Durand Bernarr is the type of person that can light up any room he walks into. True of a multihyphenate, Durand has been deemed “your favorite singer’s favorite singer.” And beyond the music, it’s the way he carries himself, coupled with his infectious personality that fans can’t help but fall in love with.

The singer-songwriter describes himself as this “eclectic ball of energy.” He states, “You know people say when I come through, we bring the party. I am the party. I don’t set the mood, I am the mood. It’s the level. It’s someone who’s so self-aware that if you’re not careful, it could scare you, or it could inspire you.”

With his newest song “Lil Bit,” Durand reminds us that sometimes, you might want your partner a little bit ugly so there’s no insecurities that arise within the relationship. The concept speaks to one’s dating preferences, but also brings us into Durand’s world within the entertainment space in Los Angeles.

Now following Durand’s previously self-titled album DUR&, which debuted at the #1 spot on the Apple Music R&B charts, he returns with his newest project titled WANDERLUST. The 12-track album pays homage to Kelis’ critically-acclaimed second studio album Wanderland.

Sheen spoke with Durand in downtown Los Angeles to discuss his roots in Cleveland, background in music, inspo behind “Lil Bit,” his new project, opening for Erykah Badu, goals, and more!

I first saw you at Steve Mackey’s Taco Tuesdays. How was that evening for you?

That night was so insane. Let me take you through that whole day. I was flying in from Amsterdam. I had a recording with Philip Lassiter. He’s a badass horns player, he’s on the new album. He wanted me to come out and join him for his live recording. I’m about to leave, checking out of my hotel. I step outside and realize I don’t have my phone. I’m now in a very interesting dilemma because the hotel front desk doesn’t open until 10am. It’s 6:30am right now, my flight is at 9:45am. There was no way I’d be able to get my phone so I had to trail through the airport and get home without a phone, using my laptop for wifi. 

I got home, Phil’s manager got me a Lyft. I threw myself in the shower and Stevie’s like, “Can you come a little earlier?” [sighs] So I get there early. All I had was my Apple Watch, thank goodness for it. I wasn’t completely off, but I did have to be a little more present without my phone. Of course, I didn’t sleep because I was up all night. We were carrying until 1am. I was one of the last ones leaving. I get home, then I start recording to a track I got from DJ Amorphous until 3am and finally to sleep around 4am. It was so worth it because I wasn’t gonna miss it.

You’re from Cleveland, how does that play into your life and career?

Cleveland is an amazing place to grow up, it’s an even more amazing place to move away from. You get your bearings, figure out what it is and how you want to do things. You have to go somewhere where you can be your most productive self. It gave me a great foundation, at least with my parents  being musicians, artists, creatives. It gave me a lot of foundation so that when I do step out, I’m able to use these different etiquettes that I’ve learned from theater, from acting class, from the Institute of Music.

From being a production assistant for Earth, Wind & Fire. When I was 16, because my dad did sound for them for years. That year, Rihanna came out. The First Lady by Faith Evans came out and Teairra Marí came out. I didn’t know what I really wanted to do musically because I’d always been singing. It was always a part of me. It was when I got into that environment and my dad asked me “is this what you want to do?” I said I think this is exactly what I want to do. He’s been managing me ever since. 

That’s beautiful. How’s that journey been? 

The more I become aware while going through this, I really don’t know anyone else who has my back like my dad. I do have people in my life that support me and are there for me, but when it comes to sacrifices and the ways he stretches himself, that’s a priceless support. And my mom too.

You just released “Lil Bit,” who or what inspired this record?

It’s so funny, the song ended up being a ki. It began to become an open therapy session for those of us who have insecurities within ourselves and we’re projecting them onto other people. It may be saying I know you’re fine because you have all the hoes. Because of that, if I get with someone who doesn’t look as good as you, not as many eyes will be on you so you’re not prone to cheat on me as much as a fine person would. Which in reality, you’d want regardless of who you want to be faithful and to honor what it is you have. It really is bringing out into the forefront people saying “oh no, I like them a lil ugly. They can’t be too fine, because I don’t want a bunch of eyes on my partner.” Wow, we need to unpack all of this. Y’all just told on y’all selves. [laughs]

Is this inspired by a real story?

My thing was,I was being silly when I pieced it together. The hook came first and I had no idea where it came from. As I was piecing together the story, I didn’t realize I’d be having this open dialogue. These are my insecurities. I’m literally saying you’re too cute, I can’t go with you because you’re all of this and all of that. I can’t even compete with the people that look like you. It’s this whole thing of being insecure. It’s not that you need someone, because guess what? Lit Bit will cheat too. [laughs]

Is Durand dating?

Durand is surrounded by love. I’m surrounded by support. I’m open to whatever makes sense. Understand that anybody that decides to be in that world, in that dynamic, understand that you have to share me. I mean with all of my heart. Not only do I have to share me with the world, but you have my village that I’ve been building and cultivating with people who hold me up and hold me accountable. Let me know, “nah Durand you’re trippin’. Friend, you can do better than that.” I believe them because I understand they have my best interest. I’m not that kind of person who will get into a relationship and you didn’t see me anymore.

New project Wanderlust out now, what can we expect?

First and foremost, you can expect to bob your shoulders. I want everybody to bop and groove. Wanderlust is a nod to Kelis’s Wonderland, that album really inspired me. I’m thinking of really dope follow up albums. I was talking to Frank Moka who produced new management. He also added precaution on “Boundaries,” he did drums on “Destination” and “Leveled.” “Leveld” is my favorite song on there. He said “Durand, this yo mama’s gun.” I did get Braylon Lacey Frank, Daniel and I, we played with Badu. It was a very good chemistry: very easy, very seamless. We cranked out 14 different songs, there’s a whole nother half. 

Have you crossed paths with Kelis?

I have not. I’d love to. I sent her a message to tell her I loved her and I hope we could do a song one day. I acknowledged her in the credits, just let her know you’re that girl and I need everyone to stop playing in your face as if you’re not. Thank you for inspiring us and giving us new avenues to express ourselves and our art.

Do you have a favorite song?

I can’t say I have a favorite, but one that is in most rotation is “Leveled.” “Leveled” has gone through the most out of all the mixing and trying to get everything solidified. That’s my favorite. I was tryna to get into my SAULT bag. The band cleo-sol is in. It feels really good. 

How’s the independent grind?

It gives us a certain level of freedom to be able to do and move about how we want. It takes a little more time because I don’t have a huge machine. It’s really the village, reaching to people to the side of you. What are we good at? We have one person that’s good at photography, who’s good at makeup, who’s good at creative direction. Now we have a person who’s good at two or three things at the same time, we can help assist. Or another one of our friends who’s an artist and she needs clothes; we’re rummaging through our stuff. I’m bringing pieces. It’s all been a village effort to piece all this together. 

How’d it feel to open for Erykah Badu on her BADUBOTRON tour in Nashville?

This is my first official time opening up for her, as far as my set.  I’ve warmed up the stage a couple times when we did the Bday Bash at the The Bomb Factory in Dallas for her birthday. This was the first time I had a set with my band. The fact that my mom was able to make it, that was good. I’m glad she was able to make it. Erykah was front row, the whole band. 

Did that make you nervous? 

No, it made me excited to see all of them there and to cheer me on. There were no nerves, even though I fell. I had my skates on during my opening song. I guess they didn’t sweep the stage. I’m backing up, I fall and I pop right up at the beginning of the first “ohh.” They all thought it was a part of the show. Everyone said “the band didn’t even flinch, that’s how I knew it was a part of the show.” Budda said “well I was about to help you up, but you popped back up so I didn’t know what was going on.” [laughs] It made me think about Willy Wonka when he came out limping, and he did that flip? Now, you don’t know what to believe, and I love that. 

You just concluded your tour, Step Into My Office, how was It ? 

That was my second tour. I was doing 90-minute sets each night. It was a 70-75 minute show, and 20 minute encore. It was nuts. I wasn’t surprised everything was sold out. There was a method madness behind how we were doing things. I figured Atlanta or DC, the main ones. I was most excited about Chicago and Toronto. The last time I was in Chicago was not my finest hour. They needed a redo. 

What happened? 

That was back when I was using local bands. There’s a certain level of freedom that I have on stage, when I bring my own band versus bringing a band that’s already provided. I don’t know if they’ve really rehearsed, gotten everything together.  That’s the first time I’ve ever played in Toronto on my own. That was cool, we played at the Drake hotel. 

Goals yourself as an artist at this point of your career?

The only goal I have is whatever opportunities that are presented to me, I’m able to do my best and let my best take me a little farther than previous opportunities. That’s the best I got because after 2020, I haven’t heard anyone say “this gon’ be my year!” This is gonna be my moment. Moment by moment. [laughs]

Photo Credits: Gianna Dorsey