Like any true artist, David Hernandez writes and sings about what he knows. On his latest offering “Kingdom; the Mixtape”, Hernandez presents a package of twenty original songs, with themes ranging from heartbreak, a post American Idol life, and extremely personal issues like addiction (the track “Break”). Mixing in tracks with fellow American Idol alum Blake Lewis and even a cover of Hailee Seinfeld’s “Starving” provides an in-depth look at an artist who, while experimenting with a variety of sounds, delivers every note with an overindulgence of honesty and heart. I got to sit down with David and almost nothing was left off the table; from the meaning behind much of the music on “Kingdom” to addiction and abusive relationships to coming out on the other side and staying inspired.
Michael Cook- Your new music on your second studio album “Kingdom: the Mixtape” is absolutely amazing. You have completely put yourself out there and into the material, and it almost seems like this is something that you feel you almost had to release.
David Hernandez– Wow, you could not have said it better, truly. It was like, an absolute must to release the music. It has been almost ten years in the making. I have done albums where I went in and I set out to do the album and I had this overall theme to It and those albums just did not feel right. Then I went back and I started thinking that I already had all of this music. The only thing that I was super particular about was the track listing, in terms of putting it out. I wanted to make sure that there was a flow to it. I looked back on it and said “holy shit this is a great body of work,, why have I been waiting so long to put anything out”!? There were twenty original songs, two acapellas, and a bonus track; it was like “what the hell am I doing, this is crazy”!
The material is definitely very broad and much of it seems like feelings and experiences that you simply had to find a creative vessel on which to launch them.
It was definitely a lot. I also hesitated upon putting it out because I did not want the songs to become the narrative of everything. At the end of day though, we are all put on this earth to connect and learn from each other. I think stigmas are so shaded with mental heath and addiction. The more we talk about it, the more we break those stigmas.and that is the only way to normalize what we all go through but are afraid to talk about.
What do you think the overreaching message of “Kingdom: the Mixtape” is?
That is a great question. I really wanted to say that this is me, in my entirety, flaws and all; perseverance, inspiration, and also that sexual side where I want to say that I am a grown ass man. I love sex, I love the human body, and I think we are all gorgeous. Not everything is meant to be a deep moment; there are tracks on the album like “Animal” and “WTF” and “Last Supper” where I let loose and talk about relationships. I think the overall message I want to express is here is me; raw and unfiltered.
What made you choose the acapellas that you chose to do? Historically, doing acapellas can be a very daunting and daring task.
First off, “Kingdom” is one of my favorite songs that I have ever written. It is super personal and it spoke of a relationship that I was in. When I stepped back I wondered what I was thinking, giving this person all of this power, it was crazy to me Then I listened to the acapella, and my producer Mikal Blue had sent me all of the acapellas for all three songs that we did together. I listened to that one and I thought it was gorgeous. The harmonies behind it and we have that choir at the end. Not a lot of people put out the raw vocals and if I am being a little confident, not a lot of people can sing like that. I was like, “I am going to own my power and put my shit out there and I guarantee that someone is going to feel it”! I also did it with “Where Love Begins” because I love the vocal delivery on that also. I just thought that it would be pretty cool if producers or DJ’s wanted to remix that one, have at it, I’ll give it to them right now! I want “Kingdom” to be remixed also, like ASAP!
So we may be hearing an authentic David Hernandez house remix on our dance floors sooner than later?
I definitely hope so! was like, fuck all the white tape and there rules and regulations about meeting before remixing it. I just want people to take the music, own it, and do whatever they want to it. Send it back to me, and I will support your artistry also. That is how I felt about the whole thing.
“Break” is definitely one of your most honest songs and it shows when you deliver it vocally, and the topic of the song is extremely personal What made you want to be so honest about something that you went through?
I just felt so alone when it was all happening. I did not feel like I could talk to anybody or that anyone would relate to me. I thought people would just think “oh my God he is a drug addict or he has mental health issues, or he has an ankle bracelet on, what did he do, what a loser”; I felt like I was alone. I started to think that I was gonna be damned if my fans, specifically the younger ones, were going to feel that way when they listen to me. I did not want them to think that there is a veil up or I was some rags to riches kid because that is not the case.
So despite being the artist, you definitely relate to your fans on a personal level as well.
I am very much struggle with insecurities and anxiety among other things on a daily basis. I just wanted people to listen and to feel that if I was going through it and could write about it, they could do that to. I don’t want people to feel alone. I want people to see David; there is no Hollywood about me. When you listen to my shit and you meet me in person, I am the same dude. I just want them to fee that they can connect to that, like they do Pink or Sam Smith. Those people are raw and are so authentic with their sound and with what they’re saying. I feel like that is the kind of music I listen to and that is the kind of music that I want to put out. That is kind of also why I put out break-because I didn’t want people to feel alone.
Some of this material must have been extremely hard to write about, would you say that is accurate?
That period of my life was probably the most excruciating part of my life that I had ever gone through. I lost my apartment, I went to jail, I was on house arrest, I was addicted to Xanax, I was drinking way too much and I didn’t have anyone to pull me out of it. It was really tough; music pulled me out of it.
You have mentioned before that you have had issues with relationships. With the onset of the #MeToo movement, do you think it is now easier for men in relationships with other men to speak up when things are not working and specifically, when things may have crossed a line?
I do think it’s easier. I think ten years ago there was a stigma associated with it. When a man was dating another man it was acceptable to get into fistfights, it was acceptable to commit assault because you were men. That is not okay. Definitely not okay. I have been in abusive relationships, I have been both abused and the abuser; it is an ugly and gross feeling. I remember the last relationship I was in and it was super aggressive and verbally abusive and I recognized I did not want that anymore. I did not even recognize the person in the mirror, saying all those nasty things to someone that I love. I would not speak to a stranger on the street that way. That was a wake up call; I woke up and broke up with my then boyfriend. It had been almost three years and I was just over it.
So in your opinion, a light has now been shown on relationships that are sometimes abusive in the LGBT community?
Do I think it is getting better? One hundred percent. When I went to jail everyone in there for assault and spending years in there for assault, while I was in there for a DUI. I will be damned if you hit me again and I would not put my hands on another person again either. You wonder how we got that way, we did not plan it this way. When I wrote “Never Did”, that was one of the reasons that I wrote that song. It was like “I hate him, I can’t stand him” and then I realized that hate harms the vessel that harbors it more than the vessel it intends to hard. I am literally sitting here letting myself be eaten alive when really I don’t hate this person. I am just upset with myself for putting myself in that situation. I would not go to certain red carpets, I would not socialize with certain people, and I am just not that person.
What was it like working with fellow former American idol contestant Blake Lewis? It was great hearing your talents teamed up in a post Idol world.
It was incredible I am so thankful that he agreed to do it. We have known each other for years and I have known his roommate Eliot for years also. I invited Elliot to my show a couple months ago and I did not know Blake would be there but he was. I invited him on stage impromptu and he had never heard “Kingdom”, it was just piano and vocal originally; He beatboxed to it! Right then I knew he took this song to a whole different level! I called him the next day and asked to pop by his house and have him beatbox on the song, then we added electric guitar with my friend Daniel Braunstein. who is also featured on there. It was super organic that way that it happened and that is the best way to go I think.
As your career is progressing and the world is changing, are you finding it easier and seeing a shift in the industry towards LGBT artists?
You know, I have not paid that much attention to the industry in quite some time. I have been focused on my craft. I will say, it has made it more easy for me to live as a person. I feel more honest and that I don’t have t hide anything. I don’t feel shameful about my sexuality and I don’t feel any of those things that I feel without a shadow of a doubt, were holding me back in my career previously. I really hope that it leans more towards what were you were saying and I hope the industry gets to change more. Right now its like straight white males who are CEO’s and feeling a certain way about the gays; I hope that changes.
With everything you have been through and at this point in your lie and with this amazing package of music, what is inspiring you?
I feel like music is always my inspiration. I love waking up every morning being in a good positive headspace. I love being able to look at the people around me and say that they genuinely have my best interests at heart. I have a really great team right now. I have someone that I am dating and I think all of those things together make a healthy existence. That for me is super inspiring; to get out of bed, head to the studio, and I have even taken up acting again which I hope will take off very soon also. Overcoming everything that I had to overcome in January and then speaking about it, that was my outlet and that was my therapy.
That was my main goal. When I came out officially in 2016 I did not do that for the press; I did not need the press, the single spoke for itself. I wanted to inspire those little kids that are in those small middle American towns who are struggling with their sexuality and whoever they are as a person. You can do all of these things and still be successful; that is how I feel now for people that are suffering from addiction and mental health issues. You can be those things, overcoming addiction, and still be working towards your dream. It does not mean you are some degenerate, you are a normal human being. That is the stigma we need to lift from all of that.
David Hernandez “Kingdom; the Mixtape” is available on iTunes
Art via Bobby Quillard. The “Kingdom” logo is by Stephen Lind