Tha Blog is Hot presents…an exclusive interview with Donnis!
Two Sundays ago, I was lucky enough to sit down with Donnis after his final performance of the Sergeant Schleppers Who Needs Hearts Club Band Tour after its finale in Seattle. Let me also give a big shoutout to Donnis for the fun interview, and to Dan for putting up with my relentless string of emails!
So the interview begins like mid-thought, basically, with me saying why I like to do print interviews instead of audio or video ones. Yeah, oops, my secret is out, dear readers. We also talk about his Southern Lights mixtape that drops tomorrow, which I’m very excited about (how can you not be based off the material that’s been released from it?!) in addition to what it’s like being back in Atlanta, where he sees himself after rap, and his favorite movies. Of course, there was more, but you’re just going to have to read it to see what else we talked about!
Julie: yeah I do print interviews because I don’t like to sound like an idiot on video or whatever…
Donnis: Oh so you’re going to make me sound stupid…
Julie; No! I’ll make you sound good too!
Julie: First of all, I want to say thank you for serving our country…
Donnis: Thank youuuu
Julie: And I was wondering, being in the air force, did that kind give you a different perspective on lyrics and music in general?
Donnis: Oh, not really. I mean, I’ve worked on basically what would be now two albums. The first album was really based on a lot of that, a lot of my military service, and the second one is just based on where I’m at now. It’s been so much time since I did serve, its been almost four years now.
Donnis: So it’s like my life is in such a totally different place now, being signed to a major label and all that stuff. But early on, yeah, definitely, a lot of lyrics, like when I first signed, it was like my big thing. So yeah. It’s just taught me a lot in general, more than perspective in lyrics. Just like responsibility and having to be places on time, just the industry itself is so demanding, if you don’t demand of yourself , then you won’t make it to where you’re trying to get to.
Julie: Yeah. So I know you were trying to come up while in Tokyo…
Julie: Do you think, at the time, did it kind of feel like a disadvantage, or do you think that made you stronger?
Donnis: I think it changed me as a person, and I was on top of a lot of, like, I guess like trends, and even like still, if I’m not in streetwear clothes, I’m wearing some stuff that people are probably like “what the hell is he wearing.” I just love Japanese fashion, Japanese culture, that’s how I was like raised, so like when I go to like a college show, per se, or like certain parties, I just can’t relate to a lot of things because when I was 19, 20, 21, I was partying in Tokyo, so all my friends were Japanese, they were already wearing Bape and stuff, so when I came back to America, it was like “you guys are very behind and I don’t feel cool anymore.”
Donnis: Yes. Just touring, touring, touring. Started with Matt & Kim, toured with Chiddy Bang, toured with Bruno Mars, I toured with Travie on top of just doing a bunch of spot dates on my own.
Julie: How has it been touring with artists like Pete Wentz’ band and Travie, with the different audiences?
Donnis: It’s awesome to me because this is all like groundwork that we’re doing for my album, and for my single, and for the mixtape we got coming out on the 12th, its just so kids, they’ve already seen me, they’ve heard a little bit, and so when they hear it they’ll already be familiar because they’ve seen in with Bruno Mars, and Travie, and so forth and so forth.
Julie: About Southern Lights, are you working with Needlz on that?
Donnis: I am, me and Needlz, I recruited Syience from the Roc Nation camp, he did a lot of work on there as well. It’s mostly all Needlz, Syience has about three records on there I want to say, and its my favorite up to date, it’s a lot more, its back to kind of how I originally started. Diary of an ATL Brave was just a project for me to release to show people that I could rap. People know me more for Tree Sound, for Fool’s Gold elements, a little more up-tempo records. I got back to a lot more of the up-tempo records, and stuff, and I think that’s how people, not that “Gone” is an uptempo record, but I think a lot of people enjoy the party records from me…because I know how to party!
Julie: So, “Me & My Boo” [the song I’m obsessed with] is about weed?
Donnis: You know what? A lot of people ask me that question! Actually, when I originally wrote the record, it was definitely about me and a girl, because my first serious girlfriend, when I moved to New York, was a big pot head. So, we used to smoke every day. I had never smoked before and she changed my whole entire life, so it’s kind of like a record dedicated to those times. Like hey, but everybody has their person, smoke trees, you have your girlfriend/boyfriend, smoke trees you’re like ‘oh I’m so in love this is awesome! We’re high together!’
Julie: Yeah! I assumed it was about a girl, but when you were performing it, I was like “oh…I missed that one.”
Donnis: It can go either way! You can take it how you want! But when we shot the video, the first original video, it was like based on me and my girl just driving around…
Julie: In Hawaii?
Donnis: It was phenomenal, it was great. But I think we’re going to use that first treatment for kind of like a trailer for the Southern Lights and we’re going to end up shooting another one. We got a lot of solid records, so I’m really curious to what people are going to gravitate to. And then, that’s kind of how we played it with Diary of an ATL Brave. Everybody kind of gravitated to “Gone,” we were like ‘I guess this is the record.’ You know, a year later, a top 40 record, an Adidas commercial… We were good! We were up and running! Yeah! So, yeah, we’re just looking forward to seeing what people gravitate to. I think “Me & My Boo” is just one of those songs, an undeniable kind of record, especially with springtime and summertime coming around, people can just tap into that record and ride around in their Volkswagen’s with the top down…
Julie: Or just listen to it on repeat…like me…
Donnis: At home… [laughs]
Juile: By yourself…
Donnis: At home… [laughs] Whatever makes you feel comfortable! As long as you’re listening, I’m good with that.
Julie: Yeah…so do you think the video will be dropping soon?
Donnis: Like I said, I think I want to drop another video…like the Hawaii video was awesome…
Julie: Were you on vacation for that?
Donnis: No, no. It was, I have some friends out there. One of my friends, Lacey, she always throws big events out there, and she was asking me to come out because they do this thing called Pow Wow, this big art project or whatever, Complex Magazine is involved, and then they wanted me to perform. So I went out there, it was awesome, went out with the cast of Hawaii 5-0, just like shot the video. I was like, why not? So I flew direct out of Miami.
Julie: Was it the Big Island?
Donnis: No, we were actually on Oahu, which, I don’t think I’m ever going to see any other islands because I have so many friends on that little island that I’m like, I don’t want to go anywhere else! I’m just riding around North Shore…I’m happy. I’m gonna move there when rap is all done, if you wanna do another interview, fly out and find me!
Julie: I will!
Julie: So for the Southern Lights theme, I’ve seen the single art for “Black Molasses” and “Me & My Boo,” is it just a play off the Northern Lights?
Donnis: It is, and it’s also just, I actually moved back down to Atlanta, and that’s where I started it. I was in New York for a long, long time. After I got the record deal, it was just that New York embraced me so much, before Atlanta did, and Atlanta has some growing to do I think before they can understand where I’m going musically.
Julie: Oh ok.
Donnis: But New York just embraced me so much, and that’s where my buzz was built, so I kinda just stayed up there and became a part of New York City nightlife and everything that was going on. I started touring a whole lot and I got rid of my apartment in New York, and decided to move back down to Atlanta. So when I got back to Atlanta, it was just, everything was kind of back to just, [pause] you know, slowed down a lot for me! You know what I mean?
Donnis: You go back to Atlanta, and it’s like whoooooaaa, you know, just getting back in tune to where I’m from, and all the things that I liked and loved, because when you start traveling a lot, you start learning a lot more, it’s always good to grow but you can never forget what your basis is, and just getting back to my roots, hence “Blackberry Molasses” and “Me & My Boo” which we actually recorded out in LA, and you’ll hear “Ford Mustang” which is more of a southern record as well. It’s kind of like, you know, I want to say in the vain of “Blackberry Molasses” but its just that good, old-school Organized Noize type feel to it, and it’s just a really cool record.
Donnis: I think it’s my favorite record on the mixtape.
Julie: I’ll be on the lookout for that!
Donnis: “Ford Mustang.” Yeah!
Julie: Is that what you drive in real life?
Donnis: It is! In Atlanta, I’m riding around in a Ford Mustang, man, gotta represent!
Julie: Sweet! So…I read that you were maybe working with Killer Mike? Have you guys collaborated yet?
Donnis: Me and Killer Mike…I did some stuff for his album, a record with him and Jeezy. Then we’re working on some more stuff, like that’s my big brother, I love Killa… schedules suck sometimes…
Julie: I know where he is tonight!
Donnis: I do, too!
[Editor’s note: the joke is on both of us...he ended up not making it out to his concert with the Grind N Hustle Tour].
Donnis: I called him earlier, and I might try to slide over there if I could, you know, make time… make time. Because today is the last day of the tour, I fly out early in the morning, I’m just kinda like, I gotta figure it out, and plus Travie wants to celebrate, so that’s my brother, I gotta celebrate with Travie.
Julie: For sure. So I saw in an interview that you’re big into the culinary arts?
Donnis: I really want to dive into culinary arts before…
Julie: What are your favorite things to cook?
Donnis: My favorite things…but…see for me, I don’t want to be a part of the cooking, I don’t think I’m ready for that. I don’t think, like, that’s an art that you really, really have to learn, like I watch these people make pastries, and all that stuff, and I’m like ‘I don’t have the steady hand or skill to do all that.” But in military style photojournalism, I heard that if you did photojournalism, then you can study culinary arts, and put it together: food critic! Anthony Bourdain!
Julie: Dude, I got it. When the rapping is done: food critic on…
Both: Hawaii! [Laugh]
Donnis: You understand me! You understand me! So I’m rolling with this..
Julie: Sounds like a good life to me!
Donnis: I know, I know…I’m counting down. [laughs]
Julie: So, do you take like a lot of pictures? Have you been documenting you tour?
Donnis: Not this tour. My manager happened to have my camera. So, this tour I have been off my picture game. But, this next tour, just spot dates and stuff like that, I’ll have my camera back…and you know what? I’m really upset, I actually lost a laptop these past two, three days, I haven’t put it on twitter or anything yet, but I’m going to soon. I lost it, and all my like, just coming up from before my record deal, all those pictures, just gone. So…starting over, which you know it sucks because you lose a lot of memories, you know what I mean? And I had photographed a lot of things. We’ll figure it out. A lot of video and stuff lost, in the whole process. We’ll start over.
Julie: Aww… New chapter…
Donnis: New chapters, man, a lot of those people are gone, its crazy. [laughs]
Julie: Has the tour been pretty wild?
Donnis: Tour’s been pretty cool, man. We’re pretty much chill guys, man, all of us, we like just lay until we pull up somewhere, we just want to shop, smoke, do what we gotta do. We’re all like really, really hardworking, me, Pete, and Travie, we’re just always working on new stuff. Pete’s on the bus recording with his new band…
Donnis: Yeah, it’s intense. Like any day off, Travie was in Vegas recording on his day off, I was in LA working, Pete was handling his deals out in LA, so we’re just constantly, constantly working, if we’re not working we’re shopping, trying to catch up on movies, you gotta stay up like what’s going on in pop culture, like, which has been very difficult. Tried to watch Zeitgeist 3 last night, and we couldn’t get it going. We were too tired. We’re into that, though, we’re documentary guys. It’s intense. We wanna know how the world’s going to end!
Donnis: We wanna know what’s going on! History Channel, Discovery Channel, we wanna know what’s going on. [Laughs] We just try to catch up on movies and stuff, it’s been so tough on this tour, but everyone on this tour is my friends and family, so it’s been great.
Julie: What are your favorite movies?
Donnis: My favorite movies are City of God, Apocalypto…visually, Into the Void by Gaspar Noe, I think it’s really good visually, but just it’s a little everywhere, but it’s a pretty good film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it’s a classic film…
Julie: The old one or the new one?
Donnis: [with “a look”] The old one…let’s be clear here…
Donnis: I love the old one…
Donnis: I’m going to name all my favorite movies.
Donnis: Emperor’s New Groove, it’s a good Disney movie, a lot of people slept on that movie, I think it’s pretty phenomenal…
Julie: I like Disney movies…
Donnis: Disney movies are…
Julie: They make me feel like a kid….
Donnis: Exactly! Disney movies are awesome movies! The Social Network, definitely one of my faves, Black Swan, classic, got to watch that the other day. Favorite TV show, How I Met Your Mother, if you didn’t know that now you know ‘cause it’s the best show on TV.
Julie: Ok, I need to do my homework!
Donnis: You gotta watch some TV! I just go home, and I just TiVo. I TiVo like one or two shows, National Geographic, Travel, yeah that’s pretty much it. [laughs] National Geographic, Travel, I’m good.
Julie: I like HGTV…
Donnis: You watch some HGTV?
Julie: Yeah! International House Hunters!
Donnis: I feel ya, wanna build your own dresser?! I’m into that, I’m into that! It’s like, wait a minute, I can just sand this and repaint it? And it’s all good?!
Julie: [Laughs] Yeah, sweet…
Donnis: I like where your head’s at, I like where your head’s at!
Julie: Thanks… Ok, so what’s your favorite book?
Donnis: My favorite book…I’ll tell you the last book I read, it was like a children’s book, someone recommended it for me, it was called uhhh…what was it!? I have to use my phone now because I have to find it, so you can definitely know what I mean. It was so crazy, and so good…if my phone comes on…and my phone is dead.
Julie: Uh oh…
Donnis: Can I use your iPad? Is it gonna work? Is it gonna work?
Julie: Yeah! If there’s internet here.
Donnis: There’s gotta be internet here, because I wanna tell you what the last thing I read was…
Julie: Ugh, there’s a password.
Donnis: It’s gotta be posted here somewhere. They always have it posted on the walls…
[We walk around and inspect the walls]
Donnis: [Wailing from across the room] But they doooon’t! What if I email it to you?
Julie: Do it, do it!
Donnis: Ok, I’ll email it to you, it was an awesome, awesome book. It was like all these little stories in one and like teaches you about stuff, you know, its crazy.
Julie: I just read The Alchemist.
Donnis: Everyone tells me I should read that. The last book, like before that book, the last one I read was The Art of… [pause] I can’t think today, it’s the trees.
Julie: It’s all good.
Donnis: It’s really bad, really bad. It’s something like The Alchemist. You know what I’m talking about? It’s not The Secret, not that, there’s something else.
Donnis: Hmmmmm I can’t remember. I’m going to email them both to you.
Julie: The Alchemist was a good one…
Donnis: Really? Everyone tells me I should pick it up. Isn’t it long, a long read, though?
Julie: Hmm it’s like 150 maybe?
Donnis: That’s not bad.
Julie: It’s funny, because I interviewed Fashawn and CurT@!n$ when they were here, and they raved about it.
Donnis: Yeah, yeah. CurT@!n$ is really big on the literature.
Donnis: He’s very intelligent, he’s one of my closest friends, like when I start headlining in the next couple months, he’ll definitely be on the road with me.
Julie: That’ll be awesome!
Donnis: Yeah, he’s phenomenal… Fashawn’s the homie, too. We don’t link up like that, but I always like to reach out and check on him and see how he’s doing, he’s cool too. When was he out here?
Julie: Actually, he was just here…
Donnis: Recently, right?
Julie: Yeah, on Wednesday, and also at the beginning of March.
Donnis: Ok awesome, awesome. Yeah, because I just saw that he was in Portland. I guess that’s the track, Portland to Seattle.
Julie: Yeah or vice versa, sometimes people even go to like Seattle Vancouver Portland or something that doesn’t make sense.
Donnis: Yeah, that does not make sense. That is very, very bad routing right there.
Julie: So do you have any crazy tour stories?
Donnis: I told you, we’re verrry, verrrry chill. And if I told you anything that went on that bus, that would be bad. We’re really chill guys! Pretty simple guys! I mean, yeah. Pretty chill… We all have fun, but for the most part we don’t do anything too crazy.
Julie: That’s good.
Donnis: That’s good?!
Julie: I guess? Better than getting arrested, right?
Donnis: Yeah, which, you know, almost happened. It was really bad, I was standing in the middle of the street. Philadelphia. The cops are ridiculous…
Julie: I feel like I saw people talking about that on twitter…
Donnis: Yeah, they were talking about that on twitter. I was in the middle of the street, I wasn’t even in the street, I was on the sidewalk…I was on the sidewalk and the cop comes over and he’s like ‘Moooove,’ and I said, ‘ok,’ then I moved, then he starting screaming at me, ‘I said move!’ I was like, ‘I’m standing by my tour bus, I’m sorry Sergeant Green,’ and he got really mad, ‘I’M NOT A SERGEANT!’ And I was like, ‘I’m sorry again! I don’t know what to do for you!’ It was just bad. They ran all this stuff on me, it was bad.
Julie: Oh my gosh.
Donnis: But you know what, I’m free.
Julie: And you’re here with me!
Donnis: Tha blog is hot!
Julie: Yes, tha blog is hot!
Donnis: Tha blog is hot!
Julie: Yeahhh! Well I don’t really have anything else, you’re welcome to roll over to Killer Mike and Pac Div with me.
Donnis: I know, I want to! But I have to see what these guys are doing, since it’s the last day…
Julie: You’re right, you’re right.
Donnis: What time are you heading over there?
Julie: Probably, any second actually.
Donnis: Well after you’re finished with that, you’re more than welcome to come out with us.
Julie: Ok, cool!
Find me elsewhere!
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