Electro-soul pioneer Dawn Richard lives her life like the mythical protagonist of her own comic-book saga. She dresses the part, too: the singer-songwriter arrives to her Rolling Stone interview decked out in white, her eyelids gently dusted with glitter and iridescent purple shadow. She visited the RS offices just before the November release of her most dauntless LP, Redemption, the final installment of her epic trilogy dealing with stardom and its many, many pitfalls. It’s not just any record release, she says – the album will be distributed via sterling-silver USB drive. (“You can wear it like a necklace,” she stresses.) Scanning the RS cover wall, Richard stops at an image from August 1997 – in which the Prodigy’s Keith Flint sports fuchsia hair, parted in the center and shellacked onto opposite sides of his head. “That’s my shit right there,” she laughs. “I wanted to be that guy when I was a kid. Pink hair, wild as hell.”
Richard’s inspirations range from Aphex Twin to Sun Ra, and the breadth of her taste nourishes her sky-high imagination. Yet as tempting as it is to place her origins somewhere in outer space, Richard was born into an accomplished New Orleans family: Her mother founded her own dance studio at 21, and her father, Frank Richard, fronted the disco-funk ensemble Chocolate Milk, which doubled as Allen Toussaint’s backing band. In this career-spanning interview, she traces her ascent from her days as a dancer in the NBA to her breakout role in Sean Combs’ MTV series Making the Band 3 – and her further collaborations with the mogul and his Bad Boy label – and reflects on her present status as a staunchly independent pop trailblazer.