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Words / Jennalynn Fung

Photos / Cerys 

Durand Bernarr has a tendency to speak in metaphors. In the short fifteen minutes we get to talk, he’s able to reference a number of fictional characters, inanimate objects, and the movement of the universe. His world view as an artist is bright as day, harnessing that sunlight in his music and allowing the energy to radiate out to his listeners. It perfectly suits the Cleveland-raised, Los Angeles-based artist that his favorite color is yellow. 

“Seeing people’s faces light up,” he shares, is what sparked joy for him on Day 2 of the Sol Blume Music Festival in Sacramento, California. “Being able to wake up and be myself – to be more than enough – that’s very gratifying. And I appreciate that.” 

Bernarr has worked towards this for years. “For people that are just now getting hip to me, they’re like, ‘he’s an upcoming artist.’ But it usually takes about ten years for ‘overnight success.’ I’ve put in eighteen at this point. I got on the road the same year that Rihanna came up – that’s how I remember. I’ve really been putting in the work that goes behind this – it’s all been from the ground. So, I just appreciate everyone that’s been rocking with me since then. There’s been a lot of different changes and evolutions of me as a person.” 

Even before he got on the road for his own performances, Bernarr was familiar with what it took to get a stage ready for a performance – with both of his parents were involved in music – his father, an audio engineer; his mother, a vocal coach. At sixteen years old, he joined them in assisting with the tour production of the iconic musical group, Earth, Wind and Fire. Subsequently, his first concert was Earth, Wind and Fire. 

“I’ve been a sponge,” he admits. “I’ve been in certain places, proven myself to be of a certain character – to have a certain way that I carry myself. I always let my resume speak for itself. People are now saying that anytime you speak about me, you have to speak about me in an iconic way.” The artist’s tone is not boastful, though. Instead, the cadence of his speech shows that this self-confidence he possesses today came more from trial and error, from learning what did and did not work for him. The belief he holds in himself is something that has been built over years of reflection. “Early on, there was a relationship with the right note – or the note that was supposed to be sung. And it’s also something I enjoy doing. Those two things have to coincide with each other – being great at something, and also loving what it is you’re great at.” 

Many people can love good music, even produce it, but few possess the innate talent that enables Bernarr to create blissful meloodies with nothing but his own mind and heart. Combine this with a niche for writing, being surrounded by music legends, and having the charisma necessary to capture the attention of any room – it would seem fateful that he would always thrive in the limelight. 

Fittingly, Bernarr’s album Wanderlust centers on predestination and the healing process involved in his journey. “I made this album, post-therapy, post-recovery, getting rid of shame, having moments of catharsis.” Songs like “Footprints,” “Leveled,” and “Destination” touch deeply on how his understanding of self shifted over time thanks to open discussion with those around him. He confesses that for many years, Erykah Badu was his unofficial therapist, just as shrooms were something he had turned to. In fact, shrooms are even represented by the molecular structure on his album cover. “The album is like my version of Alice going down the rabbit hole – like what happens when I arrive? And then I discovered that there is not necessarily an ‘arrived arrived’ – because you’re always arriving.” 

Bernarr is full of revelations – he knows the “arriving” isn’t always easy, either. But he compares life and all of its tribulations to the dilemma Marlin and Dory face in Finding Nemo, when they choose to go above the trench instead of through it. When they get painfully entangled in a jungle of jellyfish, they realize the trench – although scary – would have been the better option. Bernarr implies sometimes, you just have to do the difficult things, or learn the hard way. 

One of the things he learned with time was how to be his authentic self, and be unapologetic about it. He reveals that when he was younger, he was more of a people pleaser, and reluctant to share details about himself because of fear it would be misconstrued. However, as someone had explained to him: not everyone is meant to understand you, and that’s okay. From that point on, and particularly during his stunningly fresh performance on NPR Tiny Desk – which garnered over a million views–, he states “I’m not trying to be understood. I’m meant to be experienced.” 

And experienced he has become. In spite of being a predominantly R&B and soul act, he has collaborated with some of the most popular electronic and alternative R&B artists today, like Kaytranda, The Internet, Thundercat, to name a few more. Bernarr’s vocals on Kaytranda’s album BUBBA later won a grammy for best Dance/Electronic album. His recent tour was with Erykah Badu, who he has cited as one of his biggest creative inspirations and influences. 

Bernarr is an incredible live performer. He carefully crafts his theming and outfits to match his setlist, quickly turning his set into a theatrical performance. His album is one of intensity, but seeing him belt live brings the fire. 

He elaborates on this statement while sitting leisurely in a lawn chair at Sol Blume. “We’re not here to change people to be what we want them to be for our own self-gratification. That’s the whole art of practicing non-attachment, just embracing things for what they are. Embrace it.”



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