said that the production value has gone up. What else was different about this experience?

This time, there's been a little more hands-on support with the writing and the arrangement. It's been really helpful because I feel like I've been having a block when it comes to melodies and things like that. [There is] never a shortage of lyrics per se, but trying to figure out other ways to approach these songs.

Coming from that to, you know, having time at the Spotify studios and having access to all types of instruments… like, 'Hey, we need a sitar, y'all got one?' [And they're] like, 'Actually, we do.' The creative process is always dope for me when I'm able to play with different things,

Your Tiny Desk performance was a huge milestone. How does that feel a year later? And now that you're a judge for the Tiny Desk contest, is that a full circle moment?

It was happening so fast. We were in the middle of a tour. I'm so glad that I took Mel's suggestion to do The Proud Family instead of Popeye. We had so many different costume ideas from The Mask, Carmen Sandiego, and Beetlejuice. You know, just really letting my inner child play on stage. But now I'm seeing people dressed up on Tiny Desk and I'm like, 'Oh yes, they're so inspired.' I love that for them.

That's why Bobby [producer] made such a big deal about that performance being really special to him. I came ready. Usually, folks come there, and they're stripping down their set. [I was] like, 'I have 20 minutes. I'm about to show my entire *** and do everything that I can possibly do.' The only thing I didn't do was probably hop on the piano and do, like, a backflip.

You've worked with greats like Erykah Badu and Earth, Wind & Fire. What have they taught you and how has it helped you in your solo career?

My 'high school experience' was being in a theater class, in driving school, on the road with Earth, Wind & Fire as a teenager. Then, at 22, getting picked up by Badu, this is like college or undergrad, you know? And I've been doing that.

God, there's so much [I've learned], like to have fun doing what you're doing. Know what you're doing so that you can have fun doing it. It's cool to know a few different things and to wear different hats… because you never know what positions that could put you in. For instance, there are plenty of drum techs that have become stage managers. I not only was our production assistant, but I was also working in merch, rebasing, and replenishing the buses at the end of every show. I was able to appreciate being a part of what I call the hive that makes and puts the show together.

It seems like life has prepared you for where you are now and where you're going. Can you tell me something that you'd really like to do in the future?

I would really love a show, and I'm thinking [of it as], like, a variety show. Something where I could really just showcase every myriad of my personality and my skills. I think it would be really, really fun. I also started DJ-ing last year. You gotta ask me what my DJ name is.

What's your DJ name?

Oh, I'm so glad you asked! It's DJ TBD, a.k.a. Bra Coley. No relation to the late great Daryl Coley. The TBD stands for The Best DJ. Not that there aren't extraordinary DJs that have paved the way, it's just that now that I am on the scene, and I'm the best, okay? Better than all the rest, okay? So come check on my breast and my Tiny Desk.

Durand Bernarr's EP, En Route, is now available on all music streaming platforms.

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Char Masona

Char Masona is a dedicated journalist and social advocate specializing in entertainment, fashion, and culture. Her mission is to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. When she’s not binging reality TV or the latest TikTok trends, Char strives to bring attention to underrepresented perspectives in these industries to drive positive change.

Char Masona is a dedicated journalist and social advocate specializing in entertainment, fashion, and culture. Her mission is to amplify the voices of marginalized communities. When she’s not binging reality TV or the latest TikTok trends, Char strives to bring attention to underrepresented perspectives in these industries to drive positive change.