D’Mile has had one of the most impressive runs in recent memory. In just a span of a few months, he’s been able to smash the charts with the number one single with “Leave The Door Open” by Silk Sonic along with winning a bunch of awards with H.E.R. at the GRAMMY’s as well as the Oscars. His willingness to bring back live instrumentation has brought new life into the genre and it looks like there is more on the way. We had a chance to talk to D’Mile about his journey as a producer, his time spent with Rodney Jerkins early on, the challenges he faced along the way as well as his most recent work with artists such as H.E.R., Bruno Mars, Lucky Daye, Victoria Monet and India Shawn.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Take me back to the early beginnings of your career You had a placement on Mary J. Blige’s “The Breakthrough” album during a time when R&B was full of super producers like Bryan-Michael Cox, Rodney Jerkins and Sean Garrett. What was that time like for you?
D’Mile: It was crazy because I looked up to those producers. At that time, I was trying to find my way and I was even doing a little bit of songwriting only because I didn’t have any writers to be in contact with. I actually wrote a song to that track before it got to Mary, but no one will ever hear it. At that time, I just had tracks but no songs to them. I was just trying to do it myself. With that song in particular, I linked up with Wynter Gordon and it got in Mary’s hand and then it was like “Oh snap, I got a Mary J. Blige placement”. That was one of my favorite Mary albums especially in her later years. To be on there with B-Cox, Darkchild and Raphael Saadiq and to have the title song, that was crazy.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You linked up with Rodney Jerkins for the Janet Jackson “Discipline” album. What stood out to you about working with Darkchild?
D’Mile: I remember the first time I met with him, I went to his studio in New Jersey and saw all the plaques. In one room, he was finishing up production for a Danity Kane song. It was crazy because I got to hear it before it came out and it was incredible. When I finally ended up staying there and rocking for those couple of years, there’s been a lot of moments. I remember the first time he sent me “When I Grow Up” by The Pussycat Dolls before they even hopped on it, it was crazy. It was a good environment creatively because everybody was good at what they were doing. It wasn’t competition, but you wanted to measure up. We got to work on stuff for Janet and that was the focus.
YouKnowIGotSoul: That Janet Jackson album wasn’t a typical R&B album with songs like “Feedback” which had more of electronic feel to it. Was that a lesson for you that you had to diversify your sound and that you couldn’t just be an R&B producer?
D’Mile: Well for me, I always imagined that I wouldn’t be just that. Even before that situation, I was already on that because I love all kinds of music. I think I would be doing myself a disservice if I just did R&B or Hip Hop. At that time, I was into the four on the floor stuff. I was inspired by Timbaland and Danja who did the Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake stuff. With a song like “Feedback”, it happened by mistake. I had an artist I was working with at the time and she was staying with us for a week. We were about to go to the movies and right when we got out of the studio, she said “Light skin, dark skin, my Asian persuasion”. She freestyled it and I was like “What’s that?”. We laid it down in ten minutes and then went to the movies. The next day we worked on it more. When I sent it to Rodney, it was pretty much done and he was like “Can I play it for Janet?”. It was supposed to be for my artist, but we ended up saying yes. It’s crazy how that happened. It was a beautiful mistake.
YouKnowIGotSoul: After spending a few years with Rodney, you started working on your own and did some great work for artists like Sevyn Streeter and Usher. Take me to that era because R&B was in a weird place musically and mainstream wise.
D’Mile: It had its ups and downs. I was definitely proud of everything that I accomplished, but the result of it never amounted to whatever. R&B wasn’t in the forefront. The Sevyn song “nEXt” was dope because it did good on the R&B charts. I think that was the first time I paid attention and saw my name on the charts since the Janet Jackson or Justin Bieber songs we did. With the Usher record “FWM”, that was a little later and that was my favorite joint. I wish they made it a single. It was just dealing with that and of course people are going to gravitate to the sure bet. At those times, there were some heavy hitters and just off their name they’re probably going to get the first or second look. Here I am, I wasn’t new but I was still underrated.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What was your approach during those tougher times? It seemed like you branched out and started working with artists of different generations.
D’Mile: A lot of things just came to me like the TLC thing. I was in a writing camp, so I did that song. I think I stopped chasing at a certain point in my career and I was just on this vibe of “I just want to work with anyone that wants to work with me”. I’m personally more into working with the artist. I’m not going to force myself to the door. At a certain point, I gave that up.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about creating Lucky Daye’s “Painted” album. I know Lucky was close to leaving the industry before he created that album.
D’Mile: I was like Lucky Daye. Right before he came to me, I was thinking about quitting. I didn’t know if I was in love with it anymore. I was in a weird place in my life at that time and I was just tired of the industry politics. That was weighing on me more than creating. I really thought about it and thank God I didn’t. Shortly after that, Lucky came to and told me he wanted to a project. I was just like “I’m just going to do what I want and I don’t care what anybody thinks”. That was the energy on that whole project with Lucky, me and my engineer Jay. The funny thing is that I didn’t know Lucky was on that same energy. This was the only thing we were focused on and we did the whole thing together.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Around that time is when Victoria Monet’s music started coming out. Take me to the process for “Jaguar” and how it differed from Lucky’s project.
D’Mile: It was probably more drinking involved. Victoria loves Clicquot, so we had that a lot. I feel like the way I create is based on the artist I’m working on and who they are. I’ve known Victoria for a long time, so you get to know them and understand what they want to do in that moment. I really feel like I tailor make whatever I’m doing for that person. When I’m working with Lucky, it’s going to sound different than what I do with Victoria. Even on their side, the way that they approach a track of mine, it’s going to be different. With the Victoria Monet album, I got to collaborate with a few others where as on Lucky, it was just me and him for the most part.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You and H.E.R. have won a bunch of awards together recently. What’s your approach like with her in the studio? I know she’s had a lot of success with Camper as well, so do you try to study what they’ve done as well to see what works?
D’Mile: I just try to keep the train going. Their work together is inspiring, but I don’t know if I would say that I came in there trying to pick up on what they’ve done. We just go in the studio and vibe. I like to be free and she’s an artist that can do anything. I can’t wait until she starts doing alternative stuff. It really depends on the day and we see what she feels like doing that day. I think H.E.R. is great at working with a bunch of different people. She’s great with Camper, myself, Tiara Thomas and Cardiak. It’s just different sides of her and I think as producers, we’re supposed to bring that to life.
YouKnowIGotSoul: It’s pretty cool to see you and H.E.R. have been winning all these awards recently for songs that touch on social matters. They’re not just your typical R&B records.
D’Mile: It’s great and I give all that credit to H.E.R. Just having the guts and feeling compelled to talk about these issues like “I Can’t Breathe”. The song “Fight For You” is for a movie that took place the 1960’s, but it’s still relevant today. Honestly knowing her, that’s the stuff that’s important to her. This song is important because it’s about us as a people and she’s definitely someone who’s going to fight and speak out on certain things. She’s done it even outside of things that we’ve done, that’s just who she is.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about your work with India Shawn. You guys have done some cool stuff together.
D’Mile: At one point, there was some drinking as well. *Laughs* We just get in and we vibe. I’ve known her for a long time, but we never really got to work together directly until we started working on this project. I was totally down because I was familiar with her work. The very first song we did was “Cali Love”. We were just in the studio and we were just talking. As they were talking about the concept, I started creating something and it turned into that song. That’s usually all of our sessions. I just feel everybody’s vibe and create something. On that project, all the stuff we’ve done have mainly been me. I can’t wait for people to hear it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You also produced Joyce Wrice’s “Overgrown” which is our album of the year so far. You were able to bring back that late 90’s/early 2000’s sound and put your twist on it.
D’Mile: That one was crazy. I met Joyce not too long ago. We had one meeting and then we set up a session. We definitely worked for three years trying to figure out that sound. She gave me that 90’s vibe and some of her older stuff was kind of like that. We were learning each other and “On One” was the first one where we were like “I think this will be the sound”. I love working with her and there weren’t a lot of people involved.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You recently hit number one with the Silk Sonic record “Leave The Door Open”. How did you manage to create a hit single with that many chords on a song?
D’Mile: *Laughs* I don’t get how it worked for it to be this complicated, but still simple. People can pick up on it and sing along with it, but I have a friend that keeps saying that it’s a song with 43 chords. It’s blowing me away that it’s topping the charts. I had met Bruno a year and a half ago. We just started vibing even from that moment on. I always knew that he was very musical, but even when I got into this, some of the ideas we were doing were going against the grain. When he found me, he knew that I was able to help him with that. He had heard some of the Lucky project and people who co-signed me like James Fauntleroy told him about me. Once Bruno knows what he wants, he will make it work. He’s really a genius producer in his own right.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Are you even able to give advice to people out there? It doesn’t seem like you can really grasp what’s going on right now with all this success.
D’Mile: No, I can’t. *Laughs* I feel like no matter what level you’re on, there’s always advice to give. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I think the biggest advice that I can give is just being true to who you are. Once you go down this journey, because it’s going to be that, just don’t lose yourself. Remember why you wanted to do it in the first place if you’re a real lover of music. Stay true to that and everything else will fall into the place. I’m a living testimony of that with my journey. I was able to come back to R&B and have a hit song with 43 chords.