For those who think they’ve already got LA’s Deb Never sussed, her next release has the potential to throw those preconceived notions into flux. The musician might be most closely associated with melancholy, hip-hop-tinged indie-rock, but the single that will arrive at the start of 2022 does a complete 180 on the niche she’s mostly inhabited so far.
“A lot of my songs are always so sombre and with this one I just wanted to get my freak on,” she explains of ‘Crutches’, sitting in her car outside a rehearsal room in LA. It’s a song that hardcore Deb fans will recognise from her live show, but has taken a while to be worthy - in her eyes - of sharing with the world in a more permanent way. “When I play it live, it goes crazy and I needed to translate that on the record as well. I want it to be something where you listen to it and you just want to fucking move.”
On the surface, the punk party-ready anthem might seem like something of a curveball, but listen closer and you’ll find ‘Crutches’ perfectly encapsulates a big part of the Deb Never artistic identity. “I’m tearing down the walls,” she sings at one point - a line that could be interpreted to refer to her refusal to be pigeonholed by the world. “I love that people can’t really put a genre to the type of music that I make or put me in one lane,” she says with an audible grin. “I can play a rock show or a rap show, you can’t put me in a box. I love artists where you can’t really define them, but they have their own thing - I think that’s sick.”
As a woman, especially, it’s important for the musician to stay in control and defy being moulded into one particular thing. “I feel like a lot of women become successful in their music but then it’s almost like the industry takes over and they get controlled,” she reasons. “I feel like that’s something that doesn’t happen all the time with guys, but it’s so hard with women to be able to create their own lane and their own community without it being [co-opted by the industry]. I’m like, ‘Fuck that!’”
“I can play a rock show or a rap show, you can’t put me in a box.”
Who: Your favourite songwriter’s favourite songwriter.
In three words: She’s coolness personified.
Achievements so far: With endorsements from The 1975, slowthai and more, she’s fast becoming a go-to collaborator for the stars.
Most likely to: Get you starstruck from her inimitable style and sound.
The upcoming track, meanwhile, has another key lyric that seems integral to unravelling Deb’s story: “I’m only learning how to grow”. It might have taken three years since she started releasing music, but on September EP ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, the rising artist began to pull back the curtain and reveal more of her personal experiences. It’s a process that she’s still leaning into, but one that fans can expect to hear more of in the future.
“I feel like I know myself more now than I ever have and I think that’ll naturally translate into the things I make,” she says. “So I’ll be more honest with the things that I make or, even if I want to experiment with something else, it’s not gonna sound all over the place. I’ll be able to dive into my own world even deeper.”
Making music itself has been a big part of helping Deb come to understand who she is. Her latest EP, which was coloured by anxiety-reflecting sonic collages, even helped her come to a big personal realisation. “I don’t think I ever realised I was an anxious person until I started making the EP,” she says. “Those feelings translate into sounds where it’ll be really quiet and intimate and then it just sounds like an explosive moment. After I got done with it I realised, ‘Oh, I have anxiety issues, I have to deal with that’.”
Sharing more revelations like these in her music isn’t necessarily something Deb says she is ever going to be entirely comfortable doing, but the feeling of being uncomfortable is also one she prizes when it comes to making music. “I need that feeling to be able to explore new boundaries,” she reckons, suggesting that as she invites us further into her inner sanctum, her output will become increasingly adventurous in tandem.
That’s an exciting prospect from an artist who has already refused to be beholden by what’s come before. Her 2019 debut EP ‘House On Wheels’ was laced with emo atmospherics, rap production and the occasional surging wall of guitars. ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’, while keeping the core spirit of that record, expanded things into new ground, be that the string-laden fuzz-rock of ‘Stupid’ or the fizzing indie-pop tinges of Jim-E Stack collab ‘Sweet & Spice’.
And, just as her music is going on a journey, becoming Deb Never has been its own expedition in itself. Deb, who is originally from Spokane, Washington, keeps her legal surname to herself, letting the alter-ego she created when she was younger serve as her only public-facing persona. Keeping her everyday self separate from her music is something she finds liberating, allowing her to let out “a part of me that I was never able to express”.
“I feel like Deb Never is the person that I, when I was growing up, wanted to be,” she says of how the two sides of her are different. “In real life, I’m a fucking dork. I think the biggest difference, though, is that I’ll be more introverted or - I wouldn’t say shy, [but] I keep a lot of things I truly feel to myself. Deb Never is where I can say whatever I want; it’s more in your face, the more flamboyant part of me. She’s also very emotional too, apparently. We all need a release at some point, I guess.”
“I’ll always have that feeling of not belonging, and that’s why it’s so important for me to create my own world.”
As a kid, Deb says she had huge social anxiety, perhaps not helped by how much she and her family moved around - whether that was her and her mother living in various spots around the Pacific Northwest or her joining her father on trips across East Asia while he did missionary work. If constantly being the new kid in school or landing in a different country added to her quiet nature, at least it had a benefit for her future career.
“It helped me open my eyes a lot and gave me a lot of perspective,” she explains. “Perspective is so important when it comes to writing or when you have something to say. Travelling definitely gave me a lot of different influences too; I don’t think I would have listened to most of the music I listen to if I didn’t travel around and hear what people like in different regions and countries.”
Being able to work in other places than LA is something that’s also incredibly crucial to Deb and something she tested herself on when she made ‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’ in London. As you can hear from the resulting EP, that trip was a success and the music ended up reflecting how she felt about the city. “I think it’s ‘cause it reminds me so much of home in Washington - weather-wise and with the people. Going there felt new but familiar,” she says. “That makes sense with my music - a lot of feedback I hear is that there’s this sense of nostalgia, but it’s fresh. It just felt right working out of London.”
Ask Deb if there’s one place that she feels the most comfortable and at home and she’ll respond not with a city or country, but a place that exists in different forms across the world. “I think that would be in a studio with a close group of friends or collaborators,” she muses. “I think I’ll always have that feeling with me where I don’t belong [in a place] and I think that’s why it’s so important for me to create my own world.”
The Deb Never universe, though, is still in its infancy - as she’s keen to point out. “This is just a teaser,” she exclaims excitedly, noting the progression she’s already made. “[‘Where Have All The Flowers Gone?’] is only the second body of work I ever put out and, compared to ‘House On Wheels’, it’s a step [up]. I know what I’m capable of even if I haven’t shown that yet. With other projects, I want to be able to explore different sounds and get bigger and do better [things] and get more experimental, but still make it me. So yeah, this is just a taste test.”
Her debut album is currently in progress as we speak, but she’s keeping any details of it close to her chest for now. “I don’t want to spoil it too soon! Call me in a couple of months and I’ll give you a better answer,” she teases. Whatever her next trick turns out to be, expect it to be another brilliant blossoming for an artist constantly on the move.
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