On Sunday 5th of March 2023, d4vd headed up Madison Square Garden in New York City to witness his first-ever live concert. But unlike the other fans lining up in hoards to buy programmes, merch or catch a stellar sighting of the one and only SZA, d4vd was already somewhat acquainted with the SOS star—though he still had to sneak past security for his backstage privileges. That being said, d4vd was used to a brush with legal trouble when it came to SZA—but more on that later.
The story began a few weeks prior, while d4vd was on set and enjoying a mundane scroll through Instagram. There, a post from Billboard popped up. There, he heard SZA telling their 16.7 million followers that she was listening to his music during her Hawaii holiday. There, she co-signed him. “[Her team] had sent an email out saying that she was looking for openers for her tour of the US, and I was on that list,” he recalls. “As soon as we got the email back that I was confirmed – I don’t know what I was doing, maybe I was recording a song but I didn’t finish the song at that point – I just went crazy.”
Though it would qualify as a normal reaction for any new artist, the news was all the more poignant for d4vd. Homeschooled in his hometown in Houston, a young David Burke got his kicks from less extreme pastures. Namely, creating Fortnitevideos on his YouTube channel, with SZA’s technical prowess as its backing track. With multiple copyright infringements incurred and a few too many of his videos being taken down, Burke’s mum encouraged him to create his own music. A tip-off that would hone a career that Burke had never expected: 25 million monthly listeners tuning into his eclectic soundscape under his new moniker, d4vd.
While joining SZA on the second leg of her S.O.S. tour marks one hell of a highlight for d4vd’s year so far, the full-circle moments don’t stop there. Whether it's paying homage to his love of gaming with his Call of Duty: Modern Warfare IIItrack, “Call Me Revenge” featuring 21 Savage or staying true to his self-made beginnings on BandLab with his latest EP, “The Lost Petals”, d4vd certainly hasn’t forgotten where he came from.
Calling me from his tour bus – whilst simultaneously playing Fight Night on a PS3 – d4vd sets one thing straight: while he’ll always stay true to his roots, there’s no telling how far he’ll grow.
EW: First of all…how was the photoshoot?
D: Oh it was amazing. It was probably one of the most fun shoots I’ve ever done. Like, I was on a rooftop doing all of these cool poses, I got to climb some outside walls. I looked like a gargoyle in some of the pictures…it was so fire.
EW: They were some of my favourites. How natural is it for you to be in front of a camera? Did that energy come naturally to you on the set?
D: Oh, very. I mean, with me being homeschooled, I was home all the time. But I was also a YouTuber/Twitch streamer, so I was always on camera doing something—I’m used to entertaining for the camera.
EW: Where do you think your confidence comes from? Do you think it's something that you were born with?
D: Um, I think again, yeah, because of the YouTube thing. Because when you're talking to a camera, you don't have that anxiety about people watching you while you do it—it's more so after the fact.
EW: So how does that compare when you're performing to crowds in real-time?
D: It’s very different. It depends on the audience; if the audience is giving me energy, you give them energy. But then again, when I'm doing festivals or places where people may not know my music or know me, I kind of have to give more to get them into the mood…it’s interesting. Sometimes it feels like I'm watching myself too and I'm a part of the audience. It’s like I’m watching what's happened in the third person.
EW: How confident do you feel in the music that you're creating? Is it something that you feel constantly from the offset or does it come once you see other people's reactions?
D: Both. Sometimes I’ll be making music and then I’ll put it on Twitter and ask for people’s opinions, and realise that people hate it—but I still love it. So it just depends, I try to make sure that me and the fans are on the same page. I'll make music that I like and then make music that they want to listen to because I've kind of developed a specific sound that people are used to. So I try to gauge what people like and think of how to ease into new eras at the same time.
EW: Talking of your sound, if you could describe it in one word, what would it be?
EW: I like that. Your story is such a crazy one. Everyone who knows you has heard of your journey from making songs in your sister’s wardrobe to selling out European tours. How do you process all of this success that's come your way? How do you stay grounded?
D: Staying grounded is easy, as I have my family around me, even through the tours this year, they literally travelled around the world with me. They play a big part in keeping me grounded. And in terms of how I’m processing it, I don’t even know. [Laughs.] I feel like I just take things day by day and don’t have “too crazy” goals. I’m just having fun, I don’t think of it as work. I just keep it fun, relaxed and chilled.
EW: You’re so young so it feels weird to ask, but did you ever see yourself being where you are today when you were younger?
D: Oh, no, absolutely not. Three years ago, I didn't even know what I was gonna be doing the next day when I woke up. I was focused on video games. At one point, I actually wanted to be an engineer, so my mum put me in all these different robotics programs where I’d learn how to build computers very early on. I went into a coding programme like Java C++. Like, I was really smart, I just had no idea what was going to happen.
EW: That’s crazy! It almost feels like the music industry found you in a way, as opposed to the other way around. Do you feel like it was something that you were always destined to do? Do you believe in destiny?
D: To an extent, yeah. I feel like it's just the domino effect of things that happened in the order that they did. I went from getting a copyright strike on YouTube to my mum telling me to make royalty-free music. Then there was me in a middle school band and church choir when I was seven years old. Music was always in my life, my parents were not musicians, and I had no friends connected to music around me. But with the extracurricular activities I was doing, without even really focusing on it, it kind of allowed me to get into music easily and learn about it so fast. I’ve been writing poetry since fifth grade, so the lyrics came easily. But the actual musicality part of it was kind of just in the background all my life.
EW: It sounds like you owe your mum a lot. It sounds like she’s been the biggest influence on you…
D: She is! She literally made me, period.
EW: You’ve mentioned a few times the huge connections you’ve made in the gaming world. What do you think it is about gaming that garners such a big community? Why is it a passion of yours?
D: I’m probably speaking for everybody when I say this, but it's an escape from reality. When I was homeschooled and I had no friends, you know, in real life, I would turn to the games. You would find thousands of people every day from match to match, and just talk to people that are like-minded like you, that are playing the games for the same reason as you, but you're able to connect on a deeper level, because these people are just like you. The community kind of took me in, in a way. I was in all these different Fortnite teams and it was like family.
EW: And now that you're making it big in the music industry, do you still keep up that side of things?
D: Of course, of course! I'm literally playing a game as we speak right now. [Laughs.]
EW: No way! Are you?!
D: Yeah, I'm playing Fight Night on the PS3. It’s a boxing game that I’ve been addicted to for the past two days. Because I can't play online games because there’s no Wi-Fi on the tour bus. So I’ve been buying a bunch of retro games to play.
EW: I admire the commitment…a man that can multitask!
D: Exactly! And 21 Savage and I just released the song for the Call of Dutysoundtrack, too.
EW: You’re literally melding your two worlds! So what do you think you identify more with? Writing or performing?
D: That’s a hard question! The writing side comes first. Always. Then performing is just another level of intimacy with the fans because you know what their reactions are in real-time. I remember the first time I performed it was like, “Okay, these people are in this room. They listened to my music wherever they were on some headphones on whatever app and now they're actually here.” And then it’s like I am the streaming platform, you know, it's really live. So I'm gonna say performing, because I'm there with the audience, and it's a mutual experience.
EW: You’ve had The Root Of It Alltour, the Petals to Thorns tour, and you've performed at Valentino's fashion show in Milan Fashion Week. I wonder, what’s your favourite memory from this crazy period?
D: My favourite memory was probably Valentino with Pierpaolo who is so cool. He's like the smartest guy ever. And we were gonna perform three of my songs and perform a cover and it took us SO LONG to figure out what cover we were going to do, but it ended up being The Smiths’ “The Light That Never Goes Out”. We were trying to figure out the set and he just had a lightbulb moment and was like, “LET’S PERFORM THE COVER TWO TIMES”. [Laughs.] He said it so enthusiastically and the whole team burst out laughing. But it came out so fire and the execution was insane—being in Italy with these models walking around was just the most beautiful experience ever.
EW: Do you see the fashion world as something that you'd want to break into?
D: Oh, absolutely. I love getting into fashion. Music is also fashion, in a way. But even just getting behind a bunch of different brands and figuring out what the vision is…I love seeing artistic expression in every single medium, so I'm really into fashion right now.
EW: Speaking of which, I was watching your Instagram stories the day of our shoot. Did people actually make fun of the hat you were wearing?!
D: [Bursts out laughing.] YES! So many people swiped up on the story were like, “Bro thinks he's Opium” or “Bro thinks he's Lil Uzi”. It was so funny to see people's reactions to it.
EW: I'm not gonna lie, it was one of my favourite looks…
EW: What’s the best piece of advice you've received so far? And why did it impact you?
D: Oh, the best piece of advice I've received so far would have to be from SZA: stay true to yourself and remember what you started doing this for. Because I feel like it's easy to get lost in the sauce when there are so many things that are happening at one time, especially this year for me. Going on four tours, making two projects. You can kind of get lost, but I do it for the passion and the love I have for music and video games and everything that I grew up on. That's the roots.
EW: How excited are you about the S.O.S. tour with SZA?!
D: I’m so excited. We had this thing where – we were talking about it a few weeks ago – she was basically gonna perform from the middle of the arena. And I didn't think she was gonna do it, and she did it last night and I was so excited, bro. It was fire.
EW: Is she an artist that you've always looked up to? What's the dynamic?
D: Yes! I’m like her number-one fan. When I was playing Fortniteand making YouTube videos it was always SZA, The Neighbourhood and The Wallows. For R&B and Alternative, she was the one.
EW: So you got copyrighted with a SZA song?
D: I got copyrighted with a bunch of songs – SZA was one of them – but I think every video I released between 2021 and 2022 got copyrighted for something.
EW: Now you need to make a song with every artist that you got copyrighted by…
D: THAT I GOT COPYRIGHTED BY?! YES! That would make a perfect album…I don’t know if YouTube would be happy about that, but we’ll see.
EW: Going back to SZA, how did the opportunity come about?
D: It was so perfectly orchestrated. The door opened when she did an interview for Billboard, and she co-signed me. She was talking about different artists who she was listening to on vacation in Hawaii, I believe. She said she heard my music in some store and asked the cashier who I was. Then Billboardposted the video and I was freaking out! I was at a video set when it went live on Instagram. After that. I went to her show at MSG in New York. It was the first show I ever saw of another artist. So she's literally my first concert and I had the honour of meeting her backstage, too! The thing is, I wasn’t even supposed to be there, it was like a radio interview kind of thing, and I kind of snuck in and was able to meet her. [Laughs.] My team were then like, “Okay, so we have the co-sign, you two have now met, let’s put the pedal to the metal and see if and get this tour.” They had sent an email out saying that she was looking for openers for her tour of the US, and I was on that list. As soon as we got the email back that I was confirmed – I don’t know what I was doing, maybe I was recording a song but I didn’t finish the song at that point – I just went crazy.
EW: That’s the biggest full-circle moment I'd ever heard of.
D: Literally, same.
EW: Are there any other artists that you'd want to hit the road with?
D: Oooooo…you know what? You know how Drake did the 21 Savage dual tour? I would love to do a tour like that with Raye.
EW: I am obsessed with her!
D: Same! Have you listened to her symphonic orchestral album that she just released?
D: It’s so good. Oh my god.
EW: Is there any area of your artistry that you're hoping to improve? Do you think you’re a self-critical person?
D: Super self-critical, I want to improve every single aspect. There's so much room for improvement on everything I do because I make music on my phone, so there are always ways that I can make it better or be more innovative or be more DIY—especially with the visual side of it, too. I want to fully direct my own music videos and be super into the creative so that you know it’s me every time you see a white rose or a colour scheme that reminds you of my music, or just anything of my artistry. I want to improve everything.
EW: Making music in the future, I'm sure you're going to have so many incredible opportunities to record anywhere you want. How will you stay true to the roots of your music and how it began? Will you still record on your iPhone going forward?
D: It’s a balance because I've spent my fair share of time in the studio, as well. And I feel like there's a different side of music that comes out of me when I'm in front of a $4,000 mic as opposed to my regular earbuds. But there's also a rawness and personality that comes with making it on my phone—you feel like you could have made that song yourself because it's not perfect.
EW: I don’t know how you make yourself sound good from an iPhone recording, to be honest. I’m going to cringe out listening back at mine when I type up this transcript.
D: Oh, really?! [Laughs.] Look, like I said about the domino effect of the events that happened in my life, I feel like my experience in robotics and coding and building computers and all that kind of technical stuff helped me self-engineer. On BandLab it's super easy but it's also hard at the same time. It's almost like a social media platform because you can trade presets so people can buy or sell your vocal chains and stuff like that…I think my vocal chain is like $10,000!
EW: No way!
D: Yeah, it’s so crazy.
EW: Does the money go to you if someone buys that?
D: I haven’t sold any, I’m not gonna sell my vocals.
EW: I support that decision. With so much touring going on, do you find it difficult to be away from your home life?
D: Oh, no. What I've realised is that I've been able to make better music when I'm on the road because there's so much pollen in Houston and I'm super allergic to pollen. I made a song in Boston that was insane because my nose was clear and my range was so insane.
EW: I was going to ask what’s your favourite thing about touring, but now I know one of them is the lack of pollen…do you have another one?
D: [Laughs.] Definitely the lack of pollen. But another favourite for me is the ability to see all these different places and take in their culture. I remember when I was in Europe, it was my favourite time to work on music because it was just so different to the US. People were so nice, it didn’t even feel like a real place—it was like a dream.
EW: I wanted to touch on your latest EP “The Lost Petals” because it feels like some of your most vulnerable work so far. Was it tough to go to those darker places while you were songwriting?
D: Oh, no, it's kind of my comfort zone, because that's the kind of music I was making leading up to that point. I got so comfortable with making sad stuff that I kind of had to break out of it mentally. It got to a point where every song I wrote, whether it would be on a happier instrumental or like a C major chord, it would just be sad—no matter how happy it sounded or how the undertones were. I had to separate myself, kind of like how I did with my alter ego, IT4MI.
EW: How much of your personal experiences, then, informed the lyrics that you were writing?
D: There were more personal experiences on “The Lost Petals” than “Petals to Thorns”. Because writing “Petals to Thorns” was like the peak of my homeschool/gaming/poetry/vine era. There was so much influence from the gaming side. I'd be talking to so many like-minded individuals on the game that I was kind of living vicariously through them—and then that was shown in the music. But with “The Lost Petals”, it felt more like me. It's so me, especially with “Rehab”; you hear the Anime influence…
EW: I actually read that you’re a big Anime/manga fan, right?
EW: So am I!
D: Really?! That’s dope!
EW: If you’ve got any recommendations for me or the people reading this, let me know.
D: Okay…have you seen Attack on Titan?
D: Have you finished it?
EW: I haven’t read the manga of it…
D: Okay, I definitely recommend reading that, then. Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba and Death Note are also good ones.
EW: Right, massive tangent over. Let’s go back to your EP. With each of the five singles, you said it's a lot more you, but I felt a lot of loneliness in the lyricism—you delve into the complexities of mental health in a very delicate way. What prompted you to explore this angle within your songwriting?
D: That was kind of the route I was going towards, like, dystopian very eery music. Especially with “Hollow Prayers” and “Poetic Vulgarity”, it's so raw. There's barely any background vocals, it’s just me. And it's kind of reflective of where I made the music because I made it in my sister's closet alone with nobody. When these projects come together, especially in this industry, there are like five people in the studio, and when it's finished they are all celebrating making the song. I've not experienced that myself. I go into the closet, I finish a song and I look around and it's just me. It’s the most intimate thing ever.
EW: You’re rapidly gaining such a huge fan base. What’s that like when you're used to making music alone? Can the spotlight make you feel isolated at times?
D: You know what, it’s so weird. I don't know if I have an answer for that, yet. I'm still trying to experience it and take it all in. I will say that I'm able to kind of bring that loneliness to wherever I am – I know that sounds terrible – but like, I can bring that vibe to wherever I'm at now and I have mastered my emotions so that I can finally make happy music.
EW: How much planning went into picking the five songs for your EP?
D: Not enough…
EW: [Laughs.] How much was intention and how much was blind expression, then?
D: It’s all blind expression, I feel that's the best way to put together music. I have a very unorthodox way of making it, so I thought why not have an unorthodox way of putting it together, too. A lot of artists when they are making their projects, they think of their theme first and what they are gonna say. But I just make a whole bunch of music at random points and times in the day or night and then put them together in post, you know? With “Petals to Thorns” and “The Lost Petals”, I didn’t have them finished until the week before they came out.
EW: Well, you approach deadlines the same way as me, that’s for sure.
D: [Laughs.] Last second.
EW: Down to the wire! What's one song out there that you wish you had written yourself?
D: Ummm…I’m trying to think of a song that describes the situation I’m in down to a T…I would have to say, “Always” by Daniel Caesar.
EW: Beautiful choice. Do you personally resonate with it?
D: Kind of. Being a homeschooled kid and seeing everyone on Snapchat in relationships and not being in one yourself was tough, especially at 15/16 years old.
EW: How do you think you are in social situations now compared to when you were homeschooled?
D: I don’t think I've ever been an introvert.
EW: I don’t think that's possible…
D: Definitely not. But I’m very kind and welcoming of people. I do have a problem with not keeping up with people, though. Like, I lose contact with people easily because I think I have ADHD, but I love talking to people.
EW: You've got so much coming up in your future including headline dates in Asia. How are you feeling about it?
D: I can’t wait. I have so much love for Japan and the culture and Asia in general. I mean, you’ve already seen my obsession with Anime and everything, so I'm so excited. I think they are one of my top audiences too with my music, you can really see their reactions when I play my music live.
EW: What goes through your head when you see audiences reacting to your music?
D: Honestly, I’m thinking about the next song at that point. Because it's like, I release the songs, I play them live, I see what's going on –people will either go crazy for them or they don't even know the lyrics to them – so in my head I’m like, “Okay, they like this. I'll keep making this and I'll hold back on the other stuff for now.”
EW: So you're always an “onto the next thing” kind of person…
D: Exactly, yeah. There’s a chance to find your target audience inside your target audience. You know, with these shows, they’ve paid tickets to see me, so I kind of need to cater to them a little bit.
EW: I get you! Now I feel like 2024 is undoubtedly going to be a big one for you—specifically because there's a four in it.
EW: What can we expect from you next year?
D: New music, I’ll tell you that right now. A lot of new stuff in gaming. I’m trying to show a lot more love to where I came from, so expect that. And I’m also working on an album right now, so hopefully an album!
Photography by Dillon Matthew
Styling by Jamie Ortega
Words by Ella West
Editorial Director Charlotte Morton
Editor Ella West
Art Director Harry Fitzgerald
Production Director Benjamin Crank
Producer Isabella Coleman
Production Intern Lola Randall
Grooming by Laura Costa at Exclusive Artists
Fashion Assistants Camille Mei Qin and Anissa Silvas
Tailoring by Sarah at 7th Bone Tailoring