Unusual Demont wants to make people feel a little better.
The 20-year-old Madison musician’s songs feel like an after-party to which everyone is invited, a warm and inviting mix of R&B, hip-hop, jazz and whatever other genres catch his interest. His new EP “Hues,” which releases Friday, features eight tracks, each connected to a color.
The EP’s advance tracks, “Amber” and “Pine,” have already logged tens of millions of streams on Spotify, which partnered with Demont to create a marketing campaign for him as part of its new Fresh Finds program. Complex magazine recently profiled Demont as one of its "Best New Artists of the Moment," saying "Amber" is "the kind of song that shares qualities with so much of what’s happening in music right now: a little alternative R&B, a little indie pop, and a touch of old soul."
It’s a fast rise for the La Follette and Shabazz High School graduate who spent years making music by himself in his basement on his fifth-generation iPod Touch. In an interview from Chicago last week after playing Summerfest and on the verge of a fall tour that includes a slot at the Austin City Limits Festival, the genial Demont says he’s just happy riding the wave.
What’s it like to be playing music for people right now?
It feels amazing. People haven’t been back out there in a long time. Being able to bring them together while making music... it’s perfect.
Your goal on “Hues” was to make people feel better, right?
I was going through kind of a rough time, and found, weirdly enough, magazine photos, like their color hues, to be very nice, like ridiculously nice. That always struck a chord with me and made me feel a little bit better throughout that low point that I was at. I kept on making music, and they just intersected at some point, you know? By the time I realized what was going on, I was like, “Yeah, I want to make people feel the same way I feel looking at these magazines, but sonically.”
Your grandfather, Jonathan French, is a professional drummer who played with Curtis Mayfield. (He now performs regularly in Madison with the band Cool Front.) Did he directly influence your music, or more generally gave you the idea that being a musician could be possible?
It was both. I would go to some of his sets and I remember just being so enthralled by it. He was the first person who taught me any music. He taught me how to play basic drum beats and whatnot when I was 8. From there, I just kind of practiced doing that.
I don’t remember when songwriting came along. Probably when I was 11 or 12. I remember writing this Christmas song, and I was like, “Okay, this is pretty good!” It wasn’t until 2013 that I really sunk my teeth into everything. I heard an album from one of my influences, Tyler the Creator, and I remember learning that he produced all his own stuff. I remember begging and pleading my grandma to get me Garageband for the iPod that I had at the time.
I spent five years minimum, off of an old iPod Touch, fifth generation, just making concept albums that nobody was listening to. But you gain the experience. From there I kept on going and found where my voice fit. For the longest time I wasn’t even singing, I was rapping. But I took a chance on singing, and then I started figuring out where my pocket is, where I fit in. Luckily, I think that’s nowhere specific, which is better than worse, because I’m able to go into all these different areas.
Do you feel like exploring different genres brings you closer to who you are, or does it allow you to create things that are totally outside yourself?
I think the more that I try to walk into different areas of music, I’m going to become less and less myself. But in the best way possible. At some point when that becomes myself, I’m going to do want to do something else. “Pine,” for example. I don’t do too many R&B songs, because R&B reminds me of my dad cleaning the house in the morning. (Laughs) And then after that I wanted to make “Vanta” and do some punk rock kind of vibes. The more I go outside my comfort zone, the less I am my full self, but then that’s something that I can use when I am myself.
Did you find Madison a supportive community for what you were doing? Or did you not really need a community because you were doing it all by yourself?
I had to find my people later down the line. I was doing concept albums and stuff which, to be fair, they weren’t that great. But I wasn’t able to fit in with anybody who was going into a studio, being a 15-year-old on an iPod. So I had to isolate myself and find my own sound for a while. But I’ve started to open up more and see what’s really going on out there, and I’ve met some great people.
What was the moment you decided to come out of the basement and share your music with the world? Was it “Amber”?
It was definitely “Amber.” I just made the song, the same way I usually do, back in my room in Wisconsin. The version out there is the demo, the first take I did with the entire song. But I was like, “Oh, that’s a good song!” I had a couple of friends who were working on trying to manage artists, and we started to work on it, and luckily it did exactly what I thought it was going to do.
I worked at an Anytime Fitness out there for the longest time, and I remember telling my co-worker, “Man, this is the one. This is going to happen.” And he’s like, “Yeah, bro, I believe in you.”
What’s next for you after “Hues” comes out on Friday?
I'm excited to give people all the songs that are so close to me. The ones that are out right now are pop cuts that everybody can really, really rock with. But two songs that are going to be from the album are produced by me, and they’re just much more personal. I’m just excited to give that aspect of myself as an artist to people.
On top of that, I have a lot of opportunities to perform, and having the music be out this time, having seen the response to the unreleased stuff, I can’t wait to see how people respond when it’s out.