For July’s First Look Friday, we talked to Dee Gatti, who spoke about her Texas upbringing, lyricism and starting her music career during a pandemic.
Dee Gatti is a bit reticent. She’s soft-spoken and doesn’t easily tell you what’s on her mind. Her music is the preferred platform for dissecting and understanding all of her complicated emotions. Her debut EP is Just Called To Say, a project that’s as deeply introspective as it is relatable. On the EP, the 24-year old invites listeners to explore all of her feelings in the aftermath of what sounds like a nasty breakup. Just Called to Say, as its title implies, poses as a phone call of what would be Gatti’s departing thoughts to an ex if she still had access to reach her. The EP, which was released on June 18, is a promising introduction that proves Dee Gatti fits right in with today’s landscape of ambient R&B.
Just listen to the gloomy yet assertive “Clear My Mind,” on which Gatti croons about the clarity she needed to move on from the relationship (“Know you ring me up/Know you hit my line/But I been doing better things with my mind/And I been doing anything to clear my mind,” she sings on the chorus). “I became a whole different person,” Gatti said about writing the song, referring to how she needed to make the bold decision to finally let go of the relationship. “That was when I was finally like fuck all the bullshit.”
It’s that sheer vulnerability in Gatti’s music that has captured the attention of Jacquees and producers like Los Hendrix (SZA’s “Good Days”) and Sonic Major (Don Toliver’s “Euphoria), with whom Gatti has worked. She’s also been co-signed by Grammy Award-winning songwriter Nija Charles and media personalities like Ebro Darden and Joe Budden. Creating a venerable debut project and receiving praise from industry peers is an impressive feat, considering she just started making music last year.
But if you knew Dee Gatti’s story, the attention she’s receiving in such a short amount of time makes sense. She’s worked hard for it. Born DeAna Alexander, the Fort Worth, Texas, native knows how it feels to not have many opportunities. She grew up with a single mother who often couldn’t afford to make ends meet. It’s an experience that stays with Dee Gatti and fuels her affinity for making great music that resonates with listeners.
For this month’s First Look Friday, we talked to Dee Gatti, who spoke about her Texas upbringing, lyricism and starting her music career during a pandemic.
First of all, are you OK? It seems like you just got out of an unhealthy relationship on this EP. What was going through your mind when writing this project?
Dee Gatti: I’m fine now. Thanks for asking. Throughout writing the EP, I was still in that relationship. The project wasn’t even necessarily planned. The project was kind of just put together in the end, but throughout the process of making those songs, each time I would go through something different, I was always in the studio. I’m in the studio almost every day. Each time throughout every one of those moments, I’d just go to the studio and put it in those songs. For “Headache,” I literally had a migraine and I lost my voice because I had got into an argument right before recording that song. You can hear it, and my voice is very hoarse in that song.
When did you start writing the EP?
The concept didn’t even come until near the end of making the songs. Like “Just Called to Say” was one of the very first songs I did when I first started recording. At first, that was actually just a song I made before I met the person I was dating, but then once I met her and started going through all of the things I was going through, I was like, “That’s crazy that this song makes sense right now because this is what I’m going through.”
You’re very honest in your music. There’s a lot of vulnerability in your lyrics. Does that come naturally for you in the writing process?
Yeah. It feels better when I’m honest. When I go back and listen to the song, I feel good about this being what I’m feeling and everybody else gets to know exactly what I’m feeling.
How did growing up in Fort Worth inspire you to make the music you’re making right now?
I grew up in Fort Worth, but I’ve lived in a lot of places. I lived a very unstable life, so I pretty much moved around and went to different places and met all different types of people. So I feel like in a sense having so many people and cultures around me and stuff like that I was able to bring a lot of that to my music. I was raised with just me and my little brother. It was still pretty hard because we moved around a lot and there were a lot of financial burdens and things like that.
Where were some of the places that you lived?
Really it was mostly (in) Texas. I’ve lived in Dallas, Houston, and Fort Worth and other parts of Texas. All of Texas is not the same. Houston is a little different from Dallas. Dallas is a little different from Fort Worth. I don’t really know how to explain how exactly it was like, but I just know it was different.
How were you introduced to music there? What made you want to take it seriously?
I actually just started music like the beginning of last year, so music wasn’t even really on my mind until the beginning of last year. Before then, I was really going to school, working job to job. I had never been in choir. I never did anything music related until the beginning of last year.
What made you want to take that huge step to start your career, considering you didn’t have a music background?
It was kind of like, “I’m at my last resort.” I’m 23 and 24. I already tried college. I tried everything else. I thought I was going to play sports. I always knew I could sing, but I had my doubts. I was just like, “I’ll see where it takes me.” Around last year, I started posting little snippets and cover videos of me singing in my bathroom, and people were just going crazy over that. I’m like if they like me singing in my bathroom, let me try to hop on a track and see what it’s like. After that, that’s when I started going to the studio and started seeing people liking hearing me on songs and thought I should keep going. I just pretty much just started elevating and got to where I am right now.
Your first single was “Playa”. What was the process for writing that song?
That was my very first session, and that process was when I had first met somebody who had managed me then, and he kind of just threw me in the studio. I really didn’t have any experience, and he just kind of threw me in there. He was like, “What’s on your mind right now?” And I was like, “Ehhh I don’t know.” He said, “Well how are you feeling right now, like what’s your mood?” He asked if I was in a relationship. I was like, “I’m kinda sorta dealing with somebody, but I’m still feeling like I want to do other things. I’m not feeling like I want to be tied down right now.” Then he said, “OK, talk about that then.”
My writing wasn’t where it is now, so I kind of just started putting whatever was in my mind down and made it into a song.
What was it like to start your career during a pandemic?
I’m not going to lie. It was actually hella convenient because everything just happened so fast. Everything happened so fast, and like I said, I literally just started doing music. It really gave me time to really ease into it and do what I needed to do before I started doing other things.
I know you’re a fan of Chris Brown, Summer Walker and Boyz II Men. Was there a certain artist or a certain song that you kind of had in mind when writing the project?
I would say a lot of times when I write songs, I think of Chris Brown for instance. A lot of times I think of a lot of melodies he would do on songs and that made me come up with my own melodies, the way I say things and stuff.
Your Twitter bio says “Not a rapper.” Do you often get mistaken for a rapper?
When I first started, a lot of people didn’t know who I was, a lot of people thought I was a rapper. They’d always say, “It’s crazy because I thought you were a rapper, but when I’d listen to your music, I was blown away because your voice is so soft.” I say it’s probably because of the way I present myself. I kind of present myself as more masculine, (more) aggressive. And I have tattoos.
That’s interesting because your album explicitly mentions, multiple times, that your partner is a woman. What’s the importance of that for you because R&B, historically, doesn’t have a lot of that?
I guess, for me, you do kind of need that straightforwardness as far as music with queer people and stuff like that to make it clear that this is a woman singing about a woman in some aspects. But also some men have told me that they like my music because they can relate to it. So I guess it’s sort of a win-win situation. I did want to make it clear in my songs that I’m a woman, and I’m singing to a woman.
What do you hope fans take away from Just Called to Say?
This is kind of an introduction of what kind of feelings you’re going to get from Dee Gatti, so hopefully they have a feeling of what’s to come.
DeAsia Paige is a freelance writer based in St. Louis. Her work covers music, culture and identity and has been featured in publications like VICE, The Nation , Blavity, and Bitch. You can find her on Twitter: @deasia_paige