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Riding the Reef: DENM explains his creative self-discovery through music and cannabis



Photo credit: Dave Katrina

[dropcap class=”kp-dropcap”]P[/dropcap]roducer, DJ and artist DENM has created music using a vibrant palette infused with just about everything—garage-pop, house, indie, reggae and trap. On Spotify, over 225,000 listeners tune into DENM’s channel monthly. While his 2016 EP Dreamhouse was more grounded in deep house with spacey songs like “Under Pressure” and “Lit,” and his EP Is Whatever expanded into new territory, his latest material exudes warmth and relaxation that reeks of beach foam and suntan lotion. DENM is about to raise the bar with his new release including “Life’s Too Short” and “My Wave,” supported by his background as a sixth-generation Californian. DENM’s first solo show was Aug. 10 at Moonrise Festival in Baltimore, Maryland. His new single “Blow It Up” dropped Aug. 23 and his latest EP Endless Summer dropped on Sept. 6, managed by Roc Nation and produced by Rock Mafia. CULTURE connected with DENM to learn more about genre-jumping, his musical inspirations and cannabis.


Tell us why you like to experiment with vastly different tempos.

Man so what’s crazy is back in 2016, I was touring with my indie band, FMLYBND, and would just make random beats on the road. I would make these quick beats and sing a little falsetto hook over it. That music was never something I actually intended to make as an artist, and so when I put it out and people started talking about DENM, I was like, I wanna make music I really believe in and that feels super honest to me. If I’m gonna be a solo artist, then I wanna be proud when I step on a stage. Hence this entire three-year journey of self-discovery and finding my real voice as an artist. I grew up in SoCal so I wanted to make music that represented the culture, which is barbeque vibes, party music and beach music, so that’s what I’m making now.

Photo credit: Dave Katrina

Your fans love your acoustic songs. What do you love about acoustic guitar?

If it’s played right, it’s such a rad instrument. I remember when I was really deep into electric guitar stuff, and was buying so much gear for tones and what not and sort of thought people who still played acoustic were just bozos. But I was a kid and dead wrong. If the acoustic is played tastefully, it is one of my all-time favorite sounds. It can fill a stadium show or be played gently at a bonfire. There’s really nothing like it. That’s why it’s all over a ton of my new stuff—beach vibes with reggae and trap aesthetic.


What were you feeling when you recorded Is Whatever?

Honestly, I was trying to move away from the house music I put out before. It sucked, because I wasn’t able to put any music out for a long time, because I kept being told I had to make more house records. It felt like I was really at the end of my road, so I called the EP Is Whatever. “DENM is whatever.” It was the old punk rock in me coming out saying “screw you, here’s the music—like it or don’t.” That’s when I met Rock Mafia, and they started diving into production with me on a new vibe, and that’s really when DENM came to life.


“Badfish” is a great summer classic. Were you influenced by bands like Sublime?

Straight up—Sublime is one of my all time favorite bands. I was raised by their music. I was just a little kid when Bradley passed away, R.I.P., but his lyrics and voice were always with me. Eric’s basslines and Bud’s pocket were so raw, and they didn’t play by the rules. I was always getting into trouble and kicked out of houses and schools when I was a kid, so I always felt connected to them. When we were thinking about doing a cover, I was like “man let’s do ‘Badfish.’” I knew for a fact I could knock it out of the park. I’ve been singing it since I was 14 when I learned to play guitar. Brad helped me learn to sing as a kid, so I knew it was the move. The video is inspired by the Sublime video.

Photo credit: Dave Katrina

“Life’s Too Short” is perfect for the end of summer. What is this song really about?

The song is really about internal pain and how you carry it in life—like I better learn to love myself. Leave regret and all that behind, because I only get one chance at this thing called life. Even though it can sound happy, it’s really an anthem for people who struggle with real depression and anxiety and just feel broken. It’s like a “let’s rise up and live a good life”-type thing. I wrote it in a really dark, depressed state, so it’s a special song to me for sure. Just trying to make myself feel better by singing it out. “Life’s too short to stress out!” It’s a mantra.


Your songs still hold up by melody alone, even when they are unplugged and without the beat. Is that important to you?

Yeah, absolutely. My goal is to be able to play every song I’m writing on just an acoustic and still have it feel amazing. I can’t wait to do an acoustic set and just have it be a massive sing along. That’s the best feeling. No hiding behind production. A song is a song if you can play it with one instrument and have everyone sing along to it still. I love that.


Your collaborations with artists like Tommy Trash and Gnash are incredible. Who do you plan on working with next?

Those are both some good dudes right there. Much love to those guys for believing in me and wanting to work with me. But who knows! There may or may not be some legendary people involved, but it’s still very much in the works.

“[Cannabis] eases my body pain and anxiety big time. Without all that I can focus on creativity and having fun. Music should be fun. . .”

Photo credit: Dave Katrina

Do you consume cannabis, and if so, does it help during the creative process in the studio?

[Cannabis] eases my body pain and anxiety big time. Without all that I can focus on creativity and having fun. Music should be fun man; it’s the greatest job for me. I just get to create something new every time, and my producer Mr. Rock Mafia himself is always hitting his Dosist.


Is there anything else you would like to share with readers?

Man I love it. Major shout out to Rock Mafia, because we’re in there making some special tunes every day. Shout out to Roc Nation and my management Nima and Justin. Y’all been grinding with me for a long time. Shout out to my publisher Ben Groff; he’s been with me since day one too. Much love to him for hustling the music to get it on TV and in films. I’m just so thankful for the journey thus far. It’s been the hardest and worst, but the most gratifying and best thing in the world. It’s all a part of the story.

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