INTERVIEW WITH DESIIRE
Congo-born, Toronto-based and stylish as hell, DESIIRE has been making waves in the Toronto music scene over the past year. He’s just released a killer single, “Paradise” and will be performing Oct. 7th at the Night Owl for The Iscream’s Toronto R&B Sounds (tickets are still available here). We spoke with him about his fashionable past, his love of live music and how he gets ready to perform.
How would you describe your sound?
The base and the root of it is obviously R&B. You know that’s the kind of music that I started listening to when a lot of things were going on in life and stuff. You know at the base it is R&B/soul, but as I’m starting to experiment with more different music styles and working with different people, there’s a little more of an electronic element. But it all depends on the song too, you know? I have music that’s a little more peaceful or relaxed and some stuff that’s more upbeat. I originally started playing acoustic. That’s why I’m so excited to do [R&B Sounds]. For two or three years my music was all acoustic. So it’s been interesting going from the acoustic stuff to a sound that’s a little more complex, a little more layered.
Who are your biggest influences?
You know I think with the rise of Spotify, streaming and social media, I kind of say that everyone is my favourite artist. You know there’s so much music out there and I love listening and learning to kind of see what people have to offer in terms of music. But as far as early influences, a lot of the R&B greats, you know Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu, Musiq Soulchild. And then we go back a little further—I love jazz. A lot of Billy Holiday, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, so yeah I like to think I take a bit of the old school and then some of like the new old school.
Your song Reckless has currently been streamed 133,965 times—what was it like to see it had surpassed 100,000?
Yeah that was wild. I think it’s amazing, but it’s also weird knowing that like 100,000 people have listened to the thoughts going on in my head. You know? It’s been great, it’s been amazing the feedback we got from that. And the funny interesting thing about that song is that was originally just like the demo. That was the first song I recorded out of my acoustic phase.
How does it feel to be so openly vulnerable with so many people?
I know when a song is really personal when it’s hard for me listen to. I’ve probably only listened to this song about five times. Once when I was recording it and a couple times after to make sure it was right, but like it’s one of those songs that’s very true to what I was going through at the time. So it’s one of those things where I’m just like alright that’s done, we’ll put that over there for now.
Growing up in both Congo and Toronto, how did both places influence your sound?
I was born in Congo and I left when I was about 12 or 13, so half of my life was spent, you know, at home and half of my life was spent here and I think in terms of how it influences my music, I think it made me appreciate different sounds. It’s made me not afraid to try different things and listen to different things. You know a lot of music I was listening to back home was traditional music, you know traditional Congolese music. It’s interesting because Congolese—everything is very upbeat, very lively. You know, we use a lot of live instruments and I think that’s where I found my love of live instrumentations. And then to come here to Toronto and North America, everything is really technology driven. So one of my main goals with music and making music is kind of bridging the gap between live instruments and technology. So you know, growing up in Africa has made me very open to different sounds.
Do you have any pre-show rituals to get you ready for a live performance?
You know, it’s interesting—I was talking to somebody about this the other day. I think as an artist—whether you’re a seasoned performer or a newbie performer—I think there’s this kind of thing where you’re not supposed to be nervous, but I get...I always, like, shit my pants. I’m like “oh my god, I have to sing in front of people.” But you know I’ve learned to embrace stuff like that and use the jitters to make something beautiful. But I always tell people I get very quiet before and I’m very scatterbrained and I do this thing where I find a stairwell—so if you can’t find me before a show, just find a stairwell and I like to do my warm ups there because it echoes really nice and you can practice so many songs and there’s no one around, so I can sing as loud as possible. I have a bit of a nervous breakdown back there and then I rehearse some of my songs and then I’m ready. And a good, fun lil beverage to get me going. You know a bit of liquid courage goes a long way!
So I read that you used to be a stylist—would you ever go back to that world?
That was a chapter in my life that I was very much into and I learned so much from my time as a stylist. You know, a lot of the things that I learned from that chapter in my life, I use a lot in music, in terms of obviously dressing myself but even going further in terms of creative direction, photoshoots, that type of stuff. You know I’m very hands-on when it comes to directing my own videos and making sure everything comes out nice. So yeah it’s not something that I would go into but I think moving forward I would definitely love to bring that into the music with the merch. It’s way too early to put anything in motion now, but in the long run I would definitely love to make something that mixes fashion and music.
By Robyn Bell