Get to know the story behind the 17-year-old Houston-based artist racking up millions of streams on music made in his sister’s closet
David Burke aka d4vd (pronounced “David”) is about as pure a creative as you can get. At just 17 he’s already released a myriad of singles that have seen no restrictions when it comes to genre, ranging from indie rock to jersey club and melancholic r&b, d4vd’s covered it all and then some, with an extremely intriguing tale as to how he’s ended up where he is.
Growing up in a devout Christian household, d4vd grew up listening to strictly gospel music until the age of 15, with the impressive vocal range of gospel singers leaving a lasting impression and setting up a subconscious music theory base of sorts. This however wasn’t his entry point into music, rather that came as a roundabout result from his first taste of fame - as a Fortnite streamer, amassing over fifty thousand subscribers to his gaming channel.
As is the case with such channels, d4vd was uploading clips and montages set to music… that would inevitably get copyright struck. After a little push from his mother to solve the solution by making his own music, d4vd found the music making software BandLab, some good acoustics for recording in his sister’s closet, and got to work.
With a string of singles already out, his latest and quite possible greatest so far is Romantic Homicide, a two and a half minute cut of wistful, downtempo indie-pop sounds whose emotional weight is connecting with hundreds of millions of listeners the world over.
With so much going on in the world of d4vd, we took the opportunity to jump on the line with him and found out more, and the result was a fun, free flowing chat with d4vd’s insightful answers belying his years.
So to start off, I want to ask about listening to only gospel music until your teens, growing up in a Christian household - what was it like to first start listening to music outside of gospel?
I made this analogy a week ago. It’s like if you grew up only eating Skittles, and then find out about m&ms, you accidentally eat an m&m instead of a Skittle, that’s like how it was. It’s like, opening up a whole new world of sounds, especially vocal wise, because you don't have to know how to sing to make good music, I feel like, and hearing all the crazy vocal runs from the choirs I listened to growing up, or the songs that I was listening to, and then transitioning into the other stuff. It was like, it was an eye opening experience. That's all I could describe it as, an eye opening experience.
Do you remember your first “m&m”?
My first m&m… I was on the bus and somebody played Gucci Gang by Lil Pump *laughs* And that was it, then I found out about X and all these different artists and then it branched off… and then I found out about indie music from Fortnite montages and I heard Sweater Weather by The Neighborhood, and then I got hooked on guitar songs. So yeah, middle school.
That must have been so dope, and Gucci Gang of all things, you must have been like “oh, don’t need to write many lyrics either” *laughs*
So what about like, you know, growing up in a Christian household and listening to gospel music, what was your parents take on video games, were they chill with you playing them?
Oh, they hated it! *laughs* Because when it took over my life - I used to play like single player games, my dad would play like Street Fighter with me and stuff like that. But the online thing is you can’t pause the game right, that was the thing she’d call me to eat or go to school and I’d be like “I can’t pause it, I’m in the middle of a match!!”, so she hated it because I couldn’t pause it and stop what I was doing to do something else.
Back in my day that was playing Pokemon and being mid-battle that you couldn’t quit or save during *laughs* When did you start uploading Fortnite clips and what was it like to start getting a following there?
So it was me and two other friends. We saw, I think, TSM Myth and TSM Daequan start to blow up on YouTube and streaming wise, and we had this whole master plan of becoming pros and buying a mansion in Virginia to be close to the server *laughs* so we’d have like zero ping and low latency, so we were like “yo, let’s all start a YouTube channel, let’s see who can get to 1000 subscribers the fastest”. I hit it because I used Twitter, they didn’t use Twitter and stuff but I was promoting on Twitter and starting to post like, single clips instead of montages, and then transferred over to montages on YouTube. And then yeah, they gave up on it like a long time before me.
What did it feel like first getting, I guess, a taste of fame with the Fortnite stuff?
It felt good… actually, no, I’m downplaying it so much, because I actually ran downstairs. I was like “Yo!”, I was showing everybody my tablet, I used to have this little Samsung tablet and I was like “subscribe to me, subscribe to me!”, because I think half of my subscribers were my family members, buy I was still super ecstatic when I hit 1000, it was amazing, I was on Discord going crazy about it.
Oh dude, I can only imagine, and it’s that first thousand that will probably stick with you as opposed to the first hundred thousand, million, whatever.
What about jumping on TikTok, were you there fairly early on in the game?
No, I wasn’t on TikTok until November 2021, so that was last year, because I wasn’t allowed to have it, my parents didn’t let mee have TikTok, they were like “they’re stealing your information!”. But yeah I was on Twitter early, YouTube early. I think I was on Instagram early as well, but I didn’t post anything, just had an account.
Yeah interesting, cos you always hear about things being “too late”, it’s too late for this platform or whatever…. Clearly you’ve bucked that trend with your TikTok success?
It’s not when you get on it or how early you hop on something, it’s how you use it when you get on. So I went through so many, especially with YouTube, I went through so many different names and phases and clans and stuff like that. And the same thing with TikTok, I think I created five accounts in November, and I would just see what content would blow up, even before music cos I started in the latter half of November, so I was posting Fortnite, I was posting skits, I was posting memes, and then I started music. Then I used another account for music and I just went through trial and error of seeing what worked. I was putting it over anime videos, I was putting it over like TV shows, and then I just posted the bandlab screen recordings, and that kind of got some traction.
It seems kind of obvious when you say it like that, but I’m sure so many people would be like “ok, I’m making this one account, it’s my artist name, it’s got to have everything on it and it’s got to be correct”.
Exactly. I just go through trial and error.
Speaking of trial and error, I’m curious what your first forays into making music were like after getting sick of getting copyright strikes?
It’s actually the weirdest thing, because I cried to my mum about it, and she’s the one who was like “yeah, well, just make something if you’re mad about them taking your revenue”, because we didn’t know about copyright free music. I was like, I could have put a Lo-Fi beat or something in there, some non-copyright, royalty free stuff. But we have that DIY mentality and I just wanted to make something myself. So the next day I looked up how to make music on an iPhone, and band lab camed up and I made Run Away, Run Away’s my first song. Then I made You and I, that was my second song ever, and I put that into a montage cos the beat drops matched with the shotgun shots for Fortnite.
The songwriting thing is weird, because I’ve always been writing poetry and books, I’ve just always been super interested in writing, but with songs it was so different, because I would just let the instrumental tell me what needs to be said and then write in post, because when I tried writing beforehand it would be like “what am I saying?!” *laughs* It doesn’t make sense in the context of vocalising, so it was a weird first experience for sure.
I’d love you to talk a little bit more about your creative process, which I believe involves your sister’s closet for recording?
So my sister’s closet is instrumental, I need to start like, paying her for recording fees. But yeah, I just find beats, I’ll reach out to producers and have them send stuff back to me, hop in the closet and just play it over and over and over again until I start saying words. Then as soon ass I find something I like, because most of the time it’s not always one shot, like it takes about five, six different tries and many takes. Then once I know I’ve got that base, I’ll start to write to contextualise the story, because the songs are really just stories being told on an instrumental.
What about in regards to genre, you know, your music covers a lot of ground from jersey club to indie rock, how do you decide what direction a song will take?
I have no idea. I wake up and I want to make so much that I get like, what’s it called? Sensory overload, I’m like so weird when it comes to that stuff, because I write down song ideas so frequently, my notes app is full of them, but then I’ll hear another instrumental and go through an entire different thought process. So I wake up wanting to make something new every day. I don’t know, it’s weird, I’m thinking about it now like, I write down the song ideas and they don’t always come to fruition.
Do you still write poetry?
Of course, yeah, I love it. I want to publish them.
I’m curious about the separation between writing song lyrics and poetry?
I use a lot of old English in my poems, not much the books, but the poems especially, so that stuff doesn’t always translate well into hearing it, so it makes it easier, like I have a specific part of my brain that does that. Then the other part is music, which is cool because I cen never run out of ideas or not have lyrics per se, or even thought to write down.
And you’ve already given us a lot of lyrics, you’re pretty damn prolific for your age with a lot of tunes released - what advice would you give to artists who struggle to finish or release music?
I would say to put everything out there, unfinished or finished. I think I still have an archive. Anything that’s not finished, I feel like it’s only for a small group of people that would understand that, just store it on an archive and come back later to finish it, polish it and then release it, however you want to. Have separate pages for different things especially - don’t hold anything back is what I’m trying to say, your creativity is only as good as what you put out. Getting feedback is important.
Love it, dude! Some morning inspiration for me for sure. So let’s chat Romantic Homicide, your latest single that’s blowing up - it seems like even five years ago that sort of sound might not have blown up like it did, you know, being more indie rock and not a trappy banner, so I’m curious, have you ever felt the need to try and chase trends musically?
When it comes to chasing trends, the music scene is different, because everybody thinks that something needs a dance to blow up, right? I’ve made a variety of genres, I’ve even made plug stuff that blew up last year, I made the trap stuff that blew up two years ago, drill that’s blown up now even. So I’ve covered all bases, but in terms of like promotion and putting things out there, especially with Romantic Homicide, I didn’t even want to drop that song. I posted a snippet of it after I dropped Here With Me, and I made Here With Me after I made Romantic Homicide.
So chasing trends, like we have this thing called “antiviral”, that’s like our model, so with Romantic Homicide, the snippet, I didn’t even want to post it, but I did just because I felt it made sense to post it after Here With Me, especially in the context of the Chipmunks stuff that I was doing, so I thought I should throw this out there as an original. But yeah, I’ve never felt the need to chase a trend.
Yeah wild that a song you didn’t even wanna release has clocked over 100 mil on Spotify and is getting so much love!
Yeah not until I posted a snippet, though, if you look at my Twitter, I was like “yeah, this song’s gonna break records” after I saw the response, so that’s why I said feedback is so important, because something might not sound good to me, but to other people it might, and that’s the case with most of my music, because I’m so self critical of everything that I make. Sometimes I’ll not even finish the song, I’ll post a snippet of it on twitter just to see if somebody wants me to finish it.
And that’s so dope, such a 21st century thing being able to get direct feedback from your fans, cos that’s who’s gonna be the first to listen to your new stuff. So something else I’m interested in is the d4vd live show, is that something you’re working on?
Yes, definitely. Definitely. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say, like, but I got a plan for it. It’s crazy, I can say that.
It’s coming is all I needed to know!
It’s coming and it’s innovative.
No doubt, dude! So it’s nearly the end of the year, is there anything in the pipeline for you your particularly excited about?
Contextualising old music first, for new ears, and then new music for the current ears. Project wise, I’m working on it - I’m such a bad goal setter, but I can tell you that there will be music, music, music, visuals, visuals, visuals, even better visual and better music, so yeah.
Dope dude, I’m sure it’s all gonna be fresh as fuck and can’t wait to hear it! Thanks so much for chatting, David, that was really great.
Amazing, thank you so much, it was an honour.