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He Is The Range

From viral internet moments to vocals that shift the musical paradigm, Durand Bernarr is more than an artist, he’s a movement.

By

Jun. 13 2024, Published 3:00 p.m. ET

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Photographer: Andrew Zaeh

Digital Tech / Photo Asst. / Motion: Jack Mallett

Stylist: Apuje Kalu

Glam: Mel Hunter

Durand’s Publicist: Shean England

Can I play it? He asks earnestly before launching into a bit of laughter. He gets up and retrieves his speaker (yes, he brought his own speaker to the shoot).

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“Thank God I Ain't White” by Daddy plays. The lyrics go, “Thank God I ain’t white. I can say nigga. Nigga, nigga, nigga, yeah, I’m black. My jaw drops. I’ve never heard this song before, and he can tell. He laughs even more.

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It’s a rainy Monday afternoon in Los Angeles, a trend for the West Coast city as of late. I've had the beautiful privilege of interviewing the ray of sunshine that is Durand Bernarr. He enters the studio wearing a long tweed jacket, a T-shirt, jeans, and a newsboy cap. His signature long earrings with a charm are on display. Bernarr, who often refers to himself as “your favorite cousin on your daddy’s side,” is for sure telling the truth. As evidenced by my reaction to meeting him, I immediately go in for a cousinly hug instead of my usual professional handshake.

His answer is in response to a little icebreaker I’ve created. I’ve taken his music titles and created questions related to them. His great answer was in response to “Melody, what’s a song that you recorded or a song that’s currently stuck in your head?”

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Keeping it a stack, Bernarr probably could have answered with any of his own songs. His knack for melody, infectious harmonies, and not-everybody-can-do runs is one of the reasons he’s been such an anticipated voice. His latest project, “En Route," is R&B at its finest. In a world where the genre has seen an influx of earworms and trite lyrics, it’s nice that Bernarr can dulcify the mix a bit. His current single, “Fist Bump,” is a playful, groovy record about showing love to someone while avoiding getting makeup on your shirt.

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As the only child born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Bernarr was born into a musical family. His mother is a professional music teacher and vocal coach, and his dad is an audio engineer who has worked with Beyonce, Rihanna, and Whitney Houston, to name a few. However, Bernarr is not a Nepo baby; he is, in fact, a theater kid with deep roots in vocal ability, music composition, performance, comedy, and fashion, respectively.

You’ve heard his guest vocals on songs with Anderson Paak, The Internet, and Kaytranda. You’ve seen him perform background vocals for Erykah Badu. You’ve definitely seen his Tiny Desk performance, which has amassed over 1.5 million views on YouTube. And if you’re lucky, you’ve seen him perform live at a festival. But you’ve never seen him like this before. Read below to learn more about him and get into it.

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BLEU: Alright, we’re going to go a little deeper.

Durand Bernarr: That’s what she said—not to me, but that’s what I heard she said.

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BLEU: When did you know you could sing? When did you know you wanted to pursue it?

Bernarr: The moment I knew I had something going on was when I was about 11 or 12. I was singing at one of the churches my mom did praise and worship at. I sang that “I believe I can fly.” Everybody was singing. I remember, at the end, I sang (he sings), “I can believe I can fly!” and I held it as long as I could. The audience went up, and I was like, “Oh my god, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”

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BLEU: Tell me a little bit about your approach to music.

Bernarr: As far as writing, it really can come to me at any moment. I can be in the car, I can be having a conversation, and I have to go to the notes app to make sure I write it down. I try not to force it if it’s not coming out right then and there. Lately, I’ve been bringing other people in just so that I can fine-tune things in real time. I just did a record with Syd [from the Internet]. There were certain melody ideas I had, and had I been by myself, I probably would have second-guessed myself. To have someone there to work with me in real time... I don’t want to write or complete any more songs without someone else there to bounce off ideas.

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BLEU: What can you tell us about the new project?

Bernarr: I don’t know who told me to work on four projects all at once. One is a live album. One is a studio album. This third studio project is the last installment of an R&Besque project, at least intentionally. I've been inspired by new age, rock, gospel—I mean, all of that stuff. Dur&

was me—pre-therapy, Wanderlust was Durand—in therapy—these are all of the things I’m learning about and I’m sharing with y’all. En Route is the result of doing that. I wanted to give people three things they could study: breath control, arrangements, and how you can compose things, subject matter, and all of that. After that, we’re going to switch gears, and I’m going to do a rock album.

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BLEU: You mention therapy, which is a word that gets thrown around a lot lately. What was the deciding factor for you to start? Are you still in therapy?

Bernarr: I had a few unofficial therapists growing up. Those were the elders–people who worked with Toni Braxton and Usher. People like Badu and B-Slade, who weren't selfish with their knowledge. In 2020, I went to a professional; I just did it because I wanted to see if any of my behaviors were due to who I am or if they were trauma responses. I became the plug for not only therapy but for people who were looking for a Black therapist.

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BLEU: Are you still in therapy?

Bernarr: MMHM!!! Absolutely. That’s almost like saying... “Are you still going to the doctor?” I like to check under the hood and make sure everything’s good!

BLEU: You seem very at home on stage—it seems effortless. How do you prepare for performances?

Bernarr: Rest. That’s really the main thing. As long as I can rest and be nourished, I’m good. I only eat when I’m hungry. Three meals a day is a scam, and I’ll stand ten toes on that.

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BLEU: There’s always talk of R&B being dead, which I feel like you disprove. What are your thoughts on the state of music today?

Bernarr: Music is always changing, but it also goes back at the same time. When our parents and grandparents were listening to songs in the ‘90s that were sampled from the '60s and ‘70s,. They were like, “What the fuck is this?” Now we’ve grown up, and they are sampling the sample! So we get it now. I hate when people say they don’t make “real music." First of all, what is real music?. I think when you’re talking about a certain quality of music, if you are looking for live instrumentation, you have to find it. That’s why streaming services make it so easy for people to put their music out. You don’t need a label; it’s all about word-of-mouth. I mean, I like the music I listen to! That’s another reason why I wanted to start DJing—so people could get into what I’m jamming to. A lot of people don’t know what they need.

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BLEU: What do you like to do in your free time?

Bernarr: I’m on the couch eating sunflower seeds–Frito Lay in the green bag, not David’s, not pumpkin seeds. Save the BBQ, save the ranch–original only. I’m practicing on my DJ board, I’m recording, and I’m napping. I’m a people person; I’m an ambivert. I love being around people, but I also love being quiet.

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BLEU: As far as your personal life, is there anything you’d like to put out there? From a dating perspective?

Bernarr: I wish I was dating, like, for real. But I’m not. I’ve been leaning into my tribe and village. I’m learning new ways to fall in love with my friends. I’m open to it. Keeping my eyes peeled for something

BLEU: What does that mean for you?

Bernarr: Uh…

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BLEU: Now I feel like I’m on a different couch. Like, what does that mean to you.? [mimics TV show host]

Bernarr: Someone who understands that I belong to the world and to no one else at the same time, except myself. There’s a certain level of security, and someone has their own world to cultivate so that they're not looking to the relationship for validation or completion. I want us to be an addition to each other.

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BLEU: You’ve been very open about your sexuality, which a lot of people aren’t. Why was that a decision you made, and what advice would you give others who don’t have the courage to do so?

Bernarr: I was just being myself, whoever that was at that time. I never felt the necessity to label something. I will acknowledge a preference for what we like at that time or what gets us going. But for the most part, it’s just me. I like to say I added an additional letter to the “Leguhbidjuquois” community, which is F for Fuck around and find out sexually. I don’t know what I’m like until I see it. So hopefully that inspires people to not feel pressured.

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BLEU: You’ve tweeted and written about trust > love. Talk a little about that.

Burnarr: There was a quote that I found a little over 10 years ago on Tumblr. It said, “I would rather trust than love because you might not always trust the person that you love, but you’ll always love the person that you trust.” That really resonated with me.

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BLEU: Do you have a dream team or a dream list of people you want to work with?

Bernarr: I would love to do something with Donald Glover or Childish Gambino, like some acting shit and some music. I think that would be amazing. Tyler, the Creator. Tierra Whack. I would like to do something with Katt Williams. I don’t know what that would look like, but he's hilarious. Solange. Janelle Monae. I’d love to open for Beyonce or Rihanna. Writers, I’d like to get in there with Ester Dean. Hell, can Diane Warren write me something? Can Babyface? I want some heavy hitters.

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BLEU: I have a list, actually.

Benrarr: C’mon!

BLEU: I had Diane Warren. Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Bernarr: Yes! Duh. I just met them.

BLEU: I have D'Mile.

Bernarr: Yes, I just met them. You’re naming all the people I just met. I’d also love Muni Long to give me something.

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BLEU: Some artists have taglines or monikers, some that were given to them and others they created for themselves. Tell me the significance or where you came up with "everybody’s favorite cousin on they daddy's side”.

Burnarr: That came from Mel. She be calling me the Prince of the Juice Joint. We talk about how The Juice Joint and Crock Pot are like this big family reunion—everybody is your favorite cousin, and it’s a family affair. And there’s truth to it, because I really am everybody’s favorite cousin on they daddy’s side.

BLEU: If someone had not heard of you before, how would you describe your music?

Bernarr: Outside of it being an auditory adventure, I always say if Rick James and Erykah Badu got into a car accident and Little Richard witnessed the whole thing (he laughs).

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